Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Jermaine McCalpin | The dunce, hypocrite and political theatre

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2023 | 12:07 AM
In this 2020 photo, Jamaica Labour Party supporters blow their vuvuzuelas in West Rural St Andrew while People’s National Party supporters break into a dance at the Mannings Hill Primary School.
In this 2020 photo, Jamaica Labour Party supporters blow their vuvuzuelas in West Rural St Andrew while People’s National Party supporters break into a dance at the Mannings Hill Primary School.
Jermaine McCaplin
Jermaine McCaplin

The happenings in Jamaica of the last two weeks confirm two truths about us as a society: we can really major in the minor while being alarmist. Second, politics is more theatre than reality, more theatrics than substance. And apologies to those in the dramatic arts including theatre. No offence is intended with the theatrical analogies.

The swirling category five storm (in a small teacup no less) of the Dunce bag got heated, but has now cooled after letting it sit for a few minutes. The visual display of a student wearing the Dunce bag sends the wrong message of endorsing and glorifying being a dunce.

If we indeed believe the maxim – “don’t judge a book by its cover”, how and why are we willing to judge a student by the bag they wear? Does wearing a bag with the words bright make one bright, as easily as standing in a garage makes one a car, right.?

The public reaction has been very Chicken Little-esque, “ run, the sky is falling!” Jamaica is gone to the dunces, we are doomed. Yet when this same song from which the bag draws inspiration or as some have said its “dunceness”- (Dunce Cheque) is played uptown It is not boycotted or silenced as privileged millennials in chorus with their less well-off cohort harmonise to the melody of “back a the class, me nah no subject”. After all we have okayed dunce in a previous time, remember pretty – dunce?

The point Is not a defence of the freedom to wear a bag emblazoned with Dunce. The point is that while we hypocritically major on this minor (yes it is minor) , teachers have been taking flight from our Jamaican classrooms, our students are still barely literate and numerate, and can hardly concentrate in the ovens we call classrooms. And, here we were ready to bar students from classes because of the bag they wear. Use the “dunce bag” as an opportunity to delve deeper into what could be the motivation for wearing such a bag and endorsing such a message.


It is our value system that needs attention. That is the problem , instead we are treating the cough ( the dunce bag) and not the ailment (declining morals/values). Now back to the hypocrite, for they need far more attention than the bag. These purveyors of everything right allow their children to wear trendy shirts that are far more offensive than a dunce bag. Offensive words such as retarded, and bee with an itch ( you get it you are not dunce) as they dismount from lofty vehicles that have the third to last letter of the alphabet with five, six, and seven following.

If this trend had occurred in educational institutions above the Half and private or more exclusive schools, this would not have been the focus . The ‘Dunce’ bag has drawn out our prejudices and made us feel good that we are not like the people who wear this bag.

Teach the students why it is wrong, but do not criminalise them because of what they wear. Having been an educator for over two decades, I have never been able to use the attire of a student to predict how well they will do in my classes. I have actually seen a few questionable fashion choices in students. These students however have repeatedly confounded my pre-judgements, performing the best and being the most respectful. The Ministry of Education and educators are to see this as an opportunity to do what their name says, educate the children of Jamaica not discard them because of their trendy, but misguided fashion sense.

‘Big Stone’

And to the political theatre that we call Jamaica. Less than a week ago at a People’s National Party (PNP) constituency meeting in South St. Andrew , Claude ‘Big Stone’ Sinclair donned chains and got the attention of the platform party of PNP politicians. Someone called the Big Stone onstage and he presented the Opposition leader with the key as only he could free Jamaica from the chains of oppression. Mr. Big Stone has stood firm like the Rock of Gibraltar in defending his and the PNP’s political skit. He declared by his actions that the PNP was the only don with the key to free Jamaica from the oppressive chains of Babylon. I imagine the chains of oppression have been placed there by the government who also includes the PNP who comprise 20 per cent of the legislative arm of government.


While the message is not surprising in our political theatre, the optics appear to be either near or farsightedness. Either way, it nuh look good! In a society with the ever present duppy of racism/colourism, it looks like only a white/ brown man can free the black majority from oppression. If the PNP was really interested in sending a message as the liberators why not use another set of props or reverse the role of the characters? Slavery and its effects are still with us today, the skit in my opinion was standard political theatrics, but it was distasteful. It looks like something from the “shock and awe” playbook copied from our American neighbours.

To be clear, I am not making a statement or arriving at a conclusion concerning the Opposition leader as Backra or Massa. But to be a Jamaican of lighter hue, “freeing”a black (Mr Stone does not like the term dark-skinned) Jamaican and a Rasta at that (his personal description) sends the wrong message.

Their political opponents, the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has been sacrosanct in its responses. But more accurately is that we have had a history in our political theatre of both parties using and abusing race/colour divides and throwing stones in glass houses.

Nonetheless, the Jamaican public must not be lulled into the politics of distraction. The PNP committed an unforced error. Now, it is the JLP’s turn because the law of political theatrics is anything you can do, I can do better (or worse).

Let us not let the storms in teacups frighten us, let us pour the tea (not spill it). And after we “lif d gas”, then let us work together dunce and smart, rich and poor, black, white or brown, JLP, PNP or independent to build a better Jamaica, not for the few, but for all.

Dr. Jermaine McCalpin is associate professor and director of African and African American Studies at New Jersey City University. Send feedback to