Black Lives Matter in Jamaica: debates about colourism follow anger at police brutality
A protest against Black Lives Matter on June 6 in Kingston, Jamaica. Jamaica Gleaner via YouTube
Protests against Black Lives Matter continue after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Protests in the United States and many European countries have led to the overthrow of colonial and slavery monuments and calls for far-reaching changes to combat systemic racism.
But protests against Black Lives Matter were also held in black majority countries where they raised some unpleasant truths. In Jamaica, protests and public debate in recent weeks have focused on the high number of police murders and other social injustices on the island. But they have also had debates about colorism - discrimination against people with dark skin tones.
On June 6, a small protest against Black Lives Matter took place in front of the US Embassy in Kingston. The demonstrators particularly focused on extrajudicial murders by police and other security forces. According to Amnesty International, Jamaica has one of the highest rates of fatal police shootings in the world.
Two days after George Floyd's death at the end of May, Susan Bogle, a poor woman with intellectual disabilities, was allegedly shot and killed in her home during a police operation in Augustston, a suburb of Kingston. The protesters carried posters with their names and those of other police brutality victims, including Mario Deane, who died in police custody in 2014.
The demonstrators emphasized that these victims of police brutality had one thing in common: they were poor and mostly dark-skinned due to Jamaica's complex class and color relationships.
A few days after Bogle's murder, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness visited her family and said the incident was being investigated in full. But he faced an online backlash from those who said the visit was an insensitive PR stunt rather than an attempt to sensibly address the high rate of police murders, gang violence, or the general plight of poor Jamaicans.
Colorism in Jamaica
While public debate in both newspapers and social media has focused mainly on extrajudicial killings, questions have also been raised, especially by young Jamaicans about the role of colorism in Jamaican society.
The spread of bleaching is just an expression of colorism in Jamaica. Such prejudices have their origin in slavery, when slave children who were produced by white planters or overseers were given special privileges, often as a result of sexual violence. This included exemption from work in the fields due to their proximity to white men and, by definition, due to their whiteness.
Read More: Colorism - How Schattenbias Maintains Prejudices About People With Dark Skin
Colorism and white-on-black discrimination in Jamaica, the United States and other parts of America should be seen as two sides of the same coin. Colorism would not exist without European colonialism and the use of enslaved Africans on sugar plantations. In my own research, I have argued that colorism was a public secret in Jamaican society - something that is well known but rarely openly recognized. Those who dared to expose it were usually slandered. And that means increasingly being called names and receiving threats on social media today.
A welcome debate
Public debate after George Floyd's murder suggests that more Jamaicans are ready to openly recognize that fair skin grants privileges and that this is a form of racism. And this includes not only those who were at the receiving end of colorism. A fair-skinned man, for example, tweeted that he knew that he was often treated better because of the color of his skin.
But there are also many who argue that racism occurs in the United States and that "classicism" takes place in Jamaica. In other words, the fact that some Jamaicans get good jobs or the best place in a restaurant is simply due to their class privilege and has little or nothing to do with skin color.
Since Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the country has experienced various "racial outbreaks" - racist incidents that have led to a public debate about race and skin color. A notorious case was the so-called Skyline incident in 1972, when dark-skinned Housing Secretary Anthony Spaulding accused the Skyline Hotel of racism of refusing to serve him and his friends because one of his friends refused to wear his hat remove as it was hotel policy.
But none of these incidents changed the status quo of the breed: fair skin continues to confer privileges in both the public and private spheres. For example, various studies have shown a close correlation between wealth and skin color.
It remains to be seen whether this recent racial outbreak will lead to measures against colorism. The fact that it is being addressed more openly is a positive step forward.
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Henrice Altink receives funding from the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
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