Op-Ed: Civil Rights in Jamaica


By David P Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

The United States, through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, legislated against racism in the workplace and the schoolhouse.

The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution prevents the violation of equal protection under the law.

The United States now has a black President. President Barack Obama owes a great deal to Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

Despite being a Commonwealth citizen and a respected civil rights leader, Stokely Carmichael was banned from Trinidad, his writings forbidden in Jamaica. In the 1960s, Walter Rodney was also barred from Jamaica,
leading to student riots in the country.

Even now, to talk about black issues in Jamaica publicly is still not done if you wish to be on the after-dinner circuit.

Jamaica today pays lip service to civil rights; our constitution does not prevent or deter racism, and we have no civil rights statutes.

Even the recently-passed Charter of Rights is largely ignored, while racist practices remain prevalent in Jamaica.

The Charter is legally barren. Arguably, it creates no rights although it theoretically has constitutional legal force.

It was within this structure that G2K, the youth arm of the Jamaica Labour Party, paid for and has televised ads that seem to show Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller barking like a dog after digitally reworking a recording of one of her speeches.

This advertisement demonstrates, with great clarity, the hatred and ridicule that many in that party generally have for black people.

It is this “brown man” mentality that promotes the idea that blacks should always be on the economic floor, while lighter-skinned individuals should be elevated above them. This manifests itself in rhetoric, in the selection of candidates and in fiscal policy.

Andrew Holness, who has gone from a political unknown only three months ago to the Prime Minister of Jamaica, must bring about the abandonment of this racial hostility.

An important first step might be the cessation by the JLP of these racial-tinged attack advertisements.

In fact, these ads actually have a negative effect, galvanizing support for Simpson Miller in the heavily-populated black urban ghetto.

The Jamaican diaspora is very sensitive to the racial issue, however. Those who spend their days cleaning up after white people in Metropolitan countries are happy to have a country to go home to.

They certainly do not expect to be treated as second-hand citizens in Jamaica. They do not expect racism to rear its ugly head. Unfortunately, this happens all too frequently.

It has been many decades since Evon Blake jumped into the pool at the Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston.

But once again, the country is being subject to all-white parties and all-white clubs. If we are to be indeed “out of many one people,” the blacks deserve a political break; yet they seem to have all the power.

Political decency from the ruling party will greatly alleviate the current hostile environment. All attack ads with a racial orientation should be withdrawn. Respect for the nation’s black majority should be preserved, in order that peace, unity and the Rule of Law can obtain.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Florida and Jamaica and a professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.


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