I SHOT THE SHERIFF
Dr. Lester CN Simon
Show me a country where the majority of the populace comprises descendants of slaves, slave masters, and indentured workers, and where law and order is not a major problem, and Beelzebub will show you the kingdom of heaven on earth. Is there some historical element in our psyche that forces us to defy law and order? Have we inherited this inalienable right?
You can read tomes of literature on the causes of crime. You might even be a victim of crime, or worse, (or is it better?), a perpetrator of crime. You can agree with the experts, like Jamaican Dr. Bernard Headley, that the cause of all street-level crime and violence resides “in the nature of society itself, not in the mental or emotional states of its citizens”. Yet when you confront the corollary that the recipe for preventing crime would be the creation of a social-economic system that can deliver social and economic justice to all, you embrace your head in worrying doubt.
Can it be that a society that has not engaged in reconciliation and reparations for past wrongs, continues to live out the past? The foes may change but the forces of evil remain the same. How else can you explain the way we treat each other? It’s not that criminals do not know their neighbours as themselves. Indeed, they have to study them very well before executing (pardon the pun) their jobs. It’s simply, according to Dr. Headley, that the neighbour is a removable, depersonalized obstruction standing between the criminals and their prize. It’s akin to traversing a nasty pothole on route to a prime, crime destination. Fix it, for badness sake.
Another expert, Dr. Obika Gray, writes about the concept of badness-honour. He notes that defiance among the urban poor is remarkable for its preoccupation with matters of identity, honour and respect. Tie this to the treatise by Dr. Orlando Patterson that to understand slavery, we must grasp the importance of honour. He contends that slavery is a great deal more than an institution allowing property-in-people. It is “the permanent, violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonoured persons”. “Dissing” is not new and it has always carried a heavy price. Criminals, including dons and their subjects, understand “diss”.
Badness-honour, simply put, is the idea that there is honour and respect in badness. It is the securing of power, honour and respect by use of intimidation. This intimidation may be overt or covert; covert even to the point of passive vulgarity. I recall a Jamaican who visited Antigua in the 70’s complaining to me in Jamaica how he initially found Antiguans tame and almost respectfully docile. He had passed a dread on the street and shouted, “Hail de dread”, to which the dread replied, “Goodnight Sir”.
He received the obverse, classically and uniquely Antiguan response, when he was ignorant enough to ask a saleslady (so he thought she was) in a bread shop, if she sold needle and thread. Her response was bombastic, fantastic and iconoclastic, “Arwe na sell dem subben ya”. Figuring out the dialect and the dialectic response from “the look” of her voice, he readily apologized by saying that he was a stranger who had just arrived in the island. Such a feeble admission earned him the coup de grace response, “Ana fu me fault that”.
It must be registered that badness-honour is not the currency of the vast majority of the poor, but rather, of a tiny minority. It should also be placed on record, as Dr. Gray does, that badness-honour is not a resource available only to the disadvantaged. Power holders from slave masters, to colonial authorities and party bosses in postcolonial societies have employed it.
Badness-honour can take the illusion of goodness. As my dear father told it (God rest his soul), a bank customer, who just happened to be a white English man, complained to the bank manager that my father had opened the bank door late. It was sympathetically explained to the bank manager and the English gentleman that the bank opened by, and only by, the wrist watch of my father, a timepiece that carried BBC time. Moreover, massaged my father, if he were to open the bank door by the gentleman’s time, he would be compelled, by the inimitable logic of the bank, to close the bank by the same gentleman’s time. My dear father suggested to them that for the sake of good customer service, he was not averse so to do. But, and he slowly kneaded and injected the coup de grace, he would have to go searching all over the island for the good gentleman because he had no knowledge whatsoever of where he lived. You see the problem?
It is ironically remarkable, until you understand badness-honour, that some of the demonstrators, right up front with giant placards, chanting and waving, in public marches against the UPP government, are the very same ones who benefit most from the policies of this government. Be silly enough to point this out to them and you will earn an unadulterated dose of our second national motto, “Me na kay”, sometimes adulterated by a concoction of expletives delivered with an adagio that only a badness-honour symphony can play.
Justification of badness-honour is ubiquitous. With all the wrongs meted out to Jews, and they have meted out their share, it took me an extra hour to fall asleep to BBC radio when an American Jew rebuked President Obama for comments about Jewish settlement in occupied territory. After all, the territory was given to the Jews by God and was once “occupied’ by King David. You see the problem.
Badness-honour takes all forms of expression. When you hear talk on the radio that rape is not about sex, and that it is all about power and control, you wonder if these people have actually had sex. Sex is all about power and control. But in rape, the power and control is neither shared nor consented. Rape hijacks the native power and control ingredients of sex, and perverts them to and beyond the most imaginable extreme, to a vile and inhumane form of badness-honour. Christian fundamentalism and badness-honour inform some dancehall proponents to kill homosexuals and yet the same self-appointed social gladiators are unsighted of their depersonalization of women, to which the dancehall queen contributes so much.
So again, is there some historical element in our psyche that forces us to defy law and order? Have we inherited this inalienable right? We have to know the answer because it seems strange to me that badness-honour exited from slavery time until now, that badness-honour can be used and manipulated, that in our attempt to prevent crime we will create a social-economic system that can deliver social and economic justice to all, and yet badness-honour will still throttle our existence.
It also seems strange to me that slavery has ended and yet, to at least attempt to remove or reduce badness-honour on all fronts, there is no reconciliation, no reparations to restore honour; not one communally rejuvenating thing. So, in the eyes of the criminal, we the majority are left with the empty solace that society should look on the bright side of life because he did not shoot the neighbour, he did not shoot up the police station (this time), he did not shoot the deputy (for “dissing” him). We are lucky. He just shot the sheriff.