They said this day would never come! They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided; too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose.
And now, they have been proven wrong.
As a poetic young man, it was a bitter concession that I made when I once observed that my best words could do nothing but sully and detract from the beauty of a sunset, or the glory of the dawn. And so, in that same spirit, it is interesting to note that the gallons of ink spent on anal-ysing the victory of Barack Obama in the recently concluded presidential election have not and cannot do it justice. These words are for posterity — but for the present, those of us alive to witness this, we know the improbability and the impact of what has occurred. This is the premise of America — and this, at long last, is another important delivery on the promise of American ideals. There is nothing then that I can add to the dialogue about the event itself, it stands and speaks for itself — declaring that change has come to America.
Yet, they said this day would never come.
As one of the people who was supporting Barack Obama before his victory in Iowa — through my first-ever campaign contribution and first-ever volunteer efforts on behalf of a presidential candidate — I have heard the hardcore skepticism of black people who said America was too racist, and the cynicism of Clinton-supporters who said their candidate was too inevitable. This is why I literally lost my voice on Tuesday night, this is a reason to rejoice.
I am not one of the people, though, who will tell you that Obama’s victory is the mother’s kiss on the “boo-boo” of racism that s going to make it all go away. In fact, as too many commentators get swept away in the hyperbole of euphoria I have taken to making the joke that racism in America is abolished forever, for only the second time in my life. The first being in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 when I was told, and believed that we would move forward as a more united United States.
What I believe now is simple, which is though this moment is not an event to obliterate bigotry, it is a high water moment in the process of eliminating bigotry. The end of racism will not be an event, it will not be marked with fireworks or fanfare — but this moment, this event, is undeniably a notch in the growth of American democracy.
I think that one of the processes under-girding the perpetuation of racism is the depiction of black people in the media. The portrayal of Africans and African-Americans is overwhelmingly negative whether in rap music videos or the evening news. The ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency necessarily changes the way that teachers view their pupils and employers their prospective employees. The ascendancy of Michelle Obama to being America’s first lady will change forever the mold that the media uses to portray black women as either grotesque sex symbols or simplistically “sassy” figures. The depiction of black people in popular culture has had an effect on my life, my ability to get a job, get an education or just walk down the street in peace, and the necessary changes to those one-dimensional depictions will also create an improvement in my life.
So, like so many people, I am simply overjoyed to see the shattering of a powerful psychological barrier that will have myriad impacts on my life. But I should also be overjoyed to know that I live in a country where I can be president. Sadly that is still not the case for me.
Let me state that I have no desire to serve as the American president, in the same way that I have no desire to serve as the Jamaican prime minister. And that is a fortunate thing, since I am constitutionally prohibited from serving in either position. My sadness at this fact, at the retention of these constitutional barriers, is as great as the unbridled joy that people everywhere are feeling about the fall of this American barrier.
The American constitution limits the presidency to those natural born Americans, above 35 years of age, who have been American residents for 14 years. I think it is time for this to change; I believe that anyone who has been a citizen of America for 35 years should be qualified to become president. Such an amendment would extend the dream of America to the countless immigrants that have found solace on her shores. Currently anyone that has been a natural-born American for 35 years is qualified to be president, I believe we need to add parity so that anyone that has been a naturalized American for 35 years is also qualified to be president.
Yet as sad as the exclusion of naturalized Americans to the American presidency is to me; it pales in comparison to my sadness at the exclusion of Jamaicans with dual American citizenship to the post of Jamaica prime minister.
The idea that I am somehow a defective citizen of Jamaica is an anathema to me. And when I hear people like Portia advance this idea, though she sat in a meeting to get a kickback from a corporation that has poisoned Africans, it makes me blood-boiling mad. Sitting in a meeting with Trafigura, given their reputation at that time in the wake of the Ivory Coast dumping scandal — not something that I would do. Ditto for the actions of JLP politicians who sided with the interests of American intelligence agencies in the 1970s — not something that I would have done in the 1970s.
The joy people are feeling in the wake of Obama’s victory is that a barrier has fallen. Jamaicans have an opportunity to break down another barrier — the one that tells the sons of Jamaican soil that they are traitors if they took Michael Manley at his word and left on one of the “five flights to Miami per day.”
In fact, long before Manley’s dictatorial declaration, the indigenous and colonial leaders of Jamaica had forced legions of patriotic Jamaicans to leave the country in search of a better life in England, and later America and Canada. These “leaders” did this through benign neglect and callous incompetence. Demonstrably, when my father was a boy, it was rare to see cars in his part of Jamaica; and yet when I was a boy it was rare to see a properly paved road in the same part of the country. Jamaica has been heavily invested in going backward as the world flies forward apace. So the choice for too many Jamaicans was stark — it was stay & starve or, as they say in Cuba, “se fue.” [say-FOO-eh]
Many people faced with that choice did in fact “se fue;” and if we compare their lives to the lives of those that stayed in Jamaica and eventually migrated to the tenements of Kingston we see the validity of that decision to leave for North America.
It is also foolish to deny that just as the influx of immigrants is a central element in the evolution of America as a global juggernaut; so the out-flowing emigration of Jamaicans is and has been a critical part of the fame (and occasional infamy) of Jamaica and Jamaicans today. Where is the reputation and prestige of Jamaica but for the efforts of people like Mary Seacole in Panama and the Crimea. Where is the glory of Jamaican-ness but for the achievements of emigrants like Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley? Whether they went to help build the Panama Canal, participated in the rebuilding of post-war Britain, or simply migrated to pursue commercial opportunities — Jamaica today has been a great beneficiary of the efforts of these emigrants.
Jamaica should cease to boast of Garvey’s achievements in New York, and the accolades and accomplishments earned by Claude McKay, Miss Lou, Merlene Ottey, and Boukman in Haiti if we continue to advance the claim that their emigration made them defective Jamaicans; if we continue to advance arguments in favor of an arbitrary barrier to full participation in Jamaican society by the sons and daughters of Jamaican soil.
Additionally, it is worthwhile to consider that the constitutional provision is ineffective as it stands. Firstly, there is nothing that America could want from Jamaica that it hasn’t already derived from the avarice of Jamaican politicians who have no “foreign allegiances.” There is nothing that America could want from Jamaicans which is achievable in parliament that it couldn’t achieve via Canada and Britain.
Secondly, those advancing these arguments also display a stunning ignorance of immigration law. My own understanding of immigration law; tendered with the caveat that I-and-I is not a lawyer and won’t pretend to be one on the internet; is that the parent of an American citizen is eligible to apply for residency in America. Interestingly, that means that even if one has renounced one’s American citizenship — one is eligible to apply for a green card at a future date if one meets that criterion. Now, whether one gets that green card is of course at the discretion of the American Department of Homeland Security — further there are complications if it can be determined that one renounced American citizenship to avoid taxation. So take the case of Daryl Vaz; Vaz renounced his citizenship and to some eyes received expedited treatment from American officials, however if Vaz has a child who is an American citizen then my understanding is that Vaz could again become an American permanent resident (green card holder) and subsequent to that become an American citizen via his child provided that child maintains American citizenship. Let’s not pick on Vaz, how many other Jamaican politicians have children who have emigrated and become American citizens? Ostensibly all of those politicians are eligible to apply for American permanent residency via their children. Isn’t this a potential foreign allegiance?
Further, the best visa is a Visa/Mastercard; and having green-backs is the best ticket to getting a green-card — which is to say that any politicians that have stolen the amount of money that Kern Spencer has stolen (allegedly!) can afford to migrate at the moment of their choice. These links demonstrate that both the United Kingdom and the United States have immigration laws that are meant to encourage those who have a vital mean of production (capital) to migrate to their countries and produce jobs.Two hundred and seventy million Jamaican dollars is several million American dollars — how many of the Jamaican political elite have a net-worth lower than that after decades in politics?
Even though the full has never been told on the rock, Buju sang long ago that “Who can afford to run will run…” and Mavado recently reiterated that “Revolution shoulda start them rich enough can fly out.”
We have known then that those with money, even kleptomaniac politicians, are always able to leave Jamaica when they want and are unlikely to be declined entry at the destination of their choice — so the pretense that barring Danville Walker from eligibility to serve in parliament will prevent Portia from backroom dealings with Trafigura or Eddy from collusion with the CIA is misguided. This constitutional provision simply doesn’t do what its supporters claim it does.
I understand the good intentions of many people who oppose changing the constitutional provision. I also perceive an underlying jealousy that motivates some of those who support the retention of this arcane provision in the Jamaican constitution. But what I also understand is that it isn’t working: dual American citizens have been sitting in parliament for years prior to the most recent general election, and there is no evidence that they have mashed up Jamaica more than their colleagues who are without even a visa. Further, many Jamaican politicians already have the greenbacks needed to get their green-card at a moment’s notice.
With the election of Barack Obama, Americans have now torn down a longstanding barrier due to the necessity of the moment — an exigent financial crisis and two boondoggled wars have led to this historic change. In World War II, America tore down a similar barrier with the establishment of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all black air combat unit of impeccable record. Prior to the establishment of the Airmen’s unit though, many noted experts testified to Congress that “the negro” had innate physical differences like narrower blood vessels and reduced stress capacity that made “the negro” an unacceptable risk if performing in such a combat unit.
The arguments made by many of the people arguing for the retention of this archaic prohibition in the Jamaican constitution bring to mind the fallacious arguments used against the Tuskegee Airmen.
My fellow Jamaicans, you too are facing an exigent crisis in the form of crime and social under-development: break down this barrier, tear down that wall. Welcome home the sons and daughters of Jamaican soil to full participation in Jamaican democracy. It will be an act of an equal significance to what the election of Obama represents in America —