To Be Young, Gifted and Brown in Jamaica

Andrew Holness had better watch his step. Amidst all the glamour and the glitter, politics is not a bed of roses. Indeed, it is not an easy road. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to put “His Holiness” or “Prince Andrew” down. But beyond the current euphoria and hype, the soon-to-be “crowned” Jamaica Labour Party leader and prime minister-designate must be wary of the “night of the long knives” as well as the fact that in Jamaican politics, a coronation is often followed by the crucifixion.

Outside of any narrow partisan considerations, it can be said that Mr Holness, at 39 years old, has helped to re-energise the body politic which was fast becoming moribund and uninteresting. As a People’s National Party candidate, one of the frequent things that face me on the hustings as I do my walks, is the constant response by many potential voters, young and old, who declare that they will not be voting in the next general election because they are tired of being taken for a ride by politicians who come around and beg them for their votes then ignore them for the next five years or so.

In this startling scenario, one frightening reality which stands out is the frequency with which the young people express great cynicism towards the political system accompanied by a great sense of hopelessness and anger. It is into this mix that the “young man time” slogan has taken some root in the Jamaican psyche and has emboldened the ruling JLP to come to the conclusion that Bruce Golding had to pack his bags and go because he would have been a major liability in terms of the party’s “winnability”.

Holness, who seems to have a hunger and thirst for running this country and whose stocks have risen substantially as a result of his perceived good works in the Ministry of Education that have helped to catapult him into a position of popularity, must be commended for this tremendous feat, unprecedented in the turbulent history of the Jamaica Labour Party which is known for its fractiousness and seeming inability to unite around one leader. Interestingly, when Golding declared his intention to step down, some of his most influential and senior Cabinet colleagues emphatically stated that they were rejecting his resignation. Then in a quick about-turn they all clamoured to say that they were interested in succeeding him. To give “Prince Andrew” his due, he remained steadfast in his conviction that he was the best man for the job. That shows guts and a fixity of purpose.

Looking at the body language and facial expressions of some of these men “who would be king”, it became quite obvious that they were not all genuine in their support stance. It was just a matter of political expediency. After all, Mr Golding, apart from pulling a fast one on the PNP, signalled to the delegates where their heads should go, even if their hearts were saying otherwise. In one fell swoop in that national broadcast, Mr Golding shattered the ambitions of all the “old men in grey suits”.

In the meantime, the PNP will in time have to deal with the burning question of what should be the role of youth in the top echelons of that 73-year-old movement. However, it has to be careful how it handles this tricky situation, because youth by itself cannot be the major criterion that is used to legitimise one’s leadership strength. And contemporaneous with the “young man time” mantra, it may well be argued that both major political parties have not significantly set out to shatter the glass ceiling where women are concerned. Shouldn’t this be of some concern to the JLP that not one woman emerged from among those seeking to have replaced Bruce Golding as leader and prime minister?

Meanwhile, we have to be careful that this business of being party leader and prime minister does not become a mere beauty contest. Likeability plays a pivotal role in modern-day politics, especially in an age of advanced technology that has brought into the mainstream what is dubbed the social network. And in the Jamaican society where to be tall and brown is a major asset, the dancehall mentality remains all pervasive. Yes, Andrew is young, gifted and brown – a double-edged sword, if you ask me. Why? This may well help to reinforce the perception in many Jamaicans’ minds, whether wittingly or unwittingly, that “anything black no good”.

Recall the recent furore regarding a national daily lead story that alleged that certain companies were requesting through HEART only “brown-skinned” applicants to fill a number of posts. Put that alongside the fact that of all the aspirants that were being put forward for leadership of the JLP only Robert Montague had enough melanin to remind us that we are a nation that is over 80 per cent black. Draw brakes, everyone! I am not advocating racism here, neither am I insinuating that the JLP has a preference for “brownings”. I am simply pointing to the reality of the situation in the same way it can be cited that the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica is yet to have among its Hall of Fame recipients someone looking like National Hero Paul Bogle. Whose fault is it?

The bleaching craze which has segued into Vybz Kartel’s “Colouring Book” is a grim reminder that a nation which is approaching its 50th year of having wrested itself from colonial rule is yet to have a people emerge who for the most part are not plagued by mental slavery. It is to be noted that the country’s most popular and perhaps most successful dancehall icon today is now behind bars facing among other heinous crimes the charge of murder. Juxtapose Holness and Kartel (he has tried to become a “browning”) and we see that in real terms Jamaica is a dysfunctional society. In all of this, it will be more than intriguing to see how a “dreadlocksed” Damian Crawford is accepted by the wider society if he should enter representational politics. Would the big money backers warm towards him as they have to Prince Andrew, the Fair One?