Tue | Nov 30, 2021

Jaevion Nelson | Stop making fun of the poor

Published:Saturday | February 23, 2019 | 12:00 AM

We are generally too unwilling as a people to acknowledge and challenge the implicit bias and usually negative and harmfully stereotypical portrayal of poor people in the media.

This bias, whether unconscious or deliberate, is particularly prevalent on television and social media and overwhelmingly features women and men from inner-city communities.

Images portraying young men from the ghetto, which paints them as lazy weed smokers who simply want to idle on the corner all day waiting for a handout or to rob somebody and breed up people gyal pickney instead a dem go find something constructive fi do, have been normalised. Likewise, those depicting women from the ghetto as carelessly bearing too many children they cannot feed, wearing skimpy clothing as if they have no respect for themselves, and always choosing to buy false hair instead of using the money to send their children to school have also been normalised.

To many, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these images that are being broadcast because they are so frequent and are as normal as news about homicides. In fact, you might hastily think this is just another minute issue, another bleeding-heart liberal is sensationalising, to force unwarranted political correctness down people’s throat for people who are not even deserving of such deference.

It’s uncanny that the same arguments used to argue for more respectful representation of poor people in the media tend to resonate with us and enjoy our ire or concern when it is about black people in America or England, but not for our own people.

What an awfully strange people we are?!

Quite often, it uses their inability to convey messages in Jamaican standard English for some sort of comedic relief without nary a sense of care or responsibility to ensure their usually well-placed concerns are heard.

A couple days ago, my friend Tamika Peart made a rant on Facebook which read:

“I actually do not like TVJ’s Bite of the Week. In more ways than one, it makes fun of ppl who have not mastered Her Majesty’s Language (for a multiplicity of reasons). More often, it is classist and reminiscent of the Gladiator days...only in this case, you live through the aftermath. Why would mainstream media teach us to ridicule ppl who cannot speak ‘properly’? Doesn’t it highlight our own collective failures? I mean, there are so many other positives that could be a ‘Bite of the Week’. Let us stop perpetuating stereotypes of poor people and normalising the ways we ridicule them. ‘Bite of the Week’ is a waste of airtime in a liberal and conscious time and for this reason, its longevity is simply mind-boggling.”



I’ve spoken about this before on social media and in commentaries in this newspaper titled ‘Let us refocus our outrage’ (July 18, 2013) and ‘Stop ridiculing the poor and vulnerable’ (January 17, 2013). I’m a little worn out arguing with people, media practitioners included, about how their “misrepresentations of particular groups influence how the public perceives and interacts with them”, but it is really important that we continue to talk about these issues and get them to stop.

We can’t keep making comedy out of people’s tragedy and well-placed concerns. Look at Clifton and Rosie who agonised about their plight. They were talking about serious issues which, if they were to be made ‘Bite of the Week’, should have been in the context of a problem that keeps occurring and affecting one set of people.

Quite frankly, I have grown so very tired of it. Tired of the ‘Bites of the Week’ and tired of the Instagram comedians whose currency would be naught had there been no poor people to make fun of.

Interestingly, everyone, even those who barely interact with their landscaper, the gatekeeper at their salubrious complex, the cashier at their supermarket, their favourite waiter, waitress or bartender or their lowly paid co-workers, and may have never set foot in a poor community, as a way to defend themselves, posture as some sort of experts on how poor people are and should be.

We have to make an earnest effort to desist from using poor people’s lives, experiences and tragedies for comedies to get a ‘Bite of the Week’, to ignore their plight and well-placed concerns, and gain currency as the next social-media hit. The deference is of great import.

Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com or tweet @jaevionn.