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.

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Extortion At Papine Market

Market20130704NGIT’S SO much easier these days to get in and out of Papine Market. Traffic congestion has been significantly reduced. Taxi drivers have been forced to line up instead of sprawling all across the road waiting for passengers. I’ve taken it upon myself to reason with those few delinquent drivers who refuse to play by the rules and stay in line. 

I got an unexpected response when I asked one of them why he was “mashing up” the programme. He said he was a victim of extortion and was protesting. Yeah, right.  But, as it turns out, Mr Outa Order does have a point. The new orderly system is designed to encourage passengers to simply take the first taxi in the line. This innovation has made loaders redundant. Refusing to accept the fact that things have changed for the better (or worse), loaders are still demanding money from drivers to fill taxis. They insist on business as usual. After all, loaders make a living out of chaos.

extortionIt is only in societies like ours that ‘loader’ is a proper job. In fragile economies, disadvantaged people have to come up with creative solutions to the depressing problem of regular unemployment. “We know how fi tek wi hand turn fashion”. We learn how to make do and make work. With grand, sweeping gestures and lots of sound effects, skilled loaders entice hesitant passengers into taxis. I suppose loading is a lot like the ancient art of herding sheep.

One loader stubbornly told me, ‘A long time now mi a do dis ya work right ya so a Papine an mi don’t plan fi stop now’. This redundant ‘public sector’ loader belongs to no union. He cannot go to Mama P to ask for severance pay. Having invested years in perfecting his craft, he is not prepared to retool. Robbed of the work he knows best, he may be tempted to take up a deadly tool. Unemployment often does lead to crime, as we know all too well.

UNCONSCIONABLE EMPLOYERS

timeoffWhen I told the loader I was going to write about the issue, he asked me not to. He didn’t want any trouble. I promised him I wouldn’t reveal his identity and I would give him a preview of the article so he could approve what I said about him. Unfortunately, when I went to Papine last Tuesday afternoon to look for him, he wasn’t at work. Loaders need time off too. And since they’re self-employed, they can regulate their hours. They’re not stuck with unconscionable employers.

Incidentally, since writing the column, ‘Email from a hellish resort’, published on July 7, I’ve got more complaints from frustrated hotel workers. One man used this headline for his letter: ‘Local hotel industry turning dreams into nightmares’. He was terminated, with immediate effect, from his job in management, after two and a half years, without even an exit interview or a proper explanation for why he was fired.

all_workers_should_have_the_right_to_unionize_sticker-r7092a29536e14df783035e10c01900f9_v9wf3_8byvr_324For the last 16 months, he and his industrial relations consultant have been trying to set up a meeting with his former employer through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. As he put it, “all we have been getting appears to be a run around from the MOL”. When I suggested to another aggrieved man that hotel workers need to unionise, he asked a serious question: who is going to take the initiative to set up unions?

Workers are fearful about losing their jobs and trade union leaders seem to be fearful about confronting hoteliers. One woman who escaped the industry described it as “modern-day slavery”. If this is so, it is the employees who will have to emancipate themselves. “Backra massa” isn’t going to willingly allow trade unions to come into hotels unless workers fearlessly stand up for their rights.

“MI SHAME LIKE A DOG”

VoiceMailBack to Papine. I asked if anyone knew where the loader was and explained why I wanted to talk to him. A helpful woman telephoned him but got voicemail. A man who introduced himself as Chief Loader took the draft of the article. He was most offended when I asked if he could read: “Not because we a loader mek we can’t read”. I apologised profusely. “Mi shame like a dog”.

Chief Loader began to read the draft out loud to prove his point. But, to be honest, “im buck”. So I finished reading it for him. He said what I wrote was alright. I warned him: “No bodder tell me seh it alright an when it come out inna Gleaner unu blood me”. He reassured me that it was OK.

All the same, I took the number of the loader I had the agreement with and tried to call him. I got voicemail and left a message. I did get a call-back. But it was a woman saying rather suspiciously, “Is a uman answer”. I thought it prudent not to speak. “Next ting, my man ha fi go gi explanation bout why uman a call im. An is den im inna trouble”.

UNIVERSITY TOWN

Andre Hylton, member of parliament for Eastern St. Andrew, has a big vision to turn Papine into a university town. And expansion and rehabilitation of the market are part of the plan. How will the proposed development affect existing businesses? And who will benefit from the transformation of Papine? Presumably, things will get better for everybody who does business in Papine.

But, as the case of the redundant loaders proves, some players lose when development takes place. The challenge is to ensure that all stakeholders have a chance to take part in the ‘development’ process. But politicians rarely consult the people who will be most affected by the grand schemes they come up with.

logoAugust Town is a genuine university town. Many residents are employed by the University of the West Indies.   And the University has invested in the community, as in the recent Greater August Town film festival. Papine is a thoroughfare. If Andre Hylton does it right, Papine can become a first-class destination.

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

46199millsboroughgayraidh2013070

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.