The other day, I had an encounter with discrimination due to one person’s lack of respect and tolerance for my beliefs. I was taken aback by the harsh words of “take that thing off your head” and denied “permission” to leave unless I removed “the thing”, a symbol of my beliefs and my spirituality, from my own head. I remember last year, a friend of mine was forced to either conform to the rules governing religion in a Christian school or leave simply because he believed in something different from the norm. I also remember every moment walking on the road alongside fellow Muslim women and being called to with “you woulda prettier without it” or “we doe wear that here” or even the slight attempts of almost every Christian I meet to invalidate my faith and uplift their own in my presence. I even recall comforting a few of my friends after interactions with people who told them that they weren’t accepted due to their sexual preferences. The more these things happen is the more I wonder, if our motto is out of many one people,
The history of Jamaica is one plagued with genocide, slavery, colonialism, and indentureship but one of the many things brought to the Caribbean in a way that influences us forever is the bumboclaat plantation system. The system based on the idea that “white” and anything relating to white is superior to “black” and anything relating to black. This applies not only to race but religion as well. Jamaica is known for its diversity in people and that is due to the Africans, Indians, Chinese and Syrians brought to the island during the slave trade and indentureship period. With such an influx of people, also came religions like Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucius and of course African religions like Orisha and Shango which may take the face of Obeah, Poco or Voodun today. As a people, we were taught to forget our religious and cultural practices and claim those of the oppressors which were the head of the social hierarchy, “the whites”. Through such oppression came another indigenous religion, Rastafari. From the experiences of other cultures to the reflection of the Coral Gardens Massacre in 1963, have we even been teaching this out of many one people motto we tend to cling to? Not – A – Bumboclaat.
Culture can be defined as the beliefs, customs or arts of particular groups, societies, place or times but despite the culture that the outside world knows Jamaica to have, what kind of culture are we continuing to promote?
We teach about all the religions at the primary level but only teach the detailed explanation of the religions in fourth to the fifth form of high school. This means the only religious education that most people, who choose not to study it for the CSEC examinations, actually experience is during grades 3 to 6. This makes no bumboclaat sense because then the school system has fully failed to raise generations of children into adults who respect the many other religions and cultures present in our little island.
It is a culture that has been beaten into us to completely detach from and isolate those who share different beliefs, practices or even sexualities from what is considered the norm and it is not going to bumboclaat cut it anymore. We have robbed ourselves of actual diversity and unity through a tradition of fear of difference simply out of ignorance. There should not be a police officer telling me that Rastas are causing trouble around the corner for simply having their “groundation ceremony” (gathering), there should not be people shouting “Allahu Ahkbar” at the sight of Muslims walking on the roads, there should not be disbelief of one’s nationality being Jamaican due to skin tone or attire, there should not be any form of bumboclaat judgement of people for being different from what is the norm of the Jamaican society. Because it is that difference that builds the concept of this “melting pot”, it is that difference that reminds us of our history as a diverse people. The next time the thought or judgements cross your mind, remember just how many one bumboclaat people mek up this little island.