Multi-Cultural post-modern? Counter-culture?
MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, September 10 2012
In 1991 Don Robotham, the Jamaican anthropologist, wrote A Further Critique of MG Smith’s Corporation Theory.
According to Robotham, “The point here seems to be that one of the characteristics of post-modern society is precisely its citizens’ commitment to and appreciation of, diversity as one of the substances of the post-modern way of life.”
This is not surprising: post-modernism emerges as part of the counter-culture of the students’ revolts of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Crucial to this counter-culture was the ending of authority. This authority may be the Profs at university, bureaucracy, philosophers, church or great artists. It was the absence of these, it was argued, which would usher in “Freedom”.
This idea of “freedom” was accepted easily in Jamaica as part of a historic Black revolt tinged with Messianism. Marcus Garvey, with his “rod of correction” had led Black Jamaicans to the edge of the Promised Land, only to be betrayed. Selassie, King of Kings, had assured them freedom from Babylon and the return to the Promised Land: Africa. The uncombed locks, the refusal to work for White Folk, the I and I with its hint of a special language, all indicated for Rastafarians the freedom of Black Jamaicans. As did “the sacred ‘erb”: Marijuana. It was not, however, only Rastafarians.
Walter Rodney writes in his Grounding with my Brothers (1969), “Black Power is not racially intolerant. It is the hope of the Black man that he should have power over his own destinies. This is not incompatible with a multi-racial society … Black Power must proclaim that Jamaica is a Black society… We should fly Garvey’s Black Star banner and we will treat all other groups in the society on that understanding… They can have the basic rights of all individuals but no privileges to exploit Africans.” Walter Rodney was perhaps one of the most generous of the academics of his time. And yet his “multi-racial society” turns out to require some degree of racial separation and certainly Black hegemony. This was 1969 before Rodney’s Tanzanian adventure. It illustrates the problems which had arisen in the Caribbean only seven years after Independence had been proclaimed. It also suggests an important influence of the Black Students’ Movement in the United States.
Don Robotham’s “citizens’ commitment to and appreciation of diversity”, turns out to be little more than a civilised curiosity. “In the traditional West African family”, Robotham writes, “male privilege is the norm… but the woman in Africa is more autonomous: she is often active in the economy. When such a culture (my underlining) is thrown into an overcrowded and impoverished urban ghetto, very serious consequences of family breakdown and youth deviance can occur…” But this was not what was happening in 1991.
In 1991 Freedom was everywhere, as was diversity. It was helped by the new electronic media. Nowhere was it as noticeable as on Port-of-Spain streets for the two days of Carnival. This was no longer the Carnival of 50 years ago. It certainly was not the Carnival of the end of the War: “Is your moustache we want Hitler, We want it to sorder”. That spontaneity, the burst of popular creativity, the collusion between music band and mas’ players, had already been lost in 1991. The event of sonorised music playing trucks handed the choice of music over from band to DJ. The Savannah, facilitating larger bands, had by 1991 also facilitated the conversion of Carnival into “business”. That business, by 1991 was the Entertainment “industry”. Hardly around when we declared our Independence — coming of age in the commercialisation and privatisation of the Reagan-Thatcher-IMF decades, it was this “culture” and not African culture, which had invaded Robotham’s West Kingston slums. The ground had been prepared by the naïve students’ revolts. There was no way that Rodney’s Black Man could have power over his own destinies in a world where domination was not just Jamaica’s Brown man. Stuart Hall, another Jamaican born social scientist, spoke of the “absent paradigm” which Caribbeans forgot. This “absent paradigm” was in London, Toronto and increasingly in Wall Street, New York.
It was with the new Entertainment Entrepreneurs of North America, and not in Kingston, that the new Reggae was carefully selected out of a small fascinating early Reggae Band. Those who selected Bob Marley were White. The ethnic music of sex and violence of the Black Entertainment Industry was modelled to suit the tastes of a fashioned
“Universal” Post-Modernism of sex and violence — as Harry Belafonte sadly pointed out.
The “diversity” of multiculturalism or of post-modernism was nothing else than the triumph of the counter-culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was anti-intellectual, anti-Eric, anti-the struggles of the Past and was as much within the PNM as anywhere else.