October 21, 2011
My response to today’s editorial:
“Yet, Jamaica’s thinking middle class has the power to profoundly influence change.”
I find these coded and lofty attempts to distinguish who’s “thinking” from who’s not to be really problematic.
For example, the term “well-thinking Jamaicans” which is used far too much in editorials, smacks of an elitism that is based in the editors’ sense of the moral superiority of some groups over others. Is “thinking” supposed to allude to education level and capacity to engage with ideas in a complex way? Then say that. Just be aware that you can’t critique political engagement in Jamaica based on this vague sense of who’s “thinking” versus not.
Everyone’s thinking; not everyone is thinking clearly, about the same things, at the same level, or even working with complete, accurate information.
Maybe what’s important is what kind of thinking they are doing: what are people are taking a position on, what that position is, and what they don’t seem to be concerned with.
This is why I ask what this term “thinking middle class” is supposed to mean? Going with the assumption that its education that you’re concerned with, then this group would most likely be comprised by those who are policy leaders, run NGOs, university teachers, political analysts, etc. But you may want to tell us again what distinguishes their opinions and stances regarding partisan politics; I don’t think you ever gave us that information.
You’re also distinguishing them from “non-thinking middle-class” – who are those? That sounds like an epithet. All who are left, including the apathetic as well as the cash-rich, free-wheeling, party-hosting ones who we read about in the social pages? Again, tell us so readers can know where you are coming from.
Middle classes cannot observe anything from the sidelines. They are part and parcel of everything, even though they are less visible as a group of political actors. It is members of the middle-classes who shop at places like MegaMart and whose tastes are catered to by the formation of small businesses as well as by the gov’t. Middle-class people also run credit unions, speak out against the exploitation of children and women, and against police brutality, as well as demand better accountability on the part of the police.
It is also members of the middle class who are married to politicians and financiers, create fake organisations and mismanage funds, implement, defend and lobby for policies and laws that harm women, children and the environment, hide information and engage in fraudulent transactions, refuse to implement rules of fairness and equal access, demand exorbitant salaries and compensation packages, provide demeaning customer service while taking our money, and yes, even shape public opinion by publishing their stances in the newspapers without adequate citation or evidence.
It would be nice to see more members of the former type of middle-class to stand up and speak out in a clear and coherent voice against corruption, against fiscal mismanagement, and offer incisive critiques of all these lofty plans that are put out called Visions, Mandates, Platforms and what not.
It would also be nice to see more of those people working to form alliances with working-class people and demanding change on behalf of those at the bottom the way they used to in the 1980s. However, I don’t agree that these are the only “thinking” folks. I happen to agree with them and how they think, yes.
I also agree that, because middle-class folks do and can have a lot of influence, they need to be more organised and forthright about where they stand on public policy issues, and take leadership in advocate on behalf of all Jamaicans, rather than just on their short-term class interests.
The problem right now is that those who are having the biggest effects are doing so thru their tacit support of the status quo, and who use back-channels to protect their interests. The ones who want to change things are too busy fighting bureaucracy, intentional ignorance, and intransigence and trying to keep their heads above water.
My point is, they are all thinking, but they’re rowing in different directions, some in fancier boats than others, some even able to hire others to row for them.
September 7, 2010
School has reopened so it’s high season for parent-bashing. Here’s my response to the latest on the National Parenting Policy proposed a few years back.
To the Editor:
As a parent with a child in Jamaica’s gov’t-run schools, I have long opposed such lofty propositions as a “National Parenting Policy” for both its elitism and shortsightedness. In particular, Andrew Holness needs to remember that “fixing” parents is not part of his portfolio. In seeking to “fix” parents and so-called broken families, such policy does little more than continue to heap disrespect onto poor people. After all, that is the group which is the target of such policies. Any fool can see that.
What’s more, those who are charged with the job of educating our children already have a set view of what constitutes “parents” and what role such parents should play, and will not take any responsibility for how educators themselves have marginalized parents from active participation in their children’s education. Just look at the quality and content of the communication between principals, teachers and parents over the past several months, and it will be clear what I mean.
So, for Andrew Holness to say that “[w]e want to bring parenting and the family structures formally into the education system,” is to ignore the way that families are already part of the system. For one thing, all those children came from families, whether he likes the family form or not. In addition, constantly singling out children whose family arrangements do not conform to what he and others imagine as “normal” is simply wrong. One anecdote does not make a pattern. I daresay, if one cannot identify who the child’s current caregiver is, then there is a serious problem in the record-keeping abilities of teachers and principals! If Holness looks to the policies that he has championed, parents’ roles are already carefully prescribed in them: the only thing that we are supposed to do is pay the required auxillary fees so that the child can attend! We are certainly not required to send our children to school, let alone to make sure that the child has all the necessary supplies. Where has the MoE carefully defined and communicated to parents the desired relationship between schools and families? That’s a true failure in educational policy, not in parenting. A top-down National Parenting Policy is certainly not going to fix the problems that currently plague Jamaica’s education system.
I believe that when the MoE chooses to change it’s approach i.e. to treat parents with respect, acknowledge the jobs we already do, and see us as partners in the education of our children, I am sure there will be a lot more cooperation and far less distrust. Right now, the only message that Jamaican parents get from the MoE is that we are lackeys who do not perform a good enough job and are a burden to the MoE. That is hardly an empowering message or wins you any friends.
If Holness wants parents to be more proactive and present in their children’s education, then he will have to make room in all relevant education policy for that to happen. For one thing, that means challenging the historical relationship between parents and schools in Jamaica, where parents were expected to “send” their children to get something that said parents, because of their social inferiority, were “lacking”, and where teachers were considered to be of superior social status. That attitude is pervasive in our society, and is certainly reflected in the skepticism and latent hostility directed against parents by the employees of the MoE, which gave rise to such problematic ideas as a “National Parenting Policy”.
Holness can’t have it both ways: either parents are partners or they are not. Such a shift in emphasis – from demonizing to engaging parents – will require the MoE to include parents as a group at every level of participation and decision-making, from the school level up to the national level. To date, parents are left on the sidelines, perhaps because we are not considered knowledgeable, important enough or credible on the subject of our children’s education. And yet, we are gladly blamed for whenever something goes awry in the schools. Go figure.
Lashing out against parents and diverse family arrangements that children come from is not the answer. Only when the MoE creates systems and programs in the schools to make it meaningful and welcoming for parents to participate will we see any difference in the quality of parents’ engagement. Only when the MoE attempts to meet parents where they are at rather than chastising them for not being good enough will we see any turnaround in the academic achievement of our children.
July 16, 2010
I decided to start my own party. Why not? After enduring the hypocritical, circus-like behaviour of the PNP, the bald-faced lying and deceitful JLP, and the near silence and invisibility of the NDM for the past several months, what are we supposed to do? Just sit down and wait for all of them – a bunch 0f middle-aged men and women who lie so till dem not even know when dem a tell lie again, who tink seh dem entikle fi tell Jamaican people anything whe’h come a dem mout’ an’ nobody nuh fi seh nutt’n to dem, who still nuh realize seh colonialism dun long time and dem not the annointed ones, and who still cannot figure out how to speak and act with sincerity and humility – to come tell wi di same half-cook foolishness they have for the past 30 years? We certainly do have some eediyats among us who believe that all these relics need to do is pray and call on the name of Jesus and they will be cleansed of their evildoing, but do not count me among the thus annointed.
So, mi decide fi mek a move. I believe we need a party that is led by the PEOPLE, works on behalf of the PEOPLE and speaks in the voice of the PEOPLE. And since we in the 21st century – aldo’ nuff a wi still not even can read clock or sign – the internet seems a good place to start. An’ like how Jamaican people love gossip an’ spread rumour a’ ready, it is only a matter of time before everybody a chat bout di PPJ as if dem did read this blog demself.
Just remember, this is not a party that is interested in running this country and becoming Prime Minister and what not. We nuh inna dat deh ki’ na politics. This is a party that is about getting things done by making sure that those who are elected as representatives will walk, talk and sign on the dotted line drawn by the PEOPLE. We demand, they respond. The one dem whe’ h deh inna govament right now nuh seem fi know wha’ fi do besides tief money, curry favour, gi backchat, spen’ off money whe’ h nuh belong to dem, an a gi out govament tings like is bingo prize.
So, it look like seh dem politcian yah – from mayor all di way up to prime minister – need smaddy fi tell dem wha’ h fi do, smaddy fi light fiyah unda dem tail fi get dem fi do dem job, an’ smaddy fi run dem out when dem n’ aa perform but a get paycheck an’ nuff bodyguard fi mek press statement full a lie an’ scull Parliament when dem feel like it.
Wi tiyad a it! Wi tiyad a dem! Wi dun wid all a dem foolishness deh! Is a new day dis!
The party now needs a platform. In the coming weeks I will create and launch a new blogspace that will serve as the virtual home and primary communication portal for the party. I am now counting on the PEOPLE (that would be you, reader!) to speak up and tell me what they want this party to address, and what we should prioritise in the next 5 years, and how we should go about creating a more active citizenry that is willing to fight for a better quality of life for this and future generations. Let the PEOPLE speak!
June 10, 2010
No director goes on stage to take a bow.
Only gunshots and wailing.
The spotlight shines on a line of caskets at the rear of the stage.
At the same time the music begins to play and becomes increasingly louder.
It’s coming from the caskets.
May 24, 2010
dem guh loot police station a look fi bullet an gun..
police ah run lef’ kyaar and gunman a drive.. POLICE CARS NO. 20, NO. 36 & NO.91
dem bun dung police station..
helicopter and all a dem fufool police an’ souljah a run go a Tivoli fi meet dem Waterloo…
Crime Minister Golding come pon TV a twis’ up im mout’ an a talk like seh im nuh responsible fi wha’ deh gwa’an…
Dat man need more dan prayer. Im need fi tek whe’h imsself!
What an embarassment!
What a spectacle of incompetence and sheggery!
But, if ah so it fi go so di whole na’asy govament bwile can bus, den a so it affi go…
May 12, 2010
Just in case you don’t realise it yet Brucie, your days as PM are numbered less than 10.
When a political leader boldly LIES to both its citizens and those who make up the government that one is expected to preside over, purposefully misrepresents one’s relationship to criminals, abuses one’s access to power by using it to negotiate arrangements that have little to do with governance and national interest, and everything to do with preserving one’s political status and authority, and where the use of such power reflects a glaring conflict between two competing roles that the head of state does not acknowledge or understand as problematic, then there can be little confidence in that leader’s ability to govern.
Through his actions – from overt arrogance and disdain for the people’s point of view, to the bare-faced lying when even his colleagues felt it necessary to tell the truth - all public trust has now evaporated and there is little left to assure Jamaicans that we have not been similarly misled in the past, and will not be treated in similar fashion in the near future.
Not only has Bruce Golding’s unethical behaviour disgraced the position of PM, but he has shown himself to be of questionnable character and a failure at providing the model of leadership that Jamaica needs right now. And, at a time when we are struggling about what to do about the widespread crime – in terms of both direct violence and corruption – that is enveloping Jamaica, we can scarce afford to ignore the real damage that Bruce Golding’s conduct will have on such efforts.
The best think that Bruce Golding can do for the country right now is to resign, effectively immediately.
You know what I love (in a cheeky kind of way) about this editorial? Even as its authors concede that a lot will and continue to change regarding the status of gays and lesbians, it still showed ambivalence of its editors about this change, despite their best efforts. Try as they might, they really can’t handle it; that’s what the “and such” is really about. In a way, their ambivalent stance mirrors the attitudes of many Jamaicans today who see that their attitudes are slowly changing but they really can’t get a hang of exactly when and how. This kind of ambivalence wasn’t so noticeable 10 years ago. So, THAT is something to celebrate! In another 10 years, I think we will probably be someplace different, regardless of the vitriolic sentiments that many are clinging on to. Those folks probably won’t change their minds, but others around them are changing, making them more of an anomaly than ever before. Laws don’t change until cultural attitudes shift. I can wait. And so can many of us.
March 16, 2010
D. Ranks wrote:
Good Piece, and I applaud it. What I object to, however, is the term “real Jamaican.” Who is a real Jamaican? Is it one who believes as the author does, or is it one who hold an opinion of his or her own? Is a real Jamaican one who is born into wealth or born into poverty? Or is a real Jamaican a Jamaican who does not commit crimes, get involved in corrupted practices? One who can run really fast, or run really slow? Am I a real Jamaican, how about you? and so on and so forth.
I would like to think that each Jamaican, regardless of where they are form, their social status, their beliefs, their crimes or none, in fact evey jackman of us, are real Jamaicans. We are real to the core, but still we are all unique. “Are you a real Jamaica”, sounds like separating the sheep from sheep and saying this sheep is not a real sheep, but it looks like a sheep and sound like a sheep. We are disowning our collective-selves, that is what it is.
I would have preferrd the phrase, “concerned Jamaicans.” Yet even with that there would be critical views on it, becasue we would have define “concerned”. Such is life. But we live in societies of diversity and everyone of us is real, concerned for our welfare or not, we are real to the bone.
No doubt about it, Loyd B. Smith is a real Jamaican, and he expresses it eloquently, much to our benefit. But so is Andem, a convicted criminal, and he is in prison , much to our delight and safety. We are real, but the question we should ask, maybe, is: Just how concerned we are for this nation of ours?
I responded (3/16/2010):
@ D Ranks – In theory, I agree with the critique you are making. However, I chose not to get into that (sometimes important) splitting of hairs & to focus on the main argument/proposal that is being made. Lloyd could have said ”concerned Jamaicans” or that other rather odd phrase “well-thinking Jamaicans” & you (and probably myself as well) would have had similar critiques about the ways in which such terms are both exclusionary & unnecessarily limited/limiting. I think they are also class-laden terms, but that’s another conversation.
Here’s the problem though. At the same time that the term has some drawbacks (anything given a nationalist flavour always does), all of our thieving, malicious, lying, misinformed, shortsighted politicians have been speaking & acting in the name of us “Jamaicans” for a long time. They certainly consider themselves to be “real Jamaicans.” So do all those who work really hard to wreak mayhem on the society for personal gain. They are Jamaican by accident of birth, dishonest and evil by choice. The effects of their decisions inter alia are to undermine our collective abilities to improve our the current circumstances & to mortgage our children’s future. To me, that is decidedly unpatriotic behaviour, and thus un-Jamaican. In this case, what you are working for is what distinguishes the “real” vs. the insincere/selfish/destructive etc. Indeed, I guess we need to consider what a useful opposite would be.
I agree with Lloyd in the sense that we need to take back the notion of what it means to be “Jamaican” & to define it in a more progressive way, that allows people to start to think about “being Jamaican” as synonymous with becoming politically engaged as citizens & taking on the responsibility of making a better society for all of us. It’s about a group of people being willing to stand up & declare their allegiances & to ask the rest of us, do you want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? Are you with us or against us? You don’t have to take the same side I’m (or Lloyd, or whoever) is on, but know that you are on a side, whether or not you choose. It’s better to choose. I think that’s what all Jamaicans want – to be able to choose how our lives unfold, rather than be treated like stupid children by our politicians. It’s a moral argument that does and can hold sway, and certainly effectively counter those other “moral” arguments that we hear too often (religion disguised really) and which don’t ever question power, or the various ways that the architects of those who claim to have “moral authority” (not mentioning any names….) are actively colluding with power and against Jamaicans as a collective.
February 5, 2010
I wrote this a few days ago in response to Danville Walker’s letter to the editor published on Feb. 1 in the Gleaner. It wasn’t published, and since I am just remembering about it, thought I’d share it with you.
Frankly, I am rather disappointed that Danville Walker has chosen to jump on the bandwagon and frame the arrival of Haitian refugees as, first and foremost, a public health threat. I am wondering: why take this stance among all the other far more reasonable positions that one might have expected from this particular public figure? More generally, what is it about the way we insist on thinking about Haitians that allows us to intentionally cast them as dirty, diseased and backward, a status, according to Mr. Walker, that is only enhanced by their “lack of familiarity with the English Language.” Such arguments are truly self-serving, and say much more about us, than it does about the people who are being demonized and mischaracterised in these pejorative ways.
I am certainly no stranger to the reactionary, cruel and
stereotype-ridden stances that many Jamaicans are wont to take about whoever is deemed as a “problem.” What I do find interesting is that we still have so little perspective on the real effects of policies built on the very arguments that we are bandying about in the papers and on the airwaves i.e. that because the Haitian is a “foreigner” and is “not one of us” because of differences in cultural practices and living situations, s/he poses a danger to the health of the nation, and with whom contact should be minimized as much as possible.
Not only are these arguments frightening. They have been used time and time again in so many countries to imprison people indefinitely, to exclude them from jobs, housing, and education, and used to make scapegoats of them, assigning them responsibility for every possible social problem. I am fairly sure the British folks used some of these very arguments against Jamaicans when we first went to England in the 1950s!
Indeed, Danville Walker’s suggestion, however well intended, sounds more and more like the kinds of policies that the U.S. imposed on immigrants who entered through Ellis Island in the late 19th and early 20th century, where, depending on where people were coming from, they were sprayed with pesticides and quarantined for fear they would be bringing in foreign diseases for which the U.S. policymakers believed there was no treatment or cure. Most recently, the U.S. enacted a ban in the 1980s forbidding Haitians and gay men from donating blood because of the assumption that both groups would contaminate the general blood supply, and spread HIV to the general population. They too were registered as “foreign” and their bodies subjected to all forms of stigma, discrimination and surveillance. We in Jamaica swallowed those problematic arguments without so much as a cough or a question. Just look how far those ideas have brought us.
Beneath all these arguments for protecting the nation from the “dirty foreigner” – now Haitians but somehow never Eastern Europeans – are some serious prejudices which have never been unearthed and actively challenged, but are allowed to fester and ooze into the public consciousness in exactly the moments when what is desired is thoughtful, humane policy and action.
Certainly, many of the arguments we are hearing now about the “diseased Haitian” were made years ago when the first group of Haitians came to Jamaica. While the voices echoing the attitude of “No Haitians Allowed” have now been cast as hard-hearted and cruel, and of course, nobody wants to be seen as such, there has been little response to the seemingly more benign position of “Bring them in but spray them first” which is steadily creeping to the forefront. This more rational and reasonable-sounding argument echoed in Danville Walker’s letter has begun to seep into the debate, as if to suggest that there has been a significant change in the general sentiments previously expressed. But that’s clearly not true. Rather it is the same prejudices and ignorance being cloaked as “concern” for the general wellbeing of Jamaicans. Naturally, we would have not considered the reverse situation i.e. whether there are potentially detrimental effects that living in this society could pose for Haitian refugees. Nor have we considered that Jamaicans including myself have lived and worked in Haiti and we didn’t live in bubbles or come down with untreatable diseases. No. Such would not be a concern because the implicit message is that Jamaica – and by extention, Jamaicans – is “better” (i.e. morally, socially and culturally superior) than Haiti. To many of us, Haitians are just too close to “Africa” and “Africans” who we look on with the same loathing and disgust, to be held at arms-length, using sterile latex gloves. It is deeply saddening that so many of us think nothing of talking about people using words and tone that enact a certain kind of violence, while conveying how little we think of them. But let any other country apply its own ill-conceived policies to Jamaicans in the same way that we wish the government to treat Haitians, and we are ready to cry “racism” and “discrimination.” It is very clear to me that the very same racist ideas that were imposed on this society several centuries ago have found numerous ways to survive in our social system and attitudes. The anti-Haitian arguments floating around Jamaica right now stink of racism; the root causes need to be addressed.
At the end of the day, this is primarily an immigration issue. Haitian refugees are not criminals, and should not be treated by citizens or represented in the media as such. They should be subjected to the same procedures that others currently undergo when they come to Jamaica to live or to stay for long periods of time. Nothing less than fairness and respect for their dignity should be accorded to any persons who come to our country, for whatever reason. If some of us are still struggling to accord that basic respect to our fellow citizens, then perhaps the immigration officials and other government workers charged to re-settle Haitian refugees can provide a laudable example of how we should be living and relating to each other.
January 13, 2010
2. Know someone who has a yacht? Ask them to put it to use for this emergency situation.
3. Organise a team of doctors, nurses, health workers & medical students to go to Haiti, preferably on one of those boats.
4. Set up a collection site: canned food AND a can opener, energy bars, peanut butter, oats, packages of milo, powdered milk, bread, crackers, etc. antibiotic ointments, bleach, water purification tablets, gauze, small towels, soap, batteries, plastic bags, infant formula and diapers, matches, gloves, plastic sheeting & drop cloths, blankets.
5. Be prepared to offer to host Haitian people who might need to be relocated to nearby islands.
6. Volunteer your time and efforts now, and when Haiti is no longer frontpage news. It will take decades to rebuild Port au Prince. Decades.
Remember, however bad you think you have it, people in Port au Prince have it much worse right now. Doing nothing is not an option.