Oppressed/Oppressor

Can the oppressed only emerge from oppression by becoming the oppressor? Does the emergence from oppression have to occur at the hand of a man with a dangerous glint in his eye, who has that solid, immovable, horrible core of certainty and who moves with the arrogant humility of a false Messiah? Are we really no further?

 

Monday 19th January 1998

 

Mike came from Holland last Wednesday. Lovely to see him again. On Thursday Pat, Ivor and myself were lunching at the Jerk place in Papine. It is a fenced garden just off the street. Tables are arranged against the concrete block wall of the lumber yard next door. The kitchen is open but grilled off to the public. The menu is written on the walls of the toilet flanking the cashier. One pays to a lady one cannot see properly through a small fist sized trapdoor in the ubiquitous grill work. The lady is rather lovely when she emerges from the dark little office into the kitchen with its generous grill-tables full of docile slabs of pork and rudely opened chickens with their bodies brutally folded out and legs akimbo. You hand your recipt to the man who then chops off the requisite amount of meat and proceeds to chop it filenely with a huge machette, sprinkles it rooyaly with pepper sauce, puts it on a paper and gives it to you with a coconut water. We sat down and began talking shop.

 

Soon enough a little confused looking man positioned himself at the entrance of the Jerk garden and proceeded to ramble his confusion. It was about white people and that he did not like them. Much of it was difficult to understand. The night before, at the airport I had seen a large middle aged lady wearing a T--shirt with the slogan. Itís a black thing, you wouldnít understand. Ivor thought it witty, I felt confused. A conversation during our office Christmas party, Ruth Lowe had of course righly pointed out that the racism which blacks receive in The States, Europe and even in Jamaica is far more constant and insidious and I agreed. I do not doubt that. But that makes my problem all the more acute as it is the nature and mechanics of racism that interests me. Ivor brought up the problem that racial inequality is a problem even i the school. Students had expressed a concern, long felt by the staff that the upper school, Bachelorís and Masterís degrees is nearly all white staff members teaching black students. The man at the gate became heated, his sermon imploded into gestures of which only he had the key. It was hot. The pork was especially hot. Pat laughed and said that the man was not talking about him as he had black blood. Then turned around and said that the racism expressed by many Jamaicans is a curious thing. The fact that the white people messed up Jamaica is something that has receded to be replaced by an other more immediate concern, by the force of a perceived reality in the mothers of children. They see the world as it is and favour their brown children over their black ones, they resent their black children for being so black. So many black people, he said, hate being black. The perception of white people in Jamaica is coloured by this envying resentment, presumably fed by the fact that all white people are visibly wealthy in Jamaica. They come to re-assert an old and justified hate for white people through a new, indirect and twisted hate for white people which rests on the desires of their mother to move up. This is confirmed by the Children of Sysyphus I suppose. The white man is racist by virtue of the fact that he is born white, said Pat. We laughed. He spoke of his mother covering him with towels whenever they were on the beach so that he would not get any darker. He talked of his motherís fury at his wiry hair that would not flatten. He talked of Jamaica as a country that has been so twisted by its inner conflict and I remmebered my experience at the Yachtclub and the generous measures of contempt expressed for fellow Jamaicans, the easy sarcasm of the ex-pats, the genuine frustration that makes life in Jamaica so relative to seemingly smooth running institutions of The West.

 

That Friday I went with four of my students on site-visits to buildings they were studying for their monograph project. Nuttal hospital is lovely. Then we went to St William Grantís Park and walked around tracing the program of activities which Patrick and Eddie Seaga built into the park. Most of them have been ignored and yet the park is full of successes. The theatre works, the childrenís tunnel is filled with feaces. The lovrís corners is strewn with sleeping men. Incongruous sculptures of pompous soldiers of the past dot the park with their disapproving expressions. Queen Victoria is there. An empty baptismal font stands in a little sealed off garden. On the side of Jubilee Market there is a huge tree. Under it Rastafarians ďgather the people who do not know themselvesĒ. We walked past and discussed the tree. I am a white man in khakiís and have a retinue of my brown and black students around me. Paul Moses, the tallest of my students with a Dennis Rodman attitude and hairdo is motioned over to the group of Rastafarians. He goes over. We wait. I wait and look and then amble over. Few see my approach until I am right next to Paul. A man sitting on the wall fencing off the tree sees me and hides his face. Other appear friendly. The next hour we have a heated discussion about race. The man who originally motioned to Paul talks to me agressively and I listen. He asks me what I do. I tell him. He tells me I should go back home. He shouts. White men are spies, come to spy on the black man. The black man comes from the soil, which is black the white man comes from the black manís genes. He comes from the air. He is from the creature of outer space who invaded a black womanís vagina. The others disagree with him loudly. ďLet me talk nu man.Ē If your father stole from my father and gave you the goods he stole. Who do the goods belong to. You or me? I donít know I said. Posession is nine tenths of the law, I said. But he shouts me away. Go home, go tell your queen Elizabitch and the Pope to set free our people. Donít come and give our black people education which is the white manís opression, the white manís system. You do not even know what you are doing, you think you are doing good, but you are perpetuating the white manís system. You are descended from the creature. Mike is now standing neext to me, a crowd has gathered. Hot with the enjoyment. I am enjoying myself too. But how can I take my little baby in my arms and tell him he is descended from the creature? There was a Rastafarian next to me holding his little girl. He smiled up at me. You cannot. You have been humanised. And so we talk for an hour or more. More and more friendlily. Another man comes in and tells the Ganja selling prophet to hold his tongue. They shout and new man wins fr a while and talks of Egypt and technology which was so much more advanced than it is now. I tell him that I do not know about that but that I do suspect life was much nicer then. The Rastaís agree with me. A man in a suit and dark glasses comes and talks. He is showing off and no-one likes him. He talks of how jamaica needs science and technology and how the white man should give taht to them and then leave again. But he smiles in self satisfaction as he talk and talks more and more empahtically in patois, to the crowd. He leaves and he is forgotten. But he wore a suit. When someone asks him if he believes in Jesus he says no. The attention shifts. I mean do you believe n Christ. No. What is your religion, do you have a religion. No says mike in his wonderfully Tuetonic directness. A Rastaman dressed in bright yellow doubles over. Blood clat. The conversation splits. On being asked I talk of history. What kind of history. The history of buildings. History of buildings? Buildings have no history. And I talk about the buildings of Arica and they approve. And I say that I did not know about Jamaica until I came here and that my history has now changed. And that I now know their history and the history of the mess. And the prophet with the scar behind his ear stretching as he bends his head back to his crowd shouts that I should go back to queen Elizabitch and the poep and tell them about the black man. That is the only way I can help. I must not spy on the black man. We need to go. Mike is sitting next to a rastafarian talking about religion being a method of oppression. The Rastaís agree with him I see some of them giglling. His penis is sticking out of his shorts. I pat him on the knee. We leave. My students have given up they are sitting on a wall. I enjoyed that, said Paul. Until he started talking about the creature.