[BRIEF NOTE] On republicanism and homophobia in Jamaica and that Commonwealth, again
Comment is free featured a remarkable essay by one André Wright, “It’s time for Jamaica to say goodbye to the Queen”. Writing after that country’s recent general election saw the victory of Portia Simpson Miller, an avowed republican, Wright wrote approvingly of what he expects to be Jamaica’s shift from the current arrangement, where–just as in Canada–the Queen is head of state and is represented by her governor-general, to one where Jamaica’s head of state is Jamaican. Jamaicans, Wright writes, don’t identify with the British monarchy that just doesn’t visibly benefit Jamaicans. The existing Commonwealth ties constraining Jamaicans’ freedom of action.
(I suspect that my readers would find two of the below grounds for complaint unreasonable.)
Many Jamaicans consider it offensive and outdated to have retained a governor general as a figurehead of “our” Queen. What are the benefits? After all, there is no automatic right to British citizenship by virtue of having the Queen. Hell, some Jamaicans sweat it out on the sidewalk outside the British high commission before being allowed to undergo screening for a visitor’s visa.
And there are other sentiments that embitter the brew. Calls to replace London’s judicial committee of the privy council with the Caribbean court of justice, as Jamaica’s final appellate jurisdiction, have triggered debate. Many Jamaicans believe the privy council has sought to obstruct capital punishment. A culturally less tone-deaf CCJ, the argument goes, would allow regional governments to hang some hoodlums.
[. . .]
Folks are also angry at David Cameron’s threat to withdraw aid from Commonwealth countries such as Jamaica that criminalise “buggery”. The overwhelming rebuke from letter writers and talk-show callers was: “Bugger off, Britain! Keep your money.”
Simpson Miller finally has the mandate she missed out on in the 2007 general election. Now, she’s seeking to define her legacy. And Britain will just have to deal with the sore reality of a Jamaican boot to Regina’s royal rump.
Commenters noted the apparent tone of support for capital punishment and the country’s terrible record on gay issues, some mischief-making ones noting how the Guardian‘s left-wing commenters must have been confused. What is to be said when someone wants to gain full independence from a colonizer to finally able to do terrible things without restraint? To confuse things terminally, Wright himself noted that Jamaican republicanism co-existed with a strong streak of Anglophilia, even nostalgia for (doubtless idealized) British rule over Jamaica.
[H]ere’s the contradictory bit. In an opinion poll commissioned by the Gleaner newspaper, 60% of Jamaicans said they believed the country would have been better off had it remained a colony of Britain. Only 17% said the country would be worse off.
This is not only the nostalgia of senior citizens who grew up pre-independence; even younger generations view neighbouring British dependencies such as the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands as having a higher quality of life. Why? They don’t notch 1,000 murders annually. They don’t have sprawling slums. And per capita GDP in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands dwarfs Jamaica’s.
We love Britain: its fish’n’chips; the adorable accent; the BBC; the pounds sterling in immigrant remittances; The stiff upper lip. the ability to impose law, order, propriety. We just don’t want the royal brand.
As I noted in 2009 at Demography Matters, Jamaica is one of that select group of countries with a population projected to decline as a consequence of emigration, in Jamaica’s case to the United Kingdom that is motherland of the Commonwealth, to fellow Commonwealth member-state Canada, and to that could-have-been-Commonwealth United States. Metaphorically trying to distance Jamaica from the Commonwealth via changes in the technicalities of government aren’t likely to succeed in the face of that kind of intensification of lived Jamaican experience.
The hell of it is, it might not mean much in the long run. Simpson Miller came out on national television against normative homophobia in Jamaica, calling for a revision to that contry’s sodomy laws and announcing that her cabinet wouldn’t arbitrarily exclude gays.
Thus: the republican whose republicanism is popular–according to one person–because a republic and full independence would better enable the persecution of non-heterosexuals is the person whose promised policies would actually alleviate the plight of non-heterosexuals far more than anything done by the constitutional-monarchical non-republic that is supposed to be the agency capable of making things better (except that the constitutional-monarchical non-republic introduced those anti-buggery laws and anti-gay norms in the first place, oops).
Does your head hurt yet? And do you now have a sense of what the Commonwealth actually does, as opposed to being implicitly promised to do?