Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tigritude, Obama and the Price of Saltfish

In my last post I mentioned the term tigritude, Wole Soyinka's mocking dismissal of the negritude movement. Soyinka says that a tiger does not proclaim it's tigritude, it acts. Soyinka wanted unity of the races, not racism in another shape. The colour of our skin should have the same significance (to us) among human beings that a tiger's stripes has (to him) among cats. The colour of a man's skin should be of no more significance, than the colour of his eyes. When the human race gets to this place, then we can say racism has died.

Unfortunately, in the US presidential race, colour is of great significance. Obama's colour is often up for mention (or the fact that he is, simmers right below the surface of every discussion) for one reason or the other. How can it not be, this is a historic moment in America's coming of Age. There are lots of people voting for Obama because he's black, there are lots of people not voting for him because he's black, there are lots of people who are abstaining because he's black!

In my corner of the globe I'm really just interested in whose policy will send down the price of saltfish. I love my ackee and salt fish you know.

Americans should vote for the person they believe is most capable of doing the job, the person whose manifesto they believe in, the person who has the clearer vision, the stronger will, and the greater fortitude to steer the USA out of the turbulent waters that threaten to engulf her.

I hope in another hundred years or so America will be so grown up that these will be the only issues that will guide voters to their decision.


Stunner said...

Only in a perfect world would they vote for a person solely on his merit as the best candidate for the presidency. But our world is far from perfect and so, skin colour will be a huge factor.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Hi Stunner,
Thanks for taking a whack at my very idealistic ramblings. There is often a chasm between what is, and what ought to be, what's real and what's ideal, isn't there? I don't believe this should discourage us from talking about what should be. Two hundred years ago the biggest dream a black person had was to be free. Then one hundred years later the dream stepped up a bit, we now wanted to be be able to vote, then by Martins' time we were dreaming of going to school with white folk, look, now we are dreaming of becoming president! Maybe another hundred years from now we might no longer be talking about the first black president, or the black president to make such and such an achievement. Maybe equality will become such a reality that we no longer refer to black (or negro or African-American forgive my ignorance of what is politically correct) president. Just as it now seems crass to refer to Denzil as a black actor. But with each gain we made, we had to have the audacity to dream it.

shoreacres said...

Hi, Jacquie,

I've voted already, and have turned off the commentators until election night itself.

I do believe some will vote on the basis of race. I also believe many more will not. There are changes abroad in the land, and it is my hope that Obama will profit from them.

I must say, it amuses me to hear Senator McCain and his supporters say that Senator Obama "is only skilled in words". Perhaps they haven't quite understood the power of words to motivate, inspire and change. (Oops! There's that word again!)

Daisy Soap Girl said...

My circle of friends are really concerned about the economy and are actually voting because they think that Obama will do a better job of getting us on the right path. I don't care for McCain's views and if he were Black I wouldn't vote for him but I know that race is a factor for some people who just can't see pass a person's skin. I think that there will always be some type of prejudice in the world because some people have to feel that they're better than the next one.

Scripter said...

I would hope that everyone would vote for the right reasons, but unfortunately, I think that there are probably people who are influenced, even in subtle ways, by prejudices. Even though racism and sexism do still exist in the U.S, I think that as a whole, we are coming into an age where many people are able to rise above these ugly prejudices and see others as individuals.
Personally, I am voting for Sen. Obama because I think he is the best person for the job; his commitment to making a difference in people's lives is both admirable and rare.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Thanks for stopping by. Its wonderful that these changes are happening. As we make progress in science and technology, we should also be growing as people, it would be a pity otherwise. You're right, there is a huge number of people who are colour blind, let's hope they can win over the others with both words (one of those splendid abstractions that make human beings magnificent!) and actions.


"I don't care for McCain's views and if he were Black I wouldn't vote for him "

I'm glad you put it that way. If Obama and McCain swapped skin tone, it would be interesting what efect that would have on the outcome. Many blacks would probably then vote for McCain. And vice versa. Prejudice will always exist as you say, but more and more as a society prejudice is being frowned upon, as it should be.

Hey Scripter, its great to see you! I owe you a visit, put something in the fridge, we'll drink to America's coming into that age.

Abeni said...

I am looking forward to the day when two non white candidates are their respective parties nominees. See,I am dreaming grand:)

Re Obama,I think everything is just going right for far.8years of Bush plus Mccain's choice of VP certainly making life a tad easier

the prisoner's wife said...

good post.

i just did a similar post this week called "Being Raced".... would love your input.

in the post, i mentioned a quote by Dr. Cornel West that essentially said that a true multiracial society cannot exist without open, honest dialogue and an acknowledgement of history.

this is how i feel about America. we will never move past the issue of race until it is honestly and completely dealt with head on. hopefully, this election has continued to further the discourse.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Abeni, Palin has made it pretty much a default win...except for the race's a wait and see game still.

I've read your post and could relate to a number of points you made, although my experience as an islander has been somewhat different from yours. I will make an input soon.

I support the idea of honest dialogue, and agree with you that this election has stimulated discourse (some of it refreshing, some not), but I am interested to know what would signal to you that the issue has been dealt with head on. What, in your mind, would constitute dealing with the issue completely? An apology in congress and the ensuing public discussion? Reparation? Does Dr. West give any specifics on how this acknowledgement of history can be made? Would a black president speak for itself?

the prisoner's wife said...

interesting questions you pose. i don't think having a Black president is enough, because clearly some still cling to harmful, ignorant racist views.

i'm not sure when we will reach that magical place of being "past" the race thing. i think maybe we will get there when these types of conversations need to occur.

the prisoner's wife said...

i meant to say...

when these types of conversations DON'T need to occur.

Jacqueline Smith said...

TPW, Right, right. That's what this blog post was about. Hoping for that time when it has become irrelevant to mention race. Or when we mention race we do so in a benign way, in the same way we might say one person is taller than another.

Yes, the quotation from Dr. West begs those questions I posed earlier. I think if we are going to demand acknowledgement of history we ought to specify in what form. Or we could go on talking about this forever and never come to a satisfactory close.

Reparation is not an unfair,if somewhat farfetched, idea. It is based on the principle of restitution which is grounded in natural justice. If you take away my hand made kite, Mom or Dad should make you say you're sorry and make you give it back. But alas, it's not as simple as that. For instance, who is Mom or Dad in this scenario? What if you broke it, you can't give it back then, can you?

Tony Blair expressed a 'deep sorrow' for Britain's part in the slave trade. Some people feel that his apology was not an apology at all. Some feel that an apology is not enough, I'm not sure what they want the next step to be. I know some rastafarians here in Jamaica are adamant that blacks should be repaid in real money for their labour, and for the way they were dehumanized, and for the fact that the stigma that they are subhuman, or not as good, has still dogged them to this day.

To be truthful I'd love to have my lot improved and anything that will do that for me will be more than welcome! So if Mom or Dad could get Britain to pass back some of what she took from the peoples of the commonwealth, I'd be glad.

But I would personally be satisfied being accorded equal respect, equal rights, equal priviledges. I want my children to inherit a world where they don't need to be self-conscious about the colour of their skin.

For me Barack Obama represents that hope, in a way that Jesse Jackson did not. Because this blog post was also about voting for the right reasons. If America as a nation can elect a president irrespective of his colour, then that is one huge step for mankind. True, if Obama had not been black this election would have been a piece of cake, and it wouldn't have cost so much. But never mind that.

But if he wins, that's the ultimate 'statement', the ultimate acknowledgement from the American people that blacks and whites, hispanics and jews are all equal. I'm cool with that.

Fly Girl said...

Yes, I'd like to see the price of saltfish come down too, nothing beats ackee and saltfish! (although I had some good saltfish soup in Barbados.) I don't know if Obama's policies will affect that Jackie but I can tell you that Cornell's call for acknowledgment and open dialogue is at the core of what has happened in this election. The U.S. profited and continues to profit from the enslavement of African Americans. This has never been fully admitted or apologized for although Clinton took the first step in acknowledging that it was wrong. There have been formal apologies and some reparations for the Japanese internment period and the Holocaust and neither lasted the 500 years of American slavery. This issue and the racism that connects to it seethes beneath the surface of everything in the U.S. Obama has forced Americans to face the issue and many are still uncomfortable with it. People who say that racism no longer exists don't want to see it. I am voting for Obama because I agree with most of his policies and believe that he will usher in hope in a time that has seen very little. Here in Chicago, where racism and segregation have never really gone anywhere, I've observed the panicked faces of people who can't deal with the thought of a black man as president. It must be very scary to have to face your demons after hiding from them for so long. Europe has been forced to come to terms with slavery and colonialism because the unrest in the streets of Paris and London demand it. The U.S. is much younger but it will be forced to come to terms as well.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Fly Girl, you're back! Saltfish soup? That's a new one. We have salt fish fritters, also known as 'flau-flau' (that's a hard word to spell, only a Jamaican will know how to pronunce it). Roast saltfish and roast yam is another favourite. We do saltfish and susumber, saltfish and cucumber... I don't know if anyone here has tried saltfish soup.

Saltfish incidentally, was part of the ration given to slaves, so that after emancipation ex-slaves hated it. Somehow, over the last hundred years it lost that stigma and ackee and saltfish became our national dish.

I know there is a whole lot of healing to be done, both here in Jamaica, there in the US, and everywhere blacks have been enslaved. And I can feel the tension in your words that can only be a hundred times more intense in real life situations.

So to answer the questions I posed about an acknowledgement of history, would you say that nothing less than an outright apology from congress will be good enough? (Much good that would mean coming from the lips of a Barack Obama!). Of course accompanied by tangible action, such as...? Do you expect eventual reparation as part of the healing process?

Let's say an apology came from out of congress would there be a guaranteed trickle down effect to the people you pass on the street? What if there isn't? Would an apology from congress have had any meaning?

Let's keep talking, open dialogue I suppose, could happen in nooks like these.

Fly Girl said...

I know, saltfish soup was a new one for Bajans too! I've yet to have saltfish prepared any way and not like it. They eat a lot of it in Brazil too. Now that you tell me about the history of saltfish in Jamaica, I feel an even greater connection to it. To answer your question, yes nothing less than an outright apology will work. I don't know if Obama is really going to be in a position to do it, however. He will have centuries of pressures and expectations weighing on him and an apology for slavery is exactly something his opponents would crucify him for. It would be especially significant if it did come from him although technically, his Kenyan ancestors were not enslaved here. As for the trickle down effect, there is a lot of shame and anger tied up with American slavery. I think an apology would help to release some of it for everybody. Reparations? I'd never count on it from the U.S. Native Americans are still waiting and all they get are casinos.

Jacqueline Smith said...

I don't think an apology would be appropriate coming from Obama's lips. But I think a national apology is in order. Reparation is a very complicated matter. How would we measure up the damage? Can anyone pay for that kind of damage? Who would broker the discussions? How would the money be distributed? I Suppose some of these questions could be answered by studying how it worked with those two groups you mentioned. But frankly, I'm more interested in how blacks and whites on the street can negotiate new terms for living with each other.

the prisoner's wife said...

"Let's say an apology came from out of congress would there be a guaranteed trickle down effect to the people you pass on the street?"

doubtful. typically i am an optimist, but i'm also a realist and i've grown up black in this country. so nothing really "trickles down" the way in which it's "supposed." whatever congress does will not effect the thoughts of prejudiced people in America. honestly...i think it will take generations for us to move past the race thing. younger people tend to be less concerned with it, so who knows, at some point it will play itself out.

i agree, i don't think Obama should apologize for slavery. that would be too awkward and not the "people" we need apologies from. if it were that simple, the Congressional Black Caucus could have issued a statement long time ago, and all would be well. black people should not apologize to ourselves for slavery. we were not our main oppressors. we didn't profit from our enslavement.

i do see Obama as a ray of hope. but i hope that as black people we don't put the pressure on him to be "our" president (sort of like Chicago put the screws into Harold Washington). i hope that he will be a president that will lead us out of this economic mess & build true alliances across the globe.

Ruthibelle said...

Aah, Abeni, but dreams are the stuff revoluions are made of!!

It only takes one soark to get a fire going...

Great post, Jackie.

Jacqueline Smith said...

John McCain condemned prejudice and the atrocities of the past in his concession speech. I suppose other leaders have done similarly in the past. McCain's conciliatory speech wasn't embraced by all his supporters, and no doubt many of the boo-ers were racists (although I'm sure some were simply opposed to Obama's policies). But again, this election has got people talking about the the ugly stuff that ail us. Things will be better.