Thu | Jun 8, 2023

Ronald Thwaites | About ‘Massa’

Published:Monday | March 27, 2023 | 12:09 AM
Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke

If there is one Jamaican white man to whom the term Massa does not apply, it is Mark Golding. Anyone who knows him will attest to that. Nigel made a mistake last week which has backfired badly. It was unworthy of someone as cultured and gracious as he is.

Trouble is that, like so many of us, the sour tribalism of our political culture gets under your skin like a jigga and twists the most gentle soul. You end up saying and doing what will titivate some rum bar audience, rather than what you know is right. This is analysis as well as confession. I know how it go.

Hear the rake. “Yeah Nigel, tek it to the white bwoy! Yu too saff. ‘Bout man a fool. An ‘neck an neck inna di teefin poll. Cho, jook im some more. Facety an renk”!

And if Angela’s “Shut yu mout” is unparliamentary, then Warmy, the good duppy of the late great Danny Buck, and countless others, present and past, will have to be censured too.

Then Marisa – Dear Marisa, so urbane in the past, causing many of us to feel quiet affection for her. The only worthwhile legacy of a Speaker is calm impartiality, a broad back and a little humour. Please work on it. Time is running out. Coaching opportunities from predecessors abound. The air-conditioned phlegm of Gordon House clogs brains and hearts but sadly, encourages angry speech.

Shouldn’t we be embarrassed that the banality of proceedings in the People’s Chamber dominated public discourse last week instead of the intractable issues affecting everyday life – like food prices, like illiteracy, like purposeful inequality of opportunity; like bruk-down public transportation, like everyday corruption?


Tell us from now if the “deeply entrenched” cancer of two party rivalry is front and centre of the Constitutional Reform Committee’s remit. When is the referendum proposing proportionate representation instead of first past the post and about collaborative rather than competitive governance? And please Committee members, no confidential discussions or limited interaction with the public. That was the problem last time. It caused the “Westministerites” to prevail.


One of my occupations takes me often to burial grounds. Apart from the very expensive private cemeteries, public burial facilities are generally in disgraceful condition. What is the justification for expensive Municipal Corporations and a ministry of local government if they can’t even manage the decent disposal of human remains? They show contempt for the dead and the grieving by poor management of these basic public health facilities- invariably overcrowded, overgrown and unsupervised? No wonder Mr. Seaga wanted the whole lot abolished two generations ago.

But the hurtful incompetence became humorous in the macabre way that only we Jamaicans can do it, when last week some people in Clarendon whose community burial ground has become an outsider’s small business enterprise, selling plots like others sell land they have captured, bemoaned the terrible night-time weeping by the duppies of those strangers buried there who can‘t find their way home.


She is an ambitious young woman who wants higher education and could do well in any business. Raised by a single mother, she has no close experience of a father’s care, discipline and love. So she followed fashion and now has a one son whom she is trying to parent on her own. This means she has very little money for herself and for her college courses.

She is often absent and always late for work. Her prospects are compromised. They would be different if she was married or in a committed relationship. But are we promoting these permanent values? Are we training young people to want stability, mutual responsibility and effective parenting? A marriage culture is good for a healthy society.

The economic consequences of my girl’s choices stare at us. Investments of every type need honest, hardworking people to employ. Schools need engaged and cooperative parents to partner in delivering superior outcomes. Both Nigel Clarke and Mark Golding had that. My girl didn’t. Nor did her mother and, given his circumstances, probably neither will her son. This is a recipe for social weakness. Elevating the foul-mouthed, misogynist Peanut Dread to prominence is to recklessly promote destruction.

Neither business nor government can create responsible and competent citizens and workers; people who are confident in their skin, knowledgeable of their rights, but without some false and selfish sense of entitlement. It is the family, the community, especially the churches and other elements of civil society which are crucial.

Without a deliberate and cherished process of family formation, the State ends up having to try to do what families fail to do. Education becomes forbiddingly complex. Harsh policing and incarceration become the default responses.


This is what we are seeing in the comparative allocations in this and every year’s Budget for national security given priority over capital expenses and social security. It is set to continue. Plenty money for police and prison. Very little for the National Youth Service Corps.

Robert George, the prominent American social philosopher, argues that a prosperous moral community is a prerequisite for a just and ordered society. Without it, the most a private-sector led economy like ours can achieve is low-wage, low-skill enterprise, the diarrhoea of skilled migration and the constant threat of mass disorder. He is right. And that is what is the Jamaican reality right now.

When you compare us to Haiti and El Salvador, we are doing better than most. But it is a pallid shadow of the society of inclusive achievement, reasonable comity and fulfilling endeavour which Nigel Clarke, Andrew Holness and Mark Golding, not to mention the rest of us, aspire for our children.

“Massa Day” will not be done only by stopping the racial slurs, sending King Charles home and normalising skewed one to two per cent yearly growth. It requires a change of heart, of mind and soul-set, which recognises the divine dignity of each human life, the supremacy of the common good and a re-ordering of those institutions of our social and political economy, especially the family and capital, towards those ends.

When shall we start?

Rev Ronald G Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to