A must-see video. For me, this is a great example of how to win an argument AND bring them over to your side…Bravo Derrick!

AND he’s self-reflexive, politically astute and a son of Brooklyn!!!!

Boy, you made your parents — and all of us from the black postcolonies who have worried that we have not done enough to pass on the radical democratic ideals of CLR James, Kwame Nkrumah, James Padmore, Claudia Jones etc. to our children — damn proud. Why? Because you, yes gum-chewing you, have been paying attention to how you came to be in history, and you spoke up and spoke truthfully when you were called.  Take back the mike, yes!


Cow Counters Unite!

December 14, 2007

Glenda Simms’ recent column certainly inspired [joking then, serious now] some thoughts about reviving progressive activism in Jamaica.

At first, I came up with the name of organization and a title, for myself of course:  “Managing Director, Jamaica Federation of Cow Counters (JFCC)”.   Sounds like a parody of groups like AWOJA, etc.  Which would suit it nicely.   But I don’t know about the title; sounds bossy, grand, lofty sounding, think too much of oneself.  Definitely not what I was aiming for.

And then these came to mind: 

Jamaica Cow Counters’ Professional Association
Association of Jamaican Cow Counters

Again, as I let these roll through my brain a couple times, I didn’t like what these names suggest; one one hand, they had that sense of parody about the kind of work that “bureaus”, “associations” and “federations” usually do, which is not much in the way of social activism that I am interested in.  These names also seemed so status quo and bureaucratically-oriented; is this the natural demise of NGOs – to become like the very corporations and statutory bodies they used to critique?  In this sense, the names neutralize the grassroots critique being offered by the “cow counters” phrase.

And then I came up with “Jamaican Cow Counters for Justice”.  I’m liking this one.  To the point.  No disguising its goal.

Meanwhile, I will get to work on an appropriate title and job description for myself as well as a mission statement for the group.   Any input is welcome!  Let me know if you want to organize a cell wherever you are.

Letter to Gleaner, Feb. 28, 2007 

Regarding the Feb. 25 story about Jamaica not being the favored destination for overprivileged college students from the US.  In my view, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And using the recent policies regarding passports as a scapegoat makes the problem even more apparent.


Over the past 10 years, I have often travelled to Jamaica around the spring break period. The conversations in the airport lobbies, on the airplane returning to their homes, and in my college classrooms reveal some of the reasons why the mystique has evaporated.   Jamaica simply is too expensive for what they get. Students say they want to party, but seriously, they don’t really expect to see a replication of Six Flags America-style amusement parks.  They do want to experience what this country is really about.  They want a peek beyond the mystique even though they’re probably high while doing so.


What they get glimpses of – the dirt, decline, corruption, mistreatment – tells them that they either should return as Peace Corps types, or not at all. Feeling bad about what is happening around you is not exactly the way to enjoy one’s vacation.  As such, Cancun and South Florida is a better deal; at least they know what they are getting.  This is what they tell their friends and family.


What’s missing from the development of tourism in Jamaica is a love of the place and the people who make this place what it is. The disdain with which Jamaican citizens are treated by policy makers is clearly evident to the naked, uncritical eye of spring breakers.


When the national government actively perpetuates structural violence against its citizens (poverty, poor quality of education, no protections for whatever employment does exist et al) and raids the national coffers with no explanation or plan for replacing the dwindling resources, the effects reverberate throughout the society.  The tourist industry is not immune to these conditions, and the effects are often unintended.


What is needed? Radically new ideas about planning and management of the built environment, mass firing of the government folks who are currently running the country into the ground, and sustained efforts to nurture and sustain an educated (not just school-related, but civic-minded) and engaged public.

In truth, Jamaica need a break from tourism.  We need to address the social infrastructure to make it possible for people to be less dependent on one industry for survival. We — from the swims lady in St. Elizabeth to the JUTA driver in Montego Bay – need to be able to say proudly and truthfully that residents of this country matter just as much, if not more than, the visitors. Only then can the indigenous sense of pride that is most often expressed through mob violence and desperate but ineffective demonstrations, develop into something that makes Jamaica worth going to, over and over again. And we would all — residents and visitors alike — be better off for it.

Lessons from Phibbah

October 12, 2007

September 11, 2006

Dear IRIE-FM, 

I have been listening to IRIE-FM via the internet for a few months now, and it has functioned primarily as background noise for me.  So, for the past few days, I have been quite surprised — pleasantly so — to hear such discussion about the essay competition on Phibbah.  But, today, while listening to the host on the radio — I don’t know what her name is; broadcast around 1:30 pm — it became apparent that she did not fully understand the real impact and import of Phibbah’s experiences, or how to translate important dimensions of that history/knowledge for a contemporary audience.

The trajectory of her commentary went as such: she attempted to translate the formal history into Jamaican Creole by synthesizing the known history of Thistlewood raping Phibbah in the following way – “im musse did tink sey a’ ‘im ooman but ah rape im did a rape ‘ar”, and “memba di name Thistlewood, so if you si anybody wid dat name you can sey hmm…is im generation dem”. 

The host then went on to that while listeners might want to blame Phibbah for putting up with being raped, they needed to recognize that she had few options because she was a slave (owned by Thistlewood); however, she was able to buy land, etc. etc. once she took the money he gave her to and became a free woman.  Immediately following, she referred to community activities in Westmoreland to build/renovate a center for adolescent mothers, and mentioned a monument to be built for Phibbah. The segment ends with the song “Woman you get standing ovation.”

Now, it is itself remarkable that this is the first opportunity that we have had as a nation to use the historical experiences of Jamaican women to generate productive public discourse about the ways that rape and sexual terrorism continue to limit the lives of Jamaican women and girls.  However, it is not simply a moment to glorify Phibbah for eventually ‘getting on’ with her life.  While that recovery is important, it is even more critical to take stock of how power inequalities in the society based on gender and class continue to make the lives of many women and children so difficult that their lives more closely resemble that of Phibbah’s than they realize.  That is, too many women and children are enslaved by their dons, babyfathers, husbands, boyfriends, fathers, stepfathers, and do not see many options beyond waiting it out.

The psychological and physical trauma of sexual violence robs our society of women who could otherwise make important contributions, without waiting for the “ded-lef” of the men or the bankrupt social policies that traumatized them in the first place.   I believe that we as Jamaicans have a collective responsibility to deal with this issue in an intelligent and creative fashion.

Downplaying the horrible experiences of rape — whether historical or contemporary, as the host did, only allows the stigma and the violence to flourish.  Women and girls can convince themselves that they can get on with their lives eventually, that there is really no harm done, and really, it is their business, not a reflection of the collective experiences and daily lives of the women who live in that society.  Men can convince themselves that since it’s their wife/girlfriend/cousin they really didn’t’ do anything wrong. 

Misrecognizing rape as a historical and contemporary reality of WOMEN – not just Phibbah and not just the latest victim reported in the Gleaner — allows us to “feel sorry” for the poor ting who this happen to and to ask “wha ki’na man woulda do dat?”  By so doing, we ignore the ways in which our institutions — like IRIE FM — often conspire against women through their reluctance to call sexual violence against women for exactly what it is.  There are hundreds of Phibbahs among us today, and few will get such a lucky break in a time when “owners/slaveholders” come in many stripes these days.

By ignoring or not recognizing the opportunity before us to condemn sexual violence and to generate new, vibrant debate and solutions about dealing with sexual violence in Jamaican society, we are conceding that rape and sexual violence is not really a problem.  In fact, it is the hidden crisis; just because the Ministry of National Security and Mr. Police Commissioner have shown little or no interest in it [can we report sexual predators to Kingfish?] doesn’t mean that this form of violence does not also need national attention and resources.  I know that, with effort and awareness, IRIE-FM can do much better to honor Phibbah’s legacy.  Myself, and all the Jamaican women who want an end to sexual violence, are counting on you.