Over the past few weeks I have been spending time preparing my “self-introduction” presentation. It is meant to introduce my students to me, however I have designed it to focus more on Jamaica.
One of the purposeful things I am introducing into their subconscious is diversity. All my teachers can now explain our motto, “Out of Many, One People”. As a matter of fact, so can the head of the Education Department, the Mayor and all authority figures. The first example of diversity I show is the side about my family – well because we are truly a rainbow of people in this tribe. We range from Anglo, to African, to Asian, and everything in between.
So imagine how excited I was to include our beauty queens to show how complex and amazingly diverse beauty can be. The variety we can show, especially compared to the controversy of them having their very first mixed queen this year. I knew this was going to be a killer part of my presentation, I just knew it.
I started out with the Queens who had won titles, easy enough, Carole Joan Crawford, Cindy Breakspeare, and of course, Lisa Hanna. I then started on my palate of national queens for each “group”; dark-skinned, light-skinned, coolie, white, chiney. Yes, purposefully looked for each, in that order, most difficult to easiest. Or so I thought.
It was as easy finding a dark-skinned winner (or that was dark-skinned at the time), as it was finding a light-skinned one. Finding blatantly Indian and White (enough) ones were admittedly not that hard either. However, when it got to a Chinese one, let’s just say, I’m still looking for the all elusive photo of Sandra Kong during her reign.
Sandra Foster, Sandra Cunningham, but no Sandra Kong. This wouldn’t have been so big an issue, if a Jamaican of clear Chinese decent had won more than twice. Sounds like a shocker? Twitter has you believing differently? Well, me too.
Every year, when friends, cousins, school-mates, friends children, etc… enter and lose either Miss Jamaica World or Miss Universe Jamaica, a huge outcry of racism and colourism becomes the topic of conversation. How disadvantaged black women are in the competitions. How only uptown, light-skinned, brownings, with affluence and connections have a chance. Every year, I brush my own feelings aside and avoid the conversation, it becomes too emotional and personal.
Instead, each year when I see the photos of the entrants/finalists, the first people I write off as having no chance whatsoever are white. Why? Because no matter how good they are, it’s too controversial to let them go past the top ten. Crystal never had a chance, and yes, they do try to appease the audience. Then I start looking at the rest, I look at their smiles, the length of their legs, their bikini ready (or not ready) bodies. I compare them, I pick my winner as well as the one most likely to win. I’ve been doing this since childhood. I am rarely wrong on the winner.
The problem is, we forget what this is really about. This is a beauty contest. One that feeds into another one. We get caught up in the effort and expectation of our *person* in the contest. We argue and fuss, about whether or not they are a “real Jamaican” – even when they are born and raised here, sharing no other nationality. Forcing people to justify their Jamaicaness, in the way that Obama is forced to justify his American-ness.
Jamaica, displays this wide range of everything. In most variations of food we call something “Chiney”. We have Chiney Bannana, plum, jimblyn and guinep, but in this day and age, we have no Chiney Miss Jamaica. Not since 1977, when Sandra Kong withdrew from Miss World in protest of South Africa’s participation and its system of apartheid.
We ignore that when we became Jamaica, independent nation, Chinese people had been here for over a hundred years already. That Jamaicans of Chinese decent have been a part of our industrial development since landing on our shores, despite laws being put in place to restrict them. That for those Chinese to even come here, they had to prove literacy in a minimum of THREE languages, plus pay a sort of visa fee. So go ahead, eat a patty, drink a bag juice, and give your kids a Kisko, but don’t forget all of those came from a Jamaican-Chineyman.
The slide ended up like this:
The only difficulty I had in finalising this was selecting which of our darker queens to show these children. Of course I picked Sara, because I wanted to also show diversity in their lives too. Two current title holders (at time of presentation), a doctor, a politician, a TV host, a model, a business owner and a wife. My students got the picture, despite the obvious deficit, that Jamaicans all look different and do different things in life.
It burns me inside to always be faced with a Jamaica that is so vastly different from the inclusive one I grew up in. We are no longer one people, with the hopes of making the world better for all people. We have become a nation of “Us versus Them”, always pushing for exclusivity of an identity that none of us have a greater right over than the other. We are all Jamaican, and if our bodies are hot enough, and “tree nah grow outta wi farrid”, we too have an equal right to be a Miss Jamaica.