Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Women are one-finger food

Because sneaking into a woman's shower to look at her naked is high-LAH-rious:



Hello. I'm a man. And all I need are video games, meat, and sexual gratification from women's bodies. And look how easy it is to acquire all three with very little effort - just the use of my finger. I mean, in the world I inhabit, they're all just there for the taking! (Well, granted, since one of those things involves another human being, I technically need consent. But hey...I'm a guy. We're cute, cheeky rascals. Boys will be criminal perverts!) Isn't life grand?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Dr. Super, the obesity slayer

The Hospital is a Channel 4 programme which questions whether the NHS is "being asked to pick up the pieces of an increasingly self-destructive society". The show interviews consultants, surgeons, nurses and midwives about the problems they face in treating illnesses and their symptoms that we have, they seem to suggest, brought on ourselves.

Last night's episode
was a re-airing of the final in the series, and examined "the cost of Britain's increasingly obese teens."

At Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, younger and younger patients are being referred for help in tackling their weight and, increasingly, they are asking for a gastric band.

While doctors and dieticians see the £6,000 operation as a last resort, some patients seek them as an 'easy' solution to their weight problem. But NHS weight management clinics can only help those who help themselves, and health professionals are hampered by young patients who don't tell them the truth about what they are eating.

Now, while it might be useful and interesting to examine health care provision from the point of view of the providers and the challenges they face, I have trouble understanding how health professionals are the ones 'hampered' by unsuccessful treatment. Ultimately, it's the patients who have to suffer the effects of failed care, even if, as the show suggests, it's their own fault for lying. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of how problematic I found this show.

The programme was set up as a look at two different approaches to NHS-assisted weight loss. They interviewed professionals at the weight management clinic who are responsible for referring patients for the gastric band surgery, if they find it is indicated. If they do not so find - if they think the patient's lifestyle doesn't support it, or that he might see results from a less drastic method, they support the patient in a programme of weight loss through diet and exercise. The other angle was an interview with Dr. Paul Super, a surgeon who seems to have a bit of a reputation for churning out gastric band surgeries by the hundreds each year. His philosophy seems to be that obesity is expensive and ugly, and that all fat people should just have a gastric band operation so they could stop costing the NHS money and just stop being unhealthy and unattractive. This man was a real gem. I could barely take my eyes off him.

The staff at the Center, though earnest, weren't exactly writing any journals with their methods. They did explore the patients' psychological histories and relationships in order to create a more complete picture than "you're fat because you eat too much", but once they had gained that information, I'm not sure they quite knew what to do with it. In at least one case, where they discovered the woman had started binge eating after her family had been abandoned by their father, they kept checking on her progress with that relationship as well as with her diet and exercise; and the mere fact that they seemed to care and were willing to talk about it rather than simply scold her for overeating appeared at least in the short term to help motivate her in her efforts.

But in general, the system seemed to be that they would either (a) recommend the surgery and then send the patients home to lose some of the weight first, through diet and exercise; or (b) not recommend the surgery and send the patients home to lose weight through diet and exercise. And since most fat people have tried exactly that a gazillion times before, the only difference here is that now they get to show up at this clinic every few weeks to be 'assessed'. Still, if a patient doesn't dread these appointments, but instead finds the doctor understanding and the environment reasonably stress-free, then I suppose it's better than the alternative. And a couple of the doctors seemed to really want to be warm and understanding. So that was something.

Dr. Super, on the other hand, the belly-reducing surgeon extraordinaire, was - in short - a real a*shole, and really did no favours for the 'surgeons are jerks' stereotype. Below are some of the many awesome Dr. Super philosophies on fat people and their really fat fatness.

Back, beige food!
Between surgeries, the doctor stops for his regular lunch of a can of tuna - it's convenient, tastes great, and has no carbs. Carbs are evil, you see, and are just hiding in the shadows waiting to make you fat. But you can detect them and foil their plan. How? Easy. They're all beige!

Listen to this guy
.

So no pasta, rice or potatoes. Because they're beige. But you don't get beige meat, so that's fine. Or beige fish, so we can eat...wait....um...

And notice how he shames his own colleagues about eating crisps, sneering at them and taking their food so he can prove what undisciplined slobs they are. "That's right...go on eating your crisps (you big fattie)!" How much fun must this man be to live with? Thankfully, his colleague seems not to give a crap about him and his colour-coded diet. But this is certainly not a healthy approach to food for a doctor who focuses on nutrition to have, outlawing an entire food group and advocating a can of tuna for lunch. Now there's no denying that some food is not generally healthy if we consume too much of it. I'm no fan of a steady diet of processed junk in crinkly bags. But there is nothing wrong with rice and potatoes, as long as you don't first deep-fry them and then coat them in equal layers of lard and white chocolate. And all food can be consumed as part of a healthful diet. It's the categorization of some foods as good and others as bad that leads some to diet-binge cycles. I dare say Dr. Super has issues with food.

They're fat AND they lie
Another part of the programme that struck me - in fact this caught my attention in the clip advertising the show - was the disgust with which Dr. Super condemned patients for lying about their diet. This is not a direct quote, but he sneers something to the effect of: "They'll try to convince me that they only have a salad for lunch. They lie! But the scales never lie." One of the patients at the weight management clinic acknowledged that when she first saw a doctor there, she did lie, because she was embarrassed about the volume and nature of the food she consumed. And this is to be expected. But eventually, she felt safe and encouraged enough by her doctor to be honest in her journals. The doctors there realize that even this is a process, and allow this trust to evolve naturally. Not Dr. Super. He just snickers and hauls the fattie onto the scale so he can yell "Salad my ass! Look! You weigh a tonne!"

"Look how it wiggles!"
Following Dr. Super into surgery, we watch as he jiggles the belly of an anaesthetized patient and jokes to his colleagues that he can feel the ribs. You see, it's funny, because he can't possibly feel ribs in such a big, disgusting mass of flesh. See? Lawl?

The glaring absence in this piece is the lack of focus of both Dr. Super and the producers on the possible risks of the surgery. The surgeon seems to believe that this method is your proverbial magic pill, and actually says that all fat, young people should have it. Apart from filming one of the subjects after she has been fitted with the band and has some initial discomfort, and then acknowledging that her weight loss occurs at the same rate as another woman who opted for diet and exercise alone, the procedure is not presented as the life-altering decision that it is.

Later, fatties. I'm outie
At the end of the show, our lovable surgeon is leaning up against a wall in his hospital, and a large woman passes by escorted by two doctors. He has just been talking about when surgery doesn't work, and as she passes by, he snickers at the still fat woman and says, "That was one of mine. Life goes on," and lopes off into the sunset. And the sad lesson is, even our noble hero can't wrangle all the fatties. But he's going to keep on trying.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Carol Thatcher disgusts me

In February of this year, Carol Thatcher, daughter of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was dropped as a roving reporter on BBC1's The One Show after calling a black tennis player a golliwog in the show's backstage green room, and then refusing to make a full public apology over the remark. In the aftermath of her sacking, the BBC received over 3 000 complaints against their decision to fire her, and the mayor of London Boris Johnson publicly declared that he thought it was the wrong decision.

Thatcher was back on the air last week on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, and not only defended her use of the word - which is not surprising given that she refused to apologize in the first place - but also made two statements which I found indefensible. She first informed us of the many letters of support she received and of the fact that her golliwog collection had now greatly increased since like-minded people had included the keepsakes in their fan mail; and she suggested that the whole brouhaha was a result of people being overly sensitive and politically correct.



Now, I'm going to try and keep this short because we've had an extended conversation about this before, and because this kind of wilful racism does not stand up to argument. But the fact is, just because you grew up seeing golliwogs on the side of your jam jar as you sat at your breakfast table with your white, wealthy family and friends, does not entitle you to decide for another group of people what they are and are not allowed to be offended by. Carol Thatcher is a white woman, who was never the subject of the racist taunts of which the word 'golliwog' was a part, and who clearly does not understand that even the origin of the figure as a blackface minstrel is in itself far from flattering and arguably racist. As Labour's Jennette Arnold pointed out in response to Boris Johnson's defense of Thatcher's position:

"The symbolism of the golliwog is colonialist, racist, and harks back to time when black people were dismissed as slave, servant, and figures of fun.

"It is an image associated with the demeaning of black people. There are no second chances when anyone in public life uses such offensive language.

Boris Johnson seemed to think that Thatcher should have been disciplined internally with a small slap on the wrist, arguing that [emphasis mine]:

"The way to deal with it is if someone says something a bit offensive in a green room and you're the producer of the show and everybody else has taken umbrage and feels uncomfortable ... you take that person on one side and say: 'Listen, you've got to understand we've got to work together and you've got watch what you say and you've got to be sensitive,' but I don't think you fire someone. I really don't."

I often wonder how it is that people's self-censorship mechanism fails to engage in these situations; how it is that they do not realize that as people outside of the group whom this directly affects - and worse, part of the group that has perpetrated the racism in question - they don't get a vote. Now Boris Johnson's comments are less to do with whether the word itself is offensive and more to do with corporate equality policy, which is an important debate for everyone to have, but the fact that he calls the expression 'something a bit offensive' gives us a clue about how damaging he thinks this language really is (not very), and in fact, he should just have shut up.

I was disgusted by Thatcher in this Andrew Marr interview, because alarmingly, she seems to be part of this club of golliwog collectors who think their quaint little hobby is more valuable than the historical and current subjugation of an entire group of people; and worse, she is also one of those who has assumed the role of victim because The Man wants to take away her right to hurl racial slurs at people. And the rest of us should just get over it so she can have her golliwog fridge magnets and make fun of black people.

The issue of whether the term 'golliwog' and its image are offensive seems to be a recurring one. And for me, it is simple. As a small child, one of my favourite Enid Blyton series was The Three Golliwogs. I adored the characters, Wiggie, Waggie and Wollie, and saw them as just three toys come alive who got up to mischief. Of course, I grew up in Barbados. By that time, no one had ever called me a golliwog, and I hadn't yet learnt about the practice of blackface or really any of the history of slavery. As I got older and learnt more, no one needed to point out to me that these characters were a product of a racist time and tradition. It naturally became apparent - even before I learnt that one of the original names of the golliwogs was 'Nigger'. So just because you found a name or image harmless in childhood, either because you were part of a privileged group towards whom it was never directed, or because, like me, you were black but lived in a society where that kind of nomenclature was not a common form of attack against your group, that does not mean that the word or image was not harmful or racist. Both sets of circumstances can obtain, and in this case, they do. And here's what I also find problematic: it is not alright to say "well, people at the time were racist. So what can you do? I'm going to continue to read this book to my children because people nowadays are way too sensitive." You can do that, but if you do, be aware that you are in fact perpetuating racist stereotypes, and be prepared to be called a racist when someone comes to your house and sees your little golliwog fridge magnets. Because the fact that you know better and still refuse to adjust your behaviour means that that's exactly what you are.

A few months ago, I went exploring a closeby neighbourhood in search of cheap hangers on which to store my ridiculous amounts of clothes. (I'm always buying hangers, because apparently we have a hanger ghost who cannot cross over until she has hidden all of mine under bushes and brambles far and wide. Either that or I should stop shopping. My money's on the ghost.) I came upon this home supply store with cheap hangers of all materials and colours and as far as the eye could see! It was some kind of hanger paradise! So as I was scooping madly, my eyes happened upon the back of the store, which seemed to be where they stored the toys, and against the entire back wall, from floor to ceiling, were all kinds of toy golliwogs, their hundreds of black faces, white eyes and red lips grinning back at me. I have to say that I was horrified. I immediately felt vulnerable, because if these were the kinds of people who would so unashamedly offer these items for purchase, what, I thought, would they do with a real, live black person (I was the only one) in their store? Because clearly, they weren't worried about seeming racist.

It must have been people such as this who sent Carol Thatcher their letters of support, people who are banding together to protect their right to display icons of the racism they practice when they think no one's listening. Well, carry on with your crusade. But don't be surprised if you lose your job over it.

Friday, 24 April 2009

I'm in ur blog...tiefing ur comments

So I've been avoiding the whole Comments Policy fandango because in my mind, it was simple: be a human being and your comment will be published and engaged. Well, surprise surprise - that needs some further clarification. So pardon me while I get all superstar and offer 3 guidelines:







1. My name is Mar. That's how I prefer to be called on the blog. For my friends and others who might know me and other incarnations of my name, let's stick with Mar only. If we went to primary school together and you know that everybody used to call me Snarf, yeah let's just keep that between us. No one wants to hear that.

2. If you use the Comment box directly underneath the post, I'll assume you'd like your comment published, and vI0la! It shall appear. If you just want to send me a private message, use the Comment box at the bottom of the page. You'll find a link to it in the column on the right. Or just email me directly.

3. I do not prefer, but do allow, anonymous posts. However, if the point of your comment is simply "yoar wrong and I bet yoar foots smell 2!!111oneone!!1", and it's anonymous, it won't be published. Because if I'm going to engage with idiocy, I at least want to be able to identify you. It's also possible that ye of the "foots smell" commenting use a name and your comment is not published. Sometimes, even identified, pointless foolery is not worth my time or that of my readers.

That's all I can think of for now. I'm going to link to this post in the side panel so everyone knows the Policy exists. I'ma add more as/if it becomes necessary.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

You're a man! You're going to drink Coke Zero and you're damn well going to like it!

They made it black and red (manleh!), used the word 'zero' instead of 'diet', and even threw in James Bond (who I could have sworn was just promoting the film. I barely realized they were shilling a drink). And still the odd, male targeting of a perfectly regular, low-sugar soda continues. It's amazing the amount of gender-stereotyped, hypermasculine bullshit you can fit into thirty seconds. To wit (possibly NSFW):



So this woman and man have just had sex, which, if you didn't catch it, was the point of the bare ass shot after she got out of bed and said she was going to take a shower - you know, so she can smell like cherry blossoms and marshmallow again. At that moment, her parents arrive. But while the mother (we assume? Since they don't bother to name her) gets a second in the background, only 'The Daddy' is given a title and is focused on in the shot, as he is the keeper of his daughter's sexuality and would apparently blow a gasket if he knew that his 'pumpkin' had had some big, smelly man in her vagina. (The partner also gets a title as 'Our Hero'. We won't bother to name the women. Just call them 'you there'.)

So the big, smelly man escapes SAS-style, but not before tidying her room and securing her admiration. Now, with all traces of sex duly washed away, she's free to greet her father while pretending to be a virgin. Because for women, virginity: good; sex: bad. But if you're a man: sticking around to meet the parents: bleah; sex: rawr; Coke Zero: arooooo.

In the full version below, Daddy is already pissed off for some unknown reason and finally manages to force his way into his daughter's apartment, where he then stands before her threateningly with clenched fists. Because nothing says 'healthy relationship' like a father who appears about to attack his daughter because she just had sex. And notice how many men are - consecutively and uninvited - violating this woman's space: a bunch of strange men in uniform and her own father. That right there is a great message. Seriously. They should show this in schools.



___________________________________________________________________________
(Update: I'm editing to include below a comment response in the body of the post. It's my answer to a reader's comment, which you can find in the comments section:

Well, if the message has been sacrificed to the laughs, I accept that responsibility. So let me clarify: the message is that this notion that women's sexuality is owned by the men with whom they interact - by their fathers, husbands, partners, brothers, sons, pastors, strangers - is a destructive one, and shouldn't be celebrated or made light of to sell soft drinks.

It is the same notion responsible for purity balls and the fetishizing and commodification of women's virginity, and further, to the shaming of women for engaging in sex and the inclination to punish them for it, whether by legally removing their reproductive choice or other means. It is the same one that leads to the sexual abuse of girl children by fathers who think it is their rightful place to take their daughters' virginity; to the abuse of sex workers by pimps who appropriate their bodies and pocket the spoils; to honour killings of women who have been raped or who have simply dared to express their sexuality. At the end of the ad, when the woman is left to face her father's wrath, we assume that it will not amount to much. But in reality, it can and does amount to emotional and physical abuse or death.

So that's your serious message.)

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Fatties stay home!

The ever classy Ryanair, in a move possibly more problematic than United Airlines' recent announcement that it may boot obese passengers from full flights and charge them for a first class or second seat, is proposing a fat tax for obese passengers.

Not content with plans to scrap check-in desks, charge passengers for using toilets and clobber customers with a £30 charge if their duty free won't fit into their hand luggage, Ryanair has hit on a new scheme for increasing revenue: a so-called fat tax for overweight travellers.

In what appears as much a ruse to gain publicity as a serious policy, the Irish-based budget carrier said today it would impose an as yet undecided extra levy on passengers who weigh considerably more than average.

The charge, which could fall foul of discrimination laws before it ever takes effect, was proposed following a poll of passengers on the airline's website. It attracted more votes than other ideas, including a €1 levy to use onboard toilet paper, which would have the face of the airline's famously pugnacious chief executive, Michael O'Leary, printed on it. The fat tax gathered nearly a third of all the votes.

The airline now plans to poll passengers on how the charge should be calculated, with ideas including a per-kilo levy for all men weighing more than 130kg (20 stone) and women more than 100kg, or a fixed penalty if a passenger's waist touches both neighbouring armrests at the same time.

The United policy is controversial in part because it targets a group of people that is easy to target, because being overweight is seen as the result of a lazy, undisciplined, gluttonous lifestyle, and the penalizing of overweight people for their indolence enjoys tacit acceptance among many members of the public. What appears as a simple case of "well if they take up more space let them pay more" is far more complex, since other dimensions or manifestations of 'largeness' are not equally treated. I fly often, and have never been inconvenienced by a person spilling into my seat because of fat hips or a large belly. I have many times, however, been shoved around by a person who did not appear fat and who managed to buckle his seatbelt, but had such a large back and shoulders, he was occupying his seat and half of mine.

And this is not the only case where it might be fair to question how much of the responsibility is the passenger's and how much is the airline's to provide a conveyance that ensures the comfort of all its passengers. At some point when I wasn't looking, it became my problem that my reclined seat would inconvenience a tall passenger behind me. So I am now expected to spend an 8-hour flight bolt upright because a passenger - who is their responsibility, not mine - cannot fit into the standard space afforded when the seatback before him is reclined. Surely it is the airline's responsibility to seat us both comfortably. Why isn't the tall person behind me being forced into first class or a second seat at an additional price? Or why am I not being asked to pay a premium for a reclinable seat, since my back cannot sustain extended periods of sitting upright? There are other groups of people who require more space; not just those with broad, fat midsections (because fat can be distributed differently so as to allow Person 1, who weighs the same as Person 2 but carries it in other parts of the body, to be exempt from this penalty depending on how fatness is measured).

But Ryanair is not even pretending that this is about the comfort and safety of other passengers. (Well they are pretending but) in the context of the cost-saving idea poll, it's clear that this is merely another in a series of arrogant and idiotic cost-cutting measures. What they are proposing is to possibly weigh passengers and then charge them for each kilo they exceed some predetermined standard weight. As the article acknowledges, this is likely to be shot down under discrimination legislature, but I find it mortifying that a company would even suggest something so absurd, and worse, that the public would endorse it. I'm sure those voters who supported the measure are going to love being made to step onto a scale to see whether they are within passenger weight guidelines, while friends, family and strangers look on. Even as a publicity ruse, this policy is chock full of boo and hiss.

And Ryanair's gem of a spokesperson, Stephen McNamara, also had this to say:
"These charges, if introduced, might also act as an incentive to some of our very large passengers to lose a little weight and hopefully feel a little lighter and healthier."

Eureka! Why didn't we think of this before? Discrimination and humiliation are surefire ways to get people to lose weight. Quick! Everyone drive down the street and oink at the next fattie you see. We'll all be thin in no time.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Higher education in the US and a different kind of anti-immigrant sentiment

In an article at The Root last week, Keith Adkins, quoting the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE), highlighted a new study published by the journal Sociology of Education. The study finds that Black immigrants to the US and their children are "significantly more likely to enroll at highly selective colleges and universities than blacks who are descendants of African slaves." Their data suggest that 75 percent of first- or second-generation Black immigrants enrolled in university after high school, versus 72 percent for White students and 60 percent of Black students whose families had been resident in the US beyond two generations. A similar trend holds for enrolment at the country's most selective universities.

Both the Root and the JBHE article then question
..whether immigrant blacks should benefit from the race-based affirmative action admissions programs at these selective colleges. A few years ago Harvard Law School professor Lani Guinier questioned whether “in the name of affirmative action we should be admitting people because they look like us and then they don’t identify with us.”

There are several problems with this discussion. First, according to the JBHE article, the study makes a distinction between African and Caribbean students (and a note to Adkins at the Root and others: I have never in my life heard a person from the Caribbean refer to herself as "a Caribbean". So just stop that.) and "blacks who are descendants of African slaves", which makes me wonder who, according to them, are the forefathers of Caribbean Black people. The US doesn't have the only legacy of slavery. There are descendants of slaves all over the world, and the Caribbean has large numbers. Furthermore, the African continent and its people are still suffering the effects of the slave trade; many of them may not be descendants of slaves, but they are descendants of slavery, and have inherited a land and culture that was repeatedly plundered in order to build and sustain the United States and other White empires. The Caribbean was also used as a stopover for slaves who were later transported to other colonies, including the US. So it is certainly possible that my grandmother then went on to be owned by an American landowner. So while the US may arguably not have an identical duty to these immigrants as it does to Black Americans, the labour of whose forefathers directly built the country, it does have some responsibility to make restitution for the global effects of the slave trade, which didn't have such neatly drawn geographical and other lines as these articles are suggesting.

Second, the argument that "many of these immigrant and "second-generationers" are not interested in identifying with "African-Americans" yet continue to benefit from affirmative action" smacks terribly of regular, White mainstream anti-immigrant sentiment, which purports that once someone lands on the shores of the United States, he must immediately renounce his own heritage and culture and run gleefully into the arms of American culture. That argument applied to Black immigrants with regard to African-American culture is just as xenophobic and presumptuous as it is when made of Asian, Hispanic and other immigrants with respect to White American culture. There is no difference. Caribbean people have a culture of which we are proud, and a history that has made us who we are today. Your history of slavery and freedom does not trump our history of slavery and freedom. Because some of us may identify more with calypso and reggae than with hip-hop does not mean that we do no also acknowledge the shared struggle of all descendants of slavery. When I write about the Obama era (scroll down for all posts), Haiti's violation of women and Zimbabwe's fall under a despotic leader, it is because I consider these all my issues as a Black woman. I identify with you on my own terms, thanks. Not on yours. I already have an identity, and I have my own struggle, parts of which we share as Black people, but other parts of which we do not.

And as is true of other groups of immigrants, African and Caribbean immigrants are also subject to the process of acclimatization which might maintain them in their own groups for a period of time while they come to terms with their new situation. Or they may simply feel more secure in their own communities, because as some African Americans may not appreciate, it's often no fun out there for an immigrant. But even so, I'm not sure how much credit I give this argument of non-integration, particularly with Caribbean people. While there are Caribbean associations on American campuses, as there should be, the majority of Caribbean people I know who have attended university in the US do become involved in the shared issues of Black Americans. But the fact is, not all issues are shared, and you cannot assume that we will cast off all our struggles simply to fight only yours. That then becomes a new form of appropriation and colonization in which Black Americans are the new masters and Black immigrants are the owned. And we will not allow that.

All this said, there are certain parts of this argument, obnoxious though it may appear, that I understand. Any system that is meant to benefit Black Americans but maintains them in a similar position to that which obtained before that system existed needs to be examined. (Although I'm not sure that this is the case. Those interpreting the study seem to suggest that in absolute terms, it is unacceptable that a group of Black people other than Black Americans achieve higher rates of matriculation, rather than holding Afr. Am. matriculation against a historical benchmark.) And it is true that certainly in the case of the Caribbean, those who migrate for academic purposes are not the poorest in those countries. They are not the poorest, but in many cases they are also not the wealthiest. Certainly in the case of Barbados, many people from very humble beginnings are able to access education abroad based on their own achievement at home. But I see no value in pointing fingers at groups of people who are taking advantage of opportunities provided them, especially opportunities that are arguably due them, though perhaps not on the same scale as they are due Americans. If the system of affirmative action is failing Black Americans, it should not be remedied at the expense of other Black descendants of slavery, some of whom are incidentally also Black Americans. It should be addressed so as to envelop the still marginalized without disenfranchising a second time the (in this context at least) previously marginalized.

Monday, 20 April 2009

In defense of my right to like sports and Guinness: Part 1

Happy Monday! Oxymoron, you say? Not this Monday. The sun is shining today in London, and that's always cause for celebration. And it's real sunshine too - with actual warmth. Not the kind of vague, distant glow you tend to get here, as if the sun had been on a bender the night before and is up there lying on its couch, drinking Andrews and grumbling 'What do you want from me? I'm here aren't I? This is the best I can do right now!"

So here I am, raring to go following a weekend that was actually restful instead of just an extension of the work week. After I left you on Friday, I did rewatch Nacho Libre, whose song about why Ramses is not dancing at the party is still as genius as I remember. What I hadn't remembered was the random, sex-starved fat girl who eats all day and is too hideous to get a man so she has to literally crawl on her hands and knees to cut men (and Esqueleto) off at the pass, trap them and have her way with them. Aren't people tired of writing this character? Because I sure am tired of seeing it. You know, this might just be a rumour, but I'm made to understand that fat women can actually manage to find willing partners for sex if they so desire. It's one of those ideas that's so bizarre it might just be true.

Then on Saturday I went with my favourite DJ (we'll call him DJ because we have wild imaginations) to Camden, where we ate a mountain of vegan food, walked all around the market, sampled overpriced chocolate (and in his case, also a giant, jelly Smurf), and drank Guinness over a conversation about the quietly re-emerging notion that women who say they like sports are just lying to appear cool for men. That's right, folks. Join me on a journey back to the fifth century.

A few weeks ago, a woman at a message board where I post made the extremely insightful declaration that women who say they like (i) sports and (ii) Guinness are not sincere, but rather involved in an elaborate deception aimed solely at hooking themselves a fella. Given that I've been watching cricket since I found eyes in my head and consider Guinness the best food on earth, I am about to shake the foundations of her very existence. But it's not just anonymous message board lady. More and more, throughout this year's Premiership season particularly, it has seemed as if greater numbers of people are choosing a team and jumping on board. Apparently, this type of activity is frowned upon, especially - or only - when the people in question are women. DJ has been noticing it too. In fact, he brought it up, telling me about a guy he knows who is peeved to within an inch of his life when women dare to interject in sports conversations, because they're only johnny-come-latelies doing it to seem cool, and have no natural propensity to understand sports, no genuine interest in it, and nothing to add.

Now what strikes me as particularly hilarious about all this is that the man in question in DJ's story is from Barbados, just as we are. And in Barbados, we play a little of everything, but the only major sport in which we have a legitimate international presence is cricket. That means that support for teams in most sports is not home-grown, based on location or other traditional markers of loyalty. So most sports fans out there fit into two categories: they started playing the sport and were naturally drawn towards its highest exemplars on the international circuit; or they just happened along one day and decided to start watching because they found it entertaining. Neither of these groups, and particularly not the latter, has any kind of monopoly on fandom. Because if the fandom of the women you criticize is artificial, then surely so is yours, since you are not from Manchester or Liverpool and have no reason other than whim or circumstance for the team with which you are aligned. Just because someone is turned onto a sport after you have been doesn't make their admiration of it any less valid. The portal has not closed. New fans are born every day.

And the sports themselves have gone through trends in popularity. When I was growing up, it seemed like none of my peers cared or talked about cricket. The cricket team couldn't pay people to come with them to away matches, get-out-of-class-early pass be damned. NBA basketball was huge, as was track and field. Now, as with several other things, people's scope of interest is growing. And sport trends are changing. Basketball will always have its fans, but football is becoming that sport: the one that everyone has a team in. This is the way, and you don't get to pout about it because some woman dares to share an interest that you think you have dibs on as a marker of your manhood.

And I'm not sure what makes these particular men, some of whom have the agility of porridge and whose most energetic exploits to date are a game or two of Snakes and Ladders, any more disposed to appreciating sports than women are. Agility, strategy, speed, raw skill, camaraderie, politics: these are all aspects of sport that women appreciate. There are three major sports that I follow closely and enjoy: cricket from about the age of 4 introduced by my dad (who incidentally learnt from his mother); tennis from about age 11 introduced as part of the school programme and aided by a good friend at the time who would become a longtime partner; and football from about 12 years ago when I started playing competitively. And to be frank, I've never been inclined to talk to most men about sports. And here's why: I'm not interested in being fodder for your masculine self-affirmation; what I'm after is a real, analytical conversation. So if you can only quote me all of Michael Ballack's defensive stats and tell me how many eggs he had for breakfast on the day of his last match with Bayern, and that is your sole 'argument', then you can move along. I can memorize stats too. That's not what my love of the game is about. And I've found that quite a few men who have come late to following a sport, but who of course are not questioned on the validity of their support, often hide behind statistics, and use them to shout others down before the others realize that in fact, the shouter only discovered what 'offside' was yesterday. Incidentally, most of the men with whom I enjoy a heated sporting debate tend to be secure, well-adjusted people who don't fancy using conversation to try and surreptitiously bully women into accepting their 'rightful place.' Funny how that happens.

Now the whole 'women in sports' dialogue is complex, and there are certain things I'm not discussing here. I am not debating whether statistically more men than women follow sports: I think there is a discussion to be had on how we might express interest differently so that women's interest is sometimes not acknowledged as such, but I feel safe in saying that the number of men I know who enjoy sports is greater than the number of women, although among my Barbadian friends, with our cricket legacy, that gap starts to close somewhat. I am not debating whether women's professional leagues are as entertaining and therefore should attract similar levels of investment as men's. I'm contemplating a follow-up post in which I might address that. And I'm not saying that there are no women who have ever said, jokingly or otherwise, that they only watch football to see men's legs, or baseball for the tight pants. This is something I also want to come to later because when I started this post the sun was high in the sky and now it's almost dinnertime. The thing is way too long. But this is about the ludicrous notion that if you meet a woman who supports a given sports team, odds are, she's lying and is just saying it to seem cool (beyond the extent to which we all use knowledge of competition as a point of social engagement with other men and women). We know you would like to believe you're that central to our lives, but the plain truth is, you really aren't.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Prelude to a failure and stretchy pants

My dears, I have a confession.

On some days, like today, when I have had very little sleep the night before and have been racing madly towards a deadline, and it's the end of a long week, I come here to the little box whereforeinto you are bidden to type things, and I ponder. And what I ponder is the following: you, mongoose, have read about several important things today, including Obama's extremely controversial release of the torture memos and his admonition not to pursue prosecution, with (measured) supporters and naysayers aplenty. You have things you might say about this, or about the Fifth Summit of the Americas, or about several other serious things. And you should do so.

What you should not do is fail to write a serious post and instead write something very silly. If you must write something light and inconsequential, at least balance it with a second, more substantial entry. (!)

Well my confession is that I will not be successful at this. I'll contribute more in the days to come, but for now, all my brain can manage is to relax and watch Nacho Libre, which is possibly the most delicious nonsense ever made. But the above issues are some of the ones occupying my thoughts as we move into the weekend, and I'll be back to talk about them (or something completely unrelated - whichever) on Monday.

So until then, Nacho and Esqueleto bid you a good weekend.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

"It's Hard to Talk When You're Tea-Bagging"

Given the number of times I find myself mentally stuck on a task, I might be forced to concede that I am, in fact, not so bright. But of course, that's unpossible.

Still, here I am, flush against a deadline for a paper I'm writing, and with too many thoughts on all the hilarious and just plain stupid teabagging activity and other news to order them all into something that sounds marginally clever. I will say, though, that it's finally happening. The right-wing Republican side has just realized not only that it has well and truly lost and that the Obamas, their mother and literally their dog are in fact settling well into their roles; but that all the unreasoned fearmongering is not serving to convince more moderate Republicans that the sky is falling. I could go on about the facts that most of these people are in fact not paying higher taxes and that the federal spending they're so opposed to was never higher than under George W. who killed the surplus chasing WMDs, terrorist unicorns from Pluto and god knows what else. But instead, I'll just post various ridiculous photos that I've stolen encountered.

Title quote courtesy the intoxicating Anderson Cooper.


Via Megan at Jezebel as passed on by Zachary:



Via Matthew Yglesias at ThinkProgress:

AP image:

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Have the Metropolitan Police waged war on the public?

You would think that London police would be, if not apologetic in the aftermath of Ian Tomlinson's death, at least attempting to keep their aggression in peaceful situations to a minimum. Even as their crowd control tactics are being criticized, and from a vigil held for Ian Tomlinson no less, the below footage emerges of an officer first slapping a woman across the face, then striking her across the legs with his baton as she falls to the ground.



The officer, "who had concealed his badge number before lashing out at the woman", has of course been duly suspended amid a flood of impotent, wishy-washy language from spokespeople.
"The officer has been identified and suspended pending further investigation. The officer works as a sergeant in the territorial support group," [a Scotland Yard spokesman] added.

Earlier, police said the actions of the officer featured in the footage raised "immediate concerns".

"Every officer is accountable under law, and fully aware of the scrutiny that their actions can be held open to," police said.

"The decision to use force is made by the individual police officer, and they must account for that."

The IPCC said it had been made aware of the latest footage by the Met Police and would now be looking at the "best way to progress an investigation into the actions of the officer involved".

But what is really appalling is the suggestion that responsibility for seeking justice rests with the victim, even in the face of evidence pointing to misconduct by one of their own. The woman, though having been identified and interviewed, has not yet made a formal complaint.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said it was "absolutely right" any allegations regarding the new video footage should be thoroughly investigated.

"In respect of this particular woman, which has been shown to me for the first time this evening, if a complaint is made I think it's absolutely right that there should be a thorough investigation into what the police did.

Is that to say that this evidence, absent a formal complaint being made, should go uninvestigated? That's akin to watching my child punch a stranger in the stomach and then telling her "If that person identifies you and complains to me, you're going to be in big trouble, young lady! In the meantime, come inside and let's watch Transformers."

You'll also notice on the right side of your screen, before the incident with the woman occurs, a Black man is seen talking to officers. Moments later, when the camera pans back to that location, the situation has escalated considerably and several officers are involved in a scuffle with the man. This footage, like much of the footage captured during the G20 protests, seems to indicate that the first point of action by several officers involves aggression - if not physical, then certainly in manner and attitude to the public. The Metropolitan Police seem to be missing a basic point: you are not a private citizen who is allowed to fly off the handle and retaliate because someone calls you a wanker, which retaliation, incidentally, as a private citizen, might land you before a judge. And you aren't given a baton and a neon vest so you can lawfully batter the public. You are meant to rise above purely emotional reaction in order to employ the best strategy in maintaining peace. And sometimes that means first using your words.

The treatment of such incidents by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) as isolated events caused by the actions of errant individuals is erroneous and dangerous. Presenting these officers as bad apples that can be sacrificed as the Met gets on with business as usual will not suffice. These are not coincidences: they are the products of an institutionalized failure by the police to do their job effectively while maintaining the civil rights of both the public and their own members.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

If it breaks your penis, it might not be a good idea

Explicit and potentially triggering content below.

I suppose I should be sorry that these fools are breaking their penises over this nonsense. But as I read the article, I think, if this sexual act is rough enough to fracture a man's penis against his female partner's pubic bone, it can't be any picnic for the woman. And even if no one is going to the hospital on a given occasion, how is it physically pleasurable for a woman to be violently and repeatedly 'stabbed' in this way? Well that's easy: it isn't.

"(So) during very rigorous intercourse, the penis slips out and in an attempt to ram it back in, the man hits the woman's pubic bone and pops the penis."

Ouch. There's rough sex, and then there's this.

For years, Caribbean music has reflected men's apparent belief that sexual prowess and - by their extension, masculinity - was defined by a violent approach to heterosexual sex. This has in some instances been encouraged by women DJs who competed with their male counterparts not on the basis of musical talent, of 'killing a sound' as the men have done, but by highlighting their own sexual freedom and bravado: their capacity to - in sexual and other implied terms - take whatever the men could dish out. So that while we've had songs like Cabin Stabbin from Super Cat et al, we've also had Stab Up Mi Meat from Lady Saw. Now arguably, the thrusting act that might be a part of sexual intercourse could be described as stabbing, if one were given to violent metaphors, which - given the prevalence of actual, criminal, sexual violence perpetrated both within and outside of relationships - I for one am not. But it seems like we're consumed with encouraging as much violence in sex as possible. 'Stabbing' has become too tame; now we have to call it 'daggering'.

And let's be honest: the whole stabbing/daggering sex simulation as a part of nightclub dancing* is nothing new. Caribbean dancing to calypso and reggae, while very creative, is very sexual in nature. Growing up, there was always the idiot in the club who - unsummoned - would decide to suddenly ram his pelvis against you, because somehow you blinked and this became acceptable behaviour in which two strangers might engage. It was odious, unacceptable, and what I would characterise as assault. At that time, though, and among my friends and most people present, he was shoved off, glared at by men and women alike, and in many cases removed by security. But there were too many times when in other instances, I witnessed other women being similarly treated, and their reaction was just to grimace and wait for it to be over, lest they be accused of being prudish or 'soft'. Now, though, it seems this kind of 'dancing' is being glorified more and more, causing officials in Jamaica enough concern to ban music in which it is featured.

Of course, two adults can decide jointly whether they want to engage in sexual behaviour that might break parts of their person. But I wonder how many women out there are grinning and bearing it just like those women in the clubs did those years ago, and still do.

*The videos below feature the music by RDX and Mr. Vegas that helped make this activity famous.
The final video features RDX live in concert, giving their own version of daggering. It is extremely explicit and this is a trigger warning.





The ghosts are coming!

Quick! Someone skip around in a circle while saying "Bailey!" three times or whatever you need to do to call Jennifer Love Hewitt! As Maya would say, we've got ghosts all up and through.
The majority of Britons believe in heaven and life after death, new research suggests.

The survey of 2,060 people showed 55% believe in heaven, while 53% believe in life after death and 70% believe in the human soul.

The study was carried out between October and November last year for the public theology think tank Theos.

It also suggested that nearly four in 10 people, 39%, believe in ghosts and 27% believe in reincarnation.

A further 22% believe in astrology or horoscopes and 15% believe in fortune telling or Tarot.

The think tank said the findings were "especially striking" when compared to the 1950s.

Then only 10% of the public told Gallup that they believed in ghosts and just 2% thought they had seen one.

I tend not to rule out supernatural encounters. Life is weird and mysterious, and just because we have not yet come to terms with something doesn't mean it's not going to jump out and yell at us sometimes.

I feel less certain, if that's possible, about heaven and hell. (The study, though, seems not to reflect the "if there's a heaven, surely there must be the opposite" belief of Christian religion.) Surely, even the most evil could be made infinitely more productive if they didn't just stand around permanently engulfed in flames wailing, moaning, gnashing teeth and whatnot. And if this is in fact just a metaphor, and we'll each experience our own personal hells, then mine would be a permanent loop of Samuel L Jackson films, Celine Dion and Enrique Iglesias duets on the radio and only celery and yogurt to eat. Just thinking about it is making me want to pray to someone.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Springing forward

I love my life. Even though it's sometimes hard, it's always mine, largely within my control and full of the wonderful people with whom I choose to surround myself. Sometimes I feel tired, and feel the need to determine exactly what's making me tired, so I can move forward, instead of moving around in circles; and so I can separate the things I can actively fight to change, from the things I might not be able to change but for damn sure won't be a party to, from the things I just have to release and let be.


Today, I'm tired of the definition of masculinity that maintains adult males as men-boys, always having to reinforce among themselves that they are still and always will be capable of attracting 'girls', 'girls' here being grown women that they cast as girly, perpetually young, oversexed beings who can never be complete without a penis. I am tired of phrases like 'stop being a little bitch' or 'are you some kind of pussy?' that equate these vulgar, singular interpretations of womanness with weakness, and are meant to reinforce male camaraderie by making women less than. I'm tired of the films and television shows that glorify this idea of camaraderie, that prize and celebrate the experiences of young, white, heterosexual males as if we are all meant to revel in their partying, beer-drinking, weed-smoking, ass-getting escapades while the experiences of Black men and women are reduced to Madeas and Norbits; and the realities of bright, complex Black men and women (oh will no one bring us another Girlfriends?) remain largely invisible. I'm equally tired of Seth Rogen and Tyler Perry.

And let's not even begin to mention all the straight up fake-ass 'Caribbean' accents that feature American actors who can't even be bothered to at least listen to a Beenie Man interview instead of every other sentence uttering absurdities like 'irie, mon', which no one says except maybe for Rasta caricatures on souvenir T-shirts. And episodes of TV series set in Suriname but featuring a language that can only be described as Trinidadian American English, because Sranan with subtitles would have been too expensive or no one bothered to Google 'Suriname language' before shooting. I'm tired of the Caribbean being exotic enough to provide fake settings for Friends (where 'Bajan' hotel staff are everywhere on set but amazingly none interact with the guests) and soundtracks featuring Rihanna, Shontelle and Rupee, but not important enough to merit the marginal extra effort to research an accent or find a Caribbean actor.

And I am way fed up of the ads suggesting that if your hipbone isn't jutting through your skin, you are not 'ready for summer'. Because apparently fat people aren't allowed outdoors in July, and must remain inside on pain of being electrocuted and having their large asses dragged back in the house and covered in a tarp. Bzzzt! That's called an electrified perimeter, fatty. Now eat your Special K lunch and then drop and give me a bazillion. The sunshine is for the pretty people.

I'm really tired of the term WAG, which conveniently rhymes with 'hag', 'drag' and 'slag', the final straw being a reference to the 'G20 WAGs'. I suppose these women do not merit actual, complete words, since they are in their entirety just the appendages of their far more important male masterspartners.

I am exceedingly exhausted of the women who aim to seek favour and align themselves with men by berating women who do not love porn; do not encourage lap dances and supply their partners with crisp dollar bills for the occasion; have slept with more than 2 and a half men (or women); have made something other than biblical reproductive and parenting choices; or were abused and didn't immediately pack, leave and write a book about it as soon as the bruise stopped throbbing. I am tired of women making claims to sisterhood when they really mean whitesisterhood or whiteAmericansisterhood or Westernsisterhood or sisterswholookandlivelikemehood. I am tired of watching my sisters hop and skip and dance around their relationship issues because they're afraid of pissing a man off and being labelled the angry black or brown or just plain woman. I'm tired of my girlfriends not learning our lessons collectively because we think we're above what happened to our friend next door - above being cheated on or abused or raped or disrespected. Because these things happen to the frigid or the weak or the slutty party girls but not to us. And I'm tired of being afraid to say, lovingly and respectfully, 'this is what I need from you' to my partner, or at least I would be if I still engaged in that ego-stroking bullshit we're told we must practice in order not to offend the overlords and end up (gasp) alone.

And then when I'm tired of feeling tired, I do something to renew myself. I take a shower and look at myself naked to remember who I am without clothes and hairstyles and titles and awards and boyfriends. I visit the communities of women who get what it means to support each other and to agree or disagree without destroying. I talk to my sisters and woman friends; and to my man friends who don't need to throw in a lame come-on to feel like they're men, but who can meet me on common ground, a woman with a heart and a brain and a vagina, and not let the latter dictate our exchange. I regroup, recharge, and remind myself that sometimes being tired is what gives you the energy and joy to continue.

Friday, 10 April 2009

The power of hate and intimidation

I wasn't going to post today, and I had intended that my next post tomorrow would be a big bag of "we just cleared 100 posts w00t" etc. But that hardly seems appropriate given this news [via Shakesville]:

11-Year-Old Hangs Himself after Enduring Daily Anti-Gay Bullying

An 11-year-old Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hung [sic] himself Monday after enduring bullying at school, including daily taunts of being gay, despite his mother’s weekly pleas to the school to address the problem. This is at least the fourth suicide of a middle-school aged child linked to bullying this year.

I encourage you to read the entire article, which I was moved to post considering how we in the Caribbean seem to feel that words are harmless, children should learn to be tough, and it is perfectly acceptable to call someone a buller, as part of a language of intimidation, without consequence. Well there are consequences, and this is what they look like.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Breaking news: police attacks on civilians 'damage public confidence'

We're heading into the long weekend, and your neighbourhood mongoose has been watching with interest but very little commentary the unfolding saga of the latest Met police snafu. Video filmed by a bystander revealed that during the G20 protests, an officer struck 47-year-old Ian Tomlinson as he was walking by with his hands in his pockets, and pushed him to the ground. Shortly thereafter, Tomlinson had a heart attack and died. Events have certainly been shaped into what Sandra Laville and Paul Lewis of the Guardian call the management of a death: without the damning video and photographic evidence hanging over their heads, it seems the authorities would have swept away with vague mumblings all calls for an inquest into Tomlinson's death. And what I also find worrying is this: whether it results in a death or not, this is a criminal act. It is not alright for Metropolitan police to assault a civilian provided it doesn't end in death. Mr. Tomlinson's passing highlighted a heinous act, but based on other accounts, it was one of many perpetrated by police that day.



A clearer shot of the first strike can be seen here.

The officer directly involved has come forward, and as the victim's family and the public await the next moves (a Facebook group has been created calling for justice for Tomlinson), police are once again whining about 'erosion of public confidence'. Yes, public confidence in the police force is desirable. But it's not brain surgery, so quit acting like it's some complicated balancing act, and further, like it's some official goal that is completely separate from plain human decency and treating people with respect. You want to restore public confidence? Try not practicing apartheid in your own ranks; or not telling rape victims to fuck off; or I don't know, not attacking passersby and violently shoving them to the ground. You don't inspire public confidence just by carrying a stick and wearing a funny hat; at the very minimum, you have to establish some distinction between you as a police force and the criminals you're meant to be protecting us from. As it stands, that line is somewhere between blurred and non-existent.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Letter to the masses

Dear zillions of people with smartphones:

Congratulations. You're important. I, though not in possession of a phone that can predict what I want for lunch and beam it to my location, am going to go ahead and keep living anyway. So since I must share this planet with you, do you think you might take your eyes off your phone long enough to realize I am present and not come crashing into me at breakneck speed? (Since whomever you're texting is clearly also on fire and awaiting rescue.) Because even though you mumble a delightful 'sorry' while continuing to look at your phone, I am going to meet your eyes. Yes I am. And then I am going to scowl you right out of your telecommunications-induced stupor. And you will look shocked and scandalized at my rudeness. But I will not be sorry. Because you will have deserved it.

Regards,
The Scowling Mongoose

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Case of the P.I That Never Was

When we were growing up, my oldest sister, G, wanted to be a private investigator. We watched all kinds of sleuthing shows, from Murder She Wrote (which, incidentally, I still watch because Jessica Fletcher is hard core) to Magnum P.I. And my father, scoffing at what passed for detective/mystery drama in our day, was always at the ready with stories of Columbo, McCloud and Steve Austin, who wasn't even a police detective but - judging from the silly grin and the slow motion running reenactment - was clearly far too exciting for my father to exclude. But my sister wasn't feeling employment by The Man. She wanted to run her own ship, keep her own hours, and possibly also fly around in a helicopter and wear tiny white shorts.

Whatever her reasons, one day, she announced that she was going to be a P.I., and we believed her. She was always quick on the draw with the "butler did it" conclusions, although, to be fair, she had 3-5 years brain development on the rest of us. And when you're seven years old, that qualifies as an unfair advantage. My mother probably believed her the most of all of us. She took her teaching of "you can be whatever you want" extremely seriously. When I was 11, I told her I was going to be a journalist. She said "Ok," and then called up the newscaster and told him I was going to be a journalist and he should give me an 'internship' because I was fabulous. Did I mention that I was 11? So he gave me the 'internship', which consisted of following everyone around the newsroom and studios for two weeks while they told me how everything worked and talked to me as if I was a real, grown-up person. Then I spent the rest of the summer pointing at the newsreaders saying "I know him!" to all who would listen. Of course, since this was Barbados, everyone pretty much just rolled their eyes and said something like "Yeah me too. He plays cricket on the pasture behind my house."

But still, my mother believed we were serious about our ambitions, so she got a bit concerned when G said she wanted to be a P.I., and spent an entire afternoon counseling her that she would support her, of course, but that this might not be the best idea because private investigating was dangerous work, and lonely, and probably didn't pay all that well because the ones on TV pretty much just slept in their cars and ate sandwiches. Meanwhile, my other sister was looking at us as if we were all insane, and muttering that it was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard because how much work did G think there was in Barbados for a P.I, there was barely anywhere to hide and peek at people, and anyway where would you even go to school for that?

I, however, was excited. I was picturing lots of cool stories of voyages far and wide to uncover the Mystery of the Unearned Urn (yes I read lots of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. What? I was very little) or similar exploits. So I was looking forward to this career path. Sadly, it never materialized. G, still possessed of her wonderfully probing and analytical mind, is now a therapist. A therapist is decidedly not a private investigator. And it occurs to me that I feel extremely cheated.

Monday, 6 April 2009

For rent or purchase: beach chairs; sunblock; Rastas

Via Gwen at Sociological Images, we're brought this Link International film highlighting Caribbean men who have sex with the female tourists visiting their countries.



As Gwen indicates, the men in these situations are seen as the aggressors, the ones with the power, who charm presumably innocent women into believing that theirs is the one true romance. But there is surely a great deal of power wielded by (comparatively) wealthy, white tourists who commodify sex with these men in the pursuit of their own racialized fantasies. They do not just want a black man, with whom they would presumably have to engage in a courtship on more level ground. They want a black man who is easy to fetishize and who is capable of being bought.

Despite what the video portrays (one would think the only black men in Jamaica and Dominica live on the beach or in the mountains waiting to trap a white woman), these men are poor, yes, but also marginalized within their own societies. They assume the power that is being afforded them by the white purchasers of their product: arguably, a hypermasculine male is exactly what these tourists are buying, and they often want a man who manifests the aggression they visualize these 'objects' to have. You'll notice that the apparent spokesman for the group of young men in Dominica criticizes black, Dominican women as 'not as open-minded', because he would not be afforded the same sexual liberties with his countrywomen as he is with his tourist consumer. Rather than adjust the attitudes and approaches which see women's bodies as public property for him to access, he would rather adjust the women - from ones who are less tolerant of exploitative male behaviour towards those who are seemingly accepting of it.

But the fact is that this is not wholly his choice, as he suggests. Because certainly in my experience, "land sharks", the name often given to this type of male sex worker in the Caribbean, are marginalized to exist outside most mainstream, heterosexual relationships in their societies. (Even the term used frames them as less than human, and as dwellers of a different space.) They are not considered as part of the pool from which Caribbean women might choose their mates, and among other men, are often ridiculed as desperate, homeless, drug dependent, incapable of attracting and providing within regular relationships with women. Even their physical appearance and expressions are targeted as identifiers of their lifestyles, and an indication that one should stay away: their skin which has become extremely dark from spending entire days on the beach; their sun-bleached dreads; and their affected half-American accents. (And there is another group, not highlighted in the video, which is also subject to even further ridicule: male sex workers who have similar relationships with male tourists.)

So the power dynamic is not as discrete as the apparently disgusted hotel owner suggests. The men are in some cases ascribed and allowed power based on the fetishized, 'animal'-dominant relationship that some of these women want to encourage, and based on the fact that they are on home territory, acting as guides and integral to the holiday experience. But this is a service: there must be remuneration for this attention, and the purchaser of the service must exercise some power. In cases where the relationship is removed from its point of origin - back to the woman's home country for example - there is often a shift in the power dynamic away from the man who now has no income and is in unfamiliar surroundings, towards the woman who may have different expectations now that the holiday is over.

Of course, that is not to say there are no situations where women, assuming they are entering an honest relationship, are duped. There are also many cases where such relationships evolve and are sustained, where the men in question are not simply fantasies, but true partners. In general, there is quite a bit more happening here than a straightforward, predatory, male-dominated dynamic, as is often portrayed. With so many issues of race, gender, colonized bodies, economic disparity and human emotion, there must be.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Your Friday mongoose wrap-up includes butt-touching and exposed thigh

So I didn't get my $50, and I haven't even begun to unravel all the G20 coverage, although I've already decided to steer clear of the 'softer' Michelle O love-in pieces because 1) if I were given to usage of the word 'awesome', Michelle would certainly inspire it, but I was never that big on hero worship so let's keep the conversation grounded; and 2) invariably, some turn of phrase in an article will piss me off, since some people who want to appear in their writing as if they're all down with the Black First Lady try too hard and end up making grave errors.

But I did notice all the hullabaloo over her having touched the Queen, which, along with the Obamas' gifts to the Browns (again with the gifts?), imaginary people that no one can seem to identify have been decrying as not in keeping with protocol. In any event, it seems like the Queen was feeling the Michelle warmth, reciprocated, and is over the drama. I mean, she's touching Michelle's butt. If anyone was getting inappropriately intimate it was the Queen.
Further, given the historical importance and sensitivity of this moment - the Black, American first couple meeting a Queen whose ancestor, George III, was the last British ruler of the American colonies and ruled a society based on slavery and racial discrimination - the Queen might have a lot to answer for if she missed this opportunity to embrace the couple on level ground. Or worse, engaged in anything that might be perceived as a snub. So to sum up: the First Lady is quite a sight taller than the Queen so a waist-hug from the latter became a butt hug; Michelle is a warm, huggy person who can express her warmth and still remain respectful; and the Queen is already over it and possibly initiated the 'uncharacteristic touching' herself.

In other news, please for the love of Shirley Bassey keep your laptops off your laps (somebody needs to find a new name for these things), lest you develop erythema ab igne, as I apparently have on an area of my left thigh. The condition can range from mild hyperpigmentation which eventually goes away, to squamous cell carcinoma and severe, lasting hyperpigmentation. No word yet where mine falls, although the fact that I saw two doctors months ago who told me I was seeing things, including an old, white man who looked me in the eye and said "that's just how black skin looks", makes me somewhat anxious that the condition is advanced. (That doctor, by the way, should never see another patient again. And he for sure won't be seeing anyone I know. I told him so, and registered my disgust, but he was oblivious, as so many like him are.) If I don't give any further reports, feel safe in assuming that all turned out fine, at least for the time being, since skin cancer can result from the condition up to 30 years from the date of diagnosis. What to take away from this: laptops on the desk.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

"Go back to Africa, p@ki!" and other stories of raciamalist stupiditude

On my way into the city this morning, I unwittingly walked into a private hate-fest, which was thoughtfully made a little more public for my benefit.

I had crossed the road and ended up behind two upstanding citizens - young, white men - who were fittingly (as you'll see later) wearing neon vests emblazoned with the words SEWER TECHNICIAN or something similar on the back. (I'm not using the literal definition and therefore not denigrating sewer technicians as a profession. But looking at it metaphorically, there could not be a more apt or ironic labelling of these gems of humanity.)

So the guy on the right glanced behind him, noticed me, and muttered something to his friend, who then looked back. I think his friend was trying to say "Oooh you might want to watch what you're saying given who's behind us." Or he may well have been saying "There's one of 'em now. Let's get her!" Whatever he said, his friend significantly raised his voice, and started yelling about some run-in he had had with what I gathered from his colourful language was a non-British fellow, in which the non-British fellow pissed him off by not showing him whatever respect he imagined he deserved.

Bemused by this yelling that was taking place for my benefit, I sped up a little to provide the proper audience for Mr. Sewer Technician. It seemed only right. Based on the telling, this was merely a motorist/pedestrian encounter, in which Mr. ST, the pedestrian, was either not granted the proper thanks in bestowing some kind of right-of-way on the motorist, or not given an apology for himself initially not being given the right-of-way.

During the telling of this fine tale, Shouty McSewerTechnician kept looking back to see if I, on behalf of all presumably non-British people (because ther're no black Brits, clearly. Or maybe he just hates all non-white people, Brits or not, which is not a stretch to contemplate) was being properly admonished. After he noticed how close and smiling I was, though, his look changed from one that said "I hope you're hearing this, Blackie" to "Ah shit I think she's gonna shoot us!" Cowed or criminal: those were my options.

Before he turned right and I left, the charming man made a point to look over and yell "WELL THEY'RE IN THE WRONG COUNTRY AREN'T THEY?! THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT COUNTRY THEY'RE IN!" Teacher, teacher! I know! Is the answer, um, a country that's home to racist, unenlightened bastards who ironically think they have the market cornered on civility? There are so many isms in this story, I'm exhausted just considering thinking about them. First, there's the notion that I, an uninvolved stranger, was just as good as the other stranger to suffer his abuse. How fortunate that I should happen along so he could have a stand-in. It's not like we're different in any way: one darkie is as good as the next, right? And it is this type of attitude that will see SewerDweller going down the road, having a few pints, and then attacking some man or woman based on the colour of his or her skin. In fact, he probably wouldn't have to get drunk to do it.

Second, something tells me that if this had been a white man that had failed to thank or apologize to him, there would be nothing to see there. But somehow, the rest of us are meant to be perpetually servile and grateful just to be allowed to breathe his hate-infested air. When we're bringing him food in a restaurant or handing him towels in the toilet, we know our rightful place, and all is well. But how dare we drive a car while he's walking to his job in the sewer? (I'd suspect this is his hang-up. It certainly isn't mine.) And then have the temerity to not lick his ass over some perceived slight? Something must even this playing field. I know: I'll shout vaguely threatening, xenophobic things to no one in particular and then in the general direction of this amused, underwhelmed stranger. That'll learn 'em!

The poor man suffered from a clear case of HuffPuff Syndrome: anger fuelled by no real issue, just by his own racism; no opportunity to abuse the victim he would like to abuse; and no recourse except to huff and puff within the safe company of his own enabling, unintelligent ilk, in this episode played by SewerTechnician Number Two.

I hope you get some help for your condition, Shouty. But you'd have to wake up much earlier, talk much more gooder, or try something other than your vanilla-flavoured, lame, racist panting to get a rise out of this mongoose. This mongoose picks debris like you out of her teeth.

*Yes, the expression in the title was a real utterance from a real human person.
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