Are Jamaicans afraid of change?

“Why won’t they consider us?” came the question. “Because we are new and different,” came back an answer. “Jamaicans are afraid of change.”

My gut tells me that this may be very true. I can see that Jamaicans are conservative, in wanting to hold on to things that they see as traditional. That stretches from relishing anything that smacks of ‘old-time’.

It may be cultural and sociological, such as beating children, because that’s what parents and grandparents and great-grandparents did, and whatever new-fangled evidence may tell the rest of the world, we are not going to give up the switch, the rod, the belt buckle or other implements of discipline. (I hear an “Amen” from Adrian Peterson.)

It may be culinary, such as the foods we love to eat, and think have been with us for generations and generations. Our traditional ‘national’ dishes, like ackee and salt fish (let’s not worry that we have to import that from Canada). But, things like ganja tea, which many of us were given as children, and now the world is catching up to the notion that this is really beneficial, not really harmful. We love salt and salty things–corned beef, corn pork, salt fish, etc. Hypertension is not going to make us give up adding what makes things taste so devilishly good!

It may be educational. I laughed last week when I read a comment from someone that her child (about 3 years old, I guess) had been a Wolmerian from inside the womb, and that he already has his tie. Old school ties (no pun intended) are very strong. We have seen how some of that erupts in recent days. Two traditional schools squared off last week on the football field. Well, truth be told, one showed up and the other was still getting dressed. St. George’s schooled Campion College 11-1. “Oh, Lawd!” Cries of joy were as loud as howls of pain. To salvage the outcome, some of the Campionites had to revert to history lessons and change the activity. “My boy, in my day, we were the team to beat on the cricket field…” and so on. Just a few days ago, I read that Munro College, a well-known boys’  boarding school in St. Elizabeth, was changing the status of girls who were attending classes at 6th form there. Having reversed 150 years of all-boyism last year, and letting a dozen girls register, wear the tie and walk the walk (“now they are registered for Munro.

We are Munro College girls. Oh, no more? (Courtesy of Jamaica Observer)
We are Munro College girls. Oh, no more? (Courtesy of Jamaica Observer)

They are Munro and wear the uniforms (including ties) in the colours of Munro,” said a former principal who who now co-ordinates activities at the new facility where the girls would be housed), the school now says it does not want to carry that on, and wants the girls to register at its neighbouring girls’ school, Hampton High. Some change is just too much to stomach. Of course, opinions are divided. But, it’s amazing that after overturning 150 years of tradition, people can say a year later, “Enough!” I’m not sure who was turning in their grave, but they made the Earth move.

It may be political. Choosing a party to support, like the school that a child will attend, may be something that is determined from before birth. It can, certainly, be determined just by where you happen to live. Green or Orange (or Red) may be the stripe you must wear to survive your daily grind. We know of the ‘garrisons’ in Jamaica, which are really imprisonment places as far as votes are concerned. If you don’t know about garrisons and ‘dons’, watch the video.

In passing, I was thinking about democracy, yesterday (it was International Democracy Day). I’d expressed a view, contrary to that of Kofi Annan:

“If there’s enough noise, enough pressure, enough organisation, the leaders will follow the people. If the people are apathetic, they don’t vote; they are leaving the field open to the politicians to do what they want.”

I disagree with the content, and focused on what ‘noise’ meant, but also that not voting is not apathy. I need to think more about that. But, part of my reasoning is that voting is not activism, especially, if it is forced in a certain direction. In such settings–and it applies in Jamaica–not voting may be the best way one has of actively expressing opposition. When you have the choice of two ways to be killed, opting for neither is a very smart choice.

Jamaica has seen a steady decline in national voter participation. Yes, part of it may reflect apathy, in the sense that people have become tired of the ‘politricks as usual’, jobs for cronies, etc. that passes for the exercise of democracy. But, part of it also is a conscious rejection of the status quo. In a democracy, not voting is a peaceful form of protest. If the democracy were weak, we would see that rejection in the form of violent opposition.

We see our resistance to change in how things are managed. We love lateness–it’s become fashionable. We love disorder–look at the people scurrying around to put the events together, having set the date and venue weeks or even months ahead. We love not deciding till the last minute. We could call that an aversion to the benefits of planning. I’ve just about wiped the smirk off my face after the JUTC ‘Smarter’ card debacle, where it was surprised that the late take-up of concession cards resulted in its offices being swamped hours before the deadline. It had to backtrack (another good Jamaican tradition?) and extend the deadline, once, then twice. We don’t manage garbage and get sicknesses that are spread through unsanitary conditions. We don’t harness our water resources, and get struck by drought conditions repeatedly, only to hear promises of “things will be done differently…” (we love promises, like children love candy). We do nothing really to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes, then get piqued when we hear that mosquito-borne diseases are in our midst and spreading.

So, is there hope in the face of such resistance to change. Yes. Hope has been one of our traditional pillars and we will not give that one up, readily. “We don’t need no more trouble”: