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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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?