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.

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Big Tingz A Gwaan Pon NewsTalk93FM

images-2

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 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
UWI radio station a broadcast news big an broad inna ‘patwa’! Mi rather call fi wi language ‘Jamaican’. Same like how di English people dem talk English, a same so wi talk Jamaican. Mind yu, wi talk English, too. Dem force it on pon wi. An wi tek it fix-fix it up fi suit wi.

Dem old-time African weh di English people dem tek weh an bring ya, dem mix up di English language wid fi dem owna African language dem. An a so dem mek up one next language: Jamaican. An dem pass it down from generation to generation. It a wi heart language. A it wi talk wen trouble tek wi. An wen sinting sweet wi.

HEARD-EVERYWHERE-550x250A disya month NewsTalk93FM start broadcast news inna Jamaican. Monday to Friday inna di afternoon, 12:15 an 5:20. It a gwaan good-good. Nuff smaddy a listen an dem love it kyaahn done. An a no joke sinting. A real-real news. Serious ting.

A di Jamaican Language Unit a UWI response fi di news inna Jamaican. Professor Hubert Devonish a di head a di unit. Im study language an im write book bout it. A some a im student dem a work pon di news: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson an Rexandrew Wright.

One a di big problem dem have fi write news inna Jamaican a fi find di rightful word fi di English. Tek for instance, ‘flexitime’. How yu a go seh dat inna Jamaican? ‘Work fi suit di boss?’ Same like how English capture nuff word from Latin an Greek, dem can dis tek over di word dem from English!

DI WAT LEF

Mi tink it plenty better fi try find sinting inna Jamaican fi carry over weh yu waan fi seh from English. Long time now, mi did change over one a di Budget speech from English to Jamaican. Mi seh six out a 10 dollar a fi pay back money weh govament owe. An education get di biggest cut a di ‘wat lef’.

images-1Wen mi go a JIS fi record di programme, dem never like ‘wat lef’. Dem seh mi nah gi di news straight. A talk mi a talk mi mind. Mi a call down judgement pon govament. Dem rather mi seh ‘balance’. But ‘wat lef’ an ‘balance’ boil down same way. Nutten much no lef fi run di country!

Di Jamaican Language Unit have one next programme pon NewsTalk93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. An dem aks Tyane Robinson an mi fi run di show. Inna Jamaican. Wi talk wi mind bout news. An wi bring on guest. Wi do three programme already. It come on Thursday afternoon, 4:30.

Mek mi gi oonu lickle joke. Some a di uptown guest dem can’t chat Jamaican pon radio! A dem yard language. It kyaahn broadcast. Wat a sinting! Marcus Garvey done tell wi: A wi ha fi free wiself from mental slavery. Nobody kyaahn dweet fi wi. Wi head an wi heart ha fi start talk di said same language.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

UWI riedyo stieshan a braadkyaas nyuuz big an braad iina ‘patwa’! Mi raada kaal fi wi langwij ‘Jamiekan’. Siem laik ou di Inglish piipl dem taak Inglish, a siem so wi taak Jamiekan. Main yu, wi taak Inglish tu. Dem fuors it aan pan wi. An wi tek it fiks-fiks it op fi suut wi.

Unknown-1Dem uol-taim Afrikan we di Inglish piipl dem tek we an bring ya, dem miks op di Inglish langwij wid fi dem uona Afrikan langwij dem. An a so dem mek op wan neks langwij: Jamiekan. An dem paas it dong fram jinarieshan tu jinarieshan. It a wi aat langwij. A it wi taak wen chrobl tek wi. An wen sinting swiit wi.

A disya mont NyuuzTaak93FM staat braadkyaas nyuuz iina Jamiekan. Monde tu Fraide iina di aaftanuun, 12:15 an 5:20. It a gwaan gud-gud. Nof smadi a lisn an dem lov it kyaahn don. An a no juok sinting. A riil-riil nyuuz. Siiryos ting.

A di Jamiekan Langwij Yuunit a UWI rispans fi di nyuuz iina Jamiekan. Profesa Hubert Devonish a di Ed a di Yuunit. Im stodi langwij an im rait buk bout it. A som a im stuuydent dem a wok pan di nyuuz: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson an Rexandrew Wright.

Wan a di big prablem dem av fi rait nyuuz iina Jamiekan a fi fain di raitful wod fi di Inglish. Tek far instans, ‘flexitime’. Ou yu a go se dat iina Jamiekan? ‘Wok fi suut di baas?’ Siem laik ou Inglish kyapcha nof wod fram Latin an Griik, dem kyan dis tek uova di wod dem fram Inglish!

DI WAT LEF

Mi tink it plenti beta fi chrai fain sinting ina Jamiekan fi kyari uova we yu waan fi se fram Inglish. Lang taim nou, mi did chienj uova wan a di Bojit Spiich fram Inglish tu Jamiekan. Mi se siks out a ten dala a fi pie bak moni we govament uo. An edikieshan get di bigis kot a di ‘wat lef’.

Wen mi go a JIS fi rikaad di pruogram, dem neva laik ‘wat lef’. Dem se mi naa gi di nyuuz striet. A taak mi a taak mi main. Mi a kaal dong jojment pan govament. Dem raada mi se ‘balance’. Bot ‘wat lef’ an ‘balance’ bwail dong siem wie. Notn moch no lef fi ron di konchri!

Di Jamiekan Langgwij Yuunit av wan neks pruogram pan NyuuzTaak93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. An dem aks Tyane Robinson an mi fi ron di shuo. Iina Jamiekan. Wi taak wi main bout nyuuz. An wi bring aan ges. Wi du chrii pruogram aredi. It kom aan Torsde aaftanuun, 4:30.

Mek mi gi unu likl juok. Som a di optoun ges dem kyaahn chat Jamiekan pan riedyo! A dem yaad langwij. It kyaahn braadkyaas. Wat a sinting! Marcus Garvey don tel wi: A wi ha fi frii wiself fram mental slievri. Nobadi kyaahn dwiit fi wi. Wi ed an wi aat a fi staat taak di sed siem langwij.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION
The UWI radio station is boldly broadcasting news in ‘patwa’! I prefer ‘Jamaican’ as the name of our language. Just as the English speak English, we speak Jamaican. Mind you, we speak English, too. They forced it down our throat. An we took it and adapted it to suit our tongue.

Our African ancestors, who were taken away by the English and  brought here,  cut and mixed the English language with their own African languages. And that’s how they created a brand new language: Jamaican. And they passed it down from generation to generation. It’s our heart language. That’s what we use when we’re in trouble.  And when we’re happy.

NewsTalk93FM started broadcast news in Jamaican this month. Monday to Friday in the afternoon at 12:15 and 5:20. It’s a huge success.  Lots of people are listening and they’re really enjoying it.  And it’s not a joke. It’s proper news. For real.

images-3It’s the Jamaican Language Unit at UWI that responsible for producing the news in Jamaican. Professor Hubert Devonish is the head of the unit. He’s a linguist who had written books on the subject.  It’s some of his students who are work on the news programme: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson and Rexandrew Wright.

One the big problems they have with writing news in Jamaican is finding the exact translation for the English words. For instance, ‘flexitime’. What’s the Jamaican equivalent? ‘Work fi suit di boss?’ I suppose the translators could simply take over English words in exactly the same way that the English language captured lots of words from Latin an Greek!

DI WAT LEF

I think it’s much better to try to find a Jamaican equivalent for the English expression. Quite some time ago, I translated one of the Budget speeches from English to Jamaican. I said that 60% of the budget is for debt repayment.  And education gets the highest percentage of the ‘wat lef’.

When I went to JIS to record di programme, they didn’t like ‘wat lef’. They said I was editorialising. I was giving my own opinion.  And I was passing judgement on the Government. They preferred me to say ‘balance’. But ‘wat lef’ and ‘balance’ boil down to the same thing. Nothing much is left to run the country!

53-Ways-to-Market-Your-Google-Plus-Hangout-on-AirThe Jamaican Language Unit has another programme on NewsTalk93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. And they asked Tyane Robinson and me to host the show. In Jamaican. We speak our mind about the news. And we have guests on the show. We’ve done three programmes already. It comes on Thursday afternoon at 4:30.

Let me give you a little joke. Some of the uptown guests can’t speak in Jamaican on radio!  It’s their yard language. It can’t go out on air. What a thing! Marcus Garvey has warned us:  We have to free ourselves from mental slavery. Nobody can do it for us.  Our head and our heart must start talking the same language.

One Of The Two Gleaners!

Unknown“I saw it in one of the two Gleaners.” That’s what a friend of mine said a couple of weeks ago when I asked her where she’d heard about a news item we were discussing. And she didn’t mean online and print. We both had a good laugh. We couldn’t believe that in the 21st century, Gleaner was still the generic name for a newspaper. And it’s not just in Jamaica. Even in the diaspora, readers of a certain age think of British, Canadian or American newspapers as Gleaners.

Unknown-1The Gleaner Company must be quite pleased with the enduring appeal of its brand name. For almost two centuries! As Shabba Ranks would say, “Dem a brandish.” On the other hand, I don’t suppose the owner of that much younger newspaper would be amused to see that it is branded as one of two Gleaners – especially after 21 years in business. If it’s any consolation, having two ‘Gleaners’ is a good thing. It gives the consumer choice. Monopolies have a way of becoming very arrogant.

I used to write a column for ‘the other Gleaner’ in the 1990s. When I read some of those articles now, I’m amazed at how little things have changed over the last two decades. We keep on having the same quarrels about language and colour and class and beauty contests, for example.

TO DI WORLD

An earlier version of last week’s column, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall’, was published in 1993. And I proposed then that we start to judge beauty in distinct racial categories. My positively race-conscious Miss Jamaica competition – both World and Universe – could work in one of two ways.

winnerEach year, contestants all of the same racial type could compete against each other: one year only African; the following year only ‘Out of Many One’. And so on: European, Chinese and Indian. Every type of beauty in turn! Equal opportunity. Affirmative action.

Or, each year, we could have contestants of all the racial types competing in segregated contests. Each contestant would be judged in the usual categories, according to the standards of her own racial type. Not someone else’s. The contestant who got the highest individual score, whatever her racial category, would be the overall winner.

This second option might be harder to manage. There would still be a sense of competition between racial categories. But just think of all the money the promoters could make running five beauty contests each year instead of just one! And it wouldn’t matter if the judges of international contests couldn’t see the beauty in our Miss Jamaica. We’d be confidently sending a message ‘to di world’ that we acknowledge the beauty of all of our women: ‘red and yellow, black and white’.

BLACK DON’T CRACK

imagesThe following year, as the annual quarrel about beauty contests heated up, I wrote another piece about sidelined royalty: farm and festival queens. These competitions are not even billed as beauty contests. It’s ‘talent’ that seems to count.

One of my male friends sent me a wicked response to last week’s column: “Next time I see a good-looking, dark-skinned woman, I will, as seems to be required by the current code, have to compliment her for her intelligence and talent, the favourable characteristics which women of her look are stereotypically assigned.”

Brains do last longer than beauty. And, in any case, since ‘black don’t crack’, as the African-Americans say, the intelligent and talented black woman often ends up looking much better than many a ‘beauty’ in the long run!

QUEEN OF QUEENS

Heritage Month will soon be here. We continue to celebrate Queen Nanny of the Maroons as an alternative model of queenship. Beyond the beauty contest business! In 1994, The University of the West Indies Press published Maroon Heritage, edited by the archaeologist Kofi Agorsah, who excavated many sites in Jamaica.

tumblr_mc3vppCtpZ1rdpg2so1_1280In that collection, there’s a brilliant essay by historian and poet Kamau Brathwaite in which he creatively makes sense of the myth that Nanny used her bottom to deflect the bullets of British soldiers: “There is no way that Nanny could have turned her back & done what they say she did. But she could have turned her back, lifted her skirt, & displayed the derriere as a symbol of derision & abuse which is a very common feature of ‘the culture’, as you know.”

Well, all I could think of when I read that lovely bit of mythmaking by Brathwaite was the image of Nanny in a batty-rider. I know some people will be absolutely offended by this imaginative ‘disrespecting’ of Nanny’s queenly image. But, let’s face it. The bottom is a very political surface in our culture. Sexual politics.

Which brings us to Miss Jamaica Dancehall. The potent female bottom in dancehall culture is surely related to the myth that Nanny used her bottom to ward off the bullets of British soldiers. In any case, in many African cultures, female elders will threaten to denude themselves as a way of bringing delinquent males in line.

So Queen Nanny can be seen in a new light: the sexy warrior queen. Perhaps, she’s an unexpected role model for today’s dancehall queens. A royal exposure of the female body! And you can say you saw it in the original Gleaner.

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.