If you are Jamaican chances are you’ve seen this already. And chances are you’ve laughed at it and also felt a little embarrassed. It is the Youtube video of a Jamaican woman at a train station near London, getting rather upset by the behaviour of a fellow commuter.
There is both humour and horror in this video. I once read a theory of comedy that made sense. It said that all jokes are based on an A..B..C..X! sequence. It is the incongruous that makes us laugh – an X that we didn’t expect or see coming after the natural A..B..C progression. If we saw it coming then we wouldn’t laugh. (Think of the predictable punchline.)
The incongruity (and thus the humour) of the above video lies in the large size of the woman’s reaction as compared to the relatively small misdemeanour of a man smoking a cigarette.
The horror of it happens when we realize what the woman is actually reacting to – not the cigarette, but the specific man who is smoking it. She is reacting to his Indian-ness. Hers is an utterly racist rant and she draws on the usual Islamophobic rhetoric.
She is instigating a hopeless competition between two people who have been equally Othered by the country they live in, who both find themselves at the bottom of society’s barrel. Now I am not so earnest to believe that this should spawn some natural solidarity between the two, but I can’t help but find it unfortunate that this Jamaican woman, like the house slave she is probably partly descended from, should try to claim some dubious spot at the top of the bottom.
Note how she quickly begins to critique not just the man, but his entire race. She assaults not just ‘him’ but that much more problematic category – ‘them’. She shouts, ‘Is bad dem bloodclawt bad since dem blow up di twin tower!’ (Translation: They have been acting this badly since they blew up the Twin Towers’. Occasionally she makes it personal, but even then it is disturbing: ‘Him mussi tink seh Bin Laden a him raasclawt uncle.’ (He maybe thinks that Bin Laden is his fucking uncle.)
There is a profound irony to this woman’s performance: though her accent and her every gesture and indeed the volume of her reaction announce her as definitely ‘not being from here’ the point of her outburst is in fact to make the opposite claim, that she does in fact belong ‘here’. At least more than the smoking Indian man. And though her reaction seems outrageous, undisciplined and even out of order, what she is trying to draw attention to is her own discipline and her own orderliness. With her faux-fur coat, her faux-gucci shades, her gold teeth, and her exaggerated gestures she is actually laying claim to British politeness and manners. Was any enterprise ever so doomed to failure? Was anything ever so sad?
I have remembered this Jamaican woman going ballistic on the poor Indian man because yesterday I saw another video of a another Jamaican woman exploding in public. This other Jamaican woman wasn’t at a train station in England, but on a bus in New York City. Public transport seems to bring out the madness in Jamaican women, and indeed I have been on enough buses in Jamaica to know this.
My friend Joseph who forwarded this new video wrote – ‘she mek the woman on the train platform look like she’s an amateur!’ And he is right. This lady takes the cake, so to speak. She just keeps going and going. She is relentless and obscene; she is occasionally very funny (her declaration – “No! Ugly people shouldn’t talk bout ugly! Leave dat fi pretty people!” or her later demonstration of shaking lice out of her wig) but she is also quite offensive, especially as it goes on and on without respite.
There are obvious parallels between these two Jamaican women caught on camera phones in their moments of public outrage: the magnitude of their anger; their indecent call for decency (the Indian man should put out his cigarette; the woman on the bus should have said ‘excuse me’ before she sat); their flamboyant performance of Jamaican-ness to a stunned set of commuters who hear the anger but may or may not understand its vocabulary. But there are differences too. The object of the New York woman’s tirade is not an Indian man, but another black woman. If we were to be psycho-analytical, we might say she is angry with herself – with the woman she will become in America. The ‘ism’ being performed here isn’t racism, or not obviously. Still, the abusing woman insists on the fundamental difference between herself and the offending woman. She draws attention to the woman’s weight – to the fact of her fat (this is when it becomes distasteful). Perhaps then this is Sizism. And it is almost as if the larger woman represents America – America bearing its weight down on poor black women from Jamaica, bearing down on them so hard and almost ‘brukking off their legs’ without so much as an ‘excuse me’.
Get past the comedy, the offence, the gratuitousness, the clear need for therapy, and I think the narrative of this New-York Jamaican woman is that she has survived. She hasn’t been corrupted or polluted by America. Certainly its accent hasn’t affected her yet! Importantly for her, she hasn’t eaten junk food and gotten fat. She has done well – found a job and kept it. She is on her way to that job even now. She has made a home for herself in the belly of the beast but has not been burnt by its bile. This is what it seems she is trying to tell us. But when we see and hear her anger, how can we not doubt this? How can we not say to ourselves – was any enterprise ever so doomed to failure? Was anything ever so sad?