Tuesday 29 September, 2020

A view from the outside: Wake up, Jamaica; classism is a major problem


With Karyl Walker

Jamaica’s motto: Out of many one people is true to form.

We are a people of many different shades, ethnic backgrounds and have melded many cultures into our own unique signature which we have inked on the world.

Classism has been a problem for most Jamaicans for decades. The history of this country has been replete with classist acts.

Recent comments by PNP candidate for the East Portland seat, Damion Crawford, about his opponent, Ann Marie Vaz, has brought the spotlight squarely on an issue that for the most part has been swept under the carpet.

Crawford said, despite his academic qualifications and teaching exploits, “Because of her colour and her class, they say she is better than me.”

Crawford has come under fire from certain circles who have painted his remarks as unfortunate and a dark attempt to draw the race card.

Damion Crawford

Let me state CLEARLY that this is not a political view. I am not a political animal and I care not two hoots who wins the East Portland seat as it has no bearing on my life one way or the other.

However, Crawford’s remarks must be examined for what it’s worth outside of the political sphere.

Does classism exist in Jamaica?

The fact is that it does exist. Have we forgotten that despite all his exploits on the track, a dark skinned Usain Bolt was harshly criticised by a fair skinned neighbour after he bought a house and moved into an upscale neighbourhood?  

Bolt is one of the most popular Jamaicans ever, but despite his conquest over the world’s best, he was still not accepted in certain circles.

There can be no denial that a certain social class of Jamaicans feel they have a right to certain privileges not readily afforded to all. Some of those who speak with an upper St Andrew drawl, clearly snub their noses at those who converse in the slang of the street or in a rural accent.

Ann-Marie Vaz

They do not socialise with certain classes of people.

This is also found on the entertainment scene. Dancehall is looked down upon as the dregs of entertainment, disgusting debauchery and wild dancing styles. But the same persons who criticise dancehall can be seen with sagging breasts in bikinis gyrating and getting on bad during carnival season.

Years ago, persons of a certain hue were not afforded jobs even as tellers in a bank or air hosts. That was reserved for the children of the gentry.

I was a young man when I was lucky enough to be employed by a prominent organisation. I have personally witnessed where lighter skinned Jamaicans or those from prominent families were given certain high ranking jobs and made to ‘rule’ over darker skinned Jamaicans who were 10 fences better at doing the job and more qualified.

I have witnessed expatriates with no qualifications being given the job to run a department they knew nothing about. This while local workers who were holding down the business and doing well were bypassed.

If that is not classism, then what is?

What a rude awakening it must be for lighter skinned Jamaicans when they land in the US and find they are not accepted by caucasian people with snobbish attitudes there?

On the political front, the race card has been drawn by both parties for years.

It was former former Prime Minister Edward Seaga who waved a black scandal bag in reference to his opponent PJ Patterson in the 1990s.

Patterson in return told a political rally that if he were to stand in the crowd, he would look like most of the audience.

It is the nature of politics in Jamaica. Each party will seek to outshoot the other with barbs and snide remarks especially at political rallies.

As Jamaicans we tend to be uncomfortable facing the harsh realities about our shortcomings as a people and tend to get hot under the collar whenever someone points it out to us.

It is the reason why the 'informer fi dead' culture cannot die so easily. No one wants to face up to the fact that certain acts are wrong and must be condemned. We prefer to turn a blind eye to the truth about ourselves and make all kinds of excuses or lambast those who speak it as it is.

The truth is an offence but not a sin.

Classism exists in Jamaica.

That is my view from the outside.

Karyl Walker is a multi-award-winning journalist who has worked for Loop Jamaica, the Jamaica Observer, the RJR Communications Group and Nationwide Radio among other media entities. He now resides in South Florida.

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