Saturday, May 22, 2010

When is collateral damage acceptable?

I wished someone dead...or at least harmed.  Actually, it was more than one person; it was a whole community of people.  In the moment the thought formed in my mind I felt bad about it, but then it found words and air. Then surprisingly, they also found agreement.  Jamaicans living abroad are distressed about the ongoing Dudus Affair and most of us don't hold much hope for satisfactory resolution.

After months of dirty politicking, scandals of conflicting interests, and rumors of high level blackmail and illegal favors, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke's extradition process has started and a warrant signed for his arrest.  The response from the Tivoli and Denham Town communities has been stunning - like the implausible plot of a really bad movie.  Members of these communities have blocked access to roads in and out in a show of displeasure with the government's decision, and supposedly to prevent the police or army from taking Coke into custody.

While there is some report that some residents may have been coerced into joining the picket lines, it does not seem to be true for the majority of demonstrators.  As is often the case with kingpins of criminal groups, Coke has doled out just enough cash and favors to buy the misguided loyalty of the uneducated and unemployable masses too ignorant to realize that his handouts have given them nothing beyond some chicken dinners and maybe a few pieces of clothes.  There are no reports of schools being built or outfitted with books or computers in Tivoli.  There is no Coke Technical Training Center in Denham Town.  The news of young men and women from Tivoli and Denham Town graduating from university on the Dudus Educational Scholarship has yet to be broadcasted. He has given them fish, but they are too simpleminded to realize that what they need are the resources to fish on their own.  He has supposedly provided protection for the members of these communities; no one seems to realize that it is he and others involved in criminal activities that are the real source of the danger.

So the rest of us stand on the outside slackjawed at the pictures and news of people offering up their lives and their children's lives in protection of 'President Dudus.'  First it was the government that was willing to hold the country hostage, but now it is the citizens that are willing to pick a fight with the United States over a man that is widely known to be a criminal.  These are not a people looking for or demanding a responsible government or better social services and education  These are a people satisfied to wallow in their destituteness and gather crumbs from gangsters.  It is hard to be hopeful.  It is hard to to see a Jamaica beyond the preposterous murder rate, corrupt politicians, and a seeming aversion to meaningful progress.

It is that hopelessness that leads to thoughts of razing entire communities and starting fresh. It is the lack of any vision of how to fix Jamaica that leads to musings that the casualties of an unlikely US-lead incursion into Tivoli to seize Coke may be worth the price.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not one of those people

Does the how and why of foreigners’ immigration to the United States shape their views on immigration policy? While Hispanic groups have reacted ferociously and spoken out loudly against Arizona’s new xenophobic immigration laws, I have not heard anything from other associations that represent West Indian, Asian and African groups. My social and familial circle, which includes a large proportion of immigrants, has been mute on the topic.

I suspect this is because foreign-born residents do not see themselves as part of a collective group. Jamaicans who move to the United States for all kinds of reasons – from a sense of elitism, to the desire for better economic circumstances – view themselves as different from Haitians who risk life and limb in patched boats to Florida to escape their country’s social and economic instability. Asians who are wooed to the United States for technical and industrial jobs view themselves as different from Mexicans who cross the border to take menial jobs in meat packing plants and on fruit farms.

Surely, the legal status of the groups has something to do with the perceptions, but it also has to do with choice: which group chooses to move to the United States, and which group, in large part, is forced to come because of political violence, a bad economy, or other poor conditions in their home country. People who choose to move to the United States are usually of better economic circumstances – before and after they move. They are not typically the faces you see on television in ICE raids, or as the faces of the needy; and if they overstay their visas or have other immigration problems, they can usually afford legal representation.

Racial prejudices are also an undeniable part of the immigration equation. Cubans who arrive on the Florida shores the same way Haitians do have an easier time of settling and assimilating because they look like the majority of politicians, decision-makers, police officers, and others in positions of power. Similarly, no one ever thinks of white Europeans as immigrants and they are never the face of immigration woes.

As a society, we – including foreign-born residents – have decided that some immigrants are tolerable and others are not. Arizona’s law is a great example of how policy decisions are made on factors that have little to do with border protection, and more to do with keeping specific people out. Consider: a white British male and a Hispanic male, both walking down the street in Arizona; of which of these is a police officer likely to have a “reasonable suspicion” of illegal immigration status? On what basis do you think the officer would make that determination?

American-born Blacks are keen to the threats the Arizona laws represent to civil liberties, and have joined Hispanic groups in decrying them. Where are the rest of us “other people?” While we may not see ourselves as all in the same boat, surely we are not na├»ve enough to think that the non-brown, non-foreign language speaking ones among us are exempt from a growing anti-immigration sentiment. For many Americans, the gates that were once flung open to the tired and poor huddled masses yearning to be free should now be closed to preserve jobs, ease the strain on social services and protect the English language – it doesn’t matter how or why you got here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Big footprints splash oil

They talk about preservation so certainly they care; but mansion walls and floors are decorated with the body parts of endangered animals. They talk about conservation so surely they recognize its importance; but it is so much work to unplug televisions, desktops, laptops, chargers and coffee makers after every use. They talk about new energy sources, so undoubtedly they see the need; but wind turbines spoil ocean views and endanger little birds.

As a gunky oil slick larger than the island of Jamaica slimes its way across the Louisiana/Alabama/Florida coastline, everyone watches in horror. There is a disconnect between the heartbreak at the environmental ruin and the country’s insatiable oil appetite. Species of animals have died out in this generation and everyone thinks they are doing their part if they give money to a telethon fundraiser or pay for a membership at their city zoo.

Residents of the land of the free have taken that all too literally. Nothing is really free, none of us are free from our obligations to the planet, and we will certainly not be free of the harsh environmental consequences of our behaviors.

‘They’ must become ‘we.’ Talk must be replaced with active commitment to reducing our energy consumption. We must shun companies with poor environmental records and reward those utilizing innovative solutions to environmental concerns. We must buy food that is grown and produced in the most responsible ways. We must not underestimate the role we each have to play, and must become aware of everything we each can do to lessen our footprint on the earth.