Monday, September 19, 2011

Strength in our diversity

Observer Column | 19 September 2011

I will never forget that day in the mid-sixties when always-present Carol Hoo did not turn up for class at Alpha. Her parents' little grocery store on Victoria Avenue in downtown Kingston was torched by a mob. Luckily, no one was hurt in the fire. The Hoo family had no quarrel with anyone. However, one dispute on Spanish Town Road between an employer of Chinese extraction and a worker escalated into anti-Chinese clamour, spreading to the other side of town.

Recently, a couple of idiots told HEART/NTA that they want to hire only "brownings" and the issue is being blown out of proportion. Yes, there was a time when colour was an issue in Jamaica but today such bigotry is an aberration. At every bank, every hotel, every major corporation, we see proud black Jamaicans taking their rightful place.

Well-known Jamaican companies are not only colour-blind when they hire, they are also ensuring that humble employees are given the chance to move up through the ranks. Thus, Debbie Williams, the cordial receptionist at the Digicel Group office actually joined the company ten years ago as an office attendant.

The best way to deal with a bigot is to hit him/her in the pocket. Name them and shame them - before you say "bankruptcy" they will straighten up and fly right. The majority of Jamaicans - of every colour - would boycott such establishments.

On Facebook, I saw a discussion about last week's All Angles TVJ programme, which had Wayne Chen as a panellist. One writer dismissed Wayne as "elitist". Clearly, that person does not know the history of the Chen family. His mother, Hyacinth Gloria Chen was, an orphan who struggled to raise her children. As a book-keeper at Frenchman's Cove in the 60s, she begged a gardener job in the summer for her teenage son Michael Lee-Chin, who was attending Titchfield High. Her husband Vincent Chen applied for a job at Barclays Bank and was told he was not light-skinned enough for the position. In 2002, Vincent Chen's stepson Michael bought NCB, formerly Barclays Bank. It is led by the admirable Patrick Hylton and managed by competent Jamaicans of every shade and colour.

These are tough times when the scarcity of jobs can make people bitter. However, they should guard against judging without knowing the facts. As a so-called "browning", I have found myself being the marginalised one on certain occasions. I remember with some pain, visiting the family of a dear friend who had died suddenly and watching a group of persons whom I considered to be mutual friends, whispering arrangements for her funeral. It was clear from their furtive glances in my direction that they were pondering whether I should be asked to participate or not. After the discussion ended, none could look me in the eye. They had decided not to include me - I did not match the "colour scheme".

We had better be careful that Jamaicans of other ethnic backgrounds do not become sidelined. Only last week as we pondered the expansion of a well-needed committee, a dedicated member suggested a name and quickly withdrew it. When we asked why, she said she did not want people to think that she was bringing too many "white" people on the committee! This is crazy! Jamaica is, for the majority of us, colour-blind and respectful. Let us not allow this isolated incident to poison our relationships and deter solid, generous Jamaicans from making their contribution.

Our diversity is our strength. What would have become of Bob Marley's music, had it not been for the visionary Chris Blackwell? Edna Manley sculpted one of the most iconic pieces, symbolising the ascendancy of the labour movement in Jamaica, "Negro Aroused". The late Dr Ajai Mansingh described how the recently freed African slaves rescued Indian servants who were thrown off the estates because they were considered too weak. I want to believe they shared their spices and thus was born Jamaica's love for "curry goat".

So let us make it very clear that we don't do prejudice in Jamaica, neither against black nor white. We are streets and lanes ahead of many countries in this respect - let us show the world that "One Love, One Heart" and "One Blood" are not just nice words, but the living philosophy of a proud people.


pete delisser
Good article Mrs Lowrie-Chin. But colour coding has always been, and will always be apart of our colourful culture- I guess. Ever notice our Miss Jamaicas are mostly light skinned, long 'pretty' hair??...It may seem trivial, but its real. Bleaching creams still sell like hot bread. Im brown too..Im always called "brown man" or "red man" out on the streets- doesnt bother me in the least. but Ive had doors/opportunities open up cuz of my look..and my name. Gotto luv St Andrew, Thanks much!!
Peter Sparks
There are those that enjoy being victims and blame others for their failures; they also excuses (sex. melanin inskin lack of money, etc) as well. This is unfortunate. enough of the "american import" te deliberte intent to use race as a wedge. These so-called people who think Jamaica is for "black people" are sadly mistakened. Jamaica is the product of all races and ulurtrs that have lived there, whether we like it or not. "Out of Many, One People!" Skin colour- nuh put food pon' table!. Stop it!
Anthony II
II. I am glad that this debate is taking place; it is an issue that wi need fi trash out. We have never had a serious discussion about race/color/class in Jamaica (none I recall). We hide behind disingenuous claims about diversity and "Out of many one...", even when we know the realities "on the ground." We know many JAMs have problems with skin color and race (e.g., paying deference to others based on this). We see people bleaching; we see 'beauty" encoded as "light skin." We need this debate.
Anthony II
I think what is overblown is this idea of our "diversity." Yes, there are many non-black Jamaicans. I went to a HS that had students of white, Chinese, and Indian background, and so on. But the overwhelming 98% were black Jamaicans (be they light or dark skin; yes "browning"; unnu black inna countries where skin color matters!). To be constantly talking about our "diversity" fails to recognize that we live in a country where over 90% of the people are of African descent. How diverse is that?
wanda woeman
The writer is quick to dismiss the color problem as overblown, although at the same time acknowledging that it exists. Good for her. She and her kind have never been subject to the humiliation of being denied a job based on the color of their skin.
I would not blame the light-skinned people as the perpetrators of the act, however. We all know that even the darkest skinned among us will bow and scrape to people of a lighter hue and will seek mates with this feature.
We also know that the probability of who will get the job, given that one is lighter skinned than the other but equally qualified. We need to face the problem head-on and not skirt around it and not necessarily put the blame on the lighter skinned people. My father who used to be as black as they come (God rest his soul) used to admonish us, “anything too black nuh good.”

Jean Lowrie-Chin answers: I have been kept off committees and out of projects because I am not black enough. Reverse racism has hurt me many times - So yes, I HAVE been denied! Also check the Black Jamaican and the Black Barbadian - then you'll see how mixed race the majority of us are. Come on - let's stop this rubbish!!

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