Annie Paul | Trump does not equal Portia
Donald Trump may well be the new president of the USA by the time this column is published. Despite what the polls are showing the day before the most contentious US election in history, I'm inclined to think that Trump will prevail. It is the moment, after all, for top dogs to snatch back privilege and power from those perceived to have made inroads against them as seen in the Brexit vote in Britain or Modi's triumph in India so why should the US buck what seems to be a global trend?
What I find hard to stomach are those who claim there are similarities between Donald Trump's supporters and local support for Portia Simpson Miller. I listened in disbelief as a friend displaced his rant about Trump and his "dumb" supporters on to his words the "dumb Jamaicans" supporting Portia Simpson Miller. There's no difference between Trump and Simpson Miller, he asserted over and over again.
When I suggested it was prejudice making him say that, class prejudice to be exact, he denied it vociferously.
"You think someone like that can go around the Caribbean and the world representing ME?" he asked, his voice quivering with outrage. "No, sir! She's little better than a market woman. No way she can represent me," he exclaimed indignantly.
"What's wrong with market women?" I demanded, pointing out that he had just proven my point about class prejudice. "Nothing," he snapped, "but Portia has no class, that's the point ... . She's a buttoo!"
There you go, I thought. There's nothing in the world more laden with class prejudice than the term 'buttoo'. Rex Nettleford famously derided "the buttoo in the Benz", by which he meant a hurry-come-up with money but no taste. It never fails to amaze me how many people continue to think that having what they call 'good taste' is an indicator of moral superiority rather than a few generations of upper-class privilege, education and social training.
People like my upper St Andrew friend, having enjoyed the benefits of first-class citizenry, the best schools, being raised in English-speaking households, effortlessly acquire the social graces needed to navigate Jamaican society with its exclusive clubs and lodges, its entrenched old-boy system, and its rigid social hierarchy. As a corollary, they enjoy immunity from hostile media, the laws of the land, and the consequences of their unproductive lives.
All the advantages and privileges of being Jamaican are reserved for elite groups, while the large and growing underclasses scramble to secure the scraps occasionally thrown their way. Yet it is the underclasses who have given Jamaica its enormous cultural capital, its renowned brand, which those who have hogged the State's resources have yet to find creative ways to exploit.
My friend and his ilk love the children of market women when they put Jamaica on the map by running faster than anyone in the world or singing better than anyone else, but when one of 'them' becomes elected prime minister, how dare they presume to represent 'us'? How dare this vernacular buttoo imagine for a moment that she was acceptable to the Jamaica of high art and culture and faux English refinement?
Yet these harsh critics of Portia have so little to show for all the money and resources traditionally lavished on them. What grand achievement on their part gives them the right to look down on others? They don't have one-tenth the accomplishments of a Portia. Moreover, if the exclusive schools they went to didn't teach them enough to know the difference between the Jamaican underclasses and Trump supporters, of what use is it?
For the ascent of Portia in Jamaica to the pinnacle of representational politics represents the rise of an underclass that had never held power before. This is very different from the rise of Trump, representing disaffected whites and others who resent the loss of power they have suffered over the last few decades, their ceding of privilege indexed directly to the rise of Obama (and, through him, African Americans) and his successful, scandal-free presidency.
If a set of circumstances appears to bear a startling resemblance to another set of circumstances somewhere else, you must acknowledge the similarities, but immediately try to zoom in on the differences. If not, you risk making meaningless and superficial comparisons. White anxiety is fundamentally different from poor black pride and aspiration. Besides, Portia never groped anyone, man or woman, nor has she wielded offensive behaviour and boorishness the way
In fact, it's the disaffected Jamaican upper castes who have something in common with Trump's supporters their loss of primacy and supremacy. Top-dog time done. Get used to it.
- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net).
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