Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Tuesday | February 19, 2013
Home : Commentary
Black bias
By Suzanne Leslie-Bailey

February is traditionally celebrated as Black History Month. I must confess that I have never given the month much recognition.

My opinions on this milestone may be viewed by many as controversial, provocative and even a betrayal of my race; but I am steadfast my identity does not come substantially from being part of the black race, but more from being part of the human race.

Once we become overly preoccupied with this kind of racial identity, it is a breeding ground for segregation, discrimination and animosity.

I acknowledge that I am black, a woman, and short. What befuddles me is the resounding call for us to have 'black pride'. I am not sure how to answer such a call as I do not get value simply from the colour of my skin, nor do I value others based on the colour of theirs.

Pride in oneself should come from who we are on the inside and how we live our lives and treat others. A bleaching phenomenon has swept Jamaica, so the cry for 'black pride' may have some relevance there. However, this is a personal choice that people make and is in itself a whole other discussion.

History does indeed tell the sorry tale of a black race that suffered atrocities at the hands of white slavemasters. However, in 1838, the slaves in the British empire were freed. Despite this freedom, many blacks remain enslaved mentally. Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley sounded an exhortation to his people: "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds." These words originated from a speech made by our first national hero, Marcus Garvey.

Move beyond slave wounds

Regrettably, the wounds of slavery remain open as we are not allowing them to sufficiently heal. The hurts of the past are rehashed all too frequently and as a race, we need to move beyond this. Even though remnants of racial prejudice still exist today, we must delve deep within ourselves to find the strength to rise above it and not let it hold us hostage.

We encourage persons to let go of the hurt when a personal relationship goes sour. So, why shouldn't a similar principle be applied to racial discrimination?

I know that there is some advocacy for reparation, but that signals our reluctance or inability to move beyond the hurts of the past and is a belief that something is owed to the black race. This thinking will perpetually shape us as victims and cause us to have a sense of entitlement. We feel entitled to overtly promote our race while viewing it as offensive if whites or other races promote their own.

Let us look at some examples: celebration of Black History Month; Black Entertainment Television (BET); Black Music Awards; Black Girls Rock on BET; black magazines such as Essence, Ebony, JET and others. Isn't this black bias? What would be your reaction if whites also overtly promoted their race in this manner in today's society? If they do, there is more subtlety.

Black stand-up comedians spew offensive racist jokes which are met with much hilarity. Many years ago, the Jeffersons was a popular sitcom on local television. Who recalls the main star, George Jefferson, referring to his neighbour, Mr Willis, as a "honky" simply because he was white? Where was the outcry for this kind of prejudicial and racial comment? To my knowledge, there was none or it was insufficient. Instead, it was viewed as hilarious. Isn't this black bias?

As blacks, we have also suffered our share of name-calling, but retaliating and believing we are so justified will not assist in closing the chapter on racial discrimination.

In Jamaica's political arena and other situations, the popular phrase "black man time now" is freely bandied around in response to the perception that too many "browns and whites" occupy the seat of power. I have never heard the overt cry of "brown man or white man time now". What would be your reaction if that call was made? Isn't this black bias?

I recognise that some of the privileges I now enjoy and even take for granted are as a result of the fight of Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and others. However, I also appreciate that the world is a kaleidoscope of races, which is supported by our own national motto 'Out of Many, One People'.

I, therefore, encourage us to simply live with, as Bob Marley rendered in song, "One Love!"

Suzanne Leslie-Bailey is a law student. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and svclb@msn.com.

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