Usually crassness and bigotry are qualities to be shunned, or at least hidden. Not so with Ernest Smith who appears to make even more of a virtue of these qualities than already prevails in Jamaica. Ernest Smith, an attorney and member of parliament, has taken these qualities to stratospheric levels with his hysterical rants about outlawing J-Flag, depriving gays of gun licences, and claims about homosexuality run amok in the Jamaican police force.
Not too long ago, Mr Smith enthusiastically promoted virginity tests for high school girls as a condition for readmission at the start of a school year.
In democracies that are governed by reason, one could comfortably dismiss Mr Smith’s ravings as simply nothing more than harmless fantasies. Not so in Jamaica, given Mr Smith’s prominence in a country that is, for the most part, virulently and proudly homophobic. In this respect, Prime Minister Golding himself proclaimed gays to be unfit for inclusion in his Cabinet, and his government has seen fit to ban school books that make references to gay family units. At the behest of Jamaica’s religious right, both political parties have allowed themselves to be corralled into abandoning a proposed gender-neutral definition of rape for fear that this would facilitate decriminalisation of buggery. It is instructive that neither political party has denounced Mr Smith in unambiguous terms. The same appears to be true of the legal profession of which Mr Smith is a member.
The democracy called Jamaica remains wedded to a culture that is largely bereft of critical thinking, much less justice for all its citizens. In this context, Mr Smith has not only a public platform but a cultural licence to exhibit and indeed to infect further the body politic with his particular strain of ignorance, stupidity and bigotry. For most of Jamaica’s citizens this might warrant little more than a verandah chat; for others, unfortunately, it might mean the difference between life and death.
O Hilaire Sobers