The Not So Good Old Days

Whenever there is an upsurge of violence in Jamaica there is always much talk about the “good old days” when people could walk in safety wherever they wished at any hour of the night and everyone slept with doors unlocked.

In 1955 there were less than 25 murders committed in Jamaica and our homicide rate was 1.2 per 100,000. By 2012 our homicide rate had skyrocketed to 39.3 per 100,000; more than a 30 fold increase. It is doubtful that any country not at war has seen such a comparable explosion of violence.

But not every aspect of the good old days was so good, as Valerie Dixon can testify.

“I was one of four children, and the only who was dark skinned. Luckily for my father’s peace of mind I had his features if not his complexion! I always knew I was different from my sisters but never knew how significant this difference was until my mother tried to get me and my younger sister into St. George’s Anglican primary school on Duke Street in Kingston in about 1956.

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We went to the schoolyard where the headmistress of the infant school – a high brown almost white woman who ironically was named Miss Dixon – interviewed us. She was fairly young at the time and may well still be alive to hear my story which I can finally get off my chest after all these years.

My sister who was a year younger than me and much lighter in complexion – a browning as they say today – was immediately admitted into the school based strictly on her appearance. I was totally ignored. She did not interview any of the children that she admitted. I noticed that all the other brown skin children were readily let in while all us darker skinned children were left behind. At this point Miss Dixon declared that the classes were filled and she could take no more. My mother – who was middle brown and a little lighter than me – pointed out that she had brought her two daughters and that the brown skin child had been admitted but she wanted both her children to go to the same school.

Miss Dixon said I had to be tested and gave me a sum that no average five year old could possibly answer correctly. And I knew from looking at the sum that there was no way I could pass this test because we had not reached that stage at private school – what we call basic school today. I felt the lump growing in my throat. After a few minutes she came back to see what I had done and despite all my mother’s encouragement I could not do that sum. She then announced to all the mothers with children of my complexion that they were to go down John’s Lane and seek admission at “convent” – the Roman Catholic primary school, St. Joseph for girls and St. Aloysius for boys. It was really an ironic situation, with this small lane dividing the Anglican and Catholic schools, but this huge discriminatory divide.”

 But, says Valerie, the headmistress had not reckoned with her mother.

“All the other women and their children walked across John’s Lane accepting the fact that their colour did not qualify them for St. George’s. But my mother took me to the school wall and we both sat down. She never said a word to me, but I realized she had some plan up her sleeve, because we did not move for about fifteen minutes. Then school bell rang for recess and the doors were thrown open and children poured out.

My mother swung into action. She put my little bag in my hand and very firmly said go find a seat and with that left. You can imagine Miss Dixon’s consternation when after recess she found me in her classroom well seated at a desk! I can see the expression on her face to this day. She looked me up, she looked me down. It was not till much later that I realized what a psychologist my mother had been. She must have reasoned out as we sat on that wall that if she disappeared no well thinking adult would turn a five year old child out on to busy Duke Street not knowing what might happen to her. She realized her arguments might have been ignored but no one was going to argue with a child my age. And of course she knew the time school was over so she could come for me and my sister.

As if in punishment Miss Dixon put me among the boys, the only girl to be placed there. And again it was not until many years later I realized the great favour she had done me. Because I learnt at this very early age to negotiate and make my way through difficult circumstances. By the end of the week the boys and I got along famously. I helped them with their work and in exchange they protected me and made certain I got extra rides on the swing and slides at lunchtime. And I never had to join the line to get snow cones. And by helping with their assignments I was getting extra practice at arithmetic and english, which later paid off handsomely for me.

Still it wasn’t easy at times. For instance I had lots of ribbons in my short hair and the long haired girls would jeeringly call me “pound of ribbon and penny worth of hair” and flash their pony tails from side to side to emphasize what I didn’t have. My sister at four was too young to realize what was happening.

Yet the moral of the story is to this blessed day I am ever grateful for all that happened there. Because no unusual circumstance throws me off for long, and it is a matter of time before I bounce back from difficult situations. I only have to remember my entrance into and my first week at St. George’s primary school. Which goes to prove the old Jamaican saying that what don’t kill fatten!”

This kind of blatant prejudice would of course be completely unacceptable today. Which is not to say, as Valerie points out, that we are now living in a colour blind paradise. There are still many situations in this country where lighter skinned persons are almost automatically given preference. And in some cases colour prejudice has been replaced by class bias, as when job or school applicants are rejected because they are from certain “bad” areas.

But no one can deny that Jamaica has made huge strides in this area – certainly few if any countries are more racially tolerant today. And hopefully we will continue to progress towards the blessed day when Martin Luther King’s ideal is achieved and every man, woman and child is judged not by the colour of their skin but solely by the content of their character.

Written by Kevin O’Brien Chang

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Norman Crombie
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I cannot say I’ve experienced anything like that. But know of others who did even among siblings with a different parent Is that racism?

Elisabeth Levy
Guest

Lol. At my prep school you could only be an angel or fairy in the chools plays if you were white.

Jeanette Edwards
Guest

Yes even in May Pen if you did not have light skin you could not go to G.H.

Jeanette Edwards
Guest

Yes even in May Pen if you did not have light skin you could not go to G.H.

Andrea Taylor
Guest

I enjoyed reading your article however, as a white woman who has just spent 3 months living in Jamaica I can not agree that ‘few, if any countries are more racially tolerant today’. Daily, and almost constantly I met with what I would term racism due to my skin color…..I was called Whitey…. often…….what would the reaction have been if I had answered “what you want Blacky?. I was assumed to be wealthy due to my skin colour…. I could go on. My experience of Jamaica is that it is an extremely racist society

Linton Gordon
Guest

I fully understand

Trecia Gardener-Campbell
Guest

I enjoyed reading this article.

Winston Christie Donald
Guest

St Georges schol was the preserve of white and light skinned Jamaicans back in those days. But Catholic School was not different . Most of my friends from Greenwich Town, Portmore, Allman Town went to St. Georges College. Except for Father Rupley, the white fathers were astonishingly racist. That is what my friends told me. By 1978 over 20 % of those passing their GCE with A’s and B’s sought transfer to a more tolerant Wolmer’s Boys School.

Winston Christie Donald
Guest

St Georges schol was the preserve of white and light skinned Jamaicans back in those days. But Catholic School was not different . Most of my friends from Greenwich Town, Portmore, Allman Town went to St. Georges College. Except for Father Rupley, the white fathers were astonishingly racist. That is what my friends told me. By 1978 over 20 % of those passing their GCE with A’s and B’s sought transfer to a more tolerant Wolmer’s Boys School.

Winston Christie Donald
Guest

A white Jamaican told me subconsciously that at Wolmer”s Girls school in the early 60’s they gave her god art material and gave the black girls “trash’.

Winston Christie Donald
Guest

A white Jamaican told me subconsciously that at Wolmer”s Girls school in the early 60’s they gave her god art material and gave the black girls “trash’.

Winston Christie Donald
Guest

I love this story. Tell it of course to a racist

Anthony Blissett
Guest

My God! we have come a long way.Give thanks.

Victor Smith
Guest

I still prefer,THE GOOD OLD DAYS.

Heatha Mavarie Miller
Guest

Interesting read. While it is not so for colour, I do believe we have issues with class

Filmore Allwood
Guest

In my school. Black River primary, it was both. If your parents were rich, you got special opportunities. But if you were poor(walking bare feet) you got a very difficult time especially from the head teacher, Mr. A. L. Reynolds. Many good students suffered under his administration. Those who made it have to give a lot of credit to their mothers who was everything one could ask for. My mom is still alive today God bless her.

Filmore Allwood
Guest

In my school. Black River primary, it was both. If your parents were rich, you got special opportunities. But if you were poor(walking bare feet) you got a very difficult time especially from the head teacher, Mr. A. L. Reynolds. Many good students suffered under his administration. Those who made it have to give a lot of credit to their mothers who was everything one could ask for. My mom is still alive today God bless her.

Kayon Watt
Guest

wow i like your story

Jno Frtz
Guest

Babylon system, is falling, we have a long way to go my people, don’t ever give up. Blessed love my sister.

Janice Dawkins
Guest

Jamaica was still more disciplined and more beautiful! !

Janice Dawkins
Guest

Jamaica was still more disciplined and more beautiful! !

Lloyd Goulbourne
Guest

We sure have cone a long way, and have a longer way to travel, just hope we educate our Children and Grand Children

Winston Francis
Guest

Reading this has brought a sour lump in my throat, I always wondered what that head teacher’s name was, it was because of her why I went to jail even though I was only eleven years old along with my friend Kingsley Crawford. And it was because I had a girl friend who was white English and attended St Georges. Every time she saw me at the wall talking to Pat she told us she would call the police and asked Pat what she saw in that Black Bastard even though I was not dark skinned. but that I attended… Read more »

Max Wilson
Guest

Andrea taylor its nothing personal,i can almost assume u were in a small rural town,but i can tell you that jamaica is not a racist society,.I went to high school with kids of all race ,,and didnt realise till i came to the state,because their color wasnt a factor.

Max Wilson
Guest

Andrea taylor its nothing personal,i can almost assume u were in a small rural town,but i can tell you that jamaica is not a racist society,.I went to high school with kids of all race ,,and didnt realise till i came to the state,because their color wasnt a factor.

Max Wilson
Guest

Andrea taylor its nothing personal,i can almost assume u were in a small rural town,but i can tell you that jamaica is not a racist society,.I went to high school with kids of all race ,,and didnt realise till i came to the state,because their color wasnt a factor.

Max Wilson
Guest

Andrea taylor its nothing personal,i can almost assume u were in a small rural town,but i can tell you that jamaica is not a racist society,.I went to high school with kids of all race ,,and didnt realise till i came to the state,because their color wasnt a factor.

Hunydrop Capri
Guest

Loved it very inspiring for then now and many years to come you should write a book. That information is very valid

John Ricketts
Guest

We still have this kind of thinking in Jamaica holding us back people are not treated equally especially poor and those without connection

Lancelot Green
Guest

I dont think we have made that much progress. I still hear Jamaicans using terms like “good” hair and “bad” hair, or “long” hair. In every ad or music video, the men can be black but the women are never a representation of the average Jamaican female. The one that fascinates me is the representation of Jesus as white even though no white people lived in his region apart from the Romans – and as far as i can figure, Jesus wasn’t a Roman.

Donny Gooden
Guest

Racism is still with us and is a natural.

Donny Gooden
Guest

Racism is still with us and is a natural.

Pinky Barbie
Guest

very touching story,

Steve Cummings
Guest

We have merely substituted racism with classicism in Jamaica, frankly no improvement, we are still a highly discriminatory society.

Peter Walcott
Guest

I can clearly say Jamaica is paradise I work at company that have people from over 65 different country and on more than one occasion they send person to my station for me to train them to become my supervisor ( i call it 3 the hard way been black but your problem double when you’re from Jamaica ) but it make me better and feel great to call Jamaica home and i’m black and proud to be

Joan Garcia
Guest

Andrea Taylor, I fail to see why you would return to Jamaica after suffering violence at gunpoint and frequent verbal harassment. There are more peaceful islands in the Caribbean, if you’re keen on the area.

Mario Hall
Guest

It wasn’t until the mid 80’s,that “darker” skinned guys could go to Wolmers. Fact. But thank God that has changed. #proudwolmerian

Andrea Taylor
Guest

I enjoyed reading your article however, as a white woman who has just spent 3 months living in Jamaica I can not agree that ‘few, if any countries are more racially tolerant today’. Daily, and almost constantly I met with what I would term racism due to my skin color…..I was called Whitey…. often…….what would the reaction have been if I had answered “what you want Blacky?. I was assumed to be wealthy due to my skin colour…. I could go on. My experience of Jamaica is that it is an extremely racist society

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