Wed | Mar 3, 2021

Orville Taylor | A black heroine makes history

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2021 | 12:12 AM

It was confirmed. She was just one step from the top of the podium. This black woman with the double consonant in the middle of her surname was making her story; not ‘his’

I couldn’t help but make a Freudian association between the ‘arri’ and the word ‘arrow’ because the trajectory was clear. Then I watched her stand, stoic, eyes smiling, and her national anthem rang out. All cameras were on this ‘black girl’. Who would have imagined?

And sadly, many of us Jamaicans missed it. Her name is Carrie Russell, and she had just won a gold medal in the Women’s Monobob World series, the first Jamaican, the first Jamaican woman, to do so in any international bobsleigh event.

This was the partial fulfilment of a tantalising promise that began with an overturned sled on the home stretch in Calgary two years before she was born. She delivered, with a combined time of 1:49.08 for an average speed of 120kmph, beating American Nicole Vogt and Brazilian Marina Silva into second and third, with times of 1:49.27 and 1:49.83, respectively.

If you have ever ridden pillion on a motorcycle or blasted a jet ski at full throttle, then add to that a descent down the steepest part of Spur Tree Hill or the Edward Seaga Highway, exceeding the national speed limit by 10kmph, and doing it in something smaller than your bathtub, on an ice-coated open waterslide.

Remember, she is domiciled in Jamaica, and as highly pigmented as she is, she is not designed for cold temperatures.

Russell, a high school championship standout, who singlehandedly put her school, St Thomas Technical, on the points, aced the World University Games 2011 short sprint. A 10.98 seconds 100 metres sprinter, she started the gold medal-winning 4x100 team at the IAAF World Championships in 2013. But in a country of more than a dozen other sub-11 women, her pedigree is easily overlooked as routine.

HOMEGROWN HEROINES

Perhaps, I should apologise for allowing you to think that this was about newly minted American Vice President Kamala Harris, but that was your decision. Because had you paid attention to the things that directly related to us and realised that we have many homegrown heroines here, you wouldn’t have missed it.

Don’t be mistaken. I am ecstatic about Kamala. Indeed, I don’t only know her father’s birthplace, Orange Hill, which has not changed name to Green Hill despite Dayton Campbell’s loss in the last election. I have friends there.

And that her father is a distinguished academic, who himself went to the US and kicked butt as a full professor, is no mean feat. If it helps to inspire those boys and girls from Brown’s Town, York Castle and St Hildas High, as well as the under-resourced Brown’s Town Community College, then double power. God knows! Given some of the lawlessness we have seen there in recent times, we want more boys to aspire to being like Professor Harris and his history-making daughter.

But there is also the need to make those residents from St Thomas, the last parish to get a high school, to know that apart from another ‘half-Indian Jamaican Miss World, they have other heroines who make us wipe tears when we hear “Eternal Father” even if we don’t hear the “boom!”

Yet, putting the achievements of Kamala Harris in perspective, there is no doubt that this is a new chapter of world and American history.

HISTORY OF RACISM

Reports are that celebrations are popping up in India. However, India has a long history of structural racism and colourism. Its caste system based on ‘religious purity’, correlating to skin colour, was something that Mahatma Gandhi sought to abolish. African-originated students and visitors report direct racist acts from locals and experience very different treatment from that of white counterparts. Ask the question: if Kamala were a ‘Dougla’ born and bred in India, would she be as embraced as Indian? Will it inspire an abatement of the bleaching-cream pandemic on the subcontinent? Oh yes! India has more bleachers than grandstands in its cricket stadiums.

Still, being biracial, with a white husband, Kamala has the potential to appeal to a wide audience, given that her household carries three races and at least four ethnicities. In that regard, she has a big role to play in uniting her country, whose fault lines have kept growing until it burst at its seams three weeks ago.

Doubtless, I celebrate this Jamerindican, but I ask, “What took you so long to elect a female vice president?” or president even? With one of the best educational systems, constitutions, justice systems, economies, and being literally the land of the free, and suffrage for women from 1920, and a deep pool of superbly qualified women, it makes no sense that more than 100 nations, including ‘third world’ like India and Jamaica, elected females head of government before the USA.

Anyway! Congrats, Kamala, and thank you, Carrie. I am ‘short-listing’ fellow bobsledder Audra Segree to follow suit.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.