When Elections = Violence


I lived the first 14 years of my life in Jamaica. I’m Jamaican by birth (despite my odd accent) and consider myself Jamaican in my heart.  However, it has been approximately 23 years since I left the land of my birth, and I don’t have any intention of returning in the near future or perhaps ever–there are many reasons for that, especially the fact that Jamaica is one of the most homophobic countries in the world.  Still, this year’s US presidential election brought me back to childhood memories.

You see, as beautiful as Jamaica is, it has a truly violent history, especially politically.  Violence is a part of life in Jamaica, especially if you stray from societal expectations of what it means to be male or female.  Some may disagree with my point of view, some will recognize the truth in my words. Jamaica isn’t beautiful for everyone.

One particular childhood memory has preoccupied my mind over the past few weeks. It was from the time when I was boarding in a convent while attending school in Kingston. It was also an election year (1989). I remember sitting in the television room in the afternoon on election day, looking out the window at the military vehicles that were parked outside the church hall where people could go to vote.

Although I knew that the presence of the military meant that there was an expectation of violence, it didn’t scare me. The machine guns that the soldiers carried didn’t scare me. The fact that schools had to be closed didn’t scare me. News about students being attacked because their school uniforms were the colours of one of the two major parties didn’t scare me. The fact that people were being killed because of their political views didn’t scare me. The fact there would be many voices (and lives) that would be silenced because they chose Jamaica Labour Party over the People’s National Party (or the reverse) didn’t scare me.

None of it scared me.

In fact, I remember that I and other boarders used the opportunity of the soldiers being stationed within earshot of the convent to our advantage–we asked them to buy us food because we couldn’t leave the convent (and they actually did).

I was only 10 at the time, but I wasn’t afraid of election day violence. It was normal. It was to be expected that people who didn’t share political ideology could simply kill each other.

So, why do I feel fear now?

I’m not afraid of the potential for violence today. I’m afraid that violence will return to being the norm in US (as was so many decades ago). I’m afraid that we are normalizing dehumanization, intimidation, the threat of racial and religious extermination and deportation, and moving further away from the reasons why so many consider America to be great.

When exercising the right to choose means the possibility of dying, do we still have a republic? Is this what it means to be the Land of the Free?