Commentary Jamaica Magazine

On Clifton Brown and Community Justice: Nobody Canna Cross It

Written by Kerri-Ann M. Smith

By now, most of us have encountered the viral video “Nobody Canna Cross It (Bus Can Swim)” that has swept the social media newsfeeds in the past two weeks. I, for one, have watched this video over and over again and have shared several versions on my wall. As I was “deading” with laughter, however,  I couldn’t help but pause to reflect on the words of Mr. Brown.  While his twang leaves much to criticize, Mr. Brown actually exemplifies and amplifies larger issues facing the Jamaican community, to which the government has turned a blind eye.

First, let’s examine his unique way of speaking, better known as his “absent.” As Clifton mentioned in the original TVJ video, his community, Roberts Field, is “in the wilderness” because of the absence of a bridge to facilitate movement to the outside world. When it rains, the river rises and consequently prevents the children from going to school. Of note, is the fact that Mr. Brown also articulates in his “Smile Jamaica” interview (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O13UzMTn-0o) that this issue has persisted since he was a child. Brown also states that the problem has persisted for “sixty odd year.” This being the case, Clifton must have missed many days of school as a consequence of this failed piece of infrastructure. How then can we now listen to his diction and not wonder how much better off he would have been if there were a bridge in his community during his childhood that would have allowed him to attend school more frequently? Also of note is Mr. Brown’s ambition. He states that he is not highly educated but aspires to speak like the “callidge children dem” so he uses that accent. He is attempting to emulate the very class of people who have now made him a laughing stock. And while his “absent” is quite entertaining for those of us who have been able to cross bridges, drive cars, take buses, and walk to institutions of higher learning, Clifton Brown is still hoping to simply create enough noise to call attention to a persisting problem his people have endured for far too long.

Second, we must address Mr. Brown’s plight. He states clearly in his interviews that fame is not his goal. If it were his goal, then the interview on “Smile Jamaica” would have ruined any chances of him getting a big “bus (can swim)” because he was made a complete laughing stock on that show. There were four men present and I couldn’t help but notice that the more elite hosts, along with the college student, Kevin “DJ Powa” Hamilton (creator of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hknVoAoyy-k), were able to poke fun at things that Mr. Brown could not even recognize as errors on his own part. And poke they did. At one point, Neville Bell was so tickled that he laughed uncontrollably and had to wipe his eyes; meanwhile Clifton Brown continued to talk passionately about the problem in his community.  The point is simple; Clifton Brown wants justice for his community. He speaks on behalf of a number of people who have been ignored for a number of years. He wants justice, and perhaps a bridge of sorts, for his people. He has become the proverbial lamb to the slaughter for the sake of creating infrastructure for his community and “up to now [he] don’t saw where it [this newfound fame] help [his] life.” He even lashes out against the use of his soundbyte  to create economic growth for others and still no bridge for his community.

Third, we must address exploitation of the underclass in this case. Here is a perfect example of how Jamaican people “tek serious ting mek joke.” Even as Brown talks about testing the water to cross and ensuring that there are no holes in the road where people can “fosten” as they cross, Neville and Simon (and certainly all of the viewers) are able to enjoy yet another comedic soundbyte. The U-Tech marketing  major, DJ Powa, wears a t-shirt sporting one of Brown’s crafty phrases “Di Bus Can Swim” and has launched a business, using Brown’s phrases. To a certain degree, we can commend DJ Powa for craftily and creatively taking advantage of what can turn out to be a very lucrative opportunity. However, we must consider that the source of this inevitable windfall for Hamilton is the struggle and bane of another man’s existence. And for this, Brown gets no accolades or profits. I will not pretend that I did not laugh uncontrollably as I watched the various videos because, hands down, this is one of the most unintentionally comedic videos of any Jamaican incident I’ve seen in a while. However, it made me consider the way that we Jamaicans treat those who are economically and educationally disadvantaged.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Clifton Brown has actually displayed more passion and more pride in his community than whoever the Member of Parliament is for that area (at least this is what the evidence shows). At no point have I seen a video of his MP coming forward with him in these interviews to discuss what steps will be or have been taken to rectify the many issues that have arisen as a result of the lack of infrastructure in Brown’s area. For this sake, we must applaud Cliff Brown because although he talks “chakka chakka,” according to him, he wants justice. One cannot watch Brown talk about having to throw ropes to help lift his friends and family out of the water or having to be present at the river to help school children cross and not feel the angst and pain that this man’s tone conveys. 

From the first interview, Brown has remained consistent about his reasons for speaking up: He wants a bridge or a thoroughfare so that the children and families in Mavis Bank can “cross it” and carry on with economic and educational growth. Is anyone hearing his plea? Or are we too busy laughing to realize that this man is perhaps one of the best community advocates we’ve seen for a while.  Brown speaks to a greater issue, which calls into question the way government officials and public advocates treat the residents of the rural areas in Jamaica. Perhaps if some form of infrastructure is created, these residents can pour more into the economy of their parish, thus allowing for greater quality of life for everyone there and in the seven areas to which  Roberts Field Road is linked.

So finally, I ask, who’s gonna “cross it” and give these people some justice? Who will hear the underlying message beneath and above the “absent” and Clifftwanging that seems to overpower the facts in these videos? The people need a bridge and Brown is becoming the voice of the ignored people of his community in east rural St. Andrew. The original news clip shows people in the community working together to divert the water from the roadways. The people of Roberts Field are to be commended. They have called out to the government officials and have worked to fix the problem in their community. Now, Clifton Brown has even sacrificed his peace and his health (he states that since the video has gone viral, he has had to take off time from work because his “head is beatin’ real hard”) to ensure that something is done to fix the issue. We cannot ignore his plea. In all of the exploitation of the situation, the government ought to see the seriousness of this issue and do something so that east rural St. Andrew and surrounding areas can “cross it” and, additionally, justice needs to be served to Clifton Brown for every  iTune download and every t-shirt sold. After all, we all have evidence that these are his original thoughts and words in his own “absent.” Until then, nobody canna cross Roberts Field Road and this is both embarrassing and quite sad, particularly for the children who are losing out on their education every time it rains.

About the author

Kerri-Ann M. Smith

Dr. Kerri-Ann M. Smith is an author and educator. She is an Assistant Professor of Academic Literacy at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. She is a patois translator, a wife, and the mother of a gregarious little girl. She is a senior writer for jamaicans.com.