Paying For Emancipation

images-7Britain’s Black Debt is the intriguing title of a provocative book launched to much fanfare earlier this month by the University of the West Indies Press. The Nyahbinghi House drummers and chanters set the tone of the occasion. ‘Black Liberation Day’, ‘Open de Gate Mek We Repatriate’, ‘Four Hundred Million Black Man’ and ‘Every Time We Chant Nyahbinghi I an I Waan Trod Home a Yaad’ were some of the ‘heartical’ chants that heralded the launch.

The book’s author is Prof Sir Hilary Beckles, distinguished Barbadian historian and principal of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies. In Britain’s Black Debt, Beckles tackles the contentious issue of reparations for both the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans in the so-called West Indies. Christopher Columbus lost his way to the ‘East Indies’ and our region is now stuck with a name that perpetuates the great discoverer’s error!

viewer-1The cover of the book brilliantly illustrates its theme. The main image is a 1966 photograph of Queen Elizabeth II with her cousin, George Henry Hubert Lascelles, the 7th Earl of Harewood, on his sugar plantation in Barbados. The property was bought by one of the earl’s relatives in 1780, along with 232 slaves. In the background, at a respectful distance, is a large group of well-dressed, carefully choreographed spectators, mostly white, whose body language suggests decorous delight at finding themselves in the presence of royalty.

TAINTED WEALTH

Beneath the photograph, there’s a row of shackled Africans: three children; three women, each with a baby wrapped on her back; and seven men. Two black overseers with guns are keeping them all in line. The enslaved humans are the literal subtext of the main story about colonial masters and their loyal subjects. Beckles compellingly argues that forced labour in the Caribbean is the foundation of much of the wealth of Britain, including that of the Royal Family.

images-2Beckles pays tribute to Eric Williams’ revolutionary book, Capitalism and Slavery, first published in 1944. There, Beckles argues, Williams “constructed the framework for the reparations case”. Beckles does concede that Williams “stopped short of making an explicit call for reparations”. But, he asserts, the book “still represents the most persuasive articulation of evidence” that “Britain’s magnificent, enviable industrial civilisation emerged from the foul waters of colonial slavery”.

The Earl of Harewood died on July 10, 2011 at the age of 88. His obituary in the London Telegraph substantiates Beckles’ case: “The Lascelles family had made their fortune in the West Indies. An 18th-century ancestor, Edwin Lascelles, had built the magnificent Harewood House in the family estates in the West Riding of Yorkshire”.   Harewood House is not a house. It is a palatial monument to capitalist greed.

images-3

Harewood House

And its owners have no shame about the source of their tainted wealth. The Harewood House website states quite matter-of-factly that, “[b]y 1787, the Lascelles family had interests in 47 plantations and owned thousands of slaves in Barbados and across the West Indies. The Lascelles weren’t unique – most merchants of the period were involved in the slave trade”.  And Harewood House is now a tourist attraction. It costs £14 for adults to tour the ‘house’, including staterooms, and £10 to visit just the grounds and below stairs. Class privilege comes at a price.

LUNATIC PROPOSITION

The most startling fact I learnt at the launch of Britain’s Black Debt is that the British government had wanted emancipated slaves to pay reparations to their former masters for the loss of their service. A lunatic proposition! Where was the money supposed to come from? The Haitian people had been forced to borrow money to pay reparations to France for claiming their freedom. In the case of the British, it was they who were claiming freedom from us. True, rebellious slaves across the British colonies had fought for freedom. But, in effect, Emancipation was designed to free the British government of all legal and moral obligations to the formerly enslaved.

Sir Thomas Buxton

Sir Thomas Buxton

The abolitionist, Sir Thomas Buxton, had urged his fellow parliamentarians to pay reparations to emancipated Africans. But, as Beckles notes, “[T]he British Parliament, densely populated with slaveholders and other beneficiaries of slave investments, did not take Buxton’s suggestion seriously”.   Eventually, the British government decided to pay reparations to slave owners on behalf of the enslaved. But no reparations were to be paid to the primary victims of this demonic crime against humanity.

It’s bad enough that some British MPs still don’t take reparations seriously. But why do most of us, the descendants of enslaved Africans, act as if the idea of reparations is a big joke? Is it because we believe the lie that slavery was good for us, taking us from ‘savagery’ to ‘civilisation’? Have we not read Walter Rodney’s brilliant book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa?

AFRICAN RENAISSANCE

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa. A primary mission of the organisation was to end colonial rule on the African continent. On May 26, 2001, the OAU was rebranded as the African Union (AU). May 25 has come to be known as African Liberation Day. It is an occasion to reflect on the protracted struggle of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to reclaim the right to determine our own destiny.

PrintThe theme for the 50th anniversary celebrations is ‘Panfricanism & African Renaissance’. If we are serious about the rebirth of the continent, reparations must be put on the agenda of the AU. And if we are to escape recolonisation by the International Monetary Fund, reparations must be put on the CARICOM agenda.

Reparations is the urgent message Professor Beckles took to Ethiopia last week, where he addressed a conference that was convened ahead of the 21st African Union Summit. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is there. I hope she knows she must speak out on behalf of Rastafari and all those heroic Jamaicans like Paul Bogle and Sam Sharpe who have long been fighting for reparative justice.

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Every Hoe Have Dem Stick A Bush

hoeThere are two spelling systems 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 linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been slightly amended 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

soulmateA so old-time people seh. An a no so-so farm work dem dida talk bout. A man an woman business. Everybody have fi dem owna match. Hoe an stick wi find dem one anodder.

But tings an times change. Inna dis ya time, an a long time now, a no ongle hoe a look fi dem stick; an stick a look fi dem hoe. Stick a look fi stick; an hoe a look fi hoe. An some stick an hoe a look fi stick, hoe, front-end loader, backhoe, all kind a farm tool fi do di work, wid hand an machine!

images-2A no no problem fi me if di stick an di hoe dem join up ascorden to fi dem preference. Mi no business. A fi dem business. Di big problem a when di stick an di hoe hitch on pon one anodder an dem no match.  Last week Sunday, mi get one distressful email from one woman. Mek mi call her Precious. She did have one boyfriend fi 14 year. An she come fi find out seh im dida stick on pon one next man. She never know seh fi im stick never waahn no hoe.

Mi feel it fi her. Precious seh when she read di column, ”Straight’ Wives At Risk’, a di first time she bawl since April 10 when she mek up her mind fi lef di man. She seh, “I cried because you put into words what it feels like to know in the gut that he is on the down-low, but his logic, rhyme and reason play down every instinctive intuition I had.”

images-3Pon top a dat, even though Precious did suspect di man, she never decide her mind fi go do no HIV test. She fraid. She never waahn know seh she ketch anything from im. Yu see, dat a one a di big problem wid di low-down down-low man dem. If yu no careful, dem wi carry yu down wid dem. Yu gone under cover an yu fraid fi deal wid reality.

Anyhow, mi tell Precious fi bawl. Dat wi help wash off her heart. But so-so bawling not enough. Mi warn her seh she ha fi go do HIV test. An a no it one. A nuff more: herpes (1 & 2), hepatitis (B & C), gonorrhoea an syphilis. If yu tink bout all a di disease dem yu can ketch from sex – straight or bend up, wid or widout condom – yu mighta no bodder at all, at all.

REV Clinton ChisholmPing Pong

Rev. Clinton Chisholm

Then, mi put Precious in touch wid Debbie Thomas-Brown from the South Florida Connects support group. Ongle to discover, Precious did done find di website. She dida look fi help. By di way, mi hope some a unu did hear Debbie pon Rev Clinton Chisholm ‘Morning Watch’ radio programme pon Love FM Thursday gone. She good can’t done. An she a come on back 7 c’clock tomorrow morning.  Mi a encourage Debbie fi come a Jamaica fi gi one workshop fi straight spouse. Mi a go help her look sponsor. If any a oonu have any contact, oonu can email me.

Later down inna di week, mi get one lovely email from Precious. She go down a Comprehensive Health Centre pon Slipe Road an do di HIV test. God be praised, it negative. An she a go back go do di rest a di test dem. Mi a hope an pray di whole a dem come out negative.

An mi a wonder bout all a di odder Precious dem out deh, weh know from di bottom a yu heart seh yu man naa play straight. Yu fi follow backa Precious an lef di man pon di down-low. An lift up back yuself. Ongle yu can free yuself from mental slavery.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

A so uol-taim piipl se. An a no suo-so faam wok dem dida taak bout. A man an uman bizniz. Evribadi av fi dem uona mach. Uo an stik wi fain dem wan anada.

images-1Bot tingz an taimz chienj. Ina dis ya taim, an a lang taim nou, a no ongl uo a luk fi dem stik; an stik a luk fi dem uo. Stik a luk fi stik; an uo a luk fi uo. An som stik an uo a luk fi stik, uo, front-en luoda, bakuo, aal kain a faam tuul fi du di wok, wid an ahn mashiin!

A no no prablem fi mi if di stik an di uo dem jain op azkaadn tu fi dem prefrans. Mi no bizniz. A fi dem bizniz. Di big prablem a wen di stik an di uo ich aan pan wan anada an dem no mach. Laas wiik Sonde, mi get wan dischresful iimiel fram wan uman. Mek mi kaal ar Precious. Shi did av wan bwaifren fi fuortiin ier. An shi kom fi fain out se im dida stik aan pan wan neks man. Shi neva nuo se fi im stik neva waahn no uo.

Mi fiil it fi ar. Precious se wen shi riid di kalom, ‘Straight’ Wives At Risk’, a di fos taim shi baal sins Iepril 10 wen shi mek op ar main fi lef di man. Shi se, “I cried because you put into words what it feels like to know in the gut that he is on the down-low, but his logic, rhyme and reason play down every instinctive intuition I had.”

Intuition-Two-26408605_S-570x570Pan tap a dat, iivn duo Precious did sospek di man, shi neva disaid ar main fi go du no HIV tes. Shi fried. Shi neva waahn nuo se shi kech enting fram im. Yu si, dat a wan a di big prablem wid di luo-dong, dong-luo man dem. If yu no kierful, dem wi kyari yu dong wid dem. Yu gaan aanda kova an yu fried fi diil wid riiyaliti.

Eniou, mi tel Precious fi baal. Dat wi elp wash aaf ar aat. Bot suo-so baalin nat enof. Mi waan ar se shi ha fi go du HIV tes. An a no it wan. A nof more: erpiiz (1 & 2), epataitis (B & C), gonariiya an sifilis. If yu tingk bout aal a di diziiz dem yu kyan kech fram seks – schriet ar ben op, wid ar widout kandom – yu maita no bada at aal, at aal.

Den, mi put Precious in toch wid Debbie Thomas-Brown fram di South Florida Connects sopuort gruup. Ongl tu diskova, Precious did don fain di websait. She dida luk fi elp. Bai di wie, mi uop som a unu did ier Debbie pan Rev Clinton Chisholm ‘Morning Watch’ riedyo pruogram pan Love FM Torzde gaan. Shi gud kyaahn don. An shi a kom aan bak 7 aklak tumara maanin. Mi a enkorij Debbie fi kom a Jamieka fi gi wan wokshap fi schriet spous. Mi a go elp ar luk spansa. If eni a unu av eni kantak, unu kyahn iimiel mi.

images-4Lieta dong ina di wiik, mi get wan lovli iimiel fram Precious. Shi go dong a Comprehensive Health Centre pan Slipe Road an du di HIV tes. Gad bi priez, it negitiv. An shi a go bak go du di res a di tes dem. Mi a uop an prie di uol a dem kom out negitiv. An mi a wanda bout aal a di ada Precious dem out de, we nuo fram di batam a yu aat se yu man naa plie schriet. Yu fi fala baka Precious an lef di man pan di dong-luo. An lif op bak yuself. Ongl yu kyahn frii yuself fram mental slievri.

ENGLISH

SOULMATE-HeartThat’s what the old folks said.    And they weren’t talking about just farming.  It was sex as well.  Everybody has a soul mate. Hoes and sticks will find their fit. But things and times do change.  These days, and it’s quite some time now, it’s not only hoes that are looking for their sticks; and sticks looking for their hoes.  Sticks are looking for sticks; and hoes are looking for hoes.  And some sticks and hoes are looking for sticks, hoes, front-end loaders, backhoes, all kinds of farm tools for manual and mechanical work!

It’s not a problem for me if sticks and hoes connect however they choose.  That’s not my business.  It’s theirs.  The big problem is if the sticks and hoes get stuck and they’re not compatible.  Last Sunday, I got a distressing email from a woman.  Let’s call her Precious.  She’s had a boyfriend for all of fourteen years.  And she’s just discovered that he’s gay. She didn’t know he wasn’t into women.

I felt her pain.  Precious said when she read the column, “‘Straight’ Wives At Risk”, it was the first time she cried since April 10 when she made up her mind to leave the man.  She said, “I cried because you put into words what it feels like to know in the gut that he is on the down-low, but his logic, rhyme and reason play down every instinctive intuition I had”.

gettestedAnd even though Precious did have her suspicions about the man, she couldn’t bring herself to do an HIV test.  She was scared. She didn’t want to know if she’d been infected by her partner.   That’s one of the big problems with low-down, down-low men.  If you’re not careful, they will carry you down with them. You go under cover and you’re afraid to deal with reality.

Anyhow, I told Precious she should cry.  It’s therapeutic.  But crying isn’t enough.  I advised her to get tested.  And not just the HIV test.  There are many more: herpes (1 & 2), hepatitis (B & C), gonorrhea and syphillis.  If you were to think about all the sexual diseases you can contract – doing it straight or bent, with or without a condom – you probably wouldn’t bother at all.

Then, I put Precious in touch with Debbie Thomas-Brown from the South Florida Connects support group.  Believe it or not, Precious had already found the website.  She’d been looking for help.  By the way, I hope some of you caught Debbie on Rev. Clinton Chisholm’s “Morning Watch” radio programme on Love FM last Thursday.  She was excellent.  And she’ll be coming on again at 7 o’clock tomorrow morning.  I’m encouraging Debbie to come to Jamaica to do a workshop for straight spouses.  I’m going to help her find sponsorship.  If any of you have contacts, you can email me.

41K750RkBBL._SL500_AA280_Later in the week, I got a lovely email from Precious.  She went to the Comprehensive Health Centre on Slipe Rd. and did the HIV test.  God be praised, it was negative.  And she’s going back to do all of the other tests. I’m hoping and praying they’ll all be negative.  And I keep wondering about all of the other women who know in your heart of hearts that your man isn’t playing it straight.  You should follow Precious’ example and leave the man on the down-low.  And lift yourself back up.  Only you can free yourself from mental slavery.

‘Straight’ Spouses At Risk

images-1No matter how hard I try to filter out spam, I end up getting all sorts of unwanted email messages: fraudulent appeals from friends supposedly stranded abroad who need large sums of money to help them come home; sales pitches from China offering goods and services I don’t need; notices that I’ve won huge sums of money in lotteries for which I don’t even have a ticket. You know the usual thing.

The most interesting bit of unsolicited mail I got last week was from South Florida Connects, Inc. Its tag line is ‘No Straight Spouse Left Behind: Straight Spouse Awareness’. The language is old-fashioned, but the issues are current. The website reveals that “You are a straight spouse if you are a heterosexual individual married to or dating someone who is secretly gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered.”

images-2I immediately wondered how you would know that your allegedly heterosexual partner is not what he or she appears to be if his/her double life really is a secret. That’s the trouble with being an English teacher. You constantly pay attention to the meaning of words. All the same, I suppose secrets have a way of slipping out, especially if the spouse in hiding secretly wishes to come clean.

The website offers the assurance that “[i]t is better to be hurt by the truth than to be comforted with a dangerous lie”. Then again, proverbial wisdom advises that “where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise”. Anyhow, I called the number on the website (954-815-6563) and left a voicemail message.

Ian Boyne

Ian Boyne

PAINFUL RELIGIOUS HARD TALK

The night before I got the ‘straight spouse’ email, I watched ‘Religious Hardtalk’, hosted by Ian Boyne. It was painful. I saw my friend Annie Kitchin valiantly trying to engage in intelligent conversation with the Rev Clinton Chisholm. She had a hard time. Rev Chisholm defines himself as a “Christian apologist”. This is not the same as an apology for a Christian. Annie declared herself to be an atheist.

The problem with being an apologist for any cause is that you often end up appearing irrational. Even if, as in the case of Rev Chisholm, your cause is proving the rationality of Christianity! An apologist takes a position and refuses to budge. On the subject of homosexuality and the Bible, the good reverend seemed unwilling to concede that the laws of Leviticus which sentence to death perpetrators of “unnatural” acts are unconscionably outdated. Well, that’s how it sounded to me.

images-4Annie was on form, completely dismissive of the backward view that all Old Testament laws have validity in modern times. She systematically demolished Rev Chisholm’s arguments. But, of course, he may not agree. In any case, it is precisely this hanging on to irrelevant biblical codes of conduct that makes us so unwillingly to accept the fact that the human rights of all homosexuals in Jamaica ought to be protected under the law. Not only those whose class privilege usually gives them immunity.

And just as the rights of lesbians, all-sexuals and gays need to be protected, so too ‘straight’ people should be protected from the guile of deceitful spouses. We need a ‘straight spouse’ support group in Jamaica. It’s the flip side of J-FLAG. I searched the Internet to see if we already had a support group here. I ended up right where I started: on the South Florida Connects, Inc website.

NO SEX ON HONEYMOON

Debbie Thomas-Brown

Debbie Thomas-Brown

Debbie Thomas-Brown, a Jamaican nurse and former schoolteacher, founded the association based on her own experience and the fact that her research showed there was no support for immigrant straight spouses like her. Right off the bat, she said the fundamental problem is that Jamaica makes being gay a crime. Our society does not allow gay people to be their authentic selves. So many pretend to be heterosexual for an easy life.

Their spouses pay the price, especially innocent young women raised in Christian homes who have little sexual experience and no point of comparison to measure their spouse’s performance – or lack of it. Debbie told me about a young couple who had no sex on their honeymoon. The husband had absolutely no interest. Then the wife caught him with a huge erection, pleasuring himself with the help of gay porn. You can just imagine how she felt.

images-8Deprived of sex, neglected wives start to believe that something is wrong with them. Their husbands tell them they are too thin or too fat. They are just not sexy. In some instances, their husbands have sex (with them) only once a year. Debbie argues that gay men tend to marry women with low self-esteem, who often have anxieties about their attractiveness.

Another target group is women in service-oriented professions who have been trained to keep secrets: nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers, lawyers and police. They are not likely to ‘out’ their partners. And if the women do confront their husbands in private, even with very good evidence, the men usually accuse their wives of being ‘crazy’. And the women start to doubt themselves because that’s the last thing they really want to believe.

images-9I learnt that there’s a Grindr app designed for gay men that facilitates quick hook-ups. It’s available all over the world. Say you’re in the National Stadium at a football match and you send out a message that you want a ‘Canadian’. In the jargon, that’s an uncircumcised penis. In two twos, the app will locate several willing members nearby. It’s as easy as that.

Debbie said she would love to be a guest on ‘Religious Hardtalk’. She has a particular burden for Christian women who get caught in relationships with men on the down-low. And it’s not only women who are conned. Heterosexual men also end up marrying lesbians in the church. Finding a ‘good’ man or woman in the house of the Lord is not as straightforward as we once thought it was. Over to you, Pastor Boyne!

Do All Household Helpers Steal?

417656_251659581637258_1041631005_nLast Sunday, the third annual ‘Dis Poem Word Festival’ was staged in Hope Bay, Portland. It was a beautiful setting by the sea. Conceived by Ras Takura, an enterprising poet, the festival was held in honour of the ‘Iancient’, Mutabaruku – poet, political philosopher and talk-show host on both radio and television. In the mystic ‘I and I’ language of Rastafari, ‘Iancient’ means ‘elder’.

Now Muta is two years younger than me. I don’t know about him, but I am certainly not ancient. Although I have to admit that I was once asked by a very imperceptive woman if Muta was my son. She clearly needed glasses. It sweet Muta when mi tell im. Im laugh so till! An im seh im know it must burn mi. All mi could do was laugh.

images-3Anyhow, I was quite happy to accept Ras Takura’s invitation to read at the festival in honour of the ancient. I’m not a poet. But since it was a ‘word’ festival, I figured I was free to interpret ‘poem’ rather loosely. I decided to tell a story I’d written two decades ago, which I’d dusted off for the ‘Kingston Pon Di River’ festival last year. Incidentally, the river winds its way to Hope Gardens on June 30.

417844_10201239447410234_62773901_nMuta likes to throw words at brand-name poets who keep performing the same works over and over. I figured I could get away with it as an amateur. In any case, this was a new audience. My story, “Live-een Helper”, is told from the point of view of both the helper and her employer. It raises the twin problem of theft and trust. It’s a big chance of trust you take bringing strangers into your home, even when they come with superlative recommendations. These are often quite fictitious.

CLASSIC JINNALSHIP

100dollarbillI once had a helper, Gloria, who helped herself to a US$100 bill and replaced it with a one-dollar bill which looked like it had suffered a very long minibus ride through Kingston at rush hour. It was all crushed up, bearing no resemblance to the rest of the notes in the envelope. When I confronted Gloria, she insisted that she had not made the switch.

She then asked me, “How much money yu did have?” Now this question is a classic piece of jinnalship designed to shift attention from the real matter at hand and to create doubt in the mind of the victim. Pure strategy! If you’re not sure how much money you had, how could you be so sure you’d been robbed? Fortunately for me, I had my bank receipt, which I promptly flourished. Gloria was not impressed. She insisted on her innocence.

CallingTheBluffWebBut nobody else had come in the house since I’d brought the money home the day before. I decided to call Gloria’s bluff. I called the police. In a most amusing turn of events, one of the officers who interviewed her offered to give me a US$100 bill that he just happened to have on him if I would agree not to press charges. He must have thought I was born yesterday! But I really couldn’t let them arrest Gloria for a hundred US dollars even though 20 years ago that was a fair bit of money.

lightfingers_smallI commended the officer on his generosity, telling him I hadn’t realised there were men of such compassion in the force who would sacrifice their own money to help out a poor young woman who found herself in a difficult situation. All he was asking in return was that Gloria come to the station for counselling. Miss Gloria had a very ‘healthy’ body, even though her fingers were rather light. I had no idea how the counselling would go, but it was none of my business. I had got back my money.

A RATHER DISTURBING STORY

images-4When one of my friends heard my story, she asked me how come I don’t know that all helpers steal, no matter how well you treat them. I protested. I may be naïve, but I refuse to believe that there are no honest helpers left in Jamaica. To prove her point, my cynical friend told me a rather disturbing story. She knew of a helper who had been working for two days a week at the handsome rate of $4,000 a day.

Things were going along quite well until her employer started to get the uneasy feeling that money was disappearing from her purse. But she really couldn’t believe that the helper was stealing from her. She figured she must be just forgetting exactly how much money she had. One morning, she decided to count the money in her purse, which she then placed in her handbag. Sure enough, at the end of the day, a thousand-dollar bill was missing.

images-6Her helper vigorously denied that she had stolen the money. The brazen question she asked in her defence was, “Why I would take only $1,000?” Pretending not to understand either multiplication or addition, not to mention subtraction, the helper seemed to claiming that such a small sum was beneath her dignity. If she was going to steal, she would steal big. But if, over the course of a year, she stole only $1,000 each time she came to work, that would amount to more than $100,000! One-one coco full basket; one-one thousand dollar empty purse.

images-7And, I suppose, the helper’s justification of her systematic stealing would probably be that if her employer didn’t miss the money, she really didn’t need it. It could be put to much better use. My friend told me that when the helper realised she was going to be fired, she had the nerve to announce that she needed the job. But, of course! If you are well paid and can also get away with theft, you have a very good job indeed! Sounds a lot like politics.