A Village Idiot on the Rampage
February 20, 2009
I am seriously, seriously at a loss about why so many well-thinking people are up in arms about Ernie Smith being caught shitting through his mouth. That’s this is a habit of his is quite well known and clearly tolerated. Remember the “virginity testing” proposal a few years ago? In fact, he is a member of an organization called Parliament, where one criterion for membership is willingness to talk out of one’s ass rather than using one’s intellect. And although a few have slipped in under the radar, there are many others who feel it is their duty to uphold this particular standard of membership. This has been true for many years now.
I am thinking that maybe our consciousness about the profound violence being done to us through words and utterances has been heightened by the daggering debates, the barefaced lies and corruption taking shape in front of us as if we are stupid, the glaring ineptness of our political leaders on any issue you name at the moment. I don’t really know. But it seems that we have hit a kind of threshold of tolerance, and now we say we can’t take it anymore. Good thing, yes. But what is so so frightening to me is that we have waited so long, allowed so many psyches to be destroyed, lives to be taken, misinformation to become known as gospel, treated the spiteful vipers as messiahs, and condemned common decency and respect for our fellow citizen to the dungle heap. I am wondering who else is being sacrificed right now while we deal with this issue. Actually, I am not wondering; I know. What a state to be in!
This is not a country where people feel the need to be kind to one another. We don’t have any defined standards for how to talk to each other. People say the meanest and most debased things to one another, just so. Compassion is not our first love; its more about retribution and punishment. Love is not what we live. And using language to cut each other down is what we admire and nurture best here. That’s what makes dancehall DJs so popular; the art of the quick tongue; the carefully worded verse that sends a vibe that ricochets off the soul. And dem im lik it again just in case you missed it the first time: come dung selector!
It is in the “do I know you?” “and who did you say you were?” and “do you know who you are talking to?” It is in the “hol yuh corner” and the utter refusal to believe that there are more than two sides to a story. It is in the ridiculous reverence for numbers of degrees, and each degree entitles one to say the most insulting and ridiculous things, never to be challenged for the credibility of the sources, the veracity of the information, the logic of the argument. It just IS because someone of importance said it. And they must know, shouldn’t they? It is in the maddening genuflection to “government” and “politicians” as know-it-alls, although they know nothing much except how to use their power to extort more out of the citizenry without giving much in return. Why else then do we elect persons who can barely utter a completely correct sentence, and who use their marital status, number of children, and reverence for the Bible as qualification for public office? Why else do we quietly accept, and give more power to, persons who seem to reside in some nether-world where every utterance is equivalent to every other utterance, no matter whether what is said does violence to another’s identity.
We just don’t understand this concept. We just don’t get that words harm, and that those who are harmed have a right to say that they have been harmed, and to refuse to be treated in such a manner.
Since Buju Banton touched off a storm with his “boom bye bye” we have been having a conversation that has gone nowhere, fast. Words harm. Language does violence. Violence is not always physical, it is also ideological, psychic, emotional. But make no mistake: harm has been done.
And the one thing that has characterized this society since at least 1993, is a sincere commitment to destroying gay and lesbian identity from its most physical dimensions – ravaging the bodies of men and women through rape and death – to its social dimensions – creating distorted representations of us through stereotypes as man-hating, child-molesting, violence-prone, diseased, anti-family bodies, and denying us the ability to live, work and love in the country of our birth without fear – to its psychic and spiritual dimensions – calling us evil, diseased, a scorge on the soil, unfit to be loved, touched, healed, or even buried alongside the more righteous ones. This war – and it is a war – has been ongoing, and virtually unabated for over sixteen years now. Sixteen years. That is the length of a generation. That means there is at least one entire generation that has never not seen or heard lesbians and gay men talked about in anything other than the most disparaging ways, as less than persons to be shed from the body politic – whether by death, disease or hiding them away in the recesses of the family wardrobe. This is what we have been doing, taking occasional breaths by focusing our attention on the other queer body – w0rking class women who are having too much sex, too many children, doing too much daggering, etc. etc. etc. etc. And when that runs its course, we are back to gays and lesbians. Because after all, the job was not finished. They are still here.
We now have new rightwing groups who have made it their raison d’etre to target women’s bodies and queer bodies; they intend to ground us into constitutional dust through any number of state-sanctioned regulations and calls to moral vigilantism that would make us into non-citizens, permanent aliens. And they have spewn their hate, lord have they spewn their hate, in the name of legal arguments, pounding us into oblivion with scriptures, threats of hell and damnation and what not. But we have not gone away. They have said no less than Ernie Smith ie. that gays and lesbians are not full citizens by virtue of their sexual practices, and are thus not entitled to full protection under the law. The Justice Minister A.J. Nicholson said it; the Public Defender Earl Witter said it; Peter Phillips said it; Bruce Golding said it; PJ Patterson said it. Everybody who has felt the need to prove their Jamaican-ness has said it: gays and lesbians ought to be expelled from the national body, or rendered silent, however we choose to accomplish that. If we can’t even agree and forcefully argue that gays and lesbians are entitled to privacy, then how are we going to let something like “freedom of association” be respected for this group? There’s no contradiction – NONE – in the consistent ways in which gays and lesbians have been denied full citizenship in this country. And those questions and utterances have been legitimized by the silence of more than a few. It is not only the rabid ones who are to blame for what has come to pass.
JFLAG’s existence has been questioned, not once, not twice, but ever since it came into being in 1998. Who do they think they are, our “veteran journalists” said? What exactly do they think they are doing, acting like they have a right to speak, said our “well-respected religious and civic leaders”? Who came out and defended JFLAG’s right to exist? Not even JFLAG has always been able to articulate that it is the nature of a democratic society that people can organize themselves around their shared concerns and advocate for themselves, despite what others thing. And even JFLAG may well have doubted itself and its existence, tenuous as it has been; only one person at a time is ever publicly associated with the organization; the last person fled the country to seek asylum elsewhere last year. Jason is now at the helm holding his own, and is he ever. I am so proud of him right now. JFLAG is the source of the framing of the critique of Ernie Smith’s utterance as an affront to democracy, and don’t you all forget it!
What is even more amazing to me is that the argument is taking hold. I think we are waking up, readers. Yes, I think we are maturing; we are figuring out what it means to live in a democracy, and that such an existence does not allow the utterances of Ernie Smith to go unrecognized for what it is, nor to be left unchallenged lest he be taken to be right. And there are many who will agree with him. But maybe, just maybe, some of the silent ones, who have allowed this climate of ignorance and hate to fester for 16 years, are ready to say ENOUGH. And maybe we are ready to start acting like we live in a democracy, where every single one of us is responsible for creating and defending a society where ALL of us can live and fully exist, regardless of what we think of each other’s views. I am the kind of person who would lay wait for Ernie Smith and throw a bag of human shit at him, to complement what came out of his mouth. I do believe in live and direct protest after all.
But what I really want is for us who believe that we are better than what Ernie/Beenie/Al/Shirley/AJ/Bruce/Buju etc. have reduced us to, to start creating new ways of talking, living and working together as Jamaicans that does not require us to name those who we disagree with as the ENEMY, or to plot the other’s demise because we feel morally superior to them. Let the village idiot run around screaming all manners of garbage. But let there be few people who are standing on the sidelines waving and cheering him on, and let even a few wait for him to stop and calm down, then offer him a glass of coconut water, and ask him if he wants a place to rest his head, or a ride home. Then let him go home to wherever he came from, as we continue building something better that he might not even recognize when he passes back this way. Because, he WILL be back. And if not him, someone just like him.
And let’s not keep electing these people to office, please. It makes us look even more stupid than him.
P.S. Hilaire Sobers also weighed in on this issue, using nicer words of course, to frame the problem.