Thu | Jun 20, 2019

Peter Espeut | Of whales and minnows

Published:Friday | March 8, 2019 | 12:08 AM

We sociologists know that race and class cleavages remain deep in this land, whose motto is ‘Out of Many, One People’. Our motto was created by the ‘brown’ elite in both the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), who, at the time of our political Independence, were in the process of taking over full control of the Jamaican ship of state from white colonial masters, in a country where people of African descent are in the vast majority.

“Never mind that we, your leaders, are not black,” the motto seems to say, “we are all one Jamaican people.”

This creation of the national myth of racial equality was an important propaganda tool in the national project to mask deep social and economic differences among Jamaicans, which derive from the context in which each group came or was brought to this blessed isle. The wealthy ethnic minorities needed assurance that they and their money were welcome to stay in this black country.

Today, as at political Independence 67 years ago, the top-tier leadership in both the PNP and the JLP are ‘high-brown’ men and women. Neither party was comfortable with a black leader, be it Hugh Lawson Shearer or Portia Simpson Miller.

Damion Crawford’s outburst at the PNP street meeting in Port Antonio last Sunday came from the heart: “I have a degree in tourism, I have a master’s in tourism, I lecture tourism, and yet still, because of her class and colour, some people say this lady is more qualified than me. That is history.”

But I wonder who or what he was really criticising?

The black man Crawford described his political contest with Ann-Marie Vaz, a brown woman, as a fight against class, history, and what he termed “the system”.

“It is not a fight against Mrs Vaz, it is not a fight against Daryl Vaz, it is not a fight against the Jamaica Labour Party, it is not even a fight just for the seat. It is a fight against history, it is a fight against the system, and it is a fight for the future,” Crawford said.


If the truth be told, and if Crawford is really honest, he will have to admit that it is also a fight against his own party, the PNP.

In the beginning, the PNP was called a ‘brown-man party’, a party of intellectuals led by a noted QC, and then by his son, chock-full of University of the West Indies lecturers like Omar Davies, Peter Phillips, Edwin Jones, Maxine Henry-Wilson and Dickie Crawford.

And the JLP was scornfully identified as the ‘bhutto party’, led by the unlettered Bustamante, with people like Isaac Barrant in his Cabinet. Barrant, Jamaica’s second minister of agriculture and lands (1950-1955), never received formal secondary education. He started his career as a labourer on parochial roads in St Thomas and as a ‘sideman’ on a truck.

Portia Simpson Miller got a fight from her own party because even though she was black, she did not have the academic background they were looking for. They scorned her the way they scorned Bustamante and replaced her with the high-brown academic, Dr Peter Phillips.

Damion, with his colour and his degrees, believes that it is his time now. He scorns Ann-Marie Vaz for her colour and her lack of education. And maybe because she is a woman and a housewife, but that will have to be another column.

I agree with Damion that Jamaica’s colour-class system, which has not much changed since the days of the plantation, is evil and needs to be changed. But I don’t know that a by-election in Eastern Portland is the right time and place to challenge that system, especially when you have a brown party leader creating his own dynasty.

If he really wants to change “the system”, he must win a seat and win party leadership. It is poor tactics to do battle with a whale before you show that you can catch a minnow.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to