On the 24th day of May, 1947, the British flagged steamship, the Empire Windrush sailed away from the Kingston Harbour carrying 492 Jamaican passengers (491 men and one woman disguised as a man) for London, England. They were responding to the British Nationality Act of 1947 which had conferred British citizenship on member countries of the Commonwealth, as well as the call from the “mother country” for labourers in various fields to help rebuild the country immediately following the end of the Second World War in 1945. This essentially assisted in establishing the footprints of what we now recognize as the Jamaican Diaspora in that country and would grow to include North America and other countries around the globe.
In the years since Jamaica became independent, Jamaicans have been trekking to distant shores in huge numbers to take advantage of better economic and social opportunities and to provide better economic support for their families, including those left at home in Jamaica through remittances, which are sums of money sent from relatives or acquaintances as gifts rather than as payment for the provision of goods or services. In recent years, these flows have consistently provided an area of growth in the economy suffering from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Remittances amounted to US $3.5 billion for the year and represented the largest inflow of foreign exchange to Jamaica ahead of Tourism, Mining, and Agriculture.
It is against this background that I draw reference to comments reportedly made by Montego Bay’s Deputy Mayor, Richard Vernon last week. According to a report carried by the Jamaica Gleaner, the Deputy Mayor stated on August 11, 2022, that “Only cowards run away to go to America because they are seeking out opportunities. Opportunities are there overseas, but do not run away and leave your country, especially indefinitely, and you don’t want to contribute to the further development of your country. You same one who are saying the country is not going on with anything, what are you doing to develop your own country?” The deputy mayor made these crude, intemperate and uninformed remarks while addressing the New Fortress Energy Foundation’s annual back-to-school fair at Pier One in Montego Bay, St James, where 300 students from schools across St James each received $10,000 in vouchers, supplies, medical checks, and tablets.
The Deputy Mayor’s comments have received a fair number of condemnations and pushback from a few voices within the Diaspora community but not nearly enough. What surprised me even more, is the fact that among the few critics at home in Jamaica, some attempted to conflate the Vice Mayors vile comments with that made by former Prime Minister Michael Manley nearly 50 years prior when he pointed to the five flights per day that were available to Jamaicans who were desirous of leaving the island at the time.
It is not the first time that I have seen such comments. In fact, it has become commonplace in discussions on social media for some Jamaicans at home to reach for the reference whenever someone from the Diaspora levels any kind of critique of Jamaica, especially at whichever political gang forms the government. Once one lives outside of Jamaica, it would seem as if your citizenship card is revoked and with it any chance to express any interest in the island’s social and political affairs. I for one, reject that notion and it is my opinion that such responses are indicative of the depth of penetration of the serious intellectual deficit that not only strafes the island, but how these intellectually deficient individuals have found themselves in positions of power in Jamaica because of our “eat-a-food” approach to the practice of politics. I am not aware that there has been any condemnation of the Deputy Mayor’s comments from the senior politicians, nor from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the political Opposition who only a few weeks ago were here in the USA courting the Diaspora for its support at being re-elected.
Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon needs to take some time out and educate himself on the economic and social value of the Diaspora to Jamaica. Many communities in the island have seen a reduction in unemployment, transfer of technology, and falling poverty rates because of the impact of the Diaspora. In addition, at the individual level, Jamaica has seen where families’ standard of living has increased, the education level of many children of migrants have also seen increases, as well as numerous schools on the island which have been benefiting from Diaspora alumni remittances to these institutions to supplement Ministry of Education subvention shortfalls. It may do the Deputy Mayor well to appreciate that even if these are his personal views, they have no place on the stage or platform where he is presiding as a representative of the people.
About the Author
Richard Hugh Blackford is the host of a 2-hour music-driven internet show Sunday Scoops on yaawdmedia.com each Sunday from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. The show focuses on Foundation Jamaican Music and takes its audience on a nostalgic but historical musical journey, peeling back the years of Jamaican musical development as the hosts explore the careers of Jamaican artistes. Sunday Scoops provides interviews with personalities, and discussions on Jamaican music and other topical issues. The show is co-hosted by noted DJ Garth Hendricks.
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