Dons, Yardies and Posses: Representations of Jamaican Organised Crime

Participants’ reflections

Reflections on participating in Jamaican Organised Crime: Aesthetics and Style, Leicester, 2018

Tracian Meikle (PhD candidate, University of Amsterdam)

I have been doing my PhD for nearly five years now, which means that I have been to many conferences, symposiums, workshops, masterclass, much like any other academic. However, as a Jamaican enrolled at the University of Amsterdam and living in the city in which it is based, this means that on most of these occasions, I am the one of a few, if not the only black person present. In many of these sessions, the majority of presentations focus on peoples from nations that still suffer from the effects of colonialism and its aftermath. This imbalance in the racial background of attendees is usually not addressed, even though this could mean that visually and in subject matter, the meetings are reminiscent of the colonial knowledge project.  While I love engaging with theoretical and empirical material that deeply engage with the life of people, my intellectual enjoyment comes with significant psychological violence. There is a strong negative sensorial experience of being the only person in the room who shares a similar background to many of the persons being studied. This is coupled with offhand comments and reactions that underscore the paternalistic way in which people from different lands are seen, and the bravado of presenters who talk about places with an all-seeing perspective that is seemingly bestowed upon researchers who are at the same time neutral and embedded. 

I explain this experience I have so often because the workshop on Jamaican Organised Crime: Aesthetics and Style is almost the complete opposite of most other forms of academic engagement that I have endured throughout my PhD. The majority of the workshop delegates have a Jamaican or Caribbean background and engage with the country not only as researchers, but as citizens, even if based elsewhere. This make-up of attendees had the most profound impact on the kind and complexity of discussions that take place in the workshop. The lack of the need to explain basic knowledge of Jamaican society and the fact that particularities are not marveled on because of their difference make room for deeper engagement in seeking to explain and understand Jamaican society. This led to very interesting discussions on respectability, identity, crime, complicity and morality. Discussions that allowed us to deeply engage not only with the research subject/s but also our own relationship to the issues that we were discussing. 

As a result, I consider my attendance to this workshop and others convened by Lucy and Rivke to be some of the best moments of my time as a PhD researcher. I hope that this effort to convene groups of academics that are diverse but have deeper ties to places that they research will be taken up by other researchers in Europe. This is needed if we seek to have an academia that truly reflects the world today and does not remain rooted in practices of colonial times. 

Further reflections

This was an exceptional workshop – circulating ideas around the sensational representation of violence, the black body and critical complicity. It emphasized the question of the ongoing project of conferring humanity in black subjects and especially for the value in turning to affect studies and ethics.

Michael Bucknor (UWI Mona), Amsterdam workshop, 2018

The workshop is clearly demonstrating how useful Jamaica is for thinking about broader cultural, artistic and political processes. In particular, the role of crime/violence as a trope for representing Jamaica might tell us how central it is to global processes.

Jovan Scott Lewis (University of California, Berkeley), Amsterdam workshop, 2018

The interdisciplinary nature of this workshop — its exploration of social science, literature and visual arts — is its greatest strength. The conversations have without exception been extremely stimulating.

Kim Robinson-Walcott (UWI Mona), Amsterdam workshop, 2018

This session on visualizing violence in a spatial way was done through mostly showing music videos. This was a visually productive entry point, one that also brought in narratives and ideas that went beyond the visual. The ensuing conversation/debate about Rastafari, the way in which the Marley family and other popular reggae acts dominate reggae but are not true representatives of Rastafari was interesting.

Tracian Meikle (University of Amsterdam) reviewing the interactive session ‘Visualising Violence’, Amsterdam workshop, 2018

This was an excellent workshop to think through the entanglements of Jamaican crime economy and the world economy. It also foregrounded the troubling of the hypermasculine badman as queered. The relationship between gender and criminality was also importantly explored.

Michael Bucknor (UWI Mona), Leicester workshop, 2018

In this session, Carol Leeming offered us a description and short reading of her play: The Devil’s Dandruff. Leeming, a local poet who was recently awarded an MBE for services to the Arts and to culture in Leicester, explained that she was interested in the ways that cocaine and its use are understood in different contexts, and the roles it plays in the lives of people in Jamaica and the UK. Carol’s session was really interesting, and she demonstrated knowledge of don-ism and the complexities of their characterisation in the media. She gave an impassioned reading of a scene between her Don protagonist and his wife, which led to interesting discussions about the representation of Jamaican women, the construction of Jamaican masculinity, and the differences in the ways that cocaine use is constructed and understood in Jamaica and the UK.

Leighan Renaud (University of Leicester), Leicester workshop, 2018

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