My heart is aching for Jamaica. Words cannot describe the hurt that the recent events unfolding in Jamaica have caused me. The tears have flowed, and I have asked myself the same question over and over again; what can I do to help? The more I asked myself the question, is the more I realized that I am a part of the problem.
Growing up in Jamaica, I never took a stand against the injustices perpetuated against my fellow citizens. I sat idly by as the guns barked and innocent lives were lost. Instead of saying something, I found comfort in the belief that the violence in Jamaica was targeted; anyone who got killed was killed because of a bad deed. I took comfort in the fact that I lived in a community untouched by the harsh realities of the poverty which riddled inner city communities. My blessings disguised the harsh reality that some Jamaicans were subjected to.
As I grew older, and in the comfort of life in uptown (the terminology used to refer to life for people in the middle to upper class community of Jamaica) Kingston, I realized that there were certain attitudes and characteristics that defined Jamaicans. It became evident that in Jamaica there was an undercurrent of resentment and culturally misguided thought patterns that were eroding our foundation as a people. Throughout high school I saw students singled out because of their socio economic status in life. I saw people mistreated because they did not fit the status quo for what it meant to be a male in Jamaica, I myself being one of them. Young girls were viewed as objects by their male counterparts; a being meant to be subjected to any mans sexual desire. To my surprise, some women gloated in the fact that were dehumanized to mere species for sexual reproduction and gratification, rather than champion themselves as individuals for a higher purpose.
It became evident that Jamaica had structured racial and social lines. There was the uptown Jamaica, and the downtown Jamaica. The Jamaican middle class did not exist. The rich typically came from uptown, and the poor typically came from downtown. The rich did not fraternize with the poor. It was through this class structure that racial lines were also drawn. Unlike the United States, there was not a two term definition for race (black or white). In Jamaica race was and is defined beyond ones phenotypic appearance. Those Jamaicans who had more phenotypic similarities to white Europeans were seen as more privileged and cultured than Jamaicans who were more afro centric. As a Jamaican with mixed ethnicity, coupled with my privileged position on the upper rings of the socioeconomic ladder, I witnessed a different Jamaica. I took comfort in the fact that I was not singled out because I was black. I was not subjected to extra judicial persecution from the police force due to residing in one of Jamaica’s poorest neighborhoods. But I did witness the mild animosity in high school, I did witness the bullying. I did witness the street protests, and the news feed on television. But I did nothing. My inaction has resulted in the further degradation of the country I call home.
Today we have a Jamaica where our murder rate stands as one of the highest in the world. We have a Jamaica where freedom of speech is not restricted by the government, but by the fear of retribution. One cannot freely stand (in some instances) and defend an issue they are passionate about for fear that they will be killed by their adversaries. Discussions regarding political ideologies and affiliation are limited in some regard, because you may be killed for being too vocal regarding your political allegiance. That is the Jamaica that exists today. Our white sand beaches and turquoise waters have masked the disgusting reality of life in Jamaica.
The success of our athletes and our success in the realms of academia, pale in comparison to the number of innocent lives lost each year. Innocent bloodshed lay splattered across every page of our history. Behind our victories on the field, lies our defeat in the realm of humanity and justice. I have failed to serve my country well. I have failed to live up to the promises I made every time I recited the national pledge of Jamaica, which reads:
” Before God and all mankind, I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigor of my body in the service of my fellow citizens; I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly, so that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.”
I stood by passively in 2001 when the government launched a raid on West Kingston that killed 27 Jamaicans. I remained inactive when I heard of brutal slayings on the news in the years to follow. I was shocked, but did nothing when my friend was brutally murdered as she entered her driveway in November of 2009. My heart sank, yet I did nothing, when news reached me that a former schoolmate from high school was slain while talking to a friend by his car.
Ever wonder what it’s like to live in Jamaica? Imagine this: Fear gripping you every time the sun sets in Jamaica. Throughout the night your heart races whenever you hear a suspicious sound in the dark. When the bark of the dogs gets louder you wonder if a man lurks in the dark with a gun waiting to kill you. You buy groceries and pull into your drive way, and you hurry to get the door opened, because each moment you spend without tangible protection is a matter of life and death. Every time a car passes your driveway you wonder if the windows will roll down and the bullet of a gun takes your last breath. You shy away from disagreements because you know that in Jamaica sometimes to have an opinion is to have a death sentence.
Life in Jamaica is no cake walk, and the eerie case above pales in comparison to life in the inner city. Living in the inner city means having your life controlled by a gang leader who dictates your every move. Crickets don’t chirp at nights in the inner city, the sounds of gunshots fill the air instead.
Jamaicans have become so desensitized to crime and violence in the nation that murders become a part of everyday life. No one seems ready to tackle the issues that undermines the nation. We are content to just watch Usain Bolt break world records, while our criminal gangs also seek a spot in the record books. We fight, we degrade each other, and we call people names. We suppress free will and civil liberties.
Jamaica failed because we all failed. Some say we are at a turning point in our history, but until we each realize that we have a role to play as citizens of Jamaica; Jamaica will never move forward. To residents of the inner cities, I appeal to you to not have countless number of children if you know you don’t have the finances to care for them. Invest in the education of your children instead of clothes and apparel for the next street dance. Citizens of Jamaica do not litter the roads with your trash, and then expect the government to rescue you when the roads flood because drains are blocked. Do not block roads and then complain about the deterioration of the road surface. Blocking the roads destroy the structural integrity of the very road you accuse the government for failure to maintain.
Maybe when we learn to teach our children to love and respect others, and not how to do the latest sexually explicit dance, maybe then we will move forward. Maybe when our women learn to treasure themselves for who they are, and not exploit their bodies, maybe then we will move forward. Maybe when our men decide that having multiple women and children has less to do with masculinity, and more to do with stupidity, maybe then we will move forward. Maybe when more males decide to be fathers instead of leaving the burden of child rearing to mothers, maybe then Jamaica will move forward.
No postcard or tourism advertisement will hide the fact that Jamaica is a broken country, and a broken system of governance. Frankly, I am disgusted with the state of affairs in Jamaica. I am done playing as if everything is okay. The colors of our flag are black, green and gold; colors which once symbolized the phrase: Hardships there are, but the land is green and the sun shines. If the flag is truly symbolic of a nation, it may do us justice to eliminate the green and gold, just black will do.
I don’t have the answers, and I feel helpless. But today I make the pledge to speak out against injustice when I see it. I pledge to defend the rights of each and every Jamaican, regardless if I disagree with their actions or lifestyle. I pledge to promote brotherhood by eliminating the seeds of discord that has been sown among us. I will hold our political representatives responsible for their actions. I will remember that I am just as important in the system of governance as much as a Member of Parliament or the Prime Minister. Jamaica is the land of my birth, I can never change that. Jamaica will always be a part of me, and until I can make Jamaica a better place, then I must always live with the stigma of being Jamaican.
They say actions speak louder than words…will you act today or will you continue to stand by as our nation crumbles?
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