Monday, May 18, 2009

Misogyny in Jamaican (Dancehall) Culture

Jamaica is famous for its nightlong street dances. Friends tell me they get all the Passa Passa DVD’s in New York. Following the “dagarin” phenomenon, which celebrated the objectification and dehumanization of our women, a more disturbing form of entertainment seems increasingly prominent in Dancehall- that of jumping on open-legged women, without concern for the woman’s physical health, before thrusting violently at the waist, and oftentimes turning acrobatically on the ground, which supposedly increases the perceived entertainment value of the act. I judge this based on the proliferation of You Tube videos displaying this barbarity. Such misogynistic displays of Jamaica’s patriarchal social constructions must end!

Let me take you through the two-minute video that I watched recently. A woman sits in a bucket and has water thrown on her. A young man, about 40 feet away, prepares himself for running down the path that was cleared by eager spectators. He runs up, somersaults, and in an almost slow motion sequence flies through the air, with his rear end landing squarely on the woman’s head. Her back was bent to the ground, her hands were outstretched as she prepared herself for the worst, but the weight of his body was too great. She was knocked unconscious, or worse, dead. The man stood up proudly, cheered by the crowd, and then lies down on the woman, thrusting at the hip, while he tried to wake her up. When he realized she was unconscious, he sought to lift her, while others through water on her face. Her head bobbed from side to side, while the stentorian commentator made jokes about her possible death. The crown was feverish. At least four people carried her off into the darkness. The video continued, as the somersault and the landing were repeated twice, presumably for my viewing pleasure. This is deeply disturbing.

Even more disturbing was the comments made by a few of the viewers. One was, “LMAO wow” (lmao is instant messaging jargon for “laughing my ass off”) while another read, “lol amazing.” These reactions, and those of the spectators horrify me, for they are symptomatic of more serious problems crippling our society. Jamaica hates women. Of this, I am sure. We speak of how much “wi lov wi uman dem”, but our rates of domestic abuse, assault, rape, workplace sexual abuse, and the like against women, tell an entirely different story. The economy is important, as is our escalating crime rates, but so is this. Acts of misogyny are far less quantifiable, but arguably much more destructive to a developing society.

Street dances should not take place without having police officers, or other medically trained personnel, present. If that woman had any broken vertebrae, or a slight chance to live, the immediate response of the ignorant crowd damaged her spinal chord, and otherwise killed her. I am OUTRAGED!

If you have facebook, see video
HERE. Be warned though, it is very graphic, and may not be appropriate for the weak-hearted.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Humbling Experience

"Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all." ~William Temple
Dusk had crawled upon me, signalling the end to my day off from school. My mother was in America working to repay her many debtors and I was left at home with my sister. At sixteen years old I was given the responsibility of caring for my household, a duty I carried out effortlessly until that night. My sister came to me at 8 pm telling me that she needed to go to the hospital because she had been vomiting uncontrollably. I explained to her that we had no money and so she would have to wait till the weekend. She walked away without complaint, nevertheless my conscience was disturbed.

I woke up at 2 am the next morning to complete my studying for the next day of school. I listened keenly as my sister staggered into the bathroom and vomited repeatedly. I realized then I would have to take her to the hospital as soon as daylight broke. I decided to try to call my brother who worked in the capital city to see if he could help, but when I asked my sister to recall his number, she started speaking gibberish. The gravity of the situation had hit me hard, my sister was nearing comatose state, so I panicked, running to a neighbor before turning back into the house of her imminent eternal repose.

I could not muster the courage to ask for help because such help would necessitate me revealing the extent of my family's financial woes. The pride I felt for my family's status in the community was too strong. Instead, I ran to another neighbor asking to use her phone. She asked me what was wrong, having seen my tear stained face. All guards broke down, as I was forced to recall the series of events that led to me being on her doorsteps. She rushed over to the house and screamed upon seeing my sister, "She’s going to die! Lord Jesus!" I continued to sob as this Saviour prepared my now unresponsive sister for the hospital. Upon arriving within two hours she responded to treatment.

The pain of almost causing my sister’s death because of family or questionably self-pride, still rips at my humanity. However, I have learnt to do what is best for an individual especially in times of crisis without regard for one’s own inclinations. A life is too precious to be compromised with silly pride. I am eternally grateful to my neighbor who rushed to see my sister; never once thinking of her plans for that day and the inconvenience that rushing to the hospital and using her own money would cause her. Humility really does mean, freedom from thinking about one’s self, a lesson I learnt the hard way.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Skin Bleaching in Jamaica

I have always been aware of the pervasiveness of the practice of skin bleaching in Jamaican culture. Lighter skin is romanticized in ways that compel one to wonder whether our political independence has forged any mental emancipation from the feelings of inferiority that were entrenched in our black foreparents. Every time I return home, one of the first things people remark about my appearance, is my failure to lighten up, even a little bit. "Weren't you in Canada," they ask? I roll my eyes in contempt at their observations, for I find my black skin beautiful.

The inferiority of blacks in reinforced in numerous ways in Jamaica. I wont claim to know all of them, but the follwing are some that come to mind:

Our native language, which has been shaped by the languages of our African acestors, is still deemed inferior as a means of communication. We have emphasized the innapropriateness of speaking this language, so much so that even those who speak it more fluently than English will proclaim the need to speak properly. There is no material value in speaking Patwa, so we should not speak it. How shortighted we are as a people.

Telling someone, se dem blak laik, still evokes emotions of anger and the will to retalitate. Boggles my mind why this is still so in a country where the overwhelming majority of people are black.

Our emphasis on tourism as an economic indursty. Of course, we don't have many choices when it comes to growing an economy, I am just making an empirical claim here. When I was younger I never realized that everyone in the world wasn't struggling to get by. As I grew older, I recognized that some people had large disposable incomes, and that many of these people came to Jamaica to revel in their superior economic position. They were predominantly white.

We still romaticize light skinned individuals, who are considered to be more attractive. Being "brown" is an attribute, which people note when noting someone's alleged beauty.


A nation cannot be built on the shoulders of nationals who do not have faith in their self worth, and the inherent value of their common histories and potential futures. Skin bleaching is a symptom of larger social defects, which need to be resolved if post-colonial societies must advance in accordance with their potentials.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Staceyann Chin: The Other Side of Paradise

Yesterday I met an openly gay Jamaican woman, whose knack for comedy and messianic oration about her life in Jamaica, held the attention of some 90 students in a class on Adolescent Development. I was completely blown away by her ease of mind, and the frankness with which she discussed deeply personal and moving tales of abandonment, abuse, and ultimately liberation. I was proud to call myself Jamaican alongside her, and I look forward to meeting with her again sometime soon.

While listening to her read from her book, flashes of my own childhood came rushing back. I was so heartened by her ability to overcome the challenges she faced, while simultaneously reminding myself, that there was indeed a light at the end of the tunnel of despair that was my youth.

I asked her about her exile in America, and she spoke resolutely of having to LIVE, using her pasts to motivate her ambitions. She repeatedly reminded the audiences she spoke to not to pity her, because now she is living a good life. She said that it is somewhat hurtful to be forced to leave home on account of preserving one's safety. But she reminded me that it is a necessary choice that one must make, if they are to live happily.

I bought her new book, in which she signed the following words: "May our voices ring louder than our fears." A most germane reminder of the need for us to speak out against the injustices wrought upon our misunderstood brother/sisterhood.

Buy the book- it's worth every penny!

When Home is not Home

When I left Jamaica two years ago, I was sure I would never return to live. I giggled nervously as I sat in the plane in Montego Bay, excited about the new world that awaited me in Canada. Weirdly enough, my love for Jamaica grew while I was away, and instead of constantly trying to run from the labyrinthine complexity of Jamaica's social problems, I desired to work to find solutions to them.

For over a year, the horrid reports of social dysfunction, which graced the pages of the Gleaner, haunted my every thought. I threw tantrums; I cried; I complained; I wrote. One wonders why, when the very society I started to care deeply for made me an outcast in my youth- I hated myself growing up, and constantly wished myself dead. I have come to a point now when I must acknowledge my obligations to my family; but I cannot continue to live like this--- constantly aching for solutions that are not forthcoming. Even if they were, there is not much that I could do to actually implement them.

I always asked of others, "if we don't go home, who will?" But I now understand why people stay away. I must now allow my individual aspirations to be stymied by fantastical visions of what Jamaica is to be. Frankly, I am tired of waking up each morning with the weight of a nation on my conscience. This of course is a symptom of my own weaknesses. Javed, WAKE UP!!! I finally made up my mind, I will not live in Jamaica anytime in the near future. Hopefully now I can set my sights on other, more attainable ambitions.

I hasten to remind myself of the reasons I desired to leave my island home in the first place. They weren't petty then and certainly aren't today.