Was the 'Browning request' story on target?Thursday, September 22, 2011
ALL sectors of Jamaica were taken up with the Gleaner story, 'Brownings Please' on September 11, which stated that 'several' local businesses were asking the State training agency Heart Trust/NTA (the Gleaner described HEART in its headline as a State employment agency) for brown-skinned trainees.
The HEART Trust was established by the Seaga-led JLP government in 1982, under an Act to establish a scheme for financing and implementing the training of persons with a view to employment and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.'
Why did the Gleaner story stress 'state employment agency' over 'state training agency'?
All sectors of the society bought 100 per cent into the story and it went viral on Facebook. The first four paragraphs of the Gleaner story read:
'A hundred and seventy-seven years after slavery was abolished in the British West Indies, Jamaica's national training agency — HEART Trust — still has to deal with colour-prejudiced employers who are requesting that trainees be brown or light-skinned as a prerequisite for employment in their firms.
'A highly placed source at HEART Trust told our news team that on the one hand, some employers note the discriminatory requests on forms provided by HEART Trust under a section that asks them to list specifications that the prospective trainee should meet.
'On the other hand, some employers spew out their bigoted requirement to the face of the HEART Trust's training agents or training support officers. "Some are brazen enough," the source said.
"We have had certain firms that have required persons of a certain complexion," said the well-placed informant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak with the media.'
Read that again. The 'well-placed informant' just eight words later becomes 'they.' Could the Gleaner not have not said '...the person was not authorised to speak...?'
When I read the story, the first thing that jumped out at me was, employers could not be that openly foolish in 2011 to be making such crazy requests, although I knew that many idiotic and socially lost black people in Jamaica and in many other countries in the world were into bleaching their beautifully black skins.
Second, the face of Jamaican employment has changed radically from the 1960s -- when all the good jobs, especially in banks, insurance companies and travel agencies were held by brown-skinned people -- to 2011, where almost every bank manager is black-skinned, close to 100 per cent of the staff in those entities are black-skinned and small and medium-sized commercial entities bear a similar face.
I know. I was a teenager in the late 1960s when the job market literally exploded for bright, competent, black-skinned people like me and my Kingston College schoolmates.
Last week Tuesday, I phoned the HEART Trust and told the operator who I was. After being passed through about two departments I ended up with the Communications Department.
I spoke with an individual there who gave me his name and full title. My question to him was this. "In regards to the Gleaner story which stated that prospective employers were requesting people from your agency with brown skins, how do you respond to it?"
He said to me, 'Mr Wignall, I can tell you as far as I am aware that no one from this office or any of our regional offices spoke to anyone in the media about any such matter and I am unaware that any such request has ever been made of this organisation.'
I had what was called a 'wow' moment. After that we talked 'shop' for about three minutes about the skin colour matter in Jamaica, then I told him thanks and ended the conversation. Immediately I called Vernon Davidson, Executive Editor of the Observer and told him what I had gleaned. I also called two other people.
My intention was to build last Thursday's column around that story. On Wednesday morning it occurred to me that I needed something more official from HEART Trust/NTA, so I called back the gentleman. My question to him was: 'May I quote you in saying that you are unaware that anyone in any official position in HEART Trust spoke with any member of the media about the matter which we discussed and that you are not aware that any such requests have ever been made?'
His answer deflated me.
"Mr Wignall, I am glad you called back. I would much prefer not to be quoted in this matter."
I said to him: "Yu know sey yu jus mash up mi story. My brother, I am not one of those hawkish journalist types to get you in trouble. I have your name, your title and I could have gone ahead with the story but I will protect you."
I left my cell number with him and asked that he have someone higher up the food chain call me. Up until Tuesday evening no one had called, so I called back, asked for him but was told he was busy. I spoke to a lady, told her what I was calling about and she told me that the director of communications of HEART Trust had spoken to the media (I missed that) and said words to the effect that HEART Trust did not make an official statement on the matter.
So, does that mean that no 'several local businesses' made any such request of HEART Trust/NTA? Second, how does one define 'several'? 'Several' seems to imply at the very least three and possibly more. Did the Gleaner writer attempt to define 'several' and say like, 'In the last six months the training agency has reported that about five companies have requested, etc...'?
So, what are we left with? Whatever it is, the story has 'taken life', few have questioned its veracity and very conveniently, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller brought up the matter in her presentation to the PNP party faithful last Sunday. Hmmm, makes me wonder. Subliminally, the message was the real 'brownings' were in the JLP.
I know what the colour demographic in Jamaica is like and its correlation to social and economic standing. HEART Trust tends to take in many of those youngsters who missed out on the full benefit of a high school education. Based on the realities of Jamaica where the better-off households tend to send their children to the better prep and high schools, is it not more than likely that the vast majority of those who did not receive the top grades via a high school education would be black-skinned?
I know that I am skating on thin ice here because of the social delicacy of the matter, but the point I am making is that one is more likely to find natural 'brownings' in the upper and middle strata of the society than those who would have a need to seek out HEART Trust/NTA.
Additionally, the larger organisations which would need employees for the front desk would tend to seek young people with, at the very least, multiple passes in CXC or CAPE qualifications. So, if the Gleaner story holds water, it would seem to me that it would be the small to medium-sized entities that would be making such requests of a HEART Trust, already depleted of natural 'brownings' because of our social realities.
Professor Rosalea Hamilton of UTech, formerly an advisor to PNP President Simpson Miller, is president of the Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Alliance. Maybe she can tell us if there are any small businesses in that grouping of black people that have been making any such requests for 'brownings.'
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