There is a lot of anti-Chinese propaganda going around about the so-called domination of the Jamaican economy by Chinese shopkeepers.
The major source of such propaganda originates in the United States of America in a similar manner to which the anti-communist propaganda was advanced by the USA between the 1940s and 1970s. This country creates enemies and pressures other countries to follow. But the subject here is the Chinese business people in Jamaica.
Indian and Chinese labourers were brought to Jamaica to supplement plantation labour. While the Indians accommodated plantation work, the Chinese went into what they could do best, and that was business. They have a tradition of being involved in business, industry, and commerce, not slavery and plantation labour.
There have been different waves of Chinese migration to Jamaica, and over the past two or three decades we have experienced the most recent one. Many of those who came in the latest wave are business people who have been facilitated through the Government's policy to attract investment from people who have money to invest, and to make the venture attractive a tax holiday is attached to the programme. The Chinese, who are being targeted, those with the wholesales and corner shops, are no different from the big Chinese restaurant operators, the big hoteliers, and the huge foreign investors, all are recipients of tax holidays. The Jamaican elites, investors from Europe and North America are more dominant in the economy than the Chinese.
Chinese business people are the wrong target to attack, it is the Government and the residual slave and plantation class who have put us in this dilemma.
China as a country is not an enemy of Jamaica. We have lived with the Chinese and Indians and have experienced rocky relationships, and a few times riots have broken out against the former. The Chinese business people came here and opened doors that were closed, they revived shops that were out of commission, and like any other new immigrants it took them a while to understand Jamaica, the people, and the culture.
The stories going around seem to suggest that these immigrant business people are displacing Jamaicans who are in need of opportunities. They are expressed in such a way that one would believe that it is only the Chinese shopkeepers who are given tax-free status. If you have a problem with that policy, then it is the Government that you must target and not the beneficiaries of government policies.
Investors from Europe and North America have benefited more from the policy than the Chinese. We have the power to fight against the Chinese but lack the will and courage to struggle against this dominant economic class, the big foreign investors, and the big hoteliers. These foreign investors have no interest in the development of Jamaica and its people.
This is why the people must understand that governments will sell them out to foreign investors and big companies. A few years after Independence I saw, for the first time in my life, a joint army and police raid. With big guns they descended on Mother White's coconut oil-making business at the back of her shop in York district. She had a machine to grate the nuts and she processed volumes of oil to be sold at Coronation Market. I remember the sergeant from Seaforth Police Station who led the mission.
The joint police-military group destroyed this village business. They did not take all the oil as evidence, so much of it was wasted. Mother White was arrested and charged. At the trial, when the judge asked about the case, he was told that she was producing coconut oil illegally, and that it was one company in the country that had the licence to make coconut oil.
Making coconut oil was not new, it was a village industry grounded in plantation tradition. It was this trade from slavery days that was transferred to a big company. This is a real story. It was not the big company that was the enemy. It was, and still is, the Government. The governments of this country since the 1980s have been willing to sell out the country for a few dollars that they can siphon in their pockets or channel to the treasury of their political parties.
National Hero Marcus Garvey preached that we should not expect others to do for us what we can do for ourselves. He taught us about self-pride, self-development, and independence by developing our own businesses. Equally, Leonard P Howell came with the early Rastafari ideas and movement for self-reliance and collective development. These ideas fell on deaf ears.
Garvey and Howell knew that slave labourers, more often than not, were prevented from being producers — deprived of education, useful trade training, barred from owning land — and there were also no institutions in place, from then to now, to help the ex-slaves become independent and enjoy true freedom. But what happened to the lessons from Garvey and Howell?
Many labourers on those big coffee farms in the hills were given land by former Prime Minister Michael Manley's regime and most have not put them to use to produce coffee or any viable crops because many people have not yet learnt to work and produce for themselves — the labourer mentality is still strong in their cognitive make-up.
We need to look at ourselves, too, and realise that not all the problems we face now should be blamed on others. We, as a people, need to take some of the blame.
As Jamaicans we make use of opportunities abroad to start businesses in China, Japan, Europe, Africa and North America. Like other immigrants in Jamaica, our migrants abroad have been making use of the opportunities afforded them, the problem is that there are hardly any similar opportunities for the average Jamaican at home, and that is not new.
Look at the case of New York, should African Americans treat us in the same manner some Jamaicans are treating the Chinese business people in Jamaica? Jamaicans are landlords, shopkeepers, own fashion and hairdressing houses, as well as restaurants and entertainment businesses. Jamaicans have been doing well as migrant business people, big and small, abroad.
In New York, for example, they did not use the media or the grapevine to castigate the Jews who dominated the economy in the black community, they found their slice and made use of it. We need to stop quarrelling and look at ourselves. We are afraid to challenge the real enemies in our society who have erected barriers, from slavery days to the present time, that prevent us from going forward. We refuse to listen, learn, and practice teachings from the wise men of our history.
We do not engage in constructive politics, meaning, as black people, whether members of the People's National Party or the Jamaica Labour Party, we are not united on certain important issues and challenge the politicians on these issues to make things better for us. If Government can do it for the foreigners, they can do it for us. It is the thinking of the Government that only foreign investment can develop the country.
Robert Lightbourne and Manley are the only politicians who have tried to include in the equation development of the ex-slaves of Jamaica. People, if you have to fight a war, know your enemy and the setting; do not fight other people's wars. The episodes of the American-led anti-communist policy in Jamaica between the 1940s and 1970s have done serious damage — deep social, economic, and political destruction to our people and country.
As one wise man said, if you do not know your history, you are bound to repeat it.
Louis E A Moyston, PhD, is a consultant and radio talk show presenter. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.