By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published August 23, 2016, in the Jamaica Observer
On one of the greatest nights in Jamaica’s athletic history, the good, sad, and utterly despicable elements of the human psyche were fully or secretly displayed on the social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.
On the night of August 16, 2016, I went to my sister’s house to pick up my four-year-old daughter and saw history for Jamaica being made. Twenty-two-year-old Omar McLeod – and Jamaica – won Olympic gold for the first time in the 110m hurdles.
My daughter was beaming with pride as she raced around, with her index finger pointing to the sky, shouting, “Jamaica! Jamaica! Jamaica land we love!” She was like an athlete doing numerous victory laps around the 400m track at the Olympic stadium, albeit, her 400m track was situated around her aunt’s coffee table.
“What could she know and understand at age four?”, I asked myself quietly. Irrespectively, all she knew was, she was Jamaican, a Jamaican won gold, she loved her country and she was going to run and jump over the moon (or the coffee table soon).
The volcanic eruptions next door and outside – along with the screams, chants, and banging – reiterated the love and pride that swelled in my daughter’s chest and the hearts of many Jamaicans.
Ironically, as night follows day — as fi mi granny would say — I found myself with a bubbling internal conflict later that night, after I saw a riposte tweet that was posted from a Lasco Jamaica Twitter account in response to a question from Dr. Terri-Karelle Reid.
Dr. Reid asked, “If you could caption tomorrow’s Jamaica Gleaner front page of Omar McLeod what would it read?” (I will not even quote the offending riposte tweet from the Lasco account, lest it receives any credence).
Lasco removed the bigoted tweet. An initial statement of apology from Lasco Jamaica quickly emerged, hinting at the possibility of its account being “compromised” and they promised a subsequent investigation. Soon thereafter, Lasco Jamaica declared that their Twitter account was deactivated and the employee responsible for the offensive tweet was fired.
The bubbling conflict I had about the initial tweet was that on one hand, I wanted to scream my views on this distasteful act – found oftentimes in the bowels of the Jamaican and the human psyche, a psyche I have described in the past as constituting the good, the sad and the despicable. Yet, on the other hand, I could choose to scoff the matter altogether that is ‘turn a blind eye to it,’ as some would say, hoping the gaucherie would die quickly and agonizingly, never to rise again.
Then, I remembered two quotes by a young preacher who was the antithesis of hate and bigotry, and who for of his views, civil disobedience, and dream, had his house bombed and was arrested numerous times, yet still promoted non-violence and pronounced equality to all until his death.
The quote from the young man I remembered said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” He went on and further said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
The young man who said these words was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and after that flashback, the choice was simple. I had to pen this column. My voice on the matter must be heard.
I’m not a close friend of Omar McLeod and I know nothing about him other than he is an athlete who has made his country and my daughter proud. However, like many Jamaicans, he is my brother. All over my social media timelines, I see my Jamaican brothers and sisters stand in solidarity with their African-American brothers and their struggles for equality through open rebuke and with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Truthfully, many have condemned the Lasco Account tweet and Lasco Distributors Limited has apologised profusely. This is but the first step of a million that Lasco and we Jamaicans need to take. We need to ensure that no one is ever subjected to bigotry and/or suffer the scars of discrimination. We cannot as a people with one tongue denounce those who wallow in the mud of racism and prejudgements against our coloured brothers and with another tongue, we welter in the mire of bigotry and scuttlebutts against our fellow Jamaicans.
Last Tuesday night should have been the culmination of all that is beloved and beautiful about McLeod’s – and Jamaica’s – journey to the top of the world in athletics. In high school and college, McLeod showed immense promise, however, last year, he unravelled at the World Championships. This year, he has risen to heights unknown in Jamaica’s storied athletic history. In addition, on Tuesday night in Rio, for the first time in Olympic history, three Jamaican women qualified for the 400m hurdles final. A feat a single country has achieved only once in this event (USA – 2012 Olympics). It should have been one of the greatest nights in Jamaica’s athletic history; however, it was marred with indictments and bigotry.
Interestingly, I remember years ago when a friend of mine suffered the scars of bigotry. At the time, the choice was to either join the wolf pack in hate or be different and stand for what is right. However, nothing about the wolf pack’s views was religious, morally, or humanly correct. Therefore, I choose to be different, to stand, to be a friend, to be a human and not a wolf.
To say I am not a little disheartened would be litotes. I may be marked, labelled, and even figuratively lynched after this column. But, who cares? Pfft. I am Jamaican. My daughter is Jamaican. So too is Omar McLeod and every other Jamaican who celebrated his success. Let us stop with these wild accusations and bigotry if someone seems or sounds different from you. Let us love our country and everyone in it, and cease the literal and literary bloodshed.
Well, that is what my daughter wants. It is what I want too. The question is, “what do you want for yourself, your children and your country?” Moreover, “will you stand up against bigotry everywhere?”
If we do not, then we and/or our children will soon be its victims, with no medals, only scars, and broken dreams.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is a freelance sportswriter. He was quoted as saying,
“Of all the columns I have penned, it would be a genuine understatement to say, I loathe having to write this one the most.”
This blog article was also published in the Jamaica Observer on August 23, 2016.