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Know your place!

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When someone says to you ‘know your place’, or ‘you are out of your place’, s/he is putting you down. In that person’s opinion, you have stepped, or tried to step above the line where you belong in society or in your self-esteem. I hardly hear that kind of remark in conversation today, yet the determination to ‘keep people in their place’ in SVG and in other societies is real and well resourced. Round Table will examine some aspects of this social structuring and conditioning.{{more}}

Many sensible local proverbs and sayings from our foreparents carry in them the ‘know your place’ code of oppression that they experienced. Half of them were illiterate. All of them could feel and see the lines that separated them from the opportunities that others enjoyed. They even sang the Christian hymns that said God had ordered them to be poor. One well known verse taught that: “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them – high and lowly – and ordered their estate.” Oppression surrounded our fore mothers and forefathers, but they did not submit tamely, and in bringing up their children, they put them to active duty with the small animals, in the house and yard, and they encouraged them to ‘study your book’. At the same time, they resorted to echo some of the gatekeeper thinking that the oppressing groups spread among them.

Know Your Place Proverbs

There are times that some parents and guardians become nervous when they see how much attention their children put into their studies. They fall back on the ideology of the old planter class who saw black children as an easy pool of labour power to access and exploit. ‘Plenty book go crazy you,’ the parents warn; ‘yo brain go bust’. ‘Yo na see wha book do fo Dara?’ The caring message is clear: Step back from reaching for what does not belong to us. ‘Know your place’ ‘Respect the ceiling of expectations that is our lot’. And so, right there, within the circle of love and guidance, the seed of ‘when you are black, stand back’ is planted. Even just a flashing survey of other sense laden sentence proverbs from our traditions turn up ‘gatekeeper’ tendencies. Now, ‘Never hang your hat where your hand can’t reach’, seems to be pure good advice, but when it comes from a situation where the party giving the advice is in a bondaged social space, in an underclass position, then the message we get is ‘Be cool, don’t push against the fence’. ‘Careful with your ambition, okay?’ Mothers and fathers can be the gatekeepers, agents for passing a ‘status quo’ ruling class/elite source ideology into the upcoming generations’ life management strategy, thus helping to maintain ‘the rich man in his castle, the poor Lazarus outside his gate’.

The Hardware Gatekeepers

Let us not imagine that the software package in the heads of the cautious adults is the main tool for keeping people in their social place. Far from it. We need to see a whole array of state and class structures devoted to gatekeeping. All societies invest in police and prison apparatuses, crude and not so crude social, political and sectarian profiling, visa and immigration procedures, geographical isolation and ghettoization, gender and professional limit placements and other exclusion/inclusion quotas. We hardly ever take a clinical analytic position towards these structures, except in cases where extrinsic motives pull us there. I do recall the earlier empirical work of Mr Matthew Thomas exploring the matter of ethnic and/or tinted profiling of Dr Gonsalves’ promotion of business houses. ‘Know your place’ does call out for a community like ours to break the silence, undo the blindfolds and liberate more fully our kept people and processes. It will unburden much of the frustration and hurt and anger that seem to be exploding exponentially in our subculture and in our faces.

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