Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Critiquing Human Rights in Jamaica: Who Gets to Speak and What is Its Actual Value?

Traditionally, the discussion of human rights in Jamaica has been conducted in what may be considered 'the privileged voice'. This speaks to the privileged positions occupied, in many ways, by those Jamaicans who set themselves up as 'the authority'. This extends even in the case of Jamaicans who live outside of the country. The privileged voice, therefore, gets to set the tone of the discussion, if not the discussion itself and arrogate unto itself the wherewithal to determine who has access to the conversation and who does not - a kind of gate-keeping practise like we have never seen before!

In that regard, if you are not considered part of the inner-circle of the 'privileged voice(s)' then your position is largely seen as hostile, if not counter productive in terms of how this conversation on (human) rights is constructed and performed here. A case in point is a recent exchange between myself and some members of human rights groups in Jamaica, on Face Book. Without expounding on those details, several attempts were made in different ways to ridicule, if not censure the fact that I openly acknowledged, as I have also done previously, that I am not a member of any known and or named human rights group in Jamaica.

Obviously, my lack of direct involvement in the human rights community in Jamaica does not preclude me from commenting, substantively, on this very important issue which affects us all, however. Indeed, the impression that only, if not mostly, those with a known track record on human rights issues in Jamaica are either able to comment fulsomely on its implications in this country or for that matter offer solutions is plainly wrong. Thus, it relegates those percieved to be on the 'outside' to a defensive posture in this very important discussion, wherein they are constructed as either threatening and or counter productive to the goals of the movement.

This position is, of course, largely inaccurate and definitely insiderist. Its sole aim is to politicise poverty to the extent that it is set up as in explicitly dichotomous relationship with the state vis-a-vis human rights (organisations). Here, 'Government' is perceived as almost always complicit in strangling the personal and other freedoms of a particular kind of 'poor people' and as result, is directly implicated in the high rates of murder exhibited each year in Jamaica, especially those committed by the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF). Thus, perceived the JCF is, by and large, construed as the enemy of 'poor people'.

Consequently, those sent to save us all from this unfortunate cocktail of oppression, murder and despair are a select group of people with credentials which largely mark them as 'uptown', if not 'upper middle class' Jamaicans. Indeed, there is nothing, necessarily wrong with this reality in and of itself. This is in the sense in which the police are often implicated in some especially heinous crimes which the news media does not hesitate to bombard us with each evening. Thus, it is important that a dedicated group of volunteers and non-Governmental Organisations, with both the resources and time, are devoted to addressing this cause.

Still, the references/ registers in which human rights are encoded in Jamaica nonetheless warrant questioning. This is epecially in terms of how human rights groups in Jamaica impact the development of a functioning and functionable civil society; that is, one which empowers regular, ordinary citizens with the aim of including them in the process of goverance at various levels. It may, therefore, be argued that through their own actions; however noble, the near universal focus on seeing Government as the enemy and, rarely, ever including the voices of (poor) people directly impacted by the causes they champion, human rights groups inadvertently sideline and or stifle the development of a functioning civil society in Jamaica.

Human rights continues to be a devalued conversation/ topic of interests in Jamaica, in part, because it is largely seen as only advocating the views of otherwise intolerable values and attitudes, such as claiming rights for known murderers and other anarchists in the state, including homosexuals. This is not to say that I agree with this position, however. On the contrary, it is argue that, in Jamaica any unofficial poll of the so-called 'man in the streets' would confirm that this is not only the common perception there is also a great deal of concern and anxiety over how to treat with these matters, especially where people seem to have less and less faith in the 'Government' to provide meaningful answers to their plights, currently.

In that regard, claims made by some members of the referenced Face Book conversation that, a Don Anderson poll found that 43% of Jamaicans do not care about whether someone was murdered, presumably, in cold blood are to be rigourously questioned. This is because it implies that, Jamaicans do not care about (each other) which also, presumably, explains the reasons why murders occur with such impunity in the society and, perhaps also why human rights groups face such a hard time winning support for their cause. Hence, there is no end in sight for the meoteric murder rate, in terms of the needless loss of seemingly expendable, black lives, especially those in Downtown, Kingston.

Significantly, these figures do not define how 'care' is operationalised, as well as the implications which follow from such a conclusion. Indeed, they do not even make a connection between why people would not be concerned about as obviously as distressing a matter such as crime and violence here, whether that presumably sanctioned by the state or for that matter random or even calculated acts of violence conducted by person outside of that group. Consequently, there is need for greater awareness building, in terms of working with institutions like the media, church groups, community based organisations and others to celebrate successful human rights cases as a way of raising the profile of the disussion.

Further, any suggestion that we are somehow unable to initiate a 'culture of peace' with the now, obviously, unacceptable 'culture of violence' which suppousedly characterises all of Jamaican society through negotiation and partnership is flawed. Certainly, no one is suggesting that this be the only approach, nor that we meet and engage in discussions with known criminals. However, there is much value in the way of real engagement between traditionally warring factions, especially in cases where there are areas of common interests.

A more gentle approach which does not seek to demonise all with whom it does not agree must also be considered. This requires real commitment and not half hearted attempts which go no further than merely expressing alarm over vioent incidents. After all, so long as they do not touch us then all is well. It is important to note therefore that, human rights are rights not just limited to violent murders 'Downtown', but also involves the systemic and entrenched economic and class systems which orchestrate the untimely destruction of innocent Jamaican lives and also life chances.

With respect, therefore, making a great noise about crime in Jamaica and engaging in long, impassioned discussions about just how 'unacceptable' it all is, as representative of our frustrations with the current state of affairs does not truly help. If there are no reasons to be hopeful then we are all in trouble. What is then, is the track record of our successes in this area? How many human rights issues have been successfully resolved in its history in Jamaica?

And, why have we not, in addition to campaigning for the rights of others, show how these strategies have worked in the past? At what point do we recongise that, while we discuss the proverbial Rome, in this case Jamaica, burns? What then would it profit the so-called 'regular', 'ordinary' Jamaican to sit back and callously enjoy the savage murder of other innocent Jamaicans? The traditional view of 'poor people' as 'victims' and police officers as 'bullies' and the state as supportive of/ enabling this narrative, in which police excesses are excused under the rubric of some spurious 'investigation', continues the trajectory in which the skills necessary for coping with the problems in the society are ignored.

As a result, the question of the successful examples is a valid one because, whether we are still caught in the trap of the colonial militia set up to immobilise poor, disenfranchised black people, historically, we still need to have hope! How do we get 'buy-in' and build consensus through actual empowerment? Where are the solutions from the people who are also directly affected by these harsh realities? And, why is it that, to suggest that there is need for this kind of broad based partnership, at the levels at which civil society plays a greater role, if even facilitated by the state, are not usually seen as legitimate options? Could it be that we do not want solutions? Or, is that, we have also given up hope? Lost sight of our commitment to service? Service, after all, encompasses even the difficult and trying times and the perseverance that comes with the hope of success.

Who wants to fight if there is no end is sight? Who wishes to make time for causes that have no heroes; no faces to celebrate in order to galvanise further support, if even at grassroots levels? What of the views of the mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers and communities in pain? Where are the job training and esteem empowerment workshops that will equip disadvantaged and at risk people with new skills to tackle the problems in their communities?

Unless there are actual solutions then this is a pointless exercise. Unless we are actually doing more than demonising Government, though they are very much deserving of that, then we are doing extremely very little. Unless we are widening out our frames of reference to see human rights as the rights of all Jamaicans, even those with other issues beyond a murdered son, or daughter then we have not yet started this especially important discussion.

Human rights include more than just a fight against homophobia; though it must have this as an important pillar of its make up. Human rights must also get to the root of the problems which give rise to these issues in the first place - the colonial patriarchal misogynistic attitudes enshrined by the state and practised as class politics in Jamaica. If we are not also engaging in this discussion and finding solutions to those problems too, then we are all dead in the water - no pun intended.

There must be more than just talk; there has also got to be action; and real action to boot!



Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Media Politics in the ‘West’: CNN and President Obama

I have found myself completely engrossed in a discussion I was drawn into, recently, on Face Book about the politics of media bias in America vis-à-vis the US Government and its recent labour report statistics. This is not unlike a conversation I have also, routinely, heard mentioned on the BBC, in particular on its World Have Your Say programme, on which I have also been a guest on-air a few times.

The main thesis of that argument centres on what is claimed to be the mainstream (‘liberal’) media's support of Government, in particular, the Obama administration, in the specific context of America. CNN comes up for greatest mentioning in this regard, though the same may also be said of the BBC, etc. Here, ‘liberal’ refers to the sense in which such media are, presumably, renowned for pandering to the views of the largely, white, in this case American, educated, set of mostly undeclared elites. As such, the ‘liberal media’ are largely perceived as pro-Government and, in particular, pro-Obama partly because Obama is regarded, especially by his critics, as (more) 'acceptable' to ' liberal', whites.

Read as upper-class, educated and especially metropolitan in its outlook, CNN, BBC and others, suppousedly, fall over themselves to represent President Obama and his administration, to a lesser extent, in progressive terms, presumably ignoring the grim realities of the 'real' America and the wider world. But is this characterization accurtate? And, how do such claims about the responses of the media towards President Obama aid or limit his ability to govern/ function? Are their attitudes, necessarily, different from the coverage of former President Bush?

To appropriately answer any of these questions, I feel it is incumbent on me to state that I am neither American, nor necessarily vested in seeking a complete resolution of this discussion; that is, beyond opening up for consideration some initial observations about, in particular, CNN’s coverage of President Obama which though largely favourable in my view, nonetheless challenges some of these assumptions. To begin with, agreeing with these assertions would, by necessity, mean that President Obama’s key messages of ‘hope’ and ‘change’, however questionable for some, are at best a fluke and at worst a complete lie. It would also suggest that the President’s platform has not had a positive impact, even outside of America.

Of course, it is important to note that, President Obama is still less than four months into his Presidency, as well as that he has achieved a number of the plans he had said he would implement upon taking office. He seems to have laid the foundation for doing what he said he would do, specifically his proposal to go after tax cheats, as a way to boost income for the economy, by passing laws to ensure that American businesses that hide money in tax havens like the Cayman Islands would be found out.

Further, lifting the ban on stem cell research, closing Guantanamo as well as opening up relations with Cuba and parts of the ‘Arab world’, also mark the US President as committed to achieving the platform on which he campaigned. While, the jury is certainly still out on the economy, despite signs of life on Wall Street, there are clearly reasons to understand what might well be considered (favourable) ‘media support’ of President Obama, currently. After all, the seeming speed with which he is going literally takes your breath away.

Still, it does not change the fact that the media seem explicitly biased in their treatment of the current President than say President Bush, or do they? Is there merit to the claim that this new President is getting a bligh – an easy pass, as it were, on the way to achieving his mandate, without rigourous opposition by the American media? Indeed, even if we accept President Obama's media savvy helps to explain what appears to be a complicity on the part of the range of the 'liberal' (mostly American) media to represent Government in a positive light in order to achieve some other unspoken interests, whether for like of Obama or because of monetary interests, these claims do not tell the whole story.

Indeed, remarks like these are to be rigourously interrogated. This is, especially where the notable bastions of 'liberalism' CNN were amongst the first to start questioning whether the new President was 'doing too much'; that is, not focusing completely on the economy. They were also amongst the first to counterpoint those questions with the, presumably, ‘never-before-seen’ images of white Americans living off food stamps. The obvious reading being that the American economy was in such a state of shambles that even the sacrosanct images of 'whiteness' were, themselves, under threat.

Admittedly, I found the narrative surrounding these stories very disconcerting, every time I watched the reports, if not altogether disingenuous. I was never under the impression that there was a real commitment to explaining, in clear and unequivocal language, that the conditions of living on food stamps, insofar as they allow one that privilege, is common to the realities of many white Americans. More to the point, the fact that the narrative sets up tensions between the then depth of the ‘Global Financial Crisis’ and America's own efforts to dig itself out of the quagmire, with these suppousedly depressing images of wholesale economic malaise and presumed despair, heavily undercut the claims that the new President was getting a 'free pass'.

In fact, I recalled in one story on the same CNN, about pirates in Somalia taking an American captain hostage being reported, directly ahead of questions about President Obama's ability to 'keep America safe'. Beyond the obvious ‘fact’ that, the media are ‘only’ answering the questions which the ‘public’ wishes to have responses to, there was no mistaking the clear parallels, however questionable, between the activities of Somali pirates and American security issues in this context. This, especially as President Obama also has direct roots in Africa.

The subtly of the parallels, however, were made all the more apparent thanks to the BBC which reminded, recently, in one of its features that piracy in Somalia is an especially sore point in modern American history. The near defeat of its army in 1993, chronicled in the movie Black Hawk Down profoundly underlined the point. While, obviously, important to Americans in terms of their security, the pirate incident, however innocuous, also raised questions about whether the President could (really) keep America safe, specifically regarding threats immediately outside its borders.

The obvious connection, therefore, between an African-American President and Africans (Somalis) who were creating havoc for Americans, presumably in the interests of economic activities, was unmistakable - at least in my view. Then, there was also the matter of whether President Obama was not, himself, weak when it came to military capacity as the Commander in Chief. In that regard, there is a clear and evident need to reconsider the claims that he has been given an easy time by the likes of CNN and other such media.

After all, I have not yet heard or seen where CNN has afforded, in the same way, the Obama administration an opportunity to respond substantively to the charge by former Republican Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani that the President did not make (enough of) a fuss over North Korea’s rocket launch, recently. According to them, this was evidence of his weakness on security issues. Indeed, just today former Vice President Dick Cheney’s remarks about America being less safe with President Obama in office continue this discussion, all the time without a visible and meaningful reply from the administration in terms of defending the President’s credibility.

It seems reasonable in my view, then, that the question of media bias has less to do with a pro-Obama favouritism and somehow seems to relate more to the changing attitudes towards blackness in American popular culture, specifically at the levels at which media such as CNN and others operate; and how that affects their vision of the Government. Notably, I conceded in a Face Book response that, all media are biased. The question, then, seems to be less about the biases of media, per se, and more with how such biases affect how the ‘facts’ are covered as well as, whether there were any ‘facts’ to begin with.

Media bias is a function of media practise, generally. Facts and figures help to extend those biases; though, they are not necessarily in and of themselves biased in the same way that one's agenda is or can be. To critique media bias without a simultaneous admission of this kind, therefore, makes such a criticism almost redundant; that is, where it does not present alternate facts and figures to dispute the claims made by those reported as 'official' in the (mainstream/ liberal) media.

Indeed, one colleague in rebutting these assertions reminded that, ‘facts’ (and figures) are not autonomous pieces of information which' fall from the sky'. In her characteristically acerbic critique, my colleague/ friend highlighted the very point I was attempting to make that, unless there are new ‘facts’ that have been marshaled to challenge the claims in the original discussion about the labour statistics put out by the Government (read President Obama) last week and reported by the 'liberal media', then there is hardly a credible premise on which to say the Government is lying.

As a matter of fact, subsequent to my interventions the original commentator reported that his intentions were not to say the Government or the media were lying. Rather, it was to suggest that numbers are being revised upwards to achieve a more favourable view of the American economy. This then translates to increased consumer confidence; more sales and, ultimately, more ad revenue for the media. A fairly simple and straightforward equation.

However, missing from the explanation is the means by which we achieve the awareness that the numbers have been tampered with. Which is not to say that they have not been. On the contrary, the commentator's admission underlines my earlier claim - arguments about media bias, or half truths reported as 'facts' must be dissected in appropriate context, especially where they lead to flawed conclusions. In that regard, the charges of media bias, whether in America or elsewhere do not help much in forwarding a meaningful understanding of how the media work, for whom and why.

Indeed, such an analysis says nothing of whether the stories reported are accurate, production values are adhered to, or even whether professionalism is deployed in the coverage of said stories, or follow-ups done on whichever issue. To which end, there is need to look again at what is being said by such remarks and how they may be used to serve multiple agendas, some of which are often hostile towards certain groups and communities, in this case the Obama Administration.

It is worth recalling too that, perspectives are learned and, obviously, shift to suit the contours of the realities in which we live. Nowhere is this more the case than in the media where the establishment, which controls them usually get to influence what is produced. The ultra Conservative views of Fox News, which is owned by the Conservative Rupert Murdoch, make this point only too well. Hence, ’facts’ are marshaled to support various positions despite that the ‘facts’, themselves, may not necessarily be flawed in terms of verification and testing.

And, that is also not to suggest that, ‘facts’ cannot be made up, or reports altogether doctored to achieve a more favourable image of an organization, in this case the American Government. After all, the example of the disgraced New York Times journalist who was found to have lied in some of his reports in the mid-90’s make the point all to obvious.

Consequently, and as noted above, the complexities in the coverage of America’s first African-American President and the ambivalence expressed in the attitudes of some Americans towards both him and his policies, specifically African-Americans like those with whom I interacted on Face Book are also tied up in these power relations between the state and the media. Thus, the ‘liberal media’s presumed anxieties towards black leadership may well be said to be echoed in the complicated responses of their audiences towards the Government.

Further, it may be argued that this attitude towards how to cover the first African-American President also gives cues to the audiences which they, in turn, read into subliminally and thus, find it hard to make important distinctions between in the attitudes expressed towards Government. This is not to suggest, however, that all of President Obama’s decisions have been appropriate or even good/ effective. Far from it! The failed candidate selections for some of his Cabinet positions would be one such example. Rather, it is to say that, wrapped up in the claims of bias towards President Obama in how he is covered by the ‘liberal media’ are also many unresolved concerns about race relations and the state, in America.

The BBC recently reported that, notwithstanding that Americans work in ‘diverse’ environments, many still live in segregated communities. The refusal in that regard to engage with each other is telling, in terms of what it says about how much work remains to be done about these very troubling issues in America, especially considering that they also set the tone for many in other parts of the world.

Consequently, questions of media bias, whether regarding CNN, the BBC, or any other media in the ‘West’ seen as ‘liberal’ must also examine the history of such media and how they have evolved in/ alongside the societies they presume to serve. How different are they from the rest of the society in which they operate and is such a difference, if noticed, sufficient to suggest that the treatment of all political figures are the same (read favourable)?

If yes, then we have not begun to have this very important discussion as of yet. And, if no, we are still hemmed in by conventional thinking which makes us also, largely, unable to have this conversation in a meaningful way. I would venture, accordingly, that the answer is somewhere in the middle; though, exactly where remains a matter for further discussion.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Jamaica's Mandatory Wage Freeze and the Global Recession: Was this the Best Government Could Offer?

Below is a post I made on my Face Book page which has generated alot of buzz in that forum. I thought that it would be useful to publish it here, as well in an effort to get the views of an alternate audience. It’s sole intent is to widen the extent of the dialogue about Jamaica’s economic outlook, arising from changes in the world economy which has been on a consistent trend downwards for some time now.

How will Jamaica deal with the fallouts from the ‘Global Financial Crisis/ Meltdown’? These initial views hope to start that conversation, at the very least add another position for consideration.

Jamaica, like several other countries across the world, is feeling the dire effects of the contraction of the world economy and the collapse of the international credit industry, otherwise referred to as the ‘Banking Crisis’. Clearly, global in its scope and destructive in its reach, there is no denying that everyone across the world has come in for some sort of recessionary impact, as a result.

In its own efforts to respond to the crisis, the Jamaican Government has recommended a mandatory wage freeze for the Jamaican Public Sector, after the Prime Minister announced that he was also undertaking to give himself and, presumably, his other ministers of government, a fifteen percent cut in their wages. It is worth noting that, the Prime Minister's salary comes up to well over half a million Jamaican dollars per month which, therefore, means that a fifteen percent salary cut does not go quite as far as those who have had to endure the erosion of the value of their wages over time, due to inflation, as well as the forced wage freeze.

In further justifying his position, one which was not discussed with either the Service or the unions who represent them, the Prime Minister claimed that to give the now due seven percent increase in wages, under the most recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2008, that he would have to let go in excess of twenty thousand members of the Service. Government is the biggest employer in Jamaica, with just under ninety thousand employees at various levels in the system. The planned letting go of nearly a fifth of the Service population became the benchmark against which the Prime Minister made his decision.

While, not decrying the PM's right to make hard choices, nor necessarily diminishing the basis on which he must do so, especially those concerning Jamaica's economic future, there is need nonetheless to interrogate the current tone of Jamaica's political leadership. Notwithstanding what many have routinely claimed is 'too large' a Public Sector, it behooves us to also ask whether this is the likely, or even best solution?

Indeed, the questioning of the decision made by the PM, which also directly impacts me, has more to do with the style of governance as well as the spirit than with the decision, itself. Hardly a useful distinction, it nonetheless points to the fact that, if we can employ better decision-making processes then it is more likely that, we can arrive at better outcomes, presumably in the interests of all.

Election Promises

Before coming to power in 2007, the then Leader of the Opposition Bruce Golding and his Party made various promises; among them, an assurance that the economy would grow by as much as seven percent, not unlike that of Singapore and other countries on the fast track to development. Other claims made included the very emotive charge that, while we may not all get rich we certainly did not have to be as poor as were, under the previous administration, in particular under then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

We could not, in effect, afford to take a chance with Mrs. Simpson Miller, the virago, who cares little, if anything for the members of her own constituency. That is, given its then extreme state of disarray. With the upsurge of emotions evoked by that experience, that we must now concede to a mandatory wage freeze is especially curious, if not altogether very distressing.

In addition to a tax on books, salt and other sundry items, the vast majority of which were previously not taxed and which also form a regular part of peoples' daily existence here, does the make point of an apparently unconcerned and uncaring administration. What of the claims about empowerment? Is there any truth to any of them, especially in a context where there is no discussion and no seeming regard for the fact that people are obviously not coping well with the fallouts from the contracting world economy?

Economic Recession

At the risk also of dwelling too much on the bad, it was also this same administration who, when the rest of the Developed World were assembling their various economic crisis response teams claimed that Jamaica is fine and would not be seriously affected (presumably, if at all!). That attitude we now know was also wrong, as much as the apparent lack of regard for the electorate, insofar as refusing to address the nation directly to update us on the status of the economic plans in the current crisis.

To say that we are starved of information, however, would not altogether reflect an accurate position. This is especially in a context where there are enough alternate information sources coming from various points which paint just how serious a crisis we are in, globally. Still, the refusal to engage with Jamaicans on a direct, face-to-face manner is telling insofar as it not only gives the impression that 'nutten naw gwaan', it also reinforces this deep-seated pessimism. Needless to remind that, that and a recession are a deadly concoction when combined together.

Lack of Proper Planning/ Gas Tax

The lack of a visible or even meaningful plan, with of course the exception of the budget whose reading over a week ago seemed to have coincided with flashbacks from a couple years before when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), the Party currently in power effectively capitalised on the widespread disenchantment of Jamaicans at the time, at the news of a gas tax. Several days of rioting and media campaigns against the then Government - the People’s National Party (PNP), now members of Opposition, forced what appeared to be an about face. The tax was eventually rolled back.

Ironically, gas is now being taxed and despite concerns or even voiced opposition to this move, there does not appear to be the space for that kind of concession by the new administration. This after assuring rather glibly, as noted above, early on in the Recession last year, that Jamaica would not likely be adversely impacted by the crisis.

There was, as expected, a torrent of criticisms with which the Minister of Finance and the Public Service Audley Shaw's remarks were addressed. However, that storm soon passed. And we were back to 'business as usual'. After all, the popular position in some media here is that, there could at least be tolerance, on some level, given how badly the economy was felt to be mismanaged by the previous administration.

Alternate Strategy: Mass Lay-offs?

I am no economic whiz and I can clearly see the value of having a job. However, if mass firings and layoffs are the appropriate course of action, as is suggested by one of the comments on my mood status (on Face Book, shortly after posting), then it seems to me that there is a real need for more brain power to be added to the Government's economic advisory team than is currently available. It is hardly a viable option, which is not to say it could not happen. Still, it does not justify non-communication and or the evident lack of regard so clearly and contemptuously demonstrated by the apparent lack of any type of coherent or even meaningful plan to drive the economy and limit our dependency on Government to provide employment for the majority of Jamaicans.

Taxation of Basic and Educational Supplies

The seeming lack of concern for a trained and or educated work force, across the length and breadth of the country is also exemplified in the move to tax certain books and other basic supplies, as per the new budget tabled by Mr. Shaw. We can be certain that, by these actions this administration sees little or no value in even attempting to communicate confidence in their abilities and their preparedness to do the job at hand - that is, governing in difficult times. This is especially sad, considering just how much we stand to loose in an increasingly worsening world economy.

The drying up of assistance programmes and funds, as well as competitive loans, will mean further erosion in the value of life here. Those at the base of the structure will obviously feel the effects most readily, but you can rest assured that others will too and none of this augurs well for the crime and violence that we continue to grapple with daily, with little or no success. What too of work to rule and industrial action? How will people respond to freeze on their income with no, apparent, end in sight?

These are interesting and timely questions which require urgent responses.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Britain to ‘Retake’ Control of the Turks and Caicos Islands: Constitutional Right or Modern Recolonialisation?

"Good. Its time that it was realised that some territories are not able to be entirely self governing due to their size location or history. A consultative legislature with limited powers is all that can be hoped for until circumstances change."
Ash, Perth, Australia

The constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is to be suspended by the British Government today (March 25, 2009), arising out of what it has characterized as, investigations into political corruption in the Caribbean islands, which are still under British colonial rule. The suspension will cede all executive powers in the colony into the hands of the Governor General; who, according to Dr. Michael Misick, TCI Premier, ‘is not [even] a citizen of the country’.

According to the Times of London (online edition, March 17, 2009), in a report by the British Foreign Office authored by Sir Robin Auld, British Parliamentarian, the House of Assembly, Cabinet and ministers of Government will be terminated. Their powers will be transferred to the Governor.

Accused of selling ‘Crown’ lands, apparently without Britain’s awareness or sufficient remuneration in terms of sales taxes, income, etc., Dr. Misick and several of his colleagues (politicians) will be investigated and, possibly, tried for criminal charges by Britain.

This news holds special significance for us in the Caribbean, particularly given our history as former colonies. There is more to the issue than just the mere question of colonial entrapment and domination, though, or even the specific context of the TCI where the politicians are under suspicion. The news is also important in re-contextualising arguments about debt relief and economic enslavement, especially during the current world economic downturn.

While there may well be grounds for British involvement in the affairs of the its colony, the suspension of the TCI constitution, undoubtedly also, evokes old questions about the contempt for non-white, non-British residents of Empire. The remarks above clearly highlight the intractable lack of regard of certain groups of people by colonists, as well as the abiding notion that leadership is largely the preserve of the British Parliament and none other. This is not unlike the arguments used to maintain control of former colonies like Jamaica, who though now politically ‘independent’ retain a Governor General as the representative of the Queen in their constitutions and the state.

Indeed, I made this point, recently, to a friend upon hearing this distressing news. I first enquired whether she had also heard it, herself, as well as to also discuss some of its implications for us here, specifically regarding Dr. Misick’s claim that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) should ‘intercede’ on the TCI’s behalf to Britain. Alarmed at the defeatist and, seemingly groveling manner in which the embattled Premier responded to Britain by asking the, admittedly, less than potent CARICOM bloc to beg for mercy on the TCI’s behalf, I indicated to her just how objectionable his response was.

‘Global War on Terror’/ Democracy:

Before I was able to speak clearly on the matter, however, I was railroaded by a seeming impatience with reasoning, instead. I was treated to an unusual, if not curious face-off with my friend. My position was ridiculed as ‘rhetoric’ and the equivalent of ‘going around the mulberry path’ – code I was to discover for: ‘I (she) do not wish to talk about this, other than to hear herself speak!’ Still, I persevered and indicated that I was dismayed by the meanings of the impending take over, especially during the ‘Global Age of Terror’.

Ostensibly aimed at growing democracy in disparate parts of the world, I pointed out that Britain’s colonial interests in the TCI (Caribbean) sat visibly at odds with this noble thrust. After all, the Region was neither immediately politically important to the terrorism project – perhaps with the exception of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, nor was it necessarily a strategic platform from which to operate British economic interests – at least not on the face of it.

My friend countered with the implication that, the Caribbean was, indeed, a hotspot. Earlier, she had heard news of Russia and Venezuela forming a partnership in the latter country. She argued that the two events, together, were significant, presumably in terms of spelling doom for the Region.

Whereas I concurred that the events were newsworthy, however, I disagreed that Venezuela’s and Russia’s relationship, though troubling in some respects, was unusual. Largely, aimed at enriching the two oil producing nations, who were also at odds with the United States, currently, their partnership in the US’ backyard could hardly be viewed as surprising in this regard. Unlike Britain, who claimed to be more interested in spreading democracy and liberating ‘oppressed nations’ from demagogues like Sadam Hussein, the Taliban and others, the Russians and Hugo Chavez were more obvious about their intentions; however nefarious.

I ventured also that a more direct challenge against the contradictions of British declared interests in democracy might prove more meaningful than an impotent plea for ‘mercy’ by Dr. Misick. My friend disagreed and completely cut me off, accordingly. She stated that, Britain was (well) within its right to do as it saw fit. There was, effectively, no need for discussion. Ironically, I had initially made this same point, which I later revised upon more careful consideration.

The actions of the TCI Premier in terms of asking the leaders of CARICOM ‘intercede’ to Britain on their behalf were especially disappointing, if not surprising. It did not reflect an effective use of his platform as a head of state, albeit a colony. Dr. Misick appeared to lack a seriousness of purpose and or pride, particularly given the drastic nature of Britain’s intent. Consequently, the ‘Crown’s impending actions in the TCI are comparable to Queen Elizabeth the Second’s dismissal of the petition brought against her and the British government, in 1994 by members of Jamaica’s Rastafarian community for reparations.

The Queen justified her refusal to acknowledge the claims on the premise that, at the time of its existence, African Slavery was not a crime. While, that may well have been the case according to British law, it is nonetheless debatable whether a similar argument can be made in terms of the outrageous breach of human rights African Slavery so clearly represents, regardless of whichever time in history.

Whether or not an award is made in terms of damages, itself a disputed matter, given the potential challenges regarding allocating any benefits derived from a reparations package in the present, this too is a statement of the collectively disempowered states of black societies, globally. It is important that injustices such as these are actively challenged and that vigilance is maintained in terms of questioning the very premise of such ‘rights’, whether under colonial domination and or other forms of oppression. Ideological resistance is a critical part of this effort.


Rather than make a direct award to each descendant of African slaves in the ‘New World’, including Jamaica, there is a clear case for debt relief for poor countries like ours. This is especially in the midst of a continuingly precipitous fall in the world economy. Poorer/ smaller countries are more likely to feel the dire effects of this fallout. Indeed, in our last budget, seventy cents in every dollar in Jamaica was allocated towards debt servicing while inflation further eroded the value of the remaining thirty cents.

The case for reparations is not a foolish or even misguided, ‘rhetorical’ attempt at noise-making, as a result, especially when considered in this context. The take-over of the TCI by Britain has similar resonances. Dr. Misick is almost obligated, in my view, to exercise a greater sense of pride and forthrightness in terms of his response to Britain’s suspension of parts of the TCI’s constitution.

Rolling over and playing dead, or at the very least making flaccid remarks regarding what is clearly a grave and damaging act is hardly appropriate. A similar set of actions contributed to current untenable states of persistent poverty in the Region and others like it (Beckford, 1972). Hence, the rest of the Caribbean must view Britain’s action with very deep suspicion. After all, as a self declared democratic loving nation, it behooves us to ask: when do these values apply?

PS: I feel it imperative to point out as well that, early last year (2008), I recieved an email from a friend who is also Catholic, in which a priest from a church in the US talked about a Divine visitation from the Blessed Mother (Mary, Jesus' Mother).

Among others, the email highlighted some of the injustices in the world, in terms of the economic systems which privilege the rich and actively disempower the poor and proceeded to explain that a fallout, as dramatic as the economic downturn, was on its way.

The Blessed Mother said that, it would begin in the US in the heart of the financial district and pull other great economies under - think Iceland who, as a Developed Nation, had to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for lonas to help sustain its economy, late last year. She said that, the crisis would spread right across the world to teach man to be each other's brother and that, it could not be prevented, only delayed. And, even that could only be achieved through deeper committment to the Word of God!

I was amazed to see how the economic crisis unfolded last year, accordingly, with the predicted deepening at about the time that the email said (October-November) and which also started with the mortgage foreclosures, as it also said. Absolutely uncanny!

The question is: do we believe that this recession is an opportunity for us to stop and refocus, even if we are not Catholics, or religious, or whether we believe in (a) God? There can be no doubt that the greed of the Western Capitalists have precipitated this crisis, which no one seems to know when it will end.

Recently, a friend on Facebook pointed out to me also, after viewing a very distressing video about poverty in Africa, that academics from the Caribbean/ 'Developing World' like Walter Rodney, George Beckford and others have been talking about these issues for some time. It behooves us to pay attention and to know our history.

The economic enslavement of smaller, poorer countries to the will of those who live in the more affluent parts of the world is an inescapable reality. Any efforts to resubjugate us, in whichever form, must therefore, be streneously resisted; not so much because we expect a physical victory but because it is the right thing to do!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Dancehall Must Rehabilitate Its Public Image!

Below is a letter I wrote in response to the discussion around the banning of certain Dancehall songs in Jamaica. I sent it to the local media, here, a few days ago. However, I have not seen it in print yet.

I also forwarded the blog link to other local commentators. Perhaps they might comment on some of what is said here. Hopefully, I will be acknowledged.

Your comments are always welcomed!


Dear Editor:

I write to acknowledge my endorsement of the efforts of the Broadcast Commission to review and address the untenable state of affairs regarding the wholesale promotion of values and attitudes contrary to the upliftment of the nation. Its decision to discontinue further airplay of the popular Dancehall tune 'Rampin' Shop', though belated, is a timely reminder that the uncontrolled state of permissiveness encouraged in many areas of the Jamaican media require very careful monitoring.

This is not the same as suggesting that there is no place for Dancehall or that the heavy hand of moral arbitration is beyond being questioned. Far from it. It is to foreground instead, the singular importance of popular culture in shaping our collective national outlook in Jamaica, currently. Dancehall plays a crucial role in this regard. It is more than just a genre of popular music. Dancehall is also a very developed culture and includes issues related to economics and power, some of which often run counter to the goals of the state.

Indeed, there is no expectation that, Dancehall should fall neatly in line with the requirements of ‘establishment’ and sacrifice, in the process, its artistic integrity in the effort to school and parent Jamaicans. On the contrary, it is to highlight that whether wittingly, or not Dancehall has contributed much to the process of values formation in Jamaica and has become, as a result, a critical institution of socialisation.

This coupled with the increased weakening of some of the traditional systems, previously, responsible for socialising the state has resulted in the creation of a vacuum. New and different forces have risen up to fill these gaps. Dancehall is one such force. Alongside an acknowledged dissonance about what constitutes appropriate values in Jamaica, therefore, it is not hard to see how Dancehall may be regarded as more than just casual ‘adult entertainment’. For better or worse, it may be regarded as holding a preeminent position of socialisation within the society.

Dancehall must seriously consider rehabilitating its public image, as a result; not just in the interests of practicality given its increased powers of importance in the society, but also as a means of demonstrating its inherent versatility/ creativity. The latter, as we are aware, goes beyond a focus on only themes of sex and violence. Excuses regarding a chronic lack of education on the part of many of its producers and artistes are an insult to the diversity of intelligence and depth of talent within the industry/ culture. These must yield to the more urgent demands of true national development, cultural pride and meaningful progress.

The banning of 'Rampin Shop' as well as all other songs with words considered more generally offensive must be viewed in context, then, in terms of its attempt to guard against a moral opprobrium, especially in the interests of posterity. It is more than a mere question of 'freedom of expression' or even censorship, though these are also crucial considerations.

We are far more than just thugs for hire and sex crazed party-goers. I am confident, as a result, that it is well within our capacity to clean up Dancehall and as well as all other forms of entertainment which often fall outside of the boundaries of acceptability. Self regulation, education and civic responsibility must not be sacrificed, therefore, in the efforts to win popularity, wealth and power.

We can do much better! I am sure of it!

I am, etc.


Tuesday, 20 January 2009

‘Yes We Did!’ Barack Obama’s Historic Inauguration

‘Yes we did!’ The three simple words etched in blue, announced their presence by the static orange light of an unanswered MSN Messenger icon. They were the poignant reminder from a friend and colleague of just how historic the occasion of President Barack Hussein Obama’s Inauguration as President of the United States of America and ‘Leader of the Free World’ was. Embodied in those three words were the power of conviction and the hope of a generation. Not only were we witnessing history in the inauguration of the first African-American to the highest office of US President, we were also watching the US undergo real and palpable change, if even at the level of the emotional.

I cried, unashamedly. The tears flowed silently and then more audibly, especially just before the arrival of then President-Elect Obama to the podium. The cameras caught his tall figure, serious face and pursed lips, as he walked slowly and purposefully the length of the corridor before opening the door for his date with destiny.

I was reminded of the title of President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography: ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, chronicling his life from political activist and convict, jailed for twenty seven years for his unbroken opposition to the objectionable sins of apartheid, to become President of South Africa, then a newly minted democratic nation in 1994. Mandela took with him the hopes of generations of Africans who had drunk long and deep from the bitter cup of racial hatred, abiding oppression and segregation.

In that moment, Barack Obama and President Mandela became one. Across the boundaries of geography and even time, albeit short, their dreams seemed united; twinned in the universal demand for human rights and dignity. In it, I saw the visions of the slaves and the promise and power of their rebellions; their insistent cries of admission not just to the community of nations but also the dignity of the human family. Dr. King’s dreams were being realized and my insistent prayers had not gone unanswered.

Barack Obama would, in a few short moments, take the Oath of Office and with that become the President of the United States of America. However, before that there was the interminable walk of deep reflection and the adoration and pride of the sea of supporters just beyond those doors. Barrack Hussein Obama was scripting history with every purposeful step. His countenance showed confidence and understanding; his measured strides an indication of the challenges which awaited him, not just in America but outside of it.

The economic crisis and the foreclosures would test this great man, as would the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the POWs at Guantanamo Bay. There was Russia, Israel and the Middle East. Iran. India and Pakistan and closer to home, even Cuba. But, still he walked. And I cried some more. The tears came quicker now, almost uncontrollably in their anguished, if not victorious release from pent up anxieties. This was the cry of realization that, as my friend on Messenger had pointed out; we had come ‘from slavery to the Presidency!’

History was unfolding and even while, my silent tears did not mean much in the actual writing of this chapter, told to us through the ‘immediacy’ and global reach of the CNN and BBC news media, I had witnessed it all the same. Moved by its power and the audacity of the kind of hope that had propelled President Obama to such an important moment, I was awestruck and overwhelmed all at once. Words seemed so inadequate in giving vent to my emotions that all I could do was cry, like a small child, humbled by history’s power to self correct. I watched in complete amazement, praying all the time, fervent in my hope for this great man on whose shoulders rested so many of the world’s ills.

This must have been how the Israelites felt when the waters of the Red Sea parted and they were allowed safe passage between it, from Pharaoh’s marauding bands of Egyptians threatening to return them to a life of domination and control from which they had only recently escaped. The parallels were unmistakable. Barack Obama was the modern day Moses, in many respects, parting a different kind of sea – a new frontier of threatening economic ruin and polarizing wars fought on the premise of religious and political ideology, control of the world’s energy and, though often unspoken, nationality, race, heritage and borders.

For better or worse, the world had changed and the ‘Israelites’ of the modern age though scattered across disparate lands, different time zones and places, were now joined together by one common cause. It was much larger than ourselves; much larger than any of us could individually conceive – the gift of Hope! Barack Obama was our leader and the tides of Red Sea’s looming despair were parting with every step he made down that corridor.

With seriousness etched on his face, Barack Obama was preparing to not only take the Oath, he was preparing to lead the world and we, his throng of supporters removed by heritage, culture, nationality, language, time and even technology were all caught up in the power of the emotion. And, so I cried.

Pausing momentarily to gather myself and focus, I decided that more than anything else, my return to this blog would be marked by the momentous inauguration of President Barack Obama to the US Presidency. It symbolized a kind of achievement which allowed me to think that, notwithstanding my own personal concerns, all things were possible and that, because of that possibility we/ I could make it.

The potency of his acceptance speech and the focus on the Civil Rights Movement and the American War for Independence, as well as the Global War on Terror only served to reinforce that pride – that deep and unmistakable joy. Hope renewed and sagging spirits refreshed, the powerful words had instilled in all of us the charge, not only to Americans, to proclaim the victory in all parts of the lands in which we lived. All were joined together. The cause was universal. We were all were soldiers in the great hope of transformation.

How would it all pan out? We were not sure…yet! But one thing was certain, in this moment we were all one…And we most, certainly, could!

After all, out of many, we are one! Yes we can! Yes we did!

Picture shows the smartly dressed President and First Lady Obama at the US Presidential Inauguration Celebrations, on January 20, 2009. President Obama took the Oath of Office and became America's forty-fourth President, the first African-American to do so. (Image courtesy of the Associated Press)

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Of Hurricane Stories, ‘Wars’ in the Blogosphere and Technological ‘Know-How’

My most recent entry here has done more than I had anticipated it would, despite my apparent initial squeamishness about referencing/ critiquing the work of a fellow blogger. Without calling that person by name, as I still have not managed to learn how to do a link to her page and was duly warned off by her on this point, I was completely taken aback by the vicious trashing both of my post as well as my knowledge of the blog technology. You could imagine my surprise that I was invited to tea even in the eye of an impending storm and my initial resistance as I wanted to go home and prepare for Gustav.

Still, I graciously accepted the gesture, as I had been calling weeks before and had even mentioned on the blog that I had visited said blogger’s office, and still did not seem able to manage to secure a meeting. Hence, we drove in a queue, myself, the hostess and another guest, who I had incidentally offered to buy two loaves of bread for at the supermarket. She was preparing for Gustav but had to head off to work.

Ensconced in her arty living room, I was invited to choose between a selection of Caribbean Dreams teas and an ‘original’ black tea which I had previously indicated to her that I liked. In fact, we had had it several times before. So, I went with the familiar, as I have never especially enjoyed Caribbean Dreams, though my fellow guest noted that she bought it as a way of ‘supporting local manufacturers!’

Still, I could understand the sentiment even while I did not share the enthusiasm. We chatted politely for a while on a range of topics, ranging from among them the acquisition of FLOW cable, which both ladies seemed up in arms against. My hostess seemed keen on considering utilizing the services of one of its competitors. The suggestion came as a result of the other guest who I accompanied to our hostess’ home.

After tea, we spoke some more about politics, specifically the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in the United States (US) and the impending Presidential Elections in the Peoples’ National Party (PNP) here at home. I offered my views on the latter, indicating that there was a way in which I felt very conflicted about the leadership challenge, in part, because my love for Mrs. Simpson-Miller had less to do with the woman herself and more what she represented. This, notwithstanding that I was not completely satisfied that she did a very good job as PNP Party Leader in the last elections.

I suggested, as I have done several times in the past, that had Mrs. Simpson-Miller utilized the ‘team approach’ so evidently now in practise by her second campaign to be President of the PNP and had surrounded herself with talented young people there would be no need for this race now. Indeed, had she/ they included this particular demographic in a serious way in the last elections Mrs. Simpson Miller would be the Prime Minister and not the Leader of the Opposition at this time. But, I digress! After all, I had said to my hostess that I would not comment further (on this blog) on these matters, as I was somewhat conflicted on this issue, as noted earlier.

To return then to the earlier mentioned ‘tea meeting’, where I waited a short while after the other guest left before also leaving myself. The offer was made in one of the commentaries further to my last post that I might be able to get a ‘lesson’ regarding matters of how to post links and this kind of stuff in my blog. Still, I waited and nothing happened. So, I finally left and complimented the colour of the dress worn by my hostess as I had done earlier when I saw her in work clothes. There could be no denying the attractiveness of the bright colours of both outfits.

That being said, I was shocked to return home to read, in one of her earlier comments that day, that I had no understanding of attribution as well as the idea of ‘folk', elements of which I had used in my last post. I proceeded, therefore, to pen a response which would, hopefully, represent my understandings of these matters as well as point out the flaws of those charges. Needless to say, I was summarily dismissed and my thanks communicated in relation to her comments about one of my photos was later dismissed also, as further evidence of 'lack of understanding of the importance of attribution’.

I was duly informed that, the comments made had nothing to do with me and more with the photographer. Still, I persevered by highlighting that her comment in relation to my not posting the name of the photographer was incorrect. I hadearlier informed in one of my comments that the pictures were taken from the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) website: This leads me to why I have recalled this unpleasant matter here.

Firstly, it is and was never my intent to cause injury and or insult to the learned scholarship of the blogger, whose views I consulted previously as well as in my last post, in part, in my look at the question of a review of the Olympics in Beijing. Indeed, it was never my intent to ‘joust’ on anyone’s behalf and to use her as a target for such unlikely practise.

A reading of the blog as well as the follow up comments might well have indicated that there was, possibly, a misreading or misunderstanding of my post and its motives as well as an adamant refusal to acknowledge the largely complimentary tone used to reference her work. Consequently, I find it interesting that these two charges were made against me in relation to my last post:
- I lack an understanding of the importance of ‘attribution’; and,
- That, that lack of understanding also is translated into a lack of understanding of the idea of ‘folk’.

Taken together, in the context of my last post, these issues are not only misleading but downright insulting. Not only do they seek to unseat the validity of my claims made in relation to telling the ‘full truth’ about the Olympic story but that, in doing so seek to cause further injury by suggesting that my post is merely (?) a repackaging of the views of others, notable among them a former teacher of mine. How absolutely outrageous, indeed!

This is both incorrect and conceptually disingenuous. Notwithstanding, as my erstwhile colleague has maintained, that she referenced said former teacher in her work, she goes further to make another remark about an ‘unreflexive use of the folk’ (in my post). To which extent, she claims there is no ‘valence’ for the arguments which I made as a result. After all, she began her attack from the premise that my remarks in relation to the tradition(s) of resistance and greatness which preceded Beijing 2008 were an academic romanticisation which constructs a, largely, ‘passive’ view of Jamaica’s recent Olympic exploits in China.

She goes even further to argue that, any associations with the history of Jamaica, founded in the type of black nationalism created out of a counter discursive grassroots ethos (?) was also to be questioned. After all, to the extent that these may be read as, what she claims is my ‘unreflexive use of [the term] folk’ marks my reading as, mostly, a claim. There were no heroes before Usain Bolt, in other words, and, certainly, whether there were, in fact, any such historical figures by which the trajectory of his genius is intersected these/ they are, fundamentally, figments of my own imagination.

I am guilty, in effect, of the elitism and latter day acknowledgement which I derided in the post. This I said sought to create Bolt and other select members of the Jamaican Olympic Team as products of a harmoniously nationalist society, albeit curiously. The ‘piece de resistance’? Any efforts to reject her claims must be viewed as ‘a torrent of words which can hardly be ploughed through, let alone understood.’ Read in this way, then, they are the mad rant of ill formed views with no actual ‘valence’ or connections to reality. Specious remarks if ever there were any!

Finally, in the most evident pandering to a populist, presumably, ‘true’ Jamaican identity/ lingua franca I was advised to: ‘tek whe [mi] self!’, as the bothersome bore I had obviously (?) now become, echoed in the annoyance presumably compressed in the Jamaican ‘Cho’ which preceded her ultimate (?) rebuke! Talk about a tirade!

Now, beyond the fact that I never proposed to see Usain Bolt as ‘folksy’, insofar as any point made in the post below, this reading of my entry is wrong on several levels. Firstly, it seeks to create a link between theorists of the ‘folk’ and what is claimed as ‘the unreflexive way’ that I, apparently, used it in the last blog and the implications of that for my look at the Jamaican Olympic team.

By discrediting ‘folk’ theorists as well as their seemingly besetting sin of ‘unreflexivity’, my post as well as the ‘claims’ made about the heroes therein are relegated to the terrain of ideal romantic yammerings not to be taken seriously and, certainly, without merit. Worse yet, my blog is the completely ‘delusional’ efforts at ‘jousting’; read in this case as ‘shadow boxing’ with straw people, as they say in academic circles. I have, effectively, created an argument of my own doing and am arguing it in relation to people/ critics who I have also constructed with the sole purpose of tearing them down with gleeful abandon.

A rereading of my post might suggest the viciousness of these claims, notwithstanding the absence of an apparent link to her page, as well as the baselessness of the charges made by my critic. Indeed, rereading my post might yet reveal that I took issue with the question of Jamaican media representations and their role in the construction of the Olympic narrative, in the larger context of what I find is a clear class bias in terms of how we ‘see’ in this society. This bias, I argued and continue to argue, further embeds the imbalanced traditions of power relationships in Jamaica caused, in part, by a type of racism founded in British Colonialism and before it African Slavery.

In consequence of which, I took issue with the question of a ‘politics from below’ (my own emphasis!) not so much because this was not the case, but that the acknowledgment is rather curious given the long history of greatness of people of African descent, specifically those from the social classes from which most of the Olympians come, in this and other societies with similar histories. To limit the contributions of so-called ‘ordinary Jamaicans’, then, as only worthy of praise at the Olympics is tantamount to a continuation of these same racist attitudes, if not to further oppress those who do not have similar opportunities to ‘excel’ in these same ways.

Do not get me wrong, I am impressed by and proud of the Jamaican Olympic team, like everyone else should be, I imagine. However, what I am doubtful of, is whether these praises by themselves achieve much in the way of forwarding an appropriate understanding of the history of struggle, resistance and achievement so poignantly encoded in Jennifer Bolt’s acknowledgement of ‘coarse cuisine’, or more appropriately, ‘peasant food’ in her son’s success at the Games. So that, whether we wish to see the ‘Gully Creeping’ exploits of the post ‘90s Rocking’ Usain Bolt as ‘folksy’ is hardly of consequence. Indeed, this was never my point at all.

Rather, it was my intention to say that, in the same way that Usain Bolt is descended from particular types of traditions, as does Shelly-Ann Fraser and Melaine Walker and others, and that there is a whole history, as yet unacknowledged, of which these talented, young Jamaicans are fundamentally part. To see this as only (?) indicative of a dichotomous tension between ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’ is, largely, reductionist and misses certain key points about the complexities inherent in these enduring binaries.

To begin with, issues of class in Jamaica are founded, in many ways, through a performance of ideas about race and racial privilege even inasmuch as they are also about power. Race relations form the crux of the award of class privilege in Jamaica, whereby people of African descent, specifically those who seem to ‘act black’ are placed at the base of the society’s social and political hierarchies.

A brief look at what passes for ‘culture’ (read with the capital C) in Jamaica might yet prove this point; that is, in a context where many of the theorists about Jamaican art, culture and music, among others, are not members of the so-called ‘masses’. Note, I am not suggesting that they should be. Rather, that it is very curious how segregated those spheres are from each other in terms of the cultural composition of both groups. If could digress momentarily to make a related point.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit the Liguannea Art and Photography Fair which featured a number of top local artists in their efforts to advertise their wares for all to see and, possibly, consume. What struck me as very curious was the high percentage of black figures which were featured either in photographs and or, artworks, like sketches, sculptures, et cetera. More interestingly, most of the well-heeled patrons seemed nothing at all like the subjects covered in the works featured. (But then, that could just be me!)

A friend asked one of the white, Jamaican photographers whether the subjects in the photographs were paid and what is the extent of their relationship to the subject matter? At which point, the photographer explained that, subjects are given a one time payment and sign a release for the use of the photographs. That the photos are used numerous times over as well as the fact that many of the subjects were minors and, therefore, below the age of consent seemed like a non-issue. Note, I say that even in the context of whether or not parents were fully aware of the implications of signing said release forms for the use of their children’s images in these ways.

Of greater concern, though, is the notion that, largely, white and privileged elites get to determine what is an appropriate subject matter for artistic consumption insofar as its relatedness to the question of black (under-aged) bodies, objectified into the world of art for the passive (?) consumption of those who look on. Failing to see the privation and challenges evident in the studies, the glorification of blackness in this regard as an appropriate (?) subject of non-black fascination serves the explicit purposes of glamourising pain and lack of opportunities, if not exploitation.

That none of those featured as subjects were even present at the fair to consume the works is also telling. By all appearances, there is no apparent connection (compassion?) with the politics of ‘art’ with the ‘life’ of those caught up in the photographers’ objectifying lenses. This makes a very profound point in relation to the concept of ‘visuality’ which I am implicitly interrogating here; that is, in relation to my earlier point about how the Jamaican media ‘see’.

One cannot escape the inherent power imbalances of Jamaica or any other society, unfortunate enough to have experienced the horrors of slavery. However, it must be considered especially strange (?) that the actors in the relationships established, in this instance, between media, their audience(s) and specific subject matters seem so segregated.

Whether people interact with each other beyond the realms of what is broadcast, published and or even aired is not really the point. Rather, the sense of entitlement that allows certain people to feel that they (alone) should be privileged (enough) to be commentators about specific subjects is more my immediate concern. As a result of which, how much of media are aimed at educating and informing their audiences in context? How much of the Jamaican media’s thesis of praise come out what it feels are ‘appropriate’ (?) contexts for praise and not others?

Why is it that, there seemed so much discomfort, recently, with the focus on some of the athletes in the Olympic coverage and to what extent does the audience have the right and or the power to question these ideas in their own locales? This was the aim of my last post. To bring into sharp relief the contradictions inherent in the hero-worship discourse of the Olympics in the larger context of a refusal to acknowledge the complexities of the histories which preceded, even propelled these athletes to greatness. The media are front and centre in this discussion.

Why is it then, that to discuss these issues make us so uncomfortable to the point where my post is trashed and I am basically ‘read’ the riot act for seeking to make Usain Bolt, specifically, but all the other athletes in the Jamaican team ‘folksy’? And, why is it that the notion of an uncritical, unreflexivity is so unceremoniously attributed to my questioning of these very premises?

The claims made against my last entry are not only unfounded and excessive in their attack/ rebuke but also create a smoke screen in terms of seeking to divert attention away from the more substantive point of the blog, which was intended to argue that Jamaican history was, in fact, the victor in Beijing 2008. And that, the achievements of the athletes, though important, come out and, therefore, embody a larger politics in regards to how we feel about ourselves as a people/ nation. I call this the ‘nationalist question’ – a poll for which I placed at the top of the last post. That there have been no answers so far might, itself, be very telling.

However, I choose to see this conversation for what it is – perhaps a little over the heads of those not as invested or as concerned. I did say, after all, that the post was decidedly academic and has implications for my own work in the area. Consequently, I am completely mindful of how such views may be perceived as well as that they may also be represented by others elsewhere, often without acknowledgement, in their limited, if not dishonest understanding of my post.

I end, therefore, by stating that this is neither a rant nor a ‘tracing match’, as per regular Jamaican parlance; that is, even while it is seeks to clarify the apparent misconceptions arising from my last post as well as makes additional point s in this entry. Further, it makes no claim about legitimacy beyond the fact that these are some initial views, though considered, on the subject of nationalism in the context of Jamaican popular culture in the wider context of sports. And that, where these claims acknowledge the scholarship of others, is intended to tease out my own views on the matter. In that regard, thanks for your indulgence!

…Until next time, be good!

PS: Still coming up the curve on the technological ‘know-how’ of blogs. When I have it all (?) figured out, I shall be certain to advertise same in a post at some future date!

PPS: Still figuring out how to do links to other pages!

PPPS: Reviewing all blogs to ensure that where possible all photos, etc. are acknowledged.

...Thanks for your patience!


How important do you rank Dancehall's contribution to national development in Jamaica?