Sun | May 26, 2024

Culture experts chide Clarke for doubling down on ‘Massa Mark’

Published:Wednesday | March 29, 2023 | 1:36 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.

Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke has pushed back against a torrent of criticism slamming him for purportedly playing the race card when he referred to Opposition Leader Mark Golding as “Massa Mark” in Parliament last week.

At the same time, St Andrew South Western Member of Parliament Dr Angela Brown Burke withdrew the “shut yuh mouth” remark she uttered last week, which House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple Philibert has said was unparliamentary.

On Tuesday, Clarke rose on Standing Order 18 to provide an explanation to Parliament, saying that objections raised by some to his use of the term “Massa Mark” largely relied upon a misleading claim of motive and intent.

“I regret that some persons may have viewed my remarks as racially motivated. To again be clear, this was never my intention. To apologise, however, would be to legitimise what simply is not true,” Clarke declared.

He argued that “massa”, in its modern usage, is applied non-racially.

“‘Massa Mark’ was not about race; ‘Massa Mark’ was not about colour; ‘Massa’ is always about an attitude and style regarding power, and that is how I used the term to describe what I saw as the disrespectful attitude and language of the opposition leader,” Clarke insisted.


Clarke said his remark was meant to draw attention, “in a light-hearted way”, to a “trend by the opposition leader to explicitly denigrate others with his choice of words, without him realising the need to account for those words. It is that unaccountable display of power that I described as ‘massa’”.

The finance minister said the People’s National Party (PNP) and its affiliates characterised his reference to Golding as “racist”. He also said that The Gleaner accused him of using the “race card”.

According to Clarke, “These characterisations of my comments are unfortunate and untrue.

“I would never countenance and, indeed, I reject, race-based politics. That is simply not who I am. Seeking to disqualify someone for political office on the basis of factors such as race, gender, and religion is, and will always be, abhorrent to me,” he said.

However, speaking on Radio Jamaica’s ‘Beyond The Headlines’ on Tuesday evening, Dr Clive Forrester, English lecturer at the University of Waterloo in Canada, said the context in which Clarke used “Massa Mark” was in contrast to how he referenced “Markie G”.

He said that the connotative idea behind “Markie G” was a grassroots, cool person, who is a man of the people. However, he said that the ‘Massa’ used by Clarke was meant to be a kind of tongue-in-cheek pejorative “referring to the Backra Massa mentality”. He said because it was directed at someone who is white, that is where the racial dimension comes in.


Professor Emerita Carolyn Cooper, a specialist on culture and development, said Clarke was “being dishonourable, because if he had intended to just speak about power, he could have done so. He didn’t need to say Massa”.

She charged that the assumption by Clarke that his remarks would have been seen as light-hearted was problematic.

“Ask Angela Brown Burke if she was amused or entertained by the words,” Cooper said.

She continued: “How can you say you are going to make a light-hearted comment when you intend to reprimand somebody for calling members of your party ‘damn fools’”.

Cooper sought to trash the reference to Massa God as quoted by Clarke to question whether Christians are racist.

“Of course, they are not being racist, the ‘Massa’ there is precisely about God being the master of us all and you know many fundamentalist Christians believe that God is an old white man. So the ‘Massa God’ is tied to the whole plantation culture where the Backra Massa was on top,” said the culture specialist.

Director of National Integrity Action Professor Munroe also said he was “profoundly disappointed” with the comments by Clarke.

Golding has apologised for his reference to Labourites as “damn fools” after they accused the Opposition of sabotaging the audio system when Prime Minister Andrew Holness made his Budget Debate presentation. Golding said the governing party also accused the PNP of fuelling teacher protests recently.