Harlem Restaurant―Language and the Quest for Liberation by the Caribbean and Black Community


I was forced to revisit my commentary about Harlem Restaurant ―its brand, the names of dishes on its menu and the overall service offered as a result of a recent conversation with a black conscious friend. Once again the Restaurant serves as a positive example for the Jamaican Canadian, Caribbean, Jamaican, Black, and Canadian community in general. My first commentary may have seemed to be a simple recognition of the “must visit” Restaurant and a salute to two Jamaicans who have excelled in Canada―namely Carl Cassell and Sharon Barnes Simmonds, but there is much more to it. For me there is much more in the Restaurant and its menu, even if what I see is not a view shared by or the intent of Harlem.

Beyond excelling in the two functions of business: marketing and innovation. I see the language and messaging used by the restaurant as well as its excellent offer as a reference for Jamaicans and other members of the black community who are black conscious and who seek to free themselves from the shackles of the past as well as the present. It is a symbol for those who have already taken their freedom and who have no apologies for having done so.

I view the use of language by Harlem Restaurant as an example of black consciousness and true liberation combined; a rejection and throwing off of all shackles. I have noticed that in recent times many in our community have checked themselves into self-imposed therapy in the quest for freedom and or in embracing or celebrating their blackness. In so doing many have imposed shackles of their own, they can no longer use certain words or enjoy the beauty of language (And I do not include the derogatory use of the word Nigger or any other related terms in my remark, those must go!). There is an obsession with the spoken word and how it may bring into being the negative: the obsession is such that many cannot tease or poke healthy fun at themselves or appreciate those who are in love and unison with self; and who can have fun with self. I would encourage one and all to reflect on how and when the concept of the spoken word and the negative coming into being is relevant. You dare not poke fun at self these days before a patient in therapy makes a 911 dash to administer the counselling, therapy and the treatment on their personal care plan to you.

The new shackles are so strong that it deprives of us of the ability to explore, enjoy, celebrate and use language, both the Jamaican Creole and the English Language. When I speak of Jamaican Creole I do not refer to dancehall lingua; I refer to the language that articulated and fueled individual and national pride; that drove success, love and caring for each other, that brought laughter and provided vivid imagery like no other can. By Jamaican Creole I refer to a language that is liberating, music, art, passion, pride, ambition, independence, rhythm, imagery, self-sufficiency, motivation and inspiration combined. I speak of the Language that the Jamaican Folksingers and Louise Bennett Coverley used to give great pride, joy, and entertainment. I speak of the language used to confuse and beat the plantation master or any other “Babylon” at their own game.

I encourage the black conscious to remember that the use of language can and has been liberating. The Jamaican Patios, the Jamaican English and the British English on which I grew up was rich in the use of literary devices― onomatopoeia, alliteration, metaphor, euphemism, hyperbole, oxymoron and more. We learnt the beauty and power of language very early at home and in school.

The Jamaican National Pledge; poems such as Song of the Banana Man by Evan Jones; Market Women by Daisy Myrie; Road to Lacovia by A. L. Hendricks contain rich examples of the use of the language. I choose not to reference the popular freedom poems but others that were also popular in most Jamaican schools. Revisit the music of Buju Banton and you will find that early grounding in literature and the use of language even by the working class. We also knew how to use the language to give love and as a weapon of destruction. Let us not be afraid to enjoy the Language, let us not add shackles to ourselves, let us not take the music, the imagery and the sounds from the language by being afraid of using certain words or by failure to understand and appreciate context. One of the beauty of the Jamaican Creole and the English language is the range of meaning that a single word might have; example the word “mad”, generally used to describe mental illness, anger, and in the Jamaican context it could be used to describe a humorous person for his or her wit and antics.

If you are whole please do not check yourself into therapy, you will become broken if you do. If someone wishes you a warm and genuine good morning and asks “How are you doing?” and you can only regurgitate “I’m blessed”, were you responding to the person or trying to reassure yourself that you are blessed? I figure if you drew breath that morning you are blessed and the person you are speaking with can see that.

Freedom is the ability to embrace your roots, embrace what is wholesome about today and your current base for growing additional roots. Therapy might be a path to freedom but it is not freedom, it does not correct social skills or liberation beliefs that are out of harmony with social skills or other related behaviour. And to the many Canadians who have misunderstood the true meaning of what it is to be multicultural; and who believe that one must reject one’s roots in order to be a committed and outstanding Canadian, be aware that it is the uprooted that will cause social chaos. It is the uprooted that will not see commonness in humanity and who will not be able to join and commit to the quest for the improving the condition of the human race or to being a great citizen of any country.

In closing I must also note that Dancehall lingua did draw heavily on the Creole in the past and inspired many Jamaican youths to excel academically, to be good citizens even as they were full of life, entertainers and just great people. It gave us medical doctors, lawyers, great athletes, teachers, business leaders etc. who are also dancehall stars, models, actors and entertainers in their own rights. The fun and entertainment made University studies and life fun; drug use and other social ills were not seen as a rite of passage of from youth to adulthood; it is not, it is just an excuse and only acceptable for some social groups and some countries.

In parting I will encourage you to embrace and love the language, go back to poetry, stories, Jamaican folks songs, mento, reggae, soul and other genres of music―Eric Donaldson (Nation building, “If dem a bald head run dem mek them come, if them a natty dread run dem mek them come); Culture: “Natty Neva Get Weary” , Miss Lou and many others. Don’t keep it only Jamaican there is more to learn from our brothers and sisters across the globe, we got that global perspective growing up in Jamaica.

Walk good,
Meegan Scott

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The following Video by Louise Bennett (Miss Lou) is useful for those who wish to understand the Jamaican English as derived from English, African, Asian and other European languages.


Harlem Restaurant Menu  – Click to view.