Monday, April 5, 2010

The LGBT Community and Rhetorical Rastas/DJs

Its the last day of a long weekend which began on Thursday evening with a really special experience for me. I was invited to be part of a forum in San Francisco. For details see the poster below where i'm listed as 'Prof' Annie Paul (chuckle).
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The comments below the poster were borrowed from Yardedge.net, a great site for news on the entertainment and cultural scene in Jamaica.

Here’s an interesting forum happening next week on the dancehall music/culture scene- a simulcast between gay and straight folks in the San Francisco area and Kingston.

The forum will be addressing relevant issues including a proposal to initiate a BUYCOTT of artists, instead of BOYCOTT of artists. The “bUycott” is being put forward as a socio-politically conscious economic initiative in which LGBT-allied consumers (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people) offer their business to Jamaican recording artistes, small exporters, international brands, tourist destinations, etc, with demonstrated progressive human rights attitudes and practices. The forum will explore some ideas and strategies for organizing and undertaking the LGBT-allied Jamaica bUycott. The idea is to basically to reward artists who are promoting non-violent, positive vibes.

The forum will take place at the Hall Of Culture, African-American Art & Cultural Complex in SF. Contact ajawowheel@gmail.com for the Kingston location information.

The forum hopes to encourage progressive dialogue and partnership between Jamaicans and people abroad as well as to raise U.S. awareness about dancehall music’s current role in Jamaican culture and society and to present the music in a broader context for the San Francisco audience.


So it was really cool linking with the folks in San Francisco from my living room in Kingston. I was on for the full two hours and a thorough discussion was had along the lines described by Yardedge above. One of the other participants was Andrea Shorter, the woman with locks in the top centre of the infamous photograph above. She was a bit of a tough customer but Nic Ming, a Jamaican self-styled LGBT, moderated us out of troubled waters with engaging calm and wisdom.

I made several points that evening. One that if the homophobic rhetoric in Jamaican music was really taken seriously by the people who consume it there wouldn't be a single gay person left alive in the island. On the contrary a number of very high profile individuals who occupy the highest positions in this society are homosexual, although they cannot publicly admit this. And therein lies the rub. Jamaicans really don't have a problem with homosexuals as long as they remain in the closet. And older generations of gay men and women have generally obliged.

Today however there are younger gay men and women who are not willing to live closeted lives. They want to be out--dressing effeminately if they choose, or not, but letting everyone know who and what they are. I made the point that a few years ago there was a local hit called Out and Bad by Elephant Man (first heard Agostinho Pinnock refer to the song in this context) which though not explicitly referencing being gay--it was a celebration of the dance scene and the latest dance at the time--the Willie Bounce--could nevertheless be read to be a defiant assertion by the very gay-appearing dancers who populate Kingston's street dances. Dance will never die/Out and bad so badly bad/It a get intensify/...

The other thing i pointed out and i'm by no means the first to do so, is that the pressures of globalization, that is, the huge cultural changes that have taken place here and all over the world in response to the forces of economic globalization, are somehow mapped onto the body of the homosexual. He/she embodies, even personifies, the negative influences seen as penetrating society from the outside, from 'foreign'. "Keep us free from evil powers" goes a line in the Jamaican national anthem and i would argue that gays/homosexuals are seens as the emissaries of unnamed 'evil powers'.

This in turn has to do with the power relations undergirding the battle for space and legitimacy by the LGBT community. LGBTs often claim that their struggle for recognition and equal rights is no different from similar struggles by other once disenfranchised groups--Black people's continuing fight against racism, women's struggles against gender discrimination, the war by the colonized against the colonial yoke, the fight for freedom from slavery and so on. But as i pointed out there is one major difference between all these groups and the LGBT lobby and that is this: the LGBT lobby has power, it has economic power, and is able not only to flex its muscles but to cause severe damage as it has shown in recent years with the ongoing targeting of so-called murder music by Jamaican DJs. The marginalized groups previously mentioned were all waging wars from below; the campaign waged by Tatchell and others is, like the US embargo against Cuba, one that is fought from a position of power. And like the Cuban embargo, i maintain, it will have limited success and the people who suffer the consequences will be the very people on whose behalf you're mobilizing.

By exclusively targeting Jamaican DJs, whose constituencies are the poor and marginalized, the 'wretched of the earth', LGBTs are re-inforcing the underlying power imbalance. They are now seen as representing not merely 'evil powers' but rich and powerful evil powers. And this is the message not only from Dancehall music but from the pulpit and parliament. As Tara Atluri pointed out in a groundbreaking paper titled "When the Closet is a region: Homophobia, Heterosexism and Nationalism in the Commonwealth Caribbean" some years ago, this is not a Jamaican problem only:

...From popular culture to constitutional inequity, homosexuality is dismissed, loathed and ignored by mainstream Caribbean culture. I feel that this fear of homosexuality keeps gender roles sharply intact, thereby normalizing sexism. Furthermore I feel that homophobia and heterosexism are reinforced by Caribbean nation states, based on a discriminatory nationalism that uses both religious conformity and conformity to capitalist patriarchy as a basis for inclusion.

Atluri remarked on the difficulty of finding material, research or willing interlocutors on the subject of homophobia. On the subject of dancehall music and offensive lyrics she made an interesting observation:

Silence and shame guard Caribbean homosexuality. Therefore, i have found few avenues upon which to form an analysis of heterosexism and homophobia in the region. Popular culture, in the form of dancehall and reggae seems to be some of the only and concrete cultural discourses in which attitudes towards homosexuality are expressed outright. While dancehall and reggae lyrics have come under fire for their crude portrayal of sexual politics, they offer an opening. They are explicit. And while they may be explicitly prejudiced, they do what respectable silences do not. They start the conversation.

I couldn't have put it more eloquently. I'm glad that I was invited to to put in my two paisa worth in that forum in San Francisco. I'm glad that discussions such as this are taking place. And I don't mean to close this conversation on an unpleasant note but the video below is extremely pertinent to the subject we've been examining in this post. It may make us want to tear our hair out but in this South African interview Sizzla clearly articulates a widespread set of attitudes in Jamaica. To combat such views nothing less than the most informed and sophisticated strategy of engagement is required.

Rhetorical Rasta

"Controversial reggae musician Sizzla Kalonji speaks to the Mail & Guardian about homosexuality, his music and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe whom he recently met while performing at his birthday celebrations in Bulawayo during his African tour."
(Unfortunately there was no means to embed this video in my blog so you will have to click on the link to get it.)

8 comments:

Rizzla said...

amazing as usual - I'm particularly interested in the relationship between supporting artists whose message isn't violent vs the "boycott" - Cecile in particular went on a huge twitter rant a few weeks ago standing up for her gay friends. The "murder music" myth must be dismantled for reggae and dancehall to continue to grow.

And Fflood, whose on the SF side, is truly amazing

Ruthibelle said...

"To combat such views nothing less than the most informed and sophisticated strategy of engagement is required."

I appreciate your explanations above because while they do not justify violent and prejudiced Jamaican attitudes against LGBTs, they present an impartial, realistic perspective of some of the main motivators. I wish more people would understand that an atittude/psyche, once engrained in a culture, sometimes cannot merely be 'bullied' out. It takes the formation of a whole new culture and adoption of a new psyche... it takes something 'informed', and 'sophisticated'... an understanding of where said attitudes and thought patterns originate!

Anonymous said...

Oh boo Annie. I'm sorry to see your comments.

(And hello, it's your San Francisco friend. I was sorry to miss this event.)

1. Power. You think gays have power? You mean the power in Jamaica to hide themselves and live a life of deceit and silence? The power in Iran to be hanged to death and in America to suffer under "jim crow"-like laws that keep us separate and unequal? You are making the worst logical mistake here, identifying gays with one dude Peter Thatchell. We're in every culture. And we are powerless. Sure, compare Thatchell to some poor Jamaican person, he seems powerful. But there were powerful wealthy and famous women and african-American as well during those struggles. And compare a poor Jamaican gay to buju/capleton/whomever...who seems powerful then?

2. Who is "exclusively" targeting Jamaican dj's? Sorry, but the world does not revolve around your life. There are much much much bigger battles going on...against the Republican Party, Southern Baptists, Mormons, and so forth. The Jamaican dj's are among the few people in the world producing violently genocidal works of "art" against gay people, but are not a big concern generally for the gay community, and certainly not an exclusive one. We're frying other fish.

3. And finally, your analysis of the situation for gays in Jamaica--eh, not so bad--is just cruel. Until this year JFLAG couldn't even have a spokesperson who wasn't anonymous. This is a human rights crisis and you have lost yourself in your academia to the point that you've lost sight of this. It's not a "lyrical gun" when its held against someone's head.

Annie, I have lost respect for you with these arguments. Andrea is far more articulate than I, though, and I'm sure she took care of business.

Annie Paul said...

Hi Anon from San Fran!

Really sorry you disapprove of this post but glad you took the time and trouble to leave a comment--

Anonymous said...

Hail Annie Paul, I hope the batty bwoys/gyals from San Fransisco also 'Buycott' Saudi and and Iranian Oil. I think this would send a powerful message to those countries and regimes which have differing cultural practices and 'murderous' anti-gay laws.In fact "OPEC must die for GAYs to live" should be the new Batty-bwoy slogan/mantra.

Oh wait...the Asymmetry is in favour of the oil producing Muslim countries...so no US gay power play can be made in that regard. (The US is single largest consumer of Arab oil.) Well, i guess they can always continue to beat up on a culture they don't understand...the SF fairy must thank God for poor defenseless, mendicant, backward (but not backways) Jamaica.

Peace and Love, Stero

Long said...

Annie - Interesting post. It's become pretty clear to me that you want to be viewed as an "expert" on what it means to be gay in Jamaica. I mean, the authority with which you make all kinds of statements about gay men and "LGBT's" just astounds me. And yet, it's kind of interesting - and sad - since you don't seem at all interested in providing room for said gay Jamaicans to speak for themselves.

Notwithstanding the racist attitudes of many of the American and British folks who have been instigating the boycotts etc., you insist on using language like "the lgbt lobby" and locating "lgbts" outside of Jamaica; note how you even refer to the person moderating the discussion. Feels a bit like today's editorial in the Observer. I am wondering how you see this way of talking about lesbians and gay men as different from the disappearing acts perpetrated by the same DJ's who you are always defending? I am really wondering where that "most informed and sophisticated strategy of engagement" is going to come from when you seem to think it's still perfectly legitimate to homogenize lgbt folks as somehow evil incarnate beating up on little, defenseless jamaica? That's rather self-serving, if you ask me; that framing certainly doesn't rise to the level of informed for sure. Mi done.

Anonymous said...

I echo long here, i am very frustrated to see you move right over concerns of the actual Jamaican lgbtq community and disappear their concerns, arguments and tactics to focus on tatchell and crew. it merely reinforces the very idea of homosexuality as an outside or corrupting force. it might surprise you to know that there are many lgbtq people, especially third world people who also take issue with him and his ilk while still advancing significant criticisms of dancehall. to suggest that those people have a powerful lobby and money and the concerns do not come from the ground up is an argument i would expect from some evangelical demagogues lips. the choice isn't between foreign lgbtq people and lil ol Jamaican artists there is a third way- Jamaican and caribbean queer people. that would require, perhaps, some hard choices and tough decisions though instead of slithering through the old homoimperialism escape hole.
and i'm not saying you can't listen and like the music but you have to give up this tired defensive schtick.

YardEdge - Pls. see www.yardedge.net said...

Thanks for the big up Annie. Fascinating discussion here, no matter which side you're on it's just great that the discussion is taking place. If only it could take more openly here in Jamaica and not only on a simulcast...we live in hope.