This study by Anita Waters assesses the problems of race and class in Jamaica and their relationship to Jamaican politics. The work assesses the five elections conducted in Jamaica since independence in 1962, and examines how the issues of race and class were maneuvered by the two major political parties, the Peoples National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The author is aware that race, class, and color have always played a prominent role in Jamaican society, but concludes that the election of 1972, which brought the PNP to power, was the one in which race and class played the most prominent role in recent times. Even with the decline of race and class issues in elections in 1980 and 1983, these issues are far from dead. Since these issues cannot be appreciated without an assessment of the role of Rastafarians (followers of Haile Selassie), Waters gives due attention to rastafarianism as black consciousness, and to its association with protest reggae music as a major device to imprint the plight of the black poor in Jamaica on the minds of the political leadership. Reggae/rastafarian music was a conscious protest against poverty and deprivation in Jamaican society, and, through the late Bob Marley, it voiced concerns which extended beyond Jamaica’s immediate frontiers. Not surprisingly, politicians found the words and phrases of rastafarian/reggae music to be useful symbols for attracting the electorate to one or the other political party. Rastafarianism was by no means the only source of political symbolism, however. Another source has been “revivalism,” which not only served to strengthen the anticommunist propaganda line by its reassertion of Protestant Christianity against atheistic communism, but also offered (and offers) the opportunity to give political relevance to a Protestantism modified by African religious expression.
Because elections tend to bring to the fore major issues of all kinds, the author introduces issues of nationalism; Jamaica’s relationship with Cuba during the Man- ley years; the impact of the invasion of Grenada on the election of 1983; the close relationship between Seaga’s JLP and the Reagan administration; and of course the economic prostration of Jamaica.
This is a book well worth reading. It will be particularly useful for strangers without a knowledge of contemporary Jamaican society and politics.