we are all vulnerable, in a way

On the morning of Sunday, October 7, 2018, I turned on the television in a Miami hotel room and the NBC news scroll read: “Earthquake in Haiti, 11 dead.”*  The too-familiar words took my breath away.  Before the media footage could load, my own memory recalled the devastating aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. I said a prayer for those latest earthquake victims and I empathized with those now devastated by unexpected loss. The earth may have quaked on the northwest end of Hispaniola in Port-de-Paix, but the tremors vibrated the raw nerve of our human vulnerability.

Fast forward some twelve hours, to the relief of returning home to Jamaica from Miami, weary from a day of travel and several days of attending an academic conference. Imagine the heart-swell of good night kisses and the sweet hugs that yawn out “I missed you.”  Imagine the mundane act of fluffing a couch cushion then hearing the most unexpected terrestrial groan. Imagine hesitantly returning that pillow to the couch, dismissing the disturbance of doubt, taking a step toward the kitchen to get a glass of water, then feeling the most unexpected rumbling of earth rising from somewhere deep beneath the cool living room tile.  In that fight-or flight moment of WTF-awareness, I locked eyes with my husband and screamed out for our daughters as he and and I each took wide, balance-seeking steps towards the room’s sturdy door frames.  As I screamed, I wanted to choke it back. I was terrified that my fear would wake the children and, more frighteningly, I was fearful that I needed to wake them up in order to save them from disastrous harm.

Thankfully, in the seconds that it took to move 3 or 4 paces, the shaking had stopped.  The house had not fallen and our girls had not been disturbed.  The structure remained as sound as their sleep, even though the next several minutes saw me white-knuckling the threshold, grateful that the only shaking that remained was that of my knees.

I guess it’s true: We tend only to think of our vulnerability to nature when the worst threatens us or when the worst has come and destroyed. We find comfort in believing that vulnerability is usually seasonal. But beyond knowing where fault lines are, earthquakes are much less predictable and have no “season” to speak of.  Standing in my living room Sunday night, some 60 kilometers away from the epicenter near Hope Bay in Portland, I fought back that morning’s memories of the more than 200,000 Haitian souls who perished when the earth slipped and vulnerable, unsuspecting bodies bore the brunt of a fault some eight years ago.

In a matter of grumbling seconds, in a single sweep of high velocity winds, in a powerful surge of high tide, we become vulnerable and life as we know it can be lost.  Just ask anyone still picking up the pieces post-Hurricane Maria.  My fellow Terrapin and fellow Caribbean bad gyal-returnee, Schuyler Esprit, was featured in the May/ June 2018 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine. In the article, writer Lisa Allen-Agostini summarized the impact that the hurricane had on Esprit’s Create Caribbean Research Institute in Dominica: “September 2017 brought an immense setback, as Hurricane Maria struck Dominica, damaging or destroying ninety-five percent of the island’s buildings, including the Create Caribbean office […] and destroyed equipment Esprit had paid for out of her own pocket.”  After a disaster we are duly grateful when human lives have been spared; but our humanity is not only in our breath, it is also in what we create. It’s amazing to think that many lifetimes of work and investment can be obliterated in a single disastrous moment.

giphy-downsized

I have heard people complain with disappointment because they have never felt an earthquake. They complain as if they missed an opportunity to experience something joyful or exciting.  These folks must be thrill-seekers, I suppose. They must think that being out of control is fun.  I have heard people exclaim with delight that they would love to be in a tornado or a hurricane.  They speak gleefully of stocking non-perishables and batteries. They speak boastfully of living far enough inland to be safe from the surge, of living in earthquake-proof homes, and of having candles and generators to protect them from power outages. They speak of preparedness as if it’s a new tech-gadget that they are eager to put to use.  But if you have any empathy at all for those who live with the memory and the threatening possibilities that natural disasters bring, you would curb your enthusiasm.  Nature does not care about first-world preparations or third-world infrastructure limitations: just ask those impacted by Hurricanes Sandy in 2012 or Katrina in 2005 or the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011. giphy-tumblrAnd with Hurricane Michael having made record-breaking landfall in the Florida Panhandle as I type these words, it is not yet clear what level of devastation will be tallied when the winds stop and the water damage dries up.**

In Puerto Rico,  Hurricane Maria’s aftermath is still a clear and present reality because even though electric power has finally been restored, the psychological trauma remains and is even compounded when history is considered.  (For more, read this article by Lauren Lluveras where she takes stock of the post-Maria Puerto Rico. And read this article discussing the “modern day colonial relationship that the United States has with Puerto Rico.”)

This week celebrates a particularly violent history.  A few days ago on Monday, October 8th some folks honored the failed navigation of the great perpetrator of New World genocide, Christopher Columbus; while others honored the indigenous souls who lost their lives to colonization.  When I think of this Caribbean space, its vulnerabilities, its traumas, and its beauties, I am reminded of the words to “La Borinqueña” written by Manuel Fernández Juncos more than a hundred years ago in 1901. “La Borinqueña” is named for the indigenous Taino people who lived on what was then called Borikén but is now present-day Puerto Rico.  This territorial anthem of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico serves as a critical reminder of the entire region’s complicated history (see lyrics below).  How so? Well, consider this: How vulnerable is our Caribbean identity to nature?  Who will record our stories of trauma and how will they be recorded for posterity given the reality of our vulnerabilities? Who will tell our stories of peril and who will read/listen to them?  I listen to this anthem*** and I think we are more than the “flowery gardens” that Juncos memorializes in song.  I read the lyrics and know that we are no longer defined by Columbus’ perception of us.

Empathy is why we read. Empathy is why we watch movies. Empathy is why we listen to music. And empathy is why we plug-in to social media.  We want to feel connected to the world around us and the internet allows us to connect, empathetically at times, to people a world away. Through that connection, the internet allows us a digital space to be vulnerable to emotional devastation.

Connected as we are, we often worry more about internet vulnerability and how malware and computer viruses can erase our identities than how forces of wind, water, or fire can.  We don’t think of how the earth seems to quake when our smart phones go missing or fall in a toilet. We don’t think of how the wind and water of erasure seems to rush in when our tablets won’t power on. We don’t think of the fire that devours us when our laptops give us terrifying blue screens.  Archives like this blog, archives like our Instagram and Facebook accounts, archives like Spotify and Apple Music, and all the life experiences we’ve collectively uploaded to various servers and clouds over the years, are vulnerable, in a way.  In fact, we all are. Because, at the end of the day, whether through a storm, a quake, a song, or a profile page, we all just want to protect what we’ve created long into posterity. Am I right?

 

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*The death toll reached 12 persons for the Saturday, October 6th, 2018 earthquake in Haiti.

**At the time that this post was written on October 11, 2018, six lives were lost as a result of Hurricane Michael and more than 300,000 residents lost electric power.

***”La Borinquena” is embedded within Big Pun’s hip hop song “100 %” (2000). Tony Sunshine sings the chorus and the Puerto Rican anthem beginning at minute mark 2:50. 

 

musical triggers, issa thing

I’ve been wanting to write about this new Protoje album, A Matter of Time, for a little while now. Every time I sat down to do so, I stopped myself and said, just wait for the full project.  Well, the album drops on Friday, June 29th, and I can’t wait any longer.  As Jadakiss famously said, “I’m running outta my patience” (“Knock Yourself Out” 2001).

With four singles released ahead of the album, there’s ample material to mine for triggers, specifically musical triggers.  But what are musical triggers? Well, as a very condensed definition, musical triggers are the ways that music (lyrics, rhythms, tones, melodies) trigger emotion and memory in the listener.  You can read more in this summary article published in The Cut and within you can click on links to the 2017 scientific study by Signy Sheldon and Julia Donahue (or click here).  So what does Protoje’s most recent work trigger?

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Well, the first single was released last year (Feb 2017) and “Blood Money” hit the ears and mind like a missile.  Protoje’s weapons, of course, are the most deadly ones available to us: bullets of truth.  I mean, honestly, what hurts more than pulling back the curtain on this island’s corrupt reality with lyrics like these: “How much dead baby deh over Jubilee?/  How much youths did 10 when them run inna Tivoli/ Now them 16, heart fry, head fricassee.”  Negative feelings and negative memories of news about Riverton landfill and the air pollution that is killing the surrounding communities, the people as well as the plants.  Painful memories that date back to colonial rule and linger in the selective blindness of the police, surface as one listens to “Blood Money.” Traumatic memories of local news reports about the suspicious spike in infant mortality at Victoria Jubilee Hospital and the shallowly buried memories of international news reports about the Tivoli Incursion are unearthed as this lead single plays on.  Protoje’s lyrics are potent and this first release was intentionally and specifically triggering for the Jamaican listener.

Mortimer assisted on the second single “Truths and Rights” (Sept 2017) where he and Protoje remind listeners that they are about activism.  This reminder is important in a pop music world that continues to pump out consumerist songs about buying more and spending more and rappers like Big Sean and Drake feign humbleness to sing about being blessed to be “here for a good time, not a long time” (“Blessings” 2015).  In the face of this, “Truths and Rights” proudly states:

“Cause Jah Jah bless I with the brightest lightr-455689-1127250169-jpeg
And I ah shine it pon di yout dem plight
Cah we deh ya so fi truths and rights
Deh ya so fi truths an rights
And until the day that my soul takes flight
Babylon will hear my voice…”

For me, this single triggers reggae memories of Johnny Osbourne’s 1979 classic of the same title and similar content.

Then, this February (2018), “Bout Noon,” the third single, was released.  This single had a different tone and a different affect. Triggering still, but personal instead of national.  96ab32eb5d88f36897c610a8b6c08b6f-1000x1000x1“Bout Noon” paused discussion of the nation’s politics to sing a praise-song.  For me, “Bout Noon” triggered positive memories of Black Star’s ode to the black woman “Brown Skin Lady” (Talib Kweli and Mos Def — now Yasiin Bey, photo below) and recalled Sade’s 2010 album cut “The Moon and the Sky” (which I think producer Phillip ‘Winta’ James’ is riffing on to build the beat for “Bout Noon” and there may be a hint in the music video — see the video still below).  Known for their Pan-African worldview and broad musical influence, in 1998 Black Star img_8857rapped a silky love poem to the black woman whose beauty of mind and body could make a man “ride a Coltrane to A Love Supreme“.   In 2018, Protoje’s “Bout Noon”, though sharing themes of Starland Vocal Band’s 1976 classic soft rock tune, “Afternoon Delight”, I’d argue that “Bout Noon” places itself in critical conversation with the soulful, moody jazz of Thelonious Monk.  Quite personally, “Bout Noon” triggers memories of my wedding day when I walked down a New York City aisle to Miles Davis’ rendition of “Round Midnight” (1955) and together my husband and I walked out to “Dipset Anthem” (2003),  a yet-to-be-duplicated musical hybrid of reggae crooner Sanchez and Harlem’s unique brand of hustle rap.  But back to “Round Midnight.”  As the most recorded jazz standard EVER, Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” (1944) is set twelve hours before (or after) Protoje’s “Bout Noon.”  Even observing the visuals of the “Bout Noon” single (above), Protoje is seen looking out on a Kingston night sky, not a sunny city noon-scape.  Of course, the video is partially set during daylight hours and in the Tweet and screen-grab featured just below, Protoje’s fictional lover is lying on the bed clothed in a sweatshirt depicting Sade’s face  (a nod to the song’s production?). Screenshot_2018-06-26-11-48-12  Protoje is an uncommon reggae artist. He is a student of music. What I mean is that he listens and learns and works with producers and musicians who are also listening and learning.  How else do you create a song like “Bout Noon” that triggers the sentimentality of Sade, the romantic longing of Thelonious and Davis’ style of jazz, while still delivering dancehall-influenced poetry like: “mi catch a prophecy/ fi kotch yuh pon top ah me/ … one call and mi deh pon yuh bass like oddesey”?  “Bout Noon” straddles genres, blurs musical spaces, and complicates the potential of Jamaica’s music/ians to consider what is creatively possible when the music pushes beyond the new popularity of the trap sound or the tradition of the one drop bass line, when the music educates listeners about romance and not just Rastafari, and when the music seeks a shelf-life longer than a hashtag  and consumer trends.

The final single that dropped was “No Guarantee” (May 2018), which brings Protoje back together with his “Who Knows” (2015) collaborator, Chronixx.  “People got expectations/ Will they love you?/ No guarantee,” sings Chronixx in his familiar falsetto voice.  But it is Protoje who declares his frustrations with the jealous types and those who grudge-fully limit and criticize others when he sings out: “Some will say you no Ras/ cause you jump in a Benz/ like me never see Selassie/ in a couple ah them.”  On this track, as it is with the other singles, Winta James grinds out a classically disruptive rhythm to match the content and the triggers are there.  Who doesn’t have negative memories of being falsely judged? How many times have we been assumed or presumed to be someone or something we are not, all because “people got expectations”?

So, what about the rest of the album? Well, Friday I’ll know and will update this post accordingly.  For now, I’ll just restate that this album is triggering, issa thing.

**If you are unfamiliar with the Protoje, you can learn more at his website or his Wikipedia entry.

a day in the park

Since returning to Jamaica from the US a couple of years ago, I have been keenly aware of race and the positioning of whiteness in the Caribbean broadly and in Jamaica more specifically.  A few months ago I found myself in the area of New Kingston at Emancipation Park.  Located between the Jamaica Pegasus hotel and the Courtyard by Marriott in Kingston, this well-trafficked park and thorough-fare boasts two 11-foot-tall bronze statues (see picture below). To quote the park’s website, “This prominent sculpture comprises of two naked black male and female statues gazing to the skies – symbolic of their triumphant rise from the horrors of slavery.”

redemption-song-monument
Larua Facey’s “Redemption Song” at Emancipation Park,  Kingston, Jamaica

When I paused to observe the statues, a dread-locked man who was already near the statues, stepped back and moved towards me. After a quiet good afternoon he said: “Yuh know seh ah one white ooman mek dat?”  As he asked, he gestured, and his hand seemed to be pointing to the foot-long penis. I side-eyed his apparent comment on the hyper-sexualization  of the black man by the white woman; but he quickly clarified his point: “Ah one white ooman mek di statue dem.  Eeen all ah Jamaica ah no black man and no black ooman dem could find mek big-big statue?”  I did not have a ready answer for his question.  While the sculptures have been in New Kingston since 2003, I had paid greater attention to their immense nude presence than to their creator. And, to some extent, I wonder if I had presumed the sculptor to be of the Afro-Jamaican majority.  After a bit of silence, I finally replied, “You make a good point, my friend. And I’m sure, nuff black people it tek to set this big-big statue in place.”  He nodded, we both looked on for a few more seconds, then he went his way, and I mine.

 

“Nuff black people it tek to set this big-big statue in place” — I’m realizing now — was double-speak. The park’s website says that more than 100 people were called in to install the works in Emancipation Park. But how many hundreds of thousands of black men and women lived, worked, and died under a British slave system only to have their emancipatory moment cast in bronze by a white Jamaican artist or, as my dread-locked friend said “one white ooman”?

What does it mean for white Caribbean people to produce art that tells the stories of Afro-Caribbean people? What does it mean for white Americans to tell the stories of black Americans? And what does it mean when white people are questioned for their choice to tell these stories?  In no way supporting Kanye West’s recent comments that “slavery was a choice,” I will say that the history and legacy of slavery does not belong only to African-descendants in the New World.  Slavery belongs to Europe’s descendants in the New World, too.  After all, we are both recipients of this colonial history, and depending on where we fall on the racialization scale, slavery willed us either a burden or bequeathed to us a gift.

As I think about the questions that public art and public discourse can provoke, I too am provoked by the conversation I shared with a stranger while we both stood before two enormous black-bronze nudes in a public park.  Accessible public art like Laura Facey’s “Redemption Song” installation in Emancipation Park should regularly invite discourse about society.  It is meant to remind passersby that black people in Jamaica are both redeemed and emancipated. But do these conversations frequently take place and have white Jamaicans been made aware that they too were freed by abolitionist legislation?  That is to say that when the enslaved were freed during the 19th century, so too were massa and miss.   But, even though I have tried, I cannot think of any monuments that were erected to remind the descendants of masters that they are emancipated now and that they no longer need to subjugate the descendants of Africans.  Without reminders, how will massa and miss understand that slavery has been over and that they have been free to be without prejudice for more than a century?  How will the white West Indian know that he or she no longer has to play the role of oppressor?

What do monuments actually want us to remember? Are we meant to remember that we are free or that we are enslaved when we look at Facey’s sculpted “Redemption Song”?  There are so many mixed messages residing in our memories.  Allow me to recall just a few.  Remember when Jean-Jacques Dessalines ordered a massacre of the white people who remained in Haiti following the success of the 1804 Haitian Revolution?  Remember the 1950s when “Massa Day Done” became a successful campaign slogan for Trinidad’s first prime minister, Eric Williams?  Remember the 1970s when Michael Manley’s democratic socialism in Jamaica spread the fear of murder and rape throughout white Jamaica?  Remember the hemispheric War on Drugs?  Remember the global War on Terror?  Remember trans-Atlantic and hemispheric trade embargoes?  Remember international travel restrictions?  Remember economic inequality and how it mirrors racial hierarchy from here to anywhere to everywhere?  Remember unequal policing, unequal charges, and unequal jail time?  Remember a few years ago when white masculinist studies programs and clubs started surfacing at US universities?  But we thought massa day was done?  And while  Black activism held the media spotlight on the abuses sustained by Black American bodies, the introduction of last year’s #metoo trended public attention away from Black bodies and towards “white women’s tears.”  Massa may be under pressure, but only because miss is doing the threatening.  Many of the predatory men who trespassed against these women still maintain their civil liberty, wealth, and freedom to oppress others.

Maybe this is why Childish Gambino recently invited both miss and massa to experience the video monument that is “This is America” (see below).

And as I saw the rich, pained layers that went into the conceptualization of this visual project, I wondered if miss and massa would see it too?  I thought also of the Caribbean and race inequality, class disparity, prejudice, willful blindness, and willful silence here.  “This Is America” led my memory to recall Rihanna’s layered club-banger and recent Howard  University protest song, “BBHMM” from 2015. Remember? This was the song that think-piece writers said was about colonial reparations?  Watch it again post-“This is America” and you may read Rihanna anew.  Watch it again knowing that Rihanna owns her masters (double-speak intended). Watch it again knowing that Rihanna named the first album she made on her own independent label Anti?  (Read Erin MacLeod’s 2016 piece in NPR here.) Watch “Bitch Better Have My Money” again knowing that Rihanna has done for the epithet “savage” what Black Americans have done for “nigger.”  What more clever way to re-appropriate the colonizer’s negative perceptions of the indigenous Taino and the imported African cargo, than to name her new lingerie line Savage

As white West Indians negotiate the nuances of these distinct national spaces that make up the Caribbean, do they think introspectively of privilege or its consequences like white Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler did?  I wonder. And when a white woman dresses up, powders her face with a perfectly-matched Fenty bronzer (carefully created for all shades), and props up her bust with a Savage bra, rihanna supwill she think of how  black women’s beauty was denied for centuries?  I wonder.  And as white Americans sway to Atlanta’s best trap music, will they think of the war on drugs and how it further crippled and criminalized America’s Black communities into dangerous trap neighborhoods?  Nicole Arbour’s quick to YouTube adaptation of Childish Gambino’s video monument, “This Is America: Women’s Edit,” tells me the answer is likely no.  While Lil Dicky and Chris Brown’s “Freaky Friday” just leaves me speechless.

Massa day not done. And miss isn’t vacating her seat of colonial privilege yet either.  If only they knew or could be reminded that like their enslaved counterparts, they have been emancipated and are free.  But the funny thing is, emancipation and abolition are not synonymous. Emancipation is a process, while abolition is an action.  The 1834 proclamation of emancipation only presented freedom to the youngest of the enslaved people in the British colonies.  From 1834 to 1838, enslaved Africans over the age of six years were emancipated from the title slave only to become “apprentices” who provided the same unpaid labor, suffered the same tortures of violence and oppression, and faced fatal punishments if they chose to attempt an escape.  Under the Emancipation Proclamation’s apprenticeship system, the former colonial slave masters ceased being slave masters only to become violent and oppressive apprentice masters instead.  Emancipation presented freedom for very few.

As I think about my day in the park, I wonder how might we relate to each other in Jamaica differently today, if Emancipation Park were actually called Abolition Park?

nobody told me this

It is mid-semester. The last couple of weeks of exams have weighed heavily on University students. After hearing from so many students on the verge of giving up, I write this letter.  This is an open letter to all those who are in the struggle, plan to join the struggle, and/or seek to understand the struggle for higher learning.

March 21, 2018

Dear Me,

Me?  Why is this letter addressed to me? It is addressed to me because sometimes me wants to scream. If this letter is successful, it will calm me from screaming. This letter will be my new mantra. Picture 013These will be the words that get me through this journey. These will be the words that remind me to go to bed after staying awake for 37 and 1/2 hours straight. These will be the words that remind me to at least buy a water to wash down the one meal I had for the entire day.  These will be the words that remind me that I am doing alright, even though my instructors think I’m not as smart as… she. Yes, she.  The she that seems to have all the right tools and right answers for everything.  These will be the words that remind me that I am doing my best, even when I don’t have bus fare to get to campus.  These will be the words that remind me that I do belong in University, even though I am not the same age or same class or same nationality as my classmates.  Me needs these words to remind me that exams are not set to destroy me, even though I feel destroyed. Exams are not set to break my spirit, even though they make me feel inadequate and overwhelmed.

Nobody told me that University would be so… like this.  But what I have to remember today is that today is no longer yesterday; it is no longer last week, last month, or even the first day of school.  Today is a triumph. I made it this far and I can keep going to the finish line of graduation.  If I can study, then I can pass my exams.

All I have to do is find the time to study….

I need to remember that there are only ever going to be 24 hours in each day.  I can’t change what the English have set as a standard of “productivity.”  I cannot change the fact that the Industrial Revolution created a need to synchronize time and that synchronization was fueled by the linking of time with capitalism.  I cannot change the fact that this history of capitalism is what first extended the work day beyond sun-light hours.  So, as I trod on this journey, it is not worth my energy or my time to get mad at time for running out. I cannot get mad at time for expiring.  For expiring and running out is what time does. What I can do and what I will do is manage my time and my expectations better.

Even though education has become more and more of a business, I have enrolled in University because I seek to maintain or earn a good job that will earn me good money.  Even though education sometimes seems to place administrators at the center and students on the fringes, I have enrolled in University because I seek to uplift myself and my family.  And even though I love my family and want to do good by them… And even though I respect and appreciate the money that they have spent to support my education… And even though they mean well when they push me to be the doctor-lawyer-engineer that they are now or could never be, my University experience is my own. My coursework and exam grades are earned by my ink-sweat-tears of study hours.

This letter is proof that me is not a student ID number. I am a scholar. I must remember that every long-term goal begins as a short-term plan.  In each of my classes I will earn knowledge through self-study.  I will earn marks that I am proud of.  As much as I can do so, I will make the most of my time at University by studying that which makes me happy and I will make friendships that I will have for a lifetime. I will challenge myself and I will challenge my instructors to be better because a useful education is one that makes everyone think more.

I will read these words again and again until they are my own because nobody told me this before I enrolled in University.  Now I know.

Very sincerely mine,

Me

a hundred $ stab

About an hour ago or so, I saw four officers of Jamaica’s Constabulary Force poised with weapons in hand. Three of these officers held semi-automatic rifles, while the fourth maintained his handgun in its holster.  Their police vehicles were parked and all four wore helmets and bulletproof vests. They were prepared to profile.  Evenly flanking Mona Road, the officers positioned themselves about 200 meters before the University of the West Indies’ main gate.  They were stationed there because Mona Road is the fastest way into and out of August Town, a community where gunfire is becoming more frequent and more deadly.  As traffic bottle-necked past the officers, I couldn’t help but wonder how many 100s of shots had been fired to warrant this police presence, how many 100s more will be killed before it ends, and did $100 cost another man his life.

jamaicap76a-100dollars-1994-dts_f

When a man is killed over $100 — as happened on February 8, 2018 — it makes you reflect.  It has been a reflective few weeks.

I remember a few months ago taking a taxi and when I arrived at my destination and paid my fare, the taxi man checked his pockets and apologized, saying: “Sorry, take my number, I will have to owe you $100.”  A few weeks ago I remember making a market purchase and the vendor took my money, then said “Sorry, baby,” as she rifled through her purse, “I don’t have $100 right now. If you circle back, I should.”  In each of these instances, I wondered if these service providers would have accepted my apologies if I were $100 short when payment was due.

Then I had the following encounter towards the end of February. I brought several empty water bottles to be filled at a water facility and, after he placed the bottles on to the counter, the clerk informed the cashier that I had 7 bottles. The cashier input the amount then the clerk apologized and said “It’s not 7 she have. It’s 6.” The other clerks pounced: “Yuh cyaa count!” The cashier kissed teeth, rolled eyes, and yelled at the miscounting clerk, “Ah your pay dis aggo come outta! How yuh cyaa count so!? Yuh mussi eeedyat!” The other clerks and the cashier continued in this way as the miscounting clerk could only hang his head, load the 6 filled bottles on the trolley, and wait for the word assault to stop.  He pushed the trolley toward the register and the cashier, still disgusted by the young man’s counting error, turned her attention to me and asked with a head nod, “Him can owe you $100?”  Not yet giving over any money, I looked around at the other clerks who were still hurling insults at their miscounting colleague and I answered the cashier with a question: “Can’t you just input 6 bottles instead of 7?” Her answer flew out of her mouth and slapped me in the face brazenly, “No. Ah him make the mistake. Him will pay.”  I pressed her: “But, really, you can just delete 6 and press 7. Anyone could make a mistake.”  But the cashier was firm in her response: “No. The register don’t work like that. Him can owe you $100.”  I looked at her, frustrated, and decided that there was no value to gain in fighting her or her register.  I thought about the young man and the various other vendors who “owed” me money and in an attempt at restitution, I asked her: “Can I just get a credit and not pay for a bottle next time?” The annoyed cashier yielded to my request, only after checking my ID and writing up a semi-formal I.O.U. that she said could only be honored if I brought back the flimsy receipt paper. I agreed and hoped this would calm the situation.  The insults toward the miscounting clerk had slowed, but did not come to a cease fire.

As I share this encounter, I recognize that that young clerk may never hear the end of his mistake. He may have gained an unwanted nickname and maybe he is regularly chided for counting like Macaroni drives.  (If you are unfamiliar with the viral Macaroni videos, click here for an example. But, before you LOL too much, click here to read about the daily torment “Macaroni” and his children are facing for his driving mistake.)  And, all jokes aside, the miscounting water store clerk caught a lucky break compared to France Nooks, the 25-year-old man who was stabbed to death by a taxi driver over a $100 fare on February 8, 2018.  And, in another kind of way, the tormenting co-workers and I were also lucky, if lucky is the right word. We are lucky that the miscounting clerk was not vengeful.  He certainly could have proven his counting abilities with 100 bullets or 100 stabs aimed at everyone who bruised his ego.

Every time I hear the number 100 I think of the stabbing, while my dancehall memory recalls Aidonia’s sexually problematic lyrics on “100 Stab.”  Who knew that the metaphoric violent sex that Aidonia voiced on Equiknoxx’s Sky Daggering Riddim ten years ago (2008) to much controversy, would seem almost frivolous in the face of a man stabbed over $100 in 2018?  Who knew that $100 (which is almost an hour’s pay at Jamaica’s current minimum wage rate and is roughly 75 cents USD) could incite a man to kill and would leave a man dead?

I suppose it was never about $100, though. It was about disrespect and desperation. The money, no doubt, is symbolic of a frustrated man’s need for respect in the face of unforgiving economic realities.  No man’s life should end on account of $100. But for the taxi-man with a knife or the badman with a gun, $100 and a body in a bag can purchase temporary self-worth in an unfeeling, unyielding world.  And this is the reality that many face in stressed communities throughout Jamaica and throughout the world.

August Town, the community that skirts the University of the West Indies, is under this kind of economic pressure.  August Town emerged from a year of zero murders in 2016, to a violent 2017 and an already bullet-riddled 2018.  And in the communities that flank the tourist sector of Montego Bay, the same kind of reprisal and gang violence has been desensitizing residents and destroying families for a few years now.  A Zone of Special Operations had to be enforced to quell violence and help restore order in Jamaica’s second city of MoBay.  Will August Town see the same kind of national, military response?  This morning’s show of force on Mona Road suggests that the answer is yes, and for good reason.  Children at August Town Primary School should not have to be disrupted from their lessons to shelter in place.  Students and staff at UWI should not have to study, teach, or train in fear.  August Town’s men should not have to avoid the corner bar and church sisters should not have to forgo evening worship for fear of being an unfortunate bystander in the night.

So, to the few vendors who owe me money, keep it.  Keep the money and invest it back into our communities because I know we can do better than this. And to those of us who take joy in laughing at a man’s miscount or mistake, mind you push someone to their breaking point.  A hungry man is an angry man. And a ridiculed man can become a killer. As a nation we are only as strong as our most desperately vulnerable citizens and right now, Jamaica, we all need to value life more than we value making, spending, or defending $100.

 

a new story

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Marquise de Louville by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1708)

From negro, to nigger, to black, to enslaved property — but still negro. To Other, to colored, back to black, to African-American, to nigga, to African American without a hyphen, and now still a nigger– but with a capital “B” in Black.  These shady words and terms have been used since the 18th century to identify those of us who are non-white, non-Asian, non-Hispanic, and non-indigenous in what has been since 1776, the United States of America.  To put it bluntly, to be African or a descendant of Africans has always, in the American and European colonial imaginary, meant being less than.

This kind of conscious and subconscious social conditioning is what led Marcus Garvey to speak those famous rallying words to his fellow Black people in 1938: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.”  And the persistence of this kind of conscious and subconscious social conditioning throughout the African diaspora influenced the beliefs of Rastafari, led Burning Spear to create the album Marcus Garvey (1975), and led Bob Marley to “reggae-fy” (if I may use scholar-writer-poet Kwame Dawes’ term) Garvey’s pan-African worldview on the song  “Redemption Song” (1980). But, this post is not about music. This post is about a new story that is told to us through visuals.

Visually, Eddie Murphy’s 1988 film Coming to America offered a critical new image for America’s African descendants to visualize during the long, arduous process of freeing oneself from the mental slavery that has for centuries limited how Africa has been understood or imagined. So, yes, I am arguing that Coming to America was critical in helping Black America confront its (mis)understanding of Africa while also allowing Black America to imagine a new story about Africa.

Re-imagining Africa through Zamunda, the fictional nation ruled by James Earl Jones’ kingly character in Coming to America, gave Black people in the diaspora a different story out of Africa. Of course, this fictional kingdom was not perfect by any means, but it did disrupt prior imaginings of the continent through its depictions of an Africa that was not hungry, was not diseased, was not poor, and was not war-torn.  In the African Kingdom of Zamunda, Africans were healthy, fertile, and rich with gold and cash.  

comingtoamerica
From the movie Coming to America (source hark.com) 

These images helped to contrast the dominant images offered in cartoons, literature, magazines, and the news media. Take for example the visual power of a fictional Africa that the mind constructs when reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan series (written between 1912-1965). This image has lingered into the present day. Consider the visual impact of Jane Goodall’s Africa, the continent where she worked tirelessly to study and save chimpanzees remains today, as many continue to think of Africa as a land of animals more than people.  And one has to recognize the power printed in the pages of the National Geographic Magazine, where since 1888 photographers have captured and constructed Africa for so many thousands of households throughout the Americas and the world.

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“L’Officiel Paris” covershoot, Beyonce in ‘blackface’ (2011)

Through images, a particular view of an animal-Africa, backwards-Africa, primitive-African-Africa has been created. Zebras, acacia trees, lions, loin cloths, dark skin and bare breasts. Distended bellies, warlords, possessed dictators, malaria, ebola, and brutal female circumcision.  And for the descendants of Africa, the image of the African in America is equally stereotyped and limited. Senseless gun violence and drug-dealing in the ghetto.  Angry baby-mamas and high school drop-outs.  Hidden historical figures in America’s space program and America’s White House.  Tyler Perry’s brand of American blackness.  Oprah as America’s mammy.  Orenthal J. Simpson as O.J. Simpson.  Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Charleena Lyles as Black threats to white America. And Beyoncé as Beyoncé.   If we think about it, this was American popular culture’s representation of Blackness prior to the release of Black Panther on February 15, 2018.  But what is Africa to Black America now?

With Black Panther what it means to be Black or African is shifting from and being redefined by the diversity of the film’s lead actors: Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther/ T’Challa), Danai Gurira (Okoye, the General), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), Winston Duke (M’Baku), and Letitia Wright (Shuri).  This cast that hails from the U.S., Kenya/Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana, and plays characters with deep, reflective interiority to complement their physical strength, represents a new story of Afro-futurism.

Black Panther offers a new story about how we have held on to Africa as a past, rather than as a future.  Just read the image below of Killmonger looking at African artifacts in the British Museum. Isn’t this how Africa has remained — locked up, conditioned, and curated by Europeans–  for so many of us living outside of Africa? killmonger museum.png

Mid-twentieth century American Civil Rights and equal rights protests and legislation, and 1970s dashikis and afro hair-dos did only part of the job of re-writing how the West understood or imagined Africa or what it means to be Black people.  I was a little kid when I saw Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America on television. But even as a young girl, the visual affect of that movie helped to widened my imaginative scope with vivid images of a rich, contemporary African kingdom.

Two weeks ago I saw Black Panther in Jamaica, in Kingston, in Liguanea. It was the Sunday of opening weekend and there were patrons ranging from babies to seniors. Some movie-goers wore clothing inspired by Afrobeat music videos, while others dressed in full black.  There was an infectious excitement in the theater and, as the movie got underway, it did not disappoint.  With Black Panther being released in the digital and global age of communication, this time of increased access to the continent, and Instagram, it would be utterly backwards for American popular culture to ever again put forth a primitive, implosive imagining of Africa. A new story has begun.

blackpanther meme

For additional reading on the film consider these articles:

  • Kenyan journalist Patrick Gathara’s very recent piece in the Washington Post where he rejects the optimism that has been assigned to the film in favor of discussing the neocolonialism at play in the film and he points out that the film upholds tribal visions of Africa and white American/European pillaging of the dark continent. You can read more here.
  • Public intellectual Jelani Cobb’s piece in the New Yorker, where he demystifies how “Africa” has always been a fictional continent-community as “Africa” was imagined by and for the European colonial pursuit. You can read Cobb’s words about history and the carving-up of Africa here.
  • There is much discourse examining the role of women in Wakanda.  These gendered articles have the greatest internet presence. Read the Vox piece on the comic book’s gendered history here, the Elle piece on women’s voices and power here, or read the Essence piece here on the uncommon presence of so many black leading women in a superhero film.

6 million ways to be kind, choose one

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photo source: woody’s low bridge place, port antonio, jamaica (semaj-hall 2018)
Before Tommy Lee Sparta or Popcaan came with their new millenium chop-up/ shoot-up tunes there was Cutty Ranks.  As an actual meat butcher turned lyricist, Cutty Ranks released what would come to be one of the realest dancehall songs ever: “A Who Seh Me Dun.”  Deejaying with razor-sharp metaphors, Cutty Ranks warned his dancehall competitors to cease and desist.  Check the lyrics:
Buju Banton come off on the right
Me have two sticks of dynamite
Admiral come off on de left
Me fold a newspaper, man and box yuh til yuh deaf
Why not check out the whole video?
That was 1992. Now it’s 2018. We are just one week into the new year and already Jamaica has seen too many murders.  Before we allow the media to set the new year’s narrative, why don’t we keep our own tally.
Can I ask you to subscribe to a year-long social media commitment? It is a kind of riddim guide, to coin a phrase (and a hashtag).  Each month we can login to our preferred social media platforms, use the hashtag #riddimguide2018 and post on the month’s theme so we can collectively ride an upful vibe, create a vision, and build a narrative of change that we can transfer from our digital lives to our real lives.
So what’s the theme for this month? Well, while we are still in a “new year, new you” mood, let’s also do the same for country. This January, let’s use the hashtag #6millionways in order to make a joyful noise for decency, for humanity, for kindness. While the national newspapers will continue to headline death tolls, potholes, scamming, and allegations of corruption, we should not believe that that is all we are as Jamaicans.  When we check our Instagram feeds and see our athletes living lavishly, music artistes on the world’s stage, web stars making money, we should not think that these are the only paths or markers of success.
Riding the most upful vibe that #TeamShaggy4Kids is setting tonight as he hosts his annual “1 ticket = 1 life” fundraising concert in support of the Bustamante Children’s Hospital — the English-speaking Caribbean’s only specialty pediatric hospital– let us help one another through generosity.  Though we cannot all afford platinum-levels of monetary donation to support our country’s children, we can all afford to care for, love, and respect Jamaica’s youth.  Wherever you are in the world, you can donate to the Bustamante Hospital by clicking here for more information and in Jamaica you can even donate via text.
Good people, be silent no more. Let’s give an upful boost to Jamaica’s narrative because there really are #6millionways to be kind.  So choose one, capture it, post it, and caption it on Twitter and IG.  Share love this year and let’s bring the kindness rate to new highs in Jamaica.

gentrified goats, imported cars

ATL Autobahn opened a few days ago in Jamaica’s capital city.  At the cost of US$15 million, the state-of-the-art car showroom and service center has the regional dealership rights to BMW and MINI brands.  With solar panels providing the majority of its power supply and UV-deflecting treatments on the see-through structure, the ATL Autobahn is stunting stunning.  The Autobahn is definitely a stylish space that complements the sleek, modern design of the automotive brands it houses.

I know what I know about the Autobahn because I read the Observer‘s feature on the space in today’s newspaper.  But my outsider’s perspective gave me some insight, still. For months I had driven by the space that was ultimately to become the ATL Autobahn. And when the zinc fencing first went up on Lady Musgrave Road, the first to feel the sting were the goats. This is because there are not many green spaces left in the New Kingston area, and the unpaved lot that existed where the ATL Autobahn now rests, was prime grazing land for some twenty or so plump, happy goats.  Well, goodbye goats; you were unable to withstand the gentrification process.

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photo source: http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/showthread.php?t=847469&page=2

The Lady Musgrave Road goats are now long gone — relocated to greener pastures, I hope.  Today, the ribbon has been cut, the asphalt has been laid and the concrete, steel, and glass have been erected on Lady Musgrave Road, a road that already carries a history of inequality and privilege as it was paved to appease the insulted eyes of 19th century governor of Jamaica Lord Anthony Musgrave’s wife.  It was more than one hundred years ago when Lady Musgrave expressed her preference not to see the mansion of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Steibel. So, to satisfy her sensitivities to black wealth, Lady Musgrave’s Road was constructed.  Today, the goats are gone, the grass is gone, but, in a way, some of the inequality remains.

Last Saturday night, current BMW drivers and the brand’s prospective consumers were treated to an exclusive grand opening party that was akin to a “New Year’s Eve celebration,” according to The Observer‘s report.  The highest ranking public sector officials were present and private sector moguls were in attendance as well.  Adding to the party vibe, Saturday night’s festivities also featured the musical contributions of the girls’ dem sugar himself, Beenie Man. In his coverage of the event, Rory Daley said that Beenie Man, who famously sang out for the keys to his Bimma twenty years ago, drove into the function modelling an X3M 40i compact SUV then launched into the lyrics of “Sim Simma.”  The guests all happily sang along while admiring the collection of cars on display.

The BMW or Bimma has long been seen as a status symbol.  Screenshot_2017-12-15-11-48-03After all, it is the ultimate driving machine.  It has been the aspirational vehicle for many drivers the world over.  It is the vehicle that one drives to communicate driving excellence, smart wealth, and a need for speed.  Yes, it is a dream car, but who in Jamaica can comfortably afford this dream?  Not most, I’m afraid.  When I see the shiny new imported cars, and calculate the duties and taxes to have them here, I am reminded of The Roots’ pointed music video for their 1996 hip hop classic “What They Do.” (The above picture is from the music video. If you haven’t seen the video or heard the song, click here and enjoy.)  Screenshot_2017-12-15-11-38-25And from a practical stand point, in Jamaica, where potholes (like the one pictured at left) litter the roads, where rains can easily flood the interior of a car, and parts are expensive to replace, I find it perplexing that with a very low ride height BMW’s 3- and 5-Series vehicles are still sold.  I suppose status symbols trump practicality.  I suppose idolized objects of wealth win even when they are not ideal for the terrain.  Why else is there a Porsche dealership in Jamaica?

Despite the roads and despite the goats, I still very much salute ATL Autobahn. I applaud them for being able to bring an ultra-sleek, energy-efficient architectural space to Jamaica and I am impressed that they did so so quickly. I am also happy to know that Jamaica’s economy is doing well enough for this dealership to be viable. But, when I drive by, I won’t be singing Beenie Man’s Bimmer song.  I’ll be thinking of Protoje.  Protoje, who did not perform at the opening event, also sings of the BMW and how it can sometimes be a marker of a less savory Jamaica.  I’ve cued up the verse below; so you can just hit play. 

I suppose national development struggles are always multi-fold, affecting the environment, the people, the animal life, and the economy.  Still, I worry about those old Lady Musgrave goats. I hope they are well. As Kingston considers what symbols it wants to project about its status, this capital city will have many more gentrification battles to face.  Goats are just the beginning.

the end is near

Today is World AIDS Day (#WAD2017) and this year’s campaign theme is “Let’s End It.”  World AIDS Day was the first global health day.  The worldwide day of recognition began in 1988 as a campaign to raise funds to fight the disease, raise awareness about the disease, and commemorate the lives of those who have succumbed to the disease.

For too long AIDS has been thought of as “those” people’s disease. Since the dawn of fear and blame, “those” people have allowed “us” to sleep without worry. “Those” people remind “us” that “we” are okay.  And with AIDS it is no different. “We” reason that AIDS is a disease afflicting LGBTQ individuals, so “we” recklessly reason that if “we” do not engage in same-sex encounters, we can never be infected.  “We” reason that AIDS is a disease of drug-abusers, so we recklessly reason that as long as “we” do not use intravenous drugs, “we” can never be infected.  “We” reason that individuals infected with HIV/AIDS are unattractive, undesirable, economically depraved, unkind, unholy, or uneducated.  “We” tell ourselves that HIV/AIDS happens to people who are unfamiliar, people who are unlike “us.”  This is the kind of flawed logic that allowed HIV/AIDS to spread during the 1980s and 90s.  Few were willing to face the reality that HIV/AIDS has no sexual preference, no socioeconomic  preference, no religious preference, no type at all. HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, needs only a human body for it to thrive.

On this global day of support and reflection, I would like to spotlight the work of poet, writer, playwright, and academic, Kwame Dawes and photographer Joshua Cogan. 41b33zhidrl-_sx326_bo1204203200_After carrying out dozens of interviews with HIV infected individuals in Jamaica, in 2007 Dawes and Cogan, in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, created a visually stunning, multi-modal, and interactive website called Live Hope Love (and a book published by Peepal Tree Press) that takes a very human look at HIV and AIDS on the island of Jamaica. For too long HIV/AIDS has been thought of as “those” people’s disease, not “ours.”  With the nuanced dexterity that only a poet and a photographer can bring, HIV/AIDS is explored in a way that reminds everyone that disease has no face or status, and that this disease does not discriminate.

In a poem titled “News,” we hear the voice of a man, newly diagnosed with HIV.  Kwame Dawes captures the voice of reflection, ignorance, and regret.  Dawes captures the voice of someone who thought he knew what AIDS looked like, someone who chose unprotected sex and wound up with a life-long diagnosis.  Below, I quote portions of Kwame Dawes’ poem “News.”  I warn you, the poem is uncensored and raw in language as well as in subject matter.

At first you look at your naked self

and you hold your dick in your hand,

and you think, “all this, all this

over some quick and fleeting fuck?”

You say you was minding your

business when the woman call

you; say you must come in,

take a test; you say you never know.

 

But people talk and you heard. Hannah

dead of AIDS. And you remember

Hannah, her legs over your shoulder,

And the way she laughed, dear God!

 

Outside, you can’t talk to a soul;

don’t know where you must turn.

You want to take a shower, and to shower

For days and days, and days.

But this betrayal of desire

is a cruel, cruel thing, for true.

Let Kwame Dawes’ words serve as a reflection and a warning. Don’t let the ignorance, discrimination, or the “betrayal of desire” infect you.

When we begin to understand that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate, then we all work to end the isolation and the stigma associated with the disease.  And when we end discrimination and commit to protection, we all help to end HIV transmission.  In honor of World AIDS Day and in honor of all those who have died to this disease, I urge everyone to be wise.

#spreadtheword  #dontspreaddisease

 

 

kinda like a mesh marina

I posted a picture to my Instagram (@riddim.writer) yesterday.  The caption was a simple acknowledgment of my #booklife struggle: “organized. not. alphabatized.” When I looked back at the image, I smiled as I realized that my shirt kind of resembles a mesh marina. Moreover, I realized that here I was pouring over some of the Caribbean’s best fiction and non-fiction; but, if I tried to enter any of Jamaica’s libraries in this semi-netted top, I would have been barred!  I would have been prohibited from accessing books because of my bare arms. But I wonder if I would suffer a double rejection for wearing a marina-style top, too?  Screenshot_2017-11-20-22-16-04

The netted tank-top – known locally as a mesh marina – has, for decades, been a symbol of Jamaican culture.  But what is it, what does it represent, and from where does it originate? This iconic Jamaican clothing item was designed and created in the 1930s by a Norwegian army captain. Intended as a “health vest” to keep troops both warm and dry, Norway’s Brynje company began manufacturing and supplying the netted, woolen undergarment that was first adopted by British and American soldiers.  The mesh vest didn’t arrive in tropical Jamaica until the 1950s.

From the 1950s to the 1980s the British maintained a view of the vest as an unpleasant marker of working class status. This negative connotation was solidified by the Scottish comic series and character Rab C Nesbitt who brought the underwear to television in the late 1980s.

Mesh Marina Collage
Left, dancehall artist Terry Ganzie wearing a mesh marina on a 1992 album cover (largeup.com). Top right, a crass Scottish meme featuring a 1980s Rab C. Nesbitt in his mesh marina “uniform” (imgur.com). Bottom right, dancehall superstar Shabba Ranks wearing a mesh marina alongside Donald Trump at a 1992, NYC Grammy Awards party (dre1allianceent.com)

According to the Wikipedia entry for the Nesbitt character, he is a less than savory man: “[an] alcoholic without denial, deadbeat, self-styled ‘street philosopher’ and ‘sensitive big bastard.’ […]  Described by his wife Mary as not ‘an unemployed person’ but ‘the original unemployed person”, Rab is very rarely seen in anything other than a pinstripe suit in very poor condition, rotting plimsolls, a filthy headband and a string vest.”  Flagrantly exposing his underwear for all to see, Nesbitt’s low social standing is represented in his rude, indecent attire.  It’s interesting to think about the ways that this Nesbitt character connects with Jamaica’s rudeboy, reggae, Rasta, and dancehall counter-culture.

A couple of years ago, when the mesh marina re-surfaced on the bodies of Jamaican artists and the holey undershirt began popping up on fashion runways in Europe and New York, Largeup.com featured an extensive article detailing the history of the underwear that became outerwear. But, as often happens in Jamaica, the Norwegian import took on new meaning and new purpose when it docked in the Caribbean.

The marina became symbolic of the rebellious nature of the “rude boy”, who wore his undergarment as outerwear, aligning the garment with street cultureReggae music put this rebellious culture onto an international platform, further popularizing the mesh marina as it was frequently spotted under the button downs of iconic reggae artistes like Bob Marley and Gregory Isaacs. (Largeup.com)

While “rude boy” is a term that has fallen out of vogue, so to speak, wearing the mesh marina or “merino” undergarment as an outer garment is still considered to be rude and inappropriate. 20160811_123815 (1)Moving through Jamaica, signs like this one (right) adorn many a shop, government agency, restaurant, and office park.  With startling regularity, dress codes cycle in and out of public debate in Jamaica with the #RightToBareArms being the most recent.  A lot of the recent discussion has surrounded women’s clothing, but what about the dear merino?  This holey garment (pun intended) is not welcome in “proper” places of business. But, if we really think about the merino metaphorically, it is exactly what we need in “proper” Jamaican establishments because the mesh marina represents an insiding-out of expectations and, more obviously, transparency.

Transparency suggests openness, it signals a willingness to share information. By eliminating the secrecy, this kind of openness has the capacity to build trust.  It’s useful to think of the mesh marina as a metaphor for transparency and openness as it does not obscure, it reveals.  Unfortunately, in Jamaica, where colonial traditions still remain, transparency is as indecent as a mesh marina. Just try asking someone who holds a position of power either of these questions: “Why is this the way it is?” or “Why can’t this be this way instead?”  The answer that Mr. or Ms. I-Have-The-Power will provide will reveal a resistance to transparency, to openness.   But openness and a willingness to reveal oneself is what we need more than ever.

Sociologists Holzner and Holzner write in their book Transparency in Global Change: The Vanguard of the Open Society (2006), that “transparency is valued by people who seek freedom” (3).  Citizens have greater trust of government if the government is transparent.   Not naive, Holzner and Holzner also point out that “many fear openness, since it means the flow of ideas and people across borders, thus respect for human rights and tolerance.”  The authors explain that “mastering openness requires learning and adaptation. The open information society is necessarily a learning society, and that is a condition for success, even survival, in this era of global transformations” (3).  When I read these words, I paused. Just imagine the learning society that could be fostered here if Jamaica were more open, more transparent, kind of like a mesh marina?!

I’m taking a cue from the aforementioned sociologists and from one of my personal heroes, cultural theorist and sociologist, the late Stuart Hall, I have decided to open up this blog space not only to write pon di riddim of life in the places I call home, but I’m opening up this space to write pon di riddim of my classroom as well.   As a way of practicing academic transparency, I’ll be pushing the boundaries of learning discourse. For years now old friends and new acquaintances have asked with wild curiosity, “What happens in your classroom?” and “What Caribbean books do you recommend?” Well, if you would like to join me, here is a bit of what I do.

This semester I have had students read a range of texts. From the foul-mouthed writing in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to the patwa writing in Miss Lou’s “Dutty Tough” to dancehall poet Vybz Kartel’s “Mhm Hmm” we have analyzed history, society, and culture. From classic rapper Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story” to classic Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay’s “Harlem Dancer” and from a classic Anansi story to a classic tale like “How to Beat a Child the Right and Proper Way,” I’ve challenged students to write, speak, and think beyond the obvious.  I’ve challenged students to analyze and not just observe the world that surrounds them.  So why am I telling you this? Why am I granting this “access” to the critical engagements that have taken place in my university classroom?  The reason is as simple as it is radical.  These readings and these conversations foster dialogue and reinforce appreciation of Jamaica’s unique culture.

I am presenting this access because I have been asked to do so.  Imagine if more of Jamaica’s institutions and establishments offered mesh marina transparency.  Imagine if when you asked a “why” question you were no longer met with a cold “because that is the way it is”  reply.  Imagine if when you asked “why” you actually got a thoughtful, respectfully inclusive explanation.

Maybe more of us can wear mesh marinas, even if only metaphorically.