Jaevion Nelson | Inequality and discrimination robbing Jamaica of true freedom
The Jamaican Emancipation and Independence projects are not yet complete. Much work is left to be done to fulfil the dreams of those who fought tirelessly and sacrificed their lives for us to be free and independent. Yes, there is a lot we can be proud of, but we can’t ignore the fact that so few people know and have experienced the idyllic Jamaica many love.
Over the coming days, we will celebrate 59 years of independence. I hope that amid the jubilation, we will use this period of celebration, however we commemorate it, as an opportunity to take stock of critical issues that need our urgent attention. Many Jamaicans have been, and continue to be, left behind because the country is shackled by a plethora of problems, including the disturbingly high levels of ineptitude, negligence, discrimination, inequality, crime, and violence. I can’t pretend to know exactly what our foremothers and forefathers imagined Jamaica would be like today, but I know for sure that this is not it. I imagine they hoped and fought so stridently for our freedom so we can all live free and peacefully with dignity and rights. They waged war against those who oppressed them so we can live in a country where we can achieve our fullest potential. Accomplish our wildest dreams even, but too often, our dreams and hopes are shattered. Many of us become laden with disillusionment, and it becomes difficult to see Jamaica as a place of choice to live, work, raise families, do business, and retire.
Unsurprisingly, a significant number of people feel that their lives would be better off elsewhere. The 2010 National Youth Survey, for example, found that over 57 per cent of youths believe that their lives would improve if they lived in the United States. Similarly, 52 per cent believe that they would be better off in Canada, and 57 per cent said living in England would improve their lives. A recent community needs assessment published by J-FLAG last year, found that 76 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are desirous of leaving the country. While the desire to leave was linked to the LGBT identity for 76 per cent of persons, most indicated that they want to leave for better work opportunities (87 per cent), education (60 per cent), being able to marry (59 per cent), and seek asylum (33 per cent).
DISCRIMINATION AND INEQUALITY
I accept that there are external factors that have had an impact on our progress, but we would be hoodwinking ourselves to pretend that we are not victims of our collective (in)actions. Far too many Jamaicans are victims of discrimination and inequality. They are being denied opportunities because of their hair, home address, religion, health status, sexual orientation, work, gender identity and/or expression, socio-economic status, political affiliation, or other status. It’ is so commonplace that we know the stories and can detail how these negative experiences affect people’s lives in a multiplicity of ways.
Everybody knows somebody who was denied a job because someone assumed, based on their address, that they would steal from the business. Everybody knows of the boy or girl who dropped out of school or performed poorly because their teachers did nothing to stop the homophobic bullying. Everybody knows of at least one little girl or boy in their community whose circumstances were exploited by ‘the big man’ or ‘the big woman’. Everybody knows the challenges people with disabilities face in getting a good education, getting a job, keeping a job, and accessing healthcare. Everybody knows about the god-awful treatment many people who earn the minimum wage experience at work.
The stories are many. There are countless news reports. Numerous studies. Plenty of documentaries. Myriad discussion fora, but though a lot has been said and done, there is so much to do to make Jamaica a hospitable and idyllic place for everyone.
VISION OF JUSTICE
I often think about Michael Manley’s speech – A society in crisis – which he delivered in Parliament during the Budget debates on June 4, 1969, whenever I think about the inequality and discrimination that are rampant in our country. Manley spoke about a “vision of justice”. He encouraged our leaders to find ways for us to live and thrive here, but we are yet to find the formula that would result in sustainable changes it seems. Yes, a lot of us, me included, are ‘comfortable’ (even if a pay cheque or two from hardship) and some have nary a concern.
We must do more. Our leaders have not done enough. As Manley said: “What we need is a dream, a vision of our possibilities. What we need is to see the participation of the people in the unfolding of that dream. What we need is that every man and woman in Jamaica should feel involved in the country and responsible for its fate.” Now is the time to eschew the lethargy that has characterised our country’s leadership over the years. They need to look at the countless missteps and misfortunes, take responsibility, and demonstrate the political will to end inequality and discrimination.
Happy Emancipation!!Happy Independence! Let’s find ways for all of us to be included in this big little remarkable project that is Jamaica.