What does Independence Day Mean to You?

My thoughts published in the Jamaica Gleaner, August 6 2015

Kelly McIntosh: August 6 in the land of my birth, Jamaica, marks 53 years of Independence from Great Britain. Fifty three years ago we sang our own national anthem and raised our own flag. ‘Jamaica 53: Proud and Free’ is the theme this year. Really? Who says?
There are two Jamaicas: One where the schools are clean and quiet and teachers speak respectfully to students. And there is one where children crowd into noisy, hot classrooms and are expected to learn.
There’s one Jamaica where you get justice if you have the money to pay for it. There’s another Jamaica where you are tossed roughly from side to side inside the bowels of the justice system and hope for the best. You often don’t get it.
There’s a Jamaica that’s filled with boat rides to Lime Cay and outings to the movies, and another Jamaica where you hang out on the corner to grab a little cool air. There’s one Jamaica that moves about in high-off-the-ground air-conditioned vehicles and another Jamaica that moves around in tightly packed public buses, fighting to keep sane on your way to work and school, and where you long to get home in the evening just to do it all over again in the morning.
There’s the Jamaica where you dare not get ill on a Saturday evening or public holiday. There’s one Jamaica where we lock up tightly in gated communities or behind high walls, where security codes are a way of life and private security companies are on speed dial. Then there’s the other Jamaica where four-year-olds instinctively roll under the bed at the sound of a gun-shot — and they know the difference between gun shots and ‘clappers’.
I cannot ignore the two Jamaicas. And it is the reality of these two Jamaicas that gives me pause on our 53rd anniversary.

The Broken Windows Theory & Policing in Jamaica: “To protect, Serve and Reassure…those who matter”

Once upon time, in a small, quiet community in West Rural St. Andrew, a homeowner came from work one evening confronted by the sight of an old white station waggon on blocks, on the sidewalk almost opposite his front gate. It was a jarring sight: this old, disabled car, an ugly blemish on the green, rustic landscape. Days passed, each day seeing another part of the car missing. One day it had only one door instead of two. The next day, the bonnet was gone. On yet another day, the dashboard had been taken. The car was being scrapped right on the sidewalk, in the middle of this small, quiet community.
The homeowner typically left for work by 7am and returned home after 7pm. He relied on his housekeeper to inform him of the activity around the (not so) abandoned car. She reported that the car’s owner had some connection to the house opposite his…he helped to build it, he claimed, and it was actually his mother’s property, now rented out. He promised that the car would be moved, that he just needed a little more time.
After six weeks of facing this almost shell of a car wreck on blocks, in front of his gate, the homeowner reported the matter to the local police. He reasoned that sufficient time had elapsed and he preferred not to get into an argument with someone who appeared to be comfortable with scrapping a car piece by piece on the sidewalk over an extended period of time. Furthermore, any opportunity to interact with the scrapper would demand a change to his own schedule, awaiting Mr. Scrapper’s attendance at the wreck. This matter of a scrapped car, perched on blocks on the sidewalk, was most certainly an issue of law and order, easily dealt with by the police, he reasoned.
He was in for a rude awakening. 
Ten weeks elapsed, and the shell of the car was still on the sidewalk opposite his gate. One morning, Mr. Homeowner’s wife was leaving for work and she saw two men “working” on the car. She stopped and attempted to pleasantly engage the men, seeking to elicit some sort of timeline and commitment for disposing of the wreck. She was greeted with hostility from one of the men who claimed ownership of the wreck. He angrily sought to justify the presence of the wreck on “his sidewalk” since the sidewalk adjoined “his mother’s house, the house weh him broad out him back fi help har build!” He went on to rant about the homeowner going to the police instead of trying to find him first, and declared “ah nuh so we fi live!”.  Mrs. Homeowner, a bit intimidated, but resolute, politely ended the discussion with: “Anyway, it really doesn’t belong here. Please seek to get it removed sooner rather than later.”
Twelve weeks elapsed, and the wreck was still on the sidewalk. By this time, it was a mere chassis. Note that at the end of 6 weeks having not heard from the police or seeing any resolution, Mr. Homeowner stepped up inquiries of the local police. He made a total of 7 visits to the police station, spoke with a superintendent of police on the matter and went on to report said issue to a senior superintendent of police. In discussions with the police, Mr. Homeowner confirmed that the property was not stolen, and the person responsible was known to the police and was being ‘given time’ to remove the item and clean the mess. Mr. Homeowner remains adamant that the presence of this shell and garbage is a public health and security risk.

In reviewing this story and how it might play out, the “Broken Windows Theory” immediately came to mind. The Broken Windows Theory, posited by Wilson and Kelling in 1982, seeks to make a link between disorder and more serious crime. The theory was born out of the following observations and reasoning: a building with a few broken windows is likely to have other windows broken by vandals eventually, said vandals going on to eventually break in and even become squatters. Consider also a clean sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. This leads to more litter. And even more litter as people conclude that this is an unpoliced situation where anything can and does go.
Wilson and Kelling maintain that disorder, while not directly linked to more serious crime, certainly leads to increased fear and withdrawal from residents, which creates a context for more serious crime to flourish. Residents will grow cynical as to the role and efficacy of the police, and fail to report violations they see or experience. Persons of mal-intent will quickly identify this context as one where they can do as they like and more than likely get away with it.
That the actions of the man scrapping this car on the sidewalk are against the law is beyond debate. His actions constitute a breach of section 45 & 46 of the National Solid Waste Management Act.
Section 45 definitively states that every person who disposes of solid waste in any area or in any manner not approved by the Authority…commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction before a Resident Magistrate to a fine not exceeding one million dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding nine months or to both such fine and imprisonment
Section 46 continues: (1) A person commits an offence if he- (a) throws, drops or otherwise deposits and leaves any litter in any public place; or (b) erects, displays (whether by writing, marking or otherwise), deposits or affixes anything in a public place or on any building, wall, fence or structure abutting or adjoining a public place, in such circumstances as to cause, contribute to or tend to the defacement of that place, building wall, fence or structure, as the case may be, and shall be liable to a penalty under section 53.
The law continues to guide law enforcers as to their response to breeches of this act in Section 53: Where an authorized officer finds a person on any occasion and has reason to believe that on that occasion that person is committing or has committed an offence to which this section applies, he may serve that person with the prescribed notice in writing offering the discharge of any liability to conviction of that offence by payment of a fixed penalty under this section…
To provide even more clarity, here are definitions under the law that remove all doubt as to the legality of the scrapping and abandoning of the car on the sidewalk:
“authorized officer”: any member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force
“litter”: solid waste in any public place and includes any refuse, rubbish, bottles, glass, debris, dirt, rubble, ballast, stones, noxious or contained substances or waste matter or any other matter likely to deface, make untidy, obstruct or cause a nuisance in a public place
“public place”:  includes every public highway, street, road, square, court, alley, lane, bridle way, footway, parade, wharf, jetty, quay, bridge, sidewalk, verge;
After twelve weeks and numerous reports, Mr. Homeowner has reasonably concluded that the police have failed to uphold the law in this situation. The police have been unresponsive. The chassis remains on the sidewalk. Mr. Scrapper remains free. The police, by refusing to act decisively and uphold the law where this scrapped car is concerned, have now created a context that exposes this community to the possibility of even more serious crime.
Indeed, the police have spoken to the offender. This is evidenced by Mr. Scrapper’s anger when speaking to Mrs. Homeowner. One gets the feeling that the police have framed their discussion with this known offender from the point of view of the homeowner: “Mr. So and So wants you to move that car from in front of his home” rather than framing the offence from the point of view of the law! Had the police engaged him by pointing out the offence as it is framed in law, they could have prevented the tension that exists because Mr. Scrapper feels that Mr. Homeowner “a give him a fight.” There are too many examples in Jamaica of lives being lost as a result of interactions borne out of unchecked, escalating tensions between parties; disorder giving rise to so called serious crime.
If Mr. Homeowner sees suspicious activity in a nearby residence, who could blame him if he opts not to report it to the police? He can reasonably conclude after all, that the police are selective in how they go about serving, reassuring and protecting. More serious crime can potentially move in to this community now in the face of decreased levels of informal social control.
The Broken Windows Theory and policing are not without criticism. There are studies showing that zero tolerance has led to uneven prosecution in some areas, minorities being targeted and punished for very minor infractions at a higher rate than their white counterparts in the USA for example.
It would suit the police and political directorate here in Jamaica to consider this approach to crime fighting, however.  We have seen a general decline in law and order: loud music way into the night, filthy cities and communities, deliberate ignoring of zoning laws in residential neighbourhoods seeing a rise in commercial activity, savoury and otherwise (think massage parlours) increased road fatalities from reckless driving and on and on. What have we to lose from an approach that treats with such offences as prescribed by the law? The police appear to be selective in which laws they opt to enforce and how they enforce them. This surely is not their right!
After three months, the police still have an opportunity to do the right thing and re-establish a context of law and order in that West Rural St. Andrew community where a scrapped chassis remains a blemish, health risk and security risk, and an obvious affront to the laws of the land. They must immediately act as the law demands, making it clear that the offender’s actions go beyond upsetting Mr. Homeowner, that they are in clear contravention of the law. They still have an opportunity to act and in so doing, dissuade potential lawbreakers seeing a slow decline in standards in the community from adding to the disorder. They still have an opportunity prevent and possibly reverse the disenchantment and resentment that Mr. Homeowner and his family may feel, maintaining these critical allies, the citizens, without whom crime fighting can never work.
Selective enforcement of the law strips the police of legitimacy, rendering their efforts at crime fighting null and void.

Were this another community, say Kingston 8, or were the sidewalk in front of the Prime Minister’s residence or in front of Mr. Captain of Industry’sor indeed in front of the Commissioner of Police’s residence, would the police response to an abandoned chassis be the same as it has been in this West Rural St. Andrew community?  On what basis does the police decide which laws to enforce and when? “To Serve, Protect and Reassure” is the stated motto of the Jamaica police. Their lack of responsiveness to an action that is in direct contravention of the law of the land suggests that their motto would more accurately read: “To serve, protect and reassure those who matter…” 

The Visit: Yes We Can Clean Up Kingston (apparently!)

President Barack Obama has inspired millions, not just in the USA but the world over. Mr. Obama symbolizes possibility, hope and change. President Obama and his family serve as the face for what family means, specifically, what Black Family means. The Obamas present an alternative to the reality of many and an inspiration for what can be.
Many of here in Jamaica watched with bated breath and crossed fingers as Americans voted for their first black president. His words during his 2009 inauguration inspired Americans, Africans and indeed citizens of the world, as he articulated a vision of a New America, one where everyone would have the same opportunities, of a world where America would co-exist with the other nations on the planet through diplomacy and a focus on mutual benefit rather than seeking to police and wield a big stick. He quoted George Washington: “Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.” This was a timely and relevant message to me personally at a very low point in my own life. I kept on moving. I kept hope alive in my heart.

Jamaica welcomes him with open arms. I am so happy that we seem able to clean house and put our best foot forward to welcome this historic, inspirational figure.  I hope with all my heart that we make a significant impression on Mr. Obama. I hope that he will remember his visit to Jamaica long after he leaves the White House.
It is our own government that I take issue with. Daily we plead with our government for good roads, for garbage collection, for street lights to be repaired, for even an appearance of order. Literally overnight, our government has transformed areas of our city Kingston into oases of clean, orderly, beauty. What we have been clamouring for is apparently not impossibility! What has happened is more than mere clean up to receive and honour distinguished and worthy guests. This is a slap in the face of us tax payers who are forced to exist and live in squalor. To be very clear: it’s the absolute absence of any semblance of reasonable governance ordinarily that makes the preparation for The Visit so offensive.

Let us take pictures of “Kingston Face Lifted” as evidence of what can be done, literally overnight, if government simply makes a decision.

“All of Jamaica (that matters) is Here” Diner en Blanc, Kingston, Jamaica.

I haven’t spoken about Kingston’s Diner en Blanc until now. Shrugs. I simply haven’t felt the need to. It was just another party. The pictures I saw looked beautiful! Diner en Blanc was all about gorgeous people in white, lovely place settings, in the beautiful Emancipation Park.  Diner en Blanc is an international movement. 

Photo courtesy of Diner en Blanc, Kingston’s FaceBook Page 

Then I watched ER’s report on Diner en Blanc. A representative from one of our leading banks made a statement that has been bothering me since Friday night: “All of Jamaica is here”. No, Ma’am. Not at all. 900 people is not all of Jamaica. Did you mean to say “All of Jamaica that matters is here”?Think about it: All of Jamaica (that matters) is here. 

This goes to the heart of what is wrong. It reveals the thinking of many of us. It explains much of what we see around us. “All of Jamaica (that matters) is here.” Us and Them. It informs the dispensing of justice, provision of health care, why some things happen in some communities and not in others. “Us and Them”. As long as those with means continue to pretend as if Those Others don’t exist, the chasm between Us and Them will grow wider. Then guess what happens…Resentment foments. Decisions are compromised by conditions conducive for The Next WillingNigger.  Us and Them. 
Diner en Blanc was never an issue. It is the thinking, betrayed in a relaxed moment, perhaps shared by others there that illustrates Jamaica’s fundamental issue.

Dis ya Jamaica? People mortgaging themselves to the hilt to drive the right car, while living in rented accommodations. People who beg in secret for invitations to the Right Occasions. People racking up debt to look the part. People making these choices simply because appearances matter so much in today’s Jamaica.

The bank’s corporate presence at Diner en Blanc illustrates another reality and underscores the point I am trying to make about decision making being driven by the importance of appearances rather than firm principle in support of growth and development. Fact: It is easier to get a $7M loan to buy one of Mr. New Car Dealer’s new It cars than it is to get $2M to retool a factory. 

Appearances > Productivity.

“All of Jamaica (that matters) is Here”. Stay woke, Jamaica. Remember the Tipping Point.  

Independence: Nothing more than a warm and fuzzy feeling at best. Remembering Tisha.

I’m sad. In 1962 Jamaicans were hopeful as we claimed our independence from Britain. It is 2015. Here we are. It makes the news when an eternally malfunctioning elevator at the public hospital in Kington is fixed. Horror stories, almost unbelievable, about the absence of basic medical supplies in the public health system become a daily fixture on radio talk shows.  Bombarded with one political scandal after another (think Trafigura, Cuban Light Bulb, Manat-Phillips-Phelps, Finsac, Tivoli incursion to name a few) our numbness renders us impassive to constitutional breeches that could have serious repercussions down the road. If you’ve ever been the position of having to find suitable hires, then I need not regale you with how the educational system has failed. We have had rehashed anti-crime programmes thrust upon us ad naseum, with nothing but rising crime, more sophisticated in its organisation. The generation before my own has failed, and I suspect that my own children will say that we have failed them too. We haven’t fought for better. We have tolerated mediocrity, and some of us have been complicit when it suited a personal agenda.

This morning I remembered Tisha*. Tisha was a HEART trainee with the organisation. She was quiet and diligent. She was well spoken and shy. One morning she brought some documents to my office for my signature. She greeted me with her quiet voice and pleasant smile. As I scanned the documents and signed, we began talking. I am a prober by nature. I stopped signing and sat back. She had caught my attention with her thoughtful, well constructed answers to my probing. It turned out that Tisha had 10 CSEC subjects, sciences included. Yet here she was, a filing clerk in a programme that demanded no more than 4 CSEC subjects.

“I wanted to go to 6th form to do A levels and then head on to University to do medicine. But my family couldn’t afford it. My father told me that it was time for me to get a job and do my part.” 

I probed further.

“I wanted to do medicine” she explained with a sad smile.

“So what is your plan B then?” I insisted.

Tisha was stumped. The notion of a plan, much less a plan B had never occurred to her.

“Listen” I said…”Med school may be out of your reach. Let me be honest with you. But that does not mean that you have to put all professional aspirations on hold. If I told you that you could go to University, but that you couldn’t do medicine, what would you do?”

“Accounts” she offered.

“Now we can plan!” I said excitedly.

“But I have to have A levels” she said worriedly.

“No, no, no! To do A levels now would add years and cost to your journey. Here’s what you can do: get out of this HEART internship and get a real job. Then apply to UTECH. Then apply for a student’s loan.”

We had the start of a plan. Every week I’d check with Tisha re: the job hunt. In about 2 months she told me that she had a firm offer that would pay her much more than the HEART position. I guided her with respect to the timing of the resignation from HEART. I took her to the Students Load Bureau and guided her application to UTECH.

Tisha moved on. I heard that she was doing a degree in Business Admin at UTECH and I rejoiced. Tisha had been suffering a double whammy: lack of resources and lack of guidance.

I ran into Tisha about 4 years later at the public library. We embraced, and then she introduced me to her toddler daughter shyly. I cut straight to to chase: “So did you finish your degree?”

“No” she replied softly, head down. “I had one more year to do, but I had to stop.”

I encouraged her to enquire about the possibility of doing it part-time, and of the need to marshal all her resources into completing that degree.

I never kept in touch. I hope her story ended well.

Free education was never really free. As a nation we never defined how education would be paid for. The result has been a diminishing quality of product year after year after year.

Decades after so called independence, our safety nets and support structures for a marginalized population are not at all robust. Our young lack opportunities and guidance. Independence bestowed a warm and fuzzy feeling. Not a thing more.

What next then?

I suspect that we will have to an about face for better to come. The current trajectory, be it green or orange will continue the descent into poverty, inequity and hopelessness.

*name changed

The Slave Trade, Maroons, Windscreen Wipers and Reparations: I want to know.

The white man was aided and abetted in getting us to this side of the world.  He went in with shiny baubles and found willing helpers all along the west coast of Africa. Slavery, we were taught, was not new in the motherland. Triumphant tribes dominated hapless members of the defeated tribe and put them to work. When pale skinned humans on huge boats showed up on Her shores, armed and heavy laden with trinkets, it would seem that our brothers thought little of handing their own conquests over to these strangers in exchange for bounty from the strangers.

Accurate representation of what happened in West Africa or not?

Those of us who survived the horror of the Middle Passage and the rough initiation into work and torture and rape and destruction of familial ties on the Pale Skinned’s  plantations were about to face yet another betrayal. Some intrepid warrior-slaves fled the plantations in Jamaica and headed for the hills. In that mountainous, beautiful terrain, communities of these braves lived and hid and warred with the British militia. Their survival was due in large part to their own skill at bush and jungle war craft. Legendary members of this mountain community live on today in poems and stories of their exploits: Tacky the Chieftain, Three Finger Jack and Nanny of the Maroons, herself a national hero of Jamaica.
Jamaican Maroons are often described as enslaved Africans and persons of noticeable African descent who ran away or escaped from their masters or owners to acquire and preserve their freedom.
But their survival was also due to agreements that they made with the British. These fearless braves secured their own survival at the expense of other runaway slaves who were seeking a way out of slavery and who also headed for the hills. They handed over these their brethren to the British as a peace offering.

What was the full story of the Maroons and their relationship with the British?

Consider too the story of another one of Jamaica’s national heroes, Paul Bogle. Paul Bogle led a protest against harsh economic conditions. He marched with a throng to the courthouse in Morant Bay. The British authorities of the day there panicked, responded with undue force, and it was at this stage that the protest morphed into a rebellion. Lives were lost in the upheaval. And the Maroons were the ones who captured Bogle and handed him over to the British. Paul Bogle was hanged the very next day.

Paul Bogle, National Hero

To be sure, there is great controversy today over Maroon history in Jamaica. I certainly do not have the answers.  And I am mindful of the absolutely true sentiment:“Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”. 

Still I ask: what role did our own really play in our history, in our enslavement by Europeans, in our forced journey to the west?

Any discussions about the evils of slavery and its reverberations right into 2015 society must contemplate this question. I do not pose this question in a bid to excuse the white man or to in any way diminish what he did. The white man was the architect of this evil scheme to enrich himself and his own homeland at the expense of the lives, culture and humanity of the peoples of Africa. But full resolution never happens outside of the anything the full truth. The truth in all its uncomfortable, awkward glory is what I seek.

We were heading towards Downtown Kingston yesterday, H and I. It was a rare occasion that found us traveling together to work. I had just dropped my own car at the dealer for servicing and he graciously consented to pick me up there and drop me to work. The courtesy shuttle offered by the dealer would have seen me getting to office perilously close to 9:30am when I had a scheduled meeting.  In the vicinity of Three Miles, the usual swarm of windscreen wipers made their way hungrily through the throttling cars in the traffic. Every single morning, I, the lone person, the lone female in my car tell them “NO”. They beg, they press up against my window, they beg some more, I keep saying “NO.” They approached H’s big, black, heavily tinted truck. He barely shook his head indicating no, he opened not his mouth, they didn’t miss a beat and kept moving right along. I cussed and railed. These windscreen wipers had obviously looked at my sex and my car and decided that they would try with all their might to extract money from me.  Their quest for money was not based on the principle of  “I need, they all have, let me beg all.” Their quest for money was selective, based on who they perceived was a soft touch and who had money to give them.

Is the quest for reparations fair then? Peoples of African descent this side of the world justifiably seek reparations from former European slavers and colonisers, not unlike the Jews seeking (and getting) restitution from Germany as a result of the Holocaust. But without answers to the question of the role of our African brothers in Africa getting us onto the white man’s slave ships, and without answers to the role of the Maroons in our own history here in Jamaica, is our demand for reparations really based on principle? Are we merely going where we think the money is? 

Look, I don’t know the facts. There are people who have offered reasonable explanations about the role of Africans in the slave trade. I also know that Africa is not a country. But I think that political boundaries notwithstanding, there ought to be a natural unity amongst the black peoples of Africa. I also know that the Maroons were a source of trouble for the British slavers and colonizers, killing, marauding, burning and destabilizing the government and structures of the day. They also inspired many of their African brethren with their radical bravery and cunning against the establishment.

But, I am not convinced that we have answered head-on the question I posed earlier: what role did our own really play in our history, in our enslavement by Europeans, in our forced journey to the west?

I want to know.

Justice, Truth be Ours Forever…What does Justice look like?

Poor Governance… What are our options?

I was frustrated with the present government. I watched our Prime Minister deliver the main address at the PNP annual conference. I listened carefully. “So this is as good as it gets with the PNP? What are our options?” I was desperate for an alternative. But when I looked across to “greener” pastures, that hope dimmed. I blogged then about our need for a credible alternative, and opined that in their present state, I did not think that the JLP was much of a choice. I begged the JLP. I pleaded with them.

I was challenged, on separate, unrelated occasions by two people that I think highly of, whose opinions I respect, to think carefully about what I was saying. Their common thesis was “how can a credible alternative reside in another creature of the same system?” (my words). Think about it. How different are the JLP and the PNP really? Was I looking for mere respite or was I in search of a systemic fix?

The Tivoli Incursion and the Commission of Enquiry into it.

In May 2010, under a JLP government, turmoil in the community of Tivoli, itself a JLP garrison, resulted in 72 civilians being killed. Having initially resisted an extradition order for “community leader” Christopher Coke, then PM Golding eventually capitulated and ordered the security forces to enter Tivoli, where it was thought he was hiding, and extract Coke for hand over to the US authorities. Conflict arose when the security forces came smack dab against resistance from elements in Tivoli. The entire city remained on lock down for a few days. Property was destroyed. People died.  The nation and the world were appalled at what happened.

The Don Reigns Supreme

What were these barricades supposed to do? Who erected them?
Security Forces Ordered In… to do what exactly? What was their mission?

Fast forward to December 2014. The PNP is now in power and with the support of several civic groups and other agencies, has convened a Commission of Enquiry (COE) the terms of reference of which are summarised here.  It seems to me that the aims of this COE fall into two camps: discovery and recommendation. The events leading up to the incursion, the actions of the security forces and the impact on the people and community are all within the scope of the enquiry and the Commission has been tasked as follows: “The Commission… shall make a full and faithful report on and recommendations concerning the aforesaid matters, and transmit the same to His Excellency the Most Honourable Governor General, within two (2) months after concluding its enquiry.”
How Useful are Commissions of Enquiry

How many COEs have we seen in this island since Independence from Britain in 1962?
What has come out of them?
Has governance improved?
Has the standard of living of our people moved up?

The Tivoli COE: Facing what’s in the Mirror

We are now into the second week of the Tivoli COE and I am disturbed.
What I have seen and heard have caused me to confront some of my own prejudices and some ugly truths about Jamaica in 2014.

Maiden Cay
Out of Many, Two Jamaicas


From Day 1 of the enquiry, I have grappled with this observation:The COE is being conducted in two languages. For the most part, the people giving testimony are doing so in Patois, but the lawyers are questioning in English. The need for clarification has come up repeatedly. Conflict between the written statements of the witnesses and what they are actually saying in the enquiry come up over and over again. You see, the people speak only Patois. But their written statements are in English. Are the discrepancies evidence of lies or are they misalignments, “lost in translation” as it were ? 

I searched myself to uncover the discomfort I felt listening to the two languages operating in the same space. I think that it demonstrates that though we are “out of many” we are certainly not one Jamaica. We know this intrinsically (KPH vs Tony Thwaites, Prep school vs Primary School, Ft Clarence vs Maiden Cay, air conditioned SUV vs JUTC…) but the language divide throws this sad truth into sharp relief.  “Sad” truth because despite the passage of time…the years since 1838, the years since 1944, the years since 1962, right now, in 2014, with successive governments of our own choosing, from among us, there is a part of Jamaica that struggles to simply communicate with the seemingly more powerful, more resourced, more articulate in the universally accepted language of the World, part of Jamaica. With so much “lost in translation” will the nation get the truth? Will all stories be told and be understood? And if at the end of the day truth is not revealed, then what’s the use?  

Then there is the other question I asked myself in the face of the inability of sections of our population to converse fluently in English: are we really equipped to compete globally? Who else in the world speaks patois? This is not elitism at work. It is a simple, pragmatic question. I am not an academic seeking to publish an interesting paper on Patois speakers and their inherent expressiveness. Or on the history and structure of Patois as a language. All of that is nice, and it fills journals and makes for great presentations at international conferences. Jamaica has to compete globally. We have to communicate, express, market and sell. Think on these things.

What does Justice Look Like?

Albeit early days, most of the citizens testifying have come around to the matter of restitution. They want money. Sure some of them have declared that they want recognition as people, that they felt as if they were treated as animals. But it always comes back to money. I was again disturbed by this. How can they want justice yet they always come back to money? I was challenged when I voiced my discomfort: “So what does justice look like to you, Kelly? And what do you think justice looks like to that woman whose son was killed in Tivoli, Kelly? What does it look like to that man who was beaten, Kelly? Whose picture of justice is right?” 

My picture of justice is filtered through my middle class lens. My basic needs are taken care of: I eat, I have shelter, I am safe, I am loved and I love. I have the space, fiscal and intellectual, to contemplate more seemingly abstract concepts of universal fairness, governance systems and sustainable development, for example. What if I did not know where my next meal was coming from? What if I felt oppressed by State Agencies put in place to enforce the law of the land, but I lived in a community with its own code of conduct, where loyalty and obedience to the Don were the immediate imperative, my survival depending on how well I did this? What if this was all I knew? After all, I had never traveled or read or conceived of an alternative way of living… What would justice look like to me then?

I don’t think that the mechanism of a Commission of Enquiry will uncover truth. All sides are lawyering up in order to get/preserve their version of justice. Just as I am not naive enough to believe that just because you speak English while wearing a suit means that you are telling the truth, I am not naive enough to believe that your colourful, expressive testimony in patois with your wrapped head and humble skirt means truth. Lies are told in both Patois and English. Motivations are the same: self protection and self enrichment. So where do we go from here?
The Cause of the Problem cannot be the Solution to the Problem

Consider this: Garrisons and Dons are a construct of the Politician. It was a way of securing and mobilising large blocks of votes in order to secure power. Both the PNP and the JLP have associated garrisons and dons. 

Over time, the Don has evolved beyond the politician as his power source. He amassed wealth through his own means and wielded influence outside of the Politician.The balance of power shifted. The Politician now had to kowtow to the Don in order to keep his voting blocks secure. 

The same Politician who birthed the Don and the Garrison, is the same Politician who sent in the Security Forces in the face of pressure and embarrassment. When the people demonstrate loyalty to their new boss the Don, and people die, that same Politician convenes a Commission of Enquiry to do what? Elicit truth? Seek justice? Justice for whom? And what does that justice look like? 

Don’t seek to differentiate between JLP and PNP. The scenario that played out in May 2010 and the COE in 2014 could well have happened in another garrison, with different administrations playing alternate roles. 

The Solution cannot reside with either the PNP or the JLP

Toggling between the JLP and PNP has landed us here. Their antecedents are the same. Their mechanisms are the same. Only the individuals differ.

The move from slavery to being a freed people under Britain, to becoming an independent nation took many years. It took challenging to laws of the day and agitating for change to move us along that trajectory. It took demonstrations. It took representation at the highest levels. Perhaps we just got too unwieldy and expensive for Britain to keep us on as a colony. Once we decided what we wanted however, we had to go after it. 

Perhaps Jamaicans will have to challenge the status quo in similar fashion… how else will the systemic issues that allow successive governments to build and secure enclaves and plunder and hide and lie and reward loyalty change? 

So What does justice look like?

The Jamaican middle class, the “Articulate Minority” stretched and growled in unprecedented manner the other day. Offended at the casual dismissal by a senior government official in seeking to differentiate between veranda talkers and tweeters here in Jamaica, and the voting, political base that keeps governments in power, middle class Jamaica lifted their voices. Stepping out of their comfort zone, they made placards and stood in New Kingston to voice their indignation at being dismissed out of hand and at the latest display of poor governance. 

The Articulate Minority Dec 1 2014

Perhaps we ought to stretch ourselves just a little more out of comfort zones and consider matters of justice that impact lives and society beyond our own.  

It is past the time to allow the Politician to hoodwink us. Do you really expect anything to come out of this COE given the roots of the issue and the authors of said issues?

It is time to press for real change…not just change of government, the same old systems remaining intact. Justice will come from systemic change that makes it difficult for corruption and inequity to prevail. 

The people of Tivoli need justice. The increasingly pressured middle class need justice. Members of the security forces operating under orders need justice. We who can, must articulate a vision of Justice. We must press for it. I am aware that significant change doesn’t often happen overnight. But still we must press. We must guard those institutions and systems that offer even a measure of protection from marauding politicians. Even while acknowledging that toggling between orange and green is not The Solution, I cannot distance myself from one of the basic mechanisms left to us to effect change. Perhaps incremental change towards new systems, enacted by the party that wants our votes the most will prevent total destruction while we crawl towards a better day. 

Clyde Williams, PNP member and lawyer, this morning posted this as his status on Facebook:

I have turned to Norman Manley’s speeches and writings to keep faith with the historical mission of the PNP, and to remind myself of some foundation ideals of this young democracy. In his address at the public session of Conference, 15 November 1964, Nettleford (1971, Selected Speeches) reports Norman Manley to have said, in talking about abuse of power, “Already men say when they hear of wrong: ‘what can I do about it?’ But for every time you allow wrong to pass unrebuked, you are breaking down the will to resist, and step by step you will find yourself left without courage to fight for what you believe in. Therefore, it is a duty to resist where resistance is right.”

The walls around our properties can only go so high. Our air-conditioned SUVs will continue to take us to select destinations until blockades and raging fires keep us prisoners in our own homes. To feel safe because you are in that section of society where a police will not drape up your son, or lock up your man for days, or where you can see your private health care provider in comfort and secure your child in private school is a to dwell in a fool’s paradise.  After all, “justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.

Simply Black and White… is it really?

This video by a white looking former beauty contestant Jamaican woman (Rosina Casserly) caused a bit of stir recently. In the video, she spoke about crime, the Chick V epidemic, and aspects of Jamaica other than balmy days sipping Appleton while waves lap around our feet… That she did this in a forum open to the world, and that she did it jokingly caused offence to many.

Anthony Bourdain’s “Part’s Unknown” CNN feature focusing on Jamaica (first aired on CNN November 16) also caused some reaction. In true Bourdain style, his story sought to capture the essence of the destination by delving into more than food and drink.  As he always does, Bourdain tried to present the viewer with more than one angle, seeking to create a context for a more rounded understanding. A Jamaica tourist board feature it was not.  Some people loved it while other declared embarrassment.

There’s a very strong sentiment that we as Jamaican’s ought not to “air dirty linen in public”. We once had a US Ambassador stationed here who dared to level an observation, ok, a criticism then, that as a country we tended to laud announcements rather than accomplishments. What an ant’s nest he stirred up with that statement! Not surprisingly to me, the discussion about the ambassador’s statement had more to do with who made the statement and where the statement was made, with almost zero thought given to the actual veracity of the statement. In Jamaica, form trumps principle every single time. We are extremely hung up on appearances and so called protocols without spending half of that attention and energy on the actual issue. People: we are too destitute and too deeply mired in the mess created over the years by our leaders to waste time on form. I insist.

But let’s come back to the video mentioned at the top of this post shall we. Kei Miller, brilliant Jamaican writer (his ability to articulate thought always leaves me satisfied and smiling…check out his blog) posted a comment critical of the video which eared him the ire of some other on-line commentators and the ire of the video star herself. Kei’s criticsm of the video was immediately slotted into the category of “he’s critical because the girl is a white girl and he’s black.” In his usual clear, thoughtful, introspective manner, Kei provided context for what ensued.  I read and reread his blog post on the matter. Kei boldy goes where many tiptoe around and pretend as if it really doesn’t exist. But lemme ask you this: had that identical monologue done by Casserly been done by Ity and Fancy Cat, would it have been assessed in the same way? Would it have evoked the same reactions? Divides based on skin colour exist in Jamaica. We make judgments in this country based on skin colour, Yes, yes, yes…we proudly declare in our national motto: “Out of many, one people”. Right.


At intermission, I rushed with my young charge to the ladies room. Apparently, every other female in the house was on the same mission. The line was long. I took my place at the back of the line and prayed to God that it would move quickly. Two white looking girls, about 14 years of age, sauntered in chatting merrily to themselves. They swung their long, straight hair up into ponytails as they walked in and I watched in utter amazement as they breezed past us in the long line and simply took their place at the head of the line. Now the original head of said line was a woman, black skin, about 40 years of age. By this time, I am totally focused on what is unfolding before me. I ignored my young charge as I gave full attention to this scene. Black Woman looked annoyed, rolled her eyes and shifted her weight to her other foot as she folded her arms tightly across her chest. No one said anything, not even Black Woman. In a split second I decided that I was giving her exactly 20 seconds to take action, and if she failed to do so, I was going to step in. …19, 20, time up! I commanded my charge to stay put, and I took 3 strides to the top of the line and leaned in towards the girls. In a loud, clear, voice, calm though, I declared to them: “This is a line. This is where it starts, look at where it ends, You join the line down there.”  They looked around in confusion, the confusion changed to obvious embarrassment, and they said sorry and moved to the back of the line. I went back to  my own place in the line, not daring to look  at Black Woman lest she see the disappointment I felt. In her. I had questions… Why didn’t she stand up for herself? Why did those white looking girls not see the line? I really don’t think they were malicious… they were simply behaving as they always did in their context of relative privilege.


Back in the early ’90’s, for a while, I used to take public transport between Kingston and Mandeville. I was engaged in on-farm research near Spur Tree and the project didn’t as yet have an assigned vehicle. It was not uncommon for the mini and coaster buses that I used to take to be stopped by police at random at various points along the route. All passengers had to disembark so the police could search for weapons and ganja. 9 out of 10 times that we were stopped for this search, the police would say to me: “Browning: you can stay inna di bus. Is aright. Si dung.” The special treatment afforded me started from the bus park, where the loader man or driver would signal to me: “Browning, come si dung inna di front.”


I knew someone who was summoned to jury duty years ago. She told me that she watched on in amazement at how the foreman was selected. See the selection criteria there… (sub-heading above). And no one objected. Including the person I knew. She wasn’t interested in the position and saw no point in introducing contention.


The last time I combed my daughter’s hair was when she was in grade 4. She has a huge and gorgeous head of hair. Washing and combing it demanded prayer and fasting and push ups and pull ups…for the two of us. On this particular occasion, as her tresses got the better of me, I sighed and heaved and sucked my teeth. My normally quiet, reserved 9 year old angel said quietly, but clearly: “White woman can’t manage black woman hair.” I was stunned into silence. I was hurt that my baby saw a difference between us.  I was puzzled. We both struggled through what would be our last hair episode (that’s why God invented hairdressers) and a few days later, after I figured I had processed it sufficiently, we spoke. I told her that shades of blackness was an artificial construct devised to divide the African slave population.  That we as black people bought into it as we failed to recognise the glory and beauty of our black selves and instead looked at whiteness as an aspirational ideal. Mi tell har fi stop it.

Me and Rachie
Her Glorious Mane!

If you live in this country, then you have at least ten more stories that you can place right alongside only the 3 stories that I have chosen to share. I haven’t spoken bout how I was called coolie girl or white girl at my primary school. I haven’t shared how I was trying to make a point in a group discussion during high school and was laughed out of the room when I started with: “We as black people…”  My parents, especially my mother, had a very strong sense of who they were, and passed that on to all six of us.

My Darling Antecedents

I remember being puzzled when an old white man who was also attending the rose conference I was attending in Detroit politely asked me: “What are you?” My answer that I was Jamaican added to his confusion.

“But you aren’t white, are you? Are you black?” 

Yes I am. I come from the Caribbean where there was a whole lot of raping of black women by white men, and intermarriage between Indians, Chinese, Blacks and Whites”. Thus ended that convo.

We like to sing “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery” and we are taught to recite: “Out of Many One People”.   I don’t think we get it. We still draw lines and make judgments based on colour (and the colour and class relationship can be thrown into the mix too) in Jamaica.

I have never lived anywhere other than the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Grenada). This is merely my experience, in the skin that I was born with. Other persons, born in a different skin, have other experiences that though different from mine, illuminate the very real colour divide in Jamaica. H insists that as a nation, as a people, we still haven’t recovered from slavery. He may be right.

Transformation through Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Lessons from Israel

Twenty two years ago, while a post graduate student in the Botany Department of the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, I did a two month course at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot campus. Those were the glory days when USAID money flowed freely through the Jamaica Agricultural Development Foundation, with the aim of creating a cadre of agricultural scientists who could and would tackle Jamaica’s specific agricultural problems head on. I was one of several students who benefited from this funding. We pursued post graduate degrees in agriculture, engaged in on-farm research and solved real life problems.The Israeli government partnered with JADF in sponsoring our participation in this sub tropical horticulture course.
I was struck first of all by the aggression of the Israeli nationals on the El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv. They were noisy and boisterous and the Hasidic Jews on the flight had no problem congregating towards the rear of the aircraft to say prayers at the appointed time. Flight attendants were hard pressed to maintain order. I remember chuckling to my then 24 year old self at the realization that there were people that matched the aggression of Jamaicans.
The second thing that struck me during my stay in Israel was the obvious unity among the Israelis. The janitor who cleaned the labs was treated with the same respect as the professors churning out scientific breakthroughs, and both groups treated each other with respect. The sight of professors tutoring undergraduate students in the university cafeteria was a common one, very different from my own experience at UWI. Laboratories, classrooms and enclaves were constantly abuzz with activity and vigorous debate.  Knowledge was freely shared.
The other thing that impressed me, and that I still reference to this day, was Israel’s approach to problem solving. Israel is not a nation blessed with fertile arable land and to say that water supply is a challenge is perhaps an understatement. Yet they are the source of many agricultural breakthroughs today.  Think drip irrigation… placing water precisely at the root zone, adding nutrients to said water, enabled crop production on the most marginal of land. It was amazing to drive through the desert and see swatches of green springing up. This was problem solving at its best! How to farm in the desert? Don’t bring more water: use less more efficiently!
Israel produced temperate fruit crops like apples and pears right there in the desert. This allowed them to capitalize on the European markets that are typically out of stock of these products when traditional producers shut down during the winter periods. Israel could have accepted at face value that these crops could not be grown in their conditions because after all, there is a huge and obvious difference between Israel’s climate and that of the temperate producers. But not being satisfied with a simple, obvious answer, Israeli scientists dug deeper and determined that the bud break seen post winter in temperate climes is not as a result of weeks of subzero temperatures, but rather exposure for a specific, very narrow band of time to these temperatures and light conditions. They simulated these conditions on potted apple and pear trees in refrigerated containers and bud break ensued as they knew it would. Thereafter, it became a simple matter to move them to open fields in the desert, feeding and watering them via drip irrigation (what else?) and making a ton of money via elegant, empirical problem solving
So fast forward 22 years to today. We were bemoaning the sad state that Jamaica finds itself in today, where passing IMF tests has superseded our own vision for ourselves and our nation. We were bemoaning the absence of hope and opportunity for our children. We were bemoaning the apparent levels of corruption that compromise decision making and further impoverish us as a nation.  We bemoaned the apparent absence of leadership able to transform our circumstances.  I posited a model for economic development that called for community based enterprises to rise up, provide said leadership, generate economic activity and empower and enrich Jamaica one community at a time. This can only happen through an innovative, pragmatic approach to problem solving.
My father and sister recommended that I read Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle (Senor and Singer, 2011). Suspend your politics for a moment and consider the facts. Israel is a nation that was birthed only in 1948, described by Shimon Peres, former leader of Israel, as “a poor people coming home to a poor land”.  Israel’s only capital was its human capital. They were surrounded by their enemies. They faced numerous economic and political embargoes. Yet still Israel today boasts a phenomenal number of start-ups. They are undisputed leaders in the high tech world that drives product development and commerce today. The book explained the observations that I made two decades earlier.  Senor and Singer proffered a number of reasonable questions aimed at uncovering the reasons for Israel’s relative success: did Israel’s adversity, like necessity, breed inventiveness? Did Israel have more talented people than any other country in the world? Perhaps it was the moderating impact of their military, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). But other countries have faced adversity, have well developed militaries and possess any number of talents citizens.  Through a number of well documented examples, the authors offered the following as reasons for Israel’s entrepreneurial and innovative successes: tenacity, insatiable questioning of authority (I called it aggression) determined informality (remember the professors and students, ancillary workers and academic staff?) a unique attitude towards failure and risk, teamwork and a mission orientation, and cross disciplinary creativity. 
I have tried to identify parallels between Jamaica and Israel, seeking to identify jump off points for us as far as revving up entrepreurship and innovation are concerned. I will touch on the main issues I think that explain why we, unlike Israel, have not developed since coming into our own nationhood in 1962. I dare you to challenge that last statement by the way… we are NOT better off today than we were in 1962. 
 Jamaica exhibits a cultural paradigm that cuts across public and private sectors that I refer to as “a preference for form over substance”. The “right way” seems to be more important than the “right thing”. The result is that we waste time ensuring that we don’t cause offence and we appease the right people at the expense of true problem solving.  Committees are formed and meetings are held and announcements are made and this is all applauded even when there is no transformation resulting from these activities…form over substance. Perhaps, per Senor and Singer, we should reframe our interpretation of aggression as assertiveness rather than insolence, and instead of a label of insubordination, look at it as critical, independent thinking. 
Consider too how we treat failure and our approach to risk management. Every military exercise carried out by the IDF is followed by the all important de-briefing. Here is where actions and outcomes are dissected in order to extract those critical learning necessary to raise the bar the next time round. What I observe in the public sector is an entire absence of tracking against goals, and the commensurate analysis that should be done to understand the present state against a desired state. The only meaningful tracking of government performance against stated goals, is a private sector led monitoring of performance against the IMF agenda. Where is Vision 2030 today? My own experiences suggest that the very opposite happens in some private sector settings today. There is goal setting and tracking of performance against these objectives. But a so called undesirable outcome is dealt with by a change of personnel and quiet abandonment of the original plan rather than an empirical understanding of the failure so as to get it right the next time around.  There is very little understanding and appreciation for so-called “smart failures”.
I still struggle with exactly how my (admittedly partially thought through) community based model for development will lift us from our current quagmire. Sure, private enterprises can create internal cultures that run counter to national cultural paradigms of how we perceive authority, how authority perceives itself, form over substance and so on. And certainly, the national benefits to be derived from a private sector which successfully develops an entrepreneurial and innovative culture go without saying.  But I suspect that based on where we are today, there is a critical role that state leadership must play.  You see, Israel had the direct involvement of the state from the very beginning in terms of setting policy and providing funding and setting the direction.  Israel benefited from the pragmatism of Ben-Gurion in the early days, and later on from the tenacity and can (must) do attitude of subsequent leaders. Jamaica, unlike Israel, is blessed with an abundance of natural resources…we have fertile soil, water sources, and raw materials with which to create prosperity as long as we stop abusing our environment. We have a naturally feisty people, but over the years, a culture of patronage and a swapping of colonial subjugation for home grown, ineffective (and I’m being kind here) leadership have failed to leverage our natural inclination to buck the status quo.

Is it beyond us, is it too late for Jamaica to become an entrepreneurial, innovative country and reverse our current trajectory?

Language (Music) versus Science

So the other day, en route to school and work, the conversation took a very interesting turn.  The following question was posited: “We accept that the world today is a better place than it was during the era of the Cavemen.  Is it this way because of scientific advances or because of the arts…use of language specifically?”

Little Master and Miss World offered their view points, but none of us was able to offer a definitive answer.  I opened the discussion to the Circle of Truth.  The Circle of Truth consists of my 5 siblings, my parents and depending on the topic, we’ll include my Cousin Robbie, an academic with a wicked sense of humour and very sharp political chops. Anyone makes a comment, asks a question, offers an opinion via email since we are all over the globe, and the Circle of Truth weighs in with the candor and wit that characterizes my beloved family. This particular topic didn’t stimulate a lot of chatter…only about 10 emails.  Other topics have yielded up to 50 emails… sigh.  I love them. But I kept pondering this question.

The other day H and I were discussing Obama and his performance in this second term. That’s a whole other post, and one that I feel ill-equipped to tackle, given my (lack of) proximity to where the action is at and my ignorance of The System in Washington, which has probably contributed to his sub par delivery on our expectations.  The point though is this: Obama is a brilliant orator whose deliverables haven’t matched up to his words.  So the question: Of what use eloquence and pretty language?

I remember the first time I heard Barak Obama.  This young, black senator from Illinois was addressing some democratic convention or other.  My TV was tuned to CNN and I was walking up and down tidying beds and folding laundry.  I think the first thing that got my attention was his cadence…”That’s a black man!”, I thought to myself.  I started to listen to his words. I found myself putting down the clothes and sitting on the edge of my bed.  I was transfixed.  He painted a vision so compelling, he articulated a point so eloquently that I, by the single act of merely listening to him, felt drawn into what he was saying.  I remember declaring to H that evening when he came home that there was a young black Democratic senator from Illinois that we should keep our eye on.  “He’s going places” I declared. The rest, as they say, is history.

 So he sounded good.  He got our attention. Fast forward to January 2009, Obama’s inauguration speech.  The whole world was tuned in I would think.  Here was the first black president of the USA, a country where not a generation earlier, blacks were relegated to the back of the bus. I was no different.  I was in my office, huddled with a few colleagues and one consultant. There was silence as we hung on his every word.  Every hair on my body stood on end as Obama approached the end of his speech and uttered the following:

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

 In that moment, Obama was talking to me. I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I felt as if I had nothing. But like Washington stated, hope and virtue, available from within, were the only resources I had at my disposal, and by God, I was NOT going to be defeated.

During his campaign, Obama ignited the hopes of millions with a simple phrase: “Yes we can.” Americans voted in record numbers because all of a sudden, possibility thinking took hold.  And this started with words. With language.  That he may not have delivered to date as we hoped has nothing to do with what he was able to do with his words.  There are reasons, and we ought not to diminish the impact and utility of his language despite execution challenges.

Throughout the ages, words have inspired, have articulated, have illuminated, have challenged and expressed.  Words are the medium by which we explain and wrangle new insights from the world around us.  Without language, we perhaps would be unable to progress scientifically. There is nothing more beautiful to me that a well articulated thought. Words turn me on.

Which leads me to music. William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697 declared:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

 We concur. Music has soothed me in troubled times…has stirred faith in uncertain times.. has energised me when I needed it…has expressed my deepest feelings when I’ve felt inarticulate…has given vent to violent emotions of anger and hurt. Music has also simply connected at a very soulish level and allowed me to simply derive absolute pleasure.

There were times when I sang this simple church chorus and got life…strength to progress to the next moment:

“You are not a God created by human hands….
You are God alone…”

There are moments when I feel the need to channel my inner gangster against The Man and in those instances Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thang” becomes my anthem.

And there are songs that express my feelings of love and my need for physical satisfaction way more eloquently than I ever could: Let’s Stay Together, Sexual Healing, Would you Mind, Rock me Tonight….

Is it the lyrics? What role do the melody and the beat play?
One may argue that it is the lyrics (words) that are the agents of hope for tomorrow. Even if this is so, it is melody that provides a vehicle by which we internalise and take on these lyrics that take life within us.  And I cannot ignore the rhythm.  I am no musicologist, but I can certainly declare the effect on my emotions and feelings of certain rhythms, certain beats… the pulsating sexuality of Sexual Healing and Bump and Grind, the bounce of Show and Tell, the slow grind of That’s the Way  Love Goes and the gotta-get-up and dance of Got to be real for example.

Melody, by and of itself, also gives life. Think. There is an almost acoustic version of the Taxi rhythm, with a dominant piano presence that forces me to stop and revel in the rhythmic beat and hypnotic riffs of what is arguably one of the baddest reggae rhythms in life. The first movement of the Sonata Pathetique by Beethoven, which I heard for the first time as as 13 year old doing piano lessons struck, impressed, impassioned me in such a visceral, organic way that I attempted to learn it…Beethoven remains my favourite classical composer. I sense turbulence and passion throbbing beneath his distinct, beautiful melodies that somehow connects with my own deep running undercurrents, almost invisible to passersby in the face of a seemingly together facade on the surface…

I am not qualified to dissect the impact of melody and rhythm and lyrics in the total construct that we define as music and quantify their relative impact. I can only share with you what music as a whole does for me.

So let’s go back to the original question: “We accept that the world today is a better place than it was during the era of the Cavemen.  Is it this way because of scientific advances or because of the arts…use of language specifically?”

As I contemplated this question I chuckled to myself this afternoon as I made my way home.  Last night we enjoyed the best of R&B music at the Soul in the Sun music festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  Peabo Bryon, Jeffery Osbourne and Freddie Jackon stirred my soul. I was literally on my feet from 7pm until 2:30 am when we left. I was the designated driver who did the 3 hour commute back home, windows wide open, radio on to prevent me from falling asleep at the wheel. It was totally worth it. I grooved. I rocked. I felt.  Why was it so important to me to rank art vs science? Isn’t it obvious that they both can and should co-exist as equals? That there is no science without art.. that none is better than the other… That as humans we are indeed multi-dimensional, housers of both the Scientist and the Artist. The Scientist cannot work without the Artist giving him a voice and inspiration. The Artist will not survive without the benefits emanating from the Scientist’s work.

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