Columns

Airbrushed Jamaica

Friday, March 07, 2014    

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The furore about Sir Alexander Bustamante is interesting. We do not admit our favourites do wrong, and we do not handle some realities well. The books we write about ourselves and those about us are portraits, not history. The photographer immortalises the most flattering pose by his aesthetic. We need books about locals, but it does not mean they are history. Tessanne Chin makes history because those who write history found her, and history is the winner's story. Her trip to the White House is an appendage to their history but it is headline to ours. Our history is when we as a people win, so we need not beg. Despite the books, no prime minister made history, but Portia still has that chance. The questions posed by students when I visited Bob Marley Junior High weeks ago have hard answers, and they must learn how to derive solutions for Jamaica or they may die without hope.

History is facts, but it is also motive. And, though seemingly sincere or uplifting, may be misguided. My friend's motive in beating a boy at school was applauded; his zeal patent, indignation righteous, the beating severe. Years later he found out it was the wrong boy; but the blows were delivered, scars placed, and no recall possible. History did not note the mistaken identity, his remorse or his quest for absolution. When people write books about themselves expect their truth. Have you read the following in a book?

"I remember the first time I beat the s#+& out of my wife. I grabbed the bitch by her hair in the bathroom where the neighbours could not hear her scream; pulled so hard a clump of hair came out in my fist and used the other fist to hammer her until she begged. It was an exhilarating experience. And, as she cowered near the bidet I shoved her head in the water, her forehead went 'clunk' against the cold water faucet and a spurt of scarlet liquid described a wide arc and hit the toilet bowl leaving a vapour trail of blood misted as champagne. I felt an unbelievable rush. She now knows I am a big man in this county."

I know men in whose memoirs this should appear as it is defining of their character, but it will never be written. This is not the truth we seek. Airbrushing is the ultimate survival strategy in the public space.

We also airbrush prime ministers. A few days ago a clutch of them rushed to the defence of one based on a book not yet printed. Are they more prescient than when in office? Sir Alexander was larger than life, had a sense of timing; secret-agent name change, and the PM with a British title. A good money lender in the early 20th century, he had to read people -- he was good. Back then skulls were broken for unpaid debt -- he was no saint. Why did this trio rush to judgement and not await the book? It takes several books before we see nuance of character as most writers are "true believers" and Bustamante is complex. One of my aunts married my uncle four times. The marriages were memorable, the divorces were epic. I never understood them, nor do I Bustamante, so do not airbrush him too soon as over time we will get evidence from other sources and understand him better. Heroes do not have to be saints.

We airbrush national reality. The statement "Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business" is cruel irony. For the fearful throng -- including 70 per cent of graduates who rush off to the USA, Canada, the UK, and even Barbados and Trinidad -- are we a place of choice? Our diaspora retire in the cold and many don't "raise families" or "do business" here, why? Why have we not prospered after 50+1 years of Independence? We had bauxite, tourism, bananas, sugar, and tractable people, so why? We airbrushed this too.

Jimmy Cliff's murderer character "Rhygin" was so unusual a movie was made. Which one of our many murders piques movie interest? Which beheading or mother and child mutilation might catch the eye of film-maker Mary Wells? What about a murder musical with our world-class "murder music" from murder capital? Why did our leaders not prosper us in good times? Why are we murder capital? Let's interview each prime minister on TV so they can tell us. Stream it live to the diaspora; four hours each would make good reality TV. They are alive, well and owe us answers. Let's do it!

We airbrush public services. Why do none of our public services work well? Why is crime, health, housing, education, social protection, food in crisis? Ministers of health, education, agriculture, housing, national security left with honours for 50 years. Has any minister been cited for non-performance? Has anyone's pension been garnished? Yet the tribalists debate who performed better. May they rot in hell! Seriously, though, why have we never sanctioned leaders who do not deliver? We simply get angry with politicians as we want more and they deliver less.

We airbrush data. Why are we supposedly so caring yet so murderous? Our homicide stats are not those of a caring society but of lunatics. Say "Jamaica, no problem" and decapitate a mother of children. Are we really a place to "raise families"? Crime is endemic so we are as tenants in our own land. What's in our psyche that we suffer and never raise a hand against those who cause it?

We had prime ministers as world beaters, men of philosophy, oratory, men of wise years, wide experience; black, brown, white men, then Portia; men of degrees or with none; motivators, finance wizards; men who write books or write none. The common strand is they all lived and died well, but we suffered. No leader prospered us and only 30 per cent of sitting MPs may live to see us prosper. Yet we fete them and airbrush their lives while we suck salt. Listen to the poor mindless party lunatic fringe and vomit.

Even the CSME is airbrushed. We pledge our economic future to a faraway union and no one asks for the studies which prove feasibility. We do not want facts which do not fit our dreams. Politicians and their satraps do not care to unmask the hoax. They will leave this fiction to posterity. We are now compared to Barbados and Trinidad forgetting their people had decades of prosperity, we only know hardship. Yet the footnotes show we had resources and wiser politicians. Ours were the vintage of Errol Barrow or Eric Williams, so what defect is in our political gene pool that they made wise decisions and our leaders otherwise? Ours spoke feelingly about empowerment, but did little. Tongue-tied Barbados gave power to poor people and their dollar for 40 plus years. Politicians failed us yet we airbrush them and our condition. The diaspora needs to help us. To make speeches, eat roast yam and codfish, and return to peaceful cities is selfish. When is the diaspora summit on the IMF? They must confront our serial PNP and JLP cabinets failure to prosper Jamaica and help fix things. Stay conscious, my friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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