Subtitle: LIVING A LEGACY
Occasion: Caribbean Men’s Conference
Author: Errol Miller
You have conferred on me the great honour of delivering the keynote address at this important regional Conference. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity. You have chosen as the Theme for this Conference: “Empowering the Caribbean Man: Living a Legacy”. You have not required me to make the Theme my Topic. However, I feel constrained so to do. For in so doing it forces me to address the issues as you identify them, in the best way I know how and can do. This approach ensures that the keynote address makes at least a small contribution to the discussions in the various Sessions that follow.
I must confess that I have found this Theme most intriguing because of the paradoxes in its elements. It has therefore given me the opportunity to approach a subject that I have been engaged with from a different direction than in the past. My prayer is for God’s help to do justice to the task.
THE THREE CONCEPTS COMPRISING THE THEME
Even a cursory review of the Theme reveals three concepts that are elemental to its composition. Indeed, fleshing out and elaborating upon these three concepts could constitute the entire keynote address. These concepts are ‘Empowerment’, ‘Caribbean Man’ and ‘Living a Legacy’. Before attempting to address these three together, let us briefly explore each separately.
One definition of empowerment is: increasing the spiritual, political, social and economic strength of individuals or communities. Another is increasing confidence in one’s own capabilities and capacities to make choices and to transform those choices into action. Embedded in these definitions of empowerment is the lack of spiritual, political, social or economic strength or the lack of confidence in one’s own capabilities and capacities. There is as well the assumption that some external source engages in increasing the strengths or encouraging self-confidence in the persons to be empowered. In other words, without this external source the deficit in strength or the lack of self-confidence would remain unchanged.
What cannot be overlooked is that power is central to the concept of empowerment. The deficit in strength that is addressed in the process of empowerment is the lack of the spiritual, political, social and economic wherewithal to be, at least, self-supporting. The lack of self-confidence relates to the lack of belief that the choices one makes can be transformed into action that would result in some measure of self-sufficiency. Understanding what power is becomes therefore an important step in understanding empowerment.
Power is the ability to make others do what we want regardless of their wishes or interests. Put another way, power is the ability to get one’s way even in the face of opposition. Power therefore does not exist by itself. Power exists within relationships. Power is an attribute of relationship. It is the capacity of some within the relationship to get others within that relationship to accept their decisions and implement them even where the latter disagrees with or opposes the decisions.
Those exercising power in any relationship are empowered. Those over whom the power is exercised are marginalised. In a nutshell marginalisation is the opposite of empowerment. The most critical lack of the marginalised is the lack of or the denial of the opportunity to be self-supporting. Those who are marginalised are constrained to live with frustration, a sense of inadequacy, feelings of helplessness and even hopelessness with respect to their capacity to access the structure of opportunity in ways that would result in them being at least self-supporting.
One concept of power is that it is a zero sum attribute that is totally consumed in the relationship. In other words, those who are empowered are able to obtain an amount of power that is equal to the amount of power lost by those over whom power is exercised. The extent of the use of power by those empowered could vary from benign opposition to open and systematic suppression. Power understood in this way focuses on control and domination by some of others. There are numerous examples of groups that have the marginalised within relationships for long durations of time, which make issues of control and domination legitimate considerations.
Another view of power is that it can be expanded and therefore made more inclusive. In other words, power is sufficiently elastic so that it can be stretched to include the participation of all within the relationship such that none is marginalised on an ongoing basis. One example of power relationship of this type would be the Presidency of the European Union which is systematically rotated among the twenty-five member states, each state holding the presidency for six months. Looked at over a period of twelve and a half years, no state could be said to be marginalised in the exercise of power with respect to the Presidency of the European Union.
Differences in the conception of power as a zero-sum or expandable attribute of relationships are deserving of careful analysis because they raise the questions about the risks that are involved in the process of empowerment of the marginalised. If power is expandable and can readily be made inclusive of all in the relationship without any attendant loss by those exercising it, then empowerment of the marginalised becomes largely a technical exercise or organisational arrangement. The critical issue is the genius of those in the relationship to devise the expansion of power. On the other hand, if power is a zero-sum attribute with the attendant loss by those who previously exercised it and gain for those who were previously marginalised, then empowerment itself can be expected to attract opposition from the status quo and its success would be a demonstration of effective transfer of power against the efforts of those who previously held it. Empowerment in this conceptual framework is largely political.
A further issue is, who is in the position to empower and where do they derive their capacity to empower? At a minimum there must be two attributes that those involved in empowering must possess. First, they must be in some way part of the relationship and must belong to that part of the relationship which exercises power in some respect, that is to say, they themselves must be empowered, spiritually, politically, socially, economically or culturally. Second, they must be at moral variance with the way in which power is exercised in the relationship to the point where they are prepared to take action to rectify the asymmetry in power.
A final issue is that, like everything elsewhere in life, empowerment has the potential for both good and ill. Empowerment can not only result in the liberation of the marginalised but also to the newly empowered using their recently gained capacity to seek revenge of those that held sway over them and also to reach beyond self-sufficiency and self-determination to the control and domination of others. Power has it seductive lure which often causes it to cross the boundaries of goodwill, love and mercy and enter into the domain of evil.
The Caribbean Man
The concept of the Caribbean Man is much more problematic than the concept of empowerment. In the first instance the concept implies a Caribbean distinctiveness that is separate and identifiable from the rest of the world. Second, it implies that men in the Caribbean, or of Caribbean origin, are a monolithic group separate and apart from Caribbean women, who are also a monolithic group.
There is evidence to support the first proposition. There is a distinct Caribbean people and a distinct Caribbean society. Probably, this is most economically dealt with my way of a couple of anecdotes. Just over 20 years ago I was at a Seminar for Education Planners of the Caribbean in Nassau Bahamas. One afternoon a colleague from St Lucia, another from Curacao and I looked out through a window of a conference room because of noise coming from the antics of some tourists on the beach. We simultaneously exclaimed “eh, eh”. My colleague was talking in St Lucian Creole, which has a largely French vocabulary. My colleague from Curacao was speaking Papiamento which has a largely Portuguese vocabulary. I was talking in Jamaica patois which has a largely English vocabulary. We immediately checked each other. You say “eh, eh”, you say “eh, eh”, you say “eh, eh”? We then checked each other about the meaning of “eh, eh”. It meant the same. Look at that. Let’s see what is going to happen next. Caribbean people say “eh, eh,” and “umhu, umhu”. We all speak a Creole which has a common West African morphology and syntax, similar body language but associated with vocabularies that vary with our colonial heritage. Again, Caribbean people all eat rice and peas/peas and rice, fried plantain and stewed chicken.
Sir Alister McIntyre, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies tells the story tell that at the farewell party given for him after 25 years in the service of the United Nations, someone came up to him and said that it was easy to recognise people from the Caribbean in the UN System. He asked, how could Caribbean people be recognised? The reply was that Africans usually spoke to Africans, Europeans to Europeans, Asians to Asians, Latin Americans to Latin Americans but Caribbean people spoke to everybody. In another place I have said that we are Caribbean people are Africans with tribes, Indians without castes, Chinese without dynasties, Lebanese and Syrians without militias and Europeans without class. By that I mean that we have lost the internal identities of the Old World civilisations from which we came, thus allowing us to experience, to a greater degree than most, the common humanity of human kind.
We therefore have no difficulty in speaking to everybody from around the world.
Caribbean uniqueness is marked by an audacity and self-confidence that is not commensurate with neither the size of the countries nor the size of the region. This has allowed us to venture out into the rest of the world and contribute constructively to the societies in which we have settled while retaining a sense of domicile in the Caribbean. The annual pilgrimages of Caribbean nationals back to the Caribbean particularly during summer and at Christmas time is testimony to this reality.
The commonalities that mark and unify Caribbean people are probably more easily recognised and more readily celebrated in New York, Toronto, and London that within the region itself. I was surprised from some research that I did in the mid-1980s to find that Caribbean nationals of Chinese ancestry living in Toronto from Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica reported that they found more easy fellowship among each other than with Chinese from Hong Kong, from which most of their forbearers came.
The emergence of Caribbean people as a distinct people and society within the world community is still very much a work in progress. While Caribbean distinctiveness is sufficiently developed to be recognised and articulated as such, at the same time Caribbean people are still divided along lines of nationality, race and colour, social class, residence and religion. These divisions are all socially constructed and therefore are embedded in the various socialisations processes that exist throughout the region. These social divisions would therefore make it more meaningful and accurate to speak of a plurality of Caribbean men and women instead of implying that there is any gendering of Caribbean people into two monolithic groups: Caribbean men and Caribbean women.
While it would take empirical data to confirm it, my impression from travelling and interacting with people from across the region is that there are several groups on Caribbean people where the men and women of particular groups would share more in common among each other as a group than with the men of other groups or the women of other groups. If one were able to obtain the resources I would test this hypothesis with respect to six groups of Caribbean people with the following profiles:
- Rastafarians of the Nyabinghi Order making their living as subsistent farmers on small acreages in rural communities in different Caribbean countries.
- Hucksters and informal commercial importers of Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana who often travel to St Maarten to obtain goods and who ply their trade and live in urban centres.
- Whites who are owners of medium size businesses or shareholders in large in various Caribbean countries, who are engaged in business enterprises as their occupation, whose families have been members of the Anglican Church for generations and who live in suburban areas.
- Blacks who hold middle management positions in public and private sectors, who have been major beneficiaries of upward social mobility in the post-independence period, who are members of Pentecostal churches and who live mainly in so-called middle-class areas.
- Indians who are Hindus and who are engaged in the taxi services of their countries, who are descendants of indentured workers who worked on sugar estates and who now live mainly in so-called working class areas in towns.
- Chinese who own and run restaurant businesses in small towns across the region, who are members of the Catholic Church and who usually live on the same premises as their business.
My sense is that while each of these groups is passionately Caribbean in the generic sense described previously, they would share more identities, bonds of solidarity, common outlooks and values within their group than with men or women of the other groups in the profiles.
The point that is being made is that while there are commonalities that are uniting the diverse peoples who came into to the region and who are forming a distinct Caribbean people there are still sufficient differences that remain and are sustained by social, economic and cultural determinants of Caribbean existence such that it is more meaningful and accurate to identify those groups that are in the process of becoming Caribbean. Put another way to speak of Caribbean people in terms of their origins as Africans, Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, Syrians and Amerindians is to ignore the process and progress in becoming Caribbean. On the other hand, to speak of Caribbean people as a homogenous group is to assume that the process is sufficiently complete that origin is no longer material. This is indeed not the case. While the notion of the Ideal Caribbean Person proposed by CARICOM continues to articulate and describe the goal, achievement is yet in the future.
Hopefully, I have raised enough doubt on the concept of the monolithic or homogenous Caribbean Man, to allow me to proceed with the notion of a plurality of Men that are Caribbean, or a least with the notion of heterogeneity among Caribbean Men.
Living a Legacy
There are several definitions of the word legacy. These include:
- That which remains from the past
- What is handed down from one’s ancestors
- A gift of property that is a bequest.
- Outdated or obsolete systems that are applicable only in niche situations in contemporary times.
The first three comparable meanings of legacy are longstanding, widely known and well understood. The fourth meaning is recent. It has emerged with the rapid obsolescence of computer and digital technology. Fifty years ago the mainframe computer was at the cutting edge of technological development. However, with the invention of desktop, laptop and hand-held computers, mainframes constitute a legacy system. It still has use and functionality but only in very specific niche situations. Hence, some large companies and some sections of the public sector may still have use for mainframes, but its use is no longer in the mainstream of the application of computer technology in society.
In light of these two basic meanings of legacy, the concept ‘Living a Legacy’ could be interpreted to mean two things. First, reaching back into the past to recapture and retain some tradition, way of life, understanding or glory that once existed but which currently is either disappearing or in danger of disappearance. A backward reach often occurs in circumstances where a forward leap has past the stage of euphoric great expectations and begins to forfeit on some of its promises or brought about some unexpected or unintended consequences or resulted in great uncertainty. Caught in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promise Land doubt rises in the minds of the people and questions arise concerning the wisdom of the journey. Many leaders of movements throughout history have had this Moses experience. The backward reach is often an attempt to return to certainty, a move to recapture the known and an effort to restore past glory.
Second, ‘Living a Legacy’ in the modern information age could mean finding a niche in which to continue a pattern or practice of the past which no longer finds a place in the mainstream of human civilisation. On careful reflection almost all retentions of past patterns or forms or practices in human civilisation have survived as a result of the descendants of the people of the ancient ways having found, or been confined to, niches that have allowed them to bypass, or be bypassed, by the emerging and evolving frontiers of civilisation. Hence, in this highly technological world with numerous cities with teeming millions of inhabitants living in high-rise towers and commuting to work with mass transit, there are still small hunter gathering bands that continue like their ancient ancestors to roam deserts, or rain forests or the artic tundra. Likewise, debt slavery, which goes back to the dawn of human history, previously thought to have been abolished over a hundred years ago, is now popping up in unbelievable niches in many countries around the world. In true 21st century style some family sellers and stranger buyers and those who have been sold and bought, are now telling their stories on television.
Hence while the information and communication technology may have contributed the term legacy system and identified niches as the place for survival, ‘Living a Legacy’ has been had a long history in human affairs and is perhaps much more widespread than may be recognised on first thought. There can be no question that living a legacy is an option for any who would wish to embark on this course.
Before attempting to put these concepts together it is important for me to declare myself. Who I am is very germane to the approach I am adopting and the positions taken. So for better or for worse here goes. I am an Evangelical Christian. I confess Jesus Christ as personal Saviour and Lord. I am not claiming sainthood, the Lord knows, and some people, how far I am from that. I am professing salvation. In today’s world Evangelical Christianity is under a cloud because of the actions of some. Hence, this is not the best times in which to make such a declaration. But this is who I am at the core of by being.
I have never found it easy to discern the specific will of God on any matter although I have heard people speaking about what God told them to do on a daily basis. Knowing God’s will has been a struggle for me. In that struggle there are a few things that have become very clear and that guide my outlook, engagements and involvements. These are:
- In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus. Race, class, nationality, gender etc. are socially constructed and where ever disparities and inequality exist they are not divinely ordained but contrived by men with the complicity of women.
- God is on the side for the weak and marginalised in human society: the widow, the fatherless, the stranger at the gate, the Levite and the poor.
- There is only one good and that is God. To make a difference in life through doing good you have to be on God’s side.
In doing my Master thesis I asked by Supervisor Professor Aubrey Phillips to recommend a topic. He suggested race and class and their impact on children’s psyche and performance. I took his suggestion and got hooked on this subject for life. In doing my Ph D I continued this line of study but restricted by study to adolescent girls. One of the things that I learned from my Ph D was that women who were successful academically paid a very high social price for their success because it ran counter to the norms that prevailed at that time.
In 1972 I became principal of Mico College which had been an all-male institution up to the late 1950s and had not yet fully made the transition to being co-educational. In going about correcting this deficit I was as feminist as a man could be. We constructed appropriate housing accommodation, established a post of female vice principal, promoted capable women to senior positions and provided leadership training for female students among other things. It is in the aggressive pursuit of this agenda that in the late 1970s I happened upon a startling discovery. It was that some men had as many problems accessing opportunities for upward social mobility as women. Gender was not only about women’s issues. Race and class interacted with gender as axes of inequality with implications for both men and women.
I am not an advocate of men’s rights. I believe in human rights. I do not take a man versus woman position. On occasions I have been invited to speak to some groups of Christian men whose eschatology is God in heaven, men on earth, the devil below and women just between earth and the devil. These have been very uncomfortable situations. As a scholar what I have been attempting to do one the issue of gender is to first understand, and then explain as best I can, the changes that have been taking place in society, the challenges posed for both men and women and the more excellent way to proceed to address the challenges.
EMPOWERMENT, MARGINALISATION AND CARIBBEAN MEN
The two critical questions to asked and answered are, which Caribbean men are marginalised and who will do the empowering? The answers to these two questions require an identification of Caribbean men who hold power and those who are marginalised. These questions do not require names but rather categories with all the necessary caveats and qualifications. The answers are made difficult because the circumstances we are describing are dynamic and involve both power exercised in its legitimate form as codified in the laws of society and power in its illegitimate form as defined by law.
Worldwide Changes in Society and their Implications for Men
Before delving into the answers with respect to Caribbean society, and men in the Caribbean, it is necessary to recognise that human society everywhere is changing fundamentally and has been doing so for some time. If we go back say five hundred years ago, human society was just emerging from being organised on the basis of empires and genealogy relationships, factual or fictional. Tribe, clan, caste, and race were widely used as the instruments of grouping and organising relationships. The extended family was the basic unit of social organisation. Families or lineages exercised rights in their members. Government was owned by a lineage, and an aristocracy based on royal relationship was the basis of governance. The perpetuation of the line was a principal object of existence. To cap it patriarchy prevailed. Older men of the family, lineage, tribe, clan, or caste made the final decisions in a hierarchical system which defined what issues were decided at what level.
In this lineage type society the vast majority of women were marginalised both within the lineage in the wider society. Women were for the most part dependents in relationships. While some men were marginalised in lineage society their marginalisation was mitigated by two main factors. Firstly, while most men were marginal in the society at large they were the heads and final arbiter within the confines of their household, however modest those may have been. Secondly, the marginalisation of men within the family or lineage was mitigated by the factor of succession. Sons would eventually replace fathers in time. Brothers could succeed to headship in particular circumstances. Men performed the physical and spiritual roles of physical and ritual defence, the economic role of provider and the social role of punishment of infractions within the family of lineage. Women’s marginalisation was virtually unmitigated except in those rare cases where there were no male relatives to ensure that the family or lineage retained its social, economic and other assets or advantage. Women’s roles were confined largely to being that of nurturers.
While this system of organising society had emerged from antiquity it was virtually unchanged up to five hundred years ago. However, since then with escalating pace, major transformations have occurred. Nation-states have replaced empires. Voluntary association has replace genealogy. Political party, church, corporation, school, union and club have replaced tribe, clan, lineage, caste and race as the main lines of cleavage in society. The individual has replaced the family as the basic unit of social organisation. Rights of the individual have replaced rights in people. Government by consent of the governed has replaced government by descent. Material progress has replaced perpetuation of the line.
Over the last five hundred years, patriarchy has started to be dismantled. The essence of patriarchy resides in genealogy, generation and gender. The right of older men of the kinship collective to determine the structure of opportunity and make final decisions has been declared unconstitutional by the nation-state. Access to opportunity in society should not be determined on the basis of one’s lineage, gender or age.
All the roles that were previously prescribed and restricted to the men of the lineage have outsourced to public institutions. The security forces are now responsible for physical defence. The church, mosque or the temple is now responsible for ritual defence. Education is the responsibility of schools. Economic provision is through markets, corporations and unions. Many previously private matters are now matters of public policy within the government and its bureaucracy. While men first followed these roles from the private into the specialised institutions, on the basis of fairness within the context of constitutional rights women now challenge men for equal access to opportunities available in these specialised institutions.
While these changes have been taking place at different rates across the world, the pace has been somewhat slower in those societies that have retained some continuity with their ancient origins. At the same time some of these societies have been sites of great reversal even where only modest changes have occurred. Caribbean societies have no such roots in antiquity. Modern Caribbean society is not connected to Caribbean antiquity. Caribbean societies have therefore been on the very frontiers of the changes outlined.
Irrespective of the differential in the pace of these changes in societies around the world, their overall impact has been to jettison many men from the central places they held in lineage society, simply on the basis of being men. Likewise these changes have opened up access to women at rates and in amounts that surpasses anything that obtained previously in human history. Generally speaking the changes have had positive effects for many women and negative effects for a large proportion of men.
At the same time the patriarchal system has not been dismantled. Men still predominate at pinnacle of political systems, economic systems, religion systems, defence systems, universities, unions and corporations. Similarly, women still constitute the majority of the marginalised in the world and in almost all societies more women than men can be counted among the most marginalised in society.
The point to bear in mind is that the changes are continuing to occur. The situation is therefore not static but dynamic. The transformation of lineage society into the rights-based society continues apace. The dismantling of patriarchy is not stalled. The present is but a snapshot of the process.
After Marginalisation of the Black Male was published in 1986 one of the persons I use to discuss things with was the late Dr. Derek Gordon. He was a social scientist with very strong quantitative skills and he was working on different patterns and trends in the Jamaican workforce. Coming from a natural science background I enjoyed exchanges with Derek where we discussed data. In our private discussions Derek would say to me, “Errol I am picking up some of the trends you are talking about, but they are not statistically significant.” I would reply, “But Derek the trends I am looking at in the school data are highly significant statistically.” We would both wonder why this difference. After more than two years of struggle with trying to interpret this difference, one day I said to Derek, I think that I have found the answer. The current workforce data includes not only current trends but also past patterns. The school data are indicative of emerging patterns. Highly significant school patterns will take years before such patterns become significant in the work force. People go through the education system in about twenty years at the most. On average people spend 40 to 50 years in the work force. It is critical to keep this perspective in mind when considering the patterns that are the focus of our interest.
It is absolutely erroneous to charge women for the changes taking place in society that have had negative implications for men. The reasons for these changes have very little if any to do with women’s action. The scope of this Lecture does not allow me to explore this matter in any depth hence I hope that it is sufficient to say that after the most careful study and consideration I am convinced that the fundamental changes that are fuelling the transformation in human society has to do with demographic, ecological and technological imperatives operating in history and at the current time.
Male Marginalisation in Caribbean Society
I hope that I have been able so far to establish that
- Whatever the circumstances may be that are requiring some men to be empowered; those circumstances are not peculiar to the Caribbean or to Caribbean men. The phenomenon that is taking place is global.
- The central mechanism of this process of transformation of lineage society, in which men were centralised, is that of nation-states replete with constitutions that declare genealogy, gender and generation as unlawful means by which to determine access to opportunity within the nation-state. Genealogy, gender and generation were the core principles of patriarchy.
- The transformation is still in progress because much that previously obtained in patriarchal relationship still obtains in modern society, if even in muted tones.
It is against this background that we must now turn to deal specifically with identifying the males in the Caribbean that are marginalised and therefore in need of empowerment. Let me approach this subject of male marginalisation in the Caribbean from a different direction than on some other occasions and with logic and facts that can be readily substantiated.
Modern Caribbean societies in the 17the century were established with great disparities of power. Basically there was a relatively small European segment that commanded the legal, economic, military and social systems. There was another European segment that carried out the administrative functions of both government and plantation. European indentured servants and African slaves were marginalised in this social formation, with the Africans by virtue of being slaves occupying the most marginal positions. With the growth of the slave trade Africans gained one power, that of numbers. Through a spirit of resistance they quickly established the power of numbers as a real threat by virtue of riot and rebellion. These expressions of the power of numbers were deemed illegal, and sanctioned by very stiff penalties but in some measure acted as a countervailing force in the exercise of the so-called legal economic, military and social powers. The exercise of legal and illegal power was done by the men of the European and African segments.
Over the next two hundred years the societies became more complex as:
- A few poor whites became marginalised to almost the same degree as the slaves
- A coloured and Jewish intermediate segment developed that spanned the social spectrum so that at one end they overlapped to so extent with lesser white planting elite and at the other end with the poor whites and slaves.
- Some slaves gained manumission and, to a lesser extent, mirrored the coloured segment.
- Some of the rebels labelled Maroons, who have been most successful exponents of the use of violence to resist European power and rebelling against servitude were granted some autonomy on the margins of the society, on terms that virtually co-opt them as allies against their brethren.
- A moral critique of the exercise of power by the Europeans emerged from within the European segment, largely coming from the missionaries of the non-conformist denominations and led mainly by the Baptists, Methodists and to a lesser extent the Moravians.
By emancipation in the 1830s the structure of power and access to opportunity in Caribbean society, and their control, were basically set. Their elemental features can be described briefly as follows:
- A small visible White minority exercised ultimate power and controlled access to legitimate opportunity in the societies. They biased opportunities in their favour, especially in favour of their males.
- Limited opportunities were conceded to coloured, Jews and freed blacks to intermediary positions in the society. Such concessions were also male-biased.
- Manumission, the legal means and official route to freedom, and a changed status in society was distinctly biased in favour of female slaves.
- The illegal rebel route to freedom was taken predominantly by male slaves.
Immediately following emancipation the churches, with support for the Imperial Government, established the education system that was accessible to the ex-slaves. The two institutions that constituted this system were the elementary school and the teachers’ college. The non-conformist missionary took the position that this mass education system should offer upward social mobility opportunities to the ex-slaves. The system was fee paying and linked to the proselytising mission of the denominations hence posture and policies of non-conformist impacted the denominational system of education as a whole. Let me use the case of Jamaica to illustrate the course of development.
The path of upward social mobility established for the ex-slaves was from elementary school to teachers’ college. By 1861 there were three colleges training male teachers and one college training female teachers. In a nutshell, in the immediate aftermath of emancipation the system of education established for ex-slaves and their descendants was distinctly male-biased. The churches, with strong support from the ex-slaves, sought to re-establish patriarchal patterns which had been seriously undermined among people of African descent during slavery. The churches actions to re-instate patriarchal forms were not confined to education. Slaves were not allowed to marry. Practically all of their children were born out of wed-lock. The churches took positive actions to establish marriage as the basis of family life. They assisted some ex-slaves to purchase land in sizes that would permit the men to vote. Put another way the churches were reaching back to restructure the legacy of slave society so that it returned to traditional norms. This included the governance of the churches themselves.
In 1892 the State took over responsibility for the education system, but allowed the denominations to continue to manage the schools. The bounty of State control was free elementary education. By 1899 the teacher education system was restructured so that there were three colleges training female teachers and one college training male teachers. This structure of teacher training in Jamaica remained unchanged until 1956, when Moneague College was added to the system. To put it bluntly by the turn of the 20th century the Colonial State had reverse the institutional structure of opportunity for upward social mobility through education, that was accessible to the marginal majority within the society, from being male to being female. Given the fact that the college training male teachers was larger than any of the colleges training female teachers, on average 65 per cent of the teachers trained each year was female and 35 per cent male. This female biased structure remained in place for the entire first half of the twentieth century.
Following the Morant Bay rebellion and the enhanced and expanded provisions that were made for the elementary school/teachers college system that mainly served the descendants of the slaves, a preparatory/high school system was organised to serve mainly the needs of the descendants of the freed coloured segment of the society. The high schools established were single-sex schools serving both genders. Initially there were more boys’ schools than girls’ schools. By 1956, the year before the Common Entrance was introduced, there were 26 high schools in Jamaica: 7 boys’ schools, 15 girls’ schools and 4 coeducational schools. In a nutshell, by the middle of the twentieth century the structure of opportunity for upward social mobility through secondary education was biased in favour of females, although to the same degree as the elementary school/teachers college system.
In a study I did one the social background of all students entering the 26 high schools in years 1942, 1952 and 1962 the results showed that on average 60 per cent were female and 40 per cent were male. However, among students from the higher socio-economic groups male and female were more or less even. However, among students from the lower socio-economic groups on average 70 per cent of the students were female while 30 per cent were male.
The elementary school/teachers college system and the preparatory school/high school system were the two avenues of upward social mobility through education available in the country and education was the main channel of upward social mobility accessible to the disadvantaged segments of Jamaican society. In the first half of the twentieth century both systems of public education were relatively small and offered only modest amounts of educational opportunity. However, the impact of the female-biased that operated in both systems was huge for the following reasons:
- It shaped and influenced the socialisation process in the homes of the disadvantaged segments with respect to their investment in education. In circumstances of scare resources parents could be depended upon to do their own private rate of return analysis on investments in their children’s education. Further, parents could be expected to invest in the girl or boy that is most likely to succeed. With a female bias in the structure of opportunity in the education systems, the bias in the socialisation process of the home would be in favour of the girl who was doing well in school.
- It shaped and influenced the socialisation processes of the schools, especially the elementary school. Teachers are judged by the success of their students, particularly in terms of gaining access to the next level of education. On the whole teachers can be expected to invest in the students most likely to succeed. If bias in moving to the next level favoured girls then over time teachers could be expected to invest more in the girls most likely to succeed.
- It shaped and influenced students’ expectations of themselves and the self fulfilling prophecies they developed with respect to their investment in the education process. If boys from the disadvantage segments of the society perceived that their chances of moving to the next level are slim, then some may make little effort after encountering even minimal difficulties in the learning process or school system. Likewise, if girls from similar background perceive that their chances of moving ahead are reasonable, they may be motivate to persist even after encountering initial difficulty in the learning process or school system.
- The biases in the socialisation processes of the home and school and the self-fulfilling prophecies of the students themselves became mutually re-enforcing and set the stage for communities, composed mainly of disadvantaged persons, to form expectations of themselves.
Before proceeding it is necessary to indicate that there is strong empirical evidence that is totally consistent with biases in the socialisation processes identified above. A mere listing of some of these finding in Jamaica should suffice:
- More male babies are abandoned than female babies. It should be noted that these abandoned babies are not offspring of the patents of the privileged sections of the Jamaican society
- Ashcroft and Lovell found that while Jamaican middle class girls and boys and lower class girls attained heights and weights comparable to their African-American peers in North Americans lower class boys were shorter and lighter indicating stunted growth.
- On entry to primary school, boys demonstrate lower levels of readiness on the Grade 1 Learning Inventory and lower levels of reading achievement on Standardized Reading Tests than girls.
- On average boys start school later, repeat more grades and drop out of school earlier than girls.
- On all performance tests administered at different levels of primary and secondary education, generally, boys perform at lower levels than girls.
It must be noted that where the socialisation processes of home and school coincide to shape the self-fulfilling prophecies of students and to mould the expectations of communities then a virtual self-sustaining system is created for those who choose to operate within the parameters of this structure of opportunity. On the other hand, those judging the structure of opportunity to be unfair can be expected to reject and oppose the system in various ways.
Between emancipation in 1938 and the end of the 1950s Caribbean colonial societies had gone through important changes that can be summarised as follows:
- The British colonial administrators and the white planter elite sponsored or allowed the immigration of small numbers of Chinese, Lebanese and Syrians and allowed them niches in the socio-economic structure comparable to those of the Coloureds and Jews.
- They also sponsored Indians to work on the plantations and to occupy a segment similar to the ex-slaves and their descendants, thus adding another ethnic group to the marginal majority.
- Resistance to British rule, planter-dominated government and the structure of opportunity in the society had arisen in various forms including the formation of unions to represent the rights and interest of workers, the nationalist movement advocating independence, the Rastafarian movement condemning Babylon, the Garvey movement champions the rights of Blacks.
- By the 1930s all the groups, previously subordinated at different levels in the society coalesced and formed alliances to challenge planter domination of the government and to demand participation in governance of the colonies. This led to adult suffrage and representative government beginning in Jamaica in 1944 and extending throughout the region thereafter. This placed political power into the hands of the marginalised majorities in the various colonies and led to the literal overnight change of colour and ethnicity in the legislatures across the region. The power of numbers that could only find expression in illegal terms now became political power legitimately expressed. This also laid the basis for dismantling cultural dominance by the British elite of all other cultures than had entered the Caribbean milieu.
- This same coalition challenged the British for political independence which began to be granted to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in 1962 and has extended to 12 of the 18 British colonies in the region.
Among the major elements of the critique of British and planter rule were the huge deficits in the quantity of what was provided with respect to basic services for the population and discrimination and disparity in the little that was provided. Put another way, the critique was not about what was provided. Rather it was that what was provided was not enough. Race and class were the cited as the major axes of the inequity in colonial and planter class provision. High on the list of deficits was the provision for education, especially primary and secondary education. It is therefore easy to explain that with political power now transferred to the majority and sovereignty achieved, or in sight, the post independence period was marked by rapid and substantial expansion of access to educational opportunity. Governments enacted policies to make merit, through performance in Common Entrance Examinations, the basis of access to secondary education. They also introduced free place systems and subsequently free secondary education to remove parents’ ability to pay as reason for denying children from poor homes access to secondary education.
Part of the promise and euphoria of political independence was that it would immediately address the deficits, inequities and discrimination of the colonial past. All Caribbean countries achieved universal primary education by the end of the 1960s. By the end of the 1980s all had expanded secondary education to accommodate more than 50 per cent of students of secondary school age. Teacher education expanded consequentially to meet the demand for teachers.
It is within this context of rapid and massive expansion of educational opportunity in the post-independence period that the gender bias in access to educational opportunity to children of the socially disadvantage, which had been nested within the racial and class disparities and inequities, has become highly visible. By the 1980s it was very evident and more so in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The gender bias in favour of girls first became very visible at the secondary level and later at the tertiary level, including university education. This is because of four principal reasons:
- National governments did not immediately change, in any fundamental way, the colonial systems of education. They simply made these systems larger.
- Merit was made the basis for entry into those secondary schools that offered the greatest chances of upward social mobility in order to ensure greater access to those schools to the socially disadvantaged.
- Merit is the basis of advancing from the secondary to the tertiary level because entry to the tertiary level is prescribed in matriculation standards that require certain levels of performance at the secondary level, which is certified by the authorities mandated to assess such performance.
- The socialisation systems of home and school and the self-fulfilling prophecies that had been established in the first half of the twentieth century placed girls of the socially disadvantaged groups in the most advantageous position to access the expanded secondary and tertiary education opportunities that were provided in the second half of the twentieth century.
The principle of merit as the criterion for determining advancement is at the core of the construction of national society. With all nationals having equal rights to any opportunity that is available, then ascriptions of race, class, gender, genealogy etc constitute violations if they are used in the process. In other words merit does not only apply to determining access to educational opportunity but also to access to jobs, promotion on the job, credit at financial institutions, owning property and all other situations where the particular resource is limited and criteria have to be applied to determine who is preferred.
Caribbean societies in the latter half of the twentieth century started to make the transition to nationhood. National constitutions rendered race, class, gender and creed illegal ascriptions if they were used as means of determining opportunity. This not only applied to education but all other areas of national life. Expansion in educational opportunity also coincided with the expansion of opportunity in the public and private sectors. Girls emerging from the educational system with the specified educational credentials from the secondary and tertiary secondary qualified on the basis of merit for access to those opportunities. Educational opportunity therefore translated into job opportunity at the same time that it became illegal for differentials in salaries to exist for males and females performing the same jobs requiring the same qualifications.
Caribbean labour markets manifest dualistic tendencies in the ways related to how it rewards and penalises males and females of the lower socio-economic groups. Women are penalised for poor levels of education in that for the same level of education as men women are paid much lower wages. Women in domestic service are paid much lower wages than men doing manual labour. Also women with poor levels of education have higher levels of unemployment than men. Girls are therefore encouraged to stay in school and obtain higher levels of education credentials while males are rewarded for the lower credentials and therefore encouraged to leave school earlier. On the other hand, while women from lower socio-economic categories with high levels of education credentials obtain the same salaries as men with those qualifications. Hence they are rewarded for such qualifications. On the only hand men from the lower socio-economic groups with high levels of educational qualifications are not as readily employed and often not allowed to access the same jobs as their male peers from the higher socio-economic groups because of the ties that the latter have to those making the employment and promotion decisions.
Who then are the marginalised males in Caribbean society in the first decade of the twenty-first century? They are defined by three interlocking features:
They belong to the groups that were consigned to marginalised positions in Caribbean during when it was colonised by the British in the 17th century and thereafter during the periods of slavery and colonialism. They are the descendants of Africans, Indians, Amerindians and Caribs. There is an ethnic dimension to male marginality in the Caribbean.
Their ancestors occupied the lowest socio-economic positions in the colonial society organised on the basis of race and colour, and they now occupy the lowest position in the post-independent societies now organised principally on the basis of class. In other words, they are the ones that have been left behind as a result of the very limited opportunities that have been open to them as a result of the bias in the structure of opportunity that has operated for the entire twentieth century and which has worked to their disadvantage. There is a class dimension to male marginality in the Caribbean.
They are the ones that have not been able, or have not been successful, to create legitimate opportunities for themselves outside of the official channels through which opportunities can be accessed. In other words, there is an individual dimension to male marginality in the Caribbean.
The third defining feature of male marginality cited above acknowledges that there have been paths that marginalised men have attempted to create for themselves, outside of those for which the gateways are controlled by officialdom. While not claiming that these paths are restricted only to men to the exclusion of women or that they do not involve marginalised men, the point is that these paths have been to a large extent dominated by marginalised men. A brief listing of these paths is important.
- Spiritual resistance as evidenced by not only the establishment of an alternative belief systems but also by creating a hierarchical institutional structure with leadership and other positions that ascribe importance and significance to such persons. The Rastafarian religion with its different orders is a prime example. While many members of the religion could be said to be marginalised economically and socially, spiritually they are empowered in their social structures and coping mechanisms.
- Mastery of performance in fields such as sports, music and entertainment. This path has been pioneered by cricketers and more recently footballers, and by calypsonians and more recently exponents of reggae and dancehall. A long time feature of this path has been the great difference between the prodigious talent of the cricketer, footballer, calypsonian, reggae or dancehall artist and the modesty of their formal education. The challenge here is to empower these male to maximise and manage the benefits derived from their talents.
- Illegal alternatives as evidenced by gangs engaged in the drug trade, schemes of extortion and the control of particular locality into which the State has difficulty in gaining access and in which utilities and other agencies experience difficulty in withholding services and in collecting revenue. It could well be argued that this group needs no empowerment. They have empowered themselves and constitute a distinct and definite challenge to power held legitimately.
Without any survey that has ever been conducted that have counted Caribbean people by the category described, one can only guesstimate, but my guess would be that the majority of males categorised as marginalised by the definitions employed above have not gone down the path of spiritual resistance, illegal alternatives or been possessed of prodigious talents in sports and the performing arts and that have been rewarded by substantial financial returns. The majority of marginalised males of the ethnic groups identified are still hoping and working for themselves or their children to ‘become somebody’ in society, or have given up hope and have accepted that the lot of their ancestors will be their lot.
I have gone a long way round in history to identify marginalised males in the Caribbean society and in sketching the processes that have contributed to their marginalisation. However, this rather long journey has established four aspects of the marginal condition that are critical to any consideration of empowerment.
- At its core, there is a structural component to male marginalisation that is not amenable to superficial treatment. The issue is therefore by no means trivial.
- The processes that have resulted in the existing situation have operated over a least a century. They have not come about in the short-term. They have been produced over several generations. Any adjustment, correction or new formulation must include efforts that are sustained across generations. They must be long-term in vision and scope.
- Marginalised males are not a homogenous group. Empowerment must, therefore, be contextually applied to the group that is targeted for whatever reason and by the persons so acting.
- Real risks are involved in the empowerment process for the path forward is unknown, the outcomes cannot be guaranteed and those benefiting from the status quo may not immediately or readily welcome the action taken.
EMPOWERING CARIBBEAN MEN: LIVING A LEGACY
There can be no question that this is the most problematic and challenging aspect of the Theme. The source of the difficulty resides in the fact that living a legacy means perpetuating or recovering the past or finding a niche for a something that is generally obsolete but has relevance only in some specific or specialised circumstances, a niche. Of course there are circumstances in which perpetuating or recovering the past is the thing to do. Each generation does not start over from scratch. Each generation carries forward and perpetuate much from the past. The point is that those things are most easily carried forward are those features of the past that continue to be relevant in contemporary society and are not challenged by fundamental change in the circumstances or by moral objection.
There are five paradigmic stereotypes of men in the history of the Caribbean over the last five hundred years that could become the sources from the past that would need to be considered with respect to any legacy being carried forward. These are:
The pirate: the man who plundered treasure in the Caribbean on behalf of foreign powers while helping himself generously in the process, used violence as his tool of trade, travelled from port to port in the region and lived recklessly in each port. Expropriation, violence, roaming and licentiousness characterised the pirate.
The grandee: the man who made investments in the colony, drank a lot, rode fast, gambled hard, had a lot of ‘Brown skin’ progeny, made it rich and left the Caribbean to live in grandeur, sobriety and civility in the Mother Country. Business investments, licentious living, material success and departure from the region characterised the successful man in the slave societies of the Caribbean. Some of these features carried over to those who were successful and remained in the Caribbean. The adjustment made in the free colonial society by those who remained was to maintain a home with a wife and family and to conform to all the tenets of public respectability while at the same time having extra-marital relationships with several outside children.
The missionary: the man who by background belonged to the privileged segments of society but who by conviction decided to devote his life’s work to the cause of defending and advancing the interests of the dispossessed in the society even against severe opposition from his own group. The missionary was marked by the ascriptions of privilege, moral rejection of the status quo which obtained in the society, personal sacrifice in his life’s undertaking and real risks in pursuing the causes he espoused.
The hustlers: the man of the people who is jack of all trades and master of the art of beating the system. He is anancy personified. Irrepressible, resourceful but not hesitant to cross ethical boundaries to achieve his goals. The hustler is marked with modest formal education, enormous ‘street smarts’, an abundance of common sense and an amoral approach to gaining advantage even among close friends and family.
The rebel: the man of the people who was the author of resistance and rebellion against the injustices imposed upon the people, not withstanding that such action would surely bring reprisals, including the loss of his life. Boldness, courage, an indomitable spirit and the use of violence characterised the rebel.
The vast majority of men in history of the Caribbean cannot be classified in any of these five categories. Yet these are the heroic figures that have in many ways kept hope alive in many and inspired action. Hence they have been immortalised in literature and lore and therefore have the potential to be empowering images from the past. It could be argued with some success that pirates, grandees, missionaries and rebels continue to exist and operate in contemporary Caribbean society. The extent to which this is true would be commensurate with the extent to which Caribbean slave and colonial society continue to be relevant in contemporary Caribbean existence and our present existential reality. On the other hand, there is equally good argument to the effect that these heroic stereotypes from the past were creations of the circumstances of the times and are no longer relevant because of differences in times. Hence it would be a huge stretch to try to equate pirates, grandees, missionaries and rebels with the actions of men at the current time.
This brings us to the central question to be answered in the Theme. Ought we to exert ourselves to recapture the essence of any of these heroic stereotypes of men in the Caribbean past such that they become living legacies of men of today? Certainly, the majority would agree that Pirates of the Caribbean ought to remain part of history and contemporary entertainment but not part of the striving of the Church to empower Caribbean Men. The same could be said of the Grandee. The missionary and the rebel cannot be dismissed in the same manner and hustlers are common place in contemporary Caribbean societies.
The overwhelming majority of the most revered leaders of the Caribbean in politics, the union movement, teaching and the church in the twentieth century have hewn from the missionary category. They have been men who by ancestry or achievement belonged to the privileged segments of society who by choice devoted their lives, made great personal sacrifices and took major risks in seeking to address the needs and advance the causes of the dispossessed and disadvantaged of Caribbean society. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century the ethic of self-denial in the interest of others seems to have lost ground in politics, the church, teaching and the union movement. The Church seems to have been overtaken by a gospel of prosperity. Politicians appear to operate under a cloud of suspicion of corruption. Teachers and union leaders are like everybody else seeking to ensure the good life. Missionaries in the theological and sociological senses seem difficult to find.
The rebels of slavery and colonialism championed causes which they clearly articulated. They employed violence which in many instances led to lost of life and destruction of property. But violence was not used for personal gain. They did not engage in armed struggle against each other or impose inhuman practices on their own. They had expectations of a greater good that they were hoping to achieve for their own and future generations. This makes it difficult to make equations between the present and the past.
The short answer to the question appears to be that there are considerable difficulties to be overcome in attempting to recapture any of the heroic male stereotypes of the past as legacy that Caribbean men should now attempt to live. This raises the question are there empowering images that are emerging within contemporary Caribbean society that Caribbean men should emulate?
The empowering images that appear in contemporary society appear to be the following:
- Rich and famous for whatever reason and in whatever sphere, with or without bling.
- The ragamuffin: defying norms of decency and decorum.
- The don: a consummate practitioner of the personalistic idiom of power.
- The servant leader: the beneficiary of the best that society offers who is constrained to serve the people whose sacrifice made his/her achievements possible.
Interestingly the only one of these images that is gendered is the don. Surely the church and general society would have little reason to adopt the don as an ideal for Caribbean men.
Empowering Caribbean Men and the Jesus Legacy
This brings me to the final question. Is there no past or present male legacy with which Caribbean men, and men anywhere, can be empowered? Is there a legacy, an image, a stereotype, a paradigm, an ideal of what a man should be that is applicable and relevant to all men, everywhere and at all times? Is there an absolute by which all men can judge themselves?
These are questions that I have explored over and over again for my own edification. The best answer I have always come to is, Jesus the Christ. But even for those who would not make that leap of faith and believe Jesus to be the Christ, and regard Jesus of the Bible as a redaction and idealisation by some Jews of the first century, it is my conviction that there no greater, more empowering, more noble idealisation of man, than Jesus of the Bible. His life as recorded in scripture is a challenge to be confronted by men, and women, of every generation. I apologise profoundly and profusely to those who came to this conference expecting to hear of some new paradigm, some cutting edge approach or some new breakthrough. The best that I have to give is the Jesus legacy applied to our times and place.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was engaged in bringing the world into being, and therefore at the centre of all power in the world. However, he chose to reveal the nature of God to human kind by coming into the world as a marginal man. He was conceived out of wedlock. Neither his mother nor his step-father was a person of any social rank. They were people of very modest means. He was born in an unimportant rural village in the most inauspicious circumstances. Imagine being born in a stable. He went to school but did not go above the elementary level. He chose to be an artisan by trade. He was charged with a crime but declared innocent by the judge. Yet he was condemned and executed like a common criminal. There was no public protest of this gross injustice. Indeed, the crowd shouted for the release of a guilty man instead of him. Everything about his conception, birth, rural origin, upbringing, occupation and death is marked by marginality.
The pronouncement of God on marginality could not be clearer. God chose marginality as the condition of his entry into human society, thus declaring that marginality is not a fatal condition. It is not a terminal disease. It is not a social pathology. Rather is it just one of the circumstances and categories of human social structures. Marginality does not limit our humanity. It does not determine who a person is. It is not a shackle that constrains what we can become. Marginality is not an excuse or justification for evil. On the contrary the life of Jesus demonstrates that marginality is the circumstance in which God’s enabling power is most readily visible and His grace is most easily seen.
Jesus was not a warrior. He was not a man of war. He did not take up arms against those who opposed him. His power did not come from killing others. He did not belong to or embrace the culture of death. He did not see the elimination of those who got in his way as the solution to any problem nor did he employ destruction of others as a tool by which to advance. On the contrary He was the standard bearer and champion of life, abundant live, everlasting life, life devoted to the goodwill and upliftment of others. His mission was to demonstrate how life ought to be lived to its fullest. Spirit and the life principle applied against the obstacles and hurdles stacked against the marginalised are the means of defeating the odds, exceeding the expectations of the naysayer, overcoming prejudice, demystifying myths of inferiority and showing what can be accomplished by those that are despised. Life and spirit were the antidotes for the happenstance of marginality.
Jesus exemplified that a man’s worth cannot be estimated or measured in terms of material possessions. His was the lot of the majority of human kind. He owned no property. His possessions were just about enough to take care of his daily existence. By life and lip Jesus declared that it was what you did with what you had: the one talent, the five talents or the talents that really counted. Further, he demonstrated that was it how you used your talents that was key. The live of Jesus revealed that that character was supreme. Character is measured by the extent to which one’s life is obedient to, compliance with and congruent to the Word of God, the Way of God and the Will of God. His life of holiness, purity, selfless service and sacrifice still speaks to every generation through the years of the best in human personality, of nobility in action, of goodness in relationship and of righteousness in all circumstances. The evil that was done to him stopped with him. What came from him was good and through that goodness mankind was redeemed.
He observed no convention or respected no social barrier where these would hinder him from serving the needs of those who needed his assistance. Nationality, race, residence, class, gender and social ostracisms did not frustrate his ministry or service. His approach was inclusive. Whosoever will could come and be healed, or fed of whatever. He conversed and communed with lepers, women of ill repute, tax-collectors the so-called traitors and fifth columnists of Jewish society, Samaritans, Scribes, Pharisees and Publicans. He respected to common humanity of all of human kind and included them in his ministry.
Brothers I can find no more empowering legacy than that of Jesus. Our challenge in living our lives and interacting with our sons, nephews, students at school and Sunday school, colleagues at work and boys in the neighbourhood in the Caribbean so that they can catch a glimpse of Jesus through us. I am not speaking here in the sanctimonies tones or in terms of preaching but rather in terms of the practical deeds of every day living: acts of kindness, sacrificial self-giving, support for the persecuted, gestures of encouragement to the defeated and depressed, deeds of thoughtfulness and care directed to the excluded, and stout defence of the weak in shielding them from the assaults of the strong.
In every generation the way of Jesus has been scoffed at and criticised as foolish, naïve, nonsensical, weak, other worldly and unrealistic. This is because the world’s heroes are symbolised by the lion that conquers and triumphs by speed and force decisively administered with ruthless precision. The Jesus way is the way of the sacrificial lamb that is slain, usually by the lions of this world. But God’s empowerment is in the resurrection of the lamb that was slain.
Why would God’s way of empowerment be the lamb that was slain? This has puzzled me, but I offer one possibility. It is because marginality is not divinely ordained but constructed by human beings who have power. Empowerment involving the overthrow of the powerful by the marginalised can involve only replacing the people holding power without any change in how power is used. Power is seductive. Power is prone to reprisal. It is always tempted to overreach itself. There is something special when one finds out that one is able get one’s way even against opposition. Power has a euphoric and exhilarating feeling. This is even more so when the tables are turned. Vengeance often follows empowerment because power has such a great propensity to repay wrongs of the past and to quickly become self-centred, self-serving, selfish and arrogant.
God’s way of empowerment is not simply to replace the actors but rather to change the play. The resurrection of the lamb that was slain gives power to those that have felt the full abuse and cruelty of power, while remaining full trust in God’s instruction that “vengeance is mine, I will repay saith the Lord.” God’s method of empowerment is to put power in the hands of those who can be depended upon not only to replace those who previously held power, but who will exercise the power gained in a manner that will change the play. These are the Mandela’s of this world, whose lives are beacons, shining in the darkness of vengeance.
The resurrection experience is not restricted to the last days when Christ shall return. Many who are alive have had a foretaste. Usually it comes with having embraced and stood up for people who are weak, stuck by what is right or a cause that is just. But you are crucified by those with the power in the situation. Left dead in the situation, in time, the unexpected and the unimaginable happens. You are resurrected because the weak people prevail, the right is vindicated and the cause is celebrated and embraced. Honour and glory goes to God because only He could have turned things around. Empowerment is God’s reward for obedience and faith by the marginalised and those who work in their interest.
Let me conclude with the image of empowerment recorded in Book of Revelation Chapter 5. It is the image of Jesus the marginal men who is elevated to being the central man of time and eternity. He, who took the risk of becoming a marginal man in history, acted constructively, creatively, morally and redemptively from this marginal position is empowered to the highest heights of centrality that can be attained. He who was perceived to be the victim becomes the ultimate victor, not through death but through eternal life so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus the Christ is Lord.
Allow me a few liberties in quoting the text
“One of the elders said, weep not. The lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed. And lo in the midst of the throne and in the midst of the elders stood a Lamb as it has been slain. I heard the voice of many angels round and about the throne and the beasts and the elders and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands: saying with a loud voice, worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on earth and under the earth as such are in the sea and all that are in them, heard I them saying: Blessing and honour, and glory and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” Hallelujah! Amen.