Monday, 28 September 2009

Cough, moan, mumble

Well, no sooner had I rounded the corner from a week of birthday celebrations than I was blindsided by some nasty germs - possibly all the germs in the world, from the feel of things. Posting will resume once the flu delirium and general icky-feeling have passed.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The mongoose is your dear old aunt (Happy birthday to me)

I'll always remember your birthday because it's around the same time as something more important than your birthday
First let me apologize. I know I've been missing for a week, and I don't have an outstanding reason, except that my monitor decided to go rogue and become the matrix. It's now covered in flickering lines, spots and other vision-obstructing paraphernalia. The good news is that my life-(and blog-)saving friend brought me a monitor to hook up to my laptop at home. The not-so-good news is that the coming week is filled with birthday celebrations, so I may be missing a little more.

My sister's birthday is Thursday, and my birthday is today. Thweep! (That's my noisemaker.) I love birthdays. I was up at 5:30 a.m, and out on the road by 6:30, two sisters in tow (they're on holiday; I'm just idle), all three of us wearing party hats and accepting kind wishes from strangers. There were a few nasty don't-these-three-idiots-have-anything-better-to-do looks as well. We just blew our noisemakers at those people: Thweep!, beyotch. We're having a party.

So yes, I love birthdays as an occasion to celebrate life, learning and love. My mother started that tradition among her three girls growing up: we treat the birthday person well, acknowledge that on that day it's not so much about us and a bit more about her, and we use it as a time to take stock of life, thank the universe (she would say god, and would grimace long-sufferingly at me for saying 'universe') for what we have, and purpose to be better people in the next year of life.

I'm getting old, y'all. Sometimes I'm in the middle of a story, and I'll hear myself saying something like: "that was ten years ago, in Venezuela, under the old presidente", and I feel like an old seafarer back from a lengthy voyage. It's great. I feel learned - with two syllables, and I also now call teenaged boys 'son', for which my friends laugh and point at me, and deservedly so because really, that's not necessary.

So I'm young and still learning, but old enough to do so with some clarity, so that the lessons stick instead of bouncing off my thick head to be lost forever. Clarity is great. Life is wonderful. Long live (the uncompromisable goal of) absolute world peace.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Serena has a(n expensive) moment

I was just about to post my entry about Melanie Oudin and ask why the small, blonde White tennis player has to be dubbed America's sweetheart when the Williams sisters fit most of the underdog profile ascribed to Oudin, except of course they are decidedly neither small, blonde nor White. So of course they won't be cast as America's anything, not when a non-negligible percentage of America is right now marching in the streets intent on showcasing themselves as the real America - you know, the part that's not brown. I was all set to talk about how the reason it's so easy to paint Oudin as a women's hero and laud her skill as unprecedented is that from the time the Williams sisters began to dominate women's tennis, many commentators didn't even see them as women's tennis heroes, because they hardly saw them as women. They dismissed a major part of their game as the natural result of mass and brawn - that thing Black athletes have naturally, rather than skill, which is what White athletes have. And many even began to tire of their domination on that basis: there go the Williams sisters again, beating all the regular people with their muscles and whatnot. It just isn't right!

(I was also interested in why any woman in sport has to be a sweetheart of any kind, and why we need to minimize women's strength and athleticism in favour of their 'more feminine attributes', as if it's ok that they run around and sweat and get all dirty, because behind it all, they're really little girls, so all is right with the universe.)

And then I saw Serena's outburst in her semi-final match against Kim Clijsters - the one that cost her the match - and I thought "well, this is not great." Because I thought that unfortunately, even though Williams has spent years in the game as an even-tempered sportswoman, gracious in defeat and downright charming in interviews, people are going to say "Well here comes the Compton now. It was only a matter of time." Am I cynical? Definitely. Am I wrong? Probably not. John McEnroe spent most of his career snarling at officials and beating his racquet to dust, and it became something of a joke: "oh that's just John!" But there's much less space for a woman to have an indecorous outburst, and a Black woman? Forget it. As we speak, I'm searching for match footage of spectators diving for cover or calling 911.

All accounts of Serena's conduct - that she threatened "I swear to God I'm [expletive] going to take this ... ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat" - suggest that she was completely out of order. If there were ever a time a player should suffer a point penalty for verbal abuse, I'd say this would be it. She lost her head, she threatened an official, and was rightly punished. It remains to be seen whether further punishment will follow, a possibility which would certainly stimulate argument over whether there's more behind the treatment of this incident than unsportswomanlike conduct, and whether the reaction would be the same if Serena happened to look different and/or didn't enjoy the status she does within the women's game. Serena herself isn't that apologetic, and seems eager to move on. I hope it's that simple, but I won't be surprised if it's not.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

'President' with a lower-cas(t)e 'p'

The now famous Joe Wilson outburst of "You lie!" during President Obama's defense of his health care plan in Congress was not at all shocking to me. The tremendous backlash against Obama by White American conservatives still stunned to have a Black man in the White House - the completely uninformed buffoonery and right-wing panic that has characterized opposition to health care reform, to the economic stimulus package, and to the very existence of President Obama - has led directly to this point. Disrespect for the President during the Bush administration, and even after we uncovered all the lies and pretenses surrounding the war in Iraq, was considered unAmerican. But blatant disrespect for the office of President is perfectly acceptable when the one occupying the role is a lot less White than people would prefer.

Obama has been caricatured as Hitler and the Joker; 'birthers', in an almost textbook manifestation of how Black bodies have historically been and continue to be considered the property of a White public, have demanded evidence of his circumcised genitalia; rabid dissenters are taking guns to health care rallies; people are emailing watermelon-strewn White House lawns all up and through; the Republican death panel hide-your-grannies misinformation campaign is still going strong; and we're only now dropping jaws that a highly-paid Congressman would dare to interrupt the President's address to call him a liar? Did we really think that the racist disrespect we've seen to date was originated with and owned by disgruntled voters? And that the ones who lead them would know better?

When Sen. Saxby Chambliss called for the President to 'show some humility' regarding the health care debate, what he really meant was that the uppity Negro should know his place. When 'concerned parents' started wetting their pantaloons over the President's back-to-school address to their children, trying to drown the nation in panic that Obama would work his African voodoo on young minds and indoctrinate them with his Socialist agenda, what they were really responding to was their natural inclination against letting any Black people near their children. Surely you understand their consternation: they've toiled their entire lives to make sure their children are shielded from the Black bogeymen, and what the H - E double hockey sticks do you know...they done gone and let one walk straight into the White House with a direct line to their precious White angels.

So you'll pardon me if I didn't get all gaspy when Wilson yelled at the President of the United States that he is a liar in an open session of Congress - an utterance that was as disrespectful as it was disingenuous, since we know from the text of the Bill itself that Obama's statement regarding lack of public health care coverage for illegal immigrants was correct. And if he had added a 'boy' at the end of his outburst, I probably would have been only slightly more surprised. Because the ilk of Republicans among which Wilson counts himself does not disagree with Obama's policy, but with his Blackness, and with what they think is worse, his confidence and capability in spite of it.

And not only is Wilson's weak, mumbled 'apology' evidence of his lack of remorse, but even considering the admonition from both sides, the support he has received from like-thinking Americans who think he's just 'representing the people' suggests that there is not nearly enough outrage as we'd like to think there should be. Obama himself seemed thoroughly unfazed in the moment, as many of us who have experienced this type of racism tend to become. And the increase in donations to Wilson's Democratic opponent may be seen as a kind of quiet resistance to Wilson's brand of hate. But even as I consider my own response, as well as the President's, I wonder if 'quiet' and 'unfazed' are exactly the characteristics that feed this new, accepted racism that is being packaged as due democratic process, even while it clearly is not. The advantage of the post-racial myth is that it fools us into thinking Wilson part of an outdated minority, even as it gives birth to a revival in racism at the highest level, which - left ignored - will continue to thrive and grow right under our noses.

Bottle attacks are a real nuisance

When I wrote last week about street harassment, a skeptical male reader conceded that such attention could perhaps be considered 'a nuisance'. I suppose it could be characterized as a nuisance: vile insults, threats of rape, intimidation, being attacked with a bottle. Yeah...that could get annoying:

A WOMAN who was hit in the face because she did not take kindly to Dwayne Omar
Anthony Brathwaite dancing behind her will carry the scars from his bottle
attack, but will also get compensation from him.

A little heads up to the Nation's writer: she wasn't hit in the face because she didn't take kindly to Dwayne Omar Anthony Brathwaite dancing behind her. She was hit in the face because Dwayne Omar Anthony Brathwaite is a criminal who will not tolerate rejection from a woman and who thinks it acceptable to hit her as punishment for having the temerity to refuse him. But it's alright, because even though she's scarred, she gets oodles of money!

The magistrate ordered Brathwaite to pay Douglas $2 000 in compensation and
Forde $1 000 in compensation - by December 11.

Ok...maybe one oodle. Or..half an oodle?

During the trial, Forde told the court she and her friend Debbie were in
the Boatyard nightclub. She was dancing with a male friend in an area near some
steps when she noticed a man was in front of her.

People were also pointing at her friend and she then saw that man was
dancing behind her friend. That man was Brathwaite.

"I was concerned 'cause Debbie appeared not to welcome it and I asked
[my friend] to speak to Brathwaite," she said.

"I heard Debbie ask [Brathwaite] where he came from. [Brathwaite] then
walked away and [her male friend] walked over and spoke with [Brathwaite] and
asked him to leave Debbie alone," the witness added.

Forde further told the court that five minutes later she felt someone
approach her, and, out of the corner of her eye, she saw that person come next
to her.

"I put up my right hand to cover my face and I got hit on my elbow with
a beer bottle. When I looked to my right I saw [Brathwaite] holding a bottle,"
she said.

"[Brathwaite] then hit Debbie with the same bottle he hit me with and
said, 'Don't send nobody to tell me things.'"

Yeah. That's a real nuisance.

And here's another thing I want to know: is the content of victim testimony against violent offenders meant to be a matter of public record? Because it seems to me that this type of reporting is more about providing cheap drama for readers than about the public's right to know.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Researching attitudes about mothering and feminism

Researchers Mindy Erchull and Miriam Liss at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia are engaged in a study examining attitudes about mothering and feminism. They've developed a survey to collect data from women over the age of 18, including "feminists, non-feminists, mothers, and non-mothers", and are asking our help in gathering information.

You can find the survey here:

It takes about 15 minutes, and you can repost the link anywhere you like. Wear it on a t-shirt, leave it in a fogged-up mirror in an airport bathroom, you know, spread the word however you wish. Given the number of surveys I've asked poor, unsuspecting strangers to complete, I always like to help people out. (Who knows - maybe Miriam and Mindy will shed some light on the whole feminist, baby-hating movement that apparently exists.)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

It's not just about Buju

So we heard this past Sunday that once again, following protests from gay rights advocacy groups, Buju Banton has been banned from performing at scheduled shows, this time in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas and Houston. Some bloggers are rolling their eyes that people just can't get over a song from 20 years ago and let the man have a career, and even the Jamaica Gleaner is, through their headline, painting him as some kind of tragic figure dogged by past mistakes and hunted by an unrelenting, international activist machine. It's as if we're meant to believe that this is all about one man and one misguided song, rather than an entire reggae industry made rich by anti-gay sentiment, and supported by a large, homophobic population.

There are other questions that might be examined here: the idea of redemption, who deserves it and when, and who gets to offer it; boycotting as a political action, whom we boycott, who we may find it easier to boycott, and who is ultimately affected by these types of decisions. But one thing is impossible to deny: the homophobia in Jamaican music is definite and destructive, and makes a very difficult subject for any exploration of the privilege of Western activism aimed at the developing world. Still, let us onward, and see what we see.

Back in 2005, the UK-based Stop Murder Music coalition entered into a verbal agreement with major record labels and concert promoters representing eight of reggae music's biggest names, including Buju, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. The agreement saw the suspension of SMM's aggressive campaigns against the artistes and their music - campaigns which had been extremely successful in cancelling tours and TV appearances and withdrawing award nominations from the artistes involved. In return, record companies "pledged not to release or re-release any offensive songs", as well as encourage singers not to perform such songs on stage.

But the artistes themselves were not involved in this decision, and the following year, the truce was abandoned when it was claimed that Buju Banton, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer broke the agreement by repeating homophobic songs and views.

In 2007, Buju Banton, Beenie Man and others attracted considerable praise and media attention when they reportedly signed the Reggae Compassionate Act, renouncing homophobia and condemning violence against lesbians and gay men. But it later emerged that once news of the Act reached their fan base in Jamaica, representatives of the artistes vehemently denied their clients' being signatory to the agreement, and so the cycle continues.

Over the last decade, Buju especially has come to be known more for his uplifting lyrics than for the infamous "Boom Bye Bye" - first recorded in 1988 and re-released in 1992 - that has come to be the exemplar of murder music against which activist groups are fighting. But he performed the song at Memorial Fest in Miami in 2006, a year before signing the Act, but recently enough for those concerned to be skeptical of his professed change of heart. (The last link also contains the song's lyrics, so this is a warning for sexual content, violence and most other forms of general indecency of which you might conceive.)

None of these agreements has ever required an apology for past hateful behaviour, or any kind of public, verbal statements by the artistes reflecting a change of heart, or a commitment to denounce homophobia in their public lives. Sure, they may (or may not, depending on who you talk to) have scrawled a pen across an Act whose clauses were written by a third party, but they are part of a culture and people that considers itself righteous in its homophobia and hate: there is a community that thinks itself the victim of a conspiracy to malign Jamaica and its music, and so they stand proud in a fight to protect their right to be hateful. And much of masculinity in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean is predicated on an emphatic, sometimes violent rejection of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The same violence applied to the conquest of women that defines manhood is applied to the suppression and oppression of the gay identity.

When the Prime Minister of a country, in an internationally broadcast interview, asserts that there is 'no room for gays' in political life and refuses to establish legislation recognising gay rights, there is very little incentive for musicians to reject homophobia. In fact, this type of stance by the country's leader acts as a disincentive to any Jamaican from interrogating his/her own homophobia and taking a public stand against it, since such action is likely to be met with ridicule. It would be great to have a popular champion of tolerance, but that is not likely to come in the person of a best-selling reggae artist who, like the PM, must stay popular in order to stay wealthy.

There are, of course, parts of the population who do not accept homophobia as a necessary part of their culture, but one finds it difficult to conceive of a Jamaica where the tolerance of the few eventually extends to the many. This is not likely to happen for many generations, not when homophobia is sanctioned by the State. Jamaican opposition to outside activism makes claims of racism, charging that White gay rights groups are unfairly targeting Black, Caribbean musicians, and seeking to keep their communities in poverty. I'd say it's a little difficult to play the victim when you're advocating the eradication of an entire population, but there is something to the notion that we have to be strategic in our political action. I wrote a little about it here, and clearly immune from accusations of vanity, I'm going to quote myself below:
Amid growing calls in the international activist community to boycott tourism and products that would benefit 'homophobic countries' - on the list of which Jamaica features high - Barbados too has been censured in a recent shadow report "for its criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity and the violation of the rights of lesbian[s], gay[s], bisexual[s] and transgender[ed people] (LGBT)." While I think that the types of boycotts mentioned are often ill-conceived and counter-productive (if you want to change public attitudes towards the LGBT community, maintaining the already poor in poverty is not the way to do it), and based on the absurd notion that for example Jamaica is one homogeneous society thinking and acting as one, I do believe that properly-implemented action by the international community is one of the ways to develop political will among these countries' own governments to effect change from within. Tying development aid or representation on certain international bodies to the proven enforcement of human rights conventions is one place to start, and while it is not the place of the US or any other country to wholly dictate cultural values to another country, it is certainly the place of all of us to expose institutionalized bigotry and hate in countries that claim to promote human freedoms for all.
Do I have a point? Yes! And it is this: the LGBT communities all over the world are within their rights and have my support in preventing those who would attack their identities and their bodies from being given a platform on their doorsteps. We would be naïve to think that this is just about Buju's one song years ago. This was the track that launched his career, and he seems hard pressed to abandon his identification with it. Even so, this isn't about one man or one song. To this day, homophobic lyrics are produced in reggae studios and played in clubs. And if Jamaica is a scapegoat and an easy target, it's certainly a justifiable one. (It's also an unfortunate one, since those who absurdly and incorrectly claim that homophobia is a predominantly Black affliction have good old Jamaica to point to.) Anti-homophobia action has to go beyond bans and boycotts, but we can't expect the targets of hate and bigotry, the ones struggling to feel safe, to be the only ones tasked with eliminating it. It's the rest of us who have to do the work.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Cinderella's man seems strangely at ease

In the name of fairness and thoroughness, I must mention that the Nation newspaper ran a follow-up article to the one we discussed here last week, written by the same author. This one was much more succinct. Apparently, heterosexual men don't need as much advice on how to bag a partner as their female counterparts do. The author introduces the piece with a story he heard from a 'gorgeous lady' (I guess if she had looked like crap the story would be rendered irrelevant) of how some guy who had invited her to a movie paid for himself and bounced, leaving her to cover her own ticket. The horror. Sure this guy was rude, but only insofar as he was the one doing the inviting and didn't offer to pay, or at least didn't let her know in advance that he was planning to go splitsies.

Five instructions then follow. I'll list them for you:

Look good!
Be romantic!
Be confident!
Be flexible!
Be prepared!

Even with the couple lines of explanation that follow, these are a lot more vague and non-specific than the instructions meant for women, which included warnings like "don't bleed his pocket", "don't disrespect him" and other rules framing women's behaviour almost wholly as it relates to men. The men's instructions, on the other hand, are largely just a "be the best you" guide, a kind of self-improvement tome that comes in handy whether there's a woman around or not. Even the photos used couldn't be more telling. Last week's photo featured a woman gazing lovingly and eagerly at her man; this week's photo is of a single man: relaxed, laying back and listening to music. This thing is too easy. No doubt the writer and editors thought that publishing both pieces, even though they're both from a Christian man, was equitable and inclusive. But given the nature of this second article, excluding it altogether would have been a smarter move.

Beyond 'yawn', I've not much more to say about it, but I thought I'd give it a mention by way of follow-up.
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