C. Jama Adams | Social trust: Avoiding the abyss
Black Jamaicans have a long history of being thwarted in their attempts at self-exploration and development.
They have always lived with high levels of identity uncertainty given that their selves were defined as commodities in the service of global capitalist moves over the past four centuries. They are, to a large degree, still embedded in institutions that harm them by exploiting their labour and creativity. Such institutions also often fail to provide them with sufficient resources to facilitate self-development, but at the same time, watch them carefully and respond harshly to the inevitable protests against these dehumanising conditions. As a consequence, the quality of social trust in Jamaica is quite low.
Despite these daunting conditions black Jamaicans, at great cost, have created healthy world views to support models of self-development that draw on marginalised aspects of history and experience, in the context of indifferent if not hostile institutional structures.
A crucial area of institutional failure and oppression has been the educational system. It has consistently, over hundreds of years, failed to meet the intellectual and identity needs of black Jamaicans. Given that Jamaica was a colony, there was deliberately little investment in an education system, as the purpose of a colony is to generate wealth that will be transferred for the development of the 'mother' land. Building schools with curricula that empowered students to be culturally informed, thoughtful, assertive and creative, would be costly thereby reducing wealth transfers. It would also generate graduates that would challenge the power of the British and the local elites by demanding a radically more equitable political system and the creation of other nurturing institutions.
So relatively few schools were built, resulting in most persons being either illiterate or, to this day, being poorly equipped to meet the demands of an increasingly globalised marketplace.
While the British were immoral, they were very astute political strategists, so they ensured that whatever education was offered was based on a curriculum that favoured a European perspective and made very little mention of Blackness, an Afrocentric heritage or human rights. The relatively few black Jamaicans who were considered educated knew very little about their Black culture and often viewed it with disdain or indifference. While they were passionate about Jamaica, it was in terms of a Eurocentric and, later, American ideology that was systemically hostile to the needs of the masses of people. It is therefore not surprising that the likes of Marcus Garvey and the early Rastafarian should get such a hostile reception in their attempts to articulate a Black world view. It also explains the continued institutionalised opposition to Jamaican Patois as a culturally authentic and respected way of understanding and communicating about the self and the world. Even when Black Jamaicans have control of curricula and ideology, it is still within a British framework that does not challenge the emphasis on materialism, consumption and on meeting the demands of markets and bankers.
TIMID AND UNIMAGINATIVE
Given such a foundation, it is not surprising that the political structure and the economy are, at worse, indifferent to the needs of the mass of Jamaicans and, at best, timid and unimaginative in its approach to governance and productivity. We have inherited a political structure whose archaic constraints favours the elite and discourages change. We have an economy that is socialised towards a Euro-American aesthetic, promoting consumption with an emphasis on unaffordable foreign goods, and is often hostile towards thoughtful local productivity and creativity. So the mass of Jamaicans have long-standing reasons to be sceptical of their formal institutions that function to block their attempts to be loving and
While this lack of institutional support has placed limits on personal development, there is hope. It is being driven by three sets of factors. The first of these is the sheer creativity of the mass of people that allows them to construct alternate institutions that bypass the archaic and hostile state-sponsored ones. This is especially evident in the areas of sports, the arts and small business practices. Such creativity and the practices they give rise to is not without risks. Especially in the areas of justice, gender and sexuality, one can observe alternate cultural practices that are often highly oppressive. Needless to say, the formal, parallel, state institutions in these areas are not beacons of hope or best practices.
The second area is the continuity of deep African traditions around reliance, community and curiosity that are passed on from generation to generation. These are constantly being adapted to meet changing conditions and to also generate change.
The third area of hope is the contribution of the two million- plus Jamaican diaspora scattered across the world. These Jamaican-identified communities both draw their strength from 'yard' but also influences what happens in Jamaica, especially in areas of rights, education and culture.
As is the case in some many instances in post-Independence Jamaica, we simultaneously appear to be on the verge of falling into the abyss and at the same time poised for flight.
- C. Jama Adams, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and management consultant with publications and extensive experience in the areas of child and family psychology, at-risk youth and organisation psychology. He is also associate professor and chairperson in the Department of Africana Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice-City University of New York.