Black Protest Shuts Down London Human Zoo

Hottentot_Venus_PosterBelieve it or not, in this day and age, Europe’s largest multi-arts centre, The Barbican, planned to stage last week a human zoo, featuring black bodies caught in degrading poses! The installation is the perverse work of a white South African, Brett Bailey.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, black bodies were put in cages and exhibited in human zoos in Europe and America purely for the pleasure of beastly white people. One of the most famous of these exhibits was the South African, Sarah Bartman, known as the Hottentot Venus.

Hottentot, now a derogatory term for the Khoi people, was joined with Venus, the Roman goddess of love, to show just how ridiculous it was to think of this black woman’s body as beautiful. Funnily enough, her substantial buttocks and breasts were being mocked at a time when white women were pumping up their bumper with nuff padding. Was it plain old envy that made Sarah Bartman so fascinating?

The first of the five images from the show on the Barbican’s website features a man trapped in a metal headpiece that covers his chin and mouth, all the way up to his nostrils. The brace has metal strips that circle his neck and then go up the side of his face, presumably meeting above his head.

This brace is one of the brutal instruments of torture used to discipline enslaved Africans on the continent and throughout the Americas. In the view of the barbaric curators at the Barbican, this dehumanising image is art!

‘PROFOUNDLY TROUBLING’

London-Barbican-art-gallery-racism-396837Black people in the UK went ballistic. Sara Myers, a journalist who lives in Birmingham, launched a petition on change.org to close the exhibition. More than 23,000 people signed. In a statement on its website, the gallery takes no responsibility for provoking outrage. Instead, it blames protesters for not allowing themselves to be muzzled – like the black man on display:

“Last night as Exhibit B was opening at the Vaults, it became impossible for us to continue with the show because of the extreme nature of the protest and the serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff. Given that protests are scheduled for future performances of Exhibit B, we have had no choice but to cancel all performances of the piece.

“We find it profoundly troubling that such methods have been used to silence artists and performers and that audiences have been denied the opportunity to see this important work. Exhibit B raises, in a serious and responsible manner, issues about racism; it has previously been shown in 12 cities, involved 150 performers and been seen by around 25,000 people with the responses from participants, audiences and critics alike being overwhelmingly positive.

“The Barbican has done everything we can to ensure London performances can go ahead – including continued dialogue with protesters and senior Barbican staff meeting with the leaders of the campaign and attending a public meeting to discuss the issues raised by the work. We respect people’s right to protest, but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners.

“We believe this piece should be shown in London and are disturbed at the potential implications this silencing of artists and performers has for freedom of expression.”

ACTING OUT ABUSE

Who is the ‘we’ that the curators at the Barbican speak for? Obviously, it is the artist, the eager audience willing to pay 20 pounds sterling to view the circus and the actors who prostituted themselves. Nitro, Britain’s oldest black theatre company, provided actors for the exhibition. In a blog post, ‘We’re casting for Exhibit B’, Nitro’s artistic director, Felix Cross, justifies his collaboration on the racist project:

“I believe strongly that the whole point of Exhibit B is to stare at a demon fully in the face, realise its ethical bankruptcy, question how far we have really moved on from then, and leave stronger, more knowledgeable and, yes, empowered.” I Perceptive black people knew they didn’t need to be reduced to spectacle in order to be ‘empowered’. They raucously asserted their right to protest. They knew that the exhibition was racist. And even the artist acknowledged that he was reproducing old stereotypes.

0q_PVXG2NEuQqTidcH9beTYTi3E0-Vkqa5c1bGrbvQEBut the spin Brett Bailey puts on the old racism is that he’s actually trying to confront it. By bringing it back! It is this kind of logic that makes me uneasy about the whole ‘truth and reconciliation’ project that consumed South Africans in the aftermath of apartheid. There can be no reconciliation without repentance.

That a white South African feels entitled to reproduce humiliating images of black people and call it ‘art’ is a clear sign that the legacy of apartheid is alive and well. Brett Bailey’s human zoo does not challenge racism; it acts out abuse.

The black British graphic designer Jon Daniel contributed a series of brilliant ‘Barbican and Bailey’ posters to the protest. Taking the model of the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey circus ads for the greatest show on earth, Daniel wickedly satirised the exhibition: “Good old-fashioned European clownialism”; “A work of unparalleled prejudice masquerading as art”.

I couldn’t help thinking of those monstrous, naked figures outside Emancipation Park. Our version of the human zoo! It’s a pity we don’t seem to understand that this work of clownialism is a monument to the enduring legacy of racism in Jamaica.

redemption-song-001_high-res_0

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

Miss Jamaica World 2014

Miss Jamaica World 2014

I’d decided to stay out of the kas-kas over this year’s beauty contests. But last week, one of my friends who’d been bugging me about the Miss Jamaica World contest started up again when she saw the Miss Jamaica Universe winner: “Yu mean to seh yu not going to write about it?” What difference would it make? It’s the same old tired story. The judges and the audience never seem to agree on who should be the winner of our rather ugly beauty contests.

Here’s the headline of Janet Silvera’s Gleaner report on the finals of the Miss Jamaica World contest: ‘Laurie-Ann Chin crowned Miss Jamaica World 2014 despite crowd’s dissatisfaction’ (July 14, 2014). This is not news. If you follow these beauty contests, it’s easy to predict the outcome. The light-skinned girl is almost always going to win.

The top-three winners of this year’s Miss Jamaica Universe contest are even more uniformly light-skinned than their Miss Jamaica World counterparts. I don’t know why the audience keeps on expecting miracles. I suppose hope springs eternal in the human breast. Especially here in Jamaica where the breast of the vast majority of women is dark-skinned!

snow-white-mirrorFive years ago, I wrote a column ‘Everybody’s Miss Jamaica’, which was published on September 20, 2009. I mischievously suggested that we forget about old-style beauty contests and promote a new model. This is how I put it: “So every year we ask ourselves this very loaded question: ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?’ And we all know the usual answer: ‘the fairest.’ But in an ‘out-of-many-one’ society it’s simply not fair that it’s only one type of beauty that is almost always privileged as the winner.

So why don’t we just agree to judge beauty in clearly distinct racial categories? I suggest five types: ‘African,’ ‘Indian,’ ‘Chinese,’ ‘European’ and ‘Out of Many, One.’ And I use the quotation marks to suggest the fact that these terms are quite arbitrary. There’s not going to be universal agreement on who exactly fits which type”.

LAPSE INTO LUNACY

shockedOf course, nobody took me seriously. It was satire after all. And we’re still fighting over who should win these beauty contests. As Janet Silvera reports, “Those shocked by the decision spoke loudly at the coronation show, raising their voices emphatically, as they cried ‘no, no’, booing the announcement.” But why were they “shocked”? They should know the score by now.

In the 1960s, one of my friends entered the Miss Jamaica beauty contest. I hope she won’t be vexed with me for reminding her of that lapse into lunacy. Or so it seemed. In the 1960s, Miss Jamaica looked just like Miss Jamaica today. You know exactly what I mean. My aspiring friend was not a Miss Jamaica lookalike. So I couldn’t understand why she would willingly subject herself to public humiliation.

Earlier on, when she’d asked me what I thought about her entering the contest I hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to tell her the truth as I saw it: “You entering Miss Jamaica? You must be mad!” Words to that effect. I guess I could have been much more diplomatic. I could have said, “Well, if they change the rules of the contest you might stand a chance.”

My friend did admit that she appreciated my honesty. Other people were pretending that her behaviour was normal. She was eliminated in the very first round. To give my friend her due, I think she had entered the contest to make a political statement. The politics of beauty! It’s really all about power. Judges assume the right to decide who is ugly and who is beautiful. Who gives them that power? The contestants? The audience? The owners of the competition?

‘SHE UGLY EEH!’

Unknown-2More than two decades ago, I was in a local bookshop and overheard two young women discussing a photo spread of the supermodel Althea Laing in Essence Magazine. One of them said, “She ugly eeh! Wa she a do inna magazine?” Well me an dem! “What wrong wid her? Unu no see how she beautiful?” Under pressure, they grudgingly conceded that maybe she was ‘attractive’. After all, she had attracted their attention. She had the look. But it was hard for these young women to appreciate the model’s beauty.

In a newspaper interview, Althea Laing wickedly describes the supermodel ‘look’ in this way: “The ‘look’ is when people can’t figure out whether you are ugly or pretty. You know you have the ‘look’ when people can’t figure that out.” I suppose the exclamation of that young woman in the bookshop was half question, half statement. She couldn’t figure out exactly what Althea Laing was doing in that magazine. Simply being attractively beautiful!

images-2Then I was intrigued to see that the prizes for this year’s Miss Jamaica World contest included the following: “10 university scholarships valued at $6 million, of which nine are from the University College of the Caribbean, in collaboration with partner universities such as Florida International University, London University, Kursk University; a $1 million master’s degree scholarship in Logistics from the CMI”. I only hope all of the degree programmes on offer are accredited by the University Council of Jamaica! Or it won’t be pretty.

Putting Vaginas (And Penises) In Focus

UnknownNewspaper headlines are designed to grab your attention, if not your crotch. So I completely understand why the sensational ‘vagina’ – and not the more neutral ‘body’ – was used by the In Focus editor to brand Ms Karen Lloyd’s provocative column, ‘My vagina isn’t public property’ (Sunday Gleaner, August 3, 2014). Sex sells. Titillation, too.

I had a feeling that the hotty-hotty vaginal headline was going to backfire. It struck me that if your vagina really isn’t public property, perhaps, you wouldn’t want to expose it in print. Of course, that’s not the same as uncovering it in the flesh. All the same, as hard-core pornographers know, the thought of sex can be just as exciting as the real thing. Sometimes, even more so with the right visual stimulation.

Once I got past the seductive headline, I realised it was a case of bait and switch. The primary focus of Ms Lloyd’s perceptive column wasn’t her vagina after all. It was the persistent problem of verbal and physical abuse of girls and women in Jamaica. Across the board: uptown and downtown; black, white and brown; every single ethnic group. All our talk of independence, both national and personal, means absolutely nothing if we can’t cure this widespread sickness.

MALE BACKLASH

images-1Mr Bertlan Reynolds’ letter to the editor, published on Independence Day, is a classic example of abusive male backlash against women who dare to speak uncomfortable truths. The headline, ‘Vaginas public property on ‘Back Road’,’ maliciously challenges Ms Lloyd’s perfectly reasonable claims about a vagina’s right to privacy.

Mr Reynolds, who seems to be thinking with the head of his penis, completely misses the point. Unlike Ms Lloyd, the women on ‘Back Road’ are selling sex. Even so, the vagina of a female sex worker is not public property. It may be turned into a commodity and graphically put on display, as described in such detail by Mr Reynolds:

“Not too long ago, an event was taking place on this renowned road popularly called ‘Back Road’ that caused vehicular traffic to come to a virtual stop. A group of women presented themselves in an almost nude state banging on the cars of male drivers, gyrating and virtually ‘swiping’ the cars, including mine, with their private parts. This was certainly not a clever way to marketise their dismal future.”

FRONT-ROOM SEX WORKERS

Cleverly marketed or not, the vagina of a female sex worker is a private body part. And its owner has the right to determine its use and value. She is entitled to pick and choose her clients even in desperate economic circumstances. Sex workers have rights. They have the fundamental right to be protected from sexual abuse. And selling sex does not mean you give up all claims to be treated with dignity.

Dignity1Self-righteous, judgemental souls like Mr Reynolds don’t seem to understand this basic principle. And they certainly don’t grasp the economics of survival in Jamaica today. You cannot assume that sex workers willingly choose the world’s oldest profession. It’s usually a last resort, especially in societies like ours where poor women do face a dismal future.

And Mr Reynolds ought to know that sex workers come in all grades and stations: from ‘Back Road’ to front rooms in upscale, gated communities. Class covers a multitude of sins. The way some uptown ladies gyrate in public for carnival, they might as well be swiping their private parts on ‘Back Road’!

A SLAP FOR A SQUEEZE

I’m so glad Ms Lloyd had the presence of mind to slap the man who squeezed her breast. I’m sure he’ll think twice about attacking another woman. And his claim that he was only romping with her because she looked so good is outrageous. Presumably, an attractive woman must take full responsibility for provoking unwanted attention.

This is the identical assumption that the self-proclaimed “old fogey”, Mr Cedric Richards, makes in his letter to the editor, published on August 5. The headline is vexing: ‘Vagina not public property, but are women asking for it?’ And what, exactly, is ‘it’? Verbal abuse? Rape? These are acts of power, control and violence.

How would Mr Richards feel if a man grabbed his crotch in public? Would he concede that he’d been asking for it because he was dressed attractively? In a satirical letter to the editor, published on August 5, Ms Meng Na mocks heterosexual men who are afraid of being “checked” out by gay men but think it’s perfectly ‘natural’ for women to be groped.

safe_image.phpThe old fogey ends his letter with an irritating question: “Do the ladies have a responsibility to be more modest in their attire?” It’s not about how women dress. Even in societies where women are covered from head to toe, sexual abuse is a constant threat. Men have a responsibility to exercise self-control and keep their hands and penises under manners.

Instead of falling into the trap of thinking that unwanted sexual attention is a compliment, women must fight back. We cannot passively see ourselves as victims. We have to let men know that they are not entitled to romp with us against our will. And an unexpected response to sexual harassment – whether verbal or physical – can be a most effective deterrent.

On my walk one morning, a man called out to me, “Hi, sexy girl!” To be honest, I think he intended it as an innocent compliment. All the same, I thought I should put him in my place. I pleasantly replied, “Hi, sexy boy!” He almost fell off his bicycle.

Emancipation Day At Liberty Hall

Unknown-1A century ago, Marcus Garvey launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League on Emancipation Day. Garvey was a man who understood the power of symbols. August 1 was the ideal day to make a grand statement advocating the unification of African people across the globe.

Garvey knew that emancipation was a long and difficult process. The road to full freedom was full of potholes. The journey would not be easy. And Garvey acknowledged the difference between physical and mental slavery. He encouraged us to take full responsibility for the process of liberation.

In a famous speech delivered in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1937, Garvey prophetically declared, “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind, because man is related to man under all circumstances for good or ill.”

Bob Marley amplified Garvey’s message in Redemption Song:

Old pirates yes, they rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong

By the hand of the Almighty

We forward in this generation triumphantly.”

Marcus Garvey’s UNIA-ACL was an unquestionable triumph. By the early 1930s, there were more than 1,000 divisions in 38 countries; for example, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Liberia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Panama, South Africa, Trinidad and Venezuela.

images-1The rapid growth of the UNIA in the US is an eloquent testimony to the empowering appeal of Garvey’s redemptive vision for Black people. In 1917, Garvey established the New York Division of the UNIA with 13 members. From a single seed, the number of divisions within the US grew to 837 – without Internet or social media to spread the message!

VISIONARY LEADERSHIP

liberty_hall__kingston_jamaicaNot surprisingly, the growth of the UNIA was much slower in Jamaica. The legacy of mental slavery made it difficult for many African-Jamaicans to identify with a black man preaching the gospel of self-reliance. The UNIA in Jamaica started with 17 members and did not exceed 100 by the time Garvey left for the US in 1916. But the tide did turn. Marcus Garvey’s restored Liberty Hall at 76 King Street has now become a major cultural centre, thanks to the visionary leadership of the curator/director, Dr Donna McFarlane.

On Emancipation Day, Garvey’s legacy was celebrated in fine style. First, there was an enlightening conversation with Queen Mother Mariamne Samad and Dr Simon Clarke who had been members of the Garvey Juveniles in the US and Panama, respectively. Mr Arnold Bertram, historian and former minister of government, moderated the discussion.

Unknown-2Queen Mother Samad, who married a Jamaican, Clarence Thomas, came to live here in 1965. She said it was the single most important decision of her life. Recalling her youth in Harlem, New York, with parents who were committed Garveyites, Sister Samad showed the attentive audience pictures of the black Jesus and angels that had a place of honour in her home. These she donated to the Liberty Hall collection.

Dr Simon Clarke, who was born in Panama, also spoke about the issue of race. There were silver people and gold people, so named after their race and the currency in which each group was paid. Black people were silver and whites were gold. Dr Clarke told a most entertaining story of newly arrived black Jamaicans who joined the gold line at the post office.

That line moved much more quickly than the silver; three gold were served to one silver. Obedient people in the silver line implored the Jamaicans to come over into the ‘right’ line. Dr Clarke still remembers the emphatic way in which they declined the invitation: “We naah move!” And the ‘naah’ was appropriately stretched out to fully express resistance to the status quo.

ADINKRA SYMBOLS

The second feature of the Emancipation Day celebrations at Liberty Hall was a series of short skits performed by the 47 participants in the summer programme in dance and drama. Four students from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts were employed to teach: Andre Tucker, Rachel Allen, Ricardo McFarlane and Ellisa Douglas.

082d7835c147ea04d30716ef66e2ae56The participants were divided into four groups and were guided by the philosophy of adinkra symbols from Ghana. The ‘Sankofa’ symbol means, ‘Return and get it’ and features either a bird with its head turned backwards with an egg in its beak, or a heart. This image signifies the importance of learning from the past.

Two fish biting each other’s tail is the image for ‘Bi Nka Bi’. This literally means, ‘No one should bite another’ and warns against making contention. ‘Osram Ne Nsoromma’, an image of the moon and a star, symbolises love, faithfulness and harmony, especially between man and woman. The fourth symbol, ‘Sesa Wo Suban’, is a star inside a wheel. It represents a change of character. This was particularly appropriate for the skit that featured skin bleachers who were in total denial about their identity.

Unknown-4All the performances by the children and teenagers from the communities around Liberty Hall and further afield were excellent. Proud parents came out to applaud the talent of the youth.

Marcus Garvey’s inspiring message about learning from the past and looking to Africa in the present to reclaim our collective identity was brilliantly illustrated. The Sankofa bird was in full flight.

Obama’s American Nightmare

UnknownTHOSE CRAZY birthers who insist that Barack Obama is from a foreign country are not completely lunatic. The America of Obama’s youth is not the mainland United States (US). And it’s not mainstream. Hawaii, Obama’s state of birth, was not admitted into the union until 1959. That’s almost two centuries after the American declaration of independence from Britain, and only two years before Obama was born.

The most absurd ‘fact’ I’ve heard about Hawaii is that it has the highest racial minority population of any state in the union – 75 per cent, according to US census figures. How can the majority of people in Hawaii be counted as a minority? Only in the racist United States where whites consider themselves to be the definitive Americans! Forget about the indigenous people. White is the default race and all others are minority. That’s mainland racial politics. But in Hawaii, whites are the minority. That’s what the US census figures actually mean.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN TRAUMA

barackIn a 1999 essay for the Punahou Bulletin, published by his high school in Honolulu, Obama acknowledges the impact of the years he spent in his homeland: “The opportunity that Hawaii offered – to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect – became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.”

Obama’s Hawaiian ‘world view’ is fundamentally at odds with racial politics in mainstream America. Born to a black African father and a white American mother, Obama doesn’t easily fit into a box. He isn’t simply African-American. The hyphen does make a difference. Obama comes to mainland America as an outsider whose personal history does not include the African-American trauma of enslavement and all it entails. Despite Michelle, it is a struggle for Obama to claim the hyphen.

ingodwetrustAnd African-Americans are struggling to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, especially since he’s president of all America. Obama is a biracial, multicultural American who embodies many of the ideological contradictions that constitute the US. The unofficial national motto asserts unity: ‘E pluribus unum’ (‘out of many one’). But America is a divided society. Trusting in God seems to make no difference.

‘POST-RACIAL’ AMERICA

The cold-bloodied slaying of Trayvon Martin and the contested ruling that has freed his assailant have become yet another test case of the fundamental fairness of the US justice system. On all sides of the angry debate about what went wrong, there’s the shameful knowledge that race remains a provocative sign of both criminality and innocence in a supposedly ‘post-racial’ America.

bsr005President Obama has been caught in the crossfire. In a much-analysed speech two Fridays ago, he revealed his somewhat ambiguous identification with Trayvon Martin and, more broadly, African-American culture. This is how he began: “I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but, watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.”

That’s the first problem. Obama’s initial pronouncement on the judgment, appealing for “calm”, appears to be his instinctive reaction. The expansion of his thoughts comes a little bit too late. And it’s really just a little bit too little. Obama shouldn’t need to watch the debate in order to realise that, as president, it was his duty to make a much more nuanced and expansive statement on yet another American tragedy.

Trayvon Martin's parents in Washington DCAfter affirming the “grace and dignity” of Trayvon’s parents in response to the contested ruling that freed their son’s killer, Obama tried, yet again, to identify with the victim: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago.

“And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognise that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

RACIAL PROFILING

strange-fruitIt is precisely this set of experiences and history that Obama does not own. This “set” is not in his DNA. And it’s not only African-Americans who are looking at the issue through the lens of a history that doesn’t go away. Euro-Americans have their own set of experiences and history – of lynching, for example – that influences how they view the death of Trayvon Martin. Furthermore, people of goodwill, of all races, are agitated about the killing and the judgment.

Obama gives three examples of racial profiling of African-American males. In each successive instance, he becomes more and more distant. The first example is “being followed when shopping in a department store”. Obama says, “That includes me”.

The next example is “walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars”. Obama says, “That happens to me”. Present tense. He quickly qualifies it, “at least, before I was a senator”. That’s a big leap away from racial profiling. Not to mention president.

Obama’s final example is “getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off”. Obama doesn’t even pretend that he’s had that experience: “That happens often”.

The race of the generic woman is unmarked. If she’s white, it’s fear of the predatory black man. If she’s black, it’s the same thing. But, in the latter case, it’s now black-on-black crime. Why don’t we ever talk about white-on-white crime? Because white is normative and black is pathological?

Picture1_000In his expanded thoughts, Obama does give some prescriptions for the disease of racial profiling. He pays particular attention to the dilemma of African-American males. But he cannot identify with them fully, no matter how hard he tries to be Trayvon. It’s the hyphen again. Obama inherited his mother’s American nightmare. But he also possesses distant dreams from his African father.

Suppose Jesus Did Funny Fi True

Frederic Cassidy

Frederic Cassidy

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below.  The first, which I call  ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling.  The second,  ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

 

  • Chaka-Chaka Spelling

images-3Mi no mean dead wid laugh. A di odder kind a funny mi a talk bout. Wa dem a call ‘queer’ inna dem ya time. Suppose Jesus was a B-man. Tink bout it. Im never married. An im par wid nuff man. Pon top a dat, ascorden to weh John write inna fi im book inna New Testiment, Jesus did av a special love fi im. A so John seh.

Den some Bible scholar claim seh a no ongle 12 disciple Jesus did av. A nuff more. Bout 70! Jesus come een like dem DJ an dem crew. Or di yuut dem weh go a dance wid dem one anodder an no dance wid no uman whole night. Nuff man inna bungle. Jesus did av uman fren. But some a dem never come offa no high table. Dem a prostitute.

bolt_2309832bAnyhow, mi no want nobody a pray God fi mi. So mek mi spell it out: Mi never seh Jesus funny. A aks mi a aks. An a no me one a aks disya question. Mi go pon Google an put een ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ Mi shock fi see 11,300,000 answer come up inna 0.28 second. Faster than Usain Bolt!

So hear wa mek mi a aks disya funny question. Yu see di parson man dem weh a stir up dem congregation gainst B-man? An a keep up demonstration outa road gainst di people dem weh a try fi change di buggery law? Mi no know wa dem deh parson man woulda do if dem find out seh Jesus was a B-man. Dem woulda ha fi go kill demself.

Or dem coulda start tek Matthew 7:12 serious an try treat odder people like how dem woulda want people treat dem. An dem woulda ha fi come offa dem high horse an memba seh dem a sinner. Some a dem said same parson man a commit adultery, an through a uman dem a sex, dem a gwaan like seh fi dem sin better than odder people sin. Sin a sin.

FROM PILLAR TO POST

ambitionAn me want know wa dem parson man a seh an a do bout di yuut dem weh a bata-bata from pillar to post an cyaan find no weh fi rest dem head. Mi sorry fi di yuut dem. Dem bun dem outa uptown an dem cyaan go back downtown. But wat a way dem deh yuut chest high! A Millsborough, an Seymour Lands, an Cherry Gardens an Beverly Hills dem a squat. After all. If yu a squat, yu might as well av ambition.

But some a dem yuut a gwaan like leggo beast. Dem no av no behaviour. How dem fi out a yard stark naked inna di people dem good-good community? Dat a pure slackness. Out a out. But dem gone far out. Outa order. Dem buy on trouble pon demself. Dem no know how fi squat. Dem ha fi small up demself so nobody no notice dem to dat. Dem too bright.

Still for all, wi cyaan dash dem weh an gwaan like seh dem no belongs to wi. Dem a smaddy pikni, smaddy bredda, smaddy uncle, smaddy cousin, smaddy puppa. Wi dis ha fi claim dem. Dem a fambily. Dem a fi wi. An dem a God pikni. Same like Jesus. Dem a smaddy.

  • Prapa-Prapa Spelin

queer_by_choiceMi no miin ded wid laaf. A di ada kain a foni mi a taak bout. Wa dem a kaal ‘queer’ ina dem ya taim. Sopuoz Jesus woz wan B-man. Tingk bout it. Im neva marid. An im paar wid nof man. Pan tap a dat, azkaadn tu we John rait ina fi im buk ina di Nyuu Testiment, Jesus did av a speshal lov fi im. A so John se.

Den som Baibl skala kliem se a no ongl 12 disaipl Jesus did av. A nof muor. Bout 70! Jesus kom iin laik dem DJ an dem kruu. Aar di yuut dem we go a daans wid dem wan anada an no daans wid no uman uol nait. Nof man ina bongl. Jesus did av uman fren. Bot som a dem neva kom aafa no ai tiebl. Dem a prastityuut.

emoticons--question-face_17-317132617Eni-ou, mi no waahn nobadi a prie Gad fi mi. So mek mi spel it out: Mi neva se Jesus foni. A aks mi a aks. An a no mii wan a aks dis ya kweschyan. Mi go pan Google an put iin ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ Mi shak fi si 11,300,000 ansa kom op iina 0.28 sekan. Faasa dan Usain Bolt!

So ier wa mek mi a aks dis ya foni kweschyan. Yu si di paasn man dem we a stor op dem kangrigieshan gens B-man? An a kip op demonschrieshan outa ruod gens di piipl dem we a chrai fi chienj di bogri laa? Mi no nuo wa dem de paasn man uda du if dem fain out se Jesus woz a B-man. Dem uda afi go kil demself.

Ar dem kuda staat tek Matthew 7:12 siiriyos an chrai chriit ada piiipl laik ou dem wuda waahn piipl chriit dem. An dem wuda afi kum aafa dem ai aas an memba se dem a sina. Som a dem sed siem paasn man a komit adolchri, an chruu a uman dem a seks, dem a gwaan laik se fi dem sin beta dan ada piipl sin. Sin a sin.

FRAM PILA TU PUOS

13480844-success-diagram-shows-vision-ambition-execution-and-determinationAn mii waahn nuo wa dem paasn man a se an a du bout di yuut dem we a bata-bata fram pila tu puos an kyaahn fain no we fi res dem ed. Mi sari fi di yuut dem. Dem bun dem outa optoun an dem kyaahn go bak dongtoun. Bot wat a wie dem de yuut ches ai! A Millsborough, an Seymour Lands, an Cherry Gardens an Beverly Hills dem a skwat. Aaftar aal. If yu a skwat, yu mait az wel av ambishan.

Bot som a dem yuut a gwaan laik lego biis. Dem no av no biyievya. Ou dem fi out a yaad staak niekid ina di piipl dem gud-gud komyuuniti? Dat a pyuur slaknis. Out a out. Bot dem gaan faar out. Outa aada. Dem bai aan chrobl pan demself. Dem no nuo ou fi skwat. Dem afi smaal op demself so nobadi no nuotis dem tu dat. Dem tuu brait.

Stil far aal, wi kyaahn dash dem we an gwaan laik se dem no bilangz tu wi. Dem a smadi pikni, smadi breda, smadi onkl, smadi kosn, smadi pupa. Wi dis afi kliem dem. Dem a fambili. Dem a fi wi. An dem a Gad pikni. Siem laik Jesus. Dem a smadi.

  • English Translation

images-7I don’t mean laughing out loud.  It’s the other kind of funny I’m talking about. What’s called  ‘queer’ these days. What if Jesus was homosexual! Think about it.  He never married.  And he used to hang out with a lot of men.  And, according to John’s account in the New Testament, Jesus had a special love for him.  That’s what John said.

Some Bible scholars claim that it wasn’t only 12 disciples Jesus had.  It was lots more.  About 70!  Jesus was like these DJs and their crew.  Or those young men who go to parties in a big group and don’t dance with women at all.  Just a whole bunch of them together. Jesus did have female friends. But some of them were quite disreputable.  They were prostitutes.

tumblr_l52qc59d1i1qz8tzlo1_500Anyhow, I don’t want anyone to feel they need to pray for my soul. So let me spell it out:  I’m not saying that Jesus was queer.  It’s a question I’m asking.  And I’m not the only one to raise the issue. I googled  ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ and  I was shocked to see that  11,300,000 responses came up in 0.28 seconds. Faster than Usain Bolt!

So let me tell you why I ‘m asking this funny question. You see those parsons who are stirring up their congregation against homosexuals and holding demonstrations in the streets against those activists who are trying to change the buggery law! I don’t know what those parsons would do if they found out that Jesus was homosexual.  They would have to commit suicide.

Or they could  start taking Matthew 7:12 seriously and try to treat others the way they’d like to be treated.  And they would have to come off their high horse and remember that they are sinners.  Some of these parsons commit adultery and because they’re having sex with women they pretend as if their sin is better than other people’s.  Sin is sin.

FROM PILLAR TO POST

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Evicted from Millsborough

And I want to know what these parsons are saying and doing about the youth who are wandering around from pillar to post, unable to find a home.   I’m sorry for them.  They’ve been driven from uptown and they can’t go back downtown.  But these youths have high standards! Its in Millsborough, and Seymour Lands, and Cherry Gardens and Beverly Hills that they’re squatting. After all. If you’re going to squat, you might as well be ambitious.

But some of these youths are behaving like wild animals.  They have no sense of decency. How can they be outdoors stark naked in respectable communities?  That’s pure vulgarity. Coming out of the closet is one thing. But they have gone far out. Out of order. They are making trouble for themselves.  They don’t know how to squat.  You have to be discreet so that you’re hardly noticed.  They are too outrageous.

Belonging_TrimmedAll the same, we can’t distance ourselves and act as if they don’t belong to us.  They are somebody’s  child, somebody’s brother, somebody’s uncle, somebody’s cousin, somebody’s father.  We have to claim them.  They’re family.  They are ours.  And they are God’s children.  Just like Jesus.  They are human.

Email From A Hellish Resort

where-anonymity-breeds-contemptTwo Fridays ago, I got a distressful email from a hotel worker. I don’t know if it’s a man or a woman because the writer hid behind a false name. In certain circumstances, anonymity is essential. Exploited workers who desperately need jobs are often fearful about speaking up for their rights. Here’s the email, which I’ve edited just a bit for grammar. But I’ve kept the writer’s aggrieved tone:

“Good day to you, Ms Cooper. I enjoyed reading your article in The Sunday Gleaner dated June 23, 2013 on ‘Night work for women’. I have a similar problem I would like you to bring to attention for me. I have emailed several talk-show hosts and people in authority and, to my surprise, it has fallen on deaf ears and no one cares. This is the issue.

????????????????????????????????????????“I would like to know if the labour law in Jamaica doesn’t protect hotel workers. The law says that a person must work 40 hours per week, which is equivalent to 2 days off for the workweek. Well, there is a big breach of the law going on because in most hotels, if not all, workers are getting one day off per week at the 40-hour rate. How can this be? Most days, workers even work overtime and no overtime money is paid. What kind of law is this? I am sure that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Tourism are aware of this breach.

“We are grateful and give thanks for our jobs. However, the law of the country goes for all. Workers who are either dedicated Seventh-day Adventists or Sunday worshippers cannot do their commercial activities on weekdays because that one day off cannot allow them. Also, one day off cannot allow the body to get enough rest for the hard work that your employers require of you.

NO LUNCH BREAK

“Some managers even treat staff with no respect at all. Another issue is that due to the workload, we cannot get our full one-hour lunch break. Depending on certain departments like Housekeeping, some staff cannot even take lunch break due to the demands of a busy day. To make things worse, we are not unionised.

deaf-1“I would like if you can highlight this issue for us and let it be known to the relevant authority. Please don’t turn a deaf ear on this issue like talk-show hosts. I assume that they don’t want to lose their regular free passes or accommodation. We need justice. You sound like a balanced person who will take up this issue. Thanks for your cooperation.

“Send me a confirmation email to let me know if you got this email because it’s not all the time we can listen the radio or TV due to work hours. Also, send me follow-ups of your investigations.

Yours respectfully,

Anonymous hotel worker”

originalI did send the requested confirmation email. I also called the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to find out what the employment laws say on these contentious matters. As it turns out, Anonymous Hotel Worker (A.H.W.) is misinformed. The minimum lunch break is 45 minutes, not a whole hour. And full-time employees are not, in fact, entitled to two days off. It’s more complicated.

The National Minimum Wage Order, 1975 states: “Every employer shall, in each week during which any worker, other than an hourly worker … works for him, allow that worker one day as a rest day.” The language of the law is so roundabout. What it means is that full-time workers are entitled to only one rest day per week.

rest-dayFurthermore, the Order states that, “The day on which the rest day of any worker is to fall in any particular week shall be determined by agreement between that worker and his employer.” Agreement is all very well and good. But how easy is it to disagree with your employer? Especially if you’re not in a trade union, you hardly have any power to negotiate deals with your employer. You end up doing what you’re told.

HIGH PRICE FOR ‘FREENESS’

Unionised or not, employees who work for more than 40 hours each week are most certainly entitled to overtime pay. If A.H.W. is telling the truth, the unjust withholding of overtime wages is, indeed, a serious breach of the law. But which employee is going to be bold enough to confront the boss when jobs are so scarce?

BlackLogoJHTAA senior manager at one of our hotels admitted that exploitation of workers is widespread in the industry. Refusing to pay for overtime work is a common offence. Not at his hotel, he hastily reassured me. I called the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association and rather naively asked if they knew of any hotels that were not paying overtime wages or if they had had any complaints from employees about not being paid for overtime work. The person to whom I spoke claimed, without a doubt, that no hotels are in breach of the law. I don’t suppose it would have been reasonable to expect any other answer.

But if it’s really true that many hotels are, in fact, failing to pay workers overtime wages and are not allowing any lunch break at all, the minister of tourism and entertainment ought to launch an investigation. Disgruntled workers are not an appealing advertisement for the tourist industry. And shamelessly exploiting cheap labour just isn’t good for business in the long run.

lost-causeA.H.W. cynically proposes that it’s access to free passes and complimentary accommodation that’s stopping journalists from exposing lawbreakers in the hotel industry. If that’s really so, it’s a high price to pay for ‘freeness’. Depending on the media to help hotel workers get justice is a lost cause. It’s not even a last resort.

 

Cali P to give ‘Reggae Talk’ at UWI

Cali-P-20110131CThe very popular ‘Reggae Talks’ at the University of the West Indies, Mona continue on Thursday, April 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the Neville Hall lecture theatre (N1). First it was Jah9, then Protoje, then No-Maddz. This week’s speaker is the Swiss reggae artist Cali P who now lives in Jamaica.

In an exclusive interview with Gleaner writer Jordaine Delahaye, Cali P, whose legal name is Pierre Nanon, said, “I started writing lyrics and singing in Switzerland when I was 14. There were positives and negatives living there. Looking on it as a whole, I had a lot of moments where I really didn’t want to be there because I felt unwelcome. Not being white there makes people treat you like a foreigner at all times, and that can get really annoying”.

Born to a Swiss mother and a Guadeloupian father who is a Rastaman, Cali P knew where to turn to escape the alienation he felt in the land of his birth.  He feels much more at home in his adopted country.  The title of his talk, which will focus on his artistic development, is “musicCALI-sPeaKING”.

‘Bring In All Rastas, Dead Or Alive!’

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Those are the infamous words of Sir Alexander Bustamante, national hero and first prime minister of independent Jamaica. Bustamante’s turn of phrase comes straight out of the Wild West: “Wanted dead or alive.” Bustamante apparently conceived all Rastafarians as outlaws in a Hollywood western who had to be exterminated by any means necessary.

Issuing a death sentence, Bustamante literally turned all Rastafarians into villains. Guilty or innocent, they could no longer expect to enjoy the protection of the law. All Rastafarians were completely demonised and became victims of comprehensive state brutality. How did this come about?

images-6Half a century ago, at about 4 a.m. on ‘Holy’ Thursday, six bearded men set fire to a gas station in Coral Gardens. They were armed with machetes, guns, bows and arrows. I suppose it was cowboys and Indians, Jamrock style. The leader was Rudolph ‘Franco’ Franklyn, who had a big grievance against the owner of the gas station, Ken Douglas.

Franklyn and several other bearded men had long been squatting on land in Coral Gardens. They lived in relative peace until the land was sold to Douglas. Naturally, the new owner asserted his right to the property and attempted to drive the squatters off the land. As is often the case, the squatters refused to budge.

During one of several attempts at eviction, Franklyn was shot by the police. He survived but was told by a medical doctor that he would die sooner rather than later from a bullet lodged in his body. Determined to take revenge on his assailants, Franklyn sought allies to launch his counter-attack.

DREADLOCKS AND COMBSOME

images-3At the time, there were two groups of Rastafarians living in MoBay: the dreadlocks and the combsome. The dreadlocks lived on Railway Lane and the combsome squatted in Coral Gardens. Franklyn irrationally proposed that both groups of Rastas join forces to burn down Montego Bay. The dreadlocks rejected the scheme on the basis that Rastas defend ‘peace and love’.

Franklyn, who seemed to subscribe to the philosophy “I don’t give a damn, I done dead already”, pressed along with his plans. Instead of burning down all of MoBay, he settled for Douglas’ gas station, an obviously flammable target.

http://www.songstube.net/video.php?title=Zombie%20Jamboree&artistid=6603&artist=Harry%20Belafonte&id=131586

On the morning of the attack, there was only one attendant at the station, Mr George Plummer, who fled for his life to the nearby Edgewater Inn Motel. He, clearly, had no shares in the company. A Mr Marsh, who was at the motel, foolishly ventured out to investigate the matter. In a most unfortunate turn of affairs, he was murdered. By midday, seven others lost their lives, including Franklyn.

According to a Gleaner report published on April 13, 1963, “The Montego Bay Fire Brigade had responded to the fire alert at 4:53 a.m. from the house of Dr Carol Delisser. The blaze at the gas station was brought under control after 5 a.m. led by Supt Sydney Burke, who joined the police squad that rushed up from Montego Bay under Inspector Fisher. Five vehicles, including two civilians, started into the hills after the Rastafarian gang. Among those chasing the gang was Mr Causwell, who was on his way to Kingston but decided to give some help to the chase.

Rose Hall Great House

Rose Hall Great House

“They drove through two miles of rough terrain from the ruins of Rose Hall Great House. The search party ran into the gang or rather ran into an ambush. The bearded men attacked from an overhanging cliff above. In the fight which ensued, two of the gang were shot to death and Corporal Melbourne and Mr Causwell were cut down. By then, it was discovered later that Headman Fowler had been already cut down about a mile from his home on Tryall Farm.”

The day’s gruesome events became known as ‘the Coral Gardens Incident’. But this was much more than an isolated ‘incident’. Franklyn’s murderous rampage was a sign of the fundamental inequities of Jamaican society. Landlessness is a recurring a problem which has never been properly addressed by successive pre- and post-Independence governments.

WINSTON CHURCHILL’S CIGARS

images-1The response of Bustamante’s government to the terrible actions of six bearded men was brutally excessive: “Bring in all Rastas, dead or alive!” Why should all Rastafarians be exterminated because of the actions of six men, especially since the ringleader had already been killed? Bustamante’s irrational call signified much more than a need to restore the peace. The Coral Gardens ‘Incident’ was a chilling episode in a long history of state violence against Rastafari.

In 1954, under the premiership of Bustamante, a major Rastafarian encampment, Pinnacle, was burnt down. The camp was located in St Jago Hills, close to Sligoville. Pinnacle was a productive agricultural hub, yielding rich crops such as cassava, peas, corn and, of course, ganja. Maintaining African traditions of collective labour, Pinnacle flourished under the leadership of Leonard Howell.

images-2French journalist Hélène Lee, author of The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism, published in 2004, proposes that Howell was the first Jamaican ‘don’ in the best possible sense of that word. He was a don in the British sense of a university professor. Howell was a Garveyite who valued scholarship.

He was also a charismatic community leader who gave hope to landless Rastafari who left Kingston’s concrete jungle for the hills of St Catherine. Pinnacle comprised approximately 5,000 acres, even though Howell owned only a conservative estimate of 150 acres and, possibly, up to 400.

Winston Churchll

Winston Churchll

According to anecdotal evidence, much of the ganja produced at Pinnacle found its way to the warfront during the Second European War. Ganja was seen as therapy for the troops. It was even rumoured that Winston Churchill’s famous cigars contained much more than tobacco. In 1953, Churchill visited Jamaica, staying at the Tower Isle hotel. Was there any connection between his visit and the destruction of Pinnacle? I leave the answer to conspiracy theorists.

Taking Stock of Racial Politics

images-7The Jamaica Observer’s intoxicating editorial on ethnic stocking in T&T, published on December 11, 2012, made a lot of otherwise level-headed people rather tipsy.  Unable to hold their liquor, commentators across the region weepily lamented the crudeness of the Jamaicans in daring to bring into the open the closeted subject of racial politics in the two-island republic.

The provocative headline of the editorial, “The more important issue is abuse of substance”, managed to pretend that speculation about alleged alcohol abuse in high places was a relatively minor matter.  It is not.  In these times of global crisis, Caribbean nations need leaders with a sober head.

As they say in T&T, “Gopaul luck eh Seepaul luck.”    That’s the equivalent of our Jamaican proverb, “Puss an dog no have di same luck.” Except our version is not race-specific.  Perhaps, it’s because Jamaica is not as racially diverse as T&T.  Our proverbs probably don’t need to be quite so racialised.

Jack Warner

Jack Warner

In any case, since my name is not Paul – whether  “Go” or “See” – I know I’m stretching my puss luck by doggedly putting my mouth in the lingering debate about ethnic stocking in T&T.   I really ought to take Jack Warner’s advice.  As a mere Jamaican “cockroach”, I should not foolishly interfere in the “fouwl” business of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.  We go see.

Raymond Ramcharitar must take full blame for dragging me into the foul coop.  In his article published in the T&T Guardian on Wednesday, December 19, 2012, with the rip-off headline, “Who is Jamaica?”, Ramcharitar makes a completely unfounded claim: “An indispensable preamble to the Jamaica Observer’s December 11 “ethnic stocking” editorial is an op-ed by Jamaican (UWI) academic, Prof Carolyn Cooper, in the NY Times on August 5.”

Ramcharitar

Raymond Ramcharitar

I suppose Dr. Ramcharitar is an agile creative writer and cultural critic who usually manages to jump over ideological hurdles with ease.  But this leap is rather wobbly.  Ramcharitar attempts to hang on to a very tenuous link that only he can see between the Observer editorial and my much earlier article which had absolutely nothing to do with ethnic stocking in either Jamaica or T&T.

The focus of my polemical piece was the self-centredness of the “colour-blind” elite who continue to assert the fiction, enshrined in the national motto, that Jamaica is a multiracial society: “Out of Many, One People.”  Misrepresenting my argument, Ramcharitar tries to turn me into a spokeswoman for what he contemptuously dismisses as “garden variety US Afrocentrism.”

images-10    Living in a racially divided society that polarises “Africans” and “Indians”, Ramcharitar apparently cannot resist the urge to pick a side.  And my supposedly “Afrocentric” side of the argument cannot possibly make sense.  So Ramcharitar gives a garbled account of what I say.  This is how he puts it:  “. . .  the imperative of (Afro) Jamaicans is ‘rejecting the homogenising myth of multicultural assimilation.’”  But the ‘Afro’ is Ramcharitar’s issue.  That’s his insertion.

My argument is not quite so simplistic.  It’s not only “(Afro) Jamaicans” who need to reject the myth.  It’s the collective ‘we.’  This is what I actually wrote:  “The roots of our distinctive music, religion, politics, philosophy, science, literature and language are African. But the culture of African Jamaicans has been marginalized in the construction of the nation-state. Fifty years after independence, we must revise our fictive national motto, rejecting the homogenizing myth of multicultural assimilation.”

This is not “garden variety US Afrocentrism.”  It’s pure Jamaican common sense.  But what is wrong with Afrocentrism anyhow?  Particularly in the US, where African Americans are a minority group, it is essential to affirm one’s distinctive heritage and identity.  Ramcharitar does not seem to understand this need. In fact, he appears to chide the New York Times for publishing my ‘Afrocentric’ article.  In his opinion, my argument “is not logic the Times ordinarily endorses.”

But an op-ed piece, by its very nature, is an expression of the opinions of a single writer.  It is not an editorial reflecting the ‘party line’ of the newspaper.  In fact, the ‘op’ in op-ed is not an abbreviation of ‘opinion’.  It means ‘opposite’.  The op-ed appears opposite the editorial page.  And in many instances it is oppositional in its politics, disdaining editorial endorsement.  This subtlety is, perhaps, lost on Dr. Ramcharitar.

tiny_art_595_an_awkward_leap_fun_cat_art_postcard-p239484448147172139envli_400     Making yet another clumsy leap, Ramcharitar asserts that the Observer editorial and, by implication, my opinion piece both prove that “there’s no difference between ethnic fascism and cultural criticism; and racial ignorance and free speech are the same.”  And this rather sorry state of affairs is, allegedly, all the fault of the University of the West Indies where “US Afrocentric nonsense thrives.”

Ramcharitar further declares that “Cultural Studies at St. Augustine is understood as an ethnic (Afrocentric) pursuit, despite the fact that elementary knowledge of the subject refutes this.”  His sly use of the passive voice – “is understood” – apparently absolves him of all responsibility to disclose which academics, exactly, at St. Augustine actually practise Cultural Studies as “an ethnic (Afrocentric) pursuit.”

Widening his attack on Caribbean/Cultural Studies beyond UWI, Ramcharitar claims that in many US and Canadian universities, “Caribbean history and society have become an appendix of African American history, another theatre of slavery and black oppression, erasing all other histories.”

0      But writing history from an Africanist perspective need not erase Indo-Caribbean or any other history.  There are multiple Caribbean histories to be written, from diverse perspectives. Despite Dr. Ramcharitar’s disdain for the University of the West Indies, the UWI Press, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, has done an excellent job of publishing a wide range of books that try to tell the whole story of Caribbean history and culture.

It is my intuition that the admittedly inflammatory Observer editorial gave Dr. Ramcharitar a good excuse to display his own brand of ethnic fascism:  undermining the scholarship from UWI and elsewhere on African people in the Diaspora.  The pertinent question raised by Ramcharitar’s bilious column is not, “Who is Jamaica?”  It is, “Who is the real racist?”