There’s a landmark case being heard in Kingston, Jamaica, at the first sitting of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ ) here. In March 2011, Jamaican Shanique Myrie landed in Barbados to visit a friend there (by her own account). Instead of the usual sedate Barbadian welcome Myrie was treated to a cavity search, kept in a dark room and deported the next morning to Jamaica although nothing illegal was found on her person or in her possession.
After this unceremonious return to the country of her birth Myrie charged that in the process of the cavity search she had been finger-raped by the immigration officials concerned. Her lawyers took the case to court claiming that her rights as a CARICOM citizen were abused, and that she was discriminated against because she is Jamaican. The CCJ argued that Myrie does indeed have a case against Barbados and the trial began yesterday morning at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.
When one of my favourite Jamaican journalists who was present in court yesteday tweeted the link to her post on the proceedings of the first day I clicked on it rather eagerly but was repelled by her opening sentence:
A beautiful fair skinned pony tailed, black suit, white inside blouse wearing young woman in a medium heeled closed up black shoes, Shanique Myrie is called into conference room 2 at the Jamaica Conference Centre, in a fight for her rights as guaranteed under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which establishes the Caribbean Court of Justice, CCJ.
In the first place, the Grammar Nazi in me was offended by the overladen, clumsy, grammatically dubious lead-in to the report. How on earth could “white inside blouse wearing young woman” be considered acceptable English by anyone but particularly a journalist? Was there a moratorium on fullstops, commas and hyphens? How could a black suit ever be described as beautiful, fair-skinned and pony-tailed?!
Second, why was it important to know what the claimant was wearing? would a male petitioner’s clothing have been described in such tiresome detail? Later in the same post the journalist went on to note:
Wearing a diamond shaped gold looking clip on earring, Miss Myrie recites her full name as Shanique Samantha Myrie who though unemployed now works in food and beverage in better times.
I was dumbfounded and took to Twitter challenging this gendered depiction of events. Why not focus on the substance of what was unfolding in court and leave sartorial detail to be captured by TV cameras ? The journalist responded saying “I believe it is important to paint a full pic for all.” She appeared puzzled by my objections.
I was even more puzzled by the reaction of another tweep, @diva_simmo, who argued that “in the court room image is everything. Even Vybz Kartel choose jacket and tie over – straight jeans and fitted.” Her next tweet said “as a listener I found the information very useful especially the ‘medium heel shoe’. Image matters.”
Curiouser and curiouser. Pray how did it help to know that the claimant wore a medium heel shoe I tweeted back.
Because “if she wore 6″red wedge with mini green dress and blue wig it would indicate the direction her legal team is taking” responded @diva_simmo, “…her attire in court says legal team is portraying self respecting, mature professional.”
The penny dropped.
This landmark case is not only about nationality, it’s also about ‘class’, the ungainly elephant in the room no one wants to explicitly mention. It is important to portray Myrie as ‘decent’ ‘respectable’ and ‘sober’ because the image of Jamaicans in the region is overwhelmingly influenced by the higglers, DJs and hustlers who often represent the face of Jamaica, visiting, even migrating to other countries, where they are not always welcome.
Why? because these enterprising but capitally-challenged individuals (ie owning little capital, whether financial or social) often violate all the dearly held norms of ‘decency’ ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ with their choice of garments, raw speech and boisterous behaviour. They regularly transgress the zealously guarded borders of civility and decorum as much as the borders of nation states which under the new Chaguaramas Treaty they now have a right to breach.
Perhaps this was why Myrie was given the finger when she arrived in prim and proper Barbados, regionally glossed as ‘Little England’. Not just because she was Jamaican but because she was perceived to be a particular kind of Jamaican. So @Emilynationwide was right to emphasize the outfit and demeanour of Ms Myrie. It may be extremely germane in the instant case.
PS: The overall point I’m making in this post is not to dis the journalist concerned or claim that there was no substance to her post. Far from it. When i said let’s focus on substance rather than style or appearance it hadn’t yet occurred to me that in this case style IS the substance or a substantial part of what’s at stake. I realized belatedly based on something @diva_simmo said that the reason for the focus on Myrie’s dress was because class prejudice is a real danger here and Myrie’s appearance is material evidence that may well influence the jurists involved, so much so that her legal counsel went to great pains to counter this by dressing her ‘classily’. So Emily was right to focus on how this was achieved. Being somewhat resistant if not immune to the strictures of fashion this wasn’t obvious or self-evident to me. My point is simply that if class is an issue let’s explicitly state it and discuss it because that’s the substance of what we’re getting at by extensively describing Myrie’s carefully assembled clothing. Profound apologies for any distress I caused Emily Crooks.