Why I’m not celebrating Harriet Beecher Stowe

July 1 is the day my church celebrates Harriet Beecher Stowe

I’m In two minds about the good Mrs Stowe. While appreciating the efforts she and her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, made in the cause of the abolition of slavery in America, from my 20th/21st Century viewpoint I can see her as a not unmixed blessing to the ‘Negro Race’, as she’d have called us.

I recently reread ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘. It was highly, highly influential. It was the best selling book of the 19th century apart from the Bible. It was the principal vehicle Stowe used to open the eyes of the good people of the US to the evils of slavery.

However, its picture of the childlike African, to be pitied and made an object of gracious condescension, had lasting effects. The picture of the good and humble Uncle Tom, who was too Christian to even dream of fighting back when he was whipped to death by Simon Legree, made white folks believe that is the quintessential good negro.

There was more. The ‘good’ woman on the plantation, who gave her master’s white child her children’s food before she fed her children. All the good black people who put the white people first, since first is the proper place for white people.

And, the paler the black people were — the closer to white — the closer they were to human. The mulatto slave woman who drowned herself rather than be sold into slavery contrasted with the black people who were less sensitive. Topsy, the lying child, who didn’t cry when she was whipped, because she didn’t feel it much, was very black.  

Then there were the other two mulattos, a black man who could pass for white, and his mulatto wife, who were so bright, who escaped slavery and went north to Canada, but eventually realized their proper place was in Africa.

Stowe pitied the plight of the black slaves, and she thought they were inhumanly treated, but she didn’t think they were ‘equal’, is what I gather from the book. 

Their proper place was to be grateful for the benevolence of the good white people, but the blacks really didn’t belong in the Americas. They should have been returned to their native habitat so white people would be clean from the stain of slavery.

I may be be wronging her, this is what I get from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. That being the case, I’m leaving other people to celebrate Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe.    


Father’s Day — Who should Jamaicans celebrate?

By Rita Ann Wallace

Father’s Day for many Jamaicans, certainly those of my generation, is more bitter than sweet. Because the men who impregnated their mothers tended to do little more than that. They didn’t stick around, for the most part. Didn’t provide, support, guide, as fathers are supposed to do.

The absentee father was a well-known figure in our culture and more the rule than the exception. In my First Form (7th Grade) class of 32 students only a handful listed a father as their guardian.

Some fathers still don’t know all the kids they have, and who they knew they disowned. “Ah nuh fe me pickney” was the standard line. And many kids never knew their fathers at all, much less had him in the house. One of my friends said to me once: “It’s so unusual to hear you tell stories about growing up with your father; most of us can only talk about mothers.”

So what should Jamaicans who have had this kind of experience celebrate on Father’s Day? Not these men, surely.

For many, many Jamaicans, the closest thing to a father was a maternal grandfather or uncle. Always the mother’s side, because the brothers never abandoned their sisters, and after the first anger at their daughters having a bastard pickney (or rather a pickney for a bastard) the grandfather (having finished with his own roaming) sympathized and supported his daughter.

Generally, they are the ones that earn the title father. They helped with the school fees; they took the kids to the doctor; they were an open door when refuge was needed. They loved.

On Father’s Day, whether you had a father or not, let’s also celebrate and thank all the men and women who actually fathered our generation.

And forget the bastards who didn’t.


What do some Anglicans think about getting a new Pope?

As the discussion about Benedict’s successor heats up, I remember how my Episcopal, mostly West Indian, Long Island parish reacted to the last papal transition.

I wrote a piece about our coffee hour conversation the Sunday after the funeral of John Paul II and before the new pope was elected. Most of this has not changed, because it’s the same process, the same characters, the same speculation.

Some people at the time said they had been glued to the coverage and that it had fascinated them. Others would admit nothing and even produced convincing yawns of boredom over the whole thing. Who cared about the Pope?

The senior warden allowed that the whole thing had made him feel a little bit ashamed of the fact that Anglicans don’t have this much status in the world. ”I don’t even know who is the Archbishop of Canterbury,” he complained. ”I would not know him if I fell over him, and when the last one died, who knew?”

A vestrywoman offered consolation: ”If he were to die in office, we’d know”, she said, ”but ours retire and in two years get forgotten.”

The senior warden was not appeased: ”They are forgotten while they’re there,” he said gloomily.

One man thought that Anglicans should be more forceful about our own place in the world. Instead of trotting at the heels of Rome, we should be shouting aloud our different understanding of the Gospel.

Put out ads, he said, use the media to say: We’re different. We welcome women, the divorced, and other despised minorities. We have married priests and our scandals are mostly about money. We should not have any of this reconciliation with Rome business! After all, what’s the point of difference if we keep insisting we’re all the same?

The talk then went to who would be the next Pope. Would it be the Nigerian? Despite the fact this was a mostly black parish, the idea did not find favour.

”God, I hope not!” exclaimed the junior warden. Why not? Well, he might be like our Archbishop of Nigeria [Peter Akinola], mightn’t he? ”He might be combative and bombastic and too conservative for words.”

But it would be great, someone else said. Then the newly-renamed Anglican ‘Primate of All Nigeria’, knowing he would never be elected Archbishop of Canterbury, would covert to RC to be in place for the next papal conclave.

The best thing with a Nigerian is that we would not be in the same danger as from a more liberal Pope. What’s dangerous about a liberal Pope? Well, he might allow married priests, and women priests and all that, and then that would dry up all the disaffected people who come over to us from Rome. There would go our church growth!

All were impressed by the funeral ceremony, though some thought that had the Brits been running the show, it would have been much better. And speculation about the papacy passed into remembrance of that royal wedding, or that state opening of Parliament, or that procession. And as for John Paul II. He’s dead, poor thing, and may he rest in peace.

I said the discussion has not changed substantially now, but I lie. The big difference this time in my parish is that this transition is happening during Lent, when we have a lot to do, and there has been no funeral. So we’re not talking about it at all.

But last time we got a Pope who established an ‘Ordinariate’ aimed at attracting disaffected Anglican priests.

We should at least be praying we don’t get another opportunistic poacher like THAT!Image

What’s there to celebrate on International Women’s Day?


As we celebrate International Women’s Day, UNICEF data show that in terms of maternal deaths, there has been remarkable progress in the last decade.

Many countries once seen as sheer hell for mothers seem to have turned a corner. For example, Afghanistan used to be known one of the worst countries to be a mother, where in 2005 a woman had a 1 in 8 chance in her lifetime of dying of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. In 2010 her chances had dramatically improved, to 1 in 32.

In Niger, a woman’s odds of dying in childbirth improved from 1 in 7 in 2005 – the absolute worst that year – to 1 in 23 in 2010. In the same period in Sierra Leone, the risks went from 1 in 8 to one in 23; and in Liberia from 1 in 12 to 1 in 24. In Rwanda the maternal mortality rate plummeted from 1 in 16 in 2005 to one in 54 in 2010.

This is because many countries are making investments in health, in education of mothers and caregivers, in pre- and post-partum care. These have actually yielded many times their monetary value in the lives of women saved.

This doesn’t mean all is well. In 2010, 287,000  mothers still died in the simple act of giving birth — including 1,400 in rich countries. So there is still more to be done.

Conflicts, poverty, lack of access to care, too little investments – all contribute to keeping progress out the reach of hundreds of thousands of women, and they continue to pay with their lives.

Chad – the current ‘worst country’ – loses one mother in every 15 in pregnancy and childbirth, only slightly better than the 1 in 11 rate in 2005. A Somali woman’s chances barely moved – from 1 in 12 in 2005 to one in 16 in 2010.

When mothers die, their babies have a higher risk of dying, especially in the first 28 days.

On these neonatal deaths, there’s good news and bad news. As maternal deaths have fallen there has been a commensurate decrease in the rate of neonatal deaths. However, in many countries, because of population growth, and because the best practices in caring for new-borns are not used, the actual number of children dying has increased.

This proves that the survival of the mother is not enough to ensure the survival of the child. More is needed, including immediate skilled post-natal care; attention to harmful traditional practices; and education.

On International Women’s Day we must celebrate women yes, but we must also protect mothers; and protect their new-born babies.

It’s the 21st century; we know what needs to be done. All we have to do is go ahead and do it.

Gay bashers are giving Christianity a bad name

“I am not ashamed of the gospel,” wrote St. Paul. And this has been a rallying cry for Christians for ages, especially when faced with criticism about how they act and are. But sometimes it’s hard to be a thinking person and not believe that the world would be a better place if some who call themselves Christian and are sure they are doing the Lord’s bidding were just to stand down.

The attempt to spread bigotry and intolerance–as in this Guardian article, where American fundamentalists are setting up offices to “fight homosexuality” in Africa–does make me ashamed of being a Christian. These fine folks are doing the same in other parts of the world, including my own country, Jamaica, where in recent years they have fanned into even hotter fury the fires of anti-homosexuality–this in an already homophobic society.

If someone were to ask me am I a Christian, I’d have to say, “Yes, but…” But I’m not one who thinks gay people are not made in the image of God. But I’m not one who thinks I’m duty bound to “stand up” against gay people. But, I’m not one who is perverting the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is one of love.

Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Which part of this is ambiguous? What is so hard to understand?

And who gave them the right to police the world on behalf of Jesus? Even if they truly believe homosexuality is a sin, didn’t Jesus say, “Let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest”? Why are they, as Christians, going against Christ’s expressed will?

Thinking Christians have to take back the narrative from those who are spreading hate in the name of our Jesus. We need to be as methodical and as evangelical, as it were, in countering their gospel of darkness, with Jesus’ Gospel of light, love, and life.

Because they are not true followers of Jesus. They are not real Christians, and are giving the rest of us a bad name.

“Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”


Three simple things to do now about guns

In response to the Newton Massacre the NRA has come up with their own solution. Put an armed guard in every school in America. Our mouths are still agape.

I’m not an expert, but I feel passionately that something must be done to stop ordinary citizens taking their lives in their hands by just walking outside their doors. Which is what we do in a country with enough guns in circulation to supply every man, woman and child in the population.

I have more hope now that something can be done, due to two things: One, everyone in their right minds have seen that the NRA’s answer is blindingly stupid. Two, the recent elections showed that people have become less gullible, and less susceptible to the fear tactics.

I have no fear about putting forward my own simple suggestions, because I know they could not possibly be as stupid as the NRA’s.

What could be done now? There are examples from Australia, Britain, Israel and others.

1. Immediately dedicate funds to a buy-back program. So the government is not “taking” your guns—you are selling them back to the government at a fair market value. [Australia]

2. Limit the sale of ammunition to individuals to 50 bullets every two years. [Israel limits it to 50 over a lifetime–at least, so said Alan Derschowitz recently in an interview.]

3. Simultaneously, pass an assault weapons ban, and ensure that background checks and a 30 day waiting period are needed for ALL legal gun purchases. [Milder version of the UK]

And the great thing is that none of that violates anyone’s “right to bear arms”.

Why not?