Maziki Thame | Vaz vs Crawford: Challenging brown politics
The victory of Ann-Marie Vaz is not an indication that the brown candidate must always win even if brownness carries weight in our assessments of an individual’s worth. More critical in this moment is to assess the meaning of that victory and how it relates to ‘brown politics’.
Just days after the by-election, the minister of tourism indicated that on the instruction of Mrs Vaz, he had been courting investors from Canada for investment in the parish and had targeted Winifred Beach for ‘development’.
We should ask how the Free Winifred Benevolent Society fits into their plans. Will Winifred go the way of Puerto Seco Beach? Or will it follow the ambitions of the Society, as told to me by a member of the Society: “We a run from di fencing ting”?
Will plans to develop tourism mirror the low-wage model elsewhere across the nation? Will Portland’s tourism workers be contract workers, employed with no job security and no benefits, as occurs elsewhere in the sector? How does the control of the parish by a family of brown elites define itself as distinct from the plantocracy and its control of land, historically? The people should, as a democratic imperative, ask these questions.
By brown politics, I am referring to the politics attached to brown nationalism of the period of decolonisation and early independence. It was rooted both in paternalism and elite consensus around whose interests the State should serve. Politicians could redeem the hapless, black poor through handouts whether for votes in elections or to keep them as dependents of the political class. This mirrored the power dynamics of the plantation, authoritarian in character, teaching distrust among blacks and requiring submission to non-black authority.
The economic model of development in brown politics depended on low levels of education among blacks – they should not have the reasoning ability and language to question the system, and they surely did not have to be ‘elevated’ to be labourers, domestics, and hustlers.
It did not trust their capacity to feed the nation as small farmers, and it did not trust their knowledge systems rooted in African culture and spirituality. Consequently, those relying on African-based cultural knowledge would have to make space for themselves without state support such as occurred with reggae and dancehall.
Those that had capital, however, historically non-black, had the full support of public policy, except for the period of the 1970s, where labour laws began to shift to protect the worker. Brown politics is thus an inherently disempowering activity.
Brown nationalism, in its anti-blackness, demanded the deference of blacks to browns. It asserted that browns should rule and blacks should be ruled.
For blacks to become rulers, they would have to become allies in the project. They would also have to qualify themselves through education and specifically the kind of education that civilized them in the ways of whites – the law profession was treated as the utmost example of this, hence the lawyer-politician was the standard-bearer of politics.
Brown politics was not practised only by browns but included those who could rise to a sort of brownness, those divorced from the mass, those who could lord over the people with their education, and those allied with the ambitions of brown nationalists.
Damion Crawford’s present message (as distinct from his anti-Portia one) does not fit into brown politics because it is, as said by him in his interview on Beyond the Headlines, seeking “a politics of independence” in which he hoped that the people would learn that “freedom is better than comfort”.
The message of self-reliance seen in his emphasis on education and subsistence farming through goat rearing has now failed twice. We could argue that part of the reason for its failure is the success of brown nationalism.
Brown nationalism has been successful in conditioning the nation into a disempowering politics that sustained aspects of the plantation and its form of power in the labour structure and racial hierarchy of Jamaica. Vote buying, thus, has been a feature of Jamaican politics because people have real material needs that go unmet in the formal socio-economic structure and because they do not imagine alternative forms of power that are in their own interests.
FAMILY TIES IN PARLIAMENT
The rise of the Vaz family to Parliament expands the network of family ties, including the Holnesses, the Charleses, and the Phillipses. We should question how this extends networks of power related to questions of where they get their support, financial and popular, and whose interests will ultimately be served. We should ask whether the rise of wives and sons in Parliament is good for democracy.
If we are interested in increasing women’s power in Parliament, we should ask whether these wives act as agents in their own right or are beneficiaries of patronage of their husbands. We should ask whose power is strengthened in this network – the parish, the people, the nation, or the privileged within it?
We would hope that elections are not simply about amassing power, unless it is the people’s power. Elections are never enough to empower the people. We also know that power does not favour the mass unless they are organised, organising, asking questions, demanding answers, fighting the entrenched power of elites, men, whites, browns, those who have money and power to boot.
Crawford argued that “love beats money all the time”. In this political moment, the form of politics rooted in the power of money can only be challenged by the real mobilisation of people on the ground. It requires real work to arrive at real democracy in which the people’s power is at its core.