The Value of the Vybz Kartel Trial – Part II

once-upon-a-time

Why don’t we tell our stories?

I’m not talking about media coverage now. I’m talking about bringing the lives, trials, experiences, and history of Jamaicans and Jamaica to the screen, stage, paper, and canvas.  For some reason something seems to be stifling our voices.  Is it lack of money, lack of talent, or lack of will? Is it shame?  Are we afraid to look?

Remember Tivoli, May 2010?  That story, a defining moment in Jamaican history, was and still is being told by Mattathias Schwartz.  We don’t even have a barrage of songs about Tivoli.  It’s like we’ve locked the events of May 2010 away in some deep dark recess of our collective consciousness, fearful of really looking at what happened and what it may say about us.  Yet I’ve seen people take the time to forcefully condemn Mr. Schwartz’s reporting and conclusions.  Then the Public Defender’s facile draft report did little to paint a different picture and did nothing to rebut the claims made by Mr. Schwartz.  So his narrative remains, especially for outsiders, the dominant one.

Remember the first Jamaican Bobsleigh team?  That story was ultimately told by Disney.  Right now there is a lot of goodwill and focus on the 2014 two-man Bobsleigh team from Jamaica and much of it is framed around Cool Runnings.  There is so much goodwill that folks began a fundraising campaign to help our team travel to Sochi after it qualified; the Jamaican government will pay for travel and even when that became known, the giving for our team continued.  The Jamaican team plans to use the money to pay for other Sochi-related costs and to put future Jamaican Bobsleigh teams in good stead.  In a way the goodwill of strangers (and some Jamaicans I expect) is ensuring that we can take control of our story.  But will we exercise that control? At the very least there’s another feel good tale to be told…and we certainly have the creatives who can do the telling.  Will we?

Remember the allegations about Daryl Vaz related to the murder of Immaculate Conception High School student Dianne Smith?  That story has not fully been told.  I remember some time last year (near the time that articles began appearing in the Jamaican newspapers about the incident and its aftermath) that discussion exploded on my Twitter timeline about whether there should be a Lifetime-style movie made about the murder, the case, the aftermath, and how it shocked the country.  Some thought that we should simply move on: what’s the point of rehashing all of that?  So sordid it was, I guess.  We should instead be focused on preventing other tragedies like Dianne Smith.  I wonder, then, how exactly we’d go about this preventing if we scarcely talk about and certainly don’t understand Dianne Smith’s own tragedy.  But others thought well it’s one of our stories: we should tell it, explore it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that any one person is being condemned it just means that we’re telling a story.  To this day I’m still fascinated by how tempers flared on my timeline during this discussion.

colinferguson

Forgot about him?

Remember Lee Boyd Malvo?  Remember Colin Ferguson? Folks dare not speak their names in the same breath as “Jamaican.”  When I found out that each of these men was Jamaican I experienced a mix of emotions: embarrassment, sadness, curiosity, horror, fear, and regret.  The curiosity lingers: who are these men and how did their lives and choices cause them to act so horrifically?  I wonder what we could discover by delving into their stories that like it or not are a part of Jamaican history.  What could looking at their lives, however uncomfortable that may be, tell us about ourselves? I mean, don’t you already see the link they share: immigrants to the U.S.  Doesn’t that make you wonder?  And the telling of Lee Boyd Malvo’s story has begun with Cliff Hughes and he won an Emmy for it, which shows me that there is tremendous value and potential for recognition when we take the reins on narrating what happens to us and to our own.  Mr. Hughes and others are trying to get these and other stories out there but they are the exception not the rule.  Even if not for international acclaim but for putting our fair thoughtful record of events out there, we can and should be telling more of our stories.

Then, only last week someone wondered out loud on Twitter whether and when there’d be a movie about Adidja Palmer’s current trial.  I hope that there is! To repeat:  There is so much rich detail in the charges that were brought against Mr. Palmer.  The ins and outs of this trial would make any screenwriter happy, and somehow I think that Mr. Palmer would be a willing collaborator. 

Admission file at Spaulding High School in Jamaica (Image: Baltimore Sun)

Admission file at Spaulding High School in Jamaica (Image: Baltimore Sun)

I raise this issue of telling our stories within the context of the Kartel trial because I expect that many Jamaicans simply want Mr. Palmer to disappear from the Jamaican news cycle.  He should be banished to furtive verandah and cocktail party chatter, nothing more.  They’d probably hope for less.  That strikes me as hopelessly superficial (that is, of course, unless you’re the victim’s family and friends).  It also raises the question I think of what or who is respectable enough to be claimed as Jamaican.  Who and how does one earn at the table where Jamaican history is written and discussed.  Our history and current happenings are not always palatable but they are ours, and, together, they weave together the tapestry of our society and influence our collective consciousness.  Face it, talk about it, deal with it.  These things are all Jamaican and a part of Jamaica.  I wonder if it is that given all the pressures of a still young independent nation whether it is that we’ve implicitly decided that we cannot afford the luxury of fully exploring our experiences and history.  There is no time and no space.  Life is so challenging for many and surviving is the ongoing concern.  Somehow that strikes me as unhealthy at worst and a missed opportunity at best.  We’re neglecting our chances to identify, define, celebrate, explore, and examine the themes that comprise Jamaican identity and what it means to be Jamaican.  Instead we’re stuck with the image of the cool easygoing dreadlock wearing ganja smoking white sand beach sun shining having nation.  That’s some of us but the rest of us and even those Jamaicans are so much more.

Of course I could name many more events that seem to have fallen aside, somehow blocked from our memories or “polite conversation” and banished from influencing our imaginations.  Where are our voices telling and controlling the narration of our stories? 

Why aren’t we telling our stories?

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