Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Recognizing prejudices and biases

Published:Thursday | April 16, 2015 | 4:00 AMJaevion Nelson

There is a limit on how far an individual from a certain social class and educational background can go in this society. The system is designed to maintain an order that holds some groups of people back for the benefit of some. Ever so often, many of us see and experience this limitation as we go about our lives on a daily basis.

People scoff because you do not have the 'right' skin colour, address, friends, occupation, income, etc. They remind you, both covertly and overtly, of the rules and boundaries you are expected to observe diligently. In addition, because you are from a certain community and/or family, they are usually appalled when you are able to discuss critical socio-economic and development issues affecting you and others in your community and the country in general. It's almost as if (well, maybe it is and I don't know) one by virtue of being born in a particular family, with the 'right' name and skin colour and income or by great fortune live in a certain community is entitled to a certain kind of advancement that 'the rest' can only dream of.

 

SOLD A FALLACY

 

Gavin Myers, a Jamaican postgraduate student in South Korea who has worked with people in low-income communities, said it best: "There is a limit to the power of individual human agency in the face of systemic deterrents as is deployed against [the] poor and underclass. This dream we are sold that as long as the mind can conceive it, we can achieve it is a fallacy used to assuage the guilt or shame of the powers that be."

It is frightening that we seemingly find it so difficult to see these things and recognise how our prejudices and biases influence our attitudes and behaviour towards others and thereby exclude them. I wonder if we will in fact see a Jamaica that is the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business where every Jamaican can reach their full potential in the near future (read Vision 2030).

The insults and disrespect routinely fielded at Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller seemingly illustrate this quandary perfectly.

Let's be honest. The vitriol spewed at the prime minister is evidence of the disregard we have for people from (or we think are from) certain social classes and the limit we have for how far or how much they can advance in society.

People are shamelessly disrespectful. The sentiments have gone beyond banter and jokes. I can't fathom how we are quick to say the prime minister is unintelligent and inept yet are clearly obfuscated about what it means to hold our leaders accountable.

As young entrepreneur Charles Barrett said in the days leading up to the visit of President Barack Obama: "The vitriol that I see levelled at PSM [Portia Simpson Miller] is totally uncalled for, inappropriate and mind-boggling to say the least. It's as if she can do nothing right in the eyes of some people in this country! The organs of the State were on show these past two days to host the leader of the free world and CARICOM heads of government, and even amidst all that, people find time and space to be negative and abusive in their speech, especially about the PM. I believe PSM is phenomenal for this very reason, no matter the venom spewed at her she just keeps on going and manages to keep a level head. [...] Is it any wonder why we can't grow and progress? We spend too much time fighting and tearing each other down."

 

RESPECT DUE

 

I won't pretend to be the prime minister's biggest fan or I am ecstatic about everything her administration is doing. I do not disagree that there are a plethora of challenges. However, it appears some of the most learned among us have great difficulty comprehending how to respectfully register their concerns.

Our problems are too many for us to be so invested in our biases, prejudices and hateful sentiments. Since the 1970s, over 40,000 persons have been murdered. The vast majority of these homicides remain unsolved. The perpetrators are wallowing in impunity. Too many of us are silent. I encourage you to attend the memorial service for Jamaica's murdered victims on Sunday April 19 at 10:30 a.m. at the St Andrew Parish Church.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.