If I live by the rules, I expect you to live by the rules too


If I live by the rules, I expect you to live by the rules too

Challenging institutionalised discrimination


Tuesday, June 02, 2020

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Growing up we would learn through social studies or civics education that “a society is a group of people with common interests who collaborate to achieve specific objectives in an organised manner”. We were often told that we should abide by the laws and protocols established by society so that there would be order and we would be considered as good citizens. Most people try to adhere to these principles with the hope that other members who form part of this society would equally and respectfully play their part. Consequently, though not evident to a great extent physically, there is this hidden contract that we all sign: If I live by the rules, I expect you to live by the rules too. Failure to respect these guidelines should, thus, lead to sanction, irrespective of class, status, and network, etc.

However, it did not require a university degree for us to detect the levels of harsh injustices that exist in society. In fact, some of us can trace our experiences as far back as elementary school, where some children were automatically placed at the front of the canteen line to be served their meals before the others, some children were spoken down to because they were from underprivileged families, while the others were often given high praises simply because their parents worked in certain sectors or lived in particular neighbourhoods.

Still, in the education sector, it is expected that students and teachers in every school are to perform exceptionally, but the oversized classrooms and lack of resources are often ignored. The streaming of students into specific high schools is another form of injustice that we witness annually whenever placement results are given for grade six students.

Outside of the education, we see where religious, political, and justice systems fail society on a daily basis. A recurrent question that we ask is: Why is it always the common man that is sanctioned? It is as if there is some form of institutionalised discrimination against those who are poor and vulnerable.

Often, we see where high-profile people get a “slap on the wrist” for criminal activities, especially because of their status and the fact that they can afford a Queen's counsel to give them good representation. On the contrary, a common citizen commits a less serious crime and is automatically charged and sentenced.

Why is it that the Jamaica Constabulary Force, through the Ministry of National Security, exerts more effort and resources into fighting crime whenever someone of status is robbed or killed, but fails to hear the cries of those mothers who have been weeping for their girls (and boys) who have been abducted, raped, or murdered?

Why is it that in the corporate and financial sector economic stability and wealth are only reserved for a few? There are so many individuals who occupy a multiplicity of esteemed posts, as if there are no other members of society who have the expertise. In fact, there are many top-tier managers/supervisors who stifle the growth and promotion of their subordinates simply because they want to continue to enjoy the incentives at that higher level.

Turning to social media, we cannot help but witness, by second-hand, what is happening in other parts of the world. One of the most current issues is that of the constant attack on black lives in the US. By now most people would have learned of the open-air killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota, USA. We saw where the four officers on duty were only fired from their job, initially. A few days later, after persistent protest, we were made aware that the police officer who had his knee in George's neck was arrested and charged. But how many officers have been arrested and charged in previous cases?

Once again, we see where the system has failed. The same police who are to serve and protect, are the ones taking the citizens' lives. Understandably, as the system has not carried out its part of the contract, the other citizens who are affected are forced to retaliate by expressing their discontentment in several ways, including protesting, taking matters into their own hands, and non-compliance with the law. It is imperative for citizens to work together with mutual interest. Those who are educated and occupy a place of influence must endeavour to speak out against wrongdoing and represent the needs of the marginalised in society. We cannot continue to play ignorant to what is affecting us deeply; we have to take a radical approach.

In the book of Esther from the Christian Bible we learn of a plot by Hamman to have all the Jews killed. Mordecai, Queen Esther's uncle, challenged her to act in the interest of the people of God. In the latter part of chapter 4:14, he said to her, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (New International Version)

Injustice is a sin and we must challenge the system to be better.


Oneil Madden is a PhD candidate in didactics and linguistics at the Université Clermont Auvergne, France. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or oneil.madden@uca.fr.


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