Dancing For the Devil

June 10, 2010

I was responding to Agostinho’s post about the future of Passa-Passa, when it occurred to me that I should write some of my thoughts about the event on my own blog as well.  (I wish I kept track of what I wrote on other people’s blogs; each was a post in itself!)
I have never gone to the Passa Passa street dance held in Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston every Wednesday night because I refused to go and dance for the devil.   It was as simple as that to me.
It took me a little while to connect “Passa Passa” to THE Tivoli Gardens of which I have known since childhood.  And that place was not one that I imagined non-Tivolians being able to inhabit quite so easily.  Something wasn’t quite right; I didn’t feel right going there, no matter how much hype it got.  I turned down every invitation.  Not interested.
But when one of my friends from Kingston was going on about how no violence “couldn’t” happen because the Don seh so, my interest was peaked.  Really now?  So all the gunfire and dead people doesn’t really have to happen – a don can just open his mouth and things stop? Well, then, to me, all dem dons well wicked fi a mek people a kill off demself so and don’t do anything about it.
The  ‘mandate’ of no violence during Passa Passa in Tivoli just seemed downright strange.  It probably wasn’t even true, but it certainly felt true to lots of people.  After all, they kept going.
And then it slowly dawned on me that this much-talked about event wasn’t just an expression of altruism on the part of the don; it wasn’t just about wanting people to have a good time.
Passa-Passa wasn’t just a big street dance.
It was a full-on performance BY Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke for the rest of the country and the world.   He showed – and did he! – that he had the power to command the resources, the attention, the energy and to which was drawn crowds of people like moths to a flame to frolic in his personal fiefdom that is Tivoli. Smart man that one.
And frolic they did.
They sang and danced and even managed to convince themselves that this was a deeply spiritual experience one they were called to and can’t help but partake in; that some kind of freedom was possible right there in the JLP’s terrordome called Tivoli.
As it turns out, the people were the props.   They had a good time as long as HE thought it expedient and the PR remained good.   They got played.
The story of Passa Passa reads more like a sci-fi horror movie:
The people are commanded to dance by some Unseen Being and Force, and they do so gladly at first, even as they begin to have that growing feeling that what they think is voluntary isn’t really so;
The intensity of their performance increases as the participants try harder and harder to push the encroaching reality away by singing, dancing, drinking and laughing harder, faster, louder.
The sheer terror of realizing what they are trapped in and who they are performing for makes them go mad; the exhaustion produces hallucinations; every person is now a threat to every other person; it seems that no one can leave this place alive.
Soon there are dead bodies lying everywhere.
Fade to black.
When the music ends and the lights come on, what felt like a filmed performance of a street dance is revealed to be a staged play.
Curtain raises.

No applause.

No director goes on stage to take a bow.

Only gunshots and wailing.

Curtain falls.

The spotlight shines on a line of caskets at the rear of the stage.

At the same time the music begins to play and becomes increasingly louder.

It’s coming from the caskets.

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dem guh loot police station a look fi bullet an gun..

police ah run lef’ kyaar and gunman a drive..  POLICE CARS NO. 20, NO. 36 &  NO.91

dem bun dung police station..

helicopter and all a dem fufool police an’ souljah a run go a Tivoli fi meet dem Waterloo…

Crime Minister Golding come pon TV a twis’ up im mout’ an a talk like seh im nuh responsible fi wha’ deh gwa’an…

Dat man need more dan prayer. Im need fi tek whe’h imsself! 

What an embarassment!

What  a spectacle of incompetence and sheggery!

But, if ah so it fi go so di whole na’asy govament bwile can bus, den a so it affi go…

Let’s see:

The latest is that our esteemed PM still insists that “we” (must be the royal ‘we’, because he doesn’t speak for myself or many people that I know) are not going to yield to pressure” from “the most organized lobby in the world” to “liberalize”(what the hell does that mean anyway??) unjust laws which overly scrutinize and punish some men for engaging in consensual sexual practices with each other while allowing other men to fuck whichever women or girls and under whatever conditions they want. BG is still confusing and conflating legislation (ie. the structured framework within which the citizens act that designates “legal” and “illegal” behaviours) with morality (ie. notions of ideal codes of conduct that individuals use to define their actions). Maybe someone should tell him that not every behaviour that is designated as “legal” is necessarily “right”, and that law ought not to be used as a weapon against people you personally dislike. But, I digress…

Mi really starting to wanda a wha mek im fraid a homosexuality so? It does seem like BG is starting to develop some aptitude for nuance, in shying away from overt policing behaviour in private – or he’s leaving that to vigilante groups rather than the police – and bearing down on the side of punishing men who engage in sexual violence against other men. In this case, he wants to make special provisions to punish men who sexually assault other men or boys even further. I bet im nuh mek no special provision fi di “sexual grooming” or “sexual harassment” what deh gwa’an right inna fi’im backyard? Just mek sure seh your judge dem know seh demi fi treat rape against girls/women with the SAME seriousness as rape against men/boys, yuh ear mi, sah? If we need to take it to that level, then raping women should ALSO be a crime against the nation, dammit. Men are not more socially valuable than women, and we should not accept any legislation that enshrines this notion in any way.

At the same time, said BG has authorized much money to be spent on shoring up the bangbelly tourism industry, whose doyennes have identified the next big moneymaker market as – you guessed it – gay and lesbian tourism. No shit. So, either BG does not know that interest in this marketing strategy has been gathering steam for a couple years now in his own backyard independent of what he’s defending as “culture” (another post on that to come), or he simply does not understand that many in his government do not see any problem with taking the “pink dollar” from foreign hands, at the same time that he is saying that the battered, bloodied and dead bodies, which are inevitable as long as he chooses to defend this irresponsible double standard, are his business, not their’s. Frankly, it seems to me that the left hand is trying to force the right hand to soften its grip, and might well be succeeding, finger by finger. If BG continues with this ridiculous tirade and chanting against homosexual sex, he is going to be caught in a tight corner with his pants down, and it’s not going to be pleasant to watch. Somebody also needs to point out that he, like Ernie Smith, is riding this one for popular points, and he is starting to look just as foolish.

By the way, it’s well past time for you well-meaning heterosexuals to speak up and challenge this man. Here you have your Prime Minister using very strong language to suggest that HE is not going to listen to anybody – inside or outside – who disagrees with him on this issue. In fact, he has taken it on himself to decide what is “right” and “wrong” for Jamaicans. Imagine that! I didn’t know that’s what the PM was elected to do, maybe I should go back and do O-Level Civics to remind myself. Apparently, all a wi a gyingi fly whe’ im kyaa just swat whe’ when im ready. Again, a very telling response. Im is blasted out a order! If him can decide seh im n’ aa listen pon dis issue, yuh nuh tink seh a so im a go deal with wi pon every odda issue to? Now, with an attitude and example like this, why should the other legislators have any respect for citizens’ concerns, or feel that they are beholden to the citizens and not just to themselves and whateva fly up inna dem éad? He insists on framing this issue as being about “giving in” to the Enemy. Since when are gays and lesbians “the enemy”? Oh sorry, I forgot about the last 16 years. I just want to know if he really thinks that he is saying anything different from his buddy-ol’ pal Ernie? It’s clear to me that BG really doesn’t get that the best thing he can possibly do on this issue is to position himself as a reasonable man who is willing to listen and engage in a manner that his fellow citizens can learn from, whether or not he decides to change his mind. Somebody should really tell him. In all these ways, he is just like George Bush II. In fact, BG seems to be taking up where GB left off (a palindrome of sorts). Let’s just say BG is not my idea model for a good statesman or progressive national leader, and leave it at that for now.

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.

When is the truth a lie?

December 1, 2008

[I wrote this at the beg. of Nov. and forgot to post it; there have been two additional verdicts to the ones I discuss since then. I haven’t followed up on this case either.]

Well, if you are a woman in Jamaica who has been raped, who is accusing a policeman of being the rapist, then you had better not ever had told a lie in your life before you were raped. Otherwise, you are disqualified from ever being believed about anything, especially in a court of law.

At least, that was the conclusion that I drew after reading the Gleaner’s account of the verdict of the trial of Newton Bentley, a 48-year old man who, when he was 44 years old, sexually assaulted a 12 year old girl.

As usual, the unattributed article did not provide nearly the kind of detail and analysis of the trial as it needed to. However, it certainly led readers to believe that the 7-person verdict [how many men? women? ages?] were swayed by the argument that since the now-16 years old girl had told lies in her past, she was clearly lying when she claimed Newton is the rapist. The report didn’t say what kind of lies, what magnitude, what context, nothing about the nature of the lies that Dwight Reece seemed to find it important to remind the jury about, in order to convince them that the young girl lied about what had happened to her.

The report didn’t say a word about whether the prosecution bothered to ask Newton whether he had ever told a lie – comparable in scale, magnitude etc. to the young girl’s – and asked the jury to consider whether it should believe him now when he claims to be innocent.

Apparently, the small, inconsequential problem of Newton, in his eminent innocence, abducting the young girl to prevent her from testifying against him, was not sufficient for the jury to rule against him. I wonder what else he could have done and still be allowed to walk away as if he is innocent?

All kind of hell should break loose about this, but it probably won’t.  Just think: For the past several months, we have been bludgeoned with account after account of women and girls being assaulted, raped, murdered, and kidnapped. We have been inundated of all the ways in which the police have been behaving in the most vile, abusive manners, as if they are above the law, including participating on those very acts of sexual violence against women and girls.  And so, the jury, in its infinite wisdom, probably thinks that it should save the reputation of our police and not sacrifice this one.  I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was indeed part of their justification for the verdict.

I do know that this verdict shows that once again, no girl or woman can have any confidence in the formal court of laws.  And I am also fairly sure that this practice of dismissing women’s testimony is a systemic form of discrimination.  We need more organized efforts if anything is ever going to change: a Court Watch; a system for monitoring, coaching and supporting those who are called as witnesses against themselves, as well as a way to influence lawyers to try these cases properly.  Where are the lawyers who are standing up for women and girls?  Who is doing this work?

Crowd o’ people!  Spread the word widely!  Do show up at the march/vigil and then come back and tell me how it was for you.  I’ll reserve my comments for after the event. Check out Nicholas Laughlin’s post as well.

A message from Aloun Ndombet-Assamba:

A group of us have gotten together to do something about this frightening situation that we find ourselves in as a country. With the support of my Lions club, the Lions Club of New Kingston, Blossom Anglin Brown and I have joined a group of women and men to begin to take responsibility for our country.  We have a diverse group who have met, including the Kiwanis Club of New Kingston, Hear the Children Cry, the former President of the JMA and other individuals and have arranged for a MARCH on Wednesday NOV 19th,2008 which is the International Day for Prevention of Child Abuse.

We will begin our MARCH from the POLICE OFFICER’S CLUB on Hope Road at 4.00pm.
We will go down Hope Road to Half Way Tree
Turn left on to Half Way Tree Road; march to Chelsea Ave
Turn left on Chelsea Ave; march to Trafalgar Road
Turn right on Trafalgar Road; march to Knutsford Boulevard
Turn right on to Knutsford Boulevard; march to Emancipation Park.

Once in Emancipation Park we will join the CHILD DEVELOPMENT AGENCY in their Candle Light Vigil which has been planned for this special Day.

Our march is not a public relations event nor is it intended to be a feel good event.It is also not a party political event. We will have no speeches. This is a serious attempt to bring attention to the situation we are in as a country and to have citizens take personal responsibility for doing something about it. We believe this is just a start and will symbolize the forging of a social partnership where people from all walks of life can come together and take a stand.

We are not calling on the Government or the Police to do anything. We are calling on individual private citizens to stop being crippled by fear and consider it our duty to do what he or she can to make Jamaica, once again a safe place to be.

Bring pictures of children and women who have been abducted and or killed to show on the march. We are not providing any tee shirts or other paraphenalia.  Just our bodies.  If you can’t join us at the start of the march join us along the way. Allow your staff to leave work early so they can join us. Get your friend and neighbours to join us and share this email with others so they can choose to join us.

We pray fervently for God’s Spirit to be with us and to guide our footsteps in this terrible time.

Aloun

Well, I didn’t like the answers I found in yesterday and today’s Gleaner, so I wrote the following letter:

To the Editor:

It is deeply problematic that the violence against Christopher Sukra in Westmoreland would provoke a need for Gleaner editors to call for “draw[ing] the line against sexual depravity”, despite the numbers of women’s and girls’ who have been similarly brutalized and used as fodder for newspaper and tv reportage over the past several months.

Similarly, the sexism and deep-seated and destructive hatred of homosexuality that pervades this society, and which drove many in 2006 to argue against changing the definition of rape in order to prevent the recognition of homosexual sex between men, are the same social prejudices that Orville Taylor invokes in his column, telling us to see the crime against this and other boy children as different from and more serious than rape because it was “capped by the awful act of sodomy.”  Even after that 2006 debate, we have people pandering to the notion that some kinds of sexual violence are more important than others, based on which sexual acts were deemed acceptable.  Apparently, rape is about sex after all.

I am left wonder how many dead and dismembered girls and women will it take for that symbolic line in the sand to be crossed, where what is done to them is not registered as normal and acceptable, but rather a form of violence as well?  Both Taylor’s column and the editorial tell us, albeit not in so many words.  When the crime is committed against girls and women, the problem is too “complex” to sort out.  On the other hand, the rape and murder of a boy is as an issue of “sexual propriety”, the violence being that a man was the perpetrator and a boy the victim.  Furthermore, the problem is not related to diffuse social types called “monsters” but have nameable perpetrators and actionable behaviours.  We can now focus on “big men, middle-aged and elderly” who commit sexual violence against children.  Isn’t it amazing what it takes to get beyond the emotionality, moral outrage and speechifying about “our children”, and directly to issues of public policy?

Contrary to the editors’ backhanded defense of their claim, it is absolutely true that there is carte blanche permission for men to violate women and girls in Jamaican society.  The evidence is in how girls and women move in this society. We know this violence and experience this everyday, to the extent that many of us don’t interpret what is done to us as violence; it is jus’ an everyday ting, as ordinary as buying a Mother’s patty.

And yet, for many of us, it is not entirely surprising that denial of the real motivations and consequences of violence against women and girls would rears its head in how opinion-makers choose to interpret similar victimization of boys as somehow worse and therefore cause for action.  These stances confirm what Jamaican women and girls know intuitively: that we are not [ever?] going to get justice through the courts; and that the men who violate the little-known rules know that they will almost always get away with rape and murder; and that our silence will not protect us from being victimized all over again.  Just look at the history of rape trials in this society, and even in the past few months, for amazingly powerful evidence that shows how the sexism regularly enables and endorse rape and violence against women and girls.

The deep-seated sexism and hatred of homosexuality are closely related, and we should not take comfort in one or the other; both do us a disservice, from how we make sense of these cases, to how we act to protect our children. Perhaps if our political leaders had demonstrated the moral leadership and courage necessary to draw the lines against those social prejudices,  Keturah Bennett, Nordia Campbell and many would still have their children.