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.

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Sankofa: Critiquing our Coverage of Culture

I have been remiss. Too often I forget that this is a space of growth, questions and a conscious quest for truth. It is too easy to descend into aggravated polemics without stopping to consider and critique. It’s the writer’s equivalent of chewing with your mouth open.

In pursuit of critical discussion I have stumbled across The Nassau Guardian, the oldest and largest newspaper in The Bahamas. More specifically, their Arts and Culture segment where thought-provoking essays by Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett and others are fanning new flames into discussions on race and identity.

It’s a Lifestyle section with more life than style, where the arts and culture pieces actually talk about art and culture. Dr. Bethell-Bennett delves critically into post-modern theories surrounding the manufacture of the Caribbean identity. His deconstruction of post-colonialism and its impact on Afro-Caribbean societies is not new but it’s so refreshing to hear someone wax poetic on the subject in a national newspaper.

I contrast our top two national newspapers: The Gleaner and the Jamaica Observer. The lifestyle section of both newspapers is filled mainly with light and fluffy pieces that don’t provide much food for thought. The Gleaner admittedly digs a touch deeper in its Arts and Leisure section, in that they comment on culturally relevant events. But the coverage is bare bones at best and leaves so much to be desired.

Is it merely that the first-world Bahamas with a supposedly higher percentage of tertiary-educated readers can easily devote segments of its newspaper to largely academic rhetoric? What is the interplay between economics and social commentary? Is socio-cultural criticism merely a luxury that Jamaicans cannot yet afford?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. All I know is that the discussions on race, culture and identity highlighted in The Nassau Guardian are critical to the future of Caribbean development.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, culture and origins is like a tree without roots.
–Marcus Garvey

Journo Thugs! Pen-toting Partisans Drive Fear into the Hearts of Intellectuals

Firstly, congrats to all the recent MBBS candidates who were successful in their examinations! The Class of 2015 is officially next in line (pretending not to shake in my boots here).

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Jamaica Observer recently published an article entitled: Homo Thugs!: Gun-toting Gays Drive Fear in Citizens of Garrison Communities by Karyl Walker.

Cue outraged gay rights lobbyists.

In addition to its subject matter, the writing in the article is a complete journalistic travesty. To quote a friend of mine (fully qualified – in postgrad journalism school. There’s a fancy word for that).

There are relevancy issues, libel issues, morality issues, source issues – all on top of really bad writing and lazy reporting.

Since we can all agree that this article has no journalistic merit, I’ll tackle all the emotional pots it is trying to stir. Which is all of them. Sensationalism has found a new home.

The attached picture features a tube of pink lipstick overlying spent shells and a necklace with the male symbol. Which is just all kinds of stereotypical.

No way am I claiming this image. Horrible image.

Imagine if the article was talking about black people and pictured fried chicken and grape juice. Maybe someone in a ski mask robbing a grocery store. Not to mention the persistent belief that all the homosexuals are men. Female homosexuality is always shuffled off to some quiet corner, tacitly condoned with creepy leering and socially acceptable fantasies.

The first paragraph really sets the tone for the entire article:

DESPITE claims from local and international gay rights activists that Jamaica is a fiercely homophobic country, recent evidence is suggesting that homosexuals are living openly in some of the country’s notoriously tough garrisons without hassle or intimidation.

It sounds like they’re saying Jamaican garrisons have accepted homosexuality, but what they’re actually saying is

“YOU’RE SLACKING OFF, GARRISONS. YOU HAD ONE JOB.”

Their aim is not to prove that our country can be accepting, it’s to prove that gay men will kill us in our sleep if we don’t.

Image credit: cocoacasino.com

The train wreck continues.

A reliable police source said that it is common knowledge in the constabulary that some of the top names in the criminal underworld were homosexual and had relations with multiple gay partners.

However, because of their fearsome reputations, many persons who know of their lifestyle keep their mouths tightly shut in fear for their lives.

Why is Karyl Walker trying to tell us that people would call the cops on homosexuals if only they weren’t criminals too. It’s like saying, “I want to tell the police what this man does in the privacy of his bedroom, but I can’t say anything because he also sells guns and drugs to children.”

So-called informers are ready and willing to point fingers at “crimes” of sexuality, but hesitate when confronted with crimes against humanity: murder, rape, human trafficking.

Image from dvice.com

She finally crashes into what may actually be libel with her closing paragraph reaching for an illicit relationship between recently murdered Montegonian Kenley “Bebe” Stevens (openly gay and rumoured to be a criminal) and Member of Parliament Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams.

Stephens was fingered in the illegal lotto scam, the stealing of electricity, among other illegal activities. He had strong connections in the ruling PNP, as he was one of the main fund-raisers in that part of Jamaica, and was recently elected vice-chairman of the party’s West Central St James constituency, headed by state minister for industry, commerce and investment, Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, who is also MP for the constituency.

I know journalism in this country has been taking a turn for the worse ever since I learnt how to read but sometimes it’s just really disappointing (and slightly nauseating) when the top stories from our national newspapers are no better than the top stories in our tabloids. I expect bad journalism from The Star but the Jamaica Observer has disappointed me for the last time.

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.

Jamaican journalism and the lazy leukocyte syndrome

Lazy leukocyte syndrome is the decreased immunity among the diabetic population because their leukocyte function is impaired. This, along with other things like poor blood flow and decreased sensation makes diabetic patients more susceptible to infection.

In this article on rules for writing fiction, Geoffrey Phillips quotes from John Maxwell who said of journalists

We are delegates of the people… We are… the sensory organs of the body politic….the body politic’s immune system… heralding, detecting malignant intrusions… In the circulatory system of the body politic, we are the white corpuscles and the T-cells.
“Ethical journalism is a human right: that people are entitled to the truth and that journalists are not entitled to tell lies or mislead.

I’ve long since been grumbly about the way journalists operate in this country, and on Tuesday this woman made my day by finally calling them out for being ineffectual. In this Gleaner article, Dr. Virtue complains about the blatant lack of investigative reporting and the deliberate pandering of stories to suit the public’s palette.

And she’s right. In the length of time I’ve been reading the newspaper (admittedly in fits and starts, and only for the last eight years or so), I’ve noticed a distinct lack of critical thinking among the writers. It’s all ‘he said-she said’ and sensationalism. Now that’s fine for tabloids like The Star and X News (and some would argue The Western Mirror – but hey, I think it does its best) but for hard hitting, “serious” newspapers like The Gleaner and The Jamaica Observer (those names have gravity, you guys) dat naa kot no dash.

Journalism: he's doing it right.

No one pushes beyond perfunctory reporting on political goings-on; there are no uncomfortable questions, and because there’s no one to hold our leaders up to harsh scrutiny, they are getting away with murder. Journalists have a duty to function as the watchdogs of society. That’s the whole point of freedom of the press. Instead our reporters are acting like the lazy leukocytes in this diabetic shell of a country and leaving us wide open to all kinds of infection. In the mean time, they disguise their inefficiencies with trivialities like beauty queen babies, which made the front page of The Gleaner last Wednesday. Really.

I guess I can understand that murder and violence are now so commonplace that they aren’t really ‘new’ any more, but even so we have much bigger issues to worry about than Yendi’s three-month pregnancy! I like the way Din Duggan segues from social frippery to socioeconomic woes in his column last Wednesday, and he’s right. Before we celebrate/castigate Ms. Phillips and her baby father, we need to look at how money is being spent in this country, where it is coming from and what we’re going to do when we can’t afford to borrow any more.

Whew. I think that’s enough ranting for one Monday. Journalists, step up your game!

Pax