A World Fit for Children

clovis corporal punishment
Clovis, Jamaica Observer, November 30, 2017

In the midst of heated discussions in the public sphere about the proposed abolition of corporal punishment in Jamaican schools the 12th annual Caribbean Child Research Conference took place under the theme “A World Fit for Children: The UN 2030 Agenda”. This agenda aims to promote a global movement that will ensure that children worldwide are protected from poverty, harm and exploitation, war and disease among other things. It also promises to create an environment that listens to children and allows them to participate in decisions that affect them.

Clearly the world is a long way off from achieving even a quarter of these goals. Still the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies Mona has been holding a conference annually in which schoolchildren participate alongside adult scholars in presenting their research, thus at least partially fulfilling the mandate about child participation and listening to what they –the primary stakeholders in this conference–have to say.

This year the adult papers ran the gamut from “The Disappearance of Self-initiated Play and Playful Learning from the Early Childhood Landscape: A Guyana Context” by Godryne Wintz to “Exploring the Knowledge of Parents about Child Sexual Abuse within a Jamaican Suburban Community: A Case Study” by Viviene Kerr. The latter explored changes in parents’ knowledge of child sexual abuse within a Jamaican suburban community and was prompted by an increase in sexual abuse cases from a low of 121 in 2007 to a high of 2,671 in 2011 (OCR, 2011).

That is a huge increase by any standards which begs the question has the reportage of such cases increased or has the incidence?

In “Trouble with Neketa: Drama as a Force in Early Childhood Professional Training Programmes” Grace Lambert dealt with the rejection of Creole language or mother tongue in early childhood settings in Guyana. As she pointed out this practice of rejecting children’s home language breaches the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child which promotes the principle of development of and respect for children’s language. More significantly, this practice contradicts developmentally appropriate early childhood learning experiences which dictate that children’s home language is probably the best medium for early interactions. Using a case study approach, Lambert’s research examined the impact of the first Early Childhood Development (ECD) professional development programme offered by the University of Guyana on ECD practitioners’ interaction experiences with Guyanese Creole speaking children. It highlighted how practitioners’ knowledge of language acceptance principles influenced their recognition of Creole as a legitimate way of speaking. The research emphasized the extent to which dramatisation effected change in consciousness and enlightened attitudes to first language recognition.

In “Counselling gender-nonconforming students in Jamaican high schools: The guidance counsellors’ perspective” Halcyon Reid explored how Jamaican high school guidance counsellors treat with gender nonconforming students. The study focused on the factors impacting how they approach service to these students, how their training helps them deal with issues surrounding gender-nonconformity and sexual identity, and actions that may be necessary to improve counselling services to gender nonconforming students. The aim was to identify gaps in the training of guidance counsellors in their preparation to serve sexual minority students and provide recommendations that may lead to a larger study which can inform policies governing guidance and counselling in schools.

The second day of the conference was devoted to child researchers who presented findings from their studies. The subjects were varied as the following titles indicate: An Investigative Study on Trusted Adults who Sexually Abuse Children – Thea-Moy Hill, Westwood High · An Analysis on the Link between Dysfunctional Families and Deviant Children Disability – Sandrene McKenzie, Westwood High · Investigating the Effect of the Zone of Special Operation (ZOSO) on Children in Mount Salem St. James – Aniska Christie, Westwood High.

There was also An Exploration of the Impact of Parental Migration on the Development of Teenagers in Rural Jamaica by Dylan Baker, Westwood High · An Investigation on the Impact of Gang Violence Among Teenagers in Jamaica (Underlying Reasons for Teenage Boys Joining Gangs and the Negative Impact on Jamaica) by Julleyne Sewell, Westwood High and An Investigative Study into the Impact of Gang-Related Sexual Grooming on the Academic Performance of Teenage Girls on the Community of Highgate Gardens by Breanna Julal, Glenmuir High. Ms. Julal won the overall award for the best research study and presentation.

With the elimination of corporal punishment in schools Jamaica will have gone some way towards achieving a world fit for children. Although none of the papers given at the Child Research conference dealt directly with this subject, investigations into abuse and violence dominated the presentations. “If we cannot have a world fit for children, we will not have one fit for adults,” cautions Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee, the conference convenor. Spare the rod and improve the world.

The “Me Too” Phenomenon

Gleaner column of October 18, 2017

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” read the Facebook update. So said, so done. Within a couple of days the #MeToo hashtag gathered so much momentum that women who didn’t post #MeToo as their status update on Facebook were in the minority.

It was the logical outcome of a wave of outings of famous men who have systematically assaulted women, using their power to extricate sexual services from their victims either without consent or by manufacturing it. Whether it was the drugging of victims by Bill Cosby or demands for sexual favors in return for Hollywood stardom by Harvey Weinstein, the public outcry has made it clear that such blatant abuse of power has to stop. If not  the perpetrators will be named and shamed in no uncertain terms.

Interestingly there were many who rushed to Cosby’s defense insinuating that he was the victim of a plot against black people, and that the increasing number of women accusing him of sexual abuse were lying. In the Harvey Weinstein case one has yet to hear of sinister plots against Jewish Hollywood producers but no doubt its a matter of time. In the meantime he is being pilloried in no uncertain terms, losing contracts, respect and prestigious positions left, right and centre.

Note too, that all of this is without benefit of police charges, trials in court and conviction by jury as was demanded by the Jamaican public when a small group of women here insisted that it was time to expose sexual predators by naming and shaming them. In the Weinstein case it was the New York Times that broke the story, after in-depth investigation and interviewing of some victims.

The outing of Weinstein is not only loosening the tongues of his victims, it is pushing other women around the world to talk out about the routine sexual harassment they face, particularly in show business. A former member of popular American band the Pussycat Dolls has claimed in a series of tweets that the girl group operated as a ‘prostitution ring’, with the members forced into sex with entertainment executives. “’To be a part of the team you must be a team player. Meaning sleep with whoever they say. If you don’t they have nothing on you to leverage,’ tweeted Kaya Jones who spent two years as a band member.

It’s bad enough to be sexually exploited but far worse to face denial and vilification when you try and report or talk about the offense committed. Instead of receiving help and sympathy the victim is often hounded and disparaged as Kaya Jones found out. In India Sheena Dabholkar, a Pune-based writer and blogger, started a thread on Twitter highlighting the harassment she experienced at popular bar and hangout spot High Spirits, as well as the response she got for calling it out.

Sheena’s tweets elicited social media testimony from many other women who had experienced the same disgusting behavior from the bar’s owner, Khodu Irani, who has been accused of groping, sending lewd messages, fat-shaming and harassing multiple patrons/employees of his cafe.

Sexual exploitation is not just an occupational hazard of show business and entertainment however. It abounds at universities too. John Rapley, who worked at University of the West Indies for many years, wrote an interesting blogpost titled ‘The Weinstein Syndrome’. Said Rapley:

“I once worked in an environment where this sort of thing was rife – a university, where most of the students were women and most of the teachers, men. The students were in the full flower of youth and the teachers, well, were not. But they had something more potent. The authority and aura that go with scholarship sometimes suffice to bring young students tumbling into a lecturer’s lap; but for those who lack charisma or charm, there is plain power. They determined grades, they assigned scholarships, they controlled promotions. And enough of them were ready to use that power to impose themselves on reluctant young women that it became what Weinstein called ‘the culture.’”

There is no institution that is immune from the abuse of power. Earlier this year the founders of the Tambourine Army and others found themselves the subject of hostile media attention after outing members of the Moravian Church for preying on underage girls. It is astonishing that outrage is reserved for those who find the courage to name and shame rather than the perverts who commit the crime of sexual exploitation.

“‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality,’ declared T. S. Eliot. But bear it we must, and stand alongside those for whom reality is too often a punch in the gut. I looked at my many sisters and friends declaring “me too” on their Facebook walls (knowing that for every “me too” said aloud, there are thousands-upon-thousands whispered or left unsaid) and I am floored. It shouldn’t be a surprise—and in many ways it isn’t—but to see the avalanche of evidence rushing down… Reality does feel like too much.”

If only more people thought like Garnette Cadogan, quoted above, one of the few men to respond compassionately to the #MeToo confessions. There is simply no excuse for demanding that women (or men) remain silent in the face of systematic sexual depredation.

What Really Happened in Grenada? Part 2

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Bernard Coard signing my copy of his book, The Grenada Revolution: What Really Happened? at the launch

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Gleaner column of Sept. 27, 2017

In this column I continue my reportage of the launch of Bernard Coard’s book The Grenada Revolution: What Really Happened? Put on by the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies on September 15th the anticipation-filled event fully lived up to its promise.

One of the enduring beliefs about the unhappy events of October 19th, 1983, when Prime Minister Maurice Bishop along with several cabinet ministers and other supporters were lined up at Fort Rupert and assassinated was that the orders to kill him came directly from the Worker’s Party of Jamaica (WPJ), from none other than its leader at the time, Trevor Munroe.

The question of Munroe’s role came up more than once at the launch, the first time during

Professor Rupert Lewis’s eloquently articulated response to Coard’s book. Lewis who had lived in Prague 1982-84 as a representative of the WPJ on the World Marxist Review, a theoretical journal containing jointly-produced content by Communist and workers parties from around the world. As such Lewis  had direct access to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. What he said was this:

“The letter that Trevor sent to me to deliver to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union basically said there were two trends in the New Jewel Movement (NJM). There was a working-class trend, a proletarian trend led by Bernard and a petit-bourgeois trend led by Maurice. I was very angry at this simplistic portrayal of the complex struggle that had taken place in Grenada.”

Coard’s own response to the question of Munroe’s role during the tense and emotion-filled q and a afterwards was passionate, his voice rising an octave or two:

“With respect to the role of anybody, any Jamaicans, and in particular the WPJ, let me just say this, that Rupert’s critique of myself and all of us in the leadership in Grenada was based on the fact that we were very jealous of the little piece of sovereignty that we had. We bad for wi piece of sovereignty. We will decide everything ourselves, we will listen to advice but we will take our own decisions. Listen, if people givin’ us arms and training and economic help and help with our international airport, and we weren’t prepared to let them dictate to us, you think Trevor Munroe or anybody could tell us what to do in the Grenada Revolution? Come on, get serious. Call it petty nationalism if you want but that nationalism runs very deep so I don’t care what anybody says, or what anybody says to anybody else, we are going to make our own decision. That’s how we are. I don’t agree that that’s a wrong approach. I don’t agree that people helping us have a right to tell us what to do, they can advice yes, but we decide whether to take that advice or not. I’m sorry, I make no apologies for that.”

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Militia

Coard’s own response to the speakers before him was methodical, articulated in nine points. He started by describing how painful the process of writing the book had been, how he had been unable to write for the first 19 years in prison despite being urged to do so by many and had finally decided to do so because there had been hundreds of thousands of articles published on the Grenada Revolution during that period, most of them by outsiders, almost exclusively detailing one side of events and it was important for someone to write from within the revolution as it were. So as emotionally painful and difficult as the recounting of those traumatic events was Coard had finally decided to write to provide a different perspective.

After outlining his methodology ( extensive use of contemporaneously kept minutes and court documents) and objectives for writing this memoir (to document the mistakes they made), which he said would be the first of several volumes, Coard mentioned two things that to me are worth highlighting. He said a study of US actions in Grenada, not just at the end, but throughout the life of the revolution, “would help to cast light for those who are interested, in happenings going on right now in various parts of the world.”

“You cannot understand what is going on in Venezuela unless you understand what we went through in Grenada. And just like we made mistakes from the beginning, the Venezuelans are making mistakes. But the fact of the matter is it is one thing to make mistakes and to suffer the consequences of those mistakes. It’s another thing to have a very powerful country deciding that in addition to whatever stumbling you make on your own I’m going to make sure you can’t get up and walk.” Coard said that despite having held 11 elections Chavez was consistently referred to as a dictator by US media.

The next point Coard made was that on August 9, 2017, an article had appeared in the Washington Post, by a specialist on North Korea, Benjamin Young, in which he details the connection between Reagan’s decision to invade Grenada and the current potentiality for nuclear war between the USA and North Korea. “This is important because what he says in that article is that Kim il Sung, the grandfather of the current leader, was not just extremely disturbed by the invasion of Grenada but that it was the basis of a decision by the North Korean leadership to embark on a program of acquiring nuclear weapons.”

The Korean leader’s fear that N. Korea would be next in line for a Grenada-style invasion led to an investment in nuclear weapons as a deterrent, a “delayed fuse” as Coard put it that we are confronted with today. “In other words the US invasion of Grenada, as far back as October 1983, is directly linked to the current potential for nuclear war between the United States and North Korea.”

A sobering note to end on.

From Nation to Abattoir?

Chubby

 

My column of September 6, 2017. The funeral for Leonard Collins “(Chubby”) is this Saturday at Church of Christ, Mona. I still shed tears at the wantonness of his killing.

I didn’t know his given name. On campus he was known as Chubby, a dread with a bicycle and a green thumb, who worked in the Maintenance Department for many years. Involved in a job-related accident some years ago, Chubby was waiting to collect some long overdue compensation monies.

On Friday, the 25th of last month, the money finally arrived in his credit union account and Chubby went and collected it. The first thing he wanted to do was buy a cake for his two-year old son. He sat down outside his August Town home with some friends idly discussing where to buy the cake. Some said Megamart, others said he should get a Cherry Berry cake from Sugar and Spice in Liguanea.

I remember when the ‘yout’, as Chubby called him, was born. The proud father came to my office to see if I could help in any way, as there were complications. I gave him some money. What Chubby really wanted was for me to visit his son in hospital because he said ‘they’ would treat him and his family better if someone like me visited. It haunts me to this day that I allowed my fear and dislike of hospitals to dissuade me from going.

Two years later Chubby did not get to buy his son a cake. The same night he got the money, someone pushed their way into his house and robbed him, viciously shooting and killing him in the process. I don’t think his death made the news. Sometimes I wonder if murders in August Town are under-reported to protect the much vaunted but fragile ‘peace treaty’. I know that not all murders are reported to the media by the Police in time for them to carry the news.

It’s heartbreaking when from he that hath not, even that which he hath not is taken. A good, hard-working man has been struck down, separated from the one thing he could call his own—his life. What lies ahead for Chubby’s son now, joining the legion of fatherless children?

There was a series of gruesome murders in Clarendon during the same period but  it’s human nature to mourn those closest to us, especially if they lived in physical proximity and you knew them. Someone from one’s own family, country, class or caste takes precedence over nameless strangers halfway across the world. The media too spends more column space or airtime on individuals who were prominent because of talent, brains, money or beauty. Thus the murder of designer Dexter Pottinger last week has dominated social media, where shell-shocked Jamaicans have been expressing sorrow, outrage, anger and bewilderment at his killing by a person or persons unknown.

The usual arguments are making the rounds. As Pottinger was openly gay there are those who suspect he was killed directly or indirectly because of his social orientation. Others counter this by saying he was likely killed by a lover in a crime of passion, so this can’t be classified as a homophobic murder. I find the latter a strange claim the fallacy of which is illustrated by looking at women who are murdered by their partners, ex husbands or boyfriends. Does the fact that this might be a crime of passion negate the fact that beneath the casual slaughter of women lies a deep-seated patriarchal belief that they are inferior and therefore expendable? Does it negate the widespread misogyny that permeates such societies and drives violence against women?

“Please don’t make it about the fact that he was gay” implored someone on my Facebook timeline. And I get that people don’t want Jamaica to get bad press again, especially if this was a straight robbery and murder, so to speak. But the fact is if a black man is killed in a racist country, the first thing you’re going to wonder is whether the color of his skin was a contributing factor. If racists view black people as an alien species endangering the public, in much the same way as homosexuals are viewed as dangerous threats to society here, it makes them more vulnerable to violence by those who feel justified in ridding society of the ‘menace’ by killing them.

Thus some men feel justified in killing men who make advances towards them instead of politely brushing them off in the way women do 365 days of the year when men make unwanted passes at them. Imagine what the world would look like if women killed every man who made a pass at them! I’ve never understood the “I killed him because he made an indecent proposal” defence that seems to find such currency here.

We might never know the reason Dexter was killed but in the meantime how about building a nation where people are as concerned to eliminate unwarranted prejudice as they are to protect their country’s reputation?

Feeding the Troll…

laughing Troll

The day after my column Feeding the Dragon (see previous post) was published in the Daily Gleaner the indefatigable Jacqueline Bishop tried once again to draw me into a Facebook spat by tagging me in her snarky response to my piece (see above). On a previous occasion when Bishop did this (that time it was an article by Seph Rodney in the online art forum, Hyperallergic) I politely declined to engage saying that although she was clearly spoiling for a fight, she wouldn’t get any satisfaction from me. I had responded to the article in question on Hyperallergic’s website and saw no reason, I said, to explain myself to Bishop on Facebook. Bishop then proceeded to troll Seph Rodney, the author of the article, and myself, both on Facebook and in the comments section of the Hyperallergic article. Her seemingly proprietary interest in the matter has never been made clear.

This time around I decided to do what they advise you not to do, which is feed the trolls. Feeding them only emboldens trolls and gives them an opportunity to amplify their attacks. But since I was curious about the nature of these attacks by Bishop and how low she would stoop this time, I decided to respond, albeit tongue in cheek.

In the sorry exchange that follows (excerpts from which can be found at the end of this post) Bishop calls me a dunce and a simpleton who needs to take basic lessons at “the institution where I work” (the University of the West Indies), as well as an ‘elite’ benefitting from the colonization of the Caribbean. The vehemence and the venom with which she excoriates me might lead one to think that I had advocated something similar to Bruce Gilley’s infamous Third World Quarterly article called “The Case for Colonialism” which is exciting much comment and vituperation right now on social media and elsewhere.

Yet all I had done was mildly suggest, based on interviews with scholars such as Richard Bernal (Pro Vice-Chancellor, Global Affairs, University of the West Indies) and artist Bryan McFarlane who has had a studio in Beijing for a decade now, that perhaps the accusation of ‘colonialism’ to describe the relationship between China and the Caribbean might be overstated.

Bishop takes exception to my quoting McFarlane saying that the Chinese are new at ‘colonizing’ in the classical sense of the word, having had little or no history of European-style colonizing of the planet. This leaves Bishop incredulous and she lists Japan, Thailand, Korea and Tibet as counter-examples. But, as an eminent writer said, after  reading her comments, she seems not to know the difference between ‘colonization’ and ‘invasion’, a rather crucial distinction in this instance.

My article is a far cry from Gilley’s which asserts that colonialism is a force for good in the world, anti-colonial sentiment is ‘preposterous’ and a new  program of colonization is needed, “with Western powers taking over the governing functions of less developed countries.” As outrageous as his article is, Gilley hasn’t attracted the kind of ad hominem attacks I have from Bishop. Whereas it has been widely ridiculed, the standard of put-down has been considerably superior to the abuse that was lobbed at me, with the following example being a stand-out in my opinion:

Crispin Bates: Next week’s special issue could be about why we need to bring back castrati in order to restore the quality of Italian opera. This author and Shashi Tharoor seem almost perfect mirrors of one another. Are they related by any chance?

Dilip Menon: There would be high-pitched objections to that surely.

But at the end of the day, the wittiest take-down isn’t enough to discredit an article appearing in a respected academic journal even if many consider it self-evidently absurd. Hooting and cackling on Facebook isn’t going to do it, you actually have to engage with it, demolishing it by systematically countering its arguments with historical facts and evidence. This is what Nathan Robinson does in the latest issue of Current Affairs saying  that it’s worth responding to the case Gilley makes because he appears to be sincere and the article appeared in a mainstream journal, and the sentiments it expresses are somewhat common:

I go into this level of detail because I think it’s crucial to show that Gilley’s article is not a serious work of scholarship. I think the gut reaction of many people will be that Gilley’s arguments are “self-evidently” absurd. But apparently this is not the case, because the Third World Quarterly chose to publish them.

Unfortunately, neither I nor the Daily Gleaner was afforded this courtesy by Bishop who chose instead to insinuate that the Gleaner’s fact-checkers had fallen asleep. The abusive tone of her responses on Facebook hardly shows either Bishop or New York University where she is a clinical associate professor, in a good light. It’s important to note, especially for those not familiar with the American academy that a clinical professor is not the same as a specialized, tenure-track research professor or what in our system is called a lecturer. You would hardly see such professors/lecturers resorting to the kind of cyber-bullying that Bishop seems to revel in.

Bishop is a highly regarded writer and art impresario who occasionally writes for The Huffington Post and I have given her no cause, personally, to nourish a grudge against me. The raging desire to belittle and discredit me displayed in the screenshots of our Facebook exchange below requires some other explanation. Perhaps she is acting on someone else’s behalf?

Whatever her motives are I would urge Bishop the next time she decides to publicly berate me, to not tag me in her posts. Despite her repeated claims that “no malice is intended” she might find herself running afoul of the Jamaican Cybercrimes Act. “Use of a computer for malicious communication,” is actually a thing here.

Below are snippets of the Facebook exchange that followed Bishop’s opening salvo, quoted at the top of this post.

 

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personal elementegging on etc

Screenshot 2017-08-30 13.33.06

dunceHoyes not productive

Feeding the Dragon?

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My Gleaner column of August 30 provoked quite an intense response on Facebook although what I tried to do was suggest in the mildest of terms that perhaps there were other ways to view the burgeoning Caribbean relationship with China than the hackneyed one of ‘colonialism’, a word much bandied about today. While there are superficial resemblances to traditional colonialism as we know it, there are more important differences, and to my mind focusing on the differences rather than similarities, is what is called for in this instance. But who asked me to say so? You would have thought I was advocating the return of colonialism as one Bruce Gilley has just done in the esteemed journal Third World Quarterly. In a follow-up post I’ll go further into the rather comical attack launched on me as well as responses to Gilley’s article. For now here is my column:

The subject of colonialism is with us again, raised this time by burgeoning Chinese investment in Jamaica and the Caribbean. With that investment has come a transfusion of Chinese personnel into the bloodstream of the Jamaican body politic, something that is causing widespread concern and discomfort.

Among the complaints is the fact that the Chinese insist on using their own expertise, whether it’s labour, architects, roadwork companies or otherwise. Because of this they’ve been able to deliver in record time on several projects that would have taken twice as long, had local contractors and labour been used. A local developer who has worked with Chinese firms as well as local contractors points out that of the four cranes seen at construction sites in Kingston, none are owned by local firms, which makes it impossible to use local companies to execute large projects.

The same developer also challenged the myth of the hard-working Chinese worker vs the lazy Jamaican worker, saying that Chinese workers had the same tendency to slack off and take it easy when left unsupervised. What made the difference according to him was the monitoring and management of the workers, and here Chinese companies were far more efficient than Jamaican ones, ensuring that deliverables ran to schedule and were up to global standards.

Relatedly as Richard Bernal, Pro Vice Chancellor of Global Affairs at the University of the West Indies, pointed out in an RJR interview it is par for the course when countries give you developmental monies or aid for them to specify that the expertise required must be hired from the donor country. The strings attached can take different forms. For instance European aid nowadays comes attached to certain conditionalities demanding compliance with European norms on governance and human rights.

According to an article on inquirer.net by Randy David, “There is no such thing as free aid. What there is is a country’s option to choose from a menu of available means with which to develop its economy and raise the quality of life of its people. All these available means carry some costs, and consequences — some economic, some political, and some environmental. When a country accepts tons of aid from another country, it most likely also accepts certain tacit expectations on the conduct of its foreign relations.”

Chinese aid to African countries comes with the expectation that in any international conflict the beneficiaries of their aid will support the Chinese position. Perhaps this is also the reason for Chinese interest in the Caribbean, for each island state here carries a vote at the UN regardless of its size or population, something the Hispanic Caribbean has always resented. Countries such as the Dominican Republic and Cuba, both with exponentially larger populations compared to Dominica or St Kitts, still have only one vote in the UN, the same vote the smaller countries have.

Who says curry goat politics is not a factor in international relations? I give you a handout, you hand me your vote in return. This is a tried and true tactic of foreign diplomacy.

According to Bernal, whose book Dragon in the Caribbean examines China’s relationship with the region, it is essential that Caribbean governments develop an informed and strategic approach to dealing with the new superpower. The wealth of experience gained through decades of diplomatic relations with countries in the West will be of little use in dealing with China, and the Caribbean would do well to realize the uniqueness of the ancient civilization through an in-depth study of its history, culture, politics and economic development.

“The Chinese are very new at colonizing anybody,” says artist Bryan McFarlane, who maintains a studio in Beijing and is married to a Chinese citizen. “So to some extent they are very awkward when they go into other people’s countries, they’re new at this. It’s a very delicate road we’re trodding and there’s an opportunity to build a relationship with the Chinese rather than treating them as adversaries. They’re not coming with the same mentality as the British and the Americans even though they come here to prosper, to find jobs for their people, like every other country that has power, has done.”

Bernal too, points out that the Chinese are new at capitalism, they’re learning as they go along, and as a culture they’re not used to thinking in the short term, their fore-sighting going way beyond four or five year electoral cycles. The Chinese approach to investment is collaborative rather than extractive, though ultimately they too are interested in profits. Thus, says Bernal, “The temptation to see China as a villain, intent on raping the resources of the developing countries as a new type of imperialism or neo-colonialism is largely fuelled by racial and cultural prejudice and must be resisted. On the other hand the relationship with China ought not to be viewed as a panacea with a steady flow of investment from a bottomless reservoir.”

Learning to benefit from feeding the dragon is practically the only option available to the Caribbean today, so let’s leave old laments by the wayside and leverage our way to a better future.

Kingston: Creative City Not?

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Kingston on the Edge (KOTE), an urban art festival held every June, will not celebrate its tenth anniversary this year due mainly to dwindling support from corporate Jamaica. The email press release from the organizers of the festival said simply:
“The staging of KOTE is a large undertaking and can be difficult given that it is a 10 day studio and performing art festival held at over 26 venues throughout Kingston with hundreds of artists participating.”

“This year KOTE Milestones would have been our 10th anniversary however unfortunately given a combination of factors and unforeseen circumstances including not least of all the financial strain of the festival, we have been forced to cancel KOTE 2017.”

The cancelling of KOTE is a blow to Kingston’s cultural calendar as it was a showcase for artists, writers, musicians, poets, dancers and others involved in the expressive arts. Typically KOTE events catered to aficionados of alternative music (alternative to Reggae and Dancehall that is), modern dance, poetry, theatre, architecture, pottery and visual art, bringing a wide range of patrons, young and old, out of their closets for this rich cultural immersion.

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David Marchand (photo: Chloe Walters-Wallace)

For example at KOTE 2015, David Marchand, the fantastically eccentric and reclusive visual artist found dead in his Runaway Bay home last week, had his first solo exhibition in 23 years featuring 55 of his art works. Titled “Tsunami Scarecrow: A David Marchand Retrospective” the launch of the exhibition featured opening words by Maxine Walters, a dedicated patron of his work, jazz compositions by Seretse Small and a preview of a documentary on Marchand by Chloe Walters Wallace. Marchand liked to think of himself as “a visual Bob Marley”, but I think Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry offers a better comparison.

Another year the highlight of KOTE was a guided bus trip starting at Wolmer’s Boys’ School, the site of the 1891 World Fair and stopping at different locations in Kingston that once were tourist sites. Conducted by architect Evon Williams, the tour extended from the site of the now defunct Myrtle Bank Hotel downtown to Immaculate Conception Convent in uptown Kingston once better known as the Constant Spring Hotel. To visit its beautiful lobby and environs is to take a step back in time, for the nuns have changed the buildings very little and done a good job of maintaining its serene ambiance.

KOTE also pioneered what has become a regular feature of the National Gallery of Jamaica, its Last Sundays programme, when the Gallery is open to the public for free with performative offerings in addition to the art exhibtions. Hard to believe that sponsors were not forthcoming for such a beautifully curated series of events showcasing Kingston as the creative hub it is.

Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, even with a depressed economy due to plummeting oil prices was able to find the resources to continue hosting their excellent little literary showcase, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Aside from their title sponsor, the Trinidad and Tobago Gas Company, Bocas has 30 or more other sponsors including One Caribbean Media willing to support and celebrate Caribbean talent.

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Ishion Hutchinson (2nd from left), Safiya Sinclair at Bocas Lit Fest. At mike Nicholas Laughlin

Jamaica dominated the festival this year, leading people to refer to it as the Jamaican Bocas, which culminated in Kei Miller winning the overall Bocas Award for his consummate novel, Augustown. Also in the running was another Jamaican, Safiya Sinclair, for her book of poetry, Cannibal. Safiya was the Bocas winner for poetry this year and is the latest wunderkid of Jamaican poetry to hit the international circuits, winning several mainstream fellowships and awards.

Another headliner at Bocas Lit Fest this year was Ishion Hutchinson, the Portland prodigy, the shearing of whose locks as a schoolboy inspired Kei Miller’s novel, Augustown. Hutchinson’s many honors include the American National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Whiting Writers Award and the Larry Levis Prize from the Academy of American Poets; he is also a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in poetry. Like Sinclair, Ishion grew up in a Rasta household, she in Montego Bay and he in Port Antonio.

Festivals such as KOTE and Bocas are also about developing a ground for home-grown talent to thrive in…for how much longer can we expect our best and brightest to live in their heads? Safiya Sinclair pinpoints the sense of ‘unbelonging’ quite eloquently:

“Home was not my island, which never belonged to us Jamaicans, though it’s all we’ve known, and home was not my family’s house, which we’ve always rented, all of us acutely aware of the fact that we were living in borrowed space, that we could never truly be ourselves there. Home was not the body. Never the body—grown too tall and gangly too quickly, grown toward womanhood too late. Like a city built for myself, home was a place I carved out in my head, where the words were always the right words, where I could speak in English or patois, could formulate a song or a self. Home for me has always been poetry.”