Jamaica has a lovely motto ‘Out of many, one people’ which implies that despite our racial differences we have come together in a large melting pot creating the Jamaican culture.This mixed culture provided us with many things such as food, music and dance but this, in many ways, hides the outright racism that was inflicted on people who were not white. Jamaica, in many ways, has gone past our early post-colonial state. We see where black and white persons are married and have children. By all accounts Jamaica should be a perfect paradise where everyone is one with nature.
Unfortunately, that is not the case, for while outright racism is less than before, we see where classism, interspersed with some good old-fashioned racism, has taken root deep in the heart of society.
We have become a nation so blinded by the race to get to the top of the class (pun intended), that we treat our workers and those in the lower class like chattel.
We can see the racism cum classism in how we dress and carry ourselves. People are constantly bombarded with images of “true beauty” and images that the majority of Jamaicans cannot hope to attain. We then ‘cuss’ the people in the lower class when they aim to be like their ‘social superiors’ and purchase weaves and fancy outfits, while we praise the rich for using more expensive weaves and wearing outfits, the cost of which would make those who we chastise blush with embarrassment.
How can we chastise people who only wish to emulate those who appear in the social pages of the local papers who just happen to be of a fairer skin complexion?
We see the classism again raising its head when it comes to domestic workers (helpers). Very often helpers are treated like lepers, forced to shy away from people if “company” visits; forced to use the ‘wuttless’ utensils and given only the worst hand-me-downs.
We hear horror stories of helpers being abused and molested and no one believes them simply because the accused is a society big wig while the helper is viewed as a nobody.
Classism is so rife in the nation that we don’t realise that that is the way the society operates. It can be found to be most prevalent in our language and how we speak to each other. The local dialect (patois) is shunned and relegated to that of second-class status, even though there is a vast swath of persons who only speak patios. That is where the classism meets our subconscious racism. The vast majority who speak patois are black (hardly a coincidence), and they are relegated to the status of higglers and handymen, while those who speak the Queen’s English can be found to inhabit the upper echelons of society and are of a light complexion.
The specter of classism also rears its ugly head when it comes to education. We see this with the tuition-free education that is now the law of the land. Now, as decent and noble as this is, it will only help widen the divide between the haves and have-nots. The have-nots will be left to wander in the school system while the school crumbles around them because the increased funding from the Government is still not enough to meet the needs of the schools, and parents have been led to believe that they don’t need to contribute financially in the school and curriculum development. All this while those who attend traditional high-schools will go on to greater heights as children in the traditional schools will have access to not only government aid but also to a healthy alumni cache that will only lead to these schools being even more successful in terms of academic (the one thing that is truly the great equalizer).
The insidious classism raises up and shows itself even when it comes to health and healthcare. One only needs to look at the ‘free medical service’ that is on offer in this country. While those who are at the top of society can afford the care that is offered at UHWI, that is normally as far as they would go to being in a public hospital. The monied class stay away from places like KPH and Jubilee — hospitals that would have them interact with their ‘lower class’ brethren, even though KPH is one of the best trauma hospitals in this hemisphere.
Finally, the legal system is the most raw and open wound of classism in this nation. The class divide in the legal system is so abhorrent that one cannot believe that we wish to rise up as a nation out of the mire. In this legal system we see kids being dragged off to jail over some petty crime while the children born with silver spoons in their mouths will never be accosted by the security forces.
The police, who are the vanguard of the upper class, constantly arrest the poor for some trivial matter like a “spliff” or two ounces of weed. Remember the Mario Dean case, where the mentally impaired man was left with violent criminals and subsequently died? The cold, hard fact is that the class you were born into really decides who succeeds and who does not.
The rich can go gun-toting, as seen at the recent carnival, and yet they are allowed to go on living an uninterrupted life, while those on the lower end of the social scale are forced to look over their shoulders as society has a target on their back.
Classism in Jamaica can become a thing of the past. However, it will require some hard work. Let us hope that we break the chains of classism, embrace our rich culture and start living up to what our national motto says because the only way that this country will get better is if we all acknowledge that in spite of our racial and class differences we are out of many, one people.