The Perception Deception: Issues in Caribbean Dignity.


I made a post on my Facebook wall last week, which stirred about 2 days of heated debate. As much of it was due to misinterpretation, I felt the need to expound on it here. However, I’ve been hesitant, because people generally have trouble swallowing strong opinions on this particular issue. It’s the issue of Caribbean stereotypes and perceptions and yes, in this case we’ll be talking about Jamaica. However, this is very much applicable to the wider Caribbean.

Context

A few weeks ago, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe made disturbing remarks about Jamaican men, which upset a lot of people.

Mugabe, who holds an Order of Jamaica, one of the country’s highest honours, described Jamaica as  “a country of marijuana smokers, where women are now taking charge since men are always sloshed (drunk)”. He also said that “In Jamaica, they have freedom to smoke mbanje (marijuana), varume vanogara vakadhakwa (men are always drunk) and universities are full of women,” …””The men want to sing and do not go to colleges vamwe vanobva vamonwa musoro (some are dreadlocked). Let us not go there.”

Source: The Jamaica Observer. 

More context

Recently, there have been several incredibly disturbing incidents involving the exploitation, abuse and straight up barbarism by Jamaican men toward their women, all of which have been blasted across the front page of the two largest national newspapers, with such sensationalism that the fathers of professional journalism would cringe. Still, in the midst of all of this lie the usual trends of drugs, guns, violence and corruption. To illustrate, here is what a month of front page headlines in Jamaica looks like:

The Gleaner, June 27, 2012: Assault on Drugs. European Union to pump 10m euros into Caribbean narcotics battle

The Gleaner, September 1, 2012: Pregnant woman shot dead in police confrontation, another injured.

The Gleaner, September 2, 2012: Shooting of pregnant woman sparks riot

The Gleaner, September 7, 2012: “Our Judges not good enough”.

The Gleaner, September 21, 2012: Children in Crisis.

The Gleaner, September 25, 2012: JUNGLE JUSTICE. Cops plead for calm after Falmouth mob executes man in hunt for alleged child killer. 

Jamaica Observer, September 26, 2012: HORROR IN ST. JAMES!  8-y-o among five females brutally raped by gunmen

Jamaica Observer, September 29th, 2012: STOP SEX ABUSE! Protesters want death penalty for rape. 

Jamaica Observer, September 29, 2012: Cops Question two brothers for rape of 5.

Jamaica Observer, October 2, 2012: Men Assault teacher in front of students at Dunrobin Primary. 

The Gleaner, October 1, 2012: “Don’t come to us!” Female attorneys shying away from Mobay rape case. 

Jamaica Observer, October 3: Man accused of raping, killing woman beaten and shot.

The Gleaner, October 3, 2012: Rapist gets 40 years. 

The Gleaner, October 3, 2012: Father gets custody of 11-y-o rape victim

Jamaica Observer, October 5, 2012: CHARGED! Two brothers accused of raping 5 in Irwin face court next week. 

Jamaica Observer, October 7, 2012: Do you feel safe? Jamaicans say they feel more vulnerable in the glare of rising crime.  

Jamaica Observer, October 8, 2012: Trucks with guns, drugs vanish.

Jamaica Observer, October 8, 2012: Cabbie accused of raping 12-y-old to be grilled. 

Jamaica Observer, October 8, 2012: Customs dept sees spike in drug smugglers. 

Jamaica Observer, October 2, 2012: Two Jamaican athletes test positive for drugs. 

 

Even more context

So after analyzing these two situations, I posted the following:

 

As sad as it is that I actually have to, let me explain. Among media professionals and academics, it’s well researched, documented and widely understood that a person’s media consumption tends to inform the way he perceives things. The images that are most often portrayed in the media about a product, person, country or anything really may not always be the full truth, however, and many individuals are indeed aware of that. The average man knows that Chinese people do not all eat cats and dogs or that not all Americans are stupid. However, despite how intelligent we may be at a conscious level, our brains still tend to associate a given subject with the ideas it has been most exposed to. I wont get into the science of it so you can (and should) read for yourself.

So when I say, it’s difficult to blame anyone for thinking certain things about Jamaicans, or any other country for that matter, I simply mean that we’re all (whether you agree or not) subjects of the ideas and messages we are constantly exposed to. Therefore, with great caution but even greater resolve, I say that Robert Mugabe’s remarks about Jamaican men were both understandably disturbing and disturbingly understandable.

Finally, I’d just like to address the use of the word ‘blame’, as it did seem to hit a few nerves. I stand by my suggestion that Mugabe’s perception of Jamaicans is less his fault than that of Jamaicans themselves. It’s a harsh thing to say and I wish I didn’t feel that way but after scanning those newspaper headlines, I cannot conclude any differently. The Jamaican media has victimized, sensationalized, marginalized and demonized the perception of Jamaicans far more than any foreign media has ever done.  Not single-handedly but indeed primarily, they have stripped away the dignity of the typical Jamaican so that he can never be viewed by an outsider as anything more than a gangster, sexual menace, obeah woman, corrupt politician, or the starving pauper struggling and hustling to survive daily. To defend that point I put forth this challenge: do a simple Google search for negative terms associated with Jamaica…e.g drugs, rape, corruption, violence, etc. And let’s count the first 100 front page  news headlines and see how many of them are printed by either the Jamaica Observer or Gleaner as opposed to foreign press.

So to wrap up, I’m simply saying that instead of getting upset at the way Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean are perceived by foreigners, why don’t we start to clean up our image from home? Now I did not say to bury facts or deny certain realities. But we cannot be upset with others for buying into a perception that we have perpetuated more than anyone else.

 

Feel free to post your responses int he comments below people. All views are welcome and respected!

 

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  1. I really like what you guys are up too. Such clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the very good works guys I’ve added you guys to my blogroll.

    • maybe rush I dunno
    • October 9th, 2012

    I’m a little tipsy, but I’m going to write this anyway.

    I honestly don’t see the parallel you’re drawing between Mugabe’s statements and the Media’s outpouring.

    Mugabe: Jamaican men smoke weed, waste time, are drunkards and a worthless set. As such, women are taking over.

    Media: Jamaican women & children in danger, heartless men are busy abusing them.

    I see no parallel. In fact, what bothers me most about the former statement is that it borders on sexism, assuming that there is something inherently wrong with women being at the helm of a country’s functioning or development is well, bullshit.

    So, fundamentally, your entire argument is being based on this parallel that as far as I can see, doesn’t exist. So, yea, we are a horrible set and this and that…fine, say that. But your statement isn’t effectively supported by saying, “Mugabe may be right, look at the recent headlines,” because the two are mutually exclusive…talking bout two completely different things….are not related at all.

    Have I made my point yet? Bwoy, it feels like it. So Imma stop.

    • I like that you pointed this out because I’m not actually making a link between the media headlines and what Mugabe said specifically. In fact I never said any such thing at all. However, If I did want to justify Mugabe’s specific comments It would have been very to do so using the same headline sweep. The point I was making (which was said a few times throughout actually) was that Mugabe took a negative view of Jamaicans and though we don’t know exactly why, when you look at Jamaica’s media, its people – specifically its men – are generally painted in a terrible light. So you can’t blame him (or anyone for that matter) for taking a negative view of Jamaicans (whatever the specific view may be) when Jamaica presents its own people to the world as barbarians.

    • Oshaine Mcknight
    • October 8th, 2012

    I totally agree. I agreed when you posted on facebook; I agree now.
    We (Jamaicans) ARE our own worst enemy in almost every aspect of life.
    I guess the problem people have is that you’re not Jamaican and yet pointing it out, but I think you’re better able to see it BECAUSE you’re able to see the perception from the outside and also the reality (from the inside).

    • Yeah I figure it’s a hot button because I’m a “foreigner” (a word I hate using in an ever shrinking global village). I realize that Jamaicans love to bash themselves and point out all the horrible things about the place but the moment an outsider says something it becomes a shit storm. Well as long as I’m paying taxes here I’ll speak my mind.

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