A trip down memory lane provokes thoughts of business and commerce
Drove down memory lane the other day, past the corner shop that was the go-to place for the West Indian fare that we ate each day. The go-to place for yam, and green bananas, and the beans you need for rice and peas. For tins of the ackee plant and for its companion in the Jamaican national dish, salt cod. I’d be sent there as a boy to get shrimps and that made me happy because it meant that night’s meal would be seasoned rice. The thought of what was coming made the trip bearable.
For the anomaly was that we bought much of this stuff from a red-faced bear of an Englishman who clearly had precious little time for his immigrant customers. Always barking; he would end his dispute with one black woman or another by slamming her change down and muttering; a fragment usually included the words “You people …”
Why did we put up with him? Love of theatre, perhaps. But also, in our suburb, lack of convenient alternatives. Compare our experience with that of more recent immigrants, Poles and other eastern Europeans. Not economically homogenous, of course, but look at their population centres across the country and observe the speed at which many have opened their own shops. Mightily impressive.
Douglas Orane, chairman of the Caribbean food giant Grace Kennedy, prompted thoughts on this with a bit of a lecture to the UK Jamaican diaspora the other day. You need to be in business, he said. More Jamaicans who head for the US and Canada take that leap. There is a reason for this. The migration wave to the UK happened earlier and largely comprised rural folk desperate for employment. Migrants to North America moved later. Often the recipients of a superior education and with links to or experience of commerce, they made a good situation better.
“A culture has been embedded where a strong theme in the UK diaspora is to seek security through preparing for and obtaining a nine to five job,” said Orane, quoted in the Jamaica Gleaner. “We know from anecdotal evidence that this is encouraged by parents with their children.” A cohort, said Orane, “not poor enough to be needs-based entrepreneurs” but “not from a background to be opportunity based.” That’s the logjam we have to break in the UK.