On Guard Against Lagarde

img_53b00b821b2cdLast month, as I listened to Christine Lagarde lecture at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, I felt a rush of old-fashioned feminist pride. Here was a woman who had made it to the top of a decidedly patriarchal institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And that wasn’t all.

Forbes magazine ranks Lagarde as the fifth most powerful woman in the world! I wondered how much clawing and scratching, or worse, she’d had to do. Or if men yielded gracefully once they recognised her commanding abilities.

novelettegrant_1Unfortunately, in some quarters, it’s still news that women are capable of leadership at the very highest levels of both public- and private-sector organisations. Like the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). I certainly hope Assistant Commissioner Novelette Grant is on the list of possible replacements for Owen Ellington, who has retired so precipitously. It’s as if he just fell over a precipice.

ACP Grant has paid her dues and she’s ready for the top job. She can definitely do far more than just assist. She can take charge. That loaded word, ‘charge’, is of French origin, meaning ‘burden’. Women can assume the responsibilities of leadership if they are given the opportunity. But the JCF is, unquestionably, a male-dominated institution.

CLOSING GENDER GAP

UnknownIn 1999, the University of the West Indies Press published a book by Sergeant Gladys Brown-Campbell titled Patriarchy in the Jamaica Constabulary Force: Its Impact on Gender Equality. She’s the first policewoman to earn a law degree, building on the foundation of her bachelor’s degree in English. I had the pleasure of teaching her at UWI and I’m quite proud of her accomplishments.

In the ‘Introduction’ to the book, Brown-Campbell outlines her objectives: “To investigate the extent to which patriarchy informs women’s opportunities for career advancement and to discover the extent to which biology influences notions of (in)equality in the organisation.” She comes to an unsurprising conclusion: Men discriminate against women in the JCF. And, even worse, women often sell themselves short. Not wanting to antagonise their male colleagues, they settle for less than they’re worth.

A decade and a half after the publication of that book, some progress must have been made in closing the gender gap in the police force. But is it enough? Are we ready for a female commissioner? And if not, why not? Why can’t a talawa Jamaican woman lead the JCF? Queen Nanny has long been a compelling model of female military might. It’s not enough that she’s a national hero. Her true legacy is the value we place on women’s abilities today in all spheres.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

imf-logoI have to admit that the hot flash of pride in Lagarde did cool down quite quickly. Because of the IMF. An apparently powerful woman who leads a patriarchal organisation like that can only do so much to transform the culture of gender inequality. And we can’t assume that such a woman actually wants things to change. She can so easily get sucked into the politics of divide and rule. She can end up thinking she’s made it because she’s an ‘exceptional’ woman. But all women have the potential to be ‘exceptional’, given the right opportunities.

slavery_2849118bGender politics aside, what made me put my guard back up was Lagarde’s troubling message. After all, she’s the rather pleasant face of the heartless IMF. What we’re being told repeatedly is that one of the major planks of Jamaica’s economic recovery is devaluation of the dollar. I’m no economist. But as I understand it, here’s how the argument goes: A weak dollar will attract foreign investors who will make a killing. We’ll be so grateful for the jobs they bring, we’ll work for next to nothing. Been there and done that! So we’re not going back there if we can help it.

Furthermore, a weak dollar will make imported goods so expensive we’ll just have to do without them. We’ll be forced to produce more. But this is where it gets tricky. Production costs, such as imported energy, will continue to increase as the value of the dollar decreases. So businesses will collapse and jobs will disappear. And there will be less money in circulation. We’ll be right back to where we started. Pauperised.

imagesInstead of deliberately weakening the dollar and reducing the buying power of Jamaican consumers, we need to launch a public-education campaign to help us wisely spend the little money we do have. Why do we need so many foreign goods? And when are we going to start placing high value on our natural resources? In this stifling season of drought, we’ve all been feeling the power of the sun. Why have we taken so long to harness this free source of energy? Yes, the infrastructure is expensive, but it will quickly pay for itself.

images-1From the luxury of her job as managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde can tell us with great authority that more poverty is the route to economic security for us. We know better than that. Nutten no go so. Lagarde is the Fund’s guard. That’s what her name means. We had better watch over our lickle money.

Night Work For Women

images-1It sounds like progress. An old-fashioned law that curtails the freedom of women to choose the time of day (or night) they wish to work is under review. The 1942 Women (Employment of) Act says a lot about both class and gender politics in Jamaica. The act prohibits night work for women. And it’s not about prostitution. These days, sex work is no longer gender-specific. And it isn’t necessarily done only at night.

The act defines ‘night’ as “a period of at least 11 consecutive hours, including the interval between 10 o’clock in the evening and 5 o’clock in the morning”. Work is described as “every business or undertaking carried on for gain, except a business or undertaking in which only the members of the family of the owner or proprietor are employed”. I wonder why women in family businesses are exempted.

In exceptional circumstances, women are allowed to work at night. This is what the act says:

“No woman shall be employed in night work except where the night work is:

(a) for the purpose of completing work commenced by day and interrupted by some unforeseeable cause which could not be prevented by reasonable care; or

PERISHABLE-GOODS(b) necessary to preserve raw materials, subject to rapid deterioration, from certain loss; or

(c) that of a responsible position of management held by a woman who is not ordinarily engaged in manual work; or

(d) carried on in connection with the preparation, treatment, packing, transportation or shipment of fresh fruit; or

(e) that of nursing and of caring for the sick; or

(f) carried on in a cinematograph or other theatre while such theatre is open to the public; or

(g) carried on in connection with a hotel or guest house, or with a bar, restaurant or club; or

(h) carried on by a pharmacist registered under the Pharmacy Act.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

bottomlineThese ‘exceptional’ circumstances are quite a peculiar mix. Nursing and pharmacy I understand. These are life-saving professions. And fresh fruit and raw materials do have a short lifespan. But what’s so special about women working in theatres, hotels, guest houses, bars, restaurants and clubs? Are these night jobs similar to the world’s oldest profession? Making money all through the night clearly takes precedence over protecting supposedly vulnerable women. The law keeps its eye firmly fixed on the bottom line.

And why are women in management exempted? It looks like a class issue. Women who are “ordinarily engaged in manual work” are not allowed to do night work. But better-off women are? Or is this exemption really just a sick joke? In 1942, how many women actually held “a responsible position of management” in any “industrial undertaking” in Jamaica? Relatively few, I suppose. So why make such a big issue of exempting them?

In 1961, new trades and occupations were added to the list of exceptional jobs that women could do at night. It all seems quite random: for example, manufacturing of sugar, rum, cigars, cigarettes, cordage, rope, twine, butter, cheese, condensed milk, soap, margarine, lard compound, edible oil, textiles and paper. The list goes on and on without apparent rhyme or reason.

images-4The only occupations on the new list that obviously provide essential services are in civil aviation, public passenger transport, telecommunications, and the fire brigade. Newspaper publishing is also exempted, but some sceptics will say that journalism these days is not an essential service; it’s more entertainment and less hard-core news reporting and analysis.

 

EXPLOITING CHEAP LABOUR

At the rate the Women (Employment of) Act is going, we might as well speed it into extinction. On the face of it, amending the old law is a good idea. In these enlightened times, women ought to be free to choose when they work. But there’s definitely a downside to freeing up women for night work. It’s not all about emancipation.

In fact, night work seems to be just another form of exploitation of cheap labour. A few years ago, I met a female security guard at Devon House who was on the last of three consecutive 12-hour shifts. Yes, 36 hours straight, day and night! Talk about ‘pop down’. She could barely keep her eyes open. She explained that she was doing it for the money. She had children to look after.

images-2Is there a hidden motivation behind the seemingly progressive plan to remove the restrictions prohibiting night work for women? And will all women, rich and poor, equally benefit from the new legislation? Not likely! The revision of the act seems to be intended to force poorly paid women to work for 12 hours at a stretch – without the full benefit of overtime pay as usual. It’s all about flexiwork.

The present labour laws require an employer to pay time and a half on Saturday and double time on Sundays. In the new flexiweek, overtime will be calculated only after 40 hours of work. So, in effect, you could employ someone for two 12-hour shifts with no ‘overtime’, then exploit them further by employing them on weekends and not paying overtime. This is a total reversal of all the labour rights our foremothers and forefathers struggled for.

Not surprisingly, David Wan, president of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, enthusiastically supports the proposed amendment of the act, as reported in a Gleaner article by Daraine Luton, published on June 5: “Take it off the books! This is a different day, different time.” But how different are these times? With our long history of exploiting cheap labour, we should be very cautious about enacting legislation that threatens to weaken workers.

123According to Labour Minister Derrick Kellier, flexiwork will increase productivity. But at what price? Will physically and emotionally exhausted workers actually be more productive than healthy ones? And will poor women doing night work for next to nothing be better off now than in the old days? “Jackass seh di world no level.” It’s a pity that jackasses of the human kind refuse to listen.

Chávez Duppy Dream Sista P

Frederic Cassidy

Frederic Cassidy

There are two spelling systems used for the Jamaican language below.  The first, which I call ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been slightly amended by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. The second, ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling.  After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

Prapa-Prapa Spelin

imagesChávez dopi bierli riich evn an im disaid fi lef kom luk fi Sista P.  Im a no wan a dem man we lov logzyuri.  Im naa go waahn liv no ai laif op a evn, a waak pan ruod mek outa guol, an a sing an daans an plie aap, an a jrink milk an oni, an im wel nuo se nof piipl pan ort naa notn fi hiit an jrink. An no bada taak bout patuol!  Aal inna Jamieka.  No, sa! Chávez a wan a di wan-an-fyuu palitishan wid kanshens.  A it mek im dopi disaid fi flai doun kom taak tu Sista P.  Ier we im tel ar se.

Portia Simpson Miller

Portia Simpson Miller

Querida Portia, mi glad fi si yu kom a mi fineral.  Rispek dyuu!  Bai di wie, yu fi taak tu di Prezident a yu Senet.  Im no redi.  Mi no laik ou im dis di Jostis Minista.  Bot dat a wan neks tuori.  Yu don nuo mi lov Jamieka.  Luk ou mi gi unu wan gud-gud diil pan di ail.  So yu wuda a fi kom a mi fineral fi sen mi aaf inna stail.  Bot so moch a unu?  Wa mek yu antaraaj so big an braad, Sista P? Yu a gwaan laik se yu a wan a dem bran niem DJ.  A we unu get di moni fi di uol a unu kom magl a mi fineral?  Mi ongl uop a no Ouzn Chos.

Life and Debt

Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips

Beg yu tel Peter Phillips fi tek im an outa puor piipl pakit! Ouzn Chos moni a fi bil ous fi puor piipl.  A no fi bil op bojit.  If di bojit pap doun, Peter a fi go fain wan neks wie fi kach it op.  Mi a waan unu.  Wa staat bad a maanin kyaahn kom gud a iivnin.  Fram unu staat nyam out Ouzn Chos moni, tingz a go go fram bad tu wos tu wosara.  Wa a go apm wen it don?

Mi nuo se IMF a kwiiz unu nek.  Bot a fi unu faalt.  Wa mek unu gaan go rap op bak wid dem? Luk ou lang Michael Manley shuo wi se wi ha fi lef dem out!  Sista P, yu neva wach Stephanie Black flim, Life and Debt?  Lisn mi!  Wen yu ier wat Michael Manley se inna dat de flim, yu wuda nuo se Jamieka supuoz fi waak faar fram IMF.

http://www.lifeanddebt.org/

Yu nuo di big prablem wid Jamieka?  Unu ches tuu ai; an unu yai tuu big.  Unu a gwaan laik se unu a wash doun wid ail laka Venezuela an Trinidad an Tobago.  An iivn den.  Wa mek so moch farin fuud inna suupamaakit?  Wa rang wid Jamieka fuud?

math symbols_2Unu mout gluobal; an unu moni luokal.  An it kyaahn wok, Sista P. Unu a fi wiil an kom agen.  Mi naa se unu fi gu bak tu di aad life inna di sevntiz. Bot unu mos kyahn fain a wie fi liv pan di likl moni unu a mek.  Yu don nuo, mi an di American dem no plaahn no gungo a lain.  Bot mi a fi agrii wid Bill Clinton: “It’s arithmetic”.  A no suo-so palitiks.

Chaka-Chaka Spelling

Chávez duppy barely reach heaven an im decide fi lef come look fi Sista P.  Im a no one a dem man weh love luxury.  Im naa go waan live no high life up a heaven, a walk pon road mek outa gold, an a sing an dance an play harp, an a drink milk an honey, an im well know seh nuff people pon earth naa notn fi eat an drink. An no bodder talk bout pothole!  All inna Jamaica.  No, sah! Chávez a one a di one-an-few politician wid conscience.  A it mek im duppy decide fi fly down come talk to Sista P.  Hear weh im tell har seh.

Rev Stanley Redwood,President, Jamaican Senate

Rev Stanley Redwood,
President, Jamaican Senate

Querida Portia, mi glad fi see yu come a mi finaral.  Rispek due!  By di way, yu fi talk to di President a yu Senate.  Im no ready.  Mi no like how im diss di Justice Minister.  But dat a one next story.  Yu done know mi love Jamaica.  Look how mi gi unu one good-good deal pon di oil.  So yu woulda ha fi come a mi fineral fi send mi off inna style.  But so much a unu?  Weh mek yu entourage so big an broad, Sista P? Yu a gwaan like seh yu a one a dem brand name DJ.  A weh unu get di money fi di whole a unu come moggle a mi finaral?  Mi ongle hope a no Housing Trust.

Life and Debt

images-5Beg yu tell Peter Phillips fi tek im hand outa poor people pocket!  Housing Trust money a fi build house fi poor people.  A no fi build up budget.  If di budget pop down, Peter ha fi go find one next way fi cotch it up.  Mi a warn unu.  Wa start bad a mornin kyaan come good a evening.  From unu start nyam out Housing Trust money, tings a go go from bad to worse to worserer. Wa a go happen wen it done?

Stephanie Black

Stephanie Black

Mi know seh IMF a squeeze unu neck.  But a fi unu fault.  Weh mek unu gone go wrap up back wid dem? Look how long Michael Manley show wi seh wi ha fi lef dem out!  Sista P, yu never watch Stephanie Black flim, Life and Debt?  Listen mi!  When yu hear wat Michael Manley seh inna dat deh flim, yu woulda know seh Jamaica suppose fi walk far from IMF.

Yu know di big problem wid Jamaica?  Unu chest too high; an unu yai too big.  Unu a gwaan like seh unu a wash down wid oil laka Venezuela an Trindad an Tobago.  An even den.  Wa mek so much farin food inna supermarket?  Wa wrong wid Jamaica food?

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Unu mouth global; an unu money local.  An it kyaahn work, Sista P. Unu ha fi wheel an come again.  Mi naa seh unu fi go back to di hard life inna di seventies. But unu must kyah find a way fi live pon di lickle money unu a mek.  Yu done know, me an di American dem no plant no gungo a line.  But mi ha fi agree wid Bill Clinton: “It’s arithmetic”.  A no so-so politics.

Chávez’s Ghost Visits Sister P

images-7Chávez had only just got to heaven when he decided to leave and visit Sister P.  He’s not one of those men who love luxury.  He wouldn’t want to live on easy street, walking on gold, singing and dancing and playing the harp and drinking milk and honey, knowing full well that there are so many starving people on earth.  And don’t even talk about potholes!  Especially in Jamaica.  Not at all! Chávez is one of the small number of politicians with a conscience.  So that’s why he decided to come back to earth to talk to Sister P.  This is what he told her.

images-8Querida Portia, I was so glad to see you at my funeral. Rispek due!  By the way, you should have a word with the President of your Senate.  He’s not on top of things.  I didn’t like the way he dissed the Justice Minister.  But that’s another story.  You know I really love Jamaica.  That’s why I gave you such a good deal on the oil.  So you would have had to come to my funeral to send me off in style.  But so many of you?  Why was your entourage so huge, Sister P? You’re behaving as if you’re one of those brand name DJs.  Where did you get the money for so many of you to come and profile at my funeral?  I only hope it wasn’t from the Housing Trust.

Life and Debt

wrong-trackPlease tell Peter Phillips to take his hand out of poor people’s pocket!  Housing Trust funds are to be used to build houses for poor people. Not to build up the budget.  If the budget isn’t viable, Peter will have to find another way to prop it up.  I’m warning you:  if you go down the wrong track, it’s hard to get back on course.  Once you start plundering the resources of the Housing Trust, things will go from bad to worse. What will happen when it’s all eaten up?

I know that the IMF has you by the throat.  But it’s your fault.  Why have you gotten mixed up with them again? So long ago Michael Manley showed us that we should avoid them!  Sister P, didn’t you watch Stephanie Black’s film, Life and Debt?  I tell you.  When you listen to what Michael Manley said in that film, you would know that Jamaica should have nothing to do with the IMF.

You know what’s Jamaica’s big problem?  You all are much too vain and greedy.  You’re behaving as if you have huge oil reserves like Venezuela and Trindad and Tobago.  And even so.  Why is there so much imported food in your supermarkets?  What’s wrong with Jamaican food?

3d-silver-math-symbolsYour taste is global; and your currency is local.  And that can’t work, Sister P. You have to go back to the drawing board.  I’m not saying you should return to the hard times of the seventies. But you must be able to find a way to live within your means, however meagre.  You very well know that the Americans and I don’t see eye to eye.  But I have to agree with Bill Clinton: “It’s arithmetic”.  It’s not just politics.

Why Is Marcus Garvey A National Hero?

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson poster

I suppose it would look bad.  The leader of the largest organised mass movement of African people in the twentieth century disregarded in his country of birth!   All the same, given the anxiety in some quarters about the African heritage in Jamaica, it is truly remarkable that the political elite had the good sense to recognise Garvey’s heroic stature and honour him accordingly.

Born in 1887, only 21 years after the Morant Bay rebellion, and 53 years after Emancipation, Garvey grew up in a Jamaica that was still trapped in psychological bondage.  As a child, he would probably have heard the denigrating mantra, ‘Nutten black no good’.  He might even have been asked, ‘How yu so black an ugly?’  As if he had anything to do with it.

Garvey grandly rose above the hateful definitions of blackness in Jamaican society and prophetically affirmed, “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind”.  Many of us sing along with Bob Marley, who popularised Garvey’s words in his “Redemption Song”.  But do we fully comprehend the profundity of the exhortation to free the mind?

Garvey made that liberating statement in 1937 at a meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  By then, he was almost at the end of his tumultuous life.  He died less than three years later in London.  Like many Caribbean migrants of his day, Garvey caught the spirit of exploration.  He went to Central America when he was twenty-three, then to the UK, returning home in 1914.

UNIA Parade, Harlem, N.Y.

In August that year, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica.  He went to the U.S. in 1916, and by 1917 had launched the New York Division of the UNIA with all of 13 members. After three months, there were 3500 dues-paying members!

‘The Moses of the Negro Race’

Without access to Facebook and Twitter, the UNIA grew exponentially.  Almost one thousand UNIA divisions were established within seven years.  Garvey was soon described in messianic terms.  The headline of a 1920 article published in the New York World loudly and, perhaps sceptically, proclaimed“The Moses of the Negro Race Has Come to New York and Heads a Universal Organization Already Numbering 2,000,000 Which is About to Elect a High Potentate and Dreams of Reviving the Glories of Ancient Ethiopia”.

Van der Zee photo

       At the heart of Garvey’s vision of a universal movement of black people committed to self-improvement was the expectation that the colonised African continent would be liberated. Garvey asked himself some unsettling questions:“Where is the black man’s government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his ambassador, his country, his men of big affairs?”  His answer:  “I could not find them and then I declared, ‘I will help to make them.'”

You have to admire Garvey’s nerve.  A lesser man might have quailed at the prospect of taking on such a superhuman mission.  At the beginning of the twentieth-century there were only two independent African countries:  Ethiopia and Liberia.  The rest of the continent had been captured by European squatters.  Lion-hearted Garvey, girded with his philosophy of African Fundamentalism, militantly declared, “Africa for Africans, at home and abroad.”

Liberty Hall, Harlem, N.Y.

Garvey saw parallels with the struggles of other oppressed groups who were demanding the right to self-government.  In a speech delivered at Liberty Hall in New York in 1920, Garvey related why he’d started his career as a street preacher, spreading the good news of African redemption: “Just at that time, other races were engaged in seeing their cause through—the Jews through their Zionist movement and the Irish through their Irish movement—and I decided that, cost what it might, I would make this a favorable time to see the Negro’s interest through.”

“The Place Next To Hell”

Despite the global reach of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, and his overarching vision of economic enterprise, his wings were clipped when he was arrested on bogus charges of using the mail to defraud.  Imprisoned, he took flight, writing The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, with the sustained editorial oversight of his second wife, Amy Jacques.

Deported in 1927, the indomitable Garvey launched a newspaper, The Blackman (1929-1931), then The New Jamaican (1932-1933).  Perhaps Jamaica wasn’t ready for the black man.  In his first editorial, for The New Jamaican, Garvey spoke the plain truth:  “Jamaica is a fine country from a natural viewpoint—it is a terrible country from economic observations. To consider how the people of Jamaica live, that is, the bulk of the population, is to wonder if we, at all, have any system of economics. We shall endeavour to enlighten the country on the possibility of creating a better order of things for everybody through a system of education in economics—a thing not generally known nor taught in Jamaica.”

Eighty years later, things have not changed ‘to dat’, despite political independence.  We still haven’t gotten the economics right.  In frustration with Jamaican politics, Garvey once described the island in an issue of The New Jamaican as “the place next to hell”.  Despite the almost hellish circumstances in which he sometimes found himself, Garvey was always self-assured.  An article published in The Daily Gleaner on January 19, 1935, quotes Garvey:  “My garb is Scotch, my name is Irish, my blood is African, and my training is half American and half English, and I think that with that tradition I can take care of myself”.

This afternoon at 3:00 p.m., Professor Tony Martin, a distinguished Pan-Africanist scholar, will deliver the 3rd annual Marcus Garvey lecture at Liberty Hall in honour of the 125th birthday of our First National Hero:  “If Garvey Dies, Garvey Lives: The Enduring Relevance of Garvey’s Ideas”.   This lecture will certainly silence those cynics in this “place next to hell” who object to the teaching of Garvey’s philosophy in our schools.  Claiming Garvey’s legacy for our children is full freedom.

Independence ‘Pin of Pride’ Made in China

ImageOnce upon a time, the tag ‘Made in China’ was a dead giveaway.  The China brand meant cheap goods of very poor quality.  Over the years, many Chinese products have had to be recalled because of grave safety issues: killer toys, poisonous food, toxic toothpaste, shocking hair dryers, hazardous heaters, flammable baby clothes, deadly lead necklaces, frightfully collapsing stools and recliners, shattering glass, separating tyres and the list goes on and on.

Despite this tainted track record, China is now the largest exporter in the world.  These days, Chinese manufacturers are being held to higher standards, particularly for the export market.  And many U.S. companies, for example, try to get around the ‘Made in China’ stigma by advertising the fact that their products are ‘designed’ at home.  Apple iPhones and iPads, though made in China, loudly proclaim their American pedigree.

China’s appeal as the preferred manufacturing destination for foreign companies is largely based on the low wages and terrible working conditions of poor people.  Top-end ‘cheap’ goods, like electronics, are, arguably, the product of exploited labour.  The social cost is often rather high.  It makes you wonder if some of China’s scandalous manufacturing disasters may not be the result of deliberate acts of sabotage committed by angry workers.

Fake Memories

Image     One of the niche markets in which Chinese manufacturers have long specialised is cheap souvenirs designed for tourist destinations across the globe. The French word ‘souvenir’ means ‘to remember’.  Ironically, the souvenir industry is sustained on the principle that intangible memories are not enough.  Even photographs are not enough.  You need to take home a little piece of something to remind yourself of your trip. Or you might forget just how much fun you had!  I guess.

Most tourists don’t seem to mind if the souvenirs they purchase on vacation aren’t actually made in the places they visit.  Since memories themselves are often manufactured, I suppose it doesn’t really matter if the souvenir of the fake memory is just as fake.

Image      It’s the manufacturers of ‘authentic’ memories that do have a vested interest in protecting tourists (and their own markets) from what they see as rip-off artists.   The screaming headline of a February 3, 2012 article posted on the website of the UK newspaper the Daily Mail warns: “Olympic sell-out!  91% of London 2012 souvenirs made abroad with two thirds coming from China”.

True enough, I went on the website Made-in-China.com and on the very first page there’s an ad for “2012 London Olympic Games Jewellery for Promotion and Accept as a Souvenir”.  The English used in these ads is as ‘authentic’ as the souvenirs.  That’s the trouble with being a global language.  The whole world feels entitled to use you just as they please.  And, in this instance, all that the sellers and buyers really care about is the business deal.  Niceties of grammar are quite irrelevant.

Showcasing nationalism?

Image       Jamaica is in excellent company.  You don’t even need to be a tourist to buy fake memories and even more fake memorabilia.  You can stay right at home.  I suspect that most of our official Independence souvenirs are not made in Jamaica.  I’d be very happy to be proven wrong.  But I do know for sure that the much-advertised ‘Pin of Pride’ is made in China.  I checked with the distributor.

The Jamaica 50 Secretariat gives a grand account of the vision that motivated production of the pin: “The One Million Pins Initiative represents the global movement behind our celebration of fifty years of independence, where all Jamaicans showcase their nationalism by wearing our official commemorative ‘Pin of Pride’ on August 6, 2012.

The OMP Initiative seeks to rally ONE Million Jamaicans to pledge proudly with their Pin of Pride and start a tradition of passing down this trinket of our history from generation to generation”.

It really does sound very good.  Don’t? But couldn’t we have come up with a locally manufactured symbol of national pride?  Did it have to be a pin from China?  And a ‘trinket’ really isn’t so hot.  It’s a rather trifling ornament; certainly not an heirloom.

There are so many world-class artists and artisans in Jamaica!  Couldn’t a collective have designed souvenirs that could actually be mass-produced in Jamaica?  Which would really make us feel proud of what we’ve accomplished as a nation over the last fifty years?  What happened to the sensible economic principle, “Be Jamaican, buy Jamaican”?

‘Might as cheap’

All the same, I have to admit that I do have a ‘Pin of Pride’.  It was a gift I somewhat reluctantly accepted two Fridays ago.  The National Library of Jamaica hosted a brilliant evening of readings of Jamaican literature in Emancipation Park, “From Claude McKay to Olive Senior”.  I was one of the readers and got a trinket of appreciation.

A beautiful exhibition on Jamaican literature was also launched in the park.  Huge display stands tell an edutaining story of our literary journey from colonialism to Independence.  I urge everyone to go and have a look.  It’s something to be really proud of.

To be honest, my ‘Pin of Pride’ does look good.  And since we have a million of them for sale, we ‘might as cheap’ buy them.  At $700, the price is quite modest, considering all the weighty meanings the little pin is supposed to bear.  In any case, I don’t want to be held responsible for any drop in sales of the China pride pins.  I really can’t deal with ‘big foot’.

But, surely, there’s a lesson to be learnt about the cost of pride.  The Chinese manufacturers are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of Jamaica’s ‘Pins of Pride’.  They will be laughing all the way to the bank.  In our fiftieth year of supposed Independence, we couldn’t manage to produce our own souvenirs that we could be really proud of!  And that’s rather shameful. ,