Defensiveness and Protests
I imagine that the Time.com declaration that Jamaica is the most homophobic spot on earth is going to generate a strong response.
The strong response I expect will not be reflective, however. It won't be one of regret, either.
Instead, I think that the response we'll see is one of the feelings I felt when I read the report, which is one of defensiveness.
We Jamaicans are proud of the places in the world in which we excel, and quick to remind the world about our strength in sports, music and world leadership. Our credentials in supporting the oppressed around the world are impeccable -- we are loud, vociferous and energetic in standing up for justice in places like the U.S., South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cuba and others. We like to use the saying "we likkle but we talawah" in describing ourselves, which means "we are small, but we are powerful!"
However, we sound like any of the oppressors around the world when the world community points its finger in our direction, and accuses us of human rights violations with respect to our gays.
We sound like some Chinese or Cubans when we argue that human rights issues are an internal matter, and that any outside comments are just "interference in our internal matters."
We sound like some Iranians, Israelis, or Irish when we use scripture to justify prejudice, bigotry and hatred in the name of religion, and use fundamentalist beliefs to write laws that oppress minorities.
We sound like some of the white South Africans of old when we complain that most of the gays being beaten and killed are victims of gay on gay violence, rather than anything else. After all, they argued that most of the violence in their country under Apartheid was Black on Black.
We sound like some white Americans who refuse to take responsibility for their history, and the murder and rape that was used to make Native Americans hostage in their own country. We refuse to look at how we continue to create an environment that forces gay Jamaicans to live abroad to save their lives.
We sound like the "downpressors" and colonialists that Bob Marley sang about -- and we must amaze the world at how ready we are to accuse others of injustice, while promoting and protecting injustice by our own system and citizens.
In our rush to defend ourselves, which I predict will start in the press with Tuesday's newspapers, we will sound to the rest of the world as if we are too willing to protect the mess that we have created within our own borders. The truth is, I think that we are hoping that the issue will just blow away and that the world will just forget.
I doubt it.
Not this time.
I don't know if the Time.com article will catch on, but I imagine that if it doesn't, something will. I happened to be a college student in the U.S. when the protests in the mid-eighties were underway to convince colleges to divest themselves of companies that continued to do business in white-dominated South Africa. I saw the energy of student protests, as students (and friends of mine) marched, were arrested and even went on hunger strikes. To my mind at the time, it seemed like quite a distant connection between stock investments and apartheid -- too distant to get me involved back in 1985. For the average college student in the US in 2006, however, Jamaica is where they get a good amount of their music, it is a place they visit on Spring Break and they probably have friends on campus who are Jamaican.
If we don't take positive steps to examine this issue in our midst, we can expect:
-- to be the subject of economic and tourist boycotts
-- to have Amnesty International, and other Human Rights Organizations protesting to world bodies
-- to see activists start to target Jamaica with protests, petitions, letters, websites etc.
-- economic aid to be tied real progress being made in this whole area
-- our college students studying abroad to come under real pressure
In other words, there will be more (not less) pressure on us to change our minds, attitudes and laws.
The way out of this possible future is not to try to build more vigorous defenses. Instead, we need to take the world community seriously, and start from the premise that although we might be talawah, real power has to do with a willingness to reflect deeply on behaviour that is not working, rather than stubbornness that only deepens conflict and confrontation.
One thing I know for sure: in a face-off between us and the world, with a Jamaican economy dependent on tourism and remittances... we lose.