Letter from the Editor

It gives me such pleasure to make PREE’s first issue ‘Crossroads’ available for feedback and reactions in advance of its official launch in June…

Pree

ANNIE PAUL

annieAs the note on our theme says, the Caribbean has always existed at a crossroads of one kind or another, and nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century, the Caribbean remains at a crossroads. The artist Christopher Cozier once said, after a residency in Johannesburg, that he often felt like someone standing at an intersection with a sign, rewriting and reorganizing its message, wondering if it was being understood or engaged.

There’s a similar feeling as we put out the first issue of PREE, an online portal to relay high-grade writing from, on or about the Caribbean. Will PREE be read as widely as we hope? Who will PREE’s audience be and how will they engage us? Will this kind of writing appeal to the younger generations growing up in an era when books have virtually become an endangered species? Will youngsters still yearn…

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“Colour and the Tourist Trade”

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Gleaner column 21/4/18

In an interesting postscript to my last column “Modern Day Plantations”, I was sent a response from tourism mogul John Issa saying that my account of Evon Blake’s plunge into the Myrtle Bank Hotel’s pool was “not quite accurate”.

Apparently the story as told to John Issa by Evon Blake himself, went as follows.

“After my grandfather, father and uncle purchased the Myrtle Bank hotel in 1943, Evan (sic) Blake wanted to test if it still discouraged black guests, which it had done when it was owned by the United Fruit Co, now that it was owned by Jamaicans. He went to the front desk to buy a pool ticket and it was sold to him, he then proceeded to the swimming pool and was given a changing room and towel. He then proceeded to dive into the pool. He told me at all times he was welcomed.

“He however added, with a smile on his face, that when he dived into the pool it was like watching a movie in reverse as all the foreign guests who were in the pool came out.”

Issa went on to say that he was proud that his family had “removed racism” from the Myrtle Bank. He had also personally appointed the first black General Manager of a major Jamaican resort hotel when he appointed Willard Samms as General Manager of the Tower Isle Hotel in the early 1960s.

These details are interesting and also a perfect illustration of how deceiving appearances can be when they are decontextualized. On the face of it we might be inclined to buy this narrative of benign racial inclusiveness yet the incident involving Blake occurred in 1948, when Jamaica was still a colonial society and racism was even more pronounced than it is today. Thus you could very well have no explicit colour or race bar and still control the entry of Black people to your property. Heck, their entry is still being discouraged today, which was the point of my column.

Issa himself says that Blake told him as soon as he plunged into the pool all the foreign guests jumped out, a clear indication that it was NOT the norm, stated policy or not, for Blacks to swim in the Myrtle Bank’s famous pool. Likewise we might note that the appointment of a black general manager in the 60s while admirable, likely made no difference to the treatment of black guests, as indeed continues to be the case, more than 60 years later when it is the norm for hotels to have black managers.

Despite being managed and staffed by Blacks in 2018 too many Jamaicans who attempt to sample their country’s world-renowned hospitality find that it doesn’t necessarily extend to them. That was the gravamen of my column last week. So the fact that Evon Blake bought a ticket to the Myrtle Bank pool without hindrance is neither here nor there. The list of black guests I quoted complaining about their treatment had also paid for their stays at the hotels in question, yet it didn’t insulate them from the racial profiling they suffered. I’m sure those hotels have no explicit policy barring the entry of dark-skinned folk either. They don’t have to. Centuries of racial ‘grooming’ so to speak, cannot be undone overnight; the racism is internalized and practised by Blacks against Blacks.

Add to this the potent poison of class prejudice, something we all systematically practice in this day and age and you realize how complex the situation is. If you’re black and poor there are hardly any pools or beaches available for you in Jamaica.

As art historian Krista Thompson notes in “An Eye for the Tropics” Evon Blake was very concerned also about how Jamaicans were portrayed in tourism campaigns. He deplored the fact that in these representations black Jamaicans always appeared in menial positions, or as boys climbing coconut palms or diving into the sea to retrieve coins. Middle class Blacks were rarely featured. Blake pointed out that in contrast, neighbouring Haiti emphasized the fact that tourists would be visiting a ‘Black Republic’ where you would be expected to fraternize with ‘Negroes’.

According to Blake the unwritten message in Haitian tourist publicity went something like this: “If you object to associating with Negroes go somewhere else.” Americans who went to Haiti forgot the colour prejudice practised back home:

“They chin and chum with Negroes, and they appear to love it. They sit next to Negroes in swank hotels and clubs, bathe in swimming pools with Negroes, dance with Negro men and women, and consider themselves privileged when offered the opportunity to pay their respects to officials of the ‘Black Republic.’”

And while this was going on in Haiti, in Jamaica tourism interests were assiduously keeping tourists from meeting locals, on the grounds that they wouldn’t like to hobnob with black folk, a belief apparently alive and well today. Clearly a sea change is needed in how tourism is practised in this Black country.

Modern Day Plantations

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Gleaner column 14/2/18

The story is told in hushed tones of well-known journalist Evon Blake who jumped into the pool at Myrtle Bank Hotel, a whites-only facility in downtown Kingston.

“One summer day in 1948, as tourists and elites casually colonized the poolside deckchairs of Jamaica’s premier hotel, the Myrtle Bank, a black Jamaican journalist, Evon Blake, suddenly burst onto the brochure-promised scene. He hastily disrobed and plunged into the waters of the hotel’s unofficially racially segregated pool. The staff quickly congregated at its edges, hurling threats at the intruder. Taking advantage of the protection of the water, which prohibited security from entering the pool, Blake defiantly challenged,”Call the police. Call the army. Call the owner. Call God. And let’s have one helluva big story.”

The quote above is from a chapter titled “Diving into the Racial Waters of Beach Space in Jamaica” in Bahamian art historian Krista Thompson’s groundbreaking book

You might think that the Myrtle Bank’s covert racism in Jamaica was symptomatic of colonial times, it was 1948 after all. But I have news for you. Racial profiling is alive and well in Jamaica today, and raised its ugly head in Port Antonio recently. A video making the rounds on social media features a woman who has been visiting Jamaica for many years talking about a distressing experience. The caption below the video sums up what happened.

“CAUCASIAN tourist vacationing/visiting ERROL FLYNN MARINA IN PORT ANTONIO JAMAICA, claims her BLACK JAMAICAN FRIEND WAS discriminated against !!! Her local black Jamaican friend was warned not to swim with the TOURISTS!!! Classism.”

In my opinion the incident is a toxic mix of classism and racism. The video attracted a slew of responses many of them retailing similar stories of racism suffered by black, Jamaican visitors and tourists returning to their beloved country for vacations. I quote some of them below:

Venus Jack I can relate. While checking into the resort in Montego Bay the young lady serving drinks to the arriving guests excluded us and didn’t offer us anything to drink. She just ignored us like we did not belong there. What a welcome home! Previously at another resort we had guests and the security guards were rude to them because they were locals. Wouldn’t let them visit us in peace… they were under constant scrutiny and treated them like thieves even though they had to stay in the lobby area only. It was very upsetting.

Donna Rose Omg Venus Jack I experienced the very same thing at RIU in Ocho Rios. That hotel chain would never ever get another penny from me. When I arrived at the hotel to check in, they asked us, whey uno a go? They would not allow my local friends to park on the property. Jamaicans I tell you.

Steve Shers I’m used to being treated as a second class tourist/visitor when I visit the Caribbean although I’m from there.

Beverley Ranglin This happened to me and my family at the holiday inn in montego bay 2 years ago.

Tanya Weise That’s happened to us at Ibero Stars too.

They just pass and offered all white guest the cocktails and we were among everyone else waiting to be checked in.

Amanda Scott Venus Jack that very same thing happened to me at Grand Bahia in Ochi with the guests. I was so ready to leave by the 3rd day. Never again.

Almarie Davis She is so right. I wanted to rent a beach chair at a particular beach in Portland and was told I can’t. They are saving them for the cruise shippers.

Christine Creary-taylor My family and I went to an all inclusive resort in Montego Bay and they were serving drinks to all the new arrivals that just walked pass us. Colour not light enough I guess.

Clearly blatant racial discrimination is still being practiced in Jamaica’s world-renowned tourism enclaves. Yet in November last year when  Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai, “strongly urged Caribbean tourism stakeholders to stop promoting modern-day plantations called exclusive resorts” at a Montego Bay conference on jobs and inclusive growth he was raked over the coals by tourism interests.

Rifai went on to  warn against the practice of building five-star resorts in three-star communities, where the citizens were not part of the transformation. The backlash he suffered from Jamaica’s tourist industry forced him to tone down his statements the next day.

The case of the Errol Flynn Marina places the subject raised by Mr. Rifai on the table once again. Let’s not sweep this ugly intersection of racism and classism under the carpet yet again. Racism in a black country should simply not be tolerated in this day and age. Neither should classism. Do we have to send for Evon Blake’s duppy to finish the job?

The Politics of Crime Control

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Photo Credit: RJR News

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Gleaner column 7/2/18

Late last year I had occasion to read Tony Harriott’s Police and Crime Control in Jamaica: Problems of Reforming Ex-Colonial Constabularies, a fascinating study of police culture and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, of extreme relevance right now. Published in the year 2000 and written a couple of years before that I wondered if I could safely quote it in a document on crime I was then writing . Surely by now some of the excellent suggestions made in the book must have been implemented?

Accordingly I emailed Tony to find out and had to laugh at his wry reply. “Regarding the books, it is very frustrating for me to revisit them and to learn that they are still relevant.  I wrote the police reform book in the hope that it would assist the reform process at the time and thus be outdated very quickly.  Actually I wrote it in 1996-98.”

Well, twenty years later it seems the political will has finally been found to force the Force to reform. After a series of revolving door Police Commissioners, with no one in sight to fill the current vacancy and crime spiraling out of control, the political directorate seems to be ready to take on the task of cleaning the Aegean stables.

According to Harriott the JCF is more than 150 years old, a colonial institution the primary function of which was to maintain order and control using paramilitary tactics. Despite its stated motto, “To serve and protect” it does not function as an organization geared toward servicing or serving the public. The force is highly centralized, overwhelmingly male-dominated, profoundly authoritarian and values seniority over performance and experience over education and training. Dismissal from the force is rare and requires commitment of the most egregious criminal breaches. Avoidance of work is a chronic feature of the police force with the discouragement of reports or complaints from victims who are often treated as nuisances. People coming to report on domestic disputes were often chased away as were women complaining of rape especially if they were considered ‘disreputable’.

The rank structure of the JCF is pyramidal with 11 levels of rank. Even by ex-colonial standards the JCF is extreme, says Harriott, with more ranks and levels than India. The JCF practices differential policing against the poor, especially the urban poor who are stereotyped as being irrational and incapable of deferring self-gratification or of acting in their own self-interest —in short their view is at one with the way European colonizers viewed ‘natives’.

With the departure of Police Commissioner Quallo Jamaica may be entering territory familiar to citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, another crime-ridden Caribbean island. That country’s acting commissioner, Stephen Williams, has had his term extended 12 times since his appointment in 2012.  Even if appointed Commissioner, were Williams to take the 27 months’ leave he has accumulated, by the time he came back it would be time for him to retire.

The situation regarding the police in both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago suggests a deep malaise that we haven’t even begun to address yet.

“Why, then, have we not taken steps we know would have some effect? The answers are complicated, but chief among them is that for every proposal that might be made to reduce crime, there is a powerful, organized interest that opposes it. These obstructive groups often include the most influential force of all, the middle-class interests that so frequently complain about the threat of crime.”

Further:

“Every effort at improvement in the criminal justice system will seem either helpful or threatening, depending on the perspective of some political-interest group. Thus an increase in the number of policemen means more protection to some, more bullying to others. If, for example, the staffs of prosecuting attorneys are increased so that they can diligently prosecute armed robbers, murderers, and dope peddlers, they will also be available to ferret out consumer fraud, anti-trust violations, and political corruption.”

And of course the latter would be a threat to the middle and upper classes here who then have little incentive to improve the justice system or the Police force. The problems we’re facing in the Caribbean in regard to crime control are not new or unique to us. The two quotes above are taken from an article titled “The Politics of Crime: Why governments don’t do what they could to reduce violent crime” by Richard Neely. It was published in The Atlantic in August 1982 and pertains to the situation at the time in New York City.

It’s high time we adopt solutions from countries that have overcome similar problems as  ours as well as the recommendations of our own criminologists.

The Herero Holocaust

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Herero prisoners of war, around 1900. Wikipedia.

Gleaner column 31/1/18

Germany was sued in a New York Federal court on January 5, 2018, over what some claim was the twentieth century’s first case of genocide—the slaughter of members of the Herero and Nama groups in Namibia between 1904 and 1908. 65,000 Hereros and 10,000 Nama were murdered by Imperial German troops after they rebelled against German rule and occupation of their land, now part of Namibia.

The lawsuit was initiated by descendants of these two groups who were excluded from talks held by Germany with Namibia regarding the genocide. Germany has publicly said any settlement will not include reparations directly to the descendants of victims, even if compensation is awarded to Namibia itself. The problem is that the Namibian government is not sufficiently representative of the minority indigenous communities in question and there is no guarantee that the proposed remuneration in the form of aid will reach the descendants of the Nama and Herero.

It would be similar to a hypothetical situation in which reparation for damages inflicted on the Rastafari community during the Coral Gardens Rebellion were disbursed to all of Jamaica instead of the injured group. According to a Reuters article the proposed class-action lawsuit seeks unspecified sums for thousands of descendants of the victims, for the “incalculable damages” that were caused.

The Herero were pastoral herdsmen and women who migrated from Eastern Africa to what is now Namibia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Nama came from South Africa in the early 19th century. Initially competitors the two groups banded together in the late 19th century against an influx of German settlers  who acquired land from the Herero in order to establish farms. The territory became a German colony called German Southwest Africa (later under a provision of the League of Nations charter the region came under the administration of the white South African government.) Apartheid was practiced with the Herero and Nama herded into smaller and smaller areas with little access to land and water.

According to a Wikipedia article, between 1893 and 1903, the Herero and Nama people’s land as well as their cattle were systematically appropriated by German colonists. In 1903, the Herero heard that in a further land grab the Germans planned to place them on reservations. On January 12, 1904 Samuel Maharero, the Supreme Chief of the Herero, led his people in a large-scale uprising, against the Germans.

The German government sent Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha to take over as colonial governor, “and with his arrival, the rhetoric of forceful negotiations gave way to the rhetoric of racial extermination”. Von Trotha declared that “no war may be conducted humanely against non-humans” and issued an infamous order called the Vernichtungsbefehl—an extermination order.

“The Herero are no longer German subjects,” read von Trotha’s order. “The Herero people will have to leave the country. If the people refuse I will force them with cannons to do so. Within the German boundaries, every Herero, with or without firearms, with or without cattle, will be shot. I won’t accommodate women and children anymore. I shall drive them back to their people or I shall give the order to shoot at them.”

In the slaughter that followed the Germans drove the Herero into the vast desert adjoining their territory, poisoning their water supplies and limiting access to water and food. Many were held  in concentration camps where experiments were conducted on their bodies. German researchers treated Africans as fodder for scientific experiments. Papers published in German medical journals used skull measurements to justify calling Africans Untermenschen—subhumans.

Was all this an advance trial of the tactics Germans would unleash on Jews forty years later? At any rate of approximately 80,000 Herero who lived in German South West Africa at the beginning of Germany’s colonial rule only 15,000 were alive by 1908. A1985 United Nations report has said the “massacre” of Hereros qualified as a genocide.

A recent New Yorker article documents the presence of the remains of eight Hereros at the American Museum of Natural History, in Manhattan, and the attempts of Herero descendants to have these remains repatriated. In 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or nagpra, was passed requiring institutions to inventory and repatriate human remains although nagpra applies only to museums that receive federal funding, and does not cover human remains taken from outside the United States. Researchers at prominent museums such as the Smithsonian and the American Natural History Museum opposed the Act arguing that their museums owned the human remains. Those proposing the law had to invoke the precedence of human rights over property rights before the Act began to gain traction!

The history of science certainly has its share of skeletons in the closet, a good number of them  African, apparently.

Jamaica Constabulary Force under Pressure

“Constables have been besieging members of the house of representatives with requests to be given tickets as soon as the call comes for labourers for American farms. Mr. L.W. Rose, St Catherine MHR, mentioned the fact this week in a debate in the house. The action of the constables is similar to that taken in the early days of farm labourer recruitment during the war years. (quote runs on in next para)

“Resignations from the police force were not as easily granted as they are now, and some constables, it was reported, actually misbehaved in order to be sacked, and thus get a chance to leave. It was then reported that a number of men who got out of the force in this and other ways were prevented from leaving the island by the action of officers of the CID.”

In my latest trawl through the Gleaner archives I came upon an article dated March 5, 1951  titled Policemen in Farm Labour Rush (from which the quotes above are taken). The brief report astonished me because it suggests that what we’re experiencing today has roots that go back almost 70 years. Wasn’t it only last August that the selfsame Gleaner reported changes to the Constabulary Force Act requiring sub-officers and constables to give six months’ notice of their intention to resign or face a possible fine of $250,000 or three months in prison?

The reason for imposing such draconian regulation is the continuing high attrition rate in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, an organization slated for modernization in 2010. In that year a Gleaner headline announced Cops Quit, Close To 900 Policemen and Women Resign in Less Than Five Years. 

The most recent edition of the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica gives more current  data on the dwindling size of the JCF:

The strength of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) as at December 31, 2016 was 20.3 per cent below the establishment size of 14 091. During the year, 643 persons (13.1 per cent female) were enlisted while 549 persons left the Force. This was mainly due to: resignation (71.4 per cent), retirement (18.2 per cent) and death (5.1 per cent).

Incidentally, of the 11,233 members of the JCF only about 2,570 are women. Clearly recruitment and retaining of policemen and women has been a persistent problem since long before independence. 70 years later is it any wonder that serious crime is slowly but surely engulfing the country starting at the Western tip?

Isn’t it high time we started paying members of the JCF a living wage? I think it was Jaevion Nelson who posted the following on Facebook and I completely agree:

JFJ says if the country is to demand accountability and professionalism from the police, then it must also demand that the government reasonably provide for their welfare. It says poorly paid and frustrated cops are less likely to be effective at crime fighting or compliant with human rights. In addition it says low wages also create an environment for corruption, exposing police to the daily seduction of bribes.

Let’s remember this as we helplessly watch Western Jamaica self-destruct. Let’s also heed the searing words of social commentator Nadeen Althia Spence, who invoking the late great Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff, said more than a year ago:

If I could write this with fire I would set ablaze some ideas on this page. I would talk about the black boys in Montego Bay who no longer know the value of life. They don’t know because their black always needed to be qualified for it to become fully ‘smadditized’. It needed land, and money or an accent. When you grow up in communities that are built on captured land, what does it mean for the girls and boys who develop their personhood in a place where land and property and money helps to define your person.

Capture is a legitimate philosophy, because dem nuh own nutten. When Daddy Sharpe led his rebellion, when he set Kensington ablaze the white people in Montego Bay were angry, they punished, maimed and killed, and Daddy Sharpe gave his life in the middle of Sam Sharpe Square Downtown Montego Bay, right across from the Kerr Jarrett’s Town House.

How has Montego Bay changed? Who plans for the children of Sam Sharpe and his soldiers, the Christmas martyrs. Dem used to state of emergency, di blinking city was born in a state of emergency. What they are not used to is justice and equality and rights and development. Give them that Minister, give them justice and mek it stretch back to 1831 and remember Sam Sharpe. Start with the land…mek dem stop capture…because all lotto scam is another capture philosophy…

Some problems are just not the Police’s responsibility or in their capacity to solve, even if they are paid well. There will be no peace without justice and just remuneration for all. Nuff said.

The Redemption of the Land

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Alligator Head Foundation offices

Gleaner column 17/1/18

“There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” Psalms 104: 25-30

The new year has dawned like a tsunami, rearing high up in the air and threatening to overwhelm us with its ferocity. As it sweeps us along it spins and twirls us about and the trick is to stay afloat somehow, anyhow. The coldest winter up North, the wettest December in these parts, climate change seems to be ushering us along with a firm but clammy hand.

The message is clear, we have to stop our clueless meddling with the environment we inhabit. The redemption of the land is something the Bible talks about quite a bit. Yet for a country proud to proclaim its Christianity far and wide Jamaica has not distinguished itself through its environmental policies or its relationship to the sea.

Over the weekend I attended a powwow in Portland about the redemption of the ocean, another crucial element of our ecosystem. Organized by Francesca von Habsburg’s Alligator Head Foundation the meeting brought together a range of skill sets to think about the problem of ocean conservation and how to make it more of a priority in local agendas.

Von Habsburg’s intention is to create a space where solutions can be found and thinking changed about our stewardship of the ocean. Her internationally renowned TBA21 Academy, run by Markus Reymann and once devoted to ambitious and daring visual arts projects, is now offering its substantial resources towards creative solutions to regenerating and nursing the oceans back to health.

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Holding framed picture is Markus Reymann, to his right Francesca von Habsburg and next to her in blue is Dane Buddoo

 

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Baby mangroves being cultivated

Mere ocean literacy and consciousness is no longer the goal as young people are aware of the need to shepherd natural resources. What is needed are avenues to transform that consciousness into change. Art is still central to the program but art as a lens through which to view environmental issues and a powerful tool to produce socially and politically conscious works.

The TBA21 Academy has already spearheaded three voyages in the Pacific Ocean, twinning artists with scientists to come up with insights into ocean conservation and care. Portland and Jamaica have a central place in the scheme of things because of von Habsburg’s lifelong links to the country. Alligator Head was where she learnt to swim on summer holidays with her father Baron Thyssen.

Around the coast near Alligator Head von Habsburg has created the East Portland Fish Sanctuary, now headed by Dane Buddoo, formerly of the University of the West Indies.

According to von Habsburg “Science provides the knowledge and art creates empathy so this is the first bridge we are trying to create. The second one is bringing a wide range of people with different skill sets together to create a new ecology of thinking. From a very young age young people are taught that they have to specialize, if you don’t specialize you won’t have a career they’re told, but we want to break down those walls.” What has been added to the mix is entrepreneurship and finding entrepreneurial solutions that are creative.

Finding solutions to such vast problems requires collective thinking von Habsburg believes so there are three pillars to the project. The first is science as manifested in the creation of the fish sanctuary and its labs; the second is culinary, creating a restaurant on the property which will feature healthy food, using local produce from farmers in the area and also exploring options from the sea—edible seaweed and other algae.

The third option is art programming. “Artists are the antenna of the world today. They are the ones who see many topics that maybe fly by the radar of journalists. We are so saturated by media, the role of media seems to be to keep us all in a permanent state of shock and horror. If we don’t read about some horrible shithole comment that Trump’s made, it’s something else,” says von Habsburg.

Well, as Ezekial 34:2-4 says, “Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.”

It’s time to learn from the shepherds and grasp this opportunity to use the resources offered by TBA21 and the Alligator Head Foundation.