Images of power and beauty in our media

Franklin Johnston

Friday, October 12, 2012    

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IN Dubai and England the economy is controlled by people who look like the masses. Power and beauty mirror the masses, even in non-white, ex-British colonies as Singapore and India. Our images of power and beauty do not reflect our people. Is this national heritage? We are defined in aspiration as "out of many one", and I love it, but what is it good for? Does it serve us? What was in the back of their minds? Our minorities? That the blacks would kill them? Is this the British last lick?

Emotionally, we are Western. We live in a society of all colours, so when my friend is miffed at the "white lady" tag, I feel her pain. Is colour her worth? Is "Yow, black lady," the usual? No one alive ripped our ancestors from Africa, and Africa is not interested. Get over it! We are one nation — 10 per cent non-black. We must not abuse minorities; cherish them. The dynamics of power, beauty and colour are muted but raw. How do you marginalise 90 per cent of a nation? How? Chains? Mental slavery? You cannot marginalise people who want to escape poverty and work at it. Are we marginalised by laziness and lack of ambition?

Some in the diaspora bitch about racism in London and New York, but they do not come home. Many love a non-judgemental society where colour coding is illegal in law and redress swift. When Usain had his white girlfriend, the colour prejudice was cringeworthy. How did white Jamaicans feel? Less one of us, or as one of us? I have been only in my own skin and if you cuss me for being black, cool! I don't worry about what I can't change, but call me an idiot and it's war.

A beautiful woman is striking and we have many. Colour is not an issue, yet those on the social pages are from the pale margins, not the black mainstream. Why are the shade ratios in media skewed to a minute part of the spectrum? At times it seems "out of many one" is a con to keep down the masses; then I look at my mom, a wise 98-year-old pale lady and it makes sense. We are mixed, but many are less mixed than others.

In the European diaspora, Australians, whose ancestors were British criminals, Americans with roots in kidnapped English kids and Canadians rooted in France and Britain now fuel a "find your roots" industry. Their elites look like their masses. They use ship papers to check when they came and where from, as their fatherland has records. The African diaspora does not chase roots. Do we check websites in Africa to find kin? Do they have records of us. When the ship's manifest says, "Given name Cudjoe", that's what our brethren who sold us told the captain. Would finding roots repair our current power and beauty image deficit? What should we do to get there?

For Jamaicans who lived in a white society, home is a frustrating place. They expect different media images, but it's the same as in London. Media parade the few powerful people who start things, own them, run things — most white or honorary white — and they control the social pages: "See Jack in a tux, see Jack and Jill in Armani, see Jill and her handbag dog; oops, get the wipes...whoops, my Dior!" Who scripts these media events? The 13 families, friends, and expats are our power and beauty brokers. These are the real Jamaicans; they live the dream our Independence enables. Whither the black masses? In DC, Atlanta, New York, black money power rises. Here the numbers on PATH benefits are the only growth. We are "out of many" but the "one" in the mirror is not on the social pages. National heritage? Do we bleach, process, crimp, manicure, exfoliate to catch some power from the barrel of a roving lens?

How do you change people's notion of their place? Did Michael Manley practise "disruptive development" long before avant garde planners invented it? Was "five flights a day" a tactic to arrest synchronicity and upset the powerful inert forces in society? The masses do have power. They do frustrate the 10 per cent in a quiet war of attrition. Inefficiency and waste are the weapons of the powerless. "Yu tink seh yu bigga dan me? Yu a go wait fe de permit." This is the guerrilla war the powerless wage against the powerful in our unequal nation. There goes the production. More anon! This alternate power structure is a foil to the power pages. It uses politics, preferment and contracts. Is Parliament the epitome of "out of many one" - the 54 black, two Chinese, 5.5 white, and 1.5 other? You would not know from the social pages, would you? Councillor, civil servant, union man, teacher, police, nurse are the front line of "the resistance" and enable this alternate power structure. Blacks run the state; non-blacks run production. The former have the power to frustrate, and can damage the economy; the latter invest and grow it. What a national heritage. Does this visceral analysis suggest new strategies we might employ to get growth? We need trust, teamwork and much more.

Jamaica's power elite looks as it did in 1832, 1865 and 1962. The powerless look the same too. But a lot has changed. The elites are sociable and caring, corporate Jamaica generous, but the colour of business is constant. The media portrayal of power is spot on — white. This is no racial slur as sensory data from Europe, ex-colonies like Australia, New Zealand and Asia where people who look like their masses run things prove. Why is it different here?

Our masses control the news pages. Less generous, work averse, more state dependent. Photos of gaggles of women weeping for their fallen; men in gansies lounging on workdays. Media in rich states can't find crowds in a residential area in the daytime. This index of idle time is palpable. Productive people cannot be in nightie and shorts at 10 am. The power elites are at work. See a small "black entrepreneur" with "world-class" goods. Reprise the story in 10 years, he is still small. Big Man's shop started yesterday, junior market today, JSE next week; Heaven in 2013. Are the life chances of our 90 per cent fixed? The game rigged? The dice loaded? Will our power and beauty icons ever look like you and me? Does it matter?

An alternative media is growing and as we work and prosper it will. UK media images are geared to their masses, with some 2.5 blacks in every crowd. The majority are on the social pages and minorities squeak in. It's the opposite here. To qualify for the social pages, you should know our motto in patois; "We kuntry mek outa nuff nuff nedda peeple from all bout de worl, but we a wan smaddy" (sorry, I speak broken patois), or the anthem in patois. Let's get the Jamaica Observer to print it. Jamaica is blessed; sadly, those who lived here 200 years ago would find the fundamentals just as they left it. Our Cabinet should empower the people who are not on the social pages and it starts with education. How did colonies as Singapore, India, Pakistan, or Hong Kong hold on to mass-based power, beauty images and still prosper? Or is this the reason they prosper? Stay conscious, my friend!

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





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