The story is told in hushed tones of well-known journalist Evon Blake, who jumped into the pool at Myrtle Bank Hotel, a whites-only facility in downtown Kingston.
“One summer day in 1948, as tourists and elites casually colonised the poolside deck chairs of Jamaica’s premier hotel, the Myrtle Bank, a black Jamaican journalist, Evon Blake, suddenly burst on to the brochure-promised scene. He hastily disrobed and plunged into the waters of the hotel’s unofficially racially segregated pool. The staff quickly congregated at its edges, hurling threats at the intruder. Taking advantage of the protection of the water, which prohibited security from entering the pool, Blake defiantly challenged, “Call the police. Call the army. Call the owner. Call God. And let’s have one helluva big story.”
The quote above is from a chapter titled ‘Diving into the Racial Waters of Beach Space in Jamaica’ in Bahamian art historian Krista Thompson’s groundbreaking book An Eye for the Tropics.
You might think that the Myrtle Bank’s covert racism in Jamaica was symptomatic of colonial times; it was 1948 after all. But I have news for you. Racial profiling is alive and well in Jamaica today, and raised its ugly head in Port Antonio recently. A video making the rounds on social media features a woman who has been visiting Jamaica for many years talking about a distressing experience. The caption below the video sums up what happened.
“CAUCASIAN tourist vacationing/visiting ERROL FLYNN MARINA IN PORT ANTONIO JAMAICA, claims her BLACK JAMAICAN FRIEND WAS discriminated against!!! Her local black Jamaican friend was warned not to swim with the TOURISTS!!! Classism.”
The incident is a toxic mix of classism and racism. The video attracted a slew of responses, many of them retelling similar stories of racism suffered by black Jamaican visitors and tourists returning to their beloved country for vacations. I quote some of them below:
Venus Jack: I can relate. While checking into the resort in Montego Bay, the young lady serving drinks to the arriving guests excluded us and didn’t offer us anything to drink. She just ignored us like we did not belong there. What a welcome home! Previously at another resort, we had guests, and the security guards were rude to them because they were locals. Wouldn’t let them visit us in peace … . They were under constant scrutiny and treated them like thieves even though they had to stay in the lobby area only. It was very upsetting.
Donna Rose: Omg Venus Jack I experienced the very same thing in Ocho Rios. That hotel chain would never ever get another penny from me. When I arrived at the hotel to check in, they asked us, whey uno a go? They would not allow my local friends to park on the property. Jamaicans, I tell you.
Steve Shers: I’m used to being treated as a second-class tourist/visitor when I visit the Caribbean, although I’m from there.
Beverley Ranglin: This happened to me and my family in Montego Bay 2 years ago.
Tanya Weise: That’s happened to us too.
They just pass and offered all white guest the cocktails and we were among everyone else waiting to be checked in.
Amanda Scott: Venus Jack that very same thing happened to me in Ochi with the guests. I was so ready to leave by the 3rd day. Never again.
Almarie Davis: She is so right. I wanted to rent a beach chair at a particular beach in Portland and was told I can’t. They are saving them for the cruise shippers.
Christine Creary-taylor My family and I went to an all inclusive resort in Montego Bay and they were serving drinks to all the new arrivals that just walked pass us. Colour not light enough I guess.
Clearly blatant racial discrimination is still being practised in Jamaica’s world-renowned tourism enclaves. Yet in November last year when secretary general of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai, “strongly urged Caribbean tourism stakeholders to stop promoting modern-day plantations called exclusive resorts” at a Montego Bay conference on jobs and inclusive growth, he was raked over the coals by tourism interests.
Rifai went on to warn against the practice of building five-star resorts in three-star communities, where the citizens were not part of the transformation. The backlash he suffered from Jamaica’s tourist industry forced him to tone down his statements the next day.
The case of the Errol Flynn Marina places the subject raised by Mr Rifai on the table once again. Let’s not sweep this ugly intersection of racism and classism under the carpet yet again. Racism in a black country should simply not be tolerated in this day and age. Neither should classism. Do we have to send for Evon Blake’s duppy to finish the job?