On Guard Against Lagarde

img_53b00b821b2cdLast month, as I listened to Christine Lagarde lecture at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, I felt a rush of old-fashioned feminist pride. Here was a woman who had made it to the top of a decidedly patriarchal institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And that wasn’t all.

Forbes magazine ranks Lagarde as the fifth most powerful woman in the world! I wondered how much clawing and scratching, or worse, she’d had to do. Or if men yielded gracefully once they recognised her commanding abilities.

novelettegrant_1Unfortunately, in some quarters, it’s still news that women are capable of leadership at the very highest levels of both public- and private-sector organisations. Like the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). I certainly hope Assistant Commissioner Novelette Grant is on the list of possible replacements for Owen Ellington, who has retired so precipitously. It’s as if he just fell over a precipice.

ACP Grant has paid her dues and she’s ready for the top job. She can definitely do far more than just assist. She can take charge. That loaded word, ‘charge’, is of French origin, meaning ‘burden’. Women can assume the responsibilities of leadership if they are given the opportunity. But the JCF is, unquestionably, a male-dominated institution.

CLOSING GENDER GAP

UnknownIn 1999, the University of the West Indies Press published a book by Sergeant Gladys Brown-Campbell titled Patriarchy in the Jamaica Constabulary Force: Its Impact on Gender Equality. She’s the first policewoman to earn a law degree, building on the foundation of her bachelor’s degree in English. I had the pleasure of teaching her at UWI and I’m quite proud of her accomplishments.

In the ‘Introduction’ to the book, Brown-Campbell outlines her objectives: “To investigate the extent to which patriarchy informs women’s opportunities for career advancement and to discover the extent to which biology influences notions of (in)equality in the organisation.” She comes to an unsurprising conclusion: Men discriminate against women in the JCF. And, even worse, women often sell themselves short. Not wanting to antagonise their male colleagues, they settle for less than they’re worth.

A decade and a half after the publication of that book, some progress must have been made in closing the gender gap in the police force. But is it enough? Are we ready for a female commissioner? And if not, why not? Why can’t a talawa Jamaican woman lead the JCF? Queen Nanny has long been a compelling model of female military might. It’s not enough that she’s a national hero. Her true legacy is the value we place on women’s abilities today in all spheres.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

imf-logoI have to admit that the hot flash of pride in Lagarde did cool down quite quickly. Because of the IMF. An apparently powerful woman who leads a patriarchal organisation like that can only do so much to transform the culture of gender inequality. And we can’t assume that such a woman actually wants things to change. She can so easily get sucked into the politics of divide and rule. She can end up thinking she’s made it because she’s an ‘exceptional’ woman. But all women have the potential to be ‘exceptional’, given the right opportunities.

slavery_2849118bGender politics aside, what made me put my guard back up was Lagarde’s troubling message. After all, she’s the rather pleasant face of the heartless IMF. What we’re being told repeatedly is that one of the major planks of Jamaica’s economic recovery is devaluation of the dollar. I’m no economist. But as I understand it, here’s how the argument goes: A weak dollar will attract foreign investors who will make a killing. We’ll be so grateful for the jobs they bring, we’ll work for next to nothing. Been there and done that! So we’re not going back there if we can help it.

Furthermore, a weak dollar will make imported goods so expensive we’ll just have to do without them. We’ll be forced to produce more. But this is where it gets tricky. Production costs, such as imported energy, will continue to increase as the value of the dollar decreases. So businesses will collapse and jobs will disappear. And there will be less money in circulation. We’ll be right back to where we started. Pauperised.

imagesInstead of deliberately weakening the dollar and reducing the buying power of Jamaican consumers, we need to launch a public-education campaign to help us wisely spend the little money we do have. Why do we need so many foreign goods? And when are we going to start placing high value on our natural resources? In this stifling season of drought, we’ve all been feeling the power of the sun. Why have we taken so long to harness this free source of energy? Yes, the infrastructure is expensive, but it will quickly pay for itself.

images-1From the luxury of her job as managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde can tell us with great authority that more poverty is the route to economic security for us. We know better than that. Nutten no go so. Lagarde is the Fund’s guard. That’s what her name means. We had better watch over our lickle money.

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Twenty Years Of Reggae Day

Last Tuesday, July 1, was International Reggae Day. One of the highlights of the celebration was a huge video installation projected on to the exterior wall of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. From Emancipation Park, it was quite a sight. Reggae posters from across the world were displayed, demonstrating the magnetic power of Jamaican popular culture, especially our music.

5-taj-francis-jamaicaI overheard a woman complaining with typical arrogance: “Mi a see picture from all bout an mi naa see nothing from Jamaica.” Mi naa lie. As soon as she said it, Taj Francis’ brilliant poster of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Upsetter, appeared with a big flag of Jamaica beside it. Seet deh! My lady laughed contentedly.

The moral of this little story is that we’re often so nationalistic we just can’t appreciate the global impact of Jamaican culture. It’s quite ironic. The fact that so many of the reggae posters came from outside Jamaica should be a cause for pride, not complaint.

We don’t seem to realise just how far Jamaican popular music has spread. We take our creativity for granted and we rarely stop to think about why so many people from such diverse cultures are attracted to the music produced on this little rock. And it’s not just the beat and the lyrics that fascinate foreigners. It’s also the academic value of the music.

ROOTZ RADICALS

Just last Friday, I got a telephone call from Christian Moll, a graduate student specialising in English/American studies and music at the University of Regensburg in Germany. He was trying to find an external supervisor for his thesis on dancehall. Moll is also a reggae artiste who has been performing for over a decade. His band, Rootz Radicals, plays original music, both roots and dancehall.

http://rootzradicalzsound.wix.com/rootzradicals

Of course, I’m going to take on the project. It sweet mi so til! Twenty-five years ago, this month, I presented my first academic paper on dancehall at the annual conference of the UK-based Society for Caribbean Studies, ‘Slackness Hiding From Culture: DJ Rule’. I am indebted to DJ Josey Wales for the title. That pioneering work has inspired a younger generation of scholars, both local and international, to take dancehall culture seriously.

So we’ve given reggae music to the world. But sometimes we act as if reggae was stolen from us. We conveniently forget that the roots of reggae run deep into other black musical traditions. African-American R&B, fused with jazz and mento, produced ska – Jamaican jazz! Ska evolved into rocksteady, then reggae, and now dancehall. And we hear the riddims of religious revival music in dancehall.

Jamaican popular music is a ‘mix-up an blenda’ of musical traditions, both sacred and secular, that take us straight across to the continent of Africa. We don’t ‘own’ the music. Of course, this certainly does not mean that individual creators of song lyrics, melodies and riddims are not entitled to claim all the benefits of their intellectual property.

PROTECTING THE FUTURE

Unknown-1One of the tragedies of our music industry is that so many of the pioneering artists were cruelly exploited. Not by foreigners, but by unconscionable Jamaican producers who knew that for some never-see-come-see artistes, just hearing their tune on the radio was enough of a reward.

Leading up to International Reggae Day, there was an excellent conference held on June 30. One of the sessions focused on ‘Copyright Term Extension: Preserving the Past and Protecting the Future’. No matter how many of these conferences are convened, there are still so many players in the creative industries who do not know their rights.

Another session examined ‘Social Design: The Power of Art to Transform Space’. Like the exterior wall of the Pegasus hotel! Thanks to Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), art moved out of the gallery and into public space. Phase Three Productions, one of the sponsors of International Reggae Day, provided technical support for the video installation.

reggea-poster-map-1The 2012 IRPC attracted 1,142 entries from 80 countries. In 2013, there were 1,100 submissions from 78 countries. The 2014 contest was launched on International Reggae Day, and within hours entries came in from Slovenia, the UK, India, Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Japan, Venezuela and, of course, Jamaica – as that anxious woman in Emancipation Park will be pleased to hear.

Andrea Davis, founder of International Reggae Day, must be commended for her grand vision. Two decades ago, she recognised that the globalisation of reggae should be acknowledged and celebrated. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Sometimes, vision isn’t enough. You also need plenty backative.

I think it’s most unfortunate that six years ago when the bright idea of a Reggae Month came from out of the blue, somebody forgot that we already had a Reggae Day. It would have been so sensible to build on the foundation laid by Andrea.

134_imgaWe could easily have dubbed July Reggae Month. It would now fit so well into the Government’s plan for ’90 Days of Summer’. There’s Sumfest, which, like its predecessor Sunsplash, helps to fill empty hotel rooms in the slow summer season. But we always have to keep on starting from scratch. We forget that protecting the future also means remembering the past.