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On dissent and Diaspora

Grace VIRTUE

Tuesday, September 02, 2014    

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TO hear the voices in media last week opining on the perceived snub of Jamaican-born Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Wilfred Rattigan for the post of police commissioner, one could be confused into thinking that the Jamaican Diaspora is a well-organised homogenous group with elected representatives speaking in one voice. Such a position confuses the issues and gives an impression that ultimately could prove far from the truth in the event of a wider canvassing of what people truly believe.

If the statistics are to be believed, there are as many people living outside Jamaica as there are within. This approximates to nearly three million people. I am unaware of any mass canvassing to solicit opinions on these issues on which one or two people speak, and whose positions are thereafter broadcasted as the views of the Diaspora. It is shocking that just because a few people are deeply invested in a particular outcome that is then held up as the only acceptable one.

It is precisely for this reason why the term "Diaspora," as it applies to Jamaicans abroad, grates just a little. It is not comfortable embracing a term that somehow implies that I am one among a generic mass — a mass that is different from my friends and relatives at home because I happen to live somewhere else.

The term also speaks to an evolution that I have been unwilling to embrace. It was originally used to describe the Jews, and later Africans, whose dispersion was forced and therefore associated with great suffering and an imperative for redress. But globalisation is a reality, and with the movement of people of all nations farther away from home, the meaning has been watered down. I accept now that every nation has its diaspora, and grudgingly, that I am not now just part of an African Diaspora, but a West Indian and a Jamaican Diaspora as well.

Out of one, many...views

Of course, I reject any suggestion of a homogeneity of views within these or any other diasporas. I concur with Steven Vertovec, that "with regard to...dimensions of diasporic political impact, diversity within diasporas must be stressed. In any case of lobbying, charitable donation, or conflict support, 'the diaspora' rarely acts as one. Most diasporas, include opposing factions and dissenting voices".

In the case of Rattigan, reports say he was among 17 applicants to replace Owen Ellington as commissioner of police, but he was not shortlisted for an interview by the Police Services Commission (PSC), the body which will ultimately select the new chief. A few visible members of the Diaspora reacted angrily to the decision, perceiving it as a slap in the face to Jamaicans abroad.

I am a dissenting voice, and it has nothing to do with the quality of Rattigan's qualification. In fact, he has clearly done well to have made it so far as a first-generation immigrant. He is currently the chief for the FBI's Africa, Asia and Middle East Operations Unit in Washington. At the time of the September 11 attack on the United States, he was their legal attache in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Circumstances following led him to file a discrimination suit on the basis of race and national origin against the FBI.

The suit and the abundance of information on the Internet should not be held against him. The United States, thankfully, provides such a legitimate route for those who feel that they have been victims of discrimination in the workplace, and the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity — which must first hear and investigate these cases before a suit can be filed — sets the bar pretty high for proof that discrimination has taken place before granting a "right to sue". Most of Rattigan's claims were dismissed but the United States Court of Appeal, June 23, 2011, in Rattigan v Holder, upheld his claim of retaliation following his complaint.

Again, I do not believe any of this should result in unfavourable considerations of Rattigan's application. However, I take a position that employers have the right to choose the candidate that he/she feels is right for the position, all things considered, and providing the selection or rejection is not on the basis of any form of discrimination as defined by the law. Employers also have no obligation to explain why a candidate was not invited for an interview or ultimately selected for a position.

Human resources professionals cite five common reasons why this is not done:

1) The paperwork is time consuming.

2) Most candidates will reject the reasons and tie them up further in debates on why they are wrong.

3) Company lawyers always advise against it, less they open themselves to lawsuits.

4) The rejection of one candidate is usually not about him/her, but about the selected candidate.

5) It is always awkward to explain rejection.

Our reality

That we need a transformed police force is widely accepted. Many people see the challenges as so ingrained that injection of outsiders — ostensibly with better training and unencumbered by emotions and relationships — are necessary to make that happen. That may well be so, but it still does not translate into Rattigan being the right outsider.

While I initially felt that, if only for diplomatic reasons, he should have been invited for an interview, the bottom line is: Why waste the commission's time and his if they already know he is not what they are looking for?

Rattigan, as an FBI agent, has to be a tough guy. He should understand then that sometimes the answer to some of our most heartfelt requests, is a painful "no". Because we are professionals and grown-up, we suck it up and move on.

As for the Diaspora, we should recognise that, while remittances and even some amount of advocacy are welcomed at home, by our government, and governments generally, a country will never be overly keen on too much political interference or having people with dual citizenship and competing loyalties in highly sensitive positions.

Therefore, we should do what we can without the unseemly appearance of arm-twisting or the belief that we somehow deserve preferential treatment. In tribute to our recently departed Minister of Agriculture, let us be a little more Roger: more humble and authentic and, above all else, compelled by the idea of a common good.

Grace Virtue, PhD, is a social justice advocate.

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