Who Is Jamaica?

Who Is Jamaica?

The New York Times

Carolyn Cooper, Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies
University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica

DURING last week’s independence festivities, I took out my prized commemorative plate. It was a gift from the mother of a long-ago boyfriend who, incomprehensibly, complained constantly that his mother loved me more than him. Needless to say, he didn’t last.

Source: Wikipedia

The plate has a little chip, but it’s the spirit that counts: a little bit of tactile history. It features the Carolyn Cooper. There is an Amerindian woman bearing a basket of pineapples and a man holding a bow. At school we were taught they were Arawak. These days, they are called Taino. But the distinction is academic.

The native people of Xaymaca, as the island was once called, are extinct. In their culture, the pineapple symbolized hospitality. Genocide was their reward for the welcome they gave Christopher Columbus. They survive only in the coat of arms and in the modest museum that is dedicated to their history. Perched above the man and woman is a crocodile. The reptile has fared better; its descendants live on.

Jamaica was one of the first British colonies to receive its own coat of arms, in 1661. The Latin motto grandly declaimed: “Indus uterque serviet uni” (Both Indies will serve one). From East to mythic West, colonial relations of domination were inscribed in heraldry. When we gained our independence from Britain, 50 years ago today, the motto was changed to “Out of many, one people.”

Though this might appear to be a vast improvement on the servile Indies, the new motto encodes its own problematic contradictions. It marginalizes the nation’s black majority by asserting that the idealized face of the Jamaican nation is multiracial. In actuality, only about 7 percent of the population is mixed-race; 3 percent is European, Chinese or East Indian, and 90 percent is of African origin.

It was my high school English teacher, Miss Julie Thorne, who first brought the fraudulence of the motto’s homogenizing racial myth to my attention. “Out of many, one people?” she asked the class.Which one?

In the highly stratified Jamaica of the 1960s, the white and mixed-race elite were the “one” who ruled the “many.”…

Read the entire opinion piece here.

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