Say Their Names: Jamaican Women’s Lives Matter

Jasmine Dean, Khanice Jackson, Tamika Richards, Nevia Sinclair, Kim Johnson, Ananda Dean and many more. Jamaican women and girls are being abducted, murdered and disposed in ways that go beyond brutal, leaving their families and friends in a spin of devastation. Jamaican women and girls are being sexually harassed, sexually assaulted and raped, leaving them scarred for years, if not for the remainder of their lives, but more often than not there are no physical scars to show for the psychological damage that has been done.

Pre-Covid, I was a volunteer in a mentor programme for high school students. One of the workshops I planned for the children entailed each child anonymously writing down three things they did not like being done to them. I collected responses from more than 150 students. These were statements, verbatim, from some of them:

“Don’t like to see children getting abuse.”; “I don’t like rape.”; “I do not like when people touch me on my bottom.”; “I don’t like when people touch me on my breast.”; “I don’t like when people touch me up when they are talking to me.”; “I don’t like when people touch me in a certain way.”; “I don’t like when older men stare at me and talk to me about sex or adult stuff.”; “One elder male in my community always wants to give me money so I can have sex with him, but I’m smart enough not to.”; “I don’t like when girls get abused.”

As I unfolded each piece of paper to read their words, I realised that they were all saying the same thing. These young teenagers, boys and girls, know that sexual abuse is wrong. They do not like it. Their instincts are in tact, yet this is not enough to stop the predators. Predators have power and they use this power to do harm.

So if children can feel that it’s wrong to be abused, why do some grow up to become predators? Have they been desensitised to the crime and why? Is the language used by men to speak to women and girls, and about them, breaking down the goodness inside the boys from when they are young? Is pressure coming from men for their sons to treat women as sexual objects at their disposal? If so, then by the time the boys become men, it’s no wonder that some seek to be violent towards girls and women.

On April 15, 2017, a man, whom my family and I trusted, overstepped and did something that could possibly have been forgiven had he stood up and taken responsibility for his unjustifiable actions towards me. But he didn’t, so we didn’t. Instead, I was shunned for “causing trouble”, accused of “shaking his marriage” and blamed for “rocking the boat” in general. I was threatened by several friends who are no longer in my stratosphere. I stood up and spoke up against sexual abuse because I needed to see change in Jamaica. If I didn’t stand up and speak up, who would?

I have had immense support from my family, numerous friends and acquaintances. The positive power of social media also came through for me during this time, only to be even more asserted exactly six months later, on October 15, 2017, when Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” She added this at the bottom of the same tweet: “Me Too. Suggested by a friend: if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Having been originally founded by Tarana Burke in 2006, the #MeToo movement blew up the internet. The world wanted to change. Women needed the world to change. Those of us who posted about our numerous #MeToo moments were hopeful. The end of 2017 marked the start of a new era, surely.

Going into 2018, celebrities were speaking out more and more, #TimesUp came into fruition, black was worn at the Golden Globes in solidarity for the survivors of rape and sexual abuse, sexual harassment laws were reviewed and improved in several countries, and famous men were beginning to pay for their abusive actions towards girls and women. Time was up. I even bought a #timesup T-shirt and wore it often. I still do. Alas, few seemed to notice and even fewer cared. It was disappointing to see so many women in Jamaica accept the status quo. They still do. It is disappointing to hear men and women still saying things like, “She had on a tight tank top and short skirt, so she shouldn’t have worn that,” or “why she walking around by herself anyway?”

Victim blaming is common, but it has to stop. We could push for laws to be enforced and, frankly, we should, but what we need to do is get to the root of the problem. We have to humanise and nurture every single one of our fellow citizens. We have to do this from their birth. We owe it to our children, to the babies who have just been born and to the ones who will be born in the future. Women’s and girls’ lives matter. Say their names.

A Utilitarian View of Jumping the Vaccine Line

It is heartbreaking to see people in their seventies and older being turned away from places like the Good Samaritan Inn in Kingston when there has been news of healthy citizens, who do not fall under any of the categories in phase one slated for the Covid vaccine, getting their first dose in the past week or so. Discretion was used to give these younger, low-risk Jamaicans a chance to avoid the fatality of Covid, yet discretion is not to be used to grant the high-risk elderly the same privilege.

One cannot blame the doctors and nurses at the Good Samaritan Inn for following the directives of the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Indeed, I applaud them for abiding by the regulations set out by the government. They have been told that, for now, they are only to vaccinate health workers and members of the security forces. However, can someone please explain what happened at St. Joseph Hospital when the reported one hundred people, who were supposed to wait their turn like the rest of us, showed up and each sat to take a dose from another person who needs it more? What of the messages I’ve been receiving from some people who have directly and proudly been told by young and healthy friends that they got the vaccine this week?

Jeremy Bentham believed in “The greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people”. This is the essence of Classical Utilitarianism, which relies on each person promoting the overall good. Bentham thought that an action was bad when it led to unhappiness, without any redeeming happiness. It had no utility. “If a law or an action doesn’t do any good, then it isn’t any good.” It would take many more pages than this to get into the nuances of Bentham’s beliefs, but one important thing to note is that he viewed all pleasures equally. The pleasure I get from eating an ice cream would therefore equal the pleasure a doctor gets from saving someone’s life. The pain I feel from my puppy dying would be the same that you feel from the death of your best friend. With no qualitative differences between pleasures nor between pains, one could argue that pleasure or pain of an animal is the same of a human. Harming a puppy would therefore be just as bad as harming a human. John Stuart Mill disagreed with Bentham’s whole hedonistic approach and felt that pleasures and pains, good and bad, were in fact qualitative. One good thing was not the same as another good thing, and the two did not have the same utility. The same stood true for bad things. Over the next one hundred years or so philosophers, such as Henry Sidgwick and then G. E. Moore, refined their predecessors’ Utilitarian theories, until Utilitarianism came to be known as Consequentialism.

While there are many debatable flaws in the hedonistic approach of Classical Utilitarianism, it has paved the way in the formation of policies and legislation. It is why nations have laws. It is why epidemiologists, other scientists and the World Health Organisation all come up with recommendations for the roll out of things such as vaccines. It is why governments form policies when it comes to things like the roll out of vaccines. The more modern idea of utilitarianism, whereby one looks at consequences, accounts for what one could arguably describe as practical and ethical considerations. It is more practical and ethical to vaccinate healthcare workers, people in direct public service, the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses before younger and healthier citizens. This is more useful, don’t you think?

So my question to the few entitled elitists, who drove out to get your Covid vaccines, is this: Did you consider the immediate and longterm negative consequences your actions would have on thousands of fellow Jamaicans? Let’s be frank, one selfishly entitled soul can and does encourage a sheeplike mentality, and a flock of you have prevented a plethora of elderly people with co-morbidities from getting the vaccine in the last week. Who knows what the knock-on effect will be, but I ask you this: Will your actions achieve “the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people”? Was it worth it for you to push yourself up in the line? Is it more useful to get your vaccine before those who have a greater risk of dying from Covid than you?

Jamaica’s Corona Chronicles – Saving Livelihoods or Lives?

No matter what decisions the Prime Minister makes, he cannot please the needs, nor wishes, of every single Jamaican. In fact, there are many people who go as far as interpreting the Covid 19 guidelines and policies, which are given at the numerous Press Conferences and printed in the many Jamaica Gazettes available online, to suit their own narratives.

Take a step back for a moment. Think about why exactly you may be unhappy with the policies and actions of the Most Honourable Andrew Holness and his team. Jot these down on a piece of paper. Next, read through this list and consider how you would do things differently, then write your suggestions down. Now read said suggestions and weigh them against those of the Prime Minister and his Government. Whose are more beneficial to the majority of the three million people living in Jamaica?

I’ll come back to this at the end, but first let’s reflect on the past year.

On March 10, 2020, Jamaica confirmed its first positive case of Covid 19. Two days later, a second case was confirmed and the Prime Minister ordered for the immediate closure of all schools in Jamaica. Friday, March 13, the lives of our children changed forever, as they sat at home waiting to hear what was going to happen with their education. The entire Grade 6 cohort in this country was one week away from PEP Performance Task Tests and six weeks away from Curriculum Based Tests, and students in Forms 5 and 6 were equally uncertain about what would happen to them regarding their exit examinations (CSEC & CAPE).

Students in Jamaica have been in distance learning for a year, with the exception of the privileged few who were given several weeks, or months, of face to face school before being sent home again. The problem with distance learning is most kids are being left behind and this comes with serious consequences, according to parental anecdotes. Moreover, studies conducted through Unicef back up this proclamation. We do need our children to be in the classroom, but with Jamaica’s current Covid positivity rate running between 25% and 40%, depending on the day, is it wise to send our kids out and throw more risk at the impending dire situation? While studies indicate that children are not getting so sick, they can spread the virus to those who might be more vulnerable.

So, where are we now with regards to policies? Up to and including March 22, 2021, these are the guidelines:

Funerals and burials are banned, but regular church services may take place online, with only 10 clergy/officiants/camera crew allowed to be together in person while filming the online service. No more than 25 people in total are allowed to attend a wedding, including the bride, groom, officiants and any staff. No more than 10 people are allowed to gather socially or in public, so NO parties! A specific list of beaches and rivers stay closed and curfew remains from 8:00pm until 5:00pm. There is a work-from-home order for the public sector and the private sector is urged to accommodate this as far as possible. No public sector gatherings/ceremonies are allowed, unless online. Attractions, gyms, parks and zoos must be closed by 6pm everyday. Everyone, including Jamaicans and business travellers, traveling to Jamaica, must have a negative Covid 19 test, which has been done within 72 hours of their travel date. All students are to engage in distance learning, but students in Grade 6, Form 5 and Form 6, from the schools that have been pre-approved, may have face to face learning.

With all that said, guidelines that have been in place for the last year, such as wearing masks in public, sanitising regularly and staying at least 6 feet away from other people, are still in effect. Jamaicans and residents returning home must still quarantine for 14 days. This order is in the Jamaica Gazette published online by the Ministry of Health & Wellness. Using the excuse, “No one at the airport told me to quarantine.”, is unacceptable. No one at the airport tells you not to steal, not to break a traffic light and not to lick someone’s face! Yet, you just know that you aren’t supposed to do those things. Again, Covid guidelines are in the Jamaica Gazette and we have repeatedly been told by the Prime Minister that all Jamaicans and residents returning to Jamaica must quarantine for 14 days. There are also strict instructions pertaining to tourists within the Jamaica Gazette and in Jamaican travel advisory documents, which can be found online. Once again, “No one at the airport told me to quarantine or what to do.”, is NOT a valid excuse. Nope. Not sorry. Not even a little bit sorry. Do not bend the rules to suit your needs. As for those who do not understand that if you test positive for Covid 19, you must stay home and isolate yourself for at least 14 days. All those living in your home must also quarantine at home for 14 days. You should alert anyone with whom you have been in close contact within the last 14 days. These people should also stay at home for 14 days. If in doubt or if anyone has symptoms, call the JamCovid hotline, explain the situation and ask them what you should do. Lives are at stake and, for that matter, so are livelihoods.

Speaking of livelihoods…I have to assume that we all wish for everyone’s livelihoods to be intact or improve. Correct? The dilemma lies in choosing between livelihoods and lives. The reality is this: as Covid 19 cases increase, hospitals become inundated with people. Moderately or critically ill patients, who could otherwise be saved by medical staff, could now suffer the worst outcome imaginable and the death rate would then be at risk of rising exponentially. The thing is, if lives are lost, so are livelihoods, and if livelihoods are lost, potentially some lives could be lost as well.

What is the solution? Please go back to your list of suggestions to improve on what the Government is doing. Do you have better solutions than what the Prime Minister of Jamaica and his team have arduously been working on for the past year? What else would you do to get the residents of Jamaica to comply with the rules? While you are mulling over this, please take into consideration the Bills that need to be debated among the Governing Politicians and those from the Opposition, and passed by way of votes, before they can be put into law and before the appropriate penalties can be given to those who choose to ignore guidelines, which have been originally recommended by the World Health Organisation. If every single person living in this country was to abide by the Covid regulations set out by our Prime Minister, wouldn’t we be in a position to save both livelihoods and lives?

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

A Cornerstone in the Lives of Jamaican Students

No matter what circumstance a child in Jamaica might be in, two things have become absolute necessities for every single one of them – internet access and access to a device. 

We are halfway through the present school year and most Jamaican students have now been in online learning for one year.  Few fortunate students have had some face to face learning since September 2020. However, with the exponentially rising Covid cases, the Jamaican government has mandated that all public and private schools revert to or remain online, with an exception to allow some schools, who have had their Covid protocols approved, to bring in their Grades 6, 11, 12 and 13 students for face to face learning in preparation for Exit Examinations: PEP, CSEC & Cape. 

Having started an initiative in June 2020 called Cornerstone Connex, which has successfully brought internet connection to several rural communities in the western side of the island, Cornerstone Jamaica has a mission to put the well-being of Jamaican students at the forefront. That said, when online school opened on October 5, 2020, many teachers sat waiting, and are still waiting five months later, for some of their students to come into the virtual classroom. What has been the problem?

The Jamaican government has promised, and delivered, thousands of tablets to kids in need, but it is a tall order to supply every single child with a device, let alone imminently. This is where the Cornerstone Connex initiative has jumped in with full force. All the internet in the world cannot help a child unless he or she has a device suitable for the academic tasks at hand. All Jamaican children need devices for online school and learning, but there is a glaring disparity between those with devices and those without. 

Three days after school reopened for online learning in October, Cornerstone Jamaica received a donation of US$10,000 to spend on tablets for students. The donor requested that some of this money be spent on 50 tablets for students at Lennon High School, which is in the farming community of Mocho, Clarendon. Being a non-profit organisation that “does things” rather than “talk about things”, a plan was put in place and 50 Alcatel tablets, with keyboards and cases, were purchased from Intcomex at a very reasonable rate.  Due to the constraints of Covid-19, Chairman of Lennon High School Board, Gordon Sharp, gladly presented them to Principal Frederick Lattray on Cornerstone Jamaica’s behalf.

Mr. Lattray was overwhelmed with gratitude for what he called “This rather timely show of support by Cornerstone Jamaica.” He explained that most of the school’s students and their families are from low socioeconomic levels and, even pre-Covid, found it difficult to attend school regularly due to financial difficulties. “With the onset of the pandemic, things got even worse as students were now being required to access school via online modalities. This proved very difficult for many, because they were unable to access these modes of delivery due to the lack of internet and devices,” Lattray related. He went on to say that of approximately 970 students, at least 450 of them did not have access to a tablet or laptop, and he iterated that “this gift will go a long way in helping some of our needy students to access online education.” 

After careful consideration, Lennon High School came up with an incentive for students to get the tablets. “The tablets will be allocated to students picked by the teachers and will be on loan to them. If a student meets certain performance standards over a determined period, he or she will keep the tablet. If not, he or she will lose it to another student,” the Chairman told Cornerstone Jamaica.

Cornerstone Jamaica did not stop there, as the remaining US$4000 plus change, from the aforementioned donation, was used to buy more tablets for more Jamaican children. The very same donor has continued to support the cause, giving further generous sums to fulfil the task Cornerstone Jamaica has embraced. 

This organisation has been painfully cognisant of the thousands upon thousands of students who still have no access to learning materials nor online classes. In order to address this dire situation, late last year Cornerstone Jamaica launched a US$10,000 matching initiative with its donor base to buy tablets for students in 11 Partner Schools in Westmoreland and Hanover.  Good quality tablets, with protective cases, were purchased at US$100 per device and Cornerstone appealed to people far and wide to give Jamaican kids a fair chance by donating any amount they could – nothing was too small a donation.  As the Jamaican saying goes, “Every mickle mek a muckle!” That said, the love and money poured from the pockets of Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora, including a hefty donation of US$30,000 from one donor! This afforded Cornerstone Jamaica the luxury of furnishing the 11 partner schools in Westmoreland with a few hundred more Samsung A tablets, along with cases, and Lennon High School, who has become the twelfth partner, with another 50. In total, Cornerstone Jamaica has been able to donate over 500 tablets to students. The aim is to ensure that every student in the partner schools gets a tablet for online learning. 

After receiving 100 tablets from Cornerstone Jamaica for his students at Lennon High School, Mr. Lattray revealed one very touching story about a young girl who had to drop out of another high school to give birth to her baby. Lennon High School accepted her into their student body, but she had no way of attending school in person, constrained by Covid and caring for her little one. Having been given one of the donated tablets, however, she is now able to attend online school. “This young lady is special and she has potential, so the generous donation is greatly appreciated,” said Lattray. 

While Cornerstone Jamaica would like to thank each and every donor, it must be noted that some of the volunteer partners within the organisation have given hundreds of hours, yes hundreds, towards sourcing, collecting, shipping, unpacking, repacking, shipping again, clearing customs, driving, delivering, unpacking, logging serial numbers, repacking and distributing these hundreds of tablets with cases to 12 schools. It was no small feat, to say the least. The intense labour given by the Tablet Team is second to none, one that is surely the Cornerstone of this incredibly organised organisation, which strives to improve the lives of Jamaican students.

To donate, please click on or cut and paste this link into your browser: https://cornerstonejamaica.org/donate/

For more information, please contact: emma@cornerstonejamaica.org 

Mr. Lattray Presenting an Alcatel Tablet, donated by Cornerstone Jamaica, to a Lennon High School Student
Samsung A Tablets with Cases in a Cornerstone Jamaica Bag, ready for Distribution
Samsung Tab A

“Beneath A Scarlet Sky” (author Mark Sullivan) – Emma’s Book Review 14 of 2020

Author Mark Sullivan said he was “at the lowest point of my life”. Coming close to taking his life one early evening, he took a pause for the sake of his family. A few hours later he learned about an Italian war story that was hardly believable. Sullivan called Pino Lella a few times and eventually persuaded Pino to see him in person. Sullivan flew to Italy. This was the first of many trips he made to Italy over a decade and the result is this incredible book, “Beneath A Scarlet Sky”.

The story starts in June 1943, right in the throes of World War II, in Milan. Pino has had a privileged life and is quite the ladies’ man. He is now 17 years old, just met the gorgeous Anna, and Allied bombs have destroyed his family home. Pino’s family send him off to the Northern mountains of Italy, near a little ski town called Madesimo, to live with an old friend Father Re at Casa Alpina, where another 40 boys, including his younger brother Mimo, have found refuge from the dangers of war.

Father Re sets Pino the immense task of hiking solo in the surrounding snowy mountains almost every day, about which Sullivan writes in such a vivid way that one would think he had been tasked with this physically challenging feat. While Pino is happy to have escaped the bombs of war in Milan, he becomes proud to be part of Father Re’s Underground Railroad that’s helping Jews escape over the Alps. Pino is chosen to be the one who guides these Jews through the treacherous alpine terrain, oftentimes risking his own life as he ensures the safety of those entrusted to his care. The daily nail-biting expeditions, eloquently described in Sullivan’s prose, are forever etched in my mind.

Eventually, it is time for Pino to return to Milan, but his family once again dictate his fate, forcing him to join the Germans, in order to protect his life. Now 18 years old, circumstance lands him the job of personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, and Pino ends up informally working as a spy for the Allies, which makes his seeming betrayal easier to stomach. Despite the horrendous experience of living within a war, which, aside from smell and sound, Sullivan captures in graphic detail, Pino is happy. He has found the love of his life, Anna, who happens to be the maid of General Leyers’ mistress.

While we all know the outcome of World War II, Pino’s story does not end the way one might expect. Sullivan will keep you on your proverbial toes right up to the last page of this book, pulling on every heart string and emotion deep within. Truly one of my favourite reads of all time.

P.S. I read this book at the start of Summer, but I’ve been so busy, I’ve not had time to write. I shall endeavour to get back to blogging on a regular basis now.

#Enough #BlackLivesMatter

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Imagine you’re driving home, solo or with other people in the car, from a party. You start to get a little sleepy, behind the wheel, but you continue to drive. Before you know it, you fall asleep, drive off the road and end up with your car totaled and, by the way, the jaw of the person in the passenger seat is now smashed. This happened to my parents more than fifty years ago, on a remote country road here in Jamaica. Imagine a worse case scenario. I would never been born and this piece would never have been written. Thank goodness there were no other cars, nor people, around on the road, otherwise there might have been fatalities. Imagine who else could have been hurt, or killed, had they been driving in a busy town or city.

Now imagine what would have happened had my parents pulled over and taken a nap. Not a damn thing. They would have had a nice little sleep, woken up and driven home. There would have been no accident. There would not have been multiple surgeries to fix my mum’s jaw, nor would she have scars on her neck from said surgeries. But what would have happened to them, had they decided to pull into a car park in a town or city and taken that hypothetical nap? What would have happened to them, had a police officer seen them taking the nap? Not a damn thing. What would have happened to them had all of this taken place in the USA, in a city like Atlanta, let’s say? Not a damn thing. My parents are white and, by the way, their eyes are brown.

Imagine this scenario. A black man decides to go and get some food after a party. He gets into his car and starts driving. Due to sleepiness, or being drunk, or both, he falls asleep and smashes into another car, killing the driver and passengers in the other car. He might even kill himself in the process. Were this to happen, the man would be at fault.

Now imagine this scenario. A black man, who has been at a party, starts driving his car to go and get some food. This black man pulls into a fast food car park, parks his car up and takes a nap. The next thing he knows, two white police officers are banging on his window. He is told to get out of the car. He is unarmed and the police discover that he is unarmed. An argument and a tussle occurs between the man and the police officers. The man grabs an officer’s Taser, which both officers know cannot and will not do a person any real harm, and runs away from the officers. While still running, the black man turns, points the harmless Taser at the officers, then faces forward to continue running away. One of the white police officers uses his shotgun to shoot the black man in the back, twice. The black man dies that night. The medical examiner declares Rayshard Brooks’ death a homicide. Rayshard Brooks was murdered. He was a black man and, by the way, his eyes were brown.

Why didn’t the white police officers simply call a cab to take this black man home or drive the man home themselves? You’re telling me a white man would not have been offered that courtesy and safety measure? What did the police officers think this black man was planning, while sleeping in his car? A restaurant robbery, whereby he would have brought grievous bodily harm to another human being? Do they believe he was resting there, waiting to pounce on some white police officers and bring them to their deaths? Really?! As I said above, a white man would not have had to succumb to such a fate as this black man. A white man would not have died in such an unjust way.

What if a woman had been parked up in her car and fallen asleep? Would she have suffered in the same way? We know a white woman would not have, but what about a black woman? Maybe.

What would people have thought had a woman, any woman, been sleeping and a man, any man, had broken into her car, climbed on top of her and raped her? I am pretty certain that every single police officer, white, black and brown, would agree how wrong that would have been. Why, then, are black men in the United States of America still unable to do something as simple as sleep in their cars without being at risk of losing their lives to white police officers? Would it have been better for Brooks to drive, fall asleep at the wheel, cause a major car accident and end up killing other people?

What would have happened if there had been a small white boy, with brown or blue eyes, asleep in the car? He would have been taken home safely. What would have happened if there had been a small black boy, with brown or blue eyes, asleep in the car? I’m willing to bet this kid would also have been taken home by the police officers. What will happen to this same black child when he becomes a teenager, or a man? Will he get home safely?

You know, there are many people who think Rayshard Brooks should not have run, but in light of the fact that, not so long ago, George Floyd, another black man, suffocated under the knee of another white police officer, not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of black men who have unjustly died at the “hands” of white police officers in the USA, what choice did he really have?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, as much as peaceful protests against racial inequities are the more desirable way to go, they have not worked. Revolutions are far more effective. It is going to take a worldwide revolution, which must include every single person who agrees that racism is wrong. The actions of activists are not enough. Even the supporters who remain timid or silent on the matter must stand up and loudly speak up, every single day, until “the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes.” #Enough #BlackLivesMatter

 

 

“Between Before & After” (author Maureen Doyle McQuerry – Emma’s Book Review 13 of 2020

Between Before & After

Molly is a teenager in the mid 1950s, living in San Jose, California. She and her younger brother, Angus, adore their Uncle Stephen, their mother’s younger brother. The siblings notice a subtle strain between their mother, Elaine, and Stephen, which at first appears to be based on his belief that he’s performed a miracle on a sick child and on Elaine’s rejection of his Christian God. However, Molly is a budding writer with natural investigative instincts, so she’s been gathering clues about her mother’s hidden past.

The author intertwines Molly’s road to uncovering Elaine Fitzgerald’s secrets with an account of her life in Brooklyn, New York, in 1919, soon after hers and Stephen’s mother, along with their baby sister, died. Their father has become a drunk, is hardly ever home and is unable to support them. Elaine is inherently protective of her baby brother and fortunately lands a job reading to the extremely wealthy father of May Gossley. The old man, Mr. Seward, has gone blind, but he has the uncanny knack of “seeing” everything that goes on in his mansion, where he lives with May, her husband and their son, Howie, who is a couple years older than Elaine. Mr. Seward quickly grasps how smart Elaine is and develops a soft spot for her. When he realizes that Elaine has a crush on his grandson, he warns her that she is better than him. Will Elaine take heed?

As McQuerry alternates between the tales of mother and daughter, expressing them in picturesque prose, she brings the relevance of the two time periods together seamlessly to a remarkable ending. Reflecting what is quoted on the front cover of this book, “Sometimes the most important story to discover is your own,’ Between Before & After is beautifully written.

emmasharptv@gmail.com

 

Loudly Act Against Racism!

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First Cousins: our nephew and our son, forever inseparable!

Imagine for a moment, if you will, this hypothetical scenario.

I am having a party in the USA for my entire family and all my closest friends. One by one, everyone leaves and heads home. My parents are white, they get home safely. Two of my white siblings have white spouses and they have white children – they walk/drive home safely. One of my white siblings is married to a black woman and they have two children. She is a doctor and happens to be busy treating a white man, who started a bar brawl earlier that evening. (By the way, he will end up being saved by this black doctor, he will not be charged for starting the fight, but the black man, with whom he was fighting, is arrested on site and charged – he ends up doing jail time!)

Back to my hypothetical scenario – my brother’s and sister-in-law’s two brown teenagers are out on the front lawn chatting and having fun. Two white cops are passing the house and see them. They question them on their “rights” to be in my yard, a predominantly white neighbourhood. From inside the house, I hear an argument ensue, so I go outside and manage to placate the police officers, assuring them that they do indeed have a “right” to be there. My husband’s family, who are black, Chinese and everything in between, some darker than others, begin to leave the party, one by one. Each one of them is stopped by the police and questioned as to why she or he is out and where she or he is going. My friends begin to leave. The white ones get home without any hindrances, my black friends are all stopped by the police at some point on their journeys home.

My husband’s family actually live in Trinidad & Tobago. We live in Jamaica. Our two boys are mixed, but they look white. Their six cousins living in Trinidad have much darker skin.

Imagine this scenario.

Each one of these eight young children, who are currently between the ages of seven and thirteen, all end up going to university in the USA in the future. If the country does not immediately address the deep-rooted racism that exists, imposing laws that not only prevent the “freedom” to be racist, but punish those who act on their racism, then six out of these eight children are in danger of racist slurs or attacks, and perhaps death. Even my own children, who look white and may not be harmed by direct said persecution, will suffer psychologically as they “watch” their flesh and blood being persecuted for the colour of their skin. If our family is lucky, each person will come out physically unscathed.

Remember I said one of my white brothers is married to a black doctor? They actually do live in the USA. Their brown children, like their black mother, will have to work so much harder than my white nieces and nephews, who also live in the USA, to prove their worth in this racist nation. They are “lucky” they are female and not black men, who at present can’t even safely walk down the street. How ironic this is, as white women often wish they could have the privileges of white men!

White women still have it far easier than black women, however.

These scenarios are repeated over and over again. Millions of black people in the USA are forced to live under the “freedom” of white people’s oppression.

In my own country, Jamaica, racism exists, but it’s wrapped up and “hidden” by a classist society. Now, bear with me as I loosely explain how the rankings work. Please note, there are always exceptions! If you’re white, you’re likely to be “trusted” by most, even if you don’t have much money. If you’re wealthy and white, you’ll probably be trusted by everyone. If you’re black and poor, you will not likely be trusted at all. If you’re black, have money and a respectable job, you’ll hold some ranking, but it would suit you infinitely better to be a successful lawyer, doctor or politician, the CEO or Managing Director of a company/bank, or a well-known, world class athlete or musician. And, by the way, some white people may still dislike or resent you! If you’re a deadbeat black man or woman, you’re screwed when it comes to privilege and entitlement. If you’re a deadbeat white man, you’ll be fine. If you’re a jobless white woman, it’ll be assumed that you hang on the arm of a wealthy white man.

The world over has varying degrees of racism. I’m quite sure that the majority of adults on this planet has either witnessed, suffered or subjected some form of racism. I’m also fairly certain that many children have as well, though some might not yet understand what it all means.

I don’t believe that humans are born racist. Racism is learned. The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never harm you,” is a pile of trollop! Racist language is absolutely dangerous. It leads to catastrophic actions, which are impossibly irreversible. The most recent consequence to centuries of racist rhetoric is the loss of George Floyd’s life, a result of the unconscionable actions of a white America police officer. Yet black people are supposed to quietly accept “Oops, we’re sorry about that!”? 

Sure, “hitting back” with disruptive demonstrations is inconvenient for police officers and many white people, but what else can one do when softer pleas have never worked?

To accept the “violent” backlash of black people is hard for some as “violence is not the answer”, but inequalities have rarely, if ever, been resolved peacefully. Revolutions are as old as time and have been documented countless times! 

In order to effect change when it comes to racial inequality, a revolution is necessary, despite how unpalatable it may be for many. Even white people who are not outwardly racist are complicit to this crime against humanity, by merely “staying quiet”. Silence speaks volumes. Imagine how loud actually acting against racism would be!

#enough #blacklivesmatter

emmasharptv@gmail.com

 

“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” (author Yuval Noah Harari) – Emma’s Book Review 12 of 2020

 

Sapiens

I am not going to lie to you, guys, this book is long and it took me about five weeks to read! However, the history of humankind is fascinating, to say the least, and every single person on the planet should read Sapiens at least one time in their lifetime.  It is not written in complicated language (it’s just a lot of information to absorb!) and I guarantee it will get the neurons in your brain bouncing off one another, causing you to take pause in every notion you have previously had about humans, our place on Earth and how we have got to where we are today.

Harari walks us through the evolution of humanity. He starts with the Cognitive Revolution, which took place more than 70,000 years ago, flows into the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago, then explains how politics slowly unified humankind to form one global empire, and finally gets to the Scientific Revolution, which commenced in the 1500s.

Harari challenges our perceived ideas about objective facts, demonstrating that these so-called “facts” have been designed and invented by humans, therefore actually making them fiction. His argument is based off the immense capability Homo Sapiens have for imagination, which in turn gives rise to our ability to unite in large numbers and believe in the doctrines of religion, nationality, money and human rights. The problem with this is it also allows for humans to discriminate against people who do not follow the same line of imagination.

The one common denominator in our imagination is, of course, money. All 7.8 billion people on Earth believe in the objective power of money and there is no disputing its value to us, despite the fact that it is indeed fiction! Perhaps this is one reason why there has been little to no research into the history of human happiness. Indeed, Harari insists we are no happier today than we were in past eras, despite how much humans, our inventions and all our “conveniences” have evolved.

emmasharptv@gmail.com

 

 

 

Coping with #HomeQuarantine during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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My children and I have not been out in public since the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honorable Andrew Holness, mandated all schools on the island to close on the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, 2020.  I am not superstitious, but it was quite uncanny that the first day of home quarantine, because of COVID-19, was to be Friday the thirteenth.

Seven weeks later and we are continuously trying to find a permanent groove at home.  To be honest, we are not short of things to do, but the ever-changing circumstances around the world, including Jamaica, are distressing distractions to say the least.  These are the very motivations for abiding by the hashtag #TanAYuhYard (stay at home), but the biggest challenge, for the kids and for me, is learning to cooperate at all times, because we simply do not get a break from one another.

The husband/father does, however, get his reprieve.  Well, I don’t know if ‘reprieve’ is the right word because he has to deal with the stressful reality of ensuring that all safety measures are practiced.  In order to keep his family as safe as possible, he must do everything he possibly can to avoid catching coronavirus and, in case he does become exposed to it and ends up being asymptomatic, he has the added responsibility of making sure he doesn’t pass it on to anyone with whom his path crosses.  (This should be the reality of every person who leaves their house, by the way).  After all, Hubby is the sole person in our household who goes out to work and shops for the necessities, such as groceries and my medicines, and man, am I grateful he has a job and can provide for us all!  The only downfall is that he moved into the guest room on March 13, as an added precaution, because I have pre-existing health conditions, which place me in the high-risk, vulnerable category.

I admit that in the first few weeks of #homequarantine I was resentful of Hubby.  Nothing much had changed for him, it seemed, and he certainly had no empathy for what the kids and I were experiencing.  I was the one home with the kids ALL the time, managing online school schedules, keeping the house tidy, playing with the younger one when he would have ordinarily had after-school activities, because his big brother was in school until late in the afternoon, managing the mental side of what was taking place, cooking three meals a day and then some!  Our sons have bottomless bellies, it seems.

Anyway, after a few weeks, I exploded.  I explained to said husband that while every person on the planet was affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 in some way, each one of our experiences was different and we would have to find a way to empathize with what one another was going through.  Well, that seemed to work.  I have learned to appreciate the pressures that he is under and he no longer assumes I’m having a grand old time, kicking up my feet at home and eating bonbons all day!  We have a smooth system now, with him taking over all the laundry, the washing up at night and the yard work.  Okay, I admit that he has always done those things to some extent, but he has really stepped up his game, which I completely appreciate.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I miss him terribly and living apart in the same house is now the most difficult part to cope with, during this COVID-19 pandemic.

emmasharptv@gmail.com