Usually, preaching to the converted is a sign of redundancy, but in the case of Netflix’s Dear White People series, I’m not so sure. How many opportunities do black American college students and black American college graduates have to see themselves and their racial experiences hashed out on their television screens or on the silver screen where we first encountered Dear White People in 2014? Not very many. So, for what it’s worth, I thank the cast and crew of Dear White People.
After binge watching all of the Dear White People episodes back in April 2017, I waited for a Jamaican reply, of sorts. Every few weeks I would type into the Twitter search box the following hashtag: #DearJamaicans. I know that the show was viewed here so I supposed that Jamaicans were a part of the choir to whom the show was preaching. Twitter tells me that my supposition was incorrect. There are only a few posts that met the gauntlet that Dear White People’s Sam and Coco set with truth-bombs like: “Dear White People, if you wanted to demoralize us with your European beauty standard, mission accomplished.” But, still, a few is not zero.
Under #DearJamaicans I found a 2014 post by @cly_de (see left) and a few weeks ago, Jaevion Nelson, my Facebook friend and self-proclaimed “opinionated human rights and social justice advocate,” posted a brief “Dear Jamaicans” letter in response to a child abuse video that though initially shared on Whatsapp as a perverse form of humor, ultimately led to the abusive mother’s arrest and a national discussion of corporal punishment (see below). Nelson’s tweet got 32 retweets and @NicolasKhan retweeted Nelson, querying if it should become a hashtag. To date, a #DearJamaicans hashtag has not yet taken set. Why?
Like many of the Caribbean nations that have a majority African descendant population, Jamaica likes to boast a climate free of racism (insert look of suspicion and proceed with voice of sarcasm). Colorist, Jah know! But racist, no, never. Classist to bl**dcl*t. But, racist, no, never. And sexist? You can bet your pretty brown face it is. But why are so few willing to take Jamaica on? Where was #DearJamaica when either of the first two “Zones of Special Operations” (Sept. 2017 in Mount Salem and Oct. 2017 Denham Town) were launched? Zones were set up in the country to help reduce gun violence; but no zones have been established at the wharf — where the guns enter the country illegally. Big up to Dionne Jackson Miller for her weekly, hour-long panel discussion, All Angles, on Television Jamaica. But, that television show aside, why isn’t there more discussion taking place in the uncensored digital space of social media? Why not more public questioning of the instances of police officers shooting and killing particular citizens? Outside of the newspapers’ op-ed pieces, why not more online discussion of incidents of employers not hiring particular applicants?
In Jamaica, these kinds of instances are not necessarily viewed as racial discrimination or race prejudice. Instead, they are understood as encounters between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the brown and the black, the men and the women, parents and children. So, in Jamaica, even though these present-day binaries are rooted in a hierarchical, patriarchal plantation system, they are no longer divided racially as black and white. With no black and white binary it becomes clear why there is no #DearWhitePeople for Jamaica. But why no #DearJamaicans? Or, better still, why hasn’t Jamaican Twitter launched a #DearBrownJamaicans or #DearJamaicanMen as these are the two groups that possess power here (as power often leads to abuse of power)? I suppose I’m being provocative and I suppose I’m throwing down a dangerous challenge, as there is risk in ruffling the status quo with curious observation or oppositional thinking. But, there are some among us who have spoken out against what I will call Jamaica’s “traditional modes of discrimination.” Moreover, there are some among us who are boldly holding Jamaica’s privileged class up for scrutiny.
In 2007 international Jamaican music artiste Shaggy outed “Sister Paulette’s” husband and betrayed all of the closeted hypocrites of Jamaica on his incendiary single “Church Heathens.” In 2008 reggae singer Etana sang on behalf of job applicants who are denied jobs because, as the song title says, they have the “Wrong Address.” And earlier this year, reggae singer Protoje released the video for “Blood Money,” a powerful single that is a lyrical critique of the class inequity at the heart of Jamaica’s corruption. (As an aside, of late, dancehall artists seem to be shying away from overtly political statements. Perhaps Popcaan is speaking out. Perhaps Ishawna can be said to be speaking up for women, in a sense. But neither has a song that matches the older work of Vybz Kartel on “Emergency”. Thankfully, Bounty Killer put back on his “poor people’s governor hat” to voice “Duh Betta Than This” on the Law Riddim this October 2017. All fans of his classic, “Fed Up” were surely pleased to hear Bounty take up many of Jamaica’s concerns. But Bounty took a calculated risk, as he opens the song saying “after this they will try to ban me.” Thank you for speaking, Warlord.
But how can the less-musically-inclined Jamaicans challenge the discrimination? As a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, I have encountered some brave and bright minds. But with so much censorship and such limited anti-discrimination legislation in Jamaica, I wonder how are Jamaica’s university students and university graduates negotiating the frustration of living in Jamaica while being aware of discrimination, being woke to sexism, and being conscious of inequity? How are Jamaica’s young, cosmopolitan, professionals responding to the oppressive and regressive work environments that they enter into when they choose to live and work in Kingston? How are they handling the frustration of Jamaican sexism in 2017 (see example below, right)? How are they negotiating Jamaica’s performance of policing, yet the willful blindness to actual criminal activity? And, no, the answer to these questions is not “educated/privileged/brown Jamaicans do not feel frustration.” I regularly engage with students who are unsure of how to negotiate their progressive thinking and their regressive reality. I hear their frustrations and wonder if this realization is what feeds the desire for many Jamaicans to migrate if they can or self-medicate if physical departure is not possible.
I think this kind of accumulated frustration must have motivated writer and director Teeqs to craft the Jamaican mini web series Losing Patience. The series debuted July 2017 and it is smart, laser sharp, and it was right on time because I really was beginning to lose patience with my reality. For its regional uniqueness, I resist making direct comparisons to Dear White People. The lead character is Renee Patience, played by singer, songwriter, and newly-minted social activist Sevana. Renee’s best friend is Desiree, played by Kimberly Patterson of Nick Cannon’s King of the Dancehall. And the very clever Justine Henzell is executive producer. I believe the show’s gift is in how it balances dialogue and silence. As one watches the series, it’s useful to remember that mirrors never talk, they reflect. Through contemporary, uptown Jamaican eyes, this series takes a pointed look at Jamaican ism schism. And through the character Desiree it throws necessary shade on the self-serving use of social media. If you haven’t watched the episodes, I encourage you to do so right now by clicking here. They are mini, but effective catalysts for discussion. With humor to make it accessible, this is just the kind of show to spark the conversations that haven’t been had but need to be had here. And why not on Twitter? The handle @lpwebseries is the fictive Twitter account of the show’s lead character and is described as “Renee’s Random Thoughts.” I can only fantasize about the incisive #DearJamaicans posts Renee would make! Thankfully, season two is written and in pre-production. I hear that the second season is due to arrive early 2018. Praise the creative media gods!
In the meantime, I’ll keep checking Twitter for #DearJamaicans posts. It is clear to me that Jamaica has reached a new critical juncture. The creatives have always been the ones to expose society’s ills. Read Geoffrey Philp’s short story critique of religion and society titled “Dawn of the Dread” or Michelle Cliff’s sharp novel about class, gender, and sexuality titled No Telephone to Heaven, or any culturally classic poems by Miss Lou or Mutabaruka. Reggae music has always chanted down Babylon’s oppressive ways and, traditionally, dancehall music has boastfully rebelled against society’s codes of “decency.” This new visual series is similarly seeking to communicate with the Jamaican audience by pushing the boundaries of social critique.
The warning that accompanies Losing Patience is for viewers to “bringle responsibly” (“bringle” being a patwa term used to describe frustration or anger). Sevana, the singer-actress who plays Renee Patience, recently put her bringle where her heart is, and hosted a Jamaican first: #ShirtForAShow charitable concert. On Saturday, November 11, 2017, in creative partnership with Protoje, Runkus, Lila Iké, Ziah, and Leno Banton, Sevana put on a concert where the only requirement for admission was a donation of clothing for the less fortunate. I was there with my one-bag-ah-clothes and so was everyone else. Singer Lila Iké was on stage bigging up the crowd. Courtesy of @Regrann, check the video Lila Iké posted to her Instagram with the accompanying caption (follow Lila @lilaike) : “#NoteToSelf :Once yuh still got breath for the taking that’s another day to part take in something great and amazing #Thankful #ShirtForAShow was crazy vibes big up @sevanasiren.”
This is what positive vibrations look like and sound like. Sevana converted her bringle into upliftment and a social media hashtag helped. The success of this event shows that anyone of us can be the change we want to see. And after last week’s trending hashtag #RightToBareArms that was aimed at disavowing Jamaica’s out-of-date dress codes, it became clear that Jamaicans are not interested in maintaining repressive rules. And after this weekend’s “Imagine Kingston Conference,” it became clear that Jamaicans have identified the domestic problems and are ready to turn bringle into better. Using our own tools, and not those left behind by the colonial oppressors, it is time to rebuild the nation inclusively and free of discrimination.
Maybe this post will help #DearJamaicans to gain traction as a hashtag capable of uniting progressive Jamaicans to begin the task of rebuilding… Maybe it won’t. In the very least, this post celebrates those among us who are unwilling to rest on phrases like “this is just the way it is in Jamaica.” So, for what it’s worth, I’ll close with this: #DearJamaicans let’s think differently and do away with those traditions that divide us.
See you on Twitter.