Annie Paul | From nation to abattoir?
I didn't know his given name. On campus, he was known as Chubby, a dread with a bicycle and a green thumb who worked in the Maintenance Department for many years. Involved in a job-related accident some years ago, Chubby was waiting to collect some long-overdue compensation monies.
On Friday, the 25th of last month, the money finally arrived in his credit union account and Chubby went and collected it. The first thing he wanted to do was buy a cake for his two-year old son. He sat down outside his August Town home with some friends idly discussing where to buy the cake. Some said MegaMart, others said he should get a Cherry Berry cake from Sugar & Spice in Liguanea.
I remember when the 'yout', as Chubby called him, was born. The proud father came to my office to see if I could help in any way, as there were complications. I gave him some money. What Chubby really wanted was for me to visit his son in hospital because he said 'they' would treat him and his family better if someone like me visited. It haunts me to this day that I allowed my fear and dislike of hospitals to dissuade me from going.
Two years later, Chubby did not get to buy his son a cake. The same night he got the money, someone pushed their way into his house and robbed him, viciously shooting and killing him in the process. I don't think his death made the news. Sometimes I wonder if murders in August Town are under-reported to protect the much vaunted but fragile 'peace treaty'. I know that not all murders are reported to the media by the police in time for them to carry the news.
It's heartbreaking when from he that hath not, even that which he hath not is taken. A good, hard-working man has been struck down, separated from the one thing he could call his own - his life. What lies ahead for Chubby's son now, joining the legion of fatherless children?
There was a series of gruesome murders in Clarendon during the same period, but it's human nature to mourn those closest to us. The media, too, spend more column space or airtime on individuals who were prominent because of talent, brains, money or beauty. Thus the murder of designer Dexter Pottinger last week has dominated social media, where shell-shocked Jamaicans have been expressing sorrow, outrage, anger and bewilderment at his killing by a person or persons unknown.
The usual arguments are making the rounds. As Pottinger was openly gay, there are those who suspect he was killed directly or indirectly because of his sexual orientation. Others counter this by saying he was likely killed by a lover in a crime of passion, so this can't be classified as a homophobic murder.
I find the latter a strange claim, the fallacy of which is illustrated by looking at women who are murdered by their partners, ex-husbands or boyfriends. Does the fact that this might be a crime of passion negate the fact that beneath the casual slaughter of women lies a deep-seated patriarchal belief that they are inferior and, therefore, expendable? Does it negate the widespread misogyny that permeates such societies and drives violence against women?
"Please don't make it about the fact that he was gay," implored someone on my Facebook timeline. And I get that people don't want Jamaica to get bad press again, especially if this was a straight robbery and murder, so to speak.
But the fact is if a black man is killed in a racist country, the first thing you're going to wonder is whether the colour of his skin was a contributing factor. If racists view black people as alien species endangering the public, in much the same way as homosexuals are viewed as dangerous threats to society here, it makes them more vulnerable to violence by those who feel justified in ridding society of the 'menace' by killing them.
Thus some men feel justified in killing men who make advances towards them instead of politely brushing them off in the way women do 365 days of the year when men make unwanted passes at them. Imagine what the world would look like if women killed every man who made a pass at them!
We might never know the reason Dexter was killed, but in the meantime, how about building a nation where people are as concerned to eliminate unwarranted prejudice as they are to protect their country's reputation?
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org tweet @anniepaul.