Cross-Border Politics: Why TnT may have blanked 13 Jamaicans…

A look at some reasons 13 Jamaicans were denied access to Trinidad and Tobago.

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Diana Thorburn Chen: An apology is not necessary. What is necessary is for Jamaicans to have an honest conversation among ourselves about why we are turned back so often from our neighbours’ doors. But that would require us doing some soul-searching and talking honestly about how our actions bring on these reactions. Highly unlikely, so we will keep up the facade of indignation over and over again as until we face the truth nothing will change.

VERITAS also thought that Jamaicans needed to open their eyes and look within…

We are hypocrites too. When CARICOM member Haiti was struck by that devastating earthquake recently, and many Haitians turned up at our borders, desperate for admittance and “free movement”, we demanded the government send them back. Many of us were angry any money was even spent to accommodate them for the period they were here. Is it that free movement only applies when we want it?

What really troubles me about all this is the nagging feeling that most of us are angry because of our false sense of pride. We have always been a proud and, as one of my colleagues pointed out, reactive people. Trinidad’s exercise of its sovereign authority hurt that pride and so we are now reacting. If we are honest with ourselves, we have always harboured the unhealthy sentiment that Jamaica is the best of the Caribbean, a capital of sorts, and therefore we have behaved accordingly entitled.  That is the source of our pride. Many of us are incredulous because we deem Trinidad a “spec in the sea” and “two likkle fi even be a country”, an “insignificant” country should never seek to disrespect Jamaica, right? We took the same stance on Mugabe’s comments on Jamaica. Meanwhile, the United States rejects us in droves every single day and we sit pretty smiling at that, with little more than a peep. In our quest to satisfy our wounded pride, we have gone as far as accusing Trinidad of “badminding” Jamaica for our achievements. I admit myself baffled at that argument, because we have such precious little to ‘badmind’. We are on auto pilot, veering on the edge of a political, economic and social abyss, who would ‘badmind’ that? Pride aside, how about we accept the fact that statistics are not in our favour? Most countries have instituted visa requirements against us because we do not have a good track record for international conduct and behaviour. We have to accept that; the bad mek it worse for the good. It is unfortunate, but true. Let us put our pride aside and accept the realities.

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Then there were those who still thought Jamaicans had been wronged:

Michael Andrew David Edwards Whatever the reasons, the treatment as described is unacceptable; they wouldn’t accept it from us

And others who imagined the worst case scenario:

Nicholas Laughlin: I find myself thinking it’s a good thing Trinidad and Jamaica don’t share a land border.

Oh Nicholas, the very thought makes me shudder. But honestly i do have to ask: how can a population that has no qualms about turning away neighbouring Haitians when they arrive on Jamaican shores in dire need be so self-righteous when 13 of theirs are shown the door?

The CCJ and Shanique Myrie: How to signify ‘good taste’ and ‘respectability’

A look at the Shanique Myrie case and how class and taste impinge on it.

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Shanique Myrie, circa the time of deportation from Barbados

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.

Myrie--Brown_w445
Photo of Myrie (r) from the Jamaica Observer

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?!

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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.