The LGBT Community and Rhetorical Rastas/DJs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rhetorical Rasta

“Controversial reggae musician Sizzla Kalonji speaks to the Mail & Guardian about homosexuality, his music and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe whom he recently met while performing at his birthday celebrations in Bulawayo during his African tour.”

(Unfortunately there was no means to embed this video in my blog so you will have to click on the link to get it.)

PROVE YOU’RE HUMAN: The Post-Michael Jackson Post

The boy who danced and sang his way into countless hearts from all cultures anywhere is no more. Michael Jackson.

There’s a yawning MJ-shaped chasm in the universe at this post-Jacksonian moment. Michael’s death wrenched the spotlight away from Iran and refocused it on a lost boy who was led astray everytime he tried to find his way home. Now he never will. I think the pressure of having to prove he was human to a world that suddenly seemed to turn hostile and scornful proved too much for this extraordinary boy-man to bear.

PROVE YOU’RE HUMAN demand the spambot busters when you try to leave a comment on blogposts or Facebook discussions. You then have to correctly type two distorted-looking words into a box, an action that apparently will instantly expose a spambot (which pretend to be users but actually want to harvest your email and other useful info about you) incapable of deciphering the letters.

Could MJ possibly have realized just how many fans and well-wishers he has all over the world? Michael Jackson dies and nearly takes internet with him announced one headline referring to the volume of cybertraffic trying to verify his death on the afternoon of June 25th, resulting in an overload which nearly crashed the Net the day he died. The media, snarling and vicious only a few years ago has been obsessively adulating him in death.

looklikemoney09 crazy how this nigga #michaeljackson got respect when he died an aint have none when he was alive was how one tweep roughly and eloquently summed it up. A commenter (sharon p) on a blog called Can’t Stop Won’t Stop poignantly asked: “how will i remember him? as the person who bought the elephant man’s bones just so he could bury them. who will he remind me of? Zora Neale Hurston, who was also accused of child molestation in 1948 — an accusation that caused her to leave the “community” she had dedicated her life to.”

The accusations of child molestation made against MJ in 2005 and the resulting media frenzy must have left a malingering but fatal wound on his already bruised and battered psyche. We seem to overlook the fact that everything Michael did was a scream for help. MJ enacted on his body the aggression he faced from his father & by extension society, and he flaunted his wounds in our face– that etiolated Geisha mask and his mutilated nose were pleas for the unconditional love he always desired.

Yet the media demanded that Michael act ‘normal’ and policed his departures from the norm with a vengeance that verged on violence. Hyena-like they were expressing the deep violence that underlies the social contract, a violence that had also consumed his erstwhile friend Diana, Princess of Wales, a decade or so ago.

Well, the mainstream media has limited credibility for me now, particularly in the wake of the Iraq War which they triumphantly and confidently led us into. If i’m going to believe anyone on the Michael Jackson saga it will be his close friends and family (see Deepak Chopra in the Huffington Post) who all testify to his innate goodness and compassion and not some journalist riding a moral high horse and instructing me on what is normal and what isn’t. For a good article on the subject i recommend Andrew Sullivan’s Thinking about Michael.


Jackson’s profound influence on global popular culture can be measured in the numerous song-and-dance routines of Bollywood films. Indian choreographers have yet to recover from the Thriller effect, which informs a good three quarters of all Bollywood dance numbers. Jai ho MJ said AR Rahman in his tribute. In the Caribbean the Jackson Brothers came to both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Mark Lyndersay has written a memorable account in the Trinidad Guardian of his encounter with MJ on that 1978 visit. Here he describes accompanying MJ to Laventille:

The lanky young black man, his hair a massive puff that swayed in the evening breeze, walked along the road, waving, shaking hands and chatting with surprised people relaxing in their verandahs on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon. I photographed the entire encounter for what I was told were his scrapbooks, memoirs he gathered of his travels.

Another area Michael may have been surprised to know he impacted on was the Middle East. In an article called “He meant so much to Arabs” the author detailed the region’s love affair with the singer:

As most of his admirers in the Middle East got pirated or smuggled copies of his music in the 1980s and 1990s, I don’t think MJ knew just how much his music shaped a whole generation of Arabs, just how many fans he had here and just how devoted they remained throughout his ordeals.

We might not have heard of the Beatles or Elvis Presley, but we sure knew Michael Jackson

There was just something about him and his songs that rang true. When we were teenagers, we would often smuggle music by MJ into our school in Saudi Arabia and share it among us by putting the cassettes into generic plastic covers to hide the fact that we were listening to his music.

There were fears among the religious police about his “influence” on the young mind, particularly as songs such as Bad and Beat It were copied and sung, and even dubbed into Arabic, by the young and the rebellious.

We didn’t care about his personal life, it didn’t matter. What was important were the songs. We identified with the themes of loneliness and rejection in his lyrics.

After the first Gulf War, the young in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait listened to his songs for strength and inspiration. I know I did – even if I didn’t understand all of the words back then.

In many ways – and despite reservations about Washington’s recent foreign policy – he was a symbol of America as a land of opportunity, especially for a generation of Arabs that had grown up in conflict.

People named their cars after him, not to mention their pets – my own white-and-black cat is called MJ.

The 1985 song We are the World, which MJ co-wrote, is a regular at school parties. Even his more recent albums strike a chord with his Middle Eastern fans, while a song like Scream, for example, is often played among young groupings who feel frustrated, pressurised, and suppressed by the establishment, whether it be official or cultural.

MJ performing live in Bucharest

As #Michaeljackson replaced #iranelection overnight as the top trending subject on Twitter a bitter Iranelection tweep reflected on the rapid shift in the public’s attention: amazing how quickly interests shift from the plight of an entire country and its people to the death of a washed up pedophile #iranelection”. I wondered if this person so contemptuously dismissing Jackson realized that, just as in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, it was probably this ‘washed-up pedophile’ who was responsible for exposing Iranian youth to the seductive, permissive culture of the West and indirectly to the rebellious spirit we saw erupt in Tehran last week.

And for a great deconstruction of how news systems work the death of ‘famous persons’ have a look at this cartoon from the Stereotypist (a comic written and poorly drawn by john campbell. updated entirely without warning. e-mail wtfwjd ‘at’ gmail dot com)
below. In the meantime i prefer to think of Michael as a friend on Facebook visualized him:

Sonjah Stanley Niaah MJ: The moonwalker who dwelled on earth for a while and left a luminous musical legacy!