‘Leggo Beast’ Tamed At School

vauxhill2

On May 30, three male teachers at Vauxhall High School allegedly held down a schoolboy against his will and forcibly assaulted him. No, it was not sexual exploitation. But it was certainly a demeaning abuse of power. The adults violently cut the child’s hair while he kicked and screamed in protest.  Why did these authority figures feel entitled to act in this shameful way?

I suppose they had determined that the student was a ‘leggo beast’ and it was their duty to tame him. But it is their own behaviour that is beastly. No adult should ever turn a child into an animal by robbing him of his dignity. Especially over a hairstyle!

Vauxhall High School has a dress policy that includes strict rules about how boys’ hair must be groomed. I gather that hair must be the same length all over the head. So no funky hairstyles are allowed. In addition, hair can’t be more than two inches high.

How did the powers that be arrive at that arbitrary figure? Why would another inch of hair not be acceptable? This regulation seems to be a direct attack on black hair, which grows up and out, not straight down. Is the two-inch rule equally applied to all kinds of hair?

BORN TROUBLEMAKER

I haven’t had a chance to talk to the student who was attacked by the very people who should have been protecting him at school. I would have liked to ask him what his hairstyle meant to him. I’m not assuming he has a grand philosophical reason for wanting his hair to grow past the two-inch limit.

Perhaps, the student was just plain unruly. I was told that he’s a bleacher and wears tight pants. As if those are clear signs that he’s a born troublemaker! But why did this young man feel so passionately about his hairstyle that he had to break the rules? I guess he’s a stylist for whom image is important. Why shouldn’t he be able to express his sense of style at school?

creative_hands_edit-960x480Students whose creativity is highly developed are inclined to be unruly. They are also likely to become the filmmakers, musicians, fashion designers, hair stylists, entertainment lawyers, etc, of the future. They need special care, not abuse. I think all high schools should identify creative students who can be allowed some freedom of expression.

Dress codes, for example, could be flexibly applied to these students. It is pure folly to cling to the superstition that wearing a school uniform and following all the grooming rules will guarantee academic achievement. In fact, all students could be allowed to dress casually one day per month. It just might enhance creativity.

SCHOOLS FOR THE ARTS

We keep talking about the creative industries as an essential component of economic development. But we don’t seem to understand that we have to nurture creativity. School should not be an institution that forces all students to fit into the same mould. There should be room for individuality.

It’s time for the Ministry of Education to establish schools for the arts that would allow creative students to learn in an environment that suits their temperament. There should be at least one school in each parish that would produce talented students, ready to contribute to national development through the creative industries.

Last Friday, I was fortunate to see the University Players’ brilliant production, ‘Garvey the Musical, Roots Reggae Rock’, written and directed by Michael Holgate. It was a special performance for students from Brooklyn College and The Queen’s School.

 

Garvey-The+Musical

Holgate, who is tutor-coordinator at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, writes a mythic story. Garvey comes back to life and is alarmed to realise that black people still have deep-rooted issues with identity. Skin colour remains a perplexing issue as young black people say they hate black skin.

One of the most intriguing characters is Jonathan, who refuses to answer to that name. He prefers to be called Scrubs, for obvious reasons. He’s a committed bleacher and a DJ who is dying to ‘buss’ like his idol Vybz Kartel. And, by the way, I keep making the point that if there had been a recording studio at Calabar and if deejaying had been on the music curriculum, Adidja Palmer might not now be imprisoned in the role of Vybz Kartel. Instead of ‘sculling’ school to go to studio, he might have gone to university as well.

The conversations between Garvey and Scrubs are most entertaining. When Scrubs hears the story of Garvey’s two wives who were once best friends, he calls the national hero a “gyallis”. It’s a struggle for Scrubs to understand Garvey’s assertion of an ‘African’ identity. As a youth in Jamaica, Scrubs knows that Africa is a continent of shame. Eventually, he comes to understand Garvey’s message of race pride with the help of the ancestors.

Frederic Aurelien, a freshman student at Brooklyn College, told me that Garvey’s Pan-African vision was still relevant for Americans. And Amelia Smith, a grade nine student at Queen’s, said that Garvey’s message was applicable to her today. This inspiring play should tour the country as one of the premier events for Jamaica 55. And Garvey’s empowering message must again resound across the world: “Up, you mighty race, accomplish what you will!”

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A Letter To Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer

Mr Palmer,

I just can’t take the chance of greeting you in this letter with the usual salutation, ‘dear’. Crazy readers of our correspondence would immediately conclude that you’re my bosom buddy. Just take a look at what Bawypy spewed out on The Gleaner’s website last week in response to the publication of your letter to me:

“Ms Cooper you are not Kartels mother, you seem more to be his woman, ur obviously in love with him and you were wrong to bring him inna the university to chat crap and now you are trying to fool Jamaican people again, stop it! Neither you or Kartel is an intellect.”

Apparently, Bawypy had to be reined in. There’s a note beneath the post: “Edited by a moderator.” This is the very first comment that comes up when you go to last week’s column. There are at least 97 others. Most of them are probably just as sensational. I don’t need to know for sure.

But even readers who are presumably much more sophisticated than Bawypy could be misled by my use of the conventional greeting, ‘dear’. Take, for instance, Mr Damion Mitchell, news editor of The Gleaner/Power 106 News Centre. He really ought to know better. In an article published on Monday, March 5, Mr Mitchell rehashes my column and proceeds to make unfounded assumptions.

This is what the news editor wrote: “In a letter to his friend, university professor Carolyn Cooper, Kartel said … .” Now, Mr Palmer, you and I both know that we are not friends in any normal sense of the word. At best, we are acquaintances. And, even so, not to ‘dat’. The first time we met was last March when you came to speak at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Since then, I’ve not laid eyes on you.

Kartel in Jamaica Journal

It is true that we’ve emailed and spoken in the course of my academic work as an analyst of Jamaican popular culture. But these interactions cannot reasonably be regarded as signs of friendship. In fact, I’m sure you will recall that your very first email to me was rather unfriendly. After your appearance at the university, we did have more pleasant exchanges on two matters.

The first was about the business of publishing your lecture, ‘Pretty Like a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art’. You’ll be pleased to hear that it came out last week in the latest issue of Jamaica Journal. Vybz Kartel’s picture on the cover of the high-quality, undersubscribed journal is likely to attract many new readers. The Institute of Jamaica must be congratulated for understanding the broad appeal of dancehall culture. If the French newspaper, Le Monde, can capitalise on your notoriety, why not Jamaica Journal?

The second issue we discussed was your endowment of the Adidja Palmer Prize to be awarded each year to the student with the best grade in the Reggae Poetry course I teach at UWI. You readily agreed to fund the prize. Given your present circumstances, the matter has been suspended. The grave charges that have been levelled against you would taint the prize, and so, must be taken into account.

I do not know if you are innocent or guilty. I trust that you will receive a fair trial and the truth will be revealed. If you are guilty, you must suffer the full consequences of your actions. If you are innocent, you will be vindicated. Justice must prevail.

Yours sincerely,

Carolyn Cooper

(P.S. I know that like ‘dear’, the closing salutation, ‘yours sincerely’, may also be misinterpreted by careless readers like Bawypy and Mr Mitchell,The Gleaner’s news editor).

Conclusion of Adidja Palmer’s letter

“Ms Cooper, please publish this letter so that the Jamaican people can see my point of view on this serious matter as my life depends on the outcome of this case.

“In closing I would like to let the people know that i am an innocent man and i have faith in my lawyers and know that i will be acquitted. Thank you. Sincerely yours Adidja Palmer.

P.S. I have enclosed a poem i wrote. feel free to publish it as well. Thanks Ms C.”

(A poem) Guilty before trial?

by A. Palmer

The police have found me guilty and i

haven’t gone to trial yet,

but they spread propoganda on T.V. & internet

Dem a beat it in the people’s mind

that i’m guilty and deserve death,

but the public knows how the police

operate, so mi nah fret.

So many people in court for allegedly

taking 4, 5, 6 pickney life,

So how they don’t discuss that on

‘CVM at sunrise’?

Allegations of extrajudicial killings

by security forces have already been issue,

but i’ve never seen them on t.v. so

much, talking about that, did you?

Me never kill nobody yet

but they say my music breeds crime,

that’s why they’re on my case they

want me imprisoned long time.

I am an artiste so i know things

will make the news,

but don’t crusade this ungodly way to

distort peoples views.

Mi swear my innocence before all

mankind and God,

why would i risk going to jail Leaving

behind 7 children, after mi nuh mad.

I am not the first man

The romans soldiers have sacrificed,

like me, that man was not guilty

That man was Jesus Christ.

A Letter From Adidja Palmer

Adidja 'Vybz Kartel' Palmer

‘Yu a Kartel mada?’ A dat one lickle yute ask me one Satday last month. Im dida walk an sell inna Tropical Plaza. ‘Weh yu seh?’ mi ask im. Im see seh mi lickle slow. So im ton i roun: ‘Kartel a yu son?’ Mi ask im, ‘Wa mek yu seh so?’ Im seh, ‘Mi see yu pan TV.'”

So I’ve now joined the band of aggrieved mothers who routinely appear on national news loudly protesting against the arrest of their sons who, supposedly, have been falsely accused of crime.

May Pen Cemetery

The youth must have seen the LIME TV interview at the Trench Town Bob Marley Tribute Concert in which I said I wanted to visit Kartel at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre. Quite an ironic name! There can’t be much of a view of the horizon from that vantage point. The May Pen Cemetery, perhaps; but that place of final rest cannot possibly be an appealing horizon for most prisoners.

It’s not easy to visit the Centre. You need a TRN card – the TRN number on your driver’s licence is not enough. You also need two passport-size photos, certified by a justice of the peace. You have to submit a formal application, which takes two weeks to be processed. And the prisoner has to agree to be visited. Last week, I got the temporary TRN card, so the distance to the horizon is decreasing.

The man and the role

On air, I did express doubts about Kartel’s guilt, based purely on my assessment of the DJ’s intelligence: Vybz Kartel couldn’t be foolish enough to think that Adidja Palmer could get away with murder! That is certainly not an indulgent mother’s stubborn affirmation of her son’s complete innocence. It’s a recognition of an essential distinction between the man and the role he plays as a DJ.

At the now-infamous lecture Kartel gave last year at the University of the West Indies, I asked him a penetrating question: Does Adidja Palmer ever disapprove of Vybz Kartel? His frank response was, “Yes.” I think Palmer knows that Kartel is an unstable character. Stardom really does make some intelligent entertainers lose their grip on reality.

Like it or not, Kartel is undoubtedly an international pop star. This January, one of France’s premier newspapers, Le Monde (The World), carried a story on the DJ in its Culture and Ideas section. According to the journalist, Arnaud Robert, it was “one of the most-read articles on Le Monde website the week it was published”. The story is illustrated with a box of Kartel’s signature cake soap and a photo of the DJ, naked from the waist up, displaying the much-tattooed canvas of his skin.

Guilty with explanation

Truth really is stranger than fiction. The same week the youth asked me if I was Kartel’s mother, I got a letter from my questionable son. Over the three decades I’ve been teaching literature at the University of the West Indies, I’ve received ‘whole heap’ of letters from Jamaicans imprisoned at home and abroad. Many of them send poems, asking for help in getting them published. Prison seems to bring out the creativity of criminals.

I once got a letter from a young man locked up at the St Catherine District prison for murder. He did not pretend to be innocent. He was guilty with explanation, a peculiarly Jamaican plea: “Miss, my action was not premeditated we had an on the spot arguement which developed into a fight knives were brought into play he got a stab and die.”

What is so intriguing about this man’s account is his poetic use of the passive voice. He did not stab the man. The man ‘got a stab’. The grammar of the sentence absolves the stabber of responsibility. The knives that were ‘brought into play’ apparently acted all by themselves. And the victim was so inconsiderate that, having got a stab, he took it upon himself to die!

Using media to slaughter

In his letter, Adidja Palmer (definitely not Vybz Kartel in this case) most certainly does not plead ‘guilty with explanation’. He declares that he is completely innocent. ‘So mi get it, so mi give it’:

“Dear Ms. Cooper,

Good day to you and i hope you are in the best of health and the highest of spirits, but I am not.

“Ms Cooper as you know i am in jail on numerous charges and i’d like to tell you that i am an innocent man who needs your help because i’m being painted as this evil ‘D.J. by day, don by night’ murderer who is society’s number one cause of crime and violence. The police is using the media to slaughter me and as such i don’t think i will get a fair trial. They are using the media to form public opinion of me that is so contradictory to the person that I really am. They (police) have tried my case in the public & found me guilty.

“Every single piece of alleged evidence, every new development in the case is thrown on t.v. as if this is a soap opera, but i can assure you that this is no movie to me. This is about my life and my freedom and i take them very seriously.

“My charges are merely allegations, but they are giving the public the impression that i am guilty and that is not fair to me or my family.

“I have been to court on numerous occasions and saw hundreds of accused men who are charged with heinous crimes like murdering children, killing police officers, burning & shooting whole families and i have never once saw police on t.v. discussing the development of those cases, much less every week, as in my case.”

To be continued. . .