In cruel irony, the title for this, my final column in this space, came just two days before the news of the passing of beloved son of Jamaica, Harry Belafonte. Since then, the choice of the title of my farewell piece has taken on more significance, as tribute videos celebrating the works of the man took on a life of their own.
One shared clip of Harry speaking at a concert in Jamaica hit home hardest. “I read in newspapers, that the island of Jamaica is a land of thieves, an island of rapists, an island of killers, an island of murderers, and people who did not truly care about life. And it grieved me to hear this because I knew that Jamaica was everything but that,” he said. That this was said in the 1970s is haunting, because over 40 years later, it still rings true.
The story being told internationally of Jamaica is far worst now. The local and international media are filled with the worst of the human spirit manifesting in how we treat each other. Travel advisories and unflattering documentaries drive home the single story that we are a corrupt and violent society incapable of effective self-governance.
Our songs of freedom replaced by odes to the criminal lifestyle we have embraced as our culture. Even the NGOs working towards our development must sell this story to maximise on the benevolence of international donors. The danger of this single story is that we are coming to believe it. We are accepting crime and violence, corruption and apathy as a part of our cultural identity. It is a tragic fall to a new base of low expectations and even less hope that things will get better.
It is sad that we are seen as nothing more than sun, sand, sea, sports and sadistic behaviour. There is so much more to who we are as a people but only flashes of the genius of our culture and people are seen in ambassadors like Belafonte. He who broke through racial barriers because of his home-grown talents and the introduction of our culture to the world. Far too much of the talent of our people resides in albeit one of the most successful diaspora across the world. Their stories are never told as a counter narrative to the negatives emanating from the island.
The Jamaicans in Jamaica, who are making their honest living in one of the toughest economic environments over five decades, are only characters when they become victims. The continued exploitation of the people by multinationals inhibits the growth and development of local industries and supports the narratives that we are merely servants and middle managers at best.
Neocolonialism sees trade and tax policies favouring former colonisers and their captains of industry at the expense of our local industries and population at large. These hidden stories describe the challenges we inherited but allowed to grow because we bought the story that this was how we would develop as a nation. This story must end with us changing the rules governing how they conduct business and how they negotiate with us, equal citizens of the world.
The legendary fighting spirit of Jamaicans has given way to cynicism and nonchalance whenever we are presented with an opportunity for change. We have been fooled too many times by false heralds of a brighter day. We crave leaders at every level who put the interests of their flock and community ahead of their own.
Where every election whether organisational or political, is not an opportunity to abuse the power entrusted in them, but to make the meaningful changes that require the expenditure of political capital and whose results stretch beyond an election cycle.
My entry into politics has without a doubt cast my every word into the pits of partisan review. The Gleaner understands this very well and has moved to end our current relationship, with the door left open for future contributions under separate arrangements. This I had already priced into the cost of my foray into the political arena, and I gracefully accept the decision. I may write in the future, but for now my speeches will form the medium through which I endeavour to change the stories about Jamaica. I take pride in the fact that it is under these conditions that my career as an opinion writer ends and not when I am past my prime or mired in controversy.
As I pen these final words in this chapter of my contribution to the story of Jamaica, I have mixed feelings about my journey’s end. There are many who have looked forward to my columns and I am grateful for the love and support over the years. It has been an honour to grace the pages of this newspaper, but sad to say, I’m on my way, I won’t be back for many a day.
Maybe after this column I will fade into obscurity, or maybe my articles will one day be a treasure trove of insight into the workings of the mind of whoever the man I become. As my life’s journey continues along another path, I urge you, readers who care about what story will be told about the island of Jamaica in the next forty years, let your own lives be characters in a new story of hope and triumph over adversity.
A story that when recited by our grandchildren, leads us to smile in quiet reflection, knowing that we helped in its writing. The story of the love of a special people, for special island they call home, no matter where in the world they lay their heads. Those whose hearts grow heavy, every time they bid Jamaica farewell.
– Dr Alfred Dawes is CEO of Windsor Wellness Centre and currently seeking to be People’s National Party candidate for St Catherine South Eastern. Follow him on Twitter @dr_aldawes. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
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