Black Jamaicans Not Entitled To Leisure

Carlton Reynolds posted this wishful comment on The Gleaner’s website in response to my column, “Racial politics in Jamaica,” published on August 28: “I hope you will not be allowed to write this column again, you are a very irresponsible woman obsessed with the past and using it to create hatred and division.”

No wonder history is not a compulsory subject in Jamaican schools! It seems as if some of us are afraid of the lessons of the past. We refuse to acknowledge the fact that so many of our current social problems are the direct legacy of our brutal history. Our society was founded on the sustained abuse of enslaved Africans. Their sole value was their labour, both skilled and manual, that was forcibly used to create wealth for white plantation owners.

“View of Trinity Estate, St Mary’s, from James Hakewill’s Picturesque tour of the island of Jamaica (1825)”

But even those exploitative British capitalists knew that leisure was essential for the survival of the system of slavery. Sunday was a day of rest from the twelve-hour shifts that labourers were forced to endure for most of the week. Some of the day was used for work on land allotted for food production. Yes, it was still work. But they were working for themselves.

On Sundays, there was also time for leisure activities. Singing and dancing were the primary forms of recreation. And even though drumming was outlawed, Africans creatively used their own bodies as musical instruments. They rhythmically clapped their hands and stomped their feet, reclaiming their humanity in the pure pleasure of artistic expression. This is the history of Sunday as a day of leisure in Jamaica.


These days, church in its variety of forms is the place where many working-class Jamaicans make a joyful noise unto the Lord on Sunday. For some, their day of rejoicing is Saturday. Religion is therapy, relieving the stresses of the workweek. Or, even worse, unemployment! Men and woman who routinely engage in menial labour dress up in their finery for church. They step out in style. They know that their job is not their identity.

“Dressed For Church
Mrs Richards [and child]. She was probably a pimento picker on the Windsor estate near St Anns, Jamaica. . . . Taken sometime in 1912.”

Sunday is also the primary day of secular pleasure in Jamaica. Going to the beach for a sea bath is a long-established recreational activity. But it is becoming more and more difficult for the majority of Jamaicans to gain access to beaches. We are excluded from the best beaches on the island. These are reserved for tourists and upper-class Jamaicans.

Politicians of both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party have failed to ensure that all Jamaicans can enjoy the natural resources of our country. We are the laughing stock of the rest of the Caribbean. On a visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands, I asked a taxi driver about beach access. When he realised I was from Jamaica, he laughed and said he had heard about our troubles.

Why have the Jamaican elite deliberately shut out most of us from upscale beaches? This is just another chapter in our history of abuse. Leisure is not for black people. Our destiny is to be beasts of burden. And the elite pretend to be shocked when disenfranchised youth engage in criminal activities in an attempt to escape poverty. There is a wicked meme that says, “When Christopher Columbus came to Jamaica he brought three ships: Conship Ginalship Hardship.”


Even Jamaicans who live close to the coast cannot easily access a beach. They have to a pay an entrance fee at most places and cannot take in their own refreshments. For those of us in Kingston and its environs, beach access is even more difficult. Hellshire Beach is no longer viable, except for food. And the cost of entry to Fort Clarence Beach, with its beautiful expanse of sand, is out of the reach of most Jamaicans. It’s $1,000 for adults and $500 for children.

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) used to operate Fort Clarence Beach. The entry fee then was $250 for adults and $100 for children. A family of two adults and four children could go to the beach for less than it now costs a single adult. Mrs Laura Heron, managing director of Guardsman Hospitality Ltd, the private company that currently operates Fort Clarence Beach, gave the rationale for the increased entrance fee in an interview with the Business Observer, published on June 22:

“‘When we reopened in 2019 (after acquiring the lease), we were charging $300 but that could not even pay the lifeguard on the beach and that’s just the reality. We’re not trying to make a lot of money, we just want to be able to pay our staff and when we did an overall costing, for these beaches to be properly maintained, where we have adequate staffing and kept grounds, we can’t charge under $1,000.’”

Mrs Heron also commented on the losses of the UDC: “‘One of the reasons the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) gave up that property for divestment of management was because they were losing about $30 million per year there and even with a head charge, they still weren’t able to maintain it. We are a private sector company, we didn’t take it on to lose money, so we must be able to at least get a return on investment…’

The UDC is on the wrong side of history. Selling out the Jamaican people! Why should a public beach be, essentially, a moneymaking operation? Why did Fort Clarence Beach have to be privatised? Why couldn’t the model of Harmony Beach Park in MoBay be applied in St Catherine? A beautifully maintained beach with no entry fee! Is it because not many foreign tourists visit Fort Clarence Beach? But what about local tourists?


Two Fridays ago, I got an alarming press release from the Jamaica Beach Birthright Environmental Movement (JaBBEM). It stated that, “The world renowned Bob Marley Beach is under imminent and clear threat of public beach access loss and land displacement of Rastafari families living on the adjoining property for more than 50 years. JaBBEM understands that this act of beach access loss and land dispossession is to facilitate the construction of an exclusive hotel by The Woof Group Limited (WGL).”

Bob Marley Beach

Bob Marley Beach is the only long stretch of beach that is easily accessible from Kingston. It’s a fishing beach and there’s no entry fee. Losing that beautiful beach to private sector development would be disastrous. Robert Morgan, minister without portfolio in the office of the prime minister, confirmed that the land adjacent to Bob Marley Beach is privately owned. But the foreshore and the floor of the sea are not. Owners of land next to a beach can make it very difficult for the public to actually get on the beach. This is a problem all across Jamaica.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently made this public declaration: “I have to start to think about legacy. What will Jamaica be? Will it be the same as I came and saw it? I can’t let it be the way I came and saw it.” Cynics will say it’s already worse. I’m recommending an excellent legacy project for Mr Holness. He must do all in his power to ensure that the best beaches in Jamaica are freed from the greedy grasp of hoteliers; and from the careless control of public sector institutions like the Urban Development Corporation. Andrew Holness must acknowledge the fact that black people in Jamaica are entitled to leisure. And this includes the right to enjoy our beautiful beaches.

5 thoughts on “Black Jamaicans Not Entitled To Leisure

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  1. All beaches around the world should be open and free to use by everyone – PERIOD. If you want to make money off of beaches – lease out plots away from the beach for concessions – food, beverages, gifts.

  2. Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:
    Well, I have hardly written about this vexed issue of beach access – but I believe Jamaican citizens do have a right to enjoy their beaches. This issue, that Professor Carolyn Cooper tackles here, keeps coming back and it bothers many Jamaicans – it’s like a sore that is never really healed. Having read a social media post about Fort Clarence Beach – a public beach that although not very beautiful and often windy, was still a nice relaxing place to hang out – I wondered why on earth you now have to pay $1,000 (a tidy sum for many Jamaicans) to go there when there is no perceptible improvement, and the cost of fried/steamed fish has soared. There is so much more to say on this topic. We will get back to it, no doubt, as it’s not going away any time soon (Professor Cooper didn’t mention Little Dunn’s River, which is currently in limbo).

  3. We humans – and it is a worldwide trend – are all trying to rewrite history and ban literature to keep Truth away from posterity. Truth may be abolished and masked but Truth will never die. It will always surface like oil in water. Various stories are created around who was responsible for Christ’s crucifixion, the Holocaust, the Atlantic Slave Trade; books are being banned to hide the Truth around the atrocities directed at African Americans – we are all a bunch of liars, denying truths surrounding our very existence. People say Christ is coming back to fix this – He will not be able to fix this until we all – the human race – learn to be totally unselfish, respect His teachings on how to live together, care for each other, and create PEACE.
    My dear Carolyn, tell that man who opposed your views that the present grows out of the past. Hiding the past only causes sores to fester and destoy the whole human race.

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