Appropriation or Appreciation Part Two
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
What arrogance! Didn’t the Jamaican people choose Independence so they wouldn’t have to be told what to do by the British anymore? Except this time, it’s black British people telling Jamaicans what they’re doing wrong, and not your regular white variety. Next, they point out that pioneers like Duke Vin and a others haven’t had awards yet, which is fair enough. Personally I’d like to see Duke Vin and Count Suckle honoured at the Brit Awards for their contributions to multi-cultural Britain, but why not start a campaign to get them some recognition, rather than using these people’s memory to diminish someone else’s achievements?
These self-appointed guardians of reggae music then bring it into further disrepute by accusing the JLP [Jamaica Labour Party] administration of refusing to post their hateful petition on the official government website because of unspecified political bias, and “their unpatriotic act of awarding an undeserving non-Jamaican an OD award which should have gone to one of numerous qualified Jamaicans.”
It’s a treatise that drips with arrogance, an inflated sense of superiority and unspoken racism, and it’s been written by someone who’s not even Jamaican, judging by the final paragraph, which rails against the ruling that you must be a Jamaican citizen before petitioning about something happening in that country. Little over a thousand people had signed it the last time I looked, which is nothing when you consider reggae music’s huge global reach and that it’s more of a mealy-mouthed personal missive than anything resembling a crusade. Sadly, such defenders of racial and cultural purity have previous form when it comes to Rodders and people of different nationalities. Like Brexiteers, they feel threatened at having to share something they regard as belonging to them with outsiders. Yet there’s one important difference. Reggae music is the creation of people whose descendants were sold into slavery and stripped of everything they had - their name, language, family, culture, hopes and dreams... every remnant of their identities was torn from them, and even their very humanity. For several centuries black people in the US and Caribbean were enslaved and brutalised, and whilst the physical shackles were removed almost 200 years ago, they’ve continued to struggle against discrimination in so many areas of their lives, whether it’s housing, jobs healthcare and education.
Somehow out of all that hurt and loss,the Jamaican people fashioned something so compelling and so uplifting that people of all nationalities were drawn to it in their millions. Reg gae music of the seventies not only shed light on society’s ills and their causes, but also spoke of racial harmony, positive vibrations, equal rights and justice... Such ideals were championed again and again by artists like Marley, Tosh, Spear and last month’s cover star, Toots Hibbert. That generation worked tirelessly in spreading the reggae gospel “to the four corners of the earth,” as The Wailers’ Aston “Family Man” Barrett is fond of saying, and they succeeded. By listening to their music and what they said in interviews, outsiders like myself were taught about black history, and at the same time how unity is strength. That’s a message legions of reggae fans took to heart, until “one love” became the universal prayer we all share.
Aston 'Familyman' Barrett
The question now is, where do we go from here? There’s no going back to a time when there were very few white or Asian people involved with reggae music, although Brexit and Trump’s America have shown us that there’s still a lot of people among us who prefer to build walls, rather than bridges, and deny others the same freedoms they insist upon for themselves. So I applaud the Jamaican government’s decision to recognise reggae music’s global appeal, and the influence that someone like David Rodigan has had in promoting it. It gives me hope that the genre can finally attain the status it deserves, and shine more light into dark corners that only serve to diminish it.
My message to those having supported that petition against Rodigan is this. Why not use your time and energies to do something educational or uplifting instead? Instead of focussing on self-importance and claiming to have been robbed of something that was never just yours in the first place, why not share your knowledge, and put your writing and internet skills to better use? Ditch the bitterness and ignorance, the false pride and racism and join all those millions of reggae fans who see it as a gift to humanity from the Jamaican people, and the unifying force that the music’s founding fathers always wanted it to be.