Today 53 years ago my birth country of Jamaica became “independent” with the right to self governance. Yet looking online on many forums, Jamaicans aren’t really in the celebrating mood with plenty of good reason. I talk frequently with my family living in JA about the conditions and it is easy to see how the IMF noose continues to tighten around Jamaica’s neck strangling the life and hope out of the people. It is easy for me to say that despite the struggles, “The facts remain, life under colonialism wasn’t better,” because I don’t live there so it wouldn’t be fair for me to act as if I am not privileged to be a Jamaican immigrant living abroad. It is easy for me to say that corruption exists everywhere (look no further than the police departments and politicians here in the US) but at the same time because I live in America I should be afforded certain benefits and protections not readily available to others in the developing world. Though I can complain about food prices going up, I don’t have to worry about going hungry (this is not to say people don’t go hunger everyday in America). As a result I deeply empathize with my countrymen who do not view Jamaica as truly independent. How can one legitimately view Jamaica as fully independent when the Queen is still the head of state as listed on the Constitution? How can one view Jamaica as independent when the proverbial sword of Damocles in the form of Jamaica’s debt is hanging over the small island’s head? Yes Jamaica has its own governance and though it faces international pressure sometimes, Jamaica, at least in theory, still reserves its sovereignty. At the same time every time I say “Happy Independence Day Jamaica,” I am repeating an oxymoron.
Black immigrants have always held a unique position in the modern era. We moved from countries where we were a part of the majority where the effects of racism and white supremacy were distance and structural (colonialism) to countries where we were now a part of the minority and as a result were forced to confront white supremacy head on. Though we say we will never forget our roots and the hardships we faced back in our home countries, we have become accustomed to life in our new countries and at times can look back at where we are coming from with condemning eyes. Instead we need to remember to empathize with the lived reality many back home are living even though it is no longer our reality.
So when I say Happy Independence to my fellow Jamaicans, I am fully aware of the realities and how Jamaica and other majority black countries are being crushed by the IMF restrictions with many in the countries like America are not aware or even care. These same individuals were deeply invested in the Greece crisis without realizing that Puerto Rico (a US commonwealth) was suffering from an astronomical level of debt. So what do I suggest Jamaica do to fix its problems so that Jamaicans can truly be independent? It wouldn’t be fair for me to suggest solutions since I don’t live in the country. The solutions needed in Jamaica need to come from those living there who will look out for the greater good for all instead of self interest if given the chance. Speaking as a black person living in America, I do think reparations would help as black people the world over have never had the chance to gain equal footing economically following the abolition of slavery, which in turn breeds many of the problems we face whether in the US, Jamaica, Haiti, etc. I can hear Jamaicans screaming in horror saying that the government can’t be trusted and I understand but I am not saying that Britain should just hand out money to every Jamaican because though that would be ideal how do we distinguish who gets the money? What about all the Jamaicans living abroad? Are we excluded entirely even if our ancestors were enslaved on Jamaican sugar plantations? What I think should be done at least in the case of Jamaica is a complete cancellation of Jamaica’s debt. I know bankers and economics people hate this idea but I feel that until the burden of debt is removed Jamaica will continue to run a rat race trying to pay off something that is unpayable. This in turn causes politicians to continue to jockey for votes promising to solve a problem that Jamaica currently doesn’t have the means to solve. I do hope that CARICOM’s Reparations Commission can come up with a legitimate plan because until then come every August 6th when I say Happy Independence Jamaica I will continue to contradict myself.
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