Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

What a teacher decided that she could do to a 3 year old child

That’s the forearm of a 3 year-old boy.

2015 - 3 year old boy with cuts from a belt

That’s the forearm of a 3 year-old boy who doesn’t like to go to his school in Milk River

That’s the forearm of a 3 year-old boy who doesn’t like to go to his school in Milk River where he was beaten by his teacher.

That’s the forearm of a 3 year-old boy who doesn’t like to go to his school in Milk River where he was beaten by his teacher who said she didn’t think that the belt would have cut the child.

On Thursday, April 23, the child’s parent posted this note on Facebook: “when i went to pick up my 3 year old baby from school this is what he show mi say him teacher beat him when mi go to her about it this woman a go tell mi say she didnt know say it did a go cut him…tell what a baby could have done fi this happen to him you know say this little boy always a tell mi him dont want to go to school i always a say him dont like school i didnt know say a these things a go on make the baby dont want to go school……if mi fi beat the shit out a that bitch you would hear how mi go on like mi bad…….and yes this happen in milk river…..people please share this because it need to stop help mi protect the youths”

The responses were full of outrage, expressed in characteristically violent Jamaican ways:

“Mi belly move. If a even one rass lick mi would a afi get off a dah teacher deh. one good one, weh is ider it cripple had har or it make she feel some sort a constant pain so every time she try lick another baby she rem. And if mi fi go a jail mi naan stay long and daddy will take care till mi cum back”

“Weh teacher cud ah tell me seh ah baby do that u beat him an cut him oh fada god u see an u know smh an sigh”

“I’d find somebody to hold her and beat her cut up her skin same way”

“Me nuh done wid you bitch me a beat you, me sister dem a beat you, you a get a box each from me brother dem a throw give me mother after mek she screw out you fucking head and throw it back give you.”

“she should b glad its u because me nah ask no question one bcl lick she a pick up inna a rass face….. at ma son school if him run a drop dem have fi call and explain… me no run joke wit ma son yuh madddd.”

“If it was me like tht mother god know seh prison wouldn’t mis mi when mi done with that teacher caz what mek the situation even worst is the teacher facety comment, if a did mi she tell bout she never know seh it would cut the bby!!!!! God know seh mi would just Tek something an mash up r face”

Whether the commenters advocated for or rejected giving the teacher a physical taste of her own medicine, responses actively called for the parent to report the situation to the police, principal, Ministry of Education, and Office of Children’s Advocacy, they all called for *action*.

I don’t know what the parent has done since then since he has not posted anything.  He did note that he declined to tell his mother about the situation, for fear or exacerbating her health condition.

At any rate, you can read all the responses here:

I feel angry about what the teacher has done to that child: she has been busy trying to break his spirit – and that of the other children, for a while now.  Honestly, if that were my child, I would have had to take several deep breaths when that teacher said what she did.  I most certainly would have wanted to wring her neck and slap her into next year, much like the commenters have expressed.

But I already know that seeking redress in all kinds of other ways would be far more effective and long-lasting.

I also know that she’s a creature of the system.

As such, empathy goes only so far: I know that this type of harm would not come to my child. He’s not in that kind of system; other types of harm, for sure, but not this.

I know that this happened to this man’s son because the schooling system in Jamaica has regularly and consistently treated the children of the working classes in dehumanizing ways. Our elders recount stories and legends of teachers who used to cane, whip, and otherwise physically maim the children who came from the less-privileged groups.

Some commenters shared their own stories:

“Teach that teacher a lesson and others because she is not going to stop it happened to me when I was in grade 1 I am in my 30s and I remember my parents is Christians so they didn’t take it up every time I remember my eye that she lick me in hurts abuse is going on in school has well teachers doing it

And yet, the current Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites flip-flops on an issue that is already enshrined in The Child Care and Protection Act.  In November 2012, he took one stance on the situation; In February 2015 he stated that it is ok for schools – principals, not teachers – to treat children in these degrading ways.

Not surprisingly, even the parents sometimes give the teachers permission to beat the children.  It’s what they know, understand, experienced, and uncritically accept.   Doing violence to children is traditional.

I feel really sad for this parent who feels like he has such limited options in seeking justice for his child.  Clearly, educating parents about their rights and responsibilities is not part of what this – o any? – basic school in Jamaica does.

Turning to Facebook and “calling dung crowd” to bear witness to both the harm done to his child, and his hurt and righteous anger as a father who loves his child makes sense in this digital age.  His stated aim is to prevent this from happening to other children.  By his own admission, he has seen it happen at this school before:

“but i said something and i went the b4 and next teacher was beating a next kid and i said something but now its my kid

Interestingly, he’s counting on the post becoming viral and thus reaching the eyes and ears of the Ministry of Education, instead of trying to contact them directly.  He didn’t publish the name of the school, or any information that people can act on.  Nobody can directly call or visit to pressure the principal to do something.  Mind you, Milk River is small so there could only be a few basic schools there.  Notably, he was cautioned by one person to report the station, but not to do anything that would cause the teacher to lose her job:

“Take it up with the principal and make sure the incident is documented. Also make sure the incident is reported at the police station but don’t file any charges. Time is hard and you don’t want the teacher to be fired. Maybe this will be her wake up call that she should never do something like this again”

But that’s exactly what should happen – she does not need to work with any children again.

In a way though, I feel sad for the teacher who is so limited and simple-minded that she could not even see why her actions are hostile and harmful to all children and counterproductive to their education.

But what’s troubling to me is this:

1) The fact that the child told his parent that he did not want to go to school, but the parent chose not to listen. What did the child see or experience at school to lead him to feel this way?  The parent doesn’t ask. Instead, he takes for granted that he knows best, that the school is the best and safest place for the child, and brings the child to the school anyway, right into harm’s way. And the harm is physical as well as psychological:

“the sad thing about it the boy dont like go school because him say him a go get beating”

At the age of 3 years old, children should see school as fun, not as a place where they are going to be tortured with rote memorization or with a belt.  That is simply unacceptable and the Early Childhood Commission needs to step in and say something about this!

Whether we are talking about teachers mistreating children, or adults sexually violating children, the issue is the same:  many, I would argue most, working-class Jamaican parents do not listen to their children, do not respect their children’s voices, feelings and views, and often, albeit unintentionally, both affirm and contribute to the harm that their children are experiencing.  This is a legacy of plantation slavery and our colonial past, a reflection of the deep commitment to social hierarchies that we have inherited and accepted. The ugly social truth is that we only listen and pay attention to our social equals and those above us. Everyone else is dismissed, their concerns trivialized.

Children are not perceived or treated as the social equals of adults. Instead, we assume they know and understand nothing separate from what they are taught by adults.  And so, when it comes to adults’ relationship to children, it is sad and painful to watch the way that adults dismiss children: Hush up, yuh chat tummuch!  Nuh badda mi – yuh ask tummuch question! Guh siddung an tap i nize a mi head! And when they become adults, they often turn around and treat their children the same way.

If there’s anything to be learned from this situation, it is that adults in Jamaica need to show *all* children respect. We need to listen. No matter how much this father loves his son, and no matter that he provides emotional and financial support for them, the one thing that his children need more than anything is to be able to count on him for protection.  In his own quiet moments, I can’t imagine that he feels great about not having listened in the first place.  But I hope that he learns this very important lesson: he cannot protect his child from what he doesn’t know about.  The only way to know is to ask questions and listen carefully.

2) Despite the clear evidence of harm to this child, this parent and many of the commenters still believe, just like the teacher does, that beating children is ok, just not too hard, in the right places, and only the ones who deserve it.

Says the parent: “if you did know this little boy you would see whats wrong with it if you talk loud to him he cry and him twin brother stay cry to so there was no need to beat mi baby”

Really? So if he was not a sensitive child, he would deserve to be beaten?
There is actually a “need” to beat other children?

Others respond similarly: “I don support ppl putting mark on kids body like that dose not matter circumstances don hit a child like that”

“If She Even A Slap Him She Can Do It Inna Him Hand Middle!! This Hurt Me I Swear, A Teacher Did This To Me When I Was 6 And I Had A Big Dark Mark On My Hand For 5 Years”

My favorite comment was this one:

“Am not saying she have any right to beat that kindergarten child.. she is wrong, bt I think corporal punishment should b in school.. these last a days students don’t have any manners what’s to ever . Look at the rate our education level at, they r more prostitutes,lesbians,gays and don in schools than in the working world.. again am not saying she have any right to hit that baby she’s wrong”

In other words, don’t throw the system of cruelty out just because we don’t like what happened to one child that we know and like. It’s still important to beat the “bad” ones; save the good ones.

Well, the teacher felt the same way.

By her response, you understand that:
– this little boy was one of the bad ones at the moment
– she beat him because he deserved it
– her only regret is that she hit him too hard, not that she hit him at all
– next time, she will do it softer and in a place that won’t bear the marks

This is the kind of fucked-up logic that Jamaican people use to hold on to this barbaric practice of beating children.  But, at least, the commenters were being consistent in their commitment to violence. Beat the “bad” children *and* beat the teacher who beat the “good” children. The take-home message?  Violence is the answer for anything that bothers you.

There are a lot of issues in here that need to be fleshed out.

But at this point, suffice it to say that Jamaican working-class parents really need to transform the role that they play in the education system and how they relate to their children’s education.  They also need to have a strong voice in schools and promote just and ethical treatment of their children in schools.

The mis-directives from the Ministry of Education continue to create the perfect scenario for teachers to abuse children and to get away with it.

All of this makes me think that there needs to be serious examination of how Jamaican adults think about children in the first place.


Silencing Women

On Saturday, September 1, 2012, a young woman, Kayann Lamont was shot and killed by a police officer, Corporal Dwayne Smart. Her unborn child is also dead and her sister injured and hospitalised.

Why did this happen?

It all started with her expressing her frustration about being robbed earlier that day.  She used “indecent language” or “bad words”.  The police attempted to arrest her for this, she resisted and he shot her in the head – twice.  Read the Observer’s accounts here and here.  The Gleaner did a story on the police officer; the Star focused on the family.

Women Protesting the Killing of 27 year-old Kayann Lamont in Yallahs, St. Thomas. Picture courtesy of Jamaica Gleaner (Sept. 3, 2012)

TVJ  news also covered the story.  One viewer shared the coverage:
“the 3rd sister an eye witness was on TVJnews n told the story,according to her; her sister was not speaking to the policeman but he overheard her telling someone ’bout dem BC” while he was righting a ticket,he came to her n told her he was going to arrest her 4 D indecent language, he proceeded to do so n she resisted a strugggle ensue n he fell, people started laughing; they both got up off d ground, he then kicked her foot n she fell he shot her twice in the head the other sister told him”u cant shoot mi sista fi nutten’ he shot her too,the third sister which is the witness came up to him said the same thing and he pointed the gun in her direction san she ran behind a fat woman she said…thats wat TVJ reported.”

Since the story broke, the conversation has shifted with each new report.

First, there was the search for intentions and explanations.

Next in focus was on the seemingly apparent contradiction between the policeman’s religious belief and his behaviour, complete with the insinuation that “demons” must have taken over his head!

In the absence of any legitimate argument that would have shifted the blame from the police to the deceased (i.e. there was no “shots were fired; police returned fire”  scenario), there has been some scurrying by government officials to appear to hold their own accountable: this press release from the Ministry of National Security and staeas well as the Police Commissioner’s statement regarding the responsibility of senior police officers in terms of preventing and reporting “excessive use of force”.

Now that he has been arrested and charged with murder – note, of KayAnn not of her unborn child – new accounts of the deadly shooting incident feature someone who is less than level-headed, and who refused to back down, even pointing his gun at one of his colleagues.

Also introduced into the story is the notion that police officers are stressed and mistreated too, hence their sometimes too-violent responses to civilians.   One article even suggested that most police are suffering from mental disorders which go untreated. The Ministry of National  Security has now given the green light for psychological testing of police officers to occur.

Now, while many are rightfully decrying the inhumanity of killing a pregnant woman and her unborn child (one body per bullet), the [typical yet] unnecessary show of force from police, and the problem of the very existence of a law that criminalises speech, something else crystallized for me as soon as I heard the story.

In my mind, this tragedy didn’t unfold as it did because of the mere expression of “badwud” and the overzealous action of a police officer who was dutifully enforcing the law.  I don’t even have to ask: nuff wud – gud, bad an ugly – didda chip outta Yallahs dah day deh; this is Jamaica, after all.  And the men are usually the loudest and most consistent practitioners of such. So the question is – why her?

I believe that this tragedy occurred because a woman was speaking out of turn, a man in a position of authority told her to stop, she refused and he did what he could to put her in her place.  When he was publicly ridiculed because of by his own stupidity, he decided to take it out on her, and punish her sister too.

In response to Javed Jaghai’s status update on FB: “This has to be some kinda twisted joke. Tell me I’m reading this story in The Onion. Fi baduod?!! Fi raas an bombo? Nuo sa!”

I responded:
“You know what i think happened (just because I’ve seen or been part of this kind of mix-up far too many times). The pregnant woman was cussin’ – and I know how we cuss when we feel wronged. She bun all ki’na fyah pon di teef, i’m modda, di wutlis police wheh shudda did si an prevent her from being robbed. An shi deh talk loud loud.

Police deh roun, look an si ah who deh cus, and said, “a pregnant woman should not be cursing; she is setting a bad example for her child”. What kind of mother is she going to be? So he says to her that “she should not be cursing” (not, it’s against the law to curse).And she says “suh what ef mi waa cuss badwud? look ummuch people deh cuss badwud an yuh n’aa badda dem? Mi can seh anyting mi w’aa seh, afta anno yuh did affi deal wid xyz….” And him get bringle an seh “but ah who dis umman a cum tell mi bout seh shi n’aa tap chat. shi nuh know who mi?” And we know how it all ends.What is or is not law enters the story after the fact. This is a great opportunity to attack the utter injustice of such a law, but that bastard was all about controlling her, and she wasn’t having it. He used his gun because he had one. If he’d had a truncheon he would have bludgeoned her to death; if he didn’t have anything, he would have given har wan rass bax an kick out har what’s it not.”

Kayann Lamont was silenced because she was committing an even greater sin than cursing.  As a pregnant woman, she was not aware that she had been given a special responsibility to represent herself as being above reproach.  Belly umman, or pregnant women are seen as “real women” in Jamaica in a way that non-pregnant women are not.  Carrying a belly is a sign of one’s fecundity and heterosexuality.  It is a sign that one is worthy of being with a man, and that a man has chosen to be with her.  Pregnancy is a major achievement that moves both men and women up a few notches on the gender scale (and of course, she’s supposed to have more than one, because as I have heard often, wan pikni anno pikni).

Being angry AND cursing in public was doubly unbecoming of her because she is a mother.   Remember, this is the country where there are signs barring women from entry into public buildings if they are wearing sleeveless tops, and where the newspaper provides coverage of preachers complaining about the attire that women wear to church.  Don’t forget the ongoing hissy fits that are regularly thrown about dancehall couture, bashment funerals, and the spectacle created by women’s unruly bodies and behaviour therein.

This is not the first Jamaican woman to be silenced for cussin’ badwud.

In fact, it is worth taking a little step backward  to recognise that this tragic moment is historically charged.   The history of the antipathy towards “badwud” has particular resonance for working-class Afro-Jamaican women.

”In this man world you got to take yuh mouth and make a gun!”  In 1983, Paule Marshall used her column in the New York Times to recount her memories of growing up as a girl in Brooklyn New York.  In particular, she talks about how the informal segregation of Barbadian immigrant women into household spaces like the kitchen also allowed her to learn how they used words to talk back and to resist the invisibility and oppressive conditions that they encountered. It is how they claimed a sense of self that was fully autonomous in a setting that conferred only un-freedom.

Black working-class women in Jamaica, particularly the non-religious ones, often flout elite rules of public conduct.  There’s a small but substantive body of work that documents how verbal abuse figures into the gender performances of black women in public: whether enslaved women living under plantation slavery (Diana Paton‘s work on language and violence and Marlon James‘ novel The Book of Night Women come to mind) or black and brown women in post-emancipation Jamaica (e.g. Louise Bennett’s Cuss-Cuss and South Parade Peddler, Gina Ulysse‘s Downtown Ladies and Winnifred Brown-Glaude‘s work on women selling on the streets of Kingston).  Such women (as distinct from ladies) include the “madda lacy”, the women who walk with a certain swagger and whose active tongues evoke fear in others – “mi nuh w’aa shi cuss mi atall” –  and who can lay out a few lengths of cloth (a polite euphemism for Jamaican patwa epithets – blood claat, bumbo claat, raas claat, pussy claat, or any combination thereof) to artfully suffocate any opponents.   Women with “light tongues” are forces to be contended with in Jamaica.  They know it.  The ones who fear them or try to contain them also know it.   Portia Simpson Miller was roundly chastised for saying “don’t draw mi tongue”, a phrase that is typically issued as a warning by “those” women to provocateurs, lest the storm of words and lengths of cloth unfurl.   To use this phrase was to remind listeners that she did know how to chrace, testament to her working-class background and a hint that she possessed a vocabulary that she should have been trying to hide.  No ‘respectable’ woman chraces, because chracing happens in patwa, and, well, that certainly isn’t the language of  respectable women either.   Men of all statuses curse and tell others, including women, about dem claat – that is to be expected and even applauded.  Women doing that, not so  much.

The ethos of female respectability in Jamaica says that Kayann should not have been “behaving that way” in public or “talking like that” in public.  It seems as if this policeman felt that if no one was going to be brave enough to tell her that she was contaminating the airwaves at Yallahs, he certainly had the duty and authority – social, moral and legal – as a lawman, to do something about her behaviour.

So here it is – she has contaminated her child’s moral future; she has shamed motherhood, declared herself free enough to speak her mind and told all of Yallahs what kind of woman she really was, what kind of mother she would be.  Who knows? Her child – whose sex was not known – might enter the world chippin’ a few claats itself!  And he was a god-fearing Christian who should not have to listen to people “talking like that”.   Jamaicans lack discipline, we are often told, and here was a clear example of indiscipline.  And by a pregnant women.  Indiscipline knows no bounds, apparently.  Discipline her – put her in bounds, in her place.

What was worse, he fell while he was dragging her away.  So, she cussed him, and I’m sure others got in on the situation, and when he was further humiliated in his attempt to humiliate her, he shot her.  Then he shot her sister who, instead of cowering to the man with the gun, reacted in defense of her sister, now lying dead on the ground.

The masculine calculus operating at the moment gave him little choice.  This gun was how he would rescue his position within Jamaican patriarchy.  He, after all, is a police officer, a lawman.  No other man is higher than him.  Women are supposed to defer to him, listen to him.  He had a gun.  Didn’t she notice? He had never been more powerful than he was in that moment.  It was her mouth against his might, and finally, his gun.  The ultimate silencer.

The ‘Big Man’ and The ‘Schoolgirl’

Schoolgirls by Rick Elkins

If you want to understand the gap – chasm, really – between law and public morality in Jamaica, look no further than to any discussion about sexual arrangements between men and women.  The specific forms – in this case, sexual liaisons between adult men and adolescent girls – provide a clear view of the muddy waters that Jamaican folks are wading in the minute they get up on a soapbox about this issue.

Consider the following conversation that emerged on in a FB group of 22,000+ Jamaicans over a 5-hour period on February 21, 2012.  At the time of this writing on the same day, there was a total of 66 responses.  Undoubtedly, there are more now.

A woman posed the following question:  Do you think a big man should date a school girl?

If you’re at all familiar with the social attitudes of Jamaicans, you should be able to predict the flow and content.  But, here goes:

  • (W) School girls should be focusing on their education. so no !
  • (W) No man…….dat outta order
  • (M) like high skool girl or college? cause high skool a no
  • (W)Its high school girls…..those girls neva stay wit di man fi long
  • (W) y would a man inna him high age wah date pickney him daughter age?
  •  cuz most of a dem jus disgustin, an some a di gal dem too licky- licky
  • (W) W-e-l-l, let’s see……hmmm…….#1. He’s gett’n old and he wants to feel young,#2. Havin’ a young girl arond boosts his “EGO” especially amongst his frenz.#3. Men have been doing this for centuries, and you can’t change the genes of the species.#4. A womans biological clock starts tickin’ as her age comes off the calender while a man at 75yrs of age can get an 18yr old girl pregnant .#5. Majority of men see nothing wrong with it.#6. When a woman goes out with a younger guy, ppl talk and stare and say that it’s not right.#7. As much as us women hate to admit it, there is a double standard and there are things that men can do and we’ll never be able to do it in a million yrs, and The list goes on and on of the things men do that us women are against but can’t put a stop to….
  • (M) In Canada, usa, uk and many other countries you go to jail. It takes a community with good morals to raise a child correctly and teach that child wrong from right. Adults should be protecting the children of their community not exploiting them.
  • (W) HELL NO!!!
  • (M) Why not?
  • (W) of couse not! [to man] pervert, tek wey uself!!
  • (W) That’s like unnuh man have friend and dem watch u daughter grow from baby then wah date one of her school friend ah nastiness dat man…….ppl morals gawn outta de door all de toilet cah hole dem nasty morals…..kmrt

    (W) wen my dawta was 15 , her dad come 2 me nd bawl murrrhhhhhdah she deh wid wah ole man !! nuh amt a cutliss an hoe an pikaxe stick gadda up fi go beat di man !! wen mi jump fi go talk 2 har , ongle fi fine di man a tremble unda di olda sista bed ( she had her own apt ) di ‘ ole ‘ man was 25 an fraid fi him loife ,mi decide fi talk 2 di fada an calm him dung ( inna my mind mi seh nuh rush dem , dem wi eventually leff ) well him neva tek mi advice so him sen threat an show up a di man house . fast fawud , mi a talk 2 har an mi hear di man vice an ax him if mi nay talk 2 him years earlier , him same 1 !! big weddin a plan , pa a gi har weh , mi a plan fi remine him bout it afta di ‘i dos ‘ wen him unda him juice
  • (M) when Satan take over a person heart and mind morals get left behind. No God fearing person live them nasty life. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
  • (W) [to M] I know hun..but ah still nastiness…
  • (W) [to W].she was young yes but me ah talk dem man inna dem 40/50’s ah ah run dung 15/16 yr old dem fe humble dem self
  • (W) Why can’t he date someone closer to his age?
  • (W) Big ole hawd back ashy kin man dem need fi leave people gyal pickney alone.
  • (W) Dem wah string up…dem ting deh sicken me tomach ….
  • (W) dutty pervert dem an some a di gal dem juss as bad…pure slackness
  • (W) Dis man muss a buy di young girl wha she want, dats why she deh wid him. Di man like di likkle girl cause she young an impressionable. Him nuh waan nobody him age cause him cyaan fool dem. A hope she have enough sense fi use protection an birth control so she nuh catch no diseases or go breed, cause as soon as dat happen the wutlis man a guh run leff har.

At this point, I honestly could not believe what I was reading.  To me, the question was posed in a way as to seem no different from the “do you think it’s ok to flush a sanitary napkin?”  sort.  Not a SINGLE person noted that there was a tiny not inconsequential matter of the legality of such.  I’m no “law and order” type, but here, it seemed to me anyway, that one might at least hint at awareness that such sexual relations are regulated? Not so.  Trying to contain my irritation, and 4 hours into the conversation, I decided to make an intervention of sorts:

  • ME: What you mean by “big man”? A man who is older than 21 years, or any man with money?

    That you are posing this AS a question, goes to the heart of why girls continue to be sexually exploited and ADULTS are not doing shit about it. What we think ought not to matter; there is a clear law that says that any person who has sexual relationships with a girl under SIXTEEN YEARS OLD is committing a criminal offense.See’t deh – read it. 10, Section 8 & 9. According to the law, when you see an adult man either courting or touching a child under 16 years old, you are watching criminalized behaviour in process. When you see a pregnant girl who is still in school, you are looking at someone who has been victimized sexually. She does NOT have the right to consent if she is under 16 years old, no matter if she wants to. The only male persons who can potentially get away with it are those who are under 23 years old. BUT they have to be able to prove that they believed she was at least 16 years old.You know what would put a serious dent in the amount of child sexual violence? Threatening these boys and men and letting them know they are going to go to jail if they even so much as look. Tek pickcha a dem an dem license plate and sen’ it guh gi police. Si how fast dem tings stop…Wi need a “School Yard Crew” fi deal wid dem.
  • (M) Ladies and gentlemen a lot of these school girls are the one doing the chasing because financially they know they can get what they want. Are they dirty and immoral also? [to me]

    do you have any idea the amount of law suite that that scenario would create? So a 17 year old school girl is ok to deal with because it is not against the law
  • (W) to [sic] intimate ,,casual is best for first date. That’s my opinion
  • (W) hell no,him mus go look him dam size
  • (M) As long as it is not illegal do what you do.

    (W) No..But then again am old fashion & still living in the middle…
  • (W) but some of these school girls are very BRITE,and dem nuh want school bwoy a big man dem a look
  • (W) STOP BLAMING THE UNDERAGE KIDS !! ( Typical J’cans kmft )
  • (W) I am a big woman and i don’t believe that i should be in any arguement with no school girl over my man,so if my so call man decided that he is gonna get involve with a school girl,then he can go cause i CAN definately do without his sorry ASS…
  • (M) mi old fashion and is a man of principle….nau, go tek yu book…..and try spell you name lickle gal….
  • (M) I would not call it dating.
  • (M) Bigman nuffi dey wid pinkiney period..aldwo me lickle an love big oman lol lol…frm dem ena dem teens frm 11teen to 19 is lickle pickiney datm..a big man who is 40 add mus dey wid no girls in dem teens cos that teen could be his dauter or neice..
  • ME [to M] – what does anything of this have to do with “dirty” and “immoral”?? Maybe you are missing something: does the law say anywhere that the problem of statutory rape depends on who does the chasing?what scenario? The School Yard Crew? Girls 16 years old and older can consent to sex, yes.
  • (M) Looking for some clarity on the law. Is 17 ok by law? The scenario of taking pictures of men talking to school girls and using it to prosecute them.
  • ME Unnu whe’h deh debate this missing the point: there is no room to negotiate who him can deh wid or not. If she’s under 16, back the fuck off or go to jail. A unnu whe’h deh gwaan like seh dis is a matta of opinion a create di problem, an a mek it look like seh if HIM want to, is fi him biznis, an’ ef SHE want to, is fi har bizniz. Not a baxide. Unnu need fi know what is what suh unnu can know what is *a matter of opinion* and what is *law*. If you think the law is not a good or just one, then that’s another thing. But this isn’t a moral issue; it’s a legal one. Separate the two.  [This comment got the highest number of “likes”]
  • ME (to M) did you go read the statute? You need to do that. It says that no child under 16 years old can consent to sex. Anybody who engages in sexual intercourse or play with a child under 16 is liable to criminal charges. That’s it.  Laws don’t tell you what TO do; they tell you what NOT to do, and the consequence of such.
  • (M) My question on the law pertains to a girl who is 17 not 16.  [I couldn’t tell whether he was being daft or what…]
  • ME (to M) And I answered it quite clearly. Once a girl is 16 years or older, she is presumed to be able to consent to sexual intercourse. In other words, YOU need to figure out what you want to know, and how the law speaks to that, or not
  • (M) Stop talking is riddles and answer the question. Is 17 the legal age of consent. A yes or no will suffice.  [Riddles??? Ok, so he IS a little slow on the uptake it seems]
  • (M) [to ME] not unda my roof lol den again, wey me knw..(Take ten men wid dauter n ask dem the consent ? An den you tell me the ansa) den you take 10 man wey nuh ave nun n see wey dem caah guess dem ansa ” dem nuh pardon nutten”…”16″ me lookin at how hard we afi go work fi sen R go high skool..NO sa tel him fi come ask me fi consent”fi R..”smiling evilously”
  • ME [to M] No. 16 years old is the legal age of consent.
  • (M) So then it is not a legal issue but a moral one. So any big man can date a school girl 16 or over and he cannot be prosecuted. Under 16 and it becomes a crime. Thanks.
  • ME [ to M] “What” is a moral issue?
  • (M) Dating a girl 16 and over.
  • ME [to M] – the law covers that. If she is under 16 years old and anyone above that negotiates sex with or for her, dem a deal inna criminal ting too. “Age of consent” means that she cannot consent and nobody else except the STATE can consent for her. Suh according to the law, di faada need fi guh aks di Prime Minister, or the Governor-General ef some odda man can have sex wid him 15 year old daughter.
  • ME [to M] ok. yes. That is, most people would find it more acceptable if she was dating someone her age or two years older, but not if she was in a sexual relationship with an adult. In fact, the law creates a moral “gray area” between 16 and 23 years old, where she might be able to consent to sex, but there is a question about whether someone over 23 years old should be involved with a 16 year old.
  • (M) Aal wen me read dem comments yaah enuh only mek me sharpen me cuban till it white fi jig saw up somebody…me sey “18”…an triple s ask sey if bigman fi date skool girls NO.NO.NO you knw hard the father or madda afi work and sacrifices n help frm plp fi dem reach dem age den dem ole rustykin ole man dey see dem n waah give dem argument..”0,0″ me naah go tek too good paah me heart lol
  • Me [to M]  – so now you know exactly what to say without having to use that Cuban:

    1) under 16 years is against the law of the land, and which will get you jail time;
    2) under 18 years is against the law of [M], and that will get you coffin time
  • (W) nope, nope…big is the operative word…while girls is the other…
  • (W) Bwoy wat a way di man dem a look fi loophole inna di law fi date the likkle girls, KMT.
  • ME (to W) You see’t tuh???? What a baxide deh pon di lan!
  • (W) Whether us women like it or not. When the day arrives that our age is no longer on the calender, many of us will be pissed that the man you are with cheats/cheated or has left the relationship for a younger woman. Whether she be 16 or 25, you are now old and not as much fun anymore and he see’s sup’m in her that you used to be. I think as women we shud enjoy our lives no matter what age we are. As for a man in his 40’s or 50’s wanting a girl 16,17,18,19,20.#1. He can impress her,#2. When he does something nice for her, the delight she shows makes him feel like a “GIANT.” I hate to sound like a broken record…. No matter how much we women hate it and some of us will not admit it, but one day we are all gonna get old and your man will either leave you for/cheat on you with/keep/ admire or want a younger woman….. As a matter of fact men always want younger women.
  • (W) We simply need to start talking to our girls – AND boys, about what’s out there, how to be alert and how valuable they are….creeps of all ages usually go after girls (esp.) that can be fooled, have low self esteem or are unloved/unvalued.
  • (W) Its di big ole perverts dem mek mi neva like guh a shop fi mi granny even when was 11 and 12 and reach puberty. You could just feel dem staring you down…waiting fi yuh turn 16 fi pounce. Nasty bugga dem.

To summarize:

most of the women expressed disgust at such relationships, recognised that girls are acting on and expressing sexual desire in ways that men took advantage of, acknowledged the transactional nature of such relationships, and ultimately concluded that this was just the way things have worked from time immemorial.

The few men who participated were of two minds: complete rejection of such relationships from their stances as fathers or potential lovers, with a minority seeking ways to justify [their own interest in] sexual liaisons with school-age girls.

The social scientist in me makes me want to parse the information in many ways: where do the participants in this conversation live? Ages? Age of first sexual experience? etc.   But, this is a blog post.

What’s striking, but perhaps unremarkable, is that at no point do the responses recognise the type of sexual relations as problematic for legal reasons.   On the other hand, discussions about homosexual sex – and many of such have prevailed on the particular FB page – are often framed in both moral and legal terms i.e. many argue that sex between men is illegal because it is immoral, and even if it were to be made legal, it would still be immoral.   No such luck on this topic.  Heterosexual sex – even if it is between persons who are unequal in power and ability to give consent – is given broad latitude, no matter who it harms.   And that kind of response – trying to come up with explanations for it and ignoring the broader context for such – is fairly typical of how Jamaicans approach this issue.   An article in the Jamaica Gleaner from a couple years ago gives you a good idea of what this kind of argumentation looks like.

The other thing that stands out is how few responses and participants there were.  On the buggery question, one could easily sees hundreds of responses within hours; that has happened several times in the past two months.   In fact, even people who never respond often feel the need to put in their two cents, which is most likely to be a strong condemnation of such.

Even as I’m making distinction between the ‘moral’ and the ‘legal’, I’m also saying to myself, but how can I really justify drawing this difference so as to privilege the ‘legal’ when I don’t believe that the ‘legal’ is pure in intent or application anyway?  In the same group of statutes called the “Sexual Offenses Against the Person” Act, there is at least one other clause that I find both morally and legally problematic (i.e. the buggery law).  While I do recognise that the buggery law is part of the legal framework, I certainly don’t tell people to obey it, or encourage it to be taken seriously, the way I am doing in this conversation.  I don’t feel the same about the clause regarding statutory rape; this is a law that I think should be made to work.   In this case, I feel that one law (buggery) actually sets out to harm people; the statutory rape law sets out to protect people.   Some might argue that the buggery law is intended to “protect” people too, but there’s nothing in the actual language and practice of the law that suggest how otherwise vulnerable persons might be harmed by the sexual behaviours under scrutiny.

My presumption is that children are vulnerable before entering the space of the law, while boys/men are being made vulnerable through applying this law.  I think I need to write more about this.   Clearly, there’s something there that requires some teasing out, if only to explain why there is so little recognition and observance of *the fact of the law* that speaks directly to the sexual abuse of girls.

Comparing public and political responses to buggery and child abuse might be the best way to understand the gap that exists between public knowledge (i.e. everyday understandings of sexual practice), public policy (i.e. law) and social practice (what people are actually doing).   The gap doesn’t seem to be fixed.  That is, people are not always ignoring the laws, nor are the laws always triumphing over ‘commonsense’ approaches.  Instead, there’s another factor at work:  the gap changes based on cultural ideals.   That is, specific sexual values have been normalized through cultural practice and become hegemonic; the laws only seems to matter to and for people to the extent that the statutes reinforce those values.   When the law seems to go against those values, people simply ignore the law and defend the “culture”.

This raises an important question: which sexual values and which cultural practices (regarding sexuality, but not only that) are at work through Jamaican law?  At what point does cultural practice (re: sexuality) become institutionalized in law?  Big questions, but there must be specific cases that can speak to these processes.   I need to look into this more, if only to figure out what can be done to promote sexual values that do not cause harm or aim to disempower girls and women.

I also find it problematic that there’s no recognition in the conversation – or in most of the other studies, columns, news articles etc. – that girls are experiencing normal sexual desires AND that those can be channeled in ways that don’t hurt them.

The blaming of schoolgirls for participating in illicit sexual encounters with adult men presumes that girls should not have those desires to begin with, nor should they express them at all!   The “tek up yuh book” approach to dealing with sexual desire, where education should become their focus instead of finding a love interest with whom to explore those desires is not exactly helpful, especially to those who are already alienated from their education.   What exactly is there in the current educational scenario that is remotely engaging to the students?  So, that’s hardly helpful advice that all girls could connect to.

Arguing that girls are the problem does not exactly work against men’s interests either.  Men (especially those who do not have daughters) are probably just as likely to claim that they are powerless when confronted with their own sexual desires.   Never mind that they invest time and energy in cultivating those desires – one just has to see how they behave around the bus stops and vicinities They must act on it or they may die, or something equally dramatic.   So, telling men to redirect their adult desires towards someone their own age is only going to make them more anxious to exploit girls.  Getting girls to stop seeing adult men as worthy objects of desire is not easy to do.   And it has to be done in a way that men get the message before they become adults.

Similarly, getting adult women to see the problem as men’s misdirected desires instead of focusing on girls as nubile temptresses is yet another part of the story that has to be addressed.  Every time I hear about a fully grown sexually experienced woman fighting a high school girl over a man, I think of plantation slavery.  Where else would such fights be seen as important to have??

This sense of competition between adult women and adolescent girls also says something about the predominance of cultural values about youth and aging in relation to femininity, and where girls & women see their “market value” declining as they get older and develop more sexual experience.   In the Jamaican context, it’s not makeup, cosmetic surgery, fancy clothes, economic status or even skin color that determines a woman’s value; it’s her ability to perform sexually and to satisfy her lover’s sexual desires.  It’s how men perceive and project their desires onto her physical body.  Men’s desires are treated as a constant, pulsating social and metaphysical force that is literally carved into the landscape – just look how many go-go clubs exist, notice all the half-naked women painted on walls, plastered on the billboards, television and mobile phone screens, when men congregate in public, their collective visual field become something akin to a brothel or auction where women and girls are being tested or appraised for fitness.  All females are required to respond, no matter what their age.  If that’s the context in which women and girls are operating in Jamaica, then what any individual girl/woman can deliver is immaterial.

The difficult truth is that girls and women can never win at a game where they are interchangeable and disposable.   As long as they believe they can win, however, they will continue to engage in dubious acts  of self-promotion to project the idea that their sexual performance is worth testing.  But at the end of the day however, what women say about the tightness of their pumpum doesn’t really matter; it’s what men think and do with women’s bodies that count.   Jamaica might as well not have an age of consent.  Men don’t care one bit, and they haven’t been made to care.  And that’s what needs to change.

Andrew Holness’s commentary on language use in school

Dear Mr. Holness:

I read your commentary in today’s Observer, and while I will comment
in a more public fashion later, I thought it more appropriate to
respond to you directly at this time.

For far too long, public policy in Jamaica has been crafted in a silo
– one defined by political allegiance and expediency, and completely
separate from (as well as contrary to) the mountains of relevant
research and scholarship that exists on a given topic.  The government’s lack of coherent policy on how to treat Patwa and English in the formal school system is a casualty of that silo approach.

Jamaica is neither special nor unique as a post-colonial society
possessing both an indigenous language and a formal, inherited language.  Nor is this country unique in treating the indigenous language as inferior to the inherited language.  What is different (and quite troubling) about the Jamaican context is the absence of reasoned discussion and focused understanding among policymakers about what issues are at stake, how the issues overlap, and concern about the unintended effects of any policy on the population in the short and long term.  No topic can be meaningfully understood by casting it in polarized terms.  A debate requires multiple points of view, not simply the ones that are loudest or best mesh with political agendas.  This silo approach to public policy is simply unacceptable and, as we have experienced for decades, detrimental to the social health of the society.

In my view, your comments reflect the problems created by such an approach.

It may be in vogue to claim that Jamaica needs to get its people ready to participate in the information age and become “key players” in the “global economy”, etc. etc.  However, the country already does that.  What is being asked – indirectly – is for all institutional systems to work together to improve that performance, and to expand how (and which?) Jamaicans participate.  What is also being presumed, but not made clear, is that better facility in English expands such participation, and to what end.  And yet, you have not presented any evidence to support this point of view; nobody has, to date.  As [outgoing] Minister of Education, it would behoove you to make this argument crystal clear, providing whatever systematic evidence that exists about how English will improve Jamaicans’ economic and social standing.

It’s not enough to say that “English is a universal language.”  It could be argued that Jamaica does not observe other “universal” conventions, so what makes this situation different?  Indeed, is it true that we don’t speak it enough or adequately? Why should we speak it more than we currently do?  To me, good public policy is premised on being able to provide answers to the basic questions, rather than leave everyone guessing what those answers might be.

At this moment in the 21st century, there is also little value or sense in telling Jamaican youth that their future in a global environment rests [only?] on their ability to converse in the ‘universal’ tongue, English. The evidence simply doesn’t support that claim. To be “Jamaican” is already a distinct identity in the global marketplace, and one of those markers is that we possess a language of our own, Patwa, through which we convey what is unique to us.  It is a rather sorry state of affairs when Patwa speakers can be recognised as contributing to world culture but not to our own society. In case you weren’t aware, in a moment where hundreds of languages are dying every year, we have contributed a new one, and whose users grow every moment!

While I certainly agree that the quality of writing and speaking in mass media is paltry, that’s not about lack of respect for English (frankly, the warping/dancehall-izing of Patwa is just as bad), but about the generally low standard to which decision-makers hold and subject the population in all areas, from education to politics: appearance counts more than content.  Again, public opinion and impressions are not adequate bases for good public policy.

What you seem to be getting at, and which I do agree, is that not being able to speak, read and write English well does constrain the choices that individual Jamaicans do have and how much influence that one has over their lives. While facility in English does not remove all constraints, it is worthwhile to note that the limitations that youth may experience because of non-fluency in English are not created by the choices that they make.  Instead, those limitations are imposed by the kind of thinking that you are also guilty of, and which has already been embedded in the education system.

That is, there is no formal recognition that Patwa is a language, separate from English, and is not “broken English”. Those who come to school not speaking formal English are never taught to do so; they are dismissed as dunce, slow and backward, and treated accordingly. They are never given the tools they need to help them excel, and so leave school (often early)
feeling like they are not worthy members of the society.  In a similar vein, non-English speakers are treated with disdain in every quarter of the society except the ones where *only* Patwa speakers dwell.

It’s not a coincidence that those arenas are also the ones where you
won’t find well-stocked libraries, well-run schools, banks, effective
community organisations, etc. and where criminality and alternate
economies flourish.  So, it is indeed disingenuous for you to say that
you don’t “buy” the argument that non-recognition of Patwa in the
classroom is a form of marginalization, when the very working of the
institutions over which you are responsible is the touchstone of that

Unfortunately, your stance “It is not one or the other, we must be
able to speak English” is least supported by research-based
scholarship.  Perhaps you should have added “…as well”.  Jamaica is
a bilingual society; this is not about what one wishes or believes to
be true.  It simply is so.  Consequently, public policy on language
use in the classroom (and elsewhere) has to be crafted based on the
understanding of what that means for us, and what will work in the collective best interest of Jamaicans.  Cutting edge practices in
literacy and in Education today recognise that one cannot simply replace, ignore or wish away another language that already exists. Rather, one must figure out how to work with it to attain fluency in
another language.  This is a critical area of concern in your policy
recommendation, and which was never articulated clearly or addressed
properly in previous policy frameworks. For that reason, Jamaican
children have emerged from elementary education over the past two
decades as, at worst, illiterate in both languages and at best,
literate in one and completely ignorant of the other. And yet, this is
the precise area that will determine whether this new policy is
workable. I think everyone would appreciate some elaboration of how
you expect this to work, teachers included.

Getting Jamaican children fully fluent and literate in English does not lay in simply dictating that English be made the lingua franca of schools.  There has to be a process for making this so, one which takes note of the problematic way that Patwa is currently treated in schools i.e. as a non-language that is not being used to educate children in an adequate way.  In order for English language to become the formal language of school contexts, Patwa and English must first be treated as equal and complementary language systems. Administrators will have to communicate in the language.  Teachers will also have to treat Patwa as distinct from – not an inferior or broken form of – English, and be able to teach English as a language.

You must also deal with the systematic discrimination against people (including children) for not speaking English, including within the ministry’s jurisdiction.  In a context where value is attached to ability to
communicate in English, Patwa will retain its power as the language of
opposition, dissent and subversion.  How will this focus on English
affect how children (and staff) are treated when they don’t use English to respond to the authority figures? Does this expectation include non-teaching staff?

As you may be aware, the majority of teachers do not know how to
distinguish or move back and forth between English and Patwa except to
say “that’s wrong” or “speak properly” or to characterize Patwa as
“broken English”, as you did.  That approach is neither useful nor effective, pedagogically speaking.  Thus,  the teachers’ capacity to work with the languages must also change. In addition, you are essentially requiring teachers to use only English in schools, when you have no assurance that they even speak and write the language well enough to conduct instruction in it.  In fact, this may be an important moment to further distinguish between Jamaican English and textbook English; too many conflate these, as we see in the newspaper columns.

If your proposition is a backdoor strategy to delegitimizing Patwa, it will backfire quickly. Neither public opinion nor one’s biases about the problems of Patwa (and merits of English) are adequate or legitimate bases for making policy or taking public stances on this (or any!) issue. The language question is a sufficiently complex issue that requires you as incoming Prime Minister to step back from the fray, to tease out all (not just some) of the merits and drawbacks of the various approaches to a dual-language environment, and to present a careful, thoughtful, knowledgeable and pragmatic position to the public. Whether or not you like or approve of Patwa is irrelevant and ought not to figure *anywhere* in whatever decisions are made.  What should be done is what is best for the country, given what is known and understood.

I write this as an educator and as someone who is very invested in improving the capacity of every single Jamaican to be able to make
choices about their lives, including the ability to speak back to
power.  That is why I have been working to create a community-based
literacy programme that immerses children in reading and creative
activities in an English language environment.  I want children to know English because their social value and future possibilities are being determined by that language within a deeply unfair system.  I believe that they need to be given the tools they need in order to show what they are capable of, and to be able to choose how they express themselves over the course of their lives.  It’s why I tell parents to spend time talking to their children in English so that the link between what their children hear and speak and what they encounter in books, public airwaves, etc. is easier to forge.

But nowhere do I convey the message, subtly or otherwise, that it’s not
acceptable to speak in Patwa, that Patwa is somehow inferior to
English, or that if they do not speak English they won’t be able to get a job.  None of that would be true, and for obvious reasons. Indeed, I do correct parents when they restate my request as “telling the children to speak properly” – one can speak properly in Patwa as well!  The children also get to write and create in Patwa, and be able to read that back to themselves.  Myself and the other instructors teach them how both languages operate, so they are able to understand the differences and know how to use them.  Eventually, they will be able to tell when what they read or hear is “incorrect English”, separate and distinct from what is Patwa.
Knowing how to make that distinction is a form of cultural literacy. Unfortunately, this is not a form of literacy that is widely available or encouraged. Tellingly, your approach – English or else – does not support that form of literacy either; your comments certainly do not distinguish
between “broken English” and Patwa, nor do you seem to realize that in
a bilingual environment, a distinct form of communication emerges that
is a hybrid of the existing languages.

This is what silo thinking does: it blinds you to the complex
realities that do exist, and reduces those realities to dualisms that
are easy to swallow and to offer opinions about. Sadly, what Jamaicans
need more experience with is the ability to think in nuanced ways, and
to accept gray areas as legitimate spaces in which to work.  The
position that you have spelled out takes us a few steps backward in
that regard.  This issue calls for an attitude of respecting the
history and utility of each language form, and for making a case for
why English should be taught with more precision and attention in
schools than has been to date.  It is not necessary to create more
discord and to take potshots at Patwa in order to advance that

Your goal as chief policymaker ought to be to devise effective public
policy that reflects the cultural situation as well as creates a more
vibrant and inclusive society.  Such policy has to create better
outcomes than what went before, and needs to be useful to everyone
interested in promoting the social well-being of Jamaican citizens.  I
hope that you are able to meet that goal with regard to the language
issue and schooling in contemporary Jamaica.

Light & Lovely

As I’m listening to – and participating in – yet another debate about skin bleaching in Jamaica, I have to confess that I’m growing quite impatient with it.

The latest of these emerged around Vybz Kartel, a popular DJ in dancehall music,  whose facial complexion has been undergoing visible transformation.

He has been getting lighter,

Vybz Kartel with Lisa Hype - 2007

and lighter,

and lighter,

Vybez Kartel

and lighter…

To review….

VK before cake soap; VK after cake soap

Of course, he has been asked if he bleaches his skin.  But he keeps denying this.  Instead, he came up with the most ridiculous explanation ever: he is claiming that he uses cake soap (laundry detergent in a bar) to wash his face and that because he was always in air-conditioned spaces, his skin [naturally!] looked “cool” (Jamaican-speak for matte, smooth, flawless complexion).  He has even produced a song called “, where he reasserts the cake soap argument, but only after he rebuffs the rumours that he is gay, his bleached – oops – well-washed skin being a symbol of such.

Predictably, he has become a bit of a laughingstock.   Indeed, this is quite a change from the controversial figure that he has been with the Gully vs. Gaza rivalry leading to a meeting with PM Bruce Golding, and reaching a climax (pun intended) with his 2008 ode to pussy and non-vanilla, straight sex, aka Rampin’ Shop.   No longer distracted by poppin’ cocks, tight pussies, and spinnin’ sattelite dishes,  the public – really, anyone who’s cared to look twice – has drawn the obvious conclusion about his visage: he’s lying, and he’s bleaching, respectively.   In true Jamaican style, there is no end to the cake soap jokes that have emerged since around November 2010.

they just keep getting better…

Vybez and the Cake Soap

Annie Paul, a blogger and cultural critic, received an autographed bar of cake soap as a Christmas gift.   Even the stodgy daily newspaper, Jamaica Observer, has gotten it’s own jab in via Clovis:

Clovis on Vybz Kartel’s bleached face

Absolutely hilarious, really!

But it turns out that Vybz Kartel’s gender performance is also a distinctly queer one.  Indeed, urban gay subculture in Jamaica features young gay men dressed in tight, pencil jeans rolled above the ankle and fitting low on the hips, often with underwear visible, accompanied by figure-hugging tank tops and a colorful kerchief.  Bleached facial features are also part of the look.

The style has certainly been iconized in the character of Shebada, a sexually ambiguous young man who is the central character in perhaps the most popular roots play ever, .

But it was also the focus of Ebony Patterson’s mixed media series “Gangstaz for Life”

Disciplez by Ebony Patterson

Ebony Patterson – Gangstaz for Life

Through her work, Ebony opened up a new conversation about skin bleaching.  Previously, most discussions had positioned women as the subjects of and the only ones subjected to the societal pressures/prejudices against dark skin.  The choice to lighten their skin to approximate the shades of ‘brown’ that are highly revered is often read as vanity, stupidity, nihilism and self-hatred, all rolled into one dysfunctional feminine body.

Ebony’s work focused on young men who bleached their skin and asked viewers to consider what this says about the malleability of the gendered body, in this case, masculinity in Jamaican popular culture.  The images were intended to interrupt many people’s notions of who the hardcore dancehall man is, by offering what seemed to be shocking, unexpected images of men embracing  ‘girlish’ things in a rather barefaced way – tight clothes, adorned bodies, bleached faces.  Gender benders, Jamaican style.

I wasn’t so taken by that analysis – that there are multiple and competing masculine identities in urban Jamaica: that’s everywhere and pretty obvious to me, but that’s also what I am trained to recognize.  So, I can see how people thinking in binary terms about gender and sexuality might find it surprising that these gangstas are ‘allowed’ to occupy the same spaces as the more hardened and hypermasculine subjects who’ve been the focus of endless news reporting and armchair theorizing about violence in/and dancehall.  I found the work most striking and provocative in terms of technique and how she treated the subjects.   The careful, even reverent way that she rendered the flaws and the

The truth is, Vybz Kartel jus’ very falla fasha’n.

In terms of success in passing and changing his racial/color status, he was blown out of the ballpark by none other than Sammy Sosa, the baseball player from the Dominican Republic:

Sammy before bleach; Sammy after bleach

For me, there’s an incredible irony here.  Many Jamaicans refuse to recognise and accept that the adulation of ‘brown’ skin is also a rejection of blackness. Latin American and Caribbean folks love to pick on DR as the most racist and anti-black country in the region.  There’s a joke – tongue in cheek commentary, really – that Dominican hairdressers specialize in straightening the ‘black’ out of women’s hair.

Black working-class men are now stepping out of the shadows and into the light – lighter skin, that is.   And even if it is chemically produced, they claim it as theirs, and as a means to something different and better.  What? I’m not sure.

The Final Departure

I call my mother to tell her about the intricacies and difficulties of making arrangements to have a body shipped to the Caribbean for burial.

She tells me that the way “they” do it here, she doesn’t like it at all.

They don’t want you to see them bury the body.

You know that green thing underneath, that’s what they use to cover up the dirt.

And you know what, the hole is not even deep.

No, “we” have to see the body go down.

They won’t let you see them bury the body.

The hole is not deep, and they don’t line the vault with concrete the way ‘we’ do –

I don’t like it, they just throw dirt in your face.

Can you imagine? No sah!

At funerals I have gone to here – only 2 or 3 – we were determined to stay and watch till they finish – because “we” have to see the body go down in the ground, and they cover it up, and then we go home.

The men get very upset because we want to stay, they tell us we have to move back, and move back, and we have to be a certain distance before they can start, so we just move back to where they tell us and stay right there, and they say move back some more, and we move back and stand up right there till they finish.

Because you know ‘we’ have to sing the sankey till they close up the vault.

That’s when we leave.

And not a second before.

December 31, 1999


I am 10 years old or so…

One Sunday afternoon on the verandah

A’right, Sistah Webb.  My grandmother responds and waves from her seat on the verandah.  She engages in conversation with the churchwoman who has now stopped and is standing outside the gate.

Gone back to church?

A tidday a Harvest Sunday?

But how Fine never tell me? All that pickney do when she go a’ church is sleep! Sleep and kya-kya a de back a de pew wid dem res’ a gal pickney… A wonder when Calvary having their harvest…Natalie! Natalie!  Is when Calvary have de’ harvest again?

I slowly walk out of bedroom and stand by hallway door.

Yes, Grandma?

Harvest…Is when Calvary having their harvest, again?

Is next week. Remember I tell you last week, when Bro. Henry pass by after church?

Lawd pickney, me head a gather water in this old age.  Me n’aa member ‘bout it, sa…so you not going? What you gwen bring?

Silence.  My face resembles storm clouds gathering.   Bottom lip on its way out.

(soft voice) Last year I told you I wanted to get a long bread –the one in the red and yellow plastic paper…

The alligator bread? Then it nuh too late fi order dat now? It too late now. You ha’ fi order dat well in advance, or else you can’t get it in time.  Cause is dis ya Saturday morning you woulda ha’ fi go collect it – for the lady probably lock up shop 12 o’clock, fi go buy her market.  We can’t get that now at all.

Dark clouds are organizing themselves just so.  Top lip ready to join the bottom one.  Silence.


Gra’ama? Nuh Gra’ama me!  My name is Grand-ma.

A couple deep breaths to stem the cloudburst that will cause a tidal wave.

Grand-ma, is the same thing you tell me last year, and the year before that.  And this year I make sure I remind you way ahead of time. [pause] But you would remember if it was Tricia who did want it though!

But wait…you figetting yuhself?  Is who you talking to so? You must want you teeth end up down yuh t’roat?  A couldn’t mi you a talk to so!  You stand up deh a mek up you face. You mus’se wa’an see everybody a go a harvest and you can’t reach!

Silence.  Even the air is unsure whether to remain still in the battle zone.

A tell yuh that is figet I figet!  You can’t expect me to remember everything! Is see I see Sis. Webb mek harvest just run cross me mind.  Pickney, if mi fi memba everything whe yuh tell me seh, me nuh know how me woulda memba fi go a toilet!

Silence. Guilt seeping in and forcing cracks in the anger.  Pieces fall. More silence.

So wha you tan’ up deh fa? Come siddung and relax yuh self this Sunday evening yah.  Yuh go a church this morning.  Mek the likkle blessings take hold, nuh?

I sit down on the long chair.

She starts to sing “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves. We shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves..”

But yuh miserable, eh? How you miserable so?  Look how you mek up you nice nice face. One a’ dem day yah yuh mouth nuh gwine go back een. Laughs.  You want you mouth stay suh? Imitates me.  Member bout the hog?  Hog ask her mumma, mumma wha mek yuh mouth so long? She say, aah mi pickney, grow come see, grow come see.  Laughs.  A so your mouth gwen stay? Like hog?

I try not to smile.  She reaches over and strokes my face.

You naa  gi’ mi a little smile. Smile nuh.  Aaayyhh. The Bennett in you strong, doh…Grandma Cora woulda love fi see you now.  A fi har mouth you have.  But you is the dead stamp of Hya in truth.  Born badlucky, that’s you.

Strokes my face some more.

Nuh mind, Miss World, nuh mind.  Tell me wha’ you want fi carry fi harvest.  Tell me nuh?

Hesitantly – I want to carry drops.

Drops?  You waan Icy make it fi you? Wid nuff ginger, don’t it? I know you like ginger.  We have some whe’ Gran’ma Cora did send come fi you.  Or you want try make it?

I want to make it.

Aaright.  If you see Piggy pass yah so tell him me wa’an see him.  Mek I beg him cut down two dry coc’nut tomorrow, so Fine can huks them and cut dem up.  She probably tell me she too busy. Chuups.

No, I wi’ cut dem up when I come home from school.

No sah, Mek Fine cut up de coc’nut. After she nah do nuthing else whey me tell har fi do! She might as well.

No, I want to do the whole thing myself.

Yes child, I know you wi do it.  You tek after mi own heart. Laughs. Just try nu fi  bu’n up yuh finger again. ‘Member last year? Mi nuh wa’an ha fi run wid you go a Cornwall Regional, you hear me? Me just wa’an mek sure sey w’en yuh modder sen’ fi you, I deliver you to har in good condition…

Yes, Grandma.  But…I don’t know what to wear….

Yuh see h’much clothes you have siddung in dey nah wear? See yah, pickney – nuh chat fa’at a mi ears, y’h!  You nuh have not a ting fi bother fi yuh head – Go fi’ n sinting wear – And bring a glass a water when you coming.

Sigh. Yes, Grandma.  I walk away.

Created on 06/10/99 11:41 PM