Robin Lim Lumsden

Racism  and Justice

I have never known what prejudice feels like because I was born into white privilege; however, I know racism is alive and well in Jamaica. 

My husband and I are three generations of people who married people of different ethnicities. I’ve always worried about the world our mixed-race children will inherit and while I know that people of mixed race are becoming the majority in societies all over the world, it is still hard to imagine what ideas about race will inform this future world. 

My white Jamaican grandparents’ ancestors came from England and France. I witnessed my grandparents’ views and attitudes about race change over time as the country made progress. This change began with prime minister Michael Manley’s policies in the 1970s calling for the breaking down of “social barriers” that separated the “haves” and the “have-nots” and gave the black majority of Jamaicans increased access to things such as education, healthcare and housing. This was only the beginning and nearly 40 years later there is still a lot more that needs to be done to make our society a more equitable one. 

As it is in the US, Jamaicans in the lower social-economic strata do not have equal protection under the law. Justice is still elusive for poor black Jamaicans and impunity protects cops who use unwarranted lethal force. Jamaica also has one of the highest number of extrajudicial killings per year in the world. Most of those killed are young black men from poor communities. 

Progress has been made, however inequality and prejudice still exist and Jamaican society is stratified along the lines of race and class. Successive governments and Jamaicans in the higher echelons of society have been complicit in maintaining the status quo by not demanding changes in policies that would end the inequities. 

Although our motto “out of many one people” is a tribute to the diverse ethnicities of our people, insidious racism disguised as classism, is just as pernicious as it was in the early 1960s. Racism has kept the majority of our people down by not giving the black majority equal access to an equal quality of education. The lack of access to human rights and freedoms has stymied our country’s development. And this is a discussion Jamaica also needs to have.

An emancipated Jamaica gained universal suffrage in 1944, almost twenty years before it was granted to people of color in the US in 1965. A newly independent Jamaica in the early 1960s had a mixed-race prime minister who at that time was expanding access to human rights.

Having seen attitudes towards race change during my lifetime I am hopeful that one day racism will no longer be a social construct which plays such a large and divisive role in our lives. 

I believe we are witnessing history. America is being changed by a public outcry against racism reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. People of every ethnicity are protesting all over the world for an end to systemic racism. Young people are leading the charge for human rights for all.

I am hopeful that the global condemnation of the murder of George Floyd and many others at the hands of the police will lead to fundamental changes: reform in policing and in the US justice system and an end to brutality against people of color. Changes that will remove “the knee on” black people’s necks so that they too have equal access to the rights and freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution. 

I hope the fact that countries are becoming more multiethnic will promote interracial interaction and a better understanding and acceptance of each other and even a celebration of what Ralph Ellison called “our beautiful diversity”. It is heartening that young people are taking up the mantle and rejecting hate and prejudice, and their vehement desire for change and greater equality will, I believe, usher in a new day and a new way of being. And in this new day, it may be possible for us to show love for our fellow human beings, acceptance and respect for our common humanity.

Image info: Wedding photo. Dr Robert Kho-Seng Lim and Margaret Torrance (author’s paternal grandparents), circa 1920.

Robin Lim Lumsden is an entrepreneur.

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