To my Beloved Jamaica on Her 60th Birthday
Happy Independence Day. It has been sixty years since we first raised the flag of Jamaica and ended our status as a British colony. We have had many ups and downs since then but, the unbreakable spirit of the Jamaican people endured. I would like to express to you my deeply felt emotions towards you on this significant occasion as well as my genuine hopes for your future.
You continue to make us proud in so many ways. No matter where I land in the world, even in non-English speaking countries, as soon as I mention that I am from Jamaica, people’s eyes light up and they always exclaim “Jamaica! We love Jamaica”. My love for you and my identity as a proud, strong daughter of Jamaica supersedes any other element of my view of self. The mere sight of your flag when I least expect it fills my eyes with tears and my heart with longing for you. When I hear reggae music, (the heartbeat of our people), the very core of me rejoices. You will always be my favourite country on earth. When I am home, I feel more like myself than anywhere else. The warmth and resilience of the Jamaican people is always a joy to experience.
As you start to grow and mature as a democracy, I hope that you can start to re-examine some of the old but outdated and harmful “truths” you held dear as a young nation. One of them is the over reliance on religion as a grounding principle for all aspects of life. You see Jamaica, the Christianity you blatantly practice in all spaces is isolating you from other areas of the world and indeed, from other Jamaicans. Remember how our motto says “out of many, ONE people”? What that meant is that we must acknowledge the religious persuasion of ALL citizens. Not every Jamaican is a Christian. In fact, the edifice located at 92 Duke Street is one of only seven Jewish synagogues in the world to still have sand on the floor. We have numerous Masjids where Muslim Jamaicans gather every Friday. The Hindu contingent are very much a part of our society. There is a growing number of your children who do not identify with ANY systems of faith at all. So, you see my beloved country, when you act as though these groups do not exist by simply erasing them from daily life, you do not live up to your national pledge in which it is clearly stated “I promise to stand up for justice, brotherhood and peace”. When you force others to start their day or a meeting or anything else with a word of Christian prayer, you are acting like the slave master once did. You are forcing others to endure something that they do not agree with and have no power to control. Remember, you are only a Christian because of slavery. Long gone are the African gods of old to whom our ancestors once prayed. It is therefore ironic and sad that we still have not understood that forcing others to bow down to the colonizer’s god is doing anything but standing up for justice. May we hold our own beliefs close while allowing others to differ from us without conflict. As Black Uhuru said “everybody wants the same thing don’t they?”
I also hope that you come to question the way we treat those who do not identify as heterosexuals and cis-gendered. I hope that you allow science to show you that over 1500 species of animals engage in homosexual behaviour and that in every society, there are people who simply cannot force themselves to be heterosexual. I hope that you get to the point where you realise that not everyone is, or should be, just like you. It truly does not matter whether you “agree” with someone else’s life choices. What does matter is that they are free to live their lives peacefully just like you are. As a post-slavery society, we well know that we cannot choose to be born Black, White or any other “colour”. In a world that values whiteness, it would be foolish to choose to be Black. Can you not see therefore, that in a society that values heterosexuality, it would be foolish to CHOOSE to be non-heterosexual? I hope we can at least get to the point where we do not attempt to impose upon others our own perspectives since we well know what it is like to have those who used to hold authority impose their views, whips and malice upon our ancestors.
May we also learn to mind our own business. What others choose to do with their bodies and souls is truthfully between them and their doctors, (or gods). It is high time that we simply remember that our constitution is clear about separation of church and state. Churches may be a source of comfort spiritually but, medical matters require medical solutions. Your pastors, even with the best of intentions, are not doctors and cannot make medical decisions on behalf of others. Even the Bible has several references to your God sanctioning termination of pregnancy. I hope that as a literate nation Jamaica, you read what is said and remember that you were specifically told in Matthew 7:1 “judge not lest ye be judged”. This means learning to mind your own affairs and living according to your own morality rather than forcing others to live by your standards. Jamaica, remember the saying “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). Remember that we all share the land as one “house”. Let us put aside the unnecessary points of disagreement and unite for the betterment of all.
May we also start to remember that we are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and therefore, we HAVE TO uphold the rights of ALL citizens whether we endorse their actions or not. Therefore, those who advocate for us to live by the agreements we have made are not lacking in empathy for victims of crime, marginalized groups or communities affected by crime. They are not on the side of those who commit heinous acts against others. They are simply doing what they are supposed to be doing, ensuring that the rights of people are upheld. They are not your enemies by any means.
Finally, may we dismantle the class system that separates the rich from the poor, the privileged from the marginalized and promotes a lack of understanding and empathy one group to another. We usually say we are Jamaican first and whatever other category second. It is time that we realise we have allowed greed and capitalism to ruin our relationships with each other. All lives should be held equally valuable. What affects one group will surely affect all in the long run. We can promote a more equitable society if we try. We can pull together like we have in so many instances before because the spirit of what it means to be Jamaican is to be confident in our ability to do whatever we set our collective minds to.
I know I will not be alive to see the entirety of the next sixty years of your development but, I hope that you will do the work necessary to become a better version of yourself over time. I will always praise you when you deserve it and, I am always cheering for your success. However, as anyone who truly loves another knows, sometimes the most loving thing you can do is be honest. To quote the song “Jamaica Land of Beauty”, I want to remind us all that “from riversides to mountains, from cane fields to the sea, our hearts salute Jamaica, triumphant, proud and free”.