Dear Miss P,
We all sang "Brother you're right, you're right, we a go fight, fight for your rights; Natty dread in a Zimbabwe..." - Bob Marley and the Wailers, Zimbabwe Independence, April 8, 1980. Miss P, this tune was an inspiration to freedom fighters but you can't tell what's in a man's heart, can you? The real Mugabe has spoken and as a Zim blogger says, "Truth hurts!" Stereotypes as "drunk as the Irish" also hurt. We are now among the stereotype as the world's shiftless, drug-taking, unambitious men. Laid-back "no problem, mon" is close to Mugabe's view of us. This was in the making for years and many enjoy the schadenfreude at this time as we felt we were better than them.
Portia, Holness and Tufton have spoken, but many who work abroad carry a burden for Jamaica. We suffer by the expectations of others. They think we dance no end and smoke spliffs; it's the British or Germans who smoke. We humour it but are livid inside, not at them but at our own people who brand us with this awful stereotype. People think they know us based on the antics of a buffoon reggae singer they saw. Mugabe's views are not strange to us. They are an undercurrent abroad which says we are lightweight, loll, play reggae and smoke. Many of us loathe "Jamaica no problem" with a passion. Some Joe wants to undermine your professional edge at work with a conversation about how your people are laid-back. The team has English, Scots, Indians and in downtime, guess whom they ask for weed? Yes! I am Jamaican, so I must smoke ganja. The burden we bear in the bid for credibility abroad is not trivial. Every reggae star who mangles English on TV is a nail in the coffin for our professionals in that market. We are all minstrels.
Mugabe is out of order and has hurt our feelings, but let's be measured in our response. We rewarded his blood-stained hands with an OJ. What he says cannot compare with what he did then. When friends lash out, check yourself! Is he hitting close to home? Miss P, Africa has not been open with us. It does nothing to satisfy our curiosity about its role in slavery. It dealt with us as Pan-Africanists, Marxists, Socialists and cold warriors against the ugly American, but never man-to-man as Africa grounding with its diaspora. It offers no ethno-linguist to help our patois or archaeologist to mend our broken past. Does it even care? We want reparations; Africans made their profit a long time ago! Mugabe speaks for many.
Miss P, you know good manners are important at home and abroad. If Mugabe did not see something he could not "tek it an tell wi". What did he see? What did Sizzla's "father from Africa" say about us? "In Jamaica, they have freedom to smoke mbanje, varume vanogora vakadhakwa (men are always drunk)." He continued, "Men want to sing and do not go to colleges, vamwe vanobva vamonwa mugoro (some are dreadlocked). Let's not go there." ZimTimes - Dingilizwe Ntuli.
Mugabe was warning his people to avoid lifestyles which hinder progress (ours do). He wanted a good example of how not to behave and his subconscious led him to Jamaica. I am not angry. Not surprised. I am ashamed. We are cached in our friends' minds as low life. At home we talk things which we want to remain behind closed doors - they are out. Miss P, save your energy. I hear a lot of Mugabe in the diaspora. They won't live here but will never say so openly. Our entertainers and some sportsmen feed the world stereotypes that harm us big time! Love them, hate them! But let's clear up some things:
*First, where does Mugabe get his views of us? He made them up? No! He loves the UK and reads that we are looting London, killing, are drug mules, a violent sex criminal is caught after 40 years, there's a major cohort in UK prisons. We know these are not typical of us, but it hurts. They know us by TV news or by our musicians and it's not fair, but that's life! It's not pretty and a Bolt win every four years cannot fix this damage. Miss P, our fatherland is a strange and wonderful place and while we reject Mugabe's smears we must not overreact. Abroad, they say the English take tea, Germans drink beer and we use drugs. All stereotypes, but Africa has nothing else to know us by. Our relationship with it is superficial - no trade, aid or free movement, just some iconic, colour-coded photo ops. They sold us for beads and guns, did not check where the ships were taking us nor wrote our names so we could find our tribe later. As I line up in the UK for work permits, I screw when they ask why I want to go to Africa: "Because your flippin' daddy sold me into slavery, son of a bitch!" It was Garvey, our Pan-Africanists and Europe's Marxists who saved Africa from endless internecine strife. Africa's effete despots and kings had no plans to find us "slave babies", and no ideology robust enough to power a single nation. Marcus Garvey gave them one.
*Second, what do we put out there about ourselves? Mugabe did not say, "Do not bleach like Jamaicans; they hate African looks, want straight hair, are drug mules and can't speak English or count." All this is in papers here. A few entertainers and crooks put things in the ether; our officials do not deny them and they come back to bite us. Silence is consent. The world does not see Fr Ho Lung, R Danny Williams or Bishop Gregory; it sees our minstrels living large by bawdy, rude, drug-fuelled conduct; titillation, homophobia, misogyny, innuendo and criminality. This is what we put out there and this is what we are known for all over the world. This is the message from Mugabe. We glory in our shame!
*Third, have those who condemn Mugabe ever condemned our crass entertainers? Which public figure criticised convicted criminal Buju for bad example? The church? Rights groups? We are silent about their bad conduct abroad. Barbados is hard on "only child" Rihanna's sexploits. Here we turn a blind eye and worship the cash. Why compare us to Zimbabwe? For Christ's sake, we helped them get independence; we have been there twice as long and can't keep a little nation afloat.
*Fourth, is Mugabe's the last public rant? Trus' me, our entertainers will give Mugabe's view legs by their conduct very soon.
*Fifth, what do we do now? Are we the imperialist lackeys we were in 1938? We have the best economists, financiers, entrepreneurs, politicians, but the worst economy. What! Holness prayed the cup would pass - it did and is now Peter's poisoned chalice. It has ever been this way; each party plays "ketchy-shubby"with us. Serving the IMF is not our goal in life; after the IMF, what? Peter needs a team on the IMF deal and another on the Prosperity agenda. Only Miss P has the credibility to get the buy-in of the massive. Mugabe is a distraction, as by next year we will be friends again. Politics is thicker than insults.
We are not big on self-analysis. Mugabe speaks his mind. He would not have exemplified us unless it had traction with his people. Had he said Japanese are drunken druggists, his audience would laugh. They did not. In 1992 Mugabe said, "White people were so hard-hearted you would think they were Jews." He apologised to Jews quickly. Power commands respect. We will not see another Bob Marley, as today our prophets are in jail here and abroad for murder, drugs, child abuse. They are the opposite of Marcus - jailed for a just cause, hero Bustamante - anti-imperialist; even friend Pearnel, brave men.
Entertainment is a high-profile industry and an incubator of darkness. It gives, but it takes double. Message from Mugabe? Stereotype is reality; the world cannot come here to know the real you. Yes, our women outshine our men; wonderful! So what? Have our men brought us prosperity? Peace? Plenty? Miss P, you are one of a kind and you have a country to run. Mugabe said it all. The messenger is nothing, the message is everything! Arise, take risks, lead your people and prosper this land. Stay conscious, my friend!
Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.