That Hillel controversy

slaveThe recent controversy at the prestigious Hillel Academy has sent shockwaves through the Jamaican society. ‘What on earth’, people ask, ‘could make them think something like that was okay for homework’? Even if they wanted to know why slavery was in vogue (which fifth-grader doesn’t intrinsically get that free labour is more profitable than paid labour?) then they could read the book Capitalism and slavery by Dr Eric Williams which explains in a clear way why the trans-Atlantic slave trade was used.

Many interesting reasons have been given as to why this piece was written up, the most interesting being that it was to empower critical thinking, and as such we who are offended are simply prudes or enlightened. To that, I say what if it had been about the Jews and the Holocaust? Would it still have been ok, or would it have been vetoed immediately?

We all know such a thing would never be even thought of by any decent human, let alone a historian (teacher) with an ounce of common sense or training.

So we are left with the original question, why was it written? What I and probably many others think is that it was allowed to pass (that is, issued to students) because there are elements of racism and classism in this country.

I would go so far as to say (and trust me, I’m not the first and I won’t be last) that the racism in this country is so pervasive that we don’t even notice it. It is subliminal now.

Why else is it that we still have people bleaching their skin? What other reason can one think of as to why our black millionaires are almost always trying to ‘lighten the skin’ of their children by having lighter skinned spouses? Why is it that a black man who is well dressed walking into certain establishments is treated badly while the lighter skinned amongst us can dress like bums and get the royal treatment? A lot of it can be deduced as classism, but that then avoids the glaring racial and racist element.

We have all, at some point in time, wondered just why we think this way, or where this type of behaviour comes from. This paper, I think, shows just where this racism comes from and why it is so prevalent. It is ingrained in us from childhood. We are told that people are too dark, that brown is acceptable and that certain types of hair are better than others.

How is a white rich child, who has black maids and gardeners, supposed to internalise that paper? How do we expect the child with that internalised memory to act twenty years later in a society where race relations (and the power dynamic) is so unbalanced?

Hopefully, with the leaking of this document, the Government will take a serious look at the curriculum of that school. But more than that, I hope that this atrocious work will open up a new chapter in this nation as it relates to race relations and power dynamics. It is a conversation which we have swept under the rug for some time (after spending many years addressing the topic) and it is time again for it to be fully addressed.   If not, then blatantly offensive pieces like that will continue to circulate within our halls of learning.

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