Dear Damion Crawford
I write to you as a fellow Jamaican. I could show you my passport to prove my Jamaicanness, but I do not know if you would accept that as credential enough. Most people, however, accept me as a Jamaican writer and academic. My 9 books to date have consistently thought through the complicated question of what it means to be Jamaican.
It is by no means an easy question to answer. Most of my work tries to expand the dangerously limiting ideas that are out there. At the University of Glasgow where I taught until recently, my students were mostly white and from the UK. They sometimes came to my lectures on Caribbean Literature with very naive ideas about the region. Sometimes they thought that we all looked like you and me – dreadlocked men – and that we were always smiling and playing banjos and smoking ganja on the beach. On the streets of Glasgow, people sometimes stopped me to ask if I had any weed to sell.
At the university I forced my students to deconstruct and then expand these notions. I told them that Jamaica was made up of different races and classes and cultures and conflicts. I toldl them that everything wasn’t always ‘irie’ and that Jamaican culture has never been a singular thing. I’m pleased that several of these students, astounded by the largeness and complexity of it all, have since visited Jamaica, and at least one student now works as a publisher helping to produce Caribbean literature. In this small way maybe I even contributed to your ministerial portfolio of tourism.
But Damion, it isn’t only foreigners who think in limited ways about Jamaica. When I taught at UWI, I remember asking a class how they would describe our island. When a few students answered that they would describe it as ‘exotic’ I felt compelled to challenge this. I told them it’s important not to see their own home through foreign eyes. If Jamaica is ‘exotic’ to the tourist, surely it can’t be ‘exotic’ to the local.
As a writer and an academic researcher I’ve been particularly interested in the Caribbean’s spiritual landscapes. A recent chapter that I contributed to the Routledge Reader in Anglophone Caribbean Literature surveyed the vast spectrum of religions across the archipelago – from Vodoun to Santeria to Christianity to Orisha workship. My most recent novel, The Last Warner Woman, was about a Revivalist whose gift of prophecy is misunderstood in the unhospitably secular world of the UK. She is misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and sectioned off to a mental institution because of her Africanized version of Christianity.
As you well know, Jamaica didn’t start out as a Christian country. The Tainos who gave this island its name (and other words like ‘hurricane’ and ‘barbecue’) had a very different idea of spirituality. We retain little to nothing of the island’s indigenous religions. It is not unfair to point out that Christianity was quite literally whipped into us, and though I think we should celebrate and embrace our Christian heritage, it is worth remembering the brutality of its imposition. It is also understandable that some Jamaicans have taken an ethical position against the ‘white man’s religion’.
Indeed, such an ethical position has led to one of the most creative and exciting ways in which we can now be Jamaican. I’m talking specifically about Rastafari which was rejected by so many at first as un-Jamaican. Indeed, Rastafari itself tried to distance itself from Jamaican culture which it saw and still sees as ‘Babylon’. But now it is integrated and our culture is richer for it.
This is why many Jamaicans had a problem when you tweeted: “All of a sudden everybody a atheist and agnostic and undecided and non believer unuh need fi rhatid stop it… that a nuh Jamaica.” You have disingenuously represented the backlash that followed, proving yourself, if nothing else, to be a skillful politician, taking shelter in the very crowd that you pander to. You’ve pretended to be a victim and that it’s your expression of faith that is under attack. But no, Damion, it isn’t!
What’s problematic is not your ideas of what Jamaica is, but your insistence on what Jamaica is NOT. I have no problem with you telling the world that Jamaica is a Christian country, because it certainly is. More specifically, Jamaica is a Pentecostal country. And in some parts it is an Anglican country. In other parts still, it is a Baptist country, and an SDA country, and in other parts a Revival country. Jamaica is also a Rastafari country and a Muslim country and an Obeah country. Jamaica is a black country, but also a white country and a Chinese country and a mixed race country. It is a straight country, and in some corners and gullies it is a gay country. Jamaica is spiritual and it is also secular; it is a believing country and in some parts, it is an unbelieving country. And Jamaica manages to be all these things simultaneously. Some parts don’t agree with other parts, but that is alright. That’s how culture happens. No part should ever monopolize the whole.
In geographic terms, we are a small island, but our culture is a wide, wide space that can accommodate much more than you seem to think. It is my job as a writer to think through and write through that complexity. All of it! It is your job as an MP to represent your nation. All of us!
Dr Kei Miller
Jamaica is also a Jewish country, although only a few hundred Jamaican Jews here now. Oh, and there are Jamaican Hindus, Buddhists and Baha’is too. I actually know some personally! I can prove it! And they are indeed Jamaican! Jamaica is many other things – including people who don’t care about organized religion at all! Why does this “pentecostal thinking” not seem to want to acknowledge the diversity of Jamaica – religion, race, ethnicity etc? As you know, many were offended by Minister Crawford’s careless tweets, incoherent as they were at times (a whole series of them chastising us for not fearing God). What do his dreads mean, then, or are they just to make him look cute? Rastafarians must be especially hurt.
Love your thoughts petchary…I wonder if Mr Crawford ever really look at our motto….OUT OF MANY ONE PEOPLE?
Really like this approach to Jamaican culture and political representation. But Jamaica’s class colour contradictions too seamlessly treated
What do you mean by “But Jamaica’s class colour contradictions too seamlessly treated”?
I think there are always going to be contradictions and complexities in any country that is diverse (which is almost everywhere). But that doesn’t mean that diversity and respect for others’ differences is not desirable…
Very much so, Rupert. Its not just about nice turns of phrases or glossy rhetoric. There are some brutal realities that cannot be glossed over. And, Jamaica is a black country. Let us not gloss over that and continuously try to relegate the black majority to the fringes so that the “others” can feel good.
I could kiss you for this letter. I couldn’t have said it better.
My apologies I can’t like this as I’m not on wordpress. However it was refreshing to read. it’s sad the limited views Jamaicans have of Jamaica…needless to say the world. Our own leaders suppress these views by keeping the “masses” ignorant to it all.
One should also realize that the black vs white and versi verso garbage in a country like Jamaica is as redundant.
I must apologies also as I don’t know who you are. This could be sad on my part. Either way Cheers!
– One drink of my whiskey goes to this article.
*viceversa…sorry i get typos a lot…I’m some what dyslexic and I have OCD, I had to correct that. Go figure.
Well said bredren. I hope the politician bredda reads this letter & more importantly, I hope it connects with something in that little bird brain of his. Something that is far away from the section that controls arrogance.
With your comment you are no different from Mr. Crawford for what you are accusing. For me personally Mr. Crawford should stand by his comments.
An extremely interesting and instructive letter delineating and explicating the intricacies, labyrinth and complexities of Jamaican culture and society. Hopefully, Damion will read it and glean something from its message…
I am a Jamaican born and bred and I am also an Atheist. Damion Crawford please don’t try and brainwash anyone!
Well written Sir. I really hope Mr Crawford read your piece.
Thank you, Kei Miller, for writing this. I hope Damion Crawford reads it. For the record, I am a Jamaican. I am white. I am a humanist and do not belong to any organised religion. To Mr Crawford I am nothing but a heathen!
If Jamaica is a Muslim, Chinese country, does that mean that Scotland is a poor, black nation?
Very interesting approach in responding to this limited statement via the social media. As our motto states…”out of many one people” so Jamaica is definitely a diverse nation and we are living in a made society with different beliefs. Read more Damion.
tear came to my eyes .. thank u for writing this … j’can politicians need to stop playing on ignorance
Fair enough. But be careful not to fall into the generalizations trap ….as in addressing “Jamaican politicians”. They all have differences and multiple identities too
Bravo Dr. Miller . Many Thanks…Write one to Portia now nuh?? 🙂
Crawford is just being himself..apparently a conservative upcoming politician who represents himself, still learning how to be a politician with no intention of being a statesman. Like the whitened sepulchers here in Jamaica they speak not listening to themselves. Rather any utterance that comes from their mouth is enough to make anyone with any common sense understand that those utterances are meaningless and especially from a politician means absolutely nothing.
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Well written,clearly presented letter. For someone representing a diverse people, this politician’s thought process needs more depth.
Where’ s the respect that Jamicans always keep using..”respect due”!
I think everything in life is about how you interpret things. I understand what Damion is trying to say maybe using religion may not have been the ideal way to express what he wants to say. we have lost a lot of our core values as Jamaicans, especially our family values which for the majority is rooted in Christian principles. Rather than chastise the young MP let us try to work together to hep curb this moral decay before it gets worst. the little value placed on human life and scant regard for right and wrong is of major concern now. Understand the message don’t kill the messenger…
This messenger is already dead, dead in thought, dead in tolerance and dead deeds.
Your letter was refreshing and such expressions can only elevate and transcend if we are open to hearing from others. The wish is that our nation’s people especially our leaders will not only read but digest this as well. Thanks for your educated response to our dear politician.
Jamaica is (supposed to be) a free country where you are fee to attend any church, mosque or temple of your chosing or opt not to go to any of them without being discriminated against. The idea of joining state and religious establishment has always had terrible results.
Jamaica is also a One Love country. A people with an uncompromising spirit who will let anyone know that our Jamaica culture is NOT FOR SALE.
Reblogged this on Ornella's Two Cents and commented:
A beautiful Answer to a Careless Jamaican ‘Tweet’
Thank you for this piece…
May I have your permission to use this is the constitution of my New Movement?
In response to an earlier writers comment – no Rastafarians are not especially hurt by Damion Crawford ‘ s ignorance as he doesn’t represent Rastafarians. It is the Christians who should be especially hurt as he spoke from the Christian podium and is now causing them embarrassment. Christianity by most influential Christian leaders (even Jesus) is preached as being all inclusive yet here in Jamaica a prominent political leader has found it necessary to arrogantly subject us to his limited views. I’m a Christian married to a true Rastafarian and if only from outward appearances we show the world, but more importantly, Jamaica that we can embrace our differences and coexist in love and harmony. Inwardly we are true to ourselves and hold fast to that which is good and don’t let misguided individuals derail the progress Jamaica had made and will continue to do with God’s help. Damion locks are pretty and stylish but without true Rastafarian meaning so rest assured no true Rastafarian was hurt.
After reading that letter I must say that Dr. Miller’s letter has evoked a deeper sense of pride in me that makes me even prouder, and please note the use of the word “prouder”, to be a Jamaican. I read that letter and was immediately aware of the fact that Dr. Miller is a lecturer in a Glasgow university and most of what he has said in his letter speaks to a lot of what I had encountered in my five years studying at a UK university.
The limited mindset of how we as a culture, Jamaicans, are perceived by the first world presently is something that came to me as a shock when I had first gotten there to start my studies. I am in no way saying that the mindset is limited for all persons that have never been here to my lovely little island paradise, bit it is there. The way in which Dr. miller has challenged what was said recently by Mr. Crawford has surpassed the realm of the statements but is now somewhat of a challenge to us as Jamaicans to identify within ourselves what we think it is to be a true Jamaican and how we can let other people around us know what it is that we feel it is to be a Jamaican. Our motto is, “Out of many one people” and as it was listed in the letter all the different races that constitutes our society we must expect that there too will be a collage that represents our social, religious, ethnic, and personal beliefs.
I personally believe that as far as we as a nation are concerned right now with all our differences and issues that we have, cause I know I don’t smile all the while cause there isn’t always something to smile about, there is no place that I would rather live than here on my little rock that I call home, my Jamaica. I don’t know her as well as I should or even half as much as some of our visitors do, but i must admit that this letter has made me feel as though I have not been a true son or shown enough respect to my Jamaica.
Dr, Miller, in the event that you happen to come across this response I would like to give you a heartfelt thanks for speaking so eloquently on behalf of all of us and let you know that I will be deeply looking at what it really means for me to be a Proud Jamaica, not just a Jamaican.
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Well thought out analysis but unfortunately he errs in his very last thought- it is the PM who represents all Jamaica. Not the MP he asserts. As an MP the man represents his constituency which may very well be largely comprised of people who agree with the sentiments of his tweet. You see thus Po phenomenon not just in in Jamaica but in Scotland where the professor teaches and everywhere you have representative democracy.
True.We have come a long way from being told who and what we should be.Now we are all things and everything,the sky is the limit.Lets just be proud of who we are.Jamaicans.
May I ask a question – if our nation is of a hundred persons, all of these types that Dr Miller mentioned, but 80 of them are Christians with some fundamental morality, and lets us think of just one – bestiality is a no go ! – even if you find two of the Christians like that and one of the others – how would you identify such a place and how would one define their culture !
Very well and thoughtfully said. Diversity in all its forms is challenging to fully embrace. The chaos, death and destruction that we see around the world is testament to this reality. If peace and harmony were easy, surely we would see more of it and less wars, and probably less poverty. That is why the central theme of the Christian message is “love your brother as much as you love yourself”. Sounds simple, but incredibly hard to do because of selfishness. Selfishness in spirit, in thought and in action.
Well written response. My concern is for the responses that seek to attack persons rather than focus on the issues. We ought to take the high road. I am a Roman Catholic and blessed to call Jamaica home.
Indeed many refuse to worship a white god or believe in the bible aka libel…all are systems of control by colonials.even Rastafari by using this book is a part of that system..we didnt have dat book before sla very membah mi tell u dat….the world is millions of yrs old not a mere 6000 like libel claims..rock formation is proof..also fact that Cane left the garden of eden after killing his only other sibling Abel yet found a .
wife in anotber land..this book is full of contradictions..both god n devil share a love for war n blood sacrifices..n will kill cos of jelosy both are tyrantz to be feared..worship them or die if u dont..its time black peep wake up n free u mind of religios mental slavery..get spiritual know who u really pray to..why Amen at end of prayer is the same as Amun yes Amun Ra..now do your research l challenge you..
The MP represents his imediate constituency FIRST, then all Jamaicans by virtue of holding public office. Secondly as a member of the Cabinet, Mr Crawford’s remit naturally goes beyond the geographical boundaries of his constituency