Storied existence: how Jamaica under sells its human assets

I had a difference of opinion with two journalists about what made their list of best stories over the past year. I repeat that I don’t do lists, partly because it sets up reactions like mine.

But, my inner economist got antsy. I thought quickly about the difference between noise and real data. What some wanted as stories above others betrayed a mistaking of noise over substance. Take two instances.

When Prof. Bain was fired by UWI, it led to some uproar about free speech and a little excitement about the implied issues about repealing buggery laws and the way the ‘gay agenda’ was taking over. The uproar included some street protests. But, who engaged on the topic? From what one heard and read, a small and narrow grouping. I don’t think any political heavyweight weighed in, even gently.

On the other hand, the NHT/Outameni saga, which still rolls on, found voices clamouring across the country, including elected political people, some of whom are now under the PM’s watchful eye for seeming disloyalty. The issues affect a large swathe of the nation and has relevance that the Bain/buggery story can barely hope to muster.

So, bluster should be something journalists should be able to discern. But, they may be part of the pot rattling.

In passing, my views questioned why the world record-equaling feat of swimmer, Alia Atkinson, was not ranked highly. One reaction was that it was the top sports story, suggesting that sport was some lower species. Sport often dominates national life and passion is rarely as high as when sporting issues are being discussed.

But, I was disturbed by the idea that the nature of the sport gave it less importance. One journalist argued that if the record had been set by one of our top two track stars it would have ranked higher. How odd. Swimming is an area where black athletes have shone as brightly as wet coal in a dark room. Many wondered if the black athlete could perform in water. Then, a black woman doing something for the first time, ever. Then, that woman being Jamaican. We’d really rank higher an achievement in an area where we’ve excelled for decades and in which we currently hold the highest accolades?

Economists like to focus on marginal difference, and we often talk about the relative change. So, moving from zero to hero must rank very high, compared to from hero to hero. Not so, in some Jamaican eyes. Therein lies a sad tale.

It suggests that we also value more additional lawyers and doctors, of which we have innumerable great ones, than nuclear physicists, of which we have barely any. It points to how we may have big problems making certain changes to our society, in a broad sense. It speaks to our love of the status quo.

We’ve the unedifying experience of having pushed away our top athletes. Merlene Ottey is one special example, who was deemed ‘past it’, but jumped into the arms of Slovenia to show that passing her was still hard to do. She sprinted at top international level well into her 50s, and is not done yet.

Dustin ‘Dreddy’ Brown. Jamaican to his core, but we didn’t want to invest in him.

We have had some notable success in international tennis, most notably with Richard Russell. But when a budding prospect named Dustin Brown came along we floundered. ‘Dreddy’ is an odd fish, for being German-born and German-speaking, but he’s a proud Jamaican. Our national association, however, dropped the ball, with lack of funding. Brown thought about playing for Great Britain, in 2010, using his grandparental linkage, but opted for his birthplace.

He now plays for Germany and continues to rise up the ATP ranking, now established in the top 100. He’s spectacular to watch, especially on grass and wowed crowds at Wimbledon. He’s a great doubles player. He beat then-number 1 player, Rafael Nadal, in straight sets in Halle, Germany, this June. He comes to Jamaica often to chill and try to give back.

Alia Atkinson get government and corporate funding

What do we want Alia to do? Sure, swimming is less popular than track. But, her moment was at least as significant as a Bolt world record.

It did not come from nowhere and she gave full warning during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. She’s had support from government and corporate sponsors and inspires more than just swimmers.

It’s one thing very special to not get recognized by your country, especially when the rest of the world gives accolades. CNN featured Atkinson on Christmas Day.

We are a recognized sprint ‘factory’. It’s easy for us. Look, we even have a track star who craved recognition, then when he got it, decided that partying was more important than going to receive the award. He also had not enough wit to avoid being pictured partying while his agent lied that he was severely injured. That’s how we roll?

As I think about how we can progress, I think about how we can embrace change and difference. We don’t look convincing when we hold onto what could be seen as our stale diet. Maybe, refining our tastes and image of ourselves is a big challenge. But, we say proudly how “We likkle but we tallawah” but don’t let us step out of our box too much.

We fret about our brain drain, yet we ensure that the brains and brawn have few options but to leak away?