What ‘ism’ rules our country, classism or racism? Which needs the most attention and what can be discarded as a relic of history? Should they be tackled separately, and can they? In a crass way the question is, does the white man still get privileges in Jamaica? Has it switched simply to the rich getting these privileges? Is it both, and if it is both which one needs to be addressed first? These questions have always been around, at times dormant, where persons only ask in hushed tones, and at times bubbling like a pot where persons openly discuss it in the streets. We are at that time of pot bubbling and have been there ever since the E. Portland race and it has now reached something of a fever pitch with utterances from the head of the PNP YO in the previous year. And with the killing of the Milwaukee black man, the conversation became its better to be first class in the third world… doesn’t that smack of classism and racism?

Krystal Tomlinson should not be raked over the coals for what she said, as inelegant as it may be. For in reality, in spite of government protestations, we all know that the SOE and ZOSO were put into full use in the western parishes first because that is where the money is. And she might very well be right (I honestly don’t know this one) that the west is where the majority of Jamaica’s white persons live. That wouldn’t surprise me as the west is where the majority of our monied class live; Black, White, Indian, Chinese Arab and therein I think lies the problem which some have with her statements. 

We are of the belief that Jamaica has somehow moved beyond race and racism, and  is now ‘post-racial’ if I may use an Obama phrase. Quite a few of the learned individuals who are liberal in their views also hold that view, firmly believing that what we have moved into is strictly a class struggle. That could not be further from the truth and maintaining that line of thinking will only in the end lead to chaos and tears.

As CLR James said ‘The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental.’ Tricky as it may be, we must never lose sight of the fact that racism is alive and well in Jamaica, deeply intertwined with classism as only a post-colonial society could know. We see this racism up close and personal in our schools as our children get lighter in complexion as they advance in grade, here again we instinctively understand the class and race aspects at play as lighter skinned persons do in fact get more leeway and tend to have more access to resources.

But even in the upper echelons, where one would think (at least the liberal) that racism is dead and buried (because after all money only looks for the colour of money) we see stupendously wealthy black men making a conscious effort to marry into a lighter skinned family. Now of course there is the element of cementing family ties and wealth, but there is also the explicit, or implicit understanding that your child’s life will be easier if they are lighter in tone, that one gains more access to international capital by marrying into the white families of old money.

Yes, there is racism, and yes part of the reason for the SOE in the west is because of the hue of the citizens, but for the main it is because it is wealthy, home to the wealthy and the land of our beloved golden calf. The race question remains secondary to the class question, and to make it more complex in order to truly eradicate racism one must do away with classism. This can be seen in how racism was born (note that the ancient Greek word for slave is andrapodon man-footed beast or more literally one with the feet of a man) and how it was maintained and continued  where people were considered two thirds or mere chattel, doing work the upper crust didn’t want to do.

Yes, Krystal Tomlinson was inelegant with her word choice, but the point she was trying to make, however much it may rankle, remains true. It was true when Crawford said it and remains true today. Class and race are intermingled however and to prioritize one while forgetting or downplaying the significance of the other gets us nowhere. 

These issues can’t be attacked piecemeal as they intermingle. Let us take the issue of say land redistribution. That would entail taking land from a mainly white populace with some ‘high brownings’ Chinese, Arabs, Indians and (some Blacks) and giving it to mainly landless black people (as well as the Indians, Chinese, Arabs and even whites). As much of a race issue as such a move would be, it would also touch upon the raw nerve of class. To address land redistribution and other matters simply from one side while ignoring or downplaying the other will leave any movement seeking real equity open to either infiltration or a warping to a state where you alienate most of what should be your natural base.

 Do we have a serious and unspoken race problem? Yes, we do, it is a curse we retain after centuries of barbarism in the form of chattel slavery. Do we have a class issue? Again yes, again born of slavery, incubated on colonialism and now fed on raw capitalism. They are here, they have always been here ever since the first Africans and Spaniards came to the island, it is not news and they (Crawford and Tomlinson) should not be looked down upon for highlighting the issues (though they should and are criticised rightly for not offering solutions).

The issues are at the heart of what ails the nation and it is only when we fix them that we will begin to see the kind of progress for which we yearn . We are not going to get rid of the issue of class until we get rid of the issue of race, and we can’t hope to address the class issue, especially here, until we address the race issue. This is something we understood as recently as the 80s, something which permeated our music, poetry and literature (both fiction and nonfiction). We should not be debating this again, we should not be musing about which came first and which is more important to deal with. The discussion has been explored fully and the conclusions reached then remain the same now. Instead of debating let us do it, let us act to ensure that the race and class issues which haunt us today don’t haunt us tomorrow.

One thought on “We won’t get rid of the issue of class until…

  1. Well said. That racism and classism cannot be separated are at the heart of white privilege. Trying to separate them only clouds the waters of what needs to be done to create a more just and fair world.

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