Of Skin Bleaching and Parliamentary Proceedings

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I’m just relieved that I didn’t end up having a nightmare about the Government of Jamaica using the Revenue Administration Amendment Bill to wrap bleaching cream on my body so that it will “come white”.

After watching Dionne Jackson Miller’s (@djmillerJA) “All Angles” feature on skin bleaching, I tuned in to watch Parliament, which, at that time – 9:30pm – was still in session.  Before going to bed at close to midnight (ET), after reading social media commentary (mainly Twitter) on both matters, I couldn’t help but think that the two issues though separate, are in some sense…equal.

Of Bleaching

I’m not sure how to describe how I felt watching the All Angles feature on bleaching on June 19, 2013.  Let me just say it right here and now: I am a dark-skinned Jamaican female.  It may not have been necessary to say this, but just so you are aware of the context that frames my point of view, there it is.

Now, here is a point of fact: there are people who bleach their skin.  But what I found horrifying (as with any habit or behavior that becomes an addiction) was the fact that despite the risks to their health, they continue to do so because of the gratification they get.  In this post, I will not make it my aim to write a thesis about the genesis of this behavior, nor will this post make an attempt at finding solutions.  I welcome those in the comments below, as well as in the continued discussions and exploration of the issue in other spaces.

This is in no way meant to ridicule the (mostly) women who agreed to give us an insight into the world of bleaching.  Instead, by writing a few observations I’m seeking to understand how they rationalize the activity. Essentially then, I’ll present a few (just a few) observations from last night’s program, and what it said about how we make sense or “create meaning” out of different physical and social cues.

Social mobility

In the first few minutes, Noogle helped us understand that to become more recognized in her line of work (cosmetology), she needed to present an image that would attract more customers; it follows that this would also mean an increase in income.  This image of which she speaks is that of one bearing a lighter complexion.  I’m not sure we can conclude from what she said that the lighter the complexion, the more it equates to even more recognition.  Either way, it somewhat signifies progress.  Now, others looking on who are not of that mindset may not see the progress, the mobility…but that depends on how you define progress.

Beauty, image

Still on image (and by this point, beauty), we got the chance to see how important the “video light” is.  Thanks Dr. Donna Hope for clarifying it for us.  The interviewees spoke highly about bleaching so that when they go to the parties and dances, they can “stand up inna di video light” because they’re lighter.  As Dr. Hope suggested, the video light means exposure, and (more metaphorically) an escape as their image is projected beyond the realm of their current reality.

One other observation I made with regard to understanding beauty and image in this context is that of one person almost equating darker skin to a malady.  She related that upon entering a dance and seeing another woman with (enviably) lighter skin she asked, “What is your remedy?”.  Remedy.  She needed a remedy.  A cure.  Without thinking I looked at my own skin and listened with amazement.

I wondered at this point if their perception of the beauty of lighter skin is in the complexion itself, or in the perceived “benefits” that come with having that complexion.

It’s science

When bleaching, a lot of experimentation goes into its application, and their bodies are the specimen.  There is measurement, testing, refining and a recording of results to ensure that the desired effect is captured at replication of the experiment.

The rules

  • Children/students should not bleach.  That’s just a given.
  • When you’re bleaching, don’t have a full shower (bathe).  This will interfere with the chemical processes of allowing the skin to peel so that you can get lighter.  This is to be taken into consideration especially if one is preparing for a big event.
  • Stay out of the sun (or cover up as much as possible).
  • Do not go over the limit (but that varies from person to person, and depends on the objective of bleaching)

Now, the #AllAngles discussion on Twitter was good to observe.  Of course, the few observations I listed above doesn’t come close to the number of different views on the matter.  Some say bleaching is a phenomenon with its roots in classism.  Others opine that people from the upper class bleach their skin as well.  Some allude to its psychological roots of slavery and how it’s perpetuated on the social pages of our news dailies.  One thing is for sure – the phenomenon is not isolated.  It doesn’t exist in the bubble that is the reality of the women presented in the feature…

Of the Parliamentary Session

I don’t remember ever having witnessed a Jamaican Parliamentary sitting that went on for eight hours.  The 33 MPs who were present at the vote on the Bill to Amend the Revenue Administration Act worked a full workday on June 19, 2013 (I’m still trying to decide if that deserves an applause or not.  Let’s move on as I figure it out…).  The vote on the bill was finalized at approximately 10:39pm local time.  Clearly, this was no ordinary sitting.  The debate on this bill was necessary as its passage is part of the contract between the IMF and Jamaica (the Letter of Intent – pg. 19).

And there you have it.  One of the few times our parliamentarians stay late to debate a bill and we realize it’s because outside forces have made it a stipulation.  So we see that it’s not so much that there isn’t enough time to get through the bills that are currently awaiting presentation and debate, it’s a question of commitment.  Commitment of time and energy.  As one person on Twitter stated, “…Wish some other issues –could get same time, energy , thought — e.g. crime…”  Or is it that we have to wait on the one calling the shots before we demonstrate that we can, as an independent nation, carry out the necessary actions to set us on a path to true progress?  What will it take for our MPs to decide to sit down and address the anti-gang and DNA legislations?  Do the IMF and World Bank have to stipulate those in a Letter of Intent as well?  In seriously addressing the care and protection of our children, does it have to be linked to a multilateral loan?  Hmmm?  Are we truly emancipated from “massa”?  (By the way, June 19th is celebrated in the United States as Juneteenth, commemorating the abolition of slavery in the State of Texas.  Funny, huh?)

Yes, what I’m suggesting is that even how our parliamentarians go about conducting the nation’s business (by the way, only 33 of the 63 MPs were present for the vote) illustrates that, like those who bleach their skin in the name of “beauty”, we have not been fully emancipated from our colonial past.  It’s like a bird that was locked up in a cage – it has been kept in that cage for so long that when the door is opened, it forgot how to fly.  Our apparent lack of zeal, commitment, willpower, self-respect, self-worth…is our shackle; our mindset our plantation.

“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind; use your intelligence to work out the real things of life. The time you waste in levity, in non-essentials, if you use it properly you will be able to guarantee to your posterity a condition better than you inherited from your forefathers.” – Marcus Garvey, 1937

– @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

Thanksgiving service for the Jamaican dollar will be held at…

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Editor’s note: This post has been edited from its original format (written on March 2, 2013) to reflect the most recent update in currency trading.
*****

“If it look like di money dead, keep a small funeral” – Richard “Dingo” Dingwall (from song “Shopkeeper“)

So there we were, gathered around looking at the once vibrant and full of life, but now motionless figure.  Well actually, it moved, but each twitch brought it into further decline.  As it struggled to remain alive with the help of life support, we couldn’t help but mourn the tragic (and rapid) decline of the health of the Jamaican dollar.

It wasn’t an easy path that led to this moment.  Born on September 8, 1969, there were high hopes for what it would become; what it would accomplish.  It dared others to dream.  Entrepreneurs, already riding the wave of Independence 7 years before, were inspired to take risks.  But there it was, at 100.08:1, having suffered a battering and bruising over the years.  It only started to weaken against the USD in the late 1970s.  It was around that time that the first IMF agreement was signed.  Coincidence, perhaps?  Either way, it continued a slow (and barely noticeable) decline well into the 80s.  It took a dip on November 23, 1983, when then Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, announced in the House of Representatives that under a new IMF agreement, the dollar has been devalued and placed at a new rate of $3.15.  By the time the JLP was voted out of office in February 1989, the dollar had declined to $5.50.

It was only 20-years-old then.  Partying during the teen years took its toll, I suppose. We never learn, though.  Its most rapid decline in health took place in the very early 90s.  After turning 21 – yes, the legal drinking age in the U.S.  (Certainly SOMEBODY was drinking).  By the end of 1991, it was $21.57 for USD$1.00.  Before the decade was over, it was over $45.00 for USD$1.00.  It suffered a major blow as a result of the major financial meltdown of the 1990s (which was a local phenomenon, by the way.  The rest of the world’s economies were growing).

The year it turned 40 (in 2009), it peaked at $89.64.  Yup, that was it.  The rough and tumble of the global recession had its effect.  But then it got stable…not too long after the former government’s introduction of the JDX.  The dollar maintained stability for a year and a half between $85 and $86.  Of course, the elections of 2011 happened and there was a change in government.  We thought that if the Jamaican dollar made it this far after such a rough run, then surely it can keep up, right?

Well, a little over a year later, here it lies gasping for breath.  So before we continue with the service, out of respect, let us observe a moment of silence for our dear loved one.

*moment of silence*

“Ashes to ashes…”

Jamaica, land we love.

Her Story Still Haunts Me

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Photo from Jamaica Gleaner

UPDATE (June 2, 2013): Since this blog post was first published on June 1, 2013, a follow up article was printed in The Sunday Gleaner on June 2, 2013.  It highlighted the efforts of former Office of the Children’s Advocate investigator, Ms. Gloria Thompson, to get assistance for Vanessa Wint.  Ms. Thompson stated:

“If I had acted otherwise, meaning if I had not done anything, that would have been inappropriate for someone working at the OCA that has a mandate to advocate for the rights and best interests of children.

“What is an aberration is allowing that child to die in that institution without making the necessary interventions to save her when it was within our power to do so.”

To Ms. Thompson I say this: THANK YOU for breaking protocol and going out of your way to let this child’s voice be heard. No one else listened, but you did. As much as process and procedure is necessary, in situations like this where there is a crisis, it CANNOT be business as usual. So thank you!

***

I’ve been putting off commenting on this since last Sunday, but the story still haunts me.  In last week’s Sunday Gleaner, the story was published about Vanessa Wint, the teenager who committed suicide while in the State’s care.

Her screams for help SHOULD still haunt us.  I read the story and wondered how nobody heard her.  Nobody listened.  It was as if the cell of her existence was made of soundproof glass.  The article stated that Vanessa “wrote to anyone and anywhere she thought she could get help”, but as Ms. Marlene McTaggart commented in the report, “…nobody did anything.  They sat on their hands…”

Was she not worth saving?  Was she not worth risking breaking protocol to reach out to her and get her the help she needed?  Was she not worth being bothered about?  Where and when were the efforts made to sit and listen to this child and help her?  WHY IN GOD’S NAME WERE HER SCREAMS IGNORED?!

Everyone has a story to tell.  We all walk around with our baggage.  We have our imperfections, our flaws, our scars…and how would we ever love to share the history behind each one.  Some stories aren’t meant to be bottled in.  The court deemed Vanessa uncontrollable.  This would be an attribution that she would have to live with as others see her through the lens of this label.  She wanted to tell her truth; to share her story.  Nobody stopped to listen.

But on November 21, 2012, Vanessa found a way to get everyone’s attention.

Her story still haunts me.  This apathy must end.