Jamaicans Dream, Just Not the Way You Think

Recently the Gleaner ran an article reporting the results of their own self-commissioned poll on ‘the Jamaican dream’ at 55 years post-Independence. The entire (horribly subjective, barely factual) piece can be found here; what follows is my summary.

The results of the poll were quickly dispensed – 51% of respondents had “no real Jamaican dream” – and the rest of the article focused on dissecting the results in great detail. The Gleaner seems to be taking itself way too seriously. Writer Syranno Baines pulled quotes from pollster Bill Johnson (never heard of him) and psychologist Dr Leachim Semaj (of whom I remain decidedly skeptical) who gave their strangely misdirected opinions on the outcome. The piece raised more questions than answers, leaving itself open for criticism and ridicule.

To start with, the article is poorly written (Syranno, this isn’t completely your fault; you’re also a victim here. Our journalistic training is sorely lacking). There are unnecessary and frankly lazy repetitions, and it suffers from biased reporting (both sources essentially said the same thing. Also reporting on your own poll just seems uninspired).

For the opening statement Baines makes an example of the American dream, but the choice of words leaves the reader feeling like Jamaicans are deficient for not sharing those aspirations. Why use the adjective ‘real’ when you describe the Jamaican dream, is there a fake one? Why say “Not so for Jamaicans” after detailing the American dream? Last I checked, we aren’t Americans.

Still in the introduction, the article relays some sample dreams from the 49% of respondents whose dreams counted: variations on a theme of national development and personal security. Why use the American dream (marriage, two children, a house and a dog) as the gold standard (which is what the Gleaner seems to be doing) if you’re only interested in dreams about the country? The American dream isn’t about America, it’s about Americans. A better quote would have been Martin Luther King Jr’s infamous speech during the March on Washington. You know, the one that goes “I have a dream…”

I think it’s a shame that more than 50 per cent of Jamaicans are dreamless in terms of the nation’s dream
–Bill Johnson

The timing and purpose of the poll suggest the Gleaner was trying to elicit Jamaican opinions on national affairs since independence. Both Johnson and Semaj seem to be discussing a national dream – the Vision 2030 goal, for instance. But Johnson’s tone suggests that the average Jamaican should literally be sitting down and meditating on this goal of national development. Who does that?

Social Science Isn’t an Art

Objectively speaking, a poll isn’t any kind of valid scientific report. It is highly subjective, often deliberately leading and results are usually poorly representative of the wider society. There’s no way of guaranteeing that everyone interprets the question the same way, and that greatly confounds the results. Not to mention the paltry sample size of 1500 people. The results should be taken with a grain of salt, not treated like some peer-reviewed randomized controlled trial. Certainly, it shouldn’t be touted in a national newspaper with the implication that Jamaicans lack direction.

In his commentary pollster Bill Johnson (is this his only qualification?) suggested that Jamaicans have “no time to dream” because they are “too busy working hard to put food on the table”. He was eager to point out that the upper and middle class (people with “‘high-level education”) were better at “dreaming”.

For his part, Dr. Semaj blamed the media for reporting too much crime and violence and not enough national development. His contention is that Vision 2030 is the Jamaican dream but Jamaicans are too depressed by the news to notice the development that is already underway.

I might be paraphrasing.

We are not dreamless

I am disappointed in the Gleaner for perpetuating the class divide by publishing these bogus statistics. I am disappointed in Mr. Johnson for trying to back up his bogus statistics with illegitimate claims about the lives of lower class. I am doubly and triply disappointed in Dr. Semaj for trying to deflect attention from the national crisis of rampant violence and terror to talk more about ‘development’. The print and digital media are bedecked with stories of national development, but that trickle of good news is outmatched by the flood of social unrest. I appreciate Dr. Semaj’s concern for the awareness of the average Jamaican but I doubt the media is conspiring to block all mention of Vision 2030.

But what I am most disappointed in and irked by is the idea that even our dreams are owned, dictated and rented out by the (not so) great U. S. of A. If it doesn’t look like the whitewashed Hollywood-packaged caricature we’ve been force-fed our whole lives then it can’t possibly be right.

There is no way Jamaicans could survive our day to day existence without dreams, without believing and hoping that one day things will be different, will be better. We are a nation of dreamers, ambitious survivors, and rising fucking stars.

This may come as news to you Syranno Baines, Bill Johnson and Leachim Semaj, but Jamaicans are not dreamless.

We dream about stepping/clawing/digging our way out of the poverty being reinforced by a corruption so entrenched it strips us down to our bones.
We dream about honest politicians and come-unities that don’t have a murder every two days.
We dream about having children and grandchildren and building a legacy that time and death cannot erase.
We dream about putting food on the table and sending our children to ‘high-level education’.
Our dream is a better life for our children than the life we had and all now that dream caan bloodclaat come tru.
We dream about safety, we dream about love and we dream about stability.
And we have had that dream about marriage and two kids and that goddamn house with the white picket fence and the dog. But wedding expensive, people love plenty pickney and some ah wi fraid ah dog.

Don’t tell the people they’re wrong just because they aren’t white.

The Only Culprits – in response to Glenn Tucker

Today the Jamaica Gleaner published a commentary piece from Glenn Tucker (educator and sociologist) about the “real culprits” behind child sex abuse. In the article, Mr. Tucker displays the same line of reasoning that allows rape culture to be so prevalent in our society – that of blaming anyone other than the perpetrator of the crime.

Mr. Tucker takes the point of view that our alternative Caribbean family structures are the main reason child sex abuse is taking place. He blames single mothers, absentee fathers, the revolving door of stepfathers – everyone except the actual person who should be blamed: the perpetrator.

I can’t argue that the way people raise their children leaves much to be desired. But as much grouse as I have with most parents in this country, there is no way I can condone blaming mothers and step-fathers for the actions of grown-ass men and women who prey on minors. Parents can do more to protect their children, certainly. But the argument that the blame lies entirely with the victim/victim’s parents is wholly reductive.

The entire tone of the piece is condescending and self-righteous, with Mr. Tucker seemingly placing himself above the “dalliances” of the hoi polloi – even so far as extricating himself from the responsibility of reporting suspected cases of abuse.

I know a mother who dolls up her daughter in nice short, sexy little dresses twice each week and sends her off to pastor for ‘driving lessons’. Four years later, when she became my friend at age 16 (do the math), she still did not know the difference between the stick and the ignition. This one is not likely to reach the courts, however, because she tells me gleefully that Pastor is “really, really good”.

Every citizen has a moral and ethical (and in some cases legal) responsibility to report cases like these, regardless of the child’s current age or the attitude of her parent. Failure to report abuse or suspected abuse is equally as heinous as committing the crime yourself.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
-Edmund Burke

Then Mr. Tucker attacks the hard-working investigators of these alleged cases; an attack, which as a primary care physician, I take very personally. No agency or institution is completely infallible, but we have to believe that the overall thrust of organisations like CISOCA and the CDA is in a positive direction.

His sentiments completely devalue the efforts of governmental and non-governmental agencies alike. And he fails to consider the roadblocks of financial and human resource limitations, the constraints of our justice system and the inherent rape culture/informer fi dead culture. He, the indifferent observer, is content to blame the people actively trying to deliver justice instead of the people who are perpetrating the crimes.

But it’s the final paragraph that sends chills down my spine, when Mr. Tucker includes himself in the group of “dirty old men”, referencing I presume the population of mature men of power eliciting sexual favours from minors in return for financial assistance.

Because of the extent of family disorganisation in this country, it is us dirty old men who are keeping the bodies and souls of these ‘victims’ together, making them graduate from school. And university, in some cases.
Jamaica Gleaner February 6, 2017 (emphasis mine)

The meaning is ambiguous but the paragraph lends itself to a much more sinister interpretation. And I don’t think Mr. Tucker is the only university graduate who feels this way. If these are the opinions of the people teaching our children and leading our communities, it’s going to be a lot harder to fix our culture than I thought.

UWI’s Whirlwind of a Week

It started with this article on the front page of the Sunday Gleaner on February 1. Halls of Horror was the initial headline, since removed online for reasons one can only speculate about. But truthfully, this problem started long before Ms. Heron called out the skeletons in UWI’s closet. The skeletons had to be there first for her to display.

Heron’s study ‘Whose Business Is It? Violence Against Women at UWI, Mona’ is a scathing indictment of UWI’s nonchalant attitude toward gender-based violence on their campus. She cites reported cases and anecdotal evidence in her research (this isn’t a comment on her validity), condemning UWI not for violence on its campus but for not dealing with the issue. The Gleaner goes a step further and calls UWI a “haven for those who assault and harass women” – maybe taking it a bit too far. Meanwhile the entire UWI administration from Camille Bell-Hutchinson (campus registrar) to Lerone Laing (guild president) is denying gender-based attacks left, right and centre.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

A few letters of rejection, damage-controlling press releases, and suitably outraged blog posts later, we fast forward to Tuesday night when this happened. It was virtually biblical: a female (student) being stoned by males (students).

Whatever spin you want to put on it (and my Facebook feed has people demanding to hear the guy’s side of the story; even the UWI statement has unappealing implications) it boils down to boys throwing rocks at a defenseless girl. Which is just wrong, by anyone’s standards.

Naturally, UWI students erupted into protest, postponing the campus Homecoming celebrations and showing the university just what happens when they try to sweep safety issues under the rug. Spearheaded by the campus beacon of gender affairs, Mary Seacole Hall, a peaceful protest was staged on the Ring Road (admirable coverage by Loop and by my aunt’s account also featured on the evening news). The campus called an emergency meeting of its administrators and hall managers – perhaps to figure out how they can bow gracefully out of this debacle. Understandably, people are upset.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In an ideal world, cataclysmic events like this one would spark dialogue and open the way for real change, real policies being implemented in the office and on the ground. But this is Jamaica, land of quick fixes and patch jobs, of putting everything off until it’s SEP. Given UWI’s track record when matters of female safety on campus are brought up in the media (Annie Paul details that quite well), it is all too likely that this too shall pass.

But it shouldn’t be allowed to.

I hear stories of girls going to report assault cases and being dismissed. I hear stories about girls getting dragged around by their hair because people refuse to interfere in ‘man an ooman problem‘. As a girl on this campus – in this society, in this world – safety is always, always, always on our minds. How dare UWI declare it ‘not a priority’? It is our foremost concern.

How many girls have to be raped before we can talk about this openly? How many women have to be assaulted before we can all agree that this (catcalls, harassment, stalking) is not okay? UWI likes numbers: the number of reported cases of sexual assault account for less than 1% of the student body, they argue. What percentage of our bodies qualifies as a priority, UWI?

#HOWMANY do you need to see?

His name was Keiran and He was a King

If you’re any kind of newspaper or theatre enthusiast, you would have heard that Keiran King (of Mr. and Mrs. Black and Taboo acclaim) has been writing weekly columns for The Gleaner since earlier this year. If you aren’t, I can’t imagine what you’re doing here but thank you for stopping by anyway.

Image not my own.

True to form (I really have no idea what Keiran’s form is), he started with a bang, dropping a piece criticizing Jamaica’s Tessanne-mania during the heights of The Voice and proving once again that no publicity is bad publicity. Hundreds of comments alternately lambasted and defended his point-of-view, most of them missing the point. But Keiran didn’t stop there.

He continued to stir the pot with his talk of sex, religion and politics at the dinner table. He pontificated on the importance of the Vybz Kartel trial and declaimed the Bible as a messy history book. Sensationalism at its best. He got tongue-in-cheek, telling couples not to have kids, and serious when he explored the basis of Jamaica’s economic pothole crater.

Image not my own.

He eventually explained (in a roundabout way) the method behind his madness as he tries to be the catalyst for the change that Jamaica so desperately needs. At this point I had a lightbulb moment.

Criticism, paradoxical as it may seem, is a deep form of affection. Would you rather nine friends who always say you look great, or one who tells you to ditch the flats, swap the earrings and, wrinkling her nose, reminds you to brush your teeth?

Keiran’s articles are well-written and witty, full of hyperbole and entertaining analogies and usually backed up by some obscure fact or the other. But they always carry me up on the heights of intellectual curiosity only to drop me abruptly as he reaches the word limit. He does it so fast that I’m left with my head spinning. The topics he broaches are too big, too broad to be handled well by a paltry one-week column (unless, of course, you’re Ian Boyne).

Perhaps his purpose is simply to tease the mind into an awareness of critical issues, to be the spark and not the flame. His self-proclaimed purpose is for his column to be: 

a breeding ground for larval ideas, not just the ones I put forth, but the thousands more that spring up in responses and conversations around the country.

It’s an admirable goal, Mr. King, and one can only hope it actually pans out.