Olubode Shawn Brown, Esq.
Falling out of love sometimes is more about business, than it is about pleasure. This is ultimately what will happen between Jamaica and Usain Bolt. It won’t be Bolt’s doing. Actually he will have no choice. A close look at images from his latest deal with Nissan suggests that this is already happening. It is conceivable that Mr. Bolt’s other major partners including Puma, Gatorade, Visa and Virgin Media amongst others, will have this be a condition of his continued representation of their products should Jamaica continue on its present course of celebrating violence against the most vulnerable in its society. He would not be photographed wearing the Jamaican colors and any mention of his Jamaican heritage would be dropped from their promotional copy. All this will not be put in writing of course, it will be a subtle shift, away from things Jamaican, labeling him the world’s fast man – without nary a mention of anything Jamaican.
I lay this scenario out because my country men are often un-clear about the subtle workings of global capitalism. Yet, we are at it’s mercy. We take if for granted that our Olympic conquests, the strength our weed, the beat of our music and the beauty of our beaches are all it takes to cement the permanence of “Brand Jamaica.” But to quote Fran Lebowitz, “You are only as good as your last haircut.” Today, the Jamaican brand is taking quite a beating around the globe.
The recent video of security guards at the University of Technology beating a young gay man while students cheered will be seen globally. It will go viral because Jamaica has a high profile in the world through our many accomplishments. However, this profile comes with a price. Being a world leader with impact way beyond our size comes with a global responsibility. When our leadership is exposed as a sham we will lose all credibility, globally.
Our failure to protect the most vulnerable in our society, be they children — over 500 missing and unaccounted for — young girls, people going about their ordinary lives and citizens who are gay & lesbian, is being heard more clearly than our chest pumping about Olympic gold medals, beautiful beaches and reggae music. The world is watching us. I have been told that much of what they feel as they watch is disappointment, because through the voices of our greats we promised to lead the world to a better place.
The protest that not all Jamaicans are like this will have a hollow ring. People don’t make these fine distinctions when they decide where to spend their hard earned money or how they re-tell the story of this young man’s beating. Is this fair? Perhaps not. But this is how it is. We ALL deal with the consequences economically and socially. We are all in this together. It is precisely this “those people” mentality that has caused the massive class divide that we are witnessing in Jamaica; a divide where those who know better and have more will leave the others to do what they will, until of course violence like this touches our lives or shames us into some kind of engagement.
At that point it may be too late, because we have not cultivated the skills necessary to engage people who do not believe, live, or see the world as we do, in our own country. This is the heart of the challenge. Internally, we have to re-engage each other. The engagement starts where it stopped in the first place, with breaking the silence. As a practical matter the upper class intellectuals who have coddled the likes of Buju Banton, and dancehall artists who spew homophobic lyrics must call them to account for the disrespect for human life that is now being celebrated. Specifically, Beenie Man should be told directly, that his attempts to refurbish his image internationally, should start with re-engaging the local communities that he has incited to violence with his homophobic lyrics. On these things the “us” have largely been silent. Re-engagement on this issue then expands to inform the many other ways in which classes in Jamaica have disengaged with silence, and acquiesced in privilege and violence. Addressing homophobia directly will open the door to authentically addressing poverty, social justice and educational disparities between the “us” and “them.” In our time, homophobia is the knot that unravels all others, so it must be addressed head on. It is a symptom of uncultivated grace, compassion and courage.
I hope that my premonition about Usain does not come to pass; that it is simply awake up call for us to take individual and collective action to stop the beatings and murder of all Jamaican citizens, including gays and lesbians. We must end this, and end it now. Only we can do this. Violence towards lesbians and gays in our society, must be negated in equal tandem with violence against women and children, as they spring from the same source ~ unkindness. To this end, I urge Prime Minister Simpson-Miller to not abdicate leadership in the matter. Should she remain silent, this will be the most telling failure of her stewardship and will open the floodgates to leadership of a different sort.
Nuff said. I wish Mr. Bolt well, but he and others who represent our country so well must now go and explain to the world the actions of our country men, and the excuse that only some of us “stay so,” will not be sufficient.