Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial | Beyond the twit of the McLeod tweet

Published:Friday | August 19, 2016 | 8:00 AM

It matters nothing to this newspaper, as it shouldn't to anyone, whether Omar McLeod is straight, gay or even asexual. But that his sexual orientation, or someone's perception of it, was sillily placed on the agenda and made a fleeting matter of public discourse may have had an unintended positive consequence.

It forced many Jamaicans to confront their prejudices, in a circumstance in which they were made, unconsciously perhaps, to question its worth. A clear answer may still be in formation and will perhaps take a long time to emerge. Yet, we sense that people, faced with a rational critical mass, subsumed their bigotry to outcomes and values greater than their bigotry. In this case, it was the opportunity for clean, celebratory nationalism and to bask in the glory that McLeod brought to Jamaica by winning the 110m hurdles on Tuesday night at the Rio Olympics.

Being an elite athlete, much more winning a gold medal at the Olympics in any discipline, especially one as technically demanding as the hurdles, is not easy. It demands years of gruelling physical and mental preparation. Yet, someone attempted to devalue McLeod's effort and demean his person by referring to him as a "goldfish", the suffix being an offensive Jamaican term for a gay man, in a tweet that was in response to a competition by a related entity to this newspaper, for writing headlines and captions for stories. The culprit may claim that was not the intent, but it is the practical effect.

Worse, the offensive tweet was from the official account of one of Jamaica's largest corporations, Lasco Distributors, which quickly dissociated itself from the sentiment and announced, rightly in our view, that it had fired the offending staff member, who had endangered its brand by associating with this call to intolerance that would hardly be countenanced by the company's founder and chairman, Lascelles Chin, who himself has felt the sleight of otherness.

What, however, was more encouraging in this event is the large numbers of persons, online and elsewhere, who denounced the tweet. They didn't know anything about McLeod's sexual orientation, or, we expect, his creed. And it didn't matter.

 

DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES

 

At a different time, in a different circumstance, some of these persons might not have been animated by a homophobic slur. They would perhaps consider the characterisation of "goldfish" funny or cute. But at this time, Omar McLeod had beaten the world; had elevated Jamaica and the Caribbean. In the act of winning, McLeod transcended himself. All of Jamaica claimed an investment in his medal and could live vicariously through him and his victory.

But it could easily have been someone else. Then it might be an openly gay person. That should highlight the stupidity of lingering anti-gay intolerance and the futility of maintaining homophobic laws like the one on buggery.

This issue raises two other matters, relating to the use and management of social-media outlets. One has to do with the protocols for the control and invigilation of posts to accounts of major institutions that are bound by greater levels of accountability than individuals. It is something to which their leaders ought to pay attention.

Then there is the instant effect of social media. The capacity to click and unleash 140 characters seems to erode reflection and thought, while the act itself is presumed to be wisdom: the Malahoo Forte effect.