Propaganda, Jamaica-style—how a few words, carefully tossed into the air can cast such dark shadows. A look at a ‘royal’ mess in the making

As far as I could see, a good number of people took umbrage at Peter Bunting’s comments about Nigel Clarke, just ahead of yesterday’s by-election in St, Andrew NW, which Mr. Clarke won. Like most, I first got wind of the comments in a report in The Gleaner, entitled ‘Nigel Clarke Leaves Colonial Taste In Bunting’s Mouth – Former Minister Says JLP Aspirant Mimics Aspirations Of Colonial Masters‘, but I was later pointed to the source, which is one of a series of ‘discursive’ videos entitled ‘Probe’ produced for/by Mr. Bunting and posted on his web site and other social media platforms on February 28. In those videos that I have seen, the MP is fed a series of thought-provoking questions by Reverend Garnett Roper, President of the Jamaica Theological Society, and PNP activist. The videos promise:

‘We probe beyond the headlines of current affairs affecting Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. We cover the uncovered stories and offer perspectives not given in the mainstream media.’

I suggest you watch the video yourself and listen carefully to what some would see as an ironic piece, with no shortage of double-think as it offers its perspectives. But, I’m just going to look first at something The Gleaner cited. It quotes Mr. Bunting (my stresses):

“In a sense, he reminds me of the black Englishman of colonial times who aspired to be sort of black royalty,...[Clarke has a] “great British education and sort of mimicking the values and the affectations of the former colonial masters“.

The Gleaner then notes that Mr. Bunting argued that Clarke’s personality contrasted with that of his People’s National Party (PNP) opponent Keisha Hayle, who he claimed has a “rural and down-to-earth ethos”.

Mr. Bunting, then argued (according to The Gleaner) ‘that the people of Jamaica have adopted an elitist mentality in deciding the profile of those who should seek representation’:

“The truth is, if we consider Parliament and politics as a vehicle through which the various interests and sectors in society are balanced, and you prevent, for example, a capitalist class and the free-market excesses from taking advantage of the average consumer in the market, if you are able to provide some affirmative action for those who are the very bottom, if you see politics and Parliament playing that role, then at the very least, we need a mix of persons from the technocrats with those who most organically understand the challenges of the working-class person in Jamaica,” he contended.

If you had never visited Jamaica and done any background on its politicians you would wonder who was talking about whom. Is not Mr. Bunting an epitome or product of that ‘elitist mentality’ of the people of Jamaica?

What is so peculiar about this ‘critique’ is that here we have a focus on three people seeking to make headway as politicians; one is already an MP and two are trying to become one. Each has benefited from the Jamaican education system through high school. One (Ms. Hayle) has done university eduction in Jamaica. One (Mr. Clarke) did university education in Jamaica and the UK (Rhodes Scholar, Oxford–I guess this is the ‘great British education’). One (Mr. Bunting) did university education in Canada (McGill) and USA (Florida)–no mention of the great Jamaican education at that premier high school, Campion College, or the ‘great’ foreign education at what is sometimes called ‘the Harvard of Canada’. Both men benefited significantly from scholarships that reflected their academic prowess. Ms. Hayle went on to work in a primary school. The two men forged successful careers for themselves in finance (investment banking) and business.

Whatever their social origins, by virtue of their successfully completing university education they have surpassed the challenges of working-class people in Jamaica; they are now part of the country’s elite.

Why this side-swipe at technocrats, as if he were not one–in fact, one many times over? What part of investment banking was geared at preventing ‘a capitalist class and the free-market excesses from taking advantage of the average consumer in the market’? What was the affirmative action that was implicit or explicit in the substantial successes of the Bunting-owned financial ventures? (Maybe, there are some charitable foundations I’m not aware of.)

What is so odd about the video is how two men whom Jamaicans would call ‘brown’ (for a sense of what that means in Jamaica, read Kei Miller’s essay posted yesterday on ‘Mr. Brown‘) take on the mantle of defining what they describe as the challenges of ‘the black Jamaican‘ and the ‘dark child‘ in Jamaica (so challenging in Ms. Hayle’s case that Mr. Bunting felt he could call her ‘a rough diamond’, defined by Merriam-Webster as ‘a person who has talent or other good qualities but who is not polite, educated, socially skilled, etc.’ (my stress). Maybe, he was being loose with his terms, but how on Earth did he get to that conclusion?

By positing that Mr. Clarke (also a ‘dark child’) was ‘Britisheque’, implying in some sense a level of refinement or status that is not defined (other than his being the son of a judge and a teacher) and also putting him ‘on-side’ with the former colonial rulers, even though there is no evidence that this where he might have thought or currently thinks himself to be? All made a little more distasteful for Jamaicans by alluding to ‘black Englishman’ and ‘aspirations and affectations of the former colonial masters’ (whatever those are)? Does he want to reinstate slavery? Does he want the British to come back and rule again? Does he want British fish and chips shops replacing Jamaican jerk stands? Nothing stated, but much to dislike implied, including ‘he may look like most of us, but he’s not really one of us’ (and we saw how that played out, recently, for another candidate).

The great thing about smear campaigns is that nothing is as effective and something nasty or suggestive that is tossed and sticks like glue, and then has to be wiped off. Damned if you leave it there. Damned if you try to remove it.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

3 thoughts on “Propaganda, Jamaica-style—how a few words, carefully tossed into the air can cast such dark shadows. A look at a ‘royal’ mess in the making”

  1. Thanks for this analysis. Have you read Mr. Bunting’s attempted justification of his comments? Reverend Roper’s role in all this is quite ignominious too. Did you know Nigel’s mother Mary was the first Children’s Advocate? Calling Ms. Hayle a “rough diamond” surely betrays Mr. B’s own elitism – how patronising… He really besmirched both candidates (both of them truly decent people, who conducted a seemly campaign) with his comments. I cannot understand his motivation – pure politics?


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