Dennis Minott | Gentrification of conscience
Jamaica’s response to Haitian refugees in shadows of our Maroon heritage
In the heart of Portland parish, where the legacy of the Eastern Maroons thrives, a Jamaican Christian weeps. His tears flow not for himself but for his Haitian brothers and sisters fleeing violence and despair in their homeland, Haiti. His anguish echoes the sombre transformation he witnesses within his beloved Jamaica — a transformation he dubs the “gentrification of conscience”.
The Maroons, descendants of courageous enslaved persons who defied oppression by escaping to Jamaica’s rugged mountains to forge their own communities, carry the torch of justice and compassion. They’ve long extended their hands to those in need, embodying the spirit of resistance that defines their heritage.
Haitians seeking refuge in Jamaica today are desperate souls, fleeing a nation mired in political turmoil and humanitarian catastrophe. Haiti grapples with violence, poverty, and relentless natural disasters, leaving countless Haitians bereft of homes and loved ones, crying out for food, shelter, medical aid, and a little kindness.
However, Jamaica’s response to these desperate Haitian refugees has been far from welcoming. Process, Protocols, and UNHCR be damned. The government is now denying entry to those seeking asylum, and those who have been allowed in and tolerated for mere hassled hours face discrimination and hostility. While official rhetoric cites economic constraints (and ergo, we focus on ratings by Standard and Poor’s) as the reason for such brutish treatment, many suspect deeper roots of xenophobia, racism, and scorn for the plight of weakened and wretched poor people.
The gentrification of conscience, a term that I offer to describe the callous indifference that can afflict individuals and societies when wealth or power accrues, now casts its ignoble shadow over Jamaica. The Jamaican government’s apathy towards Haitian refugees, its refusal to acknowledge their suffering, and its failure to provide the necessary aid constitutes a betrayal of Jamaica’s moral values and its historical legacy of embracing refugees.
As the Eastern Maroon Jamaican Christian weeps, he despairs for his nation’s future, witnessing its back-turning on its most vulnerable neighbours. He grieves for the gentrification of conscience that infiltrates his homeland.
Yet, he holds onto hope, for he knows Jamaica can rise above this newest moral nastiness so redolent of Nazilike cruelties. Writing with grief yet hope in three beautiful tongues, he envisions a Jamaica that greets refugees with open arms [(Li envizaje yon Jamayik ki akeyi refijye yo ak bra yo louvri.) (Il imagine une Jamaïque qui accueille les réfugiés à bras ouverts)], a Jamaica that remains committed to justice and compassion. His prayers ascend to the heavens, beseeching that the Jamaican government will awaken to its moral obligations and treat all Haitian refugees with the dignity and respect they deserve, even under cover of darkness.
THE WAY FORWARD
To combat the gentrification of conscience and promote a compassionate, welcoming attitude towards Haitian refugees, Jamaica must embark on a transformative journey:
1. Educate the public: Many Jamaicans remain unaware of the struggles faced by Haitian refugees. By educating the public about their challenges, empathy and understanding can blossom.
2. Pressure the Jamaican government: Accountability is key. Jamaicans can pressure the government to revise its policies by writing letters to elected officials, attending protests, and signing petitions.
3. Support refugee organisations: Numerous organisations are dedicated to helping Haitian refugees in Jamaica. Donations, volunteering, and spreading awareness of their efforts can provide invaluable support.
In taking these steps, Jamaicans can challenge the gentrification of conscience and usher in a more just and compassionate society.
As the Eastern Maroon Jamaican Christian dries his tears, he remains resolute in the fight for justice. He knows the path is arduous, but his unwavering commitment propels him forward. He believes in a brighter Jamaica, one where the legacy of Marcus Garvey, Edward Seaga, Michael Manley, Emperor Haile Selassie, and Nanny lives on — a Jamaica where compassion triumphs over indifference, and refugees are embraced as brothers and sisters under the same Caribbean sun.
ARE WE BEGINNING TO FLIRT WITH NAZI NASTINESS?
I implore our churches, our leaders, and every Jamaican to heed the call of compassion, justice, and human dignity. Let us embrace the principles that underlie our faith, extend our hands to those in need, and demonstrate the true essence of love and solidarity towards those seeking refuge and a chance at a better life.
Beyond monotheism, we can also find guidance in the principles of other belief systems. Hinduism, for example, promotes the concepts of dharma and vasudhaiva kutumbakam. Dharma requires that we treat others as we would want to be treated, emphasising our duties towards fellow human beings, including refugees. Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, which means ‘the world is one family’, encourages us to help refugees irrespective of their differences from oneself, rejecting boundaries of possessions, nationality, ethnicity, and religion.
Here’s the thing: It is essential for Jamaica to reevaluate its treatment of refugees in light of both its monotheistic heritage and the broader principles of compassion and justice espoused by various belief systems. We also need to realign ourselves with modern international human rights conventions that we so readily spout and benefit from. Our nation’s moral compass should guide us towards a more compassionate and just approach to those seeking refuge on our shores, for our actions reflect not only on our government but also on the soul of our nation.
Amid and despite this time of Jamaica’s ignominy, I am so inspired by the courage of journalist Alicia Smith, Malene Alleyne and her Freedom Imaginaries, Dr Marcus Goffe, and the sensitive and persevering conscience of my old KC friend, the brilliant and empathic expert ICT engineer, Darien Francis.
There are just 18 family names that are commonly shared between Haitians and eastern Jamaicans: Dupont, Pierre, Darien, Desir, Félix, Joseph(s), Lafleur, Auguste, Toussaint, Michel (Mitchel), Léger, Louis, Baptiste, César, Francis, Laurent, Laurence (Lawrence), and St Louis. These surnames highlight the historical connections and shared ancestry between the two nations, reflecting the rich cultural tapestry that binds Haitians and Jamaicans together. Through a common heritage, these family names serve as a testament to the intertwined history and cultural exchange between Haiti and Jamaica, reinforcing the idea that we are more alike than different, despite geographical separation by 100 miles of sea – closer than St Vincent and the Grenadines is to Barbados.
The distance between Port Morant, Saint Thomas and Sud Department, Haiti is less than 100 miles.
That is a major factor facilitating the linkage between Eastern Maroons and Haitians.
Dennis Minott, PhD, is the CEO of A-QuEST-FAIR. He is a renewable energy specialist and worked in the oil and energy sector. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.