Youth Support Library

Reception - Exhibit and talk by Lancelot Bryan - Jamaica followed by -

Youth in a Multicultural Society

Pamela McNeil   Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation

Norman Manley, brilliant lawyer statesman and a beloved National Hero of Jamaica said of his countrymen “I affirm of Jamaica that we are great people. Out of the past of fire and suffering and neglect, the human spirit has survived - patient and strong, quick to anger, quick to forgive, lusty and vigorous, but with deep reserves of loyalty and love and a deep capacity for steadiness under stress and for joy in all things that make life good and blessed”.

Throughout our history as Jamaicans we have seen those strengths of our people displayed in the fields of medicine, law, sports and athletics, labour and politics. As a people who respect their past we have never looked down on our ancestors -we realise that they too, ran the gamut of human experience and that their experience is just as valid as our own in to-days world.

What of our history? - what makes our young people so strong and vibrant, energetic but with a deep capacity for patience under stress and a determination to be the best at any cost. Their heritage is multicultural and is, indeed, all these varied ancestral strengths which combine to produce such vibrant youth both of Jamaica and of the Caribbean.

When the English carne to Jamaica they found the descendants of Africans whose forbears were established in Jamaica many years ago. If follows that there are distinct traces of the English, Scottish and Irish influences in our culture, but by far the greatest legacy has come from our African ancestors. The early Jamaicans refused to accept the status of slavery and were constantly seeking for freedom and justice. Hence the many slave uprisings and rebellions which are part of our history.

The Scottish and Irish settlers who came after fleeing from oppression in their native lands only served to strengthen the movement. East Indians who came as indentured labourers and the Chinese who became the small shop keepers all these have contributed to our cultural mix.

The legacy of the English can be seen in our system of parliamentary democracy. Also in the language which we share with many different races of people who were part of the British Empire and that body of literature which is one of the finest in the world. We inherited the tradition of freedom and justice for all the people and the preservation of the humblest of citizens from oppression. All this was melded into the traditions which were already here before the English came.

Unfortunately the Colonial experience was in direct opposition to these liberal ideas. The colonies in the West Indies were organised with the large sugar plantations as the base around which all other factors had to be accommodated. Consequently large numbers of Africans were uprooted from their homelands and brought over to the West Indies to labour as slaves on the sugar plantations.

The descendants of the Africans who were brought to Jamaica have been responsible for the development of our unique national culture. In drama and music with the strong accent on rhythm, our love of story telling which displayed our penchant for wit and laughter. The use of language which culminated in the creation of our own colourful patois. The establishment of religious cults which had their roots in various religions from Africa. The tradition of the Sunday markets and the higglers. All these are evidence of the strong African roots which have come down to us.

Although the trauma of being captured and sold into slavery by men of his own race, and the horrors endured on the slave ships during the journey called the middle passage was bad enough, the worst suffering of slavery was, surely, the psychological effect of the loss of identity as a human being. To be bought as a piece of property to work at unfamiliar tasks supervised by men of a different race speaking a different language all this conspired to rob the slave of any sense of personality or dignity.The breaking of the ties to his community and his ancestors and his history was the severest deprivation of all.

In order. to serve the interests of the sugar plantation all spiritual values and attitudes were suppressed. The establishment of permanent unions between men and women was forbidden. Men were used as studs to impregnate the women who were valued as the breeders of future slaves. There was no family life centred around the "family" unit and the intra tribal discipline which was an important feature of life in Africa was destroyed The young girls born on the plantation were available to the plantation owner for the satisfaction of his sexual appetites when they reached puberty.

No wonder that successive generations produced people who rejected the idea of slavery and the doctrine of white supremacy. From the start the history of the Jamaica people is one of stubborn defiance of oppression.

This love of justice and freedom colours the lives of our young and unless fully understood by the societies in which they now live could result in their attitudes towards that society being completely misunderstood. Believe me, they cannot conform to injustice, racial inequality in any form - they will never be just a “part of the system" if that system is perceived by them as unjust.

In Jamaica, although the power-brokers of colonialism actively encouraged the promotion of a white elite in trade, banking, commerce and the civil service a paradox of the times immediately preceding independence from say, the 1940s, was the election by the people of Jamaica of representatives, who were the embodiment of a multi-racial society. How well did Norman Manley perceive the inherent good sense of the ordinary Jamaican!

Since Independence in 1962 the appearance of the Jamaican society has changed considerably - the change was achieved calmly, undramatically and without any perceived trauma. Instead of a reflection of the white colonial masters, the face of trade, commerce, banking and education has become more reflective of the racial qualities of the majority of the Jamaica people. Throughout, however, is the same multi-racial mix as seen in earlier parliamentarians elected by the people of Jamaica.

There has never been, nor is there now, any serious racial biases in our Jamaican society. Provided that one is prepared to study hard, work hard and achieve, any Jamaica from any social group of any colour or racial mix can reach his/her zenith in a chosen field.

Of course the most vulnerable in our society, the poor will always need additional help to upgrade their own status, and that of their children. But good programmes are in place in both the Public and Private sectors and in the NCO community to assist. Adequate funding continues however, to be a problem in this area especially in those programmes which focus specifically on young people.

Whatever the problems, Jamaica and most of the Caribbean territories with one or two minor exceptions, present an excellent example of racial harmony and intermix. For those of us who have witnessed racial bias sometimes on the grand  scale in the so-called developed societies, the Caribbean truly presents an idyllic picture of racial bliss.

As an important digression let me say that migration to the metropolitan societies has occurred in the main for economic and to a lesser extent educational reasons. In the case of the UK we would like to note here that when one considers the wealth built up in England from the proceeds of the sugar trade in the West Indies that the amount returned, in services and/or education to the small migrant Caribbean - extract society is truly insignificant.

The people from Jamaica and the Caribbean including the youth who have found a place in societies of developed nations whether by their own or as a result of their parents migration have racial equality and justice as an integral part of their history and background. They then should never be subjected to these derogatory terms such as "Ethnic minority”. By their racial, commercial, constitutional and political background they are as British as children whose ancestors have populated this island for centuries. They and through them, their ancestors have paid their dues to this society and must be accorded all the rights of a true citizen of this realm. Only then will our Caribbean youth in this society be able to exhibit their inherent creativity, energy, idealism to the full. For, when exposed to a positive caring, protective environment our Caribbean youth achieve wonders. No other nation of a comparable size to Jamaica has produced so many professionals of outstanding ability in the fields of medicine, law, education, politics and sport.

History must be our learning tool or we may well fall prey to another degrading slavery - that of being mere children of our own age.