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This blog will not be accusing you of anything…not really. In fact, I’m writing this as one of you. Yes my dears, were Jinx to condemn me to go back to where I came from, I would end up –– well, not exactly in the heart of UPT (for that is Norbrook or Jackshill) — but at least in one of its other vital organs. Maybe its lungs. You see, I was born and grew up in Hope Pastures.

hopepastures

Aah – Uptown Jamaica. A we say Campion, immaculate, Ardenne, Andrews, Wolmers. A we say Sunday Brunch at Terra Nova or Strawberry Hill. A we say Liguanea Club; a we say lunch at Pegasus, dinner at Normas on the Terrace. A we say, ‘Mummy, Daddy? Can come pick we up?’

To come from Uptown Jamaica…that isn’t much to be proud of. Especially not now. Especially not this week. It has been a hard few days for us.  Nobody knows the troubles we’ve seen! For it come een like some of our members (one in particular!) just out to mek the rest of we look bad and snobbish and pretentious. The truth is, we are – we all know it — but we don’t like it when people make it so goddamn obvious!

Sometimes, it is true, even here in England, I try to hide my uptown-ness. Take for instance a small thing that happened to me a couple years back. I had gone to a hairdresser in Brixton wanting to groom my dreadlocks which had fallen into a state of great untidiness. Three women in the shop sat listlessly, waiting for customers, and they sported the most fabulous weaves – red and purple and pink – and with some wicked manicured nails to match. I knew them to be Jamaican so endeavoured to ramp up my own Jamaican-ness as I stepped into the shop.

‘Oonoo do dreadlocks grooming?’ I asked. ‘Mi a look fi tighten up di roots dem.’

One of the women sprang up.

‘Yeah man! Yeah man! Siddung.’ She swivelled a parlour chair around for me. ‘Wi do dreadlocks. Definitely. Henyting yu waah. Hinterlock or Gel & Twis’ –a we dat. Yeah man – siddung inna de chair and me wi’ set yu up.’

Hair-dresser

I sat down in the chair and she proceeded to groom the locks. After only a minute she alarmed me with a question: ‘So weh yu come fram?’

But I thought this had been established! I felt hurt. I stammered. ‘Ja….Jamaica,’  less confident than when I had entered.

‘Oh,’ she said, but she too sounded dubious. The next 3 or 4 minutes passed in silence, a silence in which I now imagine she was having an internal conversation, trying to work out how this imposter coulda really come from Yaad. ‘Ohhhhh!!’ she exclaimed suddenly, and unwittingly pulled one of my locks extra tight. Hers was the excitement of KC schoolboys buzzing in an answer on School’s Challenge Quiz. ‘Yu come from UPTOWN though!’

There. I had been found out. The next hour passed more or less easily. She chatted away about this and that, seemingly comforted by the knowledge that though we came from the same country, we came from two different worlds.

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What more needs to be said about the fool-fool statement made by Jodi Stewart-Henriques, AKA Jinx, AKA Mrs Sean-Paul? And give her credit – she has even publicly apologized. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about (which is unlikely) I’m referring to a recent scandal in Jamaica where the wife of Sean Paul went on to facebook to accuse Usain Bolt of being a horrible neighbour. Whether Bolt is in fact a good neighbour or not is another matter, but what caused such a commotion was the classist language of the critique.

jodi-seanpaul

But it’s all been said already – the irony that the wife of Sean Paul who lives comfortably from the proceeds of Dancehall should turn around and class as ‘nasty’ the music that Bolt supposedly plays;  the serious problematics of her suggestion that Bolt should ‘go back to where he came from!’ – all of this has been dissected and critiqued a million times over. And though we Uptown Jamaicans, even in situations like this, don’t like to ever use the ‘R’ word, it has been used and justifiably so. Jinx was not just being classist; she was being racist. And yes, yes, yes — I am sure she did not do it consciously; I’m sure that many of her best friends are black (so long as they’re not bhuttus and don’t make up too much noise come night time); and I realize that she is partly black herself. None of that matters really. It was racially insensitive for her as a light skinned and privileged Jamaican to adopt a rhetoric that is commonly found on the lips of white xenophobes.  For her as an uptown Jamaican to tell this black country boy to, ‘go back to where he came from’ was nothing short of shocking.

People began sharing stories on Twitter of every time they had seen Jinx drunk and loud and disorderly at a party.

The hashtag #NahMekDemJinxMe, was created in quick time, and gave me life.

This Meme created by the artist Michael Flynn Elliot had me rolling on the floor.

bolmovie

And this other Facebook status posted by Usain’s actual neighbour made me want to fetch a tambourine and fire two bullets in true non-uptown style.

boltneighbour2

Now you must appreciate the classic uptown SHAAAADDDEEE of this intervention. For in defending Bolt, neighbour woman points out that Jinx is looking status by claiming to be his neighbour when she isn’t really. No no no! Jinx merely lives in the townhouse complex behind them.

She says the word ‘complex’ but she may as well have used the word ‘scheme’. Either way, to be someone from the ‘complex’ or ‘scheme’ is not a marker of uptownness at all. Jinx is not only scheming for status but also lives in the ‘scheme’  round back – in other words, not a proper house. One of my friends asked me, does sound travel any less to mere townhouses than it does to good and proper detached houses? Well — who cares. Jinx is deservedly getting back the measure that she threw out – condescension and classism. Ah good!

But all of this has been said, and Jinx has apologized. In fact, it turns out Jinx apologized on the first thread in which she made the awful comments, but the Star which broke the story didn’t bother to mention this. I guess that wouldn’t fan the flames of a good enough scandal. In any case, she has been forced to make a more public, and might I say gracious, apology. So that’s that. Things should be settling back to normal now. Story done.

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But is it done? Dear Uptown, world that I come from – here is my question – for there is one thing that Jinx said that she may be right about after all. The first person who ran in to defend Bolt she classed as a mere ‘groupie’. The policeman who was called for a statement laughed into the phone and asked, ‘Wha dem a try do to the athlete?’ suggesting that Bolt, even if he had been in the wrong, was untouchable.

So – are we really offended by Jinx’s classism, or are we merely defending Bolt? Would we jump up with equal gusto to defend a neighbour who didn’t enjoy Bolt’s international fame? If this was just another interloper from Downtown who had come into some money and moved into our streets, would we be as willing to defend their right to be themselves, to throw occasional parties, and to play any kind of music that they wanted to play?

Last year was a kind of amazing year for me. I wrote a book and it won a huge prize. Over the Christmas I was back in Jamaica at one of those parties in one of those houses on the hill that overlooks the city. A glass of wine in one hand,  cigarette in the other, a friend asked me – ‘Kei, do you realize what happened to you this year?’

‘The prize?’ I asked.

‘No no…here in Jamaica. And yes, because of the prize, and all of the books.’

I was puzzled. ‘No,’ I confessed. ‘What has happened to me?’

‘Well – in the eyes of Jamaica – you’ve become brown. Honorary Brown.’

brownman

It was a joke of course, but there was a deeply unsettling truth to it. And here is the thing — even if it is true that I have achieved anything, it isn’t a quarter, not an eighth of what Bolt has achieved. His success is phenomenal, and unlike me, he has the money to match his success. So if poor little me has become ‘Honorary Brown’ then how much more is that true of Bolt?

Jinx thought she had enough class and colour on her side that by reminding Bolt, however subtly of his own dark shade and his country beginnings, that she could put him right back in his place, away from the yachts and the uptown parties that supposedly are her province. Alas, Bolt’s Honorary Brownness is of such a pedigree and of such an extent that it trumped Jinx’s actual brownness. What a preckeh! Bolt could sing along with Bob Marley, ‘Dem a guh tired fi see mi face!’ and later on in the same song, ‘I want to disturb my neighbour!’

All the criticisms levelled against Jinx are fair – but tomorrow, when this all dies away, will we be just as willing to defend another neighbour who might not enjoy Bolt’s status? I’m just wondering. We seem to have spent so much energy attacking Jinx without admitting that she is only reflecting a kind of bias and condescension that is sadly common in the world that we come from. I’m pleased that we see what is so wrong in the language Jinx used, but at the risk of mixing metaphors, isn’t it all a bit like the pot calling the kettle black?

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21 thoughts on “Dear Uptown Jamaica

  1. Good to know she apologized, but I doubt she would have done that if there had not been a furore…have to say it is probably because she was caught and not because she was truly sorry. The original comments came straight from her bigoted gut ! Stupid girl, no matter how brown we all are we are only a generation or two removed from the cane piece and in the real world all it takes is one drop…

  2. Great piece of writing. I enjoyed all of it and recognized well the trappings of the UPT. In answer to your last question, I think that Jinx’s none too subtle shade was provoked by the very status that you are describing. It is not the noise that is raising her ire, but rather the fact that this little black upstart has invaded her perceived territory and does not have the consideration to do so quietly, gratefully and without disturbing things as he found them. As we all know, biking in Norbrook is not a new thing. Neither is partying among the young and wealthy. So Jinx is complaining about precisely what we are defending – Mr Bolt’s right to be there. So yes, I think that we, Jamaicans at home and abroad, would defend anyone who was attacked in this way, but the sad fact is that there are too few who could be.
    Ps I would totally hang out with the lady who is really Usain’s neighbour. Now that was some deft shade throwing. Lovely. I can see her now, glass of lemonade in hand “and she don’t even really live over here. She live in the complex over there. Ah hear the husband finally building somewhere for dem. Dat must be why she think she reach. Well good luck to her.” (kisses teeth and hands glass to the helper)

  3. This is such a wonderful article and to my surprise, I honestly thought I was the only Jamaican in London who other Jamacians called fake.. Seriously! It first happen in 2003 when a Nigirian taxi driver asked me where I was from as he was unable to define my accent:: he then said ” You don’t sound like the Jamaicians I know in Brixton”! So I asked ” How does Jamaicans Sound”? He then said” you know the ones that says Boomboclaat!!! Rassclaat!!! Lol… My accent has nothing to do with where I lived for 25 years in Jamaica, 3000 feet above sea level, over looking the Plains Of Liguanea.
    I think Jinx, is just being her class; lewd or loud dancehall music anywhere at certain time of nights can be disturbing but hey ! Some people just wanna get their 15 minutes of fame.. I didn’t know her but I know her hubby from the hills.. Now she has a social media fame like last week news… Beautiful girl but not the class she wishes to be as going on social media or any media to express neighbourly issues is not nice….

  4. Ahhh. Mi like it.

    Your question though (would we still be quick to defend a non-honorary brown interloper) points to another layer of “ism” or prejudice that operates in Ja. As you pointed out, Bolt is not only of poor origins, he is of rural origins. As a person of similar origins, I don’t just see this as an updown/downtown, black/brown issue; I see another us/them issue involved that influences my response to the issue — the town/country piece. So then Kai, your “we” in the question probably is not anticipating the view I have, which makes me answer in this way: Whether or not “we” would be quick to defend another socially ascended interloper depends on where “we” are from (country or town) and where the hurry-come-up is from. And here is my truth: Whether uptown or downtown, black or brown, all of town people are united in their (often thinly disguised; perhaps unacknowledged) disdain of country people. On the other hand, country people don’t mind telling you how they feel about the people dem a town.

    I also think that if he was a rowdy Irishman vs a ratchet African American, although both foreigners, each would elicit a different response from “us”. But that is out side of the scope of your question.

    So would we banish a neva-si-come-si back to where he’s from? It depends. We are “out of many” on this one. There really is no one way all a wi would respond.

    tm

  5. Totally enjoyed the article. Not to mention the comments. I do believe Jamaicans home and abroad would have been enraged by the offense irrespective of the victim. But then again, the browning might have been even more disrespectful if the perpretrator was a real nowherian…these words are hard to spell. I get the where are you from question both a yard and a broad, and i am not even an UPTite. Mi come from cross the water. I find it immensely amusing because I always believe I am giving my best rendition of patois.

  6. I enjoyed reading your sweeping take on the Jinx lady’s unfortunate brain fart. Although UPT and the rest of Jamaica is a myth, Jamaicans need it to explain some of the horrors they face partying or eking out the next meal.

    Life goes on since slavery created bakrah pickney who now call themselves ‘browning’, a sickening self-flaggelation that they have accepted and defended with dubious honour since then, not matter her rediculous it is to defend in a 21st century Jamaica. But this “dregs for brains” is not new if one has read C.L.R. James’ the Black Jocobins. Why do Jamaicans prefer always to be outdated in a piece of paradise on earth, a la Jinx?

    Still a great piece!

  7. This was good.. but I wished you would have stressed the fact that colourism and the association with a certain lifestyle is not only a disease for the upperclass “brownin” but also for the dark skins as well…. Jamaican people really need to change their mindset… and learn to view people from more than just a colour

  8. Ah what tek her. Ah grudge she grudge the youth because he goes for what he wants and nuh depend pon nobody fi mek him famous. Country people ah the best plus if she never have lighter skin nothing wouldn’t gwan fi her. She’s of light complexion on the outside but her mind is blacker than tar.

  9. I think I must have read this in record speed, I really enjoyed it(the writing is so intriguing). I’m not sure why we feel the need to label one another only to feel better about ourselves. Unfortunately its not happening only in Jamaica. The questions I think is since we can’t change the world what can we do so it doesn’t affect us as much?
    Like when the lady at the saloon looked down at you(made me wish I was there so I can give her a piece of my mind), you can’t change her but what could you have done so you’re not affected by her poison?

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