Sun | Mar 7, 2021

A difficult but exceptional year

Published:Saturday | January 23, 2021 | 12:05 AMPhillip Mascoll/Contributor
Phillip Mascoll.
Phillip Mascoll.

For a nation and diaspora that routinely punch far above their weight class, 2020 was an exceptional year for Jamaica and Jamaicans at home and abroad.

There was the scourge of COVID-19 and two national elections – in our beloved Jamaica and in the United States (US) – that once again put Jamaican politicians and Jamaicans involved in politics on the front pages and the lips of the world.

The year had barely started when COVID-19 – aka the coronavirus – became a serious international threat. Soon enough, we were all weeping and worrying as to what was to become. The pandemic started sweeping the Earth, sickening and killing our relatives and friends in Jamaica and in every corner of the globe where the millions of us are transplanted.

The quarantine situation, that gripped the world and had most of us confined to our homes, gave us in the diaspora time to double “fret” about the toll this mysterious, fast-moving disease was taking on those in Jamaica and in the communities in the countries where we are domiciled.

We started to stay away from workplaces and very soon from schools. And, with extra time at home in front of our media devices, we obsessively checked the Jamaican news sites for the daily figures of the toll at home.

Soon, we began to get the news we all feared – that families and friends were becoming victims. The deaths started and we felt as helpless here in the so-called“developed world” as those around us suffered from lack of proper precautions and protective material, and from the absolute lack of a cure.

But the realisation came that we in Canada, the US and the United Kingdom (UK) were no safer than our loved ones in Jamaica. In fact, initially, the disease was better controlled in Jamaica than in North America, Europe and other ‘developed countries’.

SAFER

The same level of draconian measures that helped control the beast in Canada while we waited for a cure – or some news of hope, or a vaccine – was also being applied in Jamaica. And the Jamaicans we feared for were, in fact, safer than most of us.

The US, plagued by obstinate politicians and leaders who did not believe in science, by December was to become the world’s hotspot for deaths and new infections. Even when the chief opponent of the cautioned approach and taking COVID seriously, President Donald Trump, was smitten, the disease was still widely treated as if it were a common cold rather than the new plague.

The world watched as the US paid the price. By the beginning of December, more than 280,000 Americans, among them Jamaican-Americans, were dead and close to 15 million sickened, with more ailing daily.

With so many Jamaicans in Canada and the rest of North America involved in the entertainment and food service industries, the rules that saw venues closed and crowds banned, cut deeply into the earning power of many in the diaspora. Many who proudly boasted that they had never applied for social assistance in their years overseas, were suddenly dependent on government payments. This, in turn, attacked the amounts we in the diaspora could remit to relatives and friends at home.

On top of the COVID crisis being faced by the Jamaican-American community was the realisation that the very man who refused to lead the fight against the disease in the United States was more interested in his re-election in November than purging the disease from the country.

Donald Trump, to the shock of all, for weeks campaigned at mass meetings and held events at which even the most elementary of precautions against infection were not taken.

There was some consolation, however, when on the morning after the election, November 4, there was half-Jamaican Kamala Harris, one generation removed from our Brown’s Town, St Ann, in the waiting room of the US White House as the next vice-president of the United States to the next president, Joe Biden.

The UK, after staggering, managed to get some measure of control but, again, indisciplined politicians were a problem. Even their Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a victim, and this likely slammed home the fact that this disease was egalitarian in who it attacked.

Canada did the best. The realisation of the seriousness and that COVID gave no quarter was inescapable because our top politician, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his wife Sophie, were among the early victims who, through a disciplined adherence to the necessary measures of control, recovered.

WAR OF RACIAL EQUALITY

On May 25, the videotaped slaying of an African-American man named George Perry Floyd Jr by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota who knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, galvanised afresh the war for racial equality in the US and across the world.

Millions of people of all races marched and protested under the universal banner ‘Black Lives Matter’. In countries like Canada, where the war against systemic racism is quietly fought, people took to the streets and politicians were challenged to stand up and be counted. Jamaicans in the very comfortable North American middle class were forced to face the fact that all was not well and that their children and themselves could face the attacks from racist police and the system that had killed George Floyd.

The protests had an effect. Laws were changed. The face of ‘pure white’ mass advertising changed overnight. Interracial couples were recognised as an entity and brought to the fore on television and in fall and winter buying catalogues.

However, the protests did not seem to affect the deportations of Jamaicans from North America and the UK. In the US, the Donald Trump administration continued its assault on immigrants and people who were not Caucasian. Jamaica and its diaspora watched in awe as the world’s greatest democracy fell apart.

By the middle of the year – and in the middle of the pandemic – national elections in Jamaica were announced, to be held on September 3, just two months before the US national elections on November 3.

The same general election that left some of us weeping and some cheering at its result, also had us awed and saddened at how disinterested and uncaring seemed the Jamaicans at home who were lucky enough to be able to vote for the next government. The shockingly low voter turnout was something that we had not seen in our political lifetimes.

This 2020 will go down as the year of COVID and the year Jamaica owned the most powerful country in the world. But 2021 will be the year a child of the Jamaican diaspora is just an accident or illness removed from being president of the United States.