‘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!”

Advertisements

With friends like David Cameron …

15808680-Smiley-Emoticons-Face-Vector-Cunning-Expression-Stock-Vector-emoticon“I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future.” There’s an aspect of David Cameron’s cunning statement that nobody is talking about. It’s the arrogant presumption of friendship.

Unlike so many foreign words that have sneaked into the English language, the word ‘friend’ is hard-core Anglo-Saxon. That’s the name of both the language and the people who lived in Britain from about the 5th century. They migrated from continental Europe and their culture and language were adopted by the natives.

The word ‘friend’ is ‘heartical’. It’s not high-sounding. It’s neither Greek nor Latin. It comes directly from Old English ‘freond’ and goes all the way back to the German roots of the Anglo-Saxon language. According to the Online Eytmology Dictionary, it means “one attached to another by feelings of personal regard and preference”.

How the backside we get to be ‘friends’ with David Cameron? A man who has no regard for us, and whose preference is to disregard the prolonged consequences of our enforced attachment! Cameron’s deceptive use of ‘friends’ is a confidence trick. Like the MoBay scammers, the British prime minister is hoping to con us into dropping our guard.

BAIT AND SWITCH

All confidence tricks share the same basic elements. The trickster understands human nature. S/he knows many of us are gullible, believing we deserve to get something for nothing. The trickster pretends to give us something to win our confidence. We fall for it. When the bigger bait is set, we grab it – hook, line and sinker. And that’s when the switch is made and we lose everything.

free-cheeseSo here’s Cameron’s con. He shares our pain. It’s part of his legacy, too. All the same, he doesn’t need to acknowledge who caused that pain. And it all took place in the Dark Ages when, presumably, no one was keeping track of who caused how much pain. Nor who profited from that pain. This is the 21st century. We’re friends now. So let’s just move on. “Those darkest of times” are over. It’s a simple as that. As for reparation, forget it!

David Cameron would like us to believe we’re on the same team. And it’s a friendly match. We’re really Britons and, of course, Britons never, never, never shall be slaves. Again. The Queen of England is our head of state; we’re part of the British Commonwealth.

And our court of last resort is still the Privy Council. By the way, ‘privy’, as adjective, means ‘private’. But as noun, it means ‘latrine’. Since private business was done in the outhouse, it came to be known as a privy. And that’s where we’re outsourcing justice!

We used to play cricket but now cricket plays us. We speak English, sort of. But even the British are now learning Chinese, the language of the new global empire. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the UK last week to discuss multibillion-pound nuclear power deals. David Cameron took him to a pub for fish and chips. They should have had a curry. It’s the new national dish of England. That’s what happens when the British empire’s colonial subjects come ‘home’ to roost.

NOT A RED CENT!

At Emancipation, the principle of reparation was established. But here’s the scam. Reparation was paid to the plantation owners for the loss of their ‘property’. Human beings, who were reduced to ‘livestock’ in accounting ledgers, received not a red cent to make a new start as free citizens! The British Government paid a total of £20 million in compensation to plantation owners for the loss of enslaved labour. That sum was one quarter of the national Budget!

Scam-AlertApproximately half of the money stayed in Britain. Researchers at University College London are engaged in a project that has been tracking where this money went. They note, “Despite the popular enthusiasm for abolition, slave owners had no compunction in seeking compensation – apparently totally unembarrassed by this property that had been widely constructed by abolitionists as a ‘stain on the nation’.”

One of the most shameful aspects of the reparation enterprise was the requirement that emancipated Africans should pay compensation to plantation owners for their freedom. That’s what the ‘Apprenticeship Period’ was all about. It was just another scam to force black people to continue working for nothing. Why would you need to become a ‘prentice’ to keep on working for backra?

Our friend, David Cameron, wants to con us into forgetting all of this history. But the “painful legacy” of “those darkest of times” persists. The repercussions are long-lasting. In order for us to “build for the future”, the British government must make restitution for crimes against humanity. In his heart of hearts, Cameron must know that friends don’t enslave friends. Friends don’t colonise friends. Friends don’t scam friends.

In his satirical song, ‘Reparation’, Vybz Kartel declares, “Dem call it scam/ Mi call it reparation.” I think Adidja Palmer very well understands that reparation isn’t about fantasies of wealth and power: “Every ghetto yute fi a live like Tony Montana/ Presidential like Barack Obama.” Reparation for enslavement is a far grander enterprise than mere scamming. But it does demand the unmasking of those who feel entitled to scam us.

Teething Pains At UTech’s College of Oral Sciences

UnknownLast Wednesday, I telephoned Dr. Irving McKenzie, dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. I wanted to ask a single, straightforward question: Why was UTech bypassing accreditation of its degree programme in dentistry?

I was relieved by Dr McKenzie’s unexpected answer. UTech is not actually avoiding review by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). A consultant has been hired to manage the long and expensive process. The first stage is self-assessment, which has already started.

So why didn’t Dr. McKenzie say this in his article, “Jamaica Produces World-Class Dentists”, published last Monday? He didn’t even acknowledge CAAM-HP, much less the need for accreditation. Instead, he announced that “the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision to ensure that graduates of the College of Oral Health Sciences are qualified according to world-class standards”.

Dr. McKenzie seemed to be proposing that the examination administered by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), based in the US, was insurance enough. Mere accreditation of the academic programme by the unmentionable CAAM-HP didn’t appear to count. But should it be either or?

Making his case for world-class standards, Dr. McKenzie echoed the words of Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president of the University of Technology. In an article headlined, “Carolyn Cooper and the UWI Cartel”, published on April 28, Professor Gyles reported that “The CDCA is described as being like the GOLD standard for dental competency assessment”.

The inflammatory headline of Professor Gyles’ article is the work of a devilish Gleaner editor. The original was much more innocent: “Protecting our nation’s investment in university education”. The provocative headline sent a subliminal message. It was a reminder that I’d invited Vybz Kartel to speak at UWI. But, perhaps, as a teacher of literature, I’m reading too much into it.

THE REAL DEAL

SMILEEE-resized-600.jpgUTech’s last-minute decision to start the accreditation process is the real “world-class” deal. For example, the website of the American Dental Association (ADA) makes it quite clear that “Though requirements vary from state to state, all applicants for dental licensure must meet three basic requirements; an education requirement, a written examination requirement and a clinical examination requirement”.

The website confirms that “The educational requirement in nearly all states is a DDS or DMD degree from a university-based dental education program accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation (ADA CODA). References to accreditation in states’ licensure provisions relate to the CODA and no other agency”.

Dr. McKenzie boastfully announces that “The people of Jamaica can be justly proud that the graduating dentists, having successfully passed this most objective method of assessment, are competent dental professionals that are eligible for licensure by the Dental Council of Jamaica and the licensing bodies of many States in the USA, countries in the region and elsewhere in the world”.

This declaration is not entirely accurate. Passing the CDCA examination is not enough. In order to be licensed in the majority of states within the US, dentists must have graduated from a university with an accredited dental education programme.

Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, the CDCA exam only tests clinical competence. It does not meet the written test requirement, as outlined by the American Dental Association. Are we in the Caribbean willing to settle for lower standards than those of the ADA?

CONSPIRACY THEORY?

imagesDr McKenzie is a busy, busy, busy man. He wears several hats. He’s the chief dental officer in the ministry of health. In that capacity, he’s a long-standing member of the regulatory Dental Council of Jamaica; and, on top of that, he’s dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. It is rumoured that he also has a private practice in dentistry. But that cannot possibly be true. Those patients would really have to be very patient to see him.

Until quite recently, it seems, UTech appeared unwilling to begin the demanding process of accreditation by CAAM-HP. I wonder if the dean of the College of Oral Sciences inveigled the chief dental officer to approach the Dental Council of Jamaica to cut a deal with the CDCA as a way around the obstacle of accreditation! Sounds like a conspiracy theory.

Furthermore, Dr. McKenzie seems to have forgotten which hat he was wearing when he asserted that “the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision” to ensure that its students could take the CDCA examination. As I understand it, the CDCA does not enter into contractual arrangements with teaching institutions, only with licensing bodies. So the CDCA recognises the Dental Council, not UTech.

Color VersionIn addition, both UTech and UWI dental students are eligible to take the CDCA exam. But, to date, the Dental Council has not officially informed UWI of this development. In effect, UTech got a head start. Their students have already taken a mock exam and are about to do the real-real exam later this month.

What I simply don’t understand is why the minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has not acted decisively to rein in Dr. McKenzie. But based on his mishandling of the chik-V disaster and, more recently, the Riverton plague, I suppose it’s too much to expect the minister to rise from his state of terminal impotence.

Bleaching in Black History Month

images-2It’s Reggae Month and Black History Month, combination style.  Unless you have superhuman stamina, you cannot possibly keep up with all the events.  I’m not even trying.  I’ve selected a few and that’s it.  I have a day job and I simply cannot ‘bleach’.  Neither in English nor Jamaican.

Incredibly, the English words ‘bleach’ and ‘black’ seem to share a common origin.  According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, they both appear to come from a prehistoric language for which there are no written records.  This tongue has been reconstructed by linguists who see it as the ancestor of many of the modern languages of Europe and Asia.

cartelIn this ancient mother tongue, the word “bhleg” meant “to burn, gleam, shine, flash”.  The flash of fire became brightness as in ‘bleach’; and the burning produced darkness as in ‘black’. I can just imagine how pleased Vybz Kartel would be to realise that there is linguistic evidence for his paradoxical claim that bleaching is not necessarily a sign of self-hate.  It might actually be a most peculiar manifestation of blackness.

Seriously, though, I gave a paper yesterday at the International Reggae Conference held at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  Scholars from across the world came to Jamaica to reflect with us on “traditional and emerging expressions in popular music”.  I focused on Vybz Kartel’s insightful book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto.  And I mean ‘nuff’ insights.

images-3Co-author Michael Dawson, of People’s Telecom fame, admits that, “Many people have wondered how this improbable collaboration came about.  How could someone who is a known Garveyite collude with the ‘Bleacher’ to write a book”?  In the chapter “No Love for the Black Child” Kartel gives a sarcastic answer:  “Ironically, I lightened my skin and everyone condemned me.  All of a sudden there is an outpouring of love for black skin”.

Kartel elaborates the ironies:  “Some of my executioners are women with false hair, multi-coloured contact lenses or others who have been using various agents to ‘cool down’ their skin.  All of a sudden, after 500 years they start to love the Black Child?  Or is it me you hate?”

Adulterers and Homosexuals

images-4One of the most popular sessions of the conference was the Annual Bob Lecture, delivered by Alan ‘Skill’ Cole.  It wasn’t really a formal lecture, as the title made clear: “Bob Marley:  The Man That I Know”.  The talk was an intimate, wide-ranging celebration of an exceptional friendship.

This is how ‘Skill’ puts it in the programme notes: “I trained him . . . and we lived a life consistent with being a good athlete. . . . . We would wake up around 4:30-5:00 and train; eat, then go to the studio; then go sell records; come back, play some football and, in the night-time, write some music”.

skill4I missed a fair bit of the talk because I had a class. One of the moments I found most touching was Cole’s nostalgia about going to bathe with Bob some nights at a spring just above Papine.  I couldn’t help thinking that these days, two men bathing together would be a sure sign of ‘deviant’ behaviour that should be both bleached and burned.

Healthy relationships between men have been contaminated by fears of homosexuality.  In Black History Month, as we attempt to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, we really do need to look again at some of the Old Testament judgements that are completely irrelevant in the modern age. The book of Leviticus condemns adulterers but we conveniently ignore that inconvenient fact.  Why can’t we do the same with homosexuals?

Reggae Ambassadors

Another big event for Reggae Month is the launch today of the book Global Reggae. This is how Kwame Dawes describes it (and I didn’t pay him a red cent): “Carolyn Cooper has skilfully edited a book of startling visual design and intellectual depth that manages to demonstrate, through complex and varied voices, reggae’s astounding impact on the globe. The term ‘essential’ is used a lot these days, but sometimes it is a fit and righteous word to employ. Global Reggae is essential reading for anyone who is seeking to appreciate this great cultural phenomenon.”

GlobalReggaeCoverAll of the contributors to the Global Reggae compilation are authorities in their field: Kam-Au Amen, Peter Ashbourne, Erna Brodber, Louis Chude-Sokei, Brent Clough, Carolyn Cooper, Cheikh Ahmadou Dieng, Samuel Furé Davis, Teddy Isimat-Mirin, Ellen Koehlings, Pete Lilly, Amon Saba Saakana, Roger Steffens, Marvin D. Sterling, Michael Veal, Leonardo Vidigal and Klive Walker.

It was the Third World Band who popularised the idea of the “reggae ambassador”.  And they tell a now familiar story:

“So everywhere I jam it’s the same question

‘How can a big music come from a little island?’

When the music play[s] it leaves them in a state of shock

The big-big music from the little rock!”

The self-concept of Jamaicans certainly cannot be measured by the small size of our island. We’re much more than a little speck in the Caribbean Sea.  And it was Shabba Ranks who so vividly said that it is the talent of reggae and dancehall artists that enables them to “fly off Jamaica map”.

Dj_Afifa_Banner_by_Dr_JayBone_DesignzThe launch of the Global Reggae book takes place at PULS8, 38A Trafalgar Road, and starts at 6:00 p.m. The public is invited and admission is free.  Guest speaker is Michelle ‘DJ Afifa’ Harris, a doctoral candidate at the University of the West Indies, Mona and a very talented selector. Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Jah 9, Protoje, No-Maddz and Cali P will perform.  If all goes well, the event will be streamed live on the Internet at UWI TV and will  be archived here:  http://tv.mona.uwi.edu/.  After all, Global Reggae is a big-big book that fly off Jamaica map.

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. . .

The Roast Breadfruit Syndrome

I got some really interesting feedback in the media to last week’s column which was published in the Gleaner as well as posted  here on my blog.  The first was from Theo Mitchell who talked about the roast breadfruit syndrome – black outside and white inside.  His letter to the Editor was published in the Gleaner:

Brownings Think They’re Special

Published: Monday | January 9, 201217 Comments

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Many thanks to Professor Carolyn Cooper for her article, ‘Dying to be beautiful?’, published in The Sunday Gleaner of January 8.

I’ve always espoused the view that Jamaica is delineated along the line of two distinct social groups – the black majority and the ‘brown minority’.

Prior to reading your article, I was making a bowl of oatmeal and something just hit me. It is what I call the ‘brown people syndrome’, as persons of that hue think that everything should be fast-tracked and handed to them. They should not wait in lines at the bank or follow procedures to get documents and/or procure service at any entity, especially if it is a public-sector entity.

As per your ‘Page 2’ friend, I think she suffers from the classical ‘brain-bleaching syndrome’. Your peers in the Department of Sociology would have no objection if I called her a ‘roast breadfruit’!

On another note, she is often critical of people’s deportment, and to be honest with you, she is always poorly dressed! Well, that’s her business.

I encourage you, Professor Cooper, to continue to speak the truth, albeit controversial and unpalatable at times. There are persons who read your articles with open minds; look forward to hear your views on contemporary ‘Jamaican issues’, and take careful note of what you say. We may not digest all that you’ve conjectured, but it’s all right to be off the mark at times.

I’ve always admired you and your work. I bid you and your family all the best for the new year.

Many blessings to you, ‘mother of controversy’.

THEO MITCHELL

theo.a.mitchell@gmail.com

A rather peculiar response to the column/post  came in another letter to the editor, published two days later, this time in the Jamaica Observer:

Dr Carolyn Cooper, end your misery — go ahead and bleach!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dear Editor,

Professor Carolyn Cooper has a curious preoccupation with skin bleaching. I have formed the view that she doesn’t love her black skin and would secretly like to bleach, even while she pretends otherwise.

I started to believe that when she invited and elevated Vybz Kartel to guest lecture at the University of the West Indies, at the height of his controversial bleaching and desecration of his skin a la the Colouring Book.

My view was further strengthened by her article Dying to be beautiful published in The Sunday Gleaner, January 7, 2012, when she took on the Observer’s Page 2. The column smacked of unadulterated red eye and bad mind.

Dr Cooper must know, since she writes for that newspaper, that the winning formula in Page 2 was copied in what is being called “Something Extra” by The Gleaner. Her suggestion that the Page 2 is dominated by brown people could just as easily be said of “Something Extra” as the same people I see on one I also see on the other. Of course, Page 2 is far more creatively written and presented, which is further cause for more red eye and bad mind.

My suggestion to Dr Cooper is that she should just end her misery, go ahead and bleach her skin. Vybz Kartel might be in jail, but I’m sure he can arrange, even by phone, to give her the links to his source of cake soap and other bleaching chemicals.

Vanessa McFarlane

frenchie8593@hotmail.com

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Dr-Carolyn-Cooper–end-your-misery—go-ahead-and-bleach_10544626#ixzz1jcs2rpJi

The most instructive response of  all came from the editors of the Gleaner.  On Wednesday, January 11, the Gleaner published the following statement:

Correction & Clarification
Professor Carolyn Cooper labelled the Jamaica Observer’s editorial policy relating to ‘Page 2’ social coverage as racist.
We wish to state that we have no evidence to suggest that this is [sic] basis of the newspaper’s decisions cocnerning [sic] its social coverage.
The Gleaner Company does not share Dr Cooper’s assessment of the Observer’s editorial policy.
We regret the publication of the offending words.