English Prose text by Shaggy's girl for The Former Jamaican
Invidia Vipera Vipera
Quo Plura Habent Eo Ampliora Cupiunt
Early this morning, I went to my favourite spot for a BASE jump/free climb, even though I had a high fever. It was about 4 degrees on the ground. I went out there because I wanted to make one last autumn splat.
As I was checking my parachute, one of my team mates recalled an accident he had witnessed in Australia, and said how important it was never to skip the safety checks before diving off the cliff. For someone who has suicidal hobbies, I'm exceedingly paranoid, so I was sure that I would always check. I made it to the bottom of the gorge alive, again.
Clawing my way up the cliffside, I remembered a recent conversation with a close friend. I told her that Jamaican people are generally inconsistent. It's the one thing I can predict about them. In an earlier post, I alluded to it with respect to technology. We Jamaicans set out to do something, and we're gung-ho about it, but we sometimes quit in the middle.
I doubted this conclusion because I thought, well, how can a nation of people be inconsistent? But it has been nagging me for years now because I've never been able to put a name to the problem.
Then I remembered years ago, the gas riots, when UWI students were tear gassed during a demonstration. On telly, Prime Minister Patterson seemed rather bored with the guild of students, and I couldn't help feeling how shameful it was for this man to treat the students as if they had no right to sit with him in the first place.
It could have been our finest hour. But nothing happened. Except for one Chinese businessman who decided to liquidate his assets in Jamaica and return to Hong Kong. He would have stayed if we had fought it out to the bitter end. But we gave up after a few days. He didn't think that this was such a good environment for a new investment. I'm sure no one noticed. I did, because I was engaged to him, but I decided not to follow him.
At about the same time, there was a friend of mine from the US who invested $10 Million in some agricultural property in St. Thomas, only to arrive here and find that the soil was barren. JAMPRO officials told him that he shouldn't complain about the money because he is obligated to invest in Jamaica, as a returning resident. I knew where his $10 Million went. It went through the pockets of an alcoholic JAMPRO executive (whom I also knew at the time). He was blowing $200,000 at a time on suits and holding up Air Jamaica planes on the tarmac at Palisadoes. He lost his mind when his bisexual wife threw him out of the house and changed the locks.
Qui Invidet Minor Est
Parvum Parva Decent
Qui Invidet Minor Est
Years before all this, there was Shaggy's girl, at 19 years old. I was sent a very rudely worded letter saying that I had overdrawn my current account at a certain financial institution. I looked at the name on the document and saw that it was the same as mine, but I knew that the account did not belong to me. A customer service representative checked the account, and found out that the bank had made a mistake.
Being a feisty teenager, I wrote a letter to the bank's head of accounts, to remind her that I didn't get an apology for the embarrassment. She invited me to her office and let me know that I was lower than her and that I had no right to address letters to her. Her colleague, an assistant vice president, was also kind enough to reprimand me for my behaviour. Needless to say, although they made a mistake, they did not apologise to me even though they were obligated to do so. Why no apology? I was too young to appreciate it, or so they thought.
Beatius Est Magis
Dare Quam Accipere
What do all of these snippets have to do with "consistency"?
The shame tree. Shame is what causes us to retreat. Let's say we take one step of progress. The moment we confront some difficulty, or challenge, we stare at our hands, palms facing up. We stare at our hands as if to say "is this really me, am I really standing up for myself"?
Soon after, we continue to feel ashamed because people taunt us by saying things like "you don't know your place", "watch it", "you're nobody", "a wheh dah gyal deh feva?". What's worse is when someone asks: "who are you?" Then you are forced to describe your position in the social order and explain why you're violating the social rules that were carefully set out for you to follow. The next question they ask is, why are you the one to change the social rules? By whose authority?
The most insulting is the condescending tone in which people congratulate your ability as if to say, "you made it this far in spite of the fact that you're black". A black man wrote it in a book he gave to me as a gift, and a white man put it in a letter of recommendation that I asked him to write for me.
I understood the value of standing up for myself when I was 8, and noticed the discrepancy between rules for the straight-haired suck-finger-jack and her woolly-haired classmates who just needed a little more time to finish their classwork.
When I was 8 years old, I asked my homeroom teacher "Miss Gray, how come you never slap Dottie with your ruler? Is it because she has straight hair?" Dottie was of Indian/African descent and sucked her forefinger all day until it turned green. Even at that age, I knew that Miss Gray was being unfair to the rest of us, but I couldn't understand why. Miss Gray said "no", but couldn't give me a reason for the different rules. Still, she kept hitting my classmates with her ruler when they didn't get long division problems correct.
Dottie wasn't a bright spark, but Miss Gray never challenged her to study, so she never bothered. Later, during high school, she harboured these notions that her straight hair accorded her some privileged status, and became ashamed of her parents for being working class people. She also nurtured the unrealistic expectation that she would automatically qualify to become a doctor. When I graduated UWI, Dottie was still in first year of Nat Sci, although she started university a year before I did. I'm blaming Miss Gray's programming for that needless waste of time.
Being consistent in standing up for myself has been difficult. I've been teased, ostracised, held back, and ridiculed. When I threw myself off the cliff this morning, I realised that I could never have chosen this hobby if I were the sort of person to plea-bargain in the face of adversity. Compared to the anguish of being bullied and told to shut up, the danger of sliding off the rocks and breaking my neck at the bottom of a cold, stony gorge suddenly seemed so funny. I wedged myself in a crevice and laughed as hard as I could.
I was through with being intimidated.