Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Annie Paul | Jamaica's articulate minority

Published:Wednesday | September 28, 2016 | 9:00 AM

This week, several social media brouhahas and aha! moments compete for space in my column. First, in eternal pursuit of the viral scoop, Nationwide's young Abka Fitz-Henley, who revels in his role as the enfant terrible of Jamaican journalism, found that he had overstepped his bounds and had to apologise. @francinederby succinctly summed up his breach: "Abka is so eager to break news that he tweeted a picture of a high-schooler's autopsy."

In a total lapse of judgement, Fitz-Henley transmitted St George's College football captain Dominic James's autopsy report (he had expired only the day before at the very beginning of a match) even before the distraught parents had seen it.

The backlash on Twitter and Facebook was swift and to the point. "This isn't a drug lord on the run where proof of death is newsworthy. Gosh," said @kellykatharin, more or less summarising the protests of what the Opposition People's National Party once dismissed as the 'articulate minority'. Criticism kept mounting, so much so that the next day Abka deleted his tweet and apologised fully, his mea culpa a model that should be framed and reused in this nation where so few are willing to acknowledge and make amends for their errors.

Here is what young Abka tweeted:

I've listened to feedback. My most #sincere & #unequivocal apology for posting the medical document. Document removed. No ill will intended.

Another lightning rod for social media outrage was the singer Etana, a so-called 'conscious' artiste who normally focuses on 'roots and culture' and social justice issues in her music. In a TV interview with Entertainment Report's Anthony Miller, the singer announced that she was a Trump supporter, defending the US presidential candidate's anti-immigration stance, among other things, and leaving her audience agape in disbelief. "Just caw yuh conscious don't mean you nuh fool," responded novelist Marlon James on Facebook. She apologised Monday night.

Meanwhile, the Government's announcement that it will not be going ahead with plans to develop a trans-shipment port and industrial park on Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area met with widespread approval from the social media commentariat, who viewed it as a rare victory for Jamaica's beleaguered environmental lobby. According to Prime Minister Holness, although the Government is "keen on growth and development ... the potential environmental fallout makes the Goat Islands unsuitable".

What a contrast with the People's National Party (PNP) when they were in government, scoffing as environmentalists protested plans to 'develop' fragile Goat Islands, breeding site of the endangered Jamaican Iguana, which the PNP dismissed as 'two lickle lizard'! The unprecedented pro-environment move by the current Government brings me to the item that, in my opinion, won the Internet, as they say, last week. In his blogpost 'Mama D and the PNP', poet and novelist Kei Miller ruminated on some decidedly odd political shifts he has perceived in recent times.

SWITCHING ROLES

According to Miller, the PNP, traditionally the left-wing or socialist party, has moved from left to right, while the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), traditionally the business-oriented, neo-liberal party, has moved from right to left.

"In the last election, the PNP promised more austerity while the JLP promised an end to auxillary fees at schools, a big tax break for the poor, and they had previously abolished user fees at hospitals. Gone were the days when it could be said that the JLP (as prudent financial managers) raised money while the PNP (as social do-gooders) spent it. The tables had decidedly turned."

Miller also clocked the disdain of the PNP for what it dismissed as an 'articulate minority' of critics, and eloquently articulated the new state of play, a sobering reality we should all note:

"If I am considered a part of the new 'articulate minority', I am happy with that. Every day, Jamaica's new articulate minority grows in number and in frustration. We are mostly educated, bright enough, and engaged. We think about our country with passion and rigour. We happen to be Left-leaning in our politics. We don't accept the status quo. We want to change things and are willing to put in the work to see those changes through.

"We spend time thinking about what it means to be 'Jamaican'. We ask each other, what are our good traits, and what are our worst traits? We judge ourselves and wonder how we might become better people and better citizens. We dream about what Jamaica might look like next year, and then five years from now, and then 20 years from now - not just economically, but socially as well. We think about all the inequalities that have crippled our society.

"We think about class, about the environment, about language rights, about sexual identities, about religious tolerance. We think these thoughts, but there is no longer a political party in Jamaica that is willing to think alongside us, let alone lead us in that thinking, introducing policies that might pursue such a vision."

n Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or tweet @anniepaul.