Monday, September 29, 2008

Overtaken by the bré bré?

These days I seem to spend all my time sprinting from deadline to deadline, hurtling over the added hurdles of blog posts--pacing myself--hoping even briefly to attain the grace, elegance and power of Olympian Melaine Walker. Sigh. One of these days….

In the meantime there’s much to talk about. With the potential meltdown of the financial architecture of the United States occurring in the background it seems picayune to return to the PNP power struggle that came to a head last weekend--on the 20th to be precise. But it bears talking about for several reasons. For one the outcome left a number of Jamaica’s leading talking heads and pundits with egg all over their faces…again (the diatribalist also focuses on this, read his Errata).

For another, Portia Simpson-Miller, President of the Opposition People’s National Party, represents to the elite and middle class in Jamaica what Obama represents to white, bible-thumping, gun-toting mainstream America. Thus she comes in for the same kind of demonization and denigration that is often directed at Obama in the US. Which is worse I wonder: To be black (socially speaking) in a black country or to be black in a white country?

Nationwide’s Cliff Hughes, who had predicted that Bruce Golding would win the 2007 election by a landslide, again misread the political landscape a year later. Both he and co-host Elon Parkinson called it for Portia’s rival, Peter, the day before the September 20 election. In this they were echoing the Gleaner’s sentiments as well as the Observer’s. The latter’s chief columnist, Mark Wignall, also convinced himself that Phillips ought to pull it off; in 2007 he too like Messrs Hughes and Robinson had thought that Golding would sweep the 2007 elections.

How to explain these failures on the part of Jamaica’s leading journalists? They all to a man seem to have substituted wishful thinking for objective journalistic analysis allowing their prejudices to inform their professional opinions instead of hard intelligence. What is worse, having made such gaffes, all concerned proceeded full steam ahead with their Portia-bashing, berating the newly elected PNP President for not mentioning her opponent’s name in her post-election address and continuing to cast aspersions on both her and the delegates who had elected her.

“The PNP is in danger of being overtaken by the bré bré…” proclaimed Hughes on the Monday following the election. Bré bré I understand is a word meaning ‘much, many, plentiful’; when used in the way Hughes employed it it signifies what Don Robotham means when he says ‘lumpen proletariat’ or what Upper Saint Andrew is fond of referring to as the ‘Buttoos’.

On Oct. 24th on the TV show, Impact, Cliff Hughes continued his prosecutorial harangue against the PNP leadership wielding the whip of political correctness against the hapless Simpson-Miller. Portia should have immediately checked the delegates when they booed Harry 'Pip Pip' Douglas, one of the losing Vice Presidential candidates, and she should have graciously (and with remarkable hypocrisy) acknowledged Peter Phillips by name and offered him a role in the opposition ranks (az cawdin to Hughes).

Not having done either she had once again (in the view of these journalists) demonstrated the lack of 'leadership qualities' Hughes and Co. have been accusing her of for some time now. Never mind that the delegates might have been expressing legitimate grievances when they booed Douglas. When he lost his seat in the 2007 general elections one of the newspapers explained why:
Douglas, the politician who some St. Mary residents have alleged honks the horn of his SUV more often than he represents them, has been driven into the political wilderness by the voters in South East St. Mary. He was popularly called 'Pip Pip', an indication that he did not even give a full blast of the horn whenever he drove through the constituency.

One might ask why Portia Simpson-Miller should have censored or otherwise interfered with the delegates freely expressing their view of a politician who clearly, judging by the above, had done very little for them.

The open contempt expressed for the rank and file members of the PNP has been breathtaking. On the day of the election Messrs Hughes and Parkinson characterized the votes in favour of Portia as coming from the ‘heart’ rather than the ‘head’. In other words according to the hosts of Nationwide the delegates had hung up their minds and allowed themselves to be moved by emotion rather than reason.

In an article titled “Who are these PNP delegates?” Horace Williams, a human-resource specialist, gave quite a different picture from that of the die-hearted Phillips supporters masquerading as journalists:

There has been much debate as to why the Arise and Renew team did not win the PNP's presidential elections, given the large sum of money provided by the private sector, and the moneyed class, their level of organisation and level of intellectual input from the middle class, the backing from sections of the media and the overall level of advertising and media exposure. It is also felt that the Arise and Renew team presented a vision of the future for the country, which was clear, rational and evident for all the delegates to see.

What appears to have happened, in my estimation, is that all those so-called ordinary black, uneducated, unsophisticated, ill-informed and short-sighted persons who voted for Mrs Simpson Miller are singing a different tune from the so-called educated, visionary, upper class, intellectually sophisticated and far-sighted Jamaicans.

Over the last three or so decades, the lot of the ordinary black people in this country has not changed substantially. There has been some improvement, but much more could have been done. They have voted for successive governments, but all that appears to be needed of them is to dip a live finger in the ink on election day. After the party has been elected, ministers of Government who then move into upper-class neighbourhoods in St Andrew are appointed, are provided with multimillion-dollar luxury vehicles, and are provided with all the trappings of modern life. Their friends and relatives are allowed to plunder the resources of the country for their own benefit…

…So, Mrs Simpson Miller's win may be seen in the context of a drowning man clutching at a straw. In my estimation, the delegates are saying to the owners of capital, the intellectuals, sections of the media, the browns, whites and the other class: "You have not helped us so far, or much more could have been done". Let us cling to Sister P who is one of us, whom we can trust. In my estimation, they are saying: "We do not trust you; we do not trust your company; you want us at the back of the bus; your only intention is political and economic power for yourselves."

This is hardly an example of people voting with their hearts instead of their heads is it? On the contrary the PNP delegates calmly and rationally examined the lay of the land and coolly decided where to cast their vote. Those who were swayed by emotion rather than rationality, their hearts rather than their heads, are all those media VIPs who called it for Phillips and the Arise and Renew campaign despite the political portents to the contrary. How credible are they now?

Photo by Varun Baker,


Ruthibelle said...

My word for the day: picayune.

I agree with Williams' analysis of why Portia won instead of Peter. It really was a clear statement to the upper-classes that they do not have the confidence of voting population.

My big question: where do they go from here? Where does the PNP go now that they have 'resolved' the major leadership issues (I know, not quite).

I was just reading a friend's blog today who was saying that he can't wait for them all to retire/die (very crude way to put it) so young, fresh faces and ideas can blossom unhindered. While I'm not in total agreement with his view, I understand, and I'm seriously wondering: where is the place for young people in the 'renewed' People's National Party?

Annie Paul said...

but Ruthibelle, did you write this comment before or after the announcement of Portia's Council of Spokespersons? you know my support of Portia stems not from any personal knowledge or liking of her but judging by the kind of young people who are backing her i feel she's more on the pulse than anyone else...

Michelle Eistrup said...

I think Portia represents to the middle class and others that they fear the most...Is it color...Is it class...Is it habit...Yes,...clearly all three...I find that we segregate in this society...and distance each other through many means.. I think it has gotten worse over the years and we use crime as a crutch on which to lean on instead of digging deeper to understand what surrounds us...And like with all segregration...and fear we use words to distance oursleves from a body or people who we just don't know or understand...but we have many ideas on who they are...
It is ingrained in our our schools...our philosophical manderings are maybe not as far reaching as they might be might be better if we afforded risk and chance into our lives...


Michelle Eistrup said...

Actualy I believe in paradigms...and I cannot help dreaming about reshifting and remaking the way Kingston looks at times....I mean what would happen if one set up bike stations from the top of Constant spring to the bottom of half way tree...where these bikes were fixed to the road so that they could not be stolen but were a means of riding back and forth between destinations...or what would happen if I transported some of the daily life of Danish bike riding to Jamaica...You can get bikes with wagons in the front so that kids and babies can be placed in them...It seems like chaos to most and probably a bad plan because how many of these joggers on constant spring golf club would depart from their jogging to take on another form of fitness ...After all people cannot get anywhere in the morning in the long traffic lines maybe some alternative should be reached or thought of...But it is more than that is somewhere in the mentality that riding in a car seperates you from the other...Who the other is...well probably the person that could not afford the car...

I know I am way of the discussion...but I wonder about the mentality which brings about the name butu...and if at all the people using this term should not inspect their own homes first and their lack of self critique... Is it justified to talk about something one has no idea what one is describing...and does it mean that education prompts one to an immediate status within the society...but money and intellect are not always connected ...nor is social status...something that most people were just born into but certainly is no god given right to presume themselves better...Actually I challenge those to take it upon themselves to experiment with their lives and see what a small pay cheque will get you and how far...We still live in the mentality that we have it all figured out...but I am not seeing radical changes in behavior from these so called critics and what brilliant ideas have they come up with lately that redefines our perspective on living in Jamaica...and more over have they tried to implement them,....
Sorry Annie for this long language skills are lacking...and here is another out/insider giving my input from abroad...

Annie Paul said...

hey Michelle,

good to hear from you all the way over in Denmark. really like the idea of bicycle parks. why not? and if society were not so skewed in favour of the SUV-driving, Emglish-speaking folk, if every member of this society were actually treated like full citizens and their interests taken into account we would have such facilities for the bike riders among us. but don't hold your breath ok?

Anonymous said...

It wasn't "Class" but sexism.

After she won last time everyone came up with "advice" for her.
She should do this she should do that.
As, you see, she has no mind of her own.

This was greater than if she were a male also from the so-called bowels.

Phillips timed it badly, too soon. and some of his friends probably gave him wrong advice. He should blame them not his delegates.
I'm sure he'll bounce back like a rubber ball.
Portia herself may endorse him then but maybe her supporters will not forgive.

He should have done a make-over, get fit, get attractive.

People do make rational decisions based on their perception of events and circumstances and we just have to respect that.

FSJL said...

I wasn't surprised that Portia beat Peter, though my ear is not close to the ground. Jamaica is a society riven by divisions of class and colour. The reality is that the poorest (and blackest) have gained little from national politics over the past few decades (which is why there are many who feel that independence does not matter and that Jamaica would have been better off had it remained a British colony). There is also another reality: the 'modern blackness' that is celebrated by such people as Deborah Thomas, which has come to be the dominant cultural paradigm since the 1980s, has meant not one degge thing to the average poor, black Jamaican. So Jamaica has had a black prime minister. So the business class now is dominated by black people (like my old geography teacher Ryland Campbell). So bloody what? This hasn't changed the conditions of life for most black people one little bit.

Anonymous said...

Hail Annie Paul.

I have to say upfront I really despise Hughes’ theatrics and Wignall’s nonsensical ego loaded writing.

However, please note that most, if not all, the persons (journalists) that you have mentioned who seemly have expressed a Ras Phillips bias are opinion writers or talk show hosts. As such they can give analysis (as can any of us) which is intuitive or has little or no objectivity.

Unfortunately/fortunately, an opinion doesn’t always have to be rooted in fact, especially social commentary.

The only problem I have is when the news is editorialized and then passed off as unbiased, objective, dispassionate reporting. This trend has taken root in the American media landscape and seems poised to take root in Jamaica.

That said I genuinely believe that no political analysis can be totally objective. The truth is we all have our biases, some more evident than others. For example, Annie obviously likes Obama…I think not for purely objective reasons. By the way Annie, “white, bible-thumping, gun-toting mainstream America” is just as racist and stereotypical as “black, uneducated, misogynistic inner-city Jamaican male.” Please don’t let Bill Maher unduly influence your vocabulary in this way. Sorry, I digress.

Annie, here is my main point. Opinion writers appear on the Opinion pages of news papers for a reason. They are not necessarily required to observe strict journalistic principles. The real problem is when opinion writes leach into the news section of papers; or when talk shows such as Bill Orielly’s “The Factor” is passed off as genuine news reporting.

As for Portia, the truth is I like her, but she’s a ‘ding bat’. I little too much like Gorge W. Bush. Every time she is to give a public address I fear she will give her critics more ammunition because of her “diss-ability”. Regardless, Williams may well be right to believe that delegates have chosen the nurse over the doctor because they can relate to her more.

Peace and love, Stero

Annie Paul said...

wow, great comments. Stero i agree with you about objectivity, none of us are completely objective about anything. our personal worldview and biases colour everything we do and say. but journalists in Ja (surely Hughes with his many years in media from JBC days onwards is to be considered a journalist?)pretend to be above partisanship. yet they slam leaders like Portia in ways they wouldn't business leaders. they constantly moralize and talk down to representatives of the underclasses whether these are DJs or the immensely creative street dancers.

and i agree with the person who said sexism is a factor. yes, it certainly is. i myself sometimes get caught in conversations debating Portia's hair, her nose (did she do a nose job?), her skin colour (is she bleaching?) when we certainly wouldn't bring any such thing up with regard to bruce or Karl Samuda even if the latter wore a hairpiece.

fsgl, agree that more upwardly mobile blacks in business and politics hasn't yielded much for blacks at the bottom of society. hence the distinction between social blackness and ideological or dermatological blackness.

but is that what Deborah was celebrating? i think you misread her. She was observing like many others that the underclass no longer (thank God!) aspires to middle classness, respectability, etc etc as they were once urged to. and that ditching of social values borrowed from the English has certainly benefited them in areas like music and more broadly, culture, where they no longer have to wait to be validated by m-c gatekeepers before their products are approved for export and general consumption--

FSJL said...

Annie: I may be misreading Deborah Thomas on some points -- I didn't find her work all that persuasive as a whole -- though you're right about some of what she says. Still, I find the assertion of 'Black Man Time' has not meant 'black man (or woman) time' in any real sense for the average Jamaican. When I think of what could have been, I really have to despair.

Ruthibelle said...

I saw on news yesterday that Portia put in some young ppl in her shadow cabinet... hurray for that!

Unknown said...

The problems underlying pundits' (and establishment) views of Portia are related to ubiquitous anti-black, anti-poor and anti-woman ideologies which inform much of what comes out of their mouths and circulates as information. This is not an either/or situation - each principle of marginalization depends on the other.

Portia presents a dilemma that needs to be "resolved" in the minds of many, because she is "too own way." That is, she not working according to the script of middle-class feminine respectability in any way: she insists on anchoring herself in the very social spaces - from which she is expected to disassociate herself gradually during her ascent in national politricks. She is NOT Eugenia Charles, Beverly Manley or Barack Obama, and for this she is going to be perennially punished and chastised. Mind you, I do think that her leadership style could use some finetuning in some areas, and overhaul in others. I can say the same thing about other career politicians; but I am not invested in them as much. I am totally invested in her for personal reasons. I think the way to offset the perception that Wignall, Hughes etc are the barometers of public opinion, is to introduce new voices who are attentive to these subtleties all the time, instead of only when some problem flares up, like the PNP's internal battle for power.

The PNP has a great opportunity to make some headway in dealing wih the "split". Internal conflict is not always a bad thing; indeed, its usually a good thing because it offers a way to articulate the variety of perspectives within the "whole", and can help to hone and even shift the organization towards being more inclusive and democratic. Whether the PNP cabal sees this opportunity is a different thing altogether.

Unknown said...

Its worse to be black in a black country, for sure. The strategies for denigrating the black self are so ingrained, subtle and fucking coomplicated that it will drive you mad just trying to name what everybody else denies by instinct.

Annie Paul said...

you're so right about Portia and how all three marginalized and despised identities seem to converge in her. i think a lot of uptown Jamaicans are very uncomfortable being represented by someone like her. they imagine that she makes them look bad abroad when as far as i know Portia has enjoyed goodwill and good press whenever she travels.

Bustamante was similarly looked down on for his lack of education and 'class'; there's a series of Busta jokes around that's funnier than any i've ever heard and most of them centre around his patwa-inflected English. in Busta's case however he was not female or black, he was pale and male which kind of counterbalanced his lack in other areas.

when are you going to do another post LB?