Buju IS Jamaica: "the full has never been told…"

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No one captures the contradictory figure of Buju Banton and what he means to Jamaica better than Sarah Manley in this lyrical, elegiacal piece she posted on Facebook. After reading this you will hopefully understand better why this country is reeling with shock in the aftermath of Buju’s imprisonment in the United States. Reposted here with her permission.

the full has never been told…

by Sarah Manley

i know this subject has been exhausted this week, and in weeks months and years past as well, but to stand in solidarity with buju im writing it this morning, and all who want to cuss can cuss, and all who want to bringle can bringle… but this is my buju banton story… and he remains a hero to me and to many jamaican people…

i have written before that i spent 4 years abroad, finishing up my university degree, this was 1991 – 1995. i came back to ja on a sweltering august afternoon, filled with excitement and trepidation to be returning to my colourful, dramatic, often terrifying and always wildly alive homeland. on the drive in from the airport, smelling the slightly rancid salty kingston harbour, breezing past the coconut man, looking across at the cement factory… i knew i was home… and then, in that way that jamaica has of making random magic… i heard a song on the radio… it was my first experience of “untold stories” and i recognised that gravelly voice in an instant, “is that buju?” i asked? it was. by the end of the song i had tears in my eyes… “when mamma spen her las and sen u go class…” buju had captured the essence of our thoughts, our prayers, our hopes, our fears… and just like that… i became a fan. i had heard boom bye bye from back in the day… it was a huge hit in its day and like most jamaicans, i loved it for its unique riddim, for its “tuffness” for its typical jamaican dark hard line… a wicked mixture of posing tough and giving voice to a deep and real sentiment, but not a literal reality. being jamaican i have no problem understanding this… we pose tough in jamaica… we have our street face… our public position… and yes…. we can be a vicious people… but i knew then, have always known that we are also a very tolerant people, that we have every kind of religion, politics, and even sexuality here, and as long as no one “shoves it it anyone elses face” we live and let live. boom bye bye had its day, became a classic, and we moved on… our music moved on… (gully and gaza are gonna move on folks, nature of the beast) as it always does… and a new hit, riddim, artist claimed the spotlight. but buju had sealed his fate with that song on a global stage in a way i think jamaicans did not fully appreciate at the time.

buju moved on… and had his rasta conversion and released til shiloh… which remains an indisputable classic in our long and prodigious musical output. he wrote songs that spoke about all aspects of our hot, tough, beautiful, terrible, spiritual, carnal, jamaican lives… and he hit the nail on the head again and again…. all the way to the now ironic iconic “drivaaaa…” did we know he coulda mix up inna dealings?…. sure… did that make us love him less…. no. as he said.. “it’s not a easy road… who feels it knows..” this is no easy country to live in, to be an icon in, to support entire communities in, to have so much expectation and responsibility in.

when i finally met buju in 2002 on a documentary about the history of reggae i was blown away by the sheer poetry of the man. his exquisite handsomeness, his combination of electric charm and cold indifference…. in many ways he summed up jamaica for me in one man: beautiful and scary… and that is no small feat…. to sum up my country, my painful, excellent, magical, dramatical, amazing heartbreaking country is something indeed…. i went out one day and bought every cd he had ever released and to this day can sing til shiloh and inn heights from beginning to end and often play his 23rd psalm as part of my morning worship. he spoke briefly in that interview about boom bye bye, the cuts did not make it into the final doc, but i remember his responses, that he was young when he released that song, that he did not then, and never will compromise his position on homosexuality, that he knows he has the support of jamaicans on the issue, that it was NOT a literal call to action to kill gays…. we jamaicans know that because if we were to kill gays here, there would not be a gay man standing… we are no strangers to killing….

and now dem a go lock him up… and maybe deh did set him up fi tru…. and maybe not….maybe he was just caught plain and simple… and he will have to pay the price for being caught…. but something deep in my heart is bruised… in third world’s 96 degrees they sing… “excellency, before you i come wid my representation, you know where im coming from…..” i know where we are coming from here in this land we love… “entertainment for you, martyrdom for me.”

Author: ap

writer, editor and avid tweeter

50 thoughts on “Buju IS Jamaica: "the full has never been told…"”

  1. Sarah…here’s why so many members of the global LGBT community have comtempt for buju: because his song *WAS* taken as a literal call to commit genocide on gay people.

    Whether it was his intention or not, an artistic product he created ended up hurting people around the globe. A real man would have taken responsibility for his actions. Buju could easily have said i am against homosexuality, but this is a terrible wrong that I have accidentally committed and I am compelled now to say that *ALL* god’s children deserve to live their lives without threat or fear to their violence. Gay people to a person know the terror of being hunted down and killed by straight people–it is a threat we each face every dang day of our lives–but buju was too busy fanning the flames of hatred against gay people in his heart to consider that.

  2. Annie,

    I had a similar experience to the one Sarah describes. Til Shiloh was an album that cemented Buju’s place in most of our hearts. Quite simply, it was incredible. And I’ve also never had any great conviction to turn against the song Boom-Bye-Bye. As Sarah says, it was a song of its time. We danced, we moved on. And perhaps like most Jamaicans, straight or gay, I have been annoyed to no end at the neo-colonial actions of gay rights groups abroad who want to dictate certain ways of being to us and punish us forever because they don’t see or understand the complicated ways of being in Jamaica.
    But all that being said, the other thing that annoys me is this specious insistence about what is not ‘LITERAL’ and was apparently ongly metaphor. Lawd god man, done wid de fuckery. It’s really a simple thing: for something to be a metaphor it must exist at a sufficient distance from what is reality. The minute we kill one battyman in Jamaica, even if is just one, that song is no longer a metaphor. And Gully versus Gaza stopped being a metaphoric altercation some time ago.
    So yeah man – I deh pon de Buju Bandwagon. Free de man up. And I don’t vex with nobody like Sarah (and me) who love him unrepentantly. But let’s not start this fool-fool metaphor argument again.

  3. (finishing my “anonymous” comment from above.)

    Gay people knew all along that if buju were as conscious as he claimed to be he would have moved to make amends for what his immature self did. But nope–he couldn’t find it in his heart.

    You say he moved on? We couldn’t, because his song lived on, a classic, taunting us and whipping up violence, in probably the most-heard call to genocide ever recorded in any country. Can you think of a more popular song that advocates killing an entire group of people?

    And then he went and–allegedly–proved the point of the gay community. Any person who preaches hatred is not truly spiritual, and any religion that preaches violence and hatred against god’s gay-lesbian children is not

    So here we are. buju’s arrest has of course led many in Jamaica to blame the gay community. That is of course completely false–we have no power, we are nothing, have you seen how even in America, we are caught up in a web of “Jim Crow” laws, discrimination, and segregation. Unfotunately, this conspiracy theory will flame anger at gays–even more–in Jamaica, and probably spark gay-bashings just as we believe Boom Bye Bye has (anecdotally, that song is frequently sung at violent gay-bashings, as it is the international anti for anti-gay violence).

    But if there’s a silver lining, maybe it’s that every hustling young musician in Jamaica will see the international outrage that Shabba Ranks and Buju sparked with, respectively, their calls to crucify and burn to death god’s gay-lesbian children. Hopefully any young artists who want to move on an international stage will know to keep this hatred off their recordings. Who knows?

    And while this happens, the gay rights movement in Jamaica is getting the one thing it most needs, which is discussion and debate. Across the world, we’ve seen that most oppression of gay people happens by keeping the subject so taboo that gay people end up having no voice. The ridiculously homophobic newspapers The Gleaner and the Observer in Jamaica are being forced to offer a platform to JFlag, and other pro-gay voices, in covering this controversy. Ugly situation, but that is how advances are made. Hatred of gay people is not rational and does not survive “sunshine.”

    Finally, Sarah, you have written expressively and thoughtfully. I am sorry that you could not open your heart enought to think or write about the condition of gay people in Jamaica. They’re there, just driven underground, miserable, alone, frequently targeted for violence. You write, “he has the support of jamaicans on this issue,” but you over-generalize, because you don’t have to google too far to find gay jamaicans (usually in the disapora) who are outraged by buju’s choices.

    Oh and by the way, you write: “we are also a very tolerant people, that we have every kind of religion, politics, and even sexuality here, and as long as no one “shoves it it anyone elses face” we live and let live.”…I would ask you to check that with the jamaican gay community….because across the globe, the idea that gays shouldn’t ‘shove it in people’s faces’ usually means that gays shouldn’t have any kind of gay life and should stay isolated and miserable. That is a fundamental violation of our human rights as free people, but you pass it off as a positive for gay people. Please question your assumptions.

    All that said, I understand that Jamaica’s heart is breaking right now, and no one wants that. We’ll wait for the video tape to see whose fault it is.

  4. Kei:

    “Neo-colonialist” protests by the gay community?


    Violent homophobia is the nastiest legacy of British colonialism.

    There are ~190 nations on earth.
    52 are ex-British colonies.
    72 nations have laws against gay people.
    40 of those are ex-British colonies (such as Uganda and Jamaica).

    The British invented homophobia and used it to divide and attack peoples. The Jamaican government is eagerly hugging that colonialist legacy with their embrace of the “Anti-buggery” laws.

    So maybe the difference between colonialism (homophobia) and neo-colonialsim (gay rights) has to do with accepting human rights. Is that your argument?

    Either way, I look forward to Jamaica shaking free from the yoke of colonialism.

  5. ‘Anonymous’ — by ‘neocolonial’ I meant to suggest some of the ways in which activism is often impervious of work being done on the ground in Jamaica. A case in point is the recent boycott that a group in San Francisco tried to launch against Jamaica. JFLAAG apparently wrote to the group and said that wasn’t probably a very good idea. The group wrote back to say, ‘poor, enslaved gay Jamaicans – they don’t really know what’s best for them’ and proceeded with the boycott anyway.
    So I mean to suggest an attitude that has often been contemptuous of Jamaicans and a willingness to view them as barbarians who must be brought in line. It seems to me that that attidude will almost always be resisted and in fact create a backlash that makes the situation even worse. I’d like to think that the point of activism is to make the situation better, not worse.

  6. Kei:

    It’s my understanding that the boycott was canceled precisely because of JFlag’s intervention. Global gay activists respected and honored the wishes of JFlag….though I have no doubt that the Observer and Gleaner used the issue to whip up more anger against gays. Your argument seems to imply that gay groups are neo-colonialist for not listening to JFlag, when in reality we often work in concert with them…and it is the straight community of Jamaica that does not listen to them.

    And here’s what you have to understand about gay activism: we are called anti-mormon, anti-christian, anti-islamic, and now you are suggesting that it is or can be viewed as anti-Jamaican. It’s wrong in every case. There is an objective case that gay people in Jamaica are treated horribly, and as social justice adtivists we are obligated to fight back with and for them. You suggest our efforts to honor the global solidarity of gay people makes “the situation better, not worse.” Okay, well, since you’re criticizing our tactics, may I ask what better ideas you have been able to come up with to protect and empower the gay community of Jamaica, and could you please share them, because those are our brothers and sisters and we will do what we can on their behalf.

  7. You know, thank you all for your comments, and welcome Kei and M.E.D.I.

    How did this become a discussion about Gays and their problems and their vulnerability? This post was about Buju and Jamaica and being Jamaican.

    As Sarah said if Boom Bye Bye was really a literal call to kill all homosexuals there would be none left in Ja. can we stop exaggerating?

    I think Sarah articulates the embattled, bruised as she put it, position of many Jamaicans. Perhaps gay activists need to take a back seat right now? Perhaps there’s a time for aggressive mobilizing and being on the warpath and other moments when even those who are absolutely sure they have the moral upper hand might listen and try and understand what seems to be transparently blameworthy? i don’t know…

  8. Hi Annie,

    Maybe you’re right, it may be the time for gay activists to just watch this unfold.

    But you have to understand–these calls for our death cause hurt and pain and anger and, yes, violence and death for people. That’s bruised. That’s embattled.

    You say that there would be no gay people left in Jamaica if gays were really hunted down. You do understand that the head of JFlag has to use a fake name because he would be hunted down and kiled if not? You do know the co-founders of JFlag were hunted down like dogs by straight people and killed? And that in Brian Williamson’s case, the crowd danced to and sang BoomByeBye in celebration after he had been assassinated? You do know that the Jamaican government refuses to keep records but that Human Rigths Watch found 30 instances of gays being killed for being gay in Jamaica from 1997 to 2000? You have read the many gaylesbian jamaican writers who can only speak out once they leave the country, for fear of being targeted for death inside the country? You are aware that the Jamaican police ludicrously claim gay people are killed by their lovers rather than by the straight people who target us everywhere we go around the globe?

    Buju Banton has a terrible sin on his soul–calling for the death of the most vulnerable among us–and whether you want to remember that ugly incident or not, it is central to his story.

    I understand Jamaica’s heart is breaking because of buju right now.
    But the global gay-lesbian-transgender community has made what few advances we have–slowly, painfully, winning one right at a time, country by country–by not being quiet, not sitting back and watching abuse happen to our people, but by stepping out of the shadows and standing up for ourselves.

    Why so much sympathy for (the rich, famous, and homophobic) buju, and so little understanding of the hurt and pain his words continue to cause (often among the poorest of the poor)?

    Also, how can you talk about “being Jamaican” without including the experiences of gay-lesbian-transgender Jamaicans in that talk?

  9. As i said, you’re overstating your case right now, just rest it for a while and be more receptive…if you can…

    I’ve written my fair share of posts castigating the abuse of homosexuals here but i really don’t think there’s any reason to do that right now. i can’t think of any event in the last few weeks that would prompt me to write anything except for the atrocious attitude and coverage of the print media.

    THAT i deplore much as i do the overall backwardness of the media in general here. and frankly i thinK gay activists would be better off targeting their disapproval at the preachers, the politicians, the media and the intelligentsia here rather than exclusively at djs…diversify your targets!

  10. Fair points, well taken, will watch more and listen more…as you can see my emotions on this remain hot, but i will try to temper them for everyone’s good.

    (Realize that I like many others am personally invested in the buju situation only because he came to my hometown, San Francisco California, earlier this year, something the preachers and politicians have yet to do.)

  11. to know what national pride feels like, better yet to be able to call Buju your own and curse gays in public freely. lighter! Of course only if the fossy is wearing lipstick..

  12. Interesting. Firstly, i think its wrong for anyone to believe that the gay community had anything to do with Bujus arrest. And I didnt see anyone putting the responsibility where it lies most… on Buju.
    Set up or not, it is clear that he has an involvement with cocaine. while ganja we can understand from a rasta point of view, perhaps someone needs to explain away cocaine.
    But here is a thought/ Perhaps this is a warning signal to golding over dudus. Buju today, which high profile Jcan next?
    As to gays. I refuse to accept that Jamaicans on a whole are homophobic. I had this very discussion w/a univ prof who insisted on that but it came down by her definition that every country in the world is homophobic and practically all non-gays are. we need to look at the real definition of the term homophobic.
    I believe that Anonymous is overstating the case. By the way i was regularly on that forum (boycott jamaica) and found them to be mainly fools who had no interest in or sense of a cordial discussion. In fact they ended up ‘moderating’ me, in other words I was banned.
    Their knowledge about jamaica was nil.
    And I know that they didnt halt the boycott because ‘… they respected and honored jflag’s suggestion not to’ the boycott failed, particularly because the leaders were ignorant, arrogant, unreasonable, distasteful and just plain unable (note i didnt say unwilling) to see any other point of view.
    I believe their boycott fell apart because the sane gay community distanced themselves from those idiots like wayne and michael.

  13. A note on the “boycott Jamaica” idea I’ve seen mentioned here. I’m gay. Never heard of the idea of boycotting Jamaica. Looked it up. It was a small fringe group. The “boycott” failed because American gays just weren’t into it. But American gays *do* look to JFlag for an understanding of what’s happening in the country–it’s a natural for us. And some do read the GLBTJamaica blog written by Howie. And many Americans and American gays have become familiar with BoomByeBye through the media.

    Americans in general like Jamaicans…as we like, say, Argentinans and don’t like, say, Germans. This includes gays.

    As everyday American gays–and our friends and families–how can we move forward in a positive way with the country of Jamaica? Can we?

  14. Okay, I fess up…Having read your *amazing* interview with Stuart Hall, I am completely embarrassed to have conflated manley’s thoughts and your own, and to have responded with such bombastic argumentation at such great length.

    but you know why? that f*cking song boombyebye makes me crazy. or has made me crazy. i can’t get it out of my head. obviously buju, despite his evident flaws, is a musical genius….

    which means I am *rejoicing* at his arrest and probable conviction, and public unmasking as just another religious hypocrite.

    which is the rub. i just can’t really take much joy out of another man’s suffering. and the whole broken heart of jamaica thing sucks too.

    but then i go back to rejoicing and not being able to wait for the world to see the video tape. there is no way the DEA would be hyping that video up unless it is goood!

  15. Wow, this discussion is really getting interesting now. Thanks for all these really thoughtful responses, everyone, except for Afflicted of course, little thought went into that one liner!

    I’m so glad u’ve read my Stuart Hall interview Anon, so you know v. well what my position is on all this. Trust me Sarah is no less sympathetic to the gay cause, if u want to call it that but she was responding honestly to this moment of cultural crucifixion and i think captures the sentiments of many many Jamaicans v. eloquently. I myself don’t love Buju unapologetically but my dislike of his actions are not centred on any of his songs but on his actions. he has been accused of violence towards gays and i think that’s unacceptable.

    The song Boom bye bye is a classic and will always remain so. in fact if anything happens to Buju in prison it will become an anthem and god knows what the backlash will be. Clearly it acts as a red rag to your sensibility but i urge you to read a blog called The Unspeakable Truth by a Jamaican gay in which he talks about songs like this and the propensity to misread them by foreigners.

    Super, I really like the very rational way you approach what seems like such an unbridgeable divide. As someone else pointed out not everyone here is homophobic. unfortunately the way in which this campaign has been waged by the aggressive Tatchell and others has only served to polarize and worsen the divide. i seriously think any gains that gay rights groups think they may have made are illusory. they need to rethink their strategy and fast…

    and the other Anon who points out that the boycott Ja campaign was waged by a fringe group — thanks for that info too.

    Whether you agree with Sarah or not isn’t really the point, its to generate discussions like this which her piece has certainly done.

  16. Anonymous 2- Sorry for signing in/out as Anonymous but I was really in a hurry and wasn’t able to wade thru the links, URLs and quasi-techie stuff.
    I’m glad that when challenged, the first Anonymous backed down but it is important to note how all Jamaicans are stereotyped by the actions of a few, and the dangers of such.
    Here is the link to the ‘conversations’ with the Boycott Jamaica folks I previously referred to. Its long but good reading.


    Perhaps I should put a parental advisory up but hey, we are all adults.

  17. Three things on the boycott from Anon1/SF:

    1. 72 nations according to IGLHRC have laws against homosexuality. As far as I’m concerned, I’m boycotting each of them. In Jamaica’s case, thanks to JFlag, I’ll take a strategic timeout on the boycott, but no one can convince me that I have to spend my money on products from say Uganda or Iran, subsidizing regimes that sponsor homophobic laws. (two of the other hotspots of global homophobia)

    2. Michael Petrelis…related to the TWU boycott and the guy bumping fists in that ridiculous photo from San Francisco…is an AIDS denialist (denies that HIV causes AIDS), meaning that he is an outcast from the gay community. Much of his career has focused on attacking anti-hiv activists in California. He has a constituency of 1. For the record, I am a lifelong professional gay rights activist from San Francisco, and had never heard the name Truth Wins Out before now.

    3. And p.s., my knowledge of the boycott went like this…I heard something about it back in April…a few days later I heard that Jamaican gays thought it was a terrible idea…and then the idea died.

    To me, that’s an example of how a global social justice movement should work. It’s new that the gay-lesbian movement has had a functioning global aspect, how great.

    And yes, each country is unique but homophobia is increasingly becoming a globalized phenomenon pushed by American religious institutions, so the reaction must be.

    (So before dusting off the word neo-colonialist to decry efforts by good-hearted gay activists, folks should take a look at the “christian” networks packaging homophobic products through churches.)

  18. It is a great American passtime to point the finger at everyone else, and in doing so assume the mantle of self-righteousness. When you do that to a whole society, especially one as historically proud as Jamaica, they push back. They tell you to go to Hell. Think university students in Egypt or high school Muslim kids in France deciding; we’re going to wear the purdah, anyway, so, fuck you and fuck your feminist mission to save poor Muslim women from the purdah. Which is not to say that the patriarchal barbarism that instituted and perpetuates the purdah is a positive thing, but just to remind self-righteous Western feminsts that you can’t even elect a woman president or get equal pay for equal work for your women, yet you think you’ve got one on Muslim societies. Same with this gay issue. Even people who accept that it is time for all societies to move away from long traditions of homophobic intolerance and bigotry, find themselves saying; wow! now, wait a minute! when they see their country broadly tarred in these equally violent campaigns. And gay and lesbian campaigns are often just as violent, hateful, and racially bigoted as the attitudes that they oppose are intolerant. This is almost always worst when the target is a black male. Case in point, the actor Isaiah Washington, a man who once convincingly played a gay man in one of Spike Lee’s most important works, Get on The Bus, but happened on one single occasion a few years ago to say something derogatory or bigoted about gays while in a heated exchange with someone off stage. For that one moment of irrate uttering of bigotry, the American gay and lesbian community made sure that Isaiah’s career was destroyed. Anonymous here suggests that were Buju a man, he would accepted responsibilty (which I believe he actually did by saying; I did it and I stand by it: I thought that was how a man accepts responsibility irrespective of consequences, unless of couse my understanding of English is predictably poor) and apologize. Yet, Isaiah Washington publicly apologized for a provoked utterance that was nothing compared to Buju Banton’s youthful song, and was no different than the sentiments that more than 70% of Americans hold and routinely, even sometimes vehemently express about gay and lesbian people. Even more, as if to offer his soul for his sin, Isaiah went through corrective therapy and offered to henceforth help speak out against anti-gay bigotry. None of that was enough. The American gay and lesbian community still made sure that Isaiah lost his career, lost his means of livelihood, lost his home because he could not afford mortgage without jobs, and lost his marriage. One has yet to see the like of the sheer savagery and vindictiveness that was shown toward a repentant man who happened to utter a word of intolerance. And that savage vindictiveness was as intense as it was for two simple reasons: one, Isaiah Washington is black, and two, Isaiah Washington is a black male in a society that still lumbers under hundreds of years of intolerance toward black males. Period.
    Personally, all my life I have fought prejudice and bigotry toward gay and lesbian people, even while growing up in a society that had little tolerance toward gays and found my attitude rather peculiar. Yet, the savage power that the gay and lesbian community in America has brought to it’s activism is such that I cannot sign my name to this simple post on Ms. Paul’s blog without signing away my career for life. Buju Banton has three sins on his soul. He expressed violent hatred toward gays and thought it was mere entertainment; he is black; and he is a black male. There is no chance on this earth that those sins will ever be forgotten, let alone forgiven.

  19. As a Jamaican, I don’t accept that “Buju is Jamaica”. I have many gay friends and some relatives in Jamaica. Anyone preaching death to them based on their sexuality DOES NOT represent me. So save me the insult.

    The Klu Klux Klan also preaches the same hatred that Buju preached in his song. Remember that.

    I wish Buju well in his present predicament. What will be will be. But please, if we want to say who ‘is Jamaica’ let’s stick with Miss Lou. A first class lady like her is who we can ALL be proud of.

    Jamaican musicians are Jamaican musicians. They are not and do not represent the entire nation at home or abroad.

  20. People think Peter Thatchell called the cia because Buju might win a grammy? And they responded? forget the terrorist threat guys.. I think these are two unrelated events and efforts should be made to make a distinction.

    I’ll sacrifice GLAAD and Outrage ANY DAY for a strong and informed Jamaican campaign, but people are too scared to protest. because they might get shot? Lose their family? Would Buju stand up as a martyr in that video with the mob against the school boy?

  21. wow, its getting harder and harder to respond to all the various anonymouses…but thanks for having this discussion on my blog…all a you–

    To say Buju is Jamaica is to say that he symbolizes this country and this culture in its majority but not its totality.

    its getting tiresome to hear the foolish refrain being repeated about Buju preaching death to all homosexuals–that’s not quite how it is in the same way that a song that says Fly me to the moon is not an order to NASA to transport the singer there.

    Literal mindedness is such a bore! please spare us any further such readings. and rest the self-righteousness too while you’re about it…

  22. Interesting. The problem with Anonymous’ argument is that for every solid one you nail (the neo-colonialism inherent in western people trying to civilize so-called backward people for their own good—Amen) there’s a point you screw up with convoluted conspiracy theory. Washingston got screwed because he put his put his foot in his mouth and then choked himself. Denzel Washington, whose views on gays were once similar never made that mistake.

    Had a white male actor said something racist or anti-semitic, the black and Jewish community would not have stopped until he was destroyed too, so save the “attack on black men” argument for movies like Precious, which does far worse damage. As for destroying his marriage and career, I think men are quite capable of fucking up their own lives thank you very much.

    But this is about Buju. He is not a martyr, a victim, a misunderstood man, nor has he moved on, unless we’re choosing to forget that gay bashing incident a few years ago for which he was naturally acquitted.

    Sarah is right about Jamaicans belief in live and let live as long as no one “shoves it it anyone else’s face,” except that it is the Jamaican equivalent of “as long as you know your place,” which used to be the back of the bus or the nigger toilet.. She is correct that Buju IS Jamaica. Brilliant and careless, wise and ignorant no raas, violent and sentimental all at once. He’s also a dumb-ass sloppy criminal who get ketch. So it go.

  23. Hi it’s anon from SF otra ve.

    I want to respond to the anon from above who went on an anti-gay-american-imperialism rant above.

    Here’s why i support/ed efforts to stop buju from playing in my hometown of san fran, and to not be able to be promoted/distributed by any global corporation: because it established an important business practice that you can’t call death to gays without making amends…and still be able to do business in the global market as if nothing happened. that rule already exists for, say, ethnic cleansing and racial demagoguery, and it should exist as well for gay-les-trans people.

    is that really “savage power”? or a rudimentary survival technique?

    and yes of course this raises a fundamental philisophical question: is it colonialism/imperialism/oppressive to insist on the recognition of human rights in nations other than your own? i’ll leave that debate to sharper social theorists, but i’m jumping in both feet to invoke human rights as a global concept applicable to all people, and that includes gay rights. that is more my focus, than the particulars of the jamaican situation about which of course my knowledge is limited.

    i note that david bahati from uganda the other day was forced to deny that human rights extended to homosexuals, as he calls them. it was an oddly cheering moment for me, because he was on the defensive, recognizing a global presumption that human rights exist and extend to gay people.

    okay, pardon my bloviation, but two other points….

    annie, you ask us not to literally read BBB. An argument similar to Carolyne Cooper’s “lyrical gun.” Okay, a close call on reading interpretations, informed by jamaican linguistic and cultural traditions, i get it. But the song has been received in communities across the globe, and its words seem stark and obvious in those contexts.

    and finally, I will mark the style of arguments here that warn of a backlash if gays press for their rights too boldly. obviously this is an important issue and consideration. but note that this is a perennial argument thrown against the lgbt movement, and every other social justice movement, and perhaps the kind of argument malcolm x was responding to with his phrase, “by any means necessary.”

  24. My dear SF Anon,

    thanks for persisting with this but do read this blog by a gay youngster from Ja, studying in the US. It’s a truly exceptional blog, The Unspeakable Truth– when he talks about his tentative forays in Ja, his relationship w his mother, and the difficulty of telling her, her outraged reaction and subsequently her acceptance of him. it’s a study actually in how Ja is slowly changing and not to also feed this constantly shifting ground into the strategies used by external organizations, the insistence on ‘by any means necessary’ (and sorry i don’t think there’s a suitable parallel between racial discrimination or gender discrimination and sexual dis) is bound to fail in the same that neo-colonialist policies ultimately have (sorry Marlon).

    But do read the blog coz its not only Carolyn Cooper or myself who are suggesting that a literal reading of lyrics is possibly a mistake. This youngster does a good job of showing how easy it is to misread lyrics which are essentially written in another language,Patwa, as if they were written in English. Here’s the link:


    and do go on to read his backposts, they are incredibly poignant…

  25. I think were agreeing on that point though. Maybe I didn’t express it correctly, but that way of thinking I actually got from you when you pointed out correctly that, it is was this I’m superior, this near culturally imperialist attitude, that “you should just become like me” way of thinking that nearly killed the initial export of feminism, and also helped do as much harm as good with gay rights issues in the Jamaica.

    As for similarities, I USED to think that there was no suitable parallel between racial discrimination or gender discrimination and sexual dis, until I realized that while the nature of the struggles are very much different, the nature of the enemy is the same damn thing. It’s fascinating researching the reasons why some didn’t not support civil rights in the US. Here was one of them: that black people were too sex obsessed and violent and when one ended up dead it was usually because of some jealous fight with another one. Now where have we heard that one before?

    A writer friend of mine once said that gay rights will never move forward in Jamaica because there’s not single movement in this country from anti-slavery to Rastafari acceptance that did not happen without considerable bloodshed. You want to know what price freedom? Ask a Rasta who was there to fight for it. I know that this was not supposed to be a blog about gay issues, but it’s tribute to your blog being such a wonderful safe-space, that people who are usually silenced feel the freedom to speak.

  26. Hello Annie from SF…

    hanks for hosting my thoughts here.

    (Just a note on me….full-time trade union activist & healthcare activist, gay rights as a downtime hobby, much more time spent wacking the Mormon Church around than Buju, significant times organizing with communities of color in the US, full-time devoted to undermining the US corporate power that is at the heart of US imperialism….and if you think that the US gay rights groups aggravate you, just please imagine the running wars i have had to wrench those groups away from well-intentioned upper-class white guys who often screw things up in order to empower multi-racial progressive coalitions. just trust me on that one….but while i will be critical of “Gay, Inc.” I will still do what i can to achieve power for LGBT peoples…and one of the tenets of classical gay liberation ideology is that gay/les/bi/trans people are universal and eternal…we are in every culture, with different specific experiences, but commonalities and transcultural bonds also. jasmyne cannick is one who would dispute this, saying she if black first, a woman second, and a lesbian third, a viewpoint i do not necessarily share).

    Now there are two conflated arguments happening at the unspeakable truth blog…US gay groups are doing stupid stuff…and dancehall doesn’t deserve to be boycotted.

    I agree on the first point…especially if you focus on US-led boycotts…which I think are actually a bit of a strawman focus. Most American gays only have interaction with buju and Jamaica during a local boycott, when he comes to town and the issues are raised anew.

    Obviously, for issues within Jamaica I would look to JFlag first. But I want to make one point about these kinds of criticisms of gay activism….in many ways, these arguments that gays should be doing better or doing more are just heart-breaking, because the small world of gay activists continues to be decimated by the toll of AIDS, and the cross-cultural community leaders, the Jamaicans who were in the US during the heyday of gay rights for example, are now dead, and we miss the leadership that they would be providing. I can feel their loss. i walk around san francisco and feel the ghosts of people who should now be mature adults, in their 50s and 60s, building great institutions, but instead were lost in their party days of their 20s and 30s. i know of many black cultural and political leaders who should be here–essex hemphill and marlon riggs jump str8 to mind–though i know less about people specifically of jamaican descent.

    So criticize gay groups too much, and I just throw my hands in the air and say, well life’s hard, we are a put-upon people trying to help our brothers and sisters around the globe, I managed to get out a press release today about some piece of activism I accomplished, did you? and yeah, god, those groups are annoying, wish there were different people doing that work. Is inaction our other choice? And who’s gonna pick my kids up for dinner?

    I am glad to see Annie that despite your usually thoughtful writing you can resort to overstating your argument as fully as i can: “The problem w the international gay rights groups is that they are operating with a blinding sense of self-righteousness and completely unwilling to take into account local culture.”

    maybe unable would have been more fair than unwilling?

    The SECOND argument being made is that dancehall doesn’t deserve to be boycotted because of complex lyrical traditions. That may be so within Jamaica, and I’m not engaging on that question…but in the terms of the global audience–7 billion not 3 million people–buju’s words in BBB at least are a menace and a scourge to all gay people, and any right-thinking, humanitarian person should be outraged by them. Shades of meaning…I respect other interpretations but also have to insist on my rights as an audience of BBB to interpret it as seems plain to me…


  27. I’m with SF on this. It’s the cultural relativism argument that’s tired, not the struggle for equality no matter what that form might take. Why should they take into account local culture, when that local culture has no interest in correcting itself? Nuances my ass, the boy wrote a song bout’ man who a “rub up and a kiss up, and a take them cock like them a play sword fight.” This isn’t cultural peculiar word play, it’s a young idiot who wrote a song in his young idiocy, and payback was and still is a bitch.

    If there is some metaphoric, lyrically imaginative double speak in this then clearly I should stop teaching Literature right now because I don’t see it. BBB is ignorant, tough talking bullshit, no more elliptical or complex than NWA’s She Swallowed It: “then I”l let you videotape her/and if you got a gang of niggaz, the bitch will let you rape her.”.

    The problem with Cultural Relativism is that nobody calls cultures out on their backward, ignorant bullshit (this includes the hip-hop culture of NWA). This is of course the fault of well meaning liberals (before they became cultural relativists of course) who failed in what they did first, which was to force change by insisting people become just like them. But they have gone the other extreme, by leaving these cultures to sort themselves out. Like Germain Greer arguing for Female circumcision or people turning a blind eye to the Iranian age of consent being 9. As I’ve said before, a 9 year old vagina is a 9 year old vagina and no penis should be inside it no matter what your frigging culture is.

    I have no pity for Buju, not because he sang a dumb song years ago and is still being punished for it. But because he just did a stupid-ass thing and de beeyatch get ketch.

  28. Hey Marlon, thanks for the clarification and the compliment, i hear you on the common enemy thing. i hadn’t thought of it from that point of view.

    and SF nuff respect to you…and thanks for taking the time to elaborate your position here. no, i don’t think either Fi Yu Pikni (Unspeakable Truth) or I am saying that Dhall shouldn’t be boycotted. boycott it by all means if the lyrics are offensive to you. All we/i am saying is that the lyrics are not saying go out and murder gays, they are expressing extreme disapproval and yes, metaphoric violence. This IS offensive to anyone who feels they are the target of the lyrics and such persons have every right to boycott it.

    And what i’m getting from you is that maybe we here also need to realize (if we haven’t done so already) that when we say these things in our context it may mean one thing but once it goes outernational we have no control over how it will be interpreted. and that too is a reality we need to be aware of.

    so may the discussion continue…i’m off to take a nap.

  29. Marlon is the man!

    You have to appreciate the irony in a statement that says gays ruined someone’s marriage! hehe!

    I agree with the cultural relativism sentiment, which includes past US presidents backing fundamentalist regimes, which we’re paying for now. Mohammed’s wife was 7 why not think its ok? gulp Those who confuse the bible-born homophobia issue in JA with some jamaican identity, i.e. “It’s that the tribe of slaves we’re descended from were warriors and..” its bogus. You could teach a jamaican kid in one day how to respect and stand up for gay people. You don’t need years. Start with the persecution of scientists over centuries, explain genocide and mob behaviour, dispel the flawed romantic notion of national culture/identity and replace it with classes on the global economic reality. encourage kids to feel safe to explore their sexuality and imagination.

    Civil rights in the US is definitely a suitable parallel for the gay struggle in jamaica. Lets take a ‘literal’ reading of the law as a place to start.

    With simultaneously fighting 80 countries bans on homosexuality, I forgive gay activists insensitivity to multiple readings of patois, and failure to dig deeper into a more current catalog of murder music. we know its just good macho entertainment, not to be taken literally.
    why else would beenie perform a song like that in Uganda at a time when a silent genocide was about to take place?

    “this is offensive to anyone who feels targeted by lyrics”

    shouldn’t everyone be taught to feel targeted by ignorance?

    It’s time for straight people in Jamaica who get it, to stand up. You hate the us groups, and say Jamaicans are tolerant, but would you wear an equal rights for gays pin for a day? in this lifetime?

  30. I’m with Marlon in the congrats to Annie for creating and moderating a space where these discussions can happen minus the usual histrionics, even though I know it wasn’t exactly the discussion you wanted. I remember once you told me the frustration of having to in one week incredulously interrogate Jamaicans who didn’t accept that we were at times ‘intolerant’ on this issue, and then in the next breath explain to others unfamiliar with the nuances of Jamaica that the situation was a lot more complex than they were painting at as. That has been my frustration too. But I still don’t buy the metaphor argument. Maybe you can explain it to me better, even if ‘off channel’.

    Here is the thing for me: a song like ‘Fly me to the Moon’ bears so little relationship to reality – no man in history has ever put his girlfriend on a rocket and taken her out of space – that when we listen to Frank Sinatra, unless we’re smoking something potent like Miss T’s weed that she once promised, well – of course we’d know it’s not literal! We’re not so certain when Dionne Warwick asks the way to San Jose. She was a little dopey from morning, and maybe she really did get confused – San Jose, California? San Jose, Costa Rica? And maybe at the time she didn’t have any of her psychic friends to help her out. Similarly, it’s hard for me to accept a song like boom-bye-bye as metaphor when it has had currency in a society where some people (I admit, not all!!)will happily and have happily taken it as a call to arms.

    I notice when Sarah and plenty of us Jamaicans talk about our ‘tolerance’ we tend to put within that discourse a clever proviso. We say, we’re fine ‘so long as dem keep it to demself!’ This seems a subtle way to acknowledge that yes, on occasion men have been beaten (or killed) in Jamaica on suspicion of being gay, but the fault here was clearly not on the perpetrators of violence, but rather on the victim because dem never keep it to demself and did too hype up wid dem nastiness. But what does this mean, to keep it to oneself? It tends to be the case that the people in Jamaica who have been beaten (and on occasion killed) were not attacked because they were found in the situation that Buju metaphorically describes (two man hitch up and a hug up and a love up inna bed) but because they embodied a kind of behavior that was deemed offensive – a certain lisp, a certain drawl, a certain swing of the hips.

    Perhaps on the too many occasions (okay, it was only twice) that I’ve been called out of my bed in Jamaica to drive such and such to a hospital because they had been beaten in Liguanea or in New Kingston, the doctor if he had been so enlightened, could have explained that no no no, that big gash in your forehead is not a real gash, it’s just a simile, and that broken nose is really just a metaphor for Jamaica’s disapproval of your wearing skinny jeans on a Friday night.

  31. Kei, we all know the kind of ‘tolerance’ that happens here. and its unacceptable that men/women who wish to be a certain way with each other can’t do so openly (but it’s another thing to suggest that Jamaicans go out of their way to hunt down and kill all homosexuals–you know that’s not true). i think the older generation of homosexuals is quite used to living covertly as a result but there are younger males who don’t see why they should, and feel free to be ‘out and bad’. and then that brings the thrashings and the violence.

    i imagine this would be the normal trajectory in any culture where homosexuality is proscribed, with or without lyrics to endorse it. i imagine people everywhere have had to take gay friends to hospital after they’ve been bashed up by hostile groups, perhaps even in the United States.

    but things were/are beginning to change here in response to the pressure from the younger men mentioned above, in response to American programming available on cable tv and in the way that this culture is changing in a myriad ways in response to globalizing forces of various sorts. I wonder how much the structured campaign by Tatchell and co. has hindered and turned back this natural evolution that was taking place, has set all this back. and perhaps has also raised the ire of other countries (cf Uganda and co.?) and made them take the retrograde step of outlawing homosexuality at this date and stage.

    The debate about lyrics is moot, but i will continue to say just as i do about so called ‘violent’ lyrics like Anytime and Look into my Eyes and songs of that ilk that its a mistake to suppress them. where homophobic lyrics are concerned there seems to be some simple-minded belief that by shutting the songs down you’ve made the place safer for gays and achieved some kind of change when the opposite may be true.

    my position is that if people are singing anti-Indian songs i want to hear them, i want to know what it means, i want to be aware that there is this hostility for whatever the reasons are (and in the case of Indians sometimes justifiably) and i want to hear those lyrics disappear naturally when that hostility for whatever variety of reasons ceases or abates because that’s how i’ll know that real change has occurred and that it’s safe for me to talk my coolie talk and walk my coolie walk…

    to go back to homosexuality and Ja i do wonder though if things will change without some of the pillars of this society who are gay (and you know there are many of these) coming out and making/taking a stand…and giving the lie to the notion of homosexuality as an undisputed evil by embodying the ways in which homosexuals have constructively contributed to this country as they have everywhere else in the world.

  32. I’m just going to agree with Marlon. Also, I’ll add that I find the arguments about metaphor and foreigners not understanding Patwa amount to dishonest special pleading.

    The ‘not in my face’ argument is tripe. Pure and simple. I’ve heard it about other things that offend idiots, like interracial relationships and marriages, and, frankly, it pisses me off.

  33. It is also quite interesting that an artist who in 20+ years of recording has probably never sold more than 3million units ( collectively) is at the center of this “gay rights” issues – THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE SOMETHING NEGATIVE TO SAY ABOUT BUJU WOULD NEVER EVEN HAVE KNOWN ABOUT THE SONG HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR THE “GAY ORGANISATIONS” – Buju is way more popular now than he has ever been in his career because of y’all.
    Gay organisations picked an artist that they thought would be an easy pushover – I don’t hear anyone of them shouting out against Marshall Mathers – a WHITE AMERICAN artists who is way more influential than Buju will ever hope to be. FIRE BUN for america and their racist shitstem (for the ignorant and illiterate, that did not mean to literally throw acid on America)

    “Between 1997 and 2000 over 30 gays were killed in Jamaica” – and guess what? over 4,000 straight people were murdered….There are over 1300 murders every year in Jamaica (pop. 2.8 million) and although it shouldn’t be an issue (murder is murder) the gay community tries to make a case about the violent nature of Jamaicans to gays in Jamaica. Truth be told, the majority of murders that are committed against gays in Jamaica are usually committed by a lover or former lover. Contrary to popular belief and that Biblical…er Time magazine article that keeps being quoted Jamaica is not a Homophobic society – we have no fear of gays, actually we leave gay people alone and stay far away. What about the 1300 murders every year in Jamaica? If you are so into righteousness, please speak out about the social ills that contribute to this (the same social ills that cause rich older men to take advantage of innocent children in the ghetto destroying their lives BOOM BYE BYE AND FIRE BUN FOR THAT), because the REAL REASON gay people (just like straight people) are victims of murder in Jamaica HAS more to do with these social ills than with people running around killing people because of their sexual orientation. You want to help? Stop focussing on Buju, and Bennie and get to the root of the matter…

  34. “Truth be told, the majority of murders that are committed against gays in Jamaica are usually committed by a lover or former lover.” We’re in a new millennium and people still shovel this bullshit.
    Thanks for clarifying my own point that while the nature of civil rights, gender rights and GLBT rights are different, the nature of the enemy is the same.
    This is actually worse than the people screaming Boom Bye Bye, because it purports to a rational reason, even a compassionate one, yet it puts a dangerous spin on an ignorant prejudice by claiming to be rational. This is not the thug out there burning down black churches, but the rational scientist who has no problem with blacks since it’s not their fault their brains are smaller. Gay people are their own worst enemies. Where have I heard that one before…

  35. Great conversation! I’m not surprised that it couldn’t stay on BB. I was really taken aback by the Jcn reportage in the 1st few days that spent less time reporting on what was happening 2 BB, & more than 3/4 of every column dedicated 2 the boycotts/campaigns against him. That, 2 me, was really disrespectful of BB, & helped 2 fuel the bullshit conspiracy theory that he is being set up. Too many of us talking as if we know BB personally, when we don’t know anything. I’m not standing behind any drug dealer, a fellow Jamaican, albeit an important one, or not. Until he is cleared of the charges, he is worth as much 2 me as Dudus – both of them r low-limb fowls that deserve 2 b shit on using every legal maneuvre possible.

    I must say that I’m very happy for Kei/Marlon/FSJL not conceding to Ann’s/Sarah’s/et. al’s insistence on confining any critical discussion of BBB to that “lyrics R only metaphorical” prison. Marlon’s & Kei’s comments @ the inherent problems/limitations of liberal thinking are right on. I, too, value the space that Annie’s blog provides, but I constantly feel a little bit betrayed by her refusal 2 do more than peddle the same conspiratorial bullshit @ “intern’l gay organisations” that shows up in the Gleaner instead of doing her research. Nor is it exactly reassuring 2 me that my Jac’n “allies” R straight people who do think I need to hol’ mi corner & that it’s ok 2 b asked 2 do so, & who don’t see the need 2 speak out against “metaphorical violence” because it does not target them. For ex., rather than telling “int’l gay organisations” 2 go rail @ the church, etc. & leave BB alone, how @ telling them 2 go piss off AND taking on the pastors etc. Why not show solidarity with queer folks here rather than just sit back & complain when farrin others R critiquing the situation 4 how they see it using really fucked up lenses? It’s not & never will be enuf 2 say one “knows of many homosexuals” as if that can challenge the violent antipathies that come in verbal & physical form. It won’t. It doesn’t.

  36. Mwah! A kiss for you, Annie Paul. There.

    What I have found so maddening is how hyper-sensitive we Jac’ns [are goaded to] become whenever anyone mentions anything that suggests homosexuality. We have become such easy bait that two men, a blog, a cellie and a fax machine located somewhere a farrin can make us jump up and act like flipping idiots, spouting all kinds of “facts” and making pronouncements about “gay rights” (does anybody here know what the hell that means? cause I sure don’t, not in a country where we don’t even have a friggin’ bill of rights, so I can’t even sue my ex-boss or caretaker for sexually harassment…), and in the process embodying what we claim is not true of us. Putting aside the everyday ignorance and word-wars that happen here, I have been far more embarrassed & troubled by what is passed off as “fact” and logical opinions by commentators, etc. Frankly, I blame the Jac’n media for actively sustaining the anti-gay propaganda machine with the broad & inaccurate generalizations @ some fictive “homosexual lobby” that is based on prejudice, hearsay and skewed interpretations of publicly accessible information. Ask yourselves how many times in the past 18 years of Buju’s trials that a single Jac’n newspaper/media outlet has EVER published a story that is actually based on interviews &/or interaction with anybody who claims to represent said “homosexual lobby”? To the extent that any media sources ever quote actual people, that stuff always comes from a single organisation’s press release, website, or email; no context, no history. All information is manipulated to point us in one direction: that the WE who don’t like gays & lesbians are absolutely right, and DEM who are “promoting” homosexuality are absolutely wrong. Always we are told what we should believe & those who dare to think differently are either pushed aside or, worse choose to silence themselves and refuse to craft a position that does not begin with disclaimers like “I think homosexual sex is nastiness but…” or “I can spot them a mile away, but…” or “the bible say is a sin but…” or “some of them too obvious but…”, or “as long as they don’t molest my children…”

    In the wake of this systematic campaign of misinformation “gay organisations” and gay & lesbian people any claims about “tolerance” & “intolerance” need to be set aside. Each can be readily refuted with available evidence. What can’t be refuted is the need for respect for the dignity of each person. Period. For me, the question is: What do/can we do – individually and collectively – to get that ball rolling? What are the places we can begin, without getting into an argument about which issue is more important than another? Surely, even Buju can get with that programme.

  37. I was really glad when Hilaire Sobers castigated the print media for the completely biased and inflammatory way in which it covers events involving homosexuals.

    I would say that if we can’t persuade highly educated folk such as the media represents to get with the programme, it’s going to be that much more difficult to get those with little or no formal education to get on board. in fact we need to start at the top, not the bottom…

    so there Long B, a kiss in your direction too–

  38. Thanks for writing this, Sarah! Your words were so fitting to the situation & how many of us feel. Buju was such an inspiration to many Jamaicans.. This just confirms that he is only human and can only be judged by Jah. I just hope that justice is fair & his lyrics as a teenager don’t impact this case.

  39. an interesting article, but i would put forward that jamaica is not particularly open nor tolerant (i live in jamaica btw)- right now in particular the “public” voices in the media, the social institutions like the schools, churches, etc., and the government are calling for censorship, licensing of journalists, etc. at least two members of parliament (including the PM) have publicly stated their disapproval of homosexuals.

    also i know buju personally, he is a genius and an incredible egomaniac and a madman. at the Rebelution concert last year xmas he punctuated his performance with the statement “Sponge Bob is a batty man!” remember that buju was acquitted of beating some homosexuals, but an acquittal in jamaica means what really… so he takes his calls to action quite literally it would seem.

    sarah i think you’ve drunk the koolaid (or quenchade in this case).

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