Garvey Lite?

Garvey v. 1
Bust of Marcus Garvey v. 1. After a massive protest by Rastas in Papine Square on June 25, 2017, the University of the West Indies agreed to take down the offending bust and replace it with another that would approximate the demands for a big-head, big nosed Garvey more like the photos that exist of him.

My column of June 2 in the Gleaner. After much public agitation and disapproval the University of the West Indies finally agreed to bow to public pressure and withdraw the offending bust. At a tumultuous press briefing (see video above for a brief taste of the event) the Dean confirmed that a new bust would be produced by August 2017. The sculptor would still be Raymond Watson. At the briefing Watson said that he had tried to create a youthful image of Garvey, to befit the University setting where the bust would be installed.

During his lifetime Garvey was much vilified as those who fight the status quo often are. Born in Jamaica he strode forth boldly into the world and changed it by rallying people of African origin who had been systematically exploited and denigrated by slavery. His influence rebounded all the way from the Americas to Africa, where he promised to take all those who wanted to ‘go back home’ in the immortal words of Jamaican singing star Bob Andy. To the pre-eminent shipping enterprise of the day, White Star Line, he counterpoised his Black Star Line, a fleet of ships that would carry the descendants of slaves back to Africa. The rest is history.

Decades after they’re gone how do we memorialize such individuals? In May 2017 during a short run of Garvey: The Musical at the University of the West Indies in Kingston a bust of the great man was unveiled at the Department of Humanities and Education. Members of the Marcus Garvey Movement on campus had demanded a statue of Garvey after a life-size one of Mahatma Gandhi was installed there a few years ago. How could the University pay tribute to an Indian leader before even nodding in the direction of its own home-grown hero, the first national hero of the country, they asked.

Accordingly the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education (FHE), Professor Waibinte Wariboko, a Nigerian by birth, volunteered to take on the task of arranging for a suitable monument to the great man. A Jamaican sculptor, Raymond Watson, was commissioned to produce a bust, the University’s slender resources not stretching to accommodate the expense of a full-bodied statue in these hard times.

Details of the commission, such as the brief presented to the sculptor, are unknown but on May 19 the bust was duly unveiled in the courtyard of the FHE. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the visit of Professor Rahamon Adisa Bello, vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos in Nigeria, who jointly unveiled it with the Principal of the Mona Campus, Archibald McDonald. When they ritually removed the cover revealing the modest bust underneath a gasp of consternation went up from the audience. Rastafari representatives in the audience started grumbling loudly that this was the statue of an imposter, not Garvey, this slim, unremarkable, downtrodden looking person could never represent the magnificent Marcus. Garvey, they said. Many agreed.

“Garvey seems poorly. His posture conveys passivity. He looks like a weakling,” declared Carolyn Cooper in her column. #NotmyGarvey protested lecturer Isis Semaj-Hall commenting on what she called the “slimmed down interpretation” of the great leader. This is a “UWI interpretation of Garvey” said a Facebook commenter while Xavier Hutchinson accused the sculptor of “fat shaming one of my heroes.”

Suzette Gardner was kinder to Watson: “Maybe he was trying to inspire young people capturing Garvey as a youth. Still, Garvey might have been slimmer but his head was always big. Give us our big headed Garvey so the youth can know him as he was – young or old!”

According to Am’n Ron: “Regardless of the artist’s explanation this presentation should never have been approved. This was a moment for a recognizable rendering that will last through the generations and not a moment for a random artistic interpretation. From what period in Garvey’s life did he take this, and what is the image source he used? This seemingly made a mockery of the whole effort. I fully appreciate the spirit of the mounting of a Garvey bust, and I agree that it was overdue, but I’m in agreement with the woman who calmly said, “tek it dung!”  To those who have the authority, please replace it. It feels disrespectful.”

Another Facebook commenter said: “I’ve been too upset to speak on it but i have  much more to say. I will write and share. The best part of the ceremony for me was catching up with people I have not seen in ages. Unfortunately it was an upsetting occasion for all of us.”

For me the problem wasn’t so much that the bust didn’t look anything like the Garvey we feel we’ve come to know and love. It’s the scale and unambitious scope of the representation that bother me.The only other life-like sculptures on campus are of Mahatma Gandhi (Indian) and Philip Sherlock (white) both full body representations. Then for the champion of black identity you have a modest bust. It’s a problem to say the least.

In the weeks since the unveiling calls have been mounting for the removal of the ‘fake’ statue of Garvey. The Gandhi and Sherlock sculptures were gifts to the university, and it may be that those who feel strongly about this might have to undertake to commission a better representation of Garvey that can be situated at the University of the West Indies or some other location.

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Petrina Dacres, whose Ph.D dissertation, “Modern monuments: Fashioning history and identity in post -colonial Jamaica” documents the furore surrounding almost every public monument in Jamaica, was also at the press briefing.

In future any public commissions of art should be informed by the well-documented history of responses to public monuments in Jamaica. Edna Manley lecturer and first Stuart Hall Fellow Petrina Dacres has written an entire thesis on the subject. There is no excuse to be caught by surprise like this. Contrary to what many seem to think, commissions of public statuary are not occasions for artists to wield artistic license and express themselves as they would with work meant for a gallery or private setting.

No room for Stuart Hall in Brand Jamaica?

Why is Stuart Hall seemingly persona non grata in Jamaica? Can there be a Brand Jamaica that excludes him? Why and for what?

There is a curious affinity in Jamaica for the idea of branding and a certain obsession with the notion of ‘nation branding’ (as noted in my previous post To Brand or Not to Brand Jamaica). In 2012 the country was startled by a release from the Jamaica Information Service announcing that a ‘national branding programme’ was to be implemented “to effectively communicate and reinforce the true essence of what it means to be Jamaican.” No one was quite sure what this meant.

Also in 2012 Jamaica’s participation in the London Olympics and the superb performance of its athletes there spurred much talk of ‘rebranding’ the country. Earlier that year the PNP, having recently won the last general election, looked forward to enjoying a spectacular track and field season at the Olympics with Jamaican athletes set to sweep the sprint events (the team won 12 medals in all, 4 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze, Usain Bolt alone winning 3 of the gold medals).

In 2012 the nation was also celebrating its 50th year of Independence and a new Director, Robert Bryan, was appointed to head the Jamaica 50 secretariat. The song commissioned by the previous government for the jubilee celebrations ‘Find the flag in your heart and wave it’ by veteran music producer Mikie Bennett was scrapped and a new one ‘Nation on a mission’ created. Branding seemed to be a central aspect of this ‘mission’.

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A grandiose project to celebrate the nation’s 50th anniversary at the 02 Arena in London during the Olympics was launched. According to Bryan “the plans would be a platform to rebrand Jamaica globally and it would be done in a way to capture world attention, delivering maximum impact of the brand worldwide and to attract international television coverage. Ultimately, he said, Jamaica hoped to convert the exposure to financial gains, including more visitors and greater publicity for Jamaica’s products.”

Three years later, sitting in IMF-straitened Jamaica progressively tightening our belts, its hard to see that the exorbitant ‘rebranding’ of 2012 achieved anything at all. Yet here we are talking about branding once again à la the Brand Jamaica symposium. See my previous post for more detail on this.

A recurrent view expressed at the Brand Jamaica conference was that the country urgently needed to move beyond the cliched image the Jamaica Tourist Board had managed to fix of the island being a fun destiNATION (my terminology) and little more.  As the Executive Director of the Broadcasting Commission, Cordel Green said in his paper:

Every person in the world who thinks Jamaica–must be disabused of the notion that outside the walls of all inclusives and tourist enclaves lie shacks and derlection. They must also know that we are considerably more than beaches, sun, rum and fun.

Our cultural heritage, history and intellectual pedigree are world class and this country has made an international footprint that bears no relation to her size, age and global ranking.

Hume Johnson, one of the main organizers of the conference also succinctly summed up the redemptive objective of the exercise:

Our aim is to advocate for a re-imagining and repositioning of the Jamaican brand, the creation of a more complex narrative beyond sun, sand and sea, one that projects a more positive and complete image of the country centred on its people, culture and heritage.”

The question at the heart of the Re-imagine Jamaica conference was how to produce this more nuanced, complex narrative about the country. After her presentation, keynote speaker Samantha North asked the audience what they would like to see included in Jamaican identity that might help shift or alter global perception of the country as a tourist playground with a violent, homophobic population. What were some of the assets Jamaica possessed that were little known by outsiders? That could be enlisted in the reconstituting and recuperation of its image?

The audience advanced a number of suggestions–Jamaica’s cuisine, its beauty queens, its intellectuals, its footballers dwelling in foreign climes such as Raheem Stirling. In terms of intellectuals Rex Nettleford was mentioned more than once and I brought up Stuart Hall, arguably the MOST outstanding intellectual Jamaica has produced whose influence globally, and on Britain in particular, easily puts him in any list of the top ten public intellectuals worldwide in the last four decades.

Stuart Hall wrote the textbook on representation and identity, how stereotypes are formed and how to dismantle them (see video above), his work is so highly cited (citation factor being the metric used in academia to measure scholarly worth) that on any given day a Google Scholar advanced search for his name returns approximately 54,000 results per 0.03 seconds to Rex Nettleford’s 2,000 (the highest of any locally based academic).  For comparison Orlando Patterson, another Jamaican intellectual superstar located in the diaspora, returns 51,000 results; Frantz Fanon about 36,600 results and Derek Walcott a measly 12,900 results.

Patterson and Hall are in a category with other global intellectual giants such as Amartya Sen, Edward Said, Richard Rorty and Slavoj Zizek, the latter lower at 44,000 than either Patterson or Hall. While Patterson is known to Jamaicans Stuart Hall is so unheard of that the main newspaper here  wrote an editorial after his death in February 2014 lamenting the lack of awareness in Jamaica of who this towering intellectual was.

Isn’t it time to end this abysmal ignorance and claim Hall once and for all for Brand Jamaica? The point of mentioning citation rates is merely to say that Stuart Hall has far more name recognition globally than any local intellectual and in any national reputation-building exercise his name would go much further than many others. People pay top dollar to have outstanding, well-known individuals associated with their ‘brands’, just look at the companies lining up to enlist Usain Bolt. My point is Jamaica could benefit from associating itself with a figure such as Stuart Hall. And he comes free because in a sense having been born and brought up here he belongs to Jamaica and the country can rightfully lay claim to him. Who better than Hall to complexify Jamaica’s identity/image along with the many other stellar intellectuals who live in the diaspora? He’s not the only one. How many know about Sylvia Wynter, another remarkable intellectual globally recognized and celebrated and one of the few female intellectuals from Jamaica/Caribbean operating at the level she does?

There’s a curious territoriality that comes into play when it comes to academia and intellection. An idea that to acknowledge Jamaican intellectuals who live abroad somehow implies disloyalty to the ones who ‘paid their dues’ by staying at home. This is a myopic view in my opinion. To claim Stuart Hall as the son of Jamaica that he was and the world-class intellectual that he became is hardly to disregard Rex Nettleford or his peers. It isn’t an either-or situation. Let’s suppose for a moment that Jamaica was putting together a team for an intellectual tournament–a world cup of groundbreaking scholarship–wouldn’t it be silly not to reach, in addition to Nettleford and company, for a Hall, a Patterson and a Wynter, whose experience abroad has forced them to be more competitive and therefore more exceptional and unbeatable than those who stayed at home and didn’t have the same opportunities?

Why is it ok for the national football team, the Reggae Boyz, to be composed of diaspora-based players who barely know the national anthem but not the intellectual equivalent of that team? Why should an intellectual team representing Jamaica be represented only by those ‘born and bred in Jamaica’?

For make no mistake, just as in football, there is a cost to restricting oneself to local or regional boundaries in the name of ‘paying dues’. Scholars and intellectuals whose work circulates globally and  internationally such as those mentioned above are Jamaican/Caribbean by birth but their ambit is global–that is they think and write as if addressing the world not merely the region or the nation they happen to come from. Most or all of them are/were oppositional voices who confronted the establishment when necessary but crucially such was Hall’s genius, his gift for communicating, that “his ideas traveled seamlessly to a broader world”.

Scholars such as Rex Nettleford, Norman Girvan, Barry Chevannes and many others (who are favoured as what I term ‘fi wi intellectuals’ or ‘our intellectuals’) were more committed to solving national and regional problems and in declaring epistemic independence by founding indigenous modes of scholarship. Unfortunately this obsession with battling ‘epistemological colonialism’ has led to a situation described as a crisis-of-mission for social sciences at the University of the West Indies, one where ‘theory’ was demonized as being Eurocentric and practically expelled from the academy while indigenous knowledge-building became paramount though increasingly this became restricted to statistical data-gathering and report writing.

These two groups are not at all mutually exclusive. There were moments when the national and regional scholars’ work addressed wider audiences but in general some of the most promising scholarly minds fell prey to what has been described as “the politicization of the social sciences in Latin America” where “Social science is part of public and political life in close relationship to power and to power struggles.” Many became advisers to Prime Ministers, or served as cabinet ministers and members of parliament while teaching at the University. Others were seduced by ‘the twilight world of consultancy’– contract research–for large agencies such as the Ford Foundation. These conditions fostered conformism and accommodation with the needs of the establishment rather than confrontation or dissent.

Acknowledging the immense pressure on public universities to solve national and regional problems Don Marshall (head of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, Cave Hill) warned some years ago about the inherent danger in such a capitulation: “It can lead to academics abrogating their intellectual responsibilities by giving identity to the immediate realms of the policy process. The consequence is one that not so much brings an appropriate education to public affairs as infiltrates the academy with the unreflective imperatives of state bureaucracies.”

Marshall identified a second but related problem: the entrenchment of a liberal-positivist leftwing intellectual tradition in the Caribbean unwilling to question, or perhaps unaware of, its own ontological assumptions in an increasingly conservative and pragmatic social environment. This has led inevitably to “a virtual discouragement of dissenting approaches.”

Stuart Hall whose name is synonymous with the groundbreaking field of cultural studies was never part of the nation-building processes in Jamaica having migrated at the age of 19 to attend Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. But can Jamaica afford to avert its gaze from such a distinguished son? Should it? In so many ways Hall was the very model of the kind of scholar you would have expected the Caribbean academy to produce in the fullness of its postcolonial moment. Rather than detain Hall and other outward-looking, globally-minded thinkers in the diaspora, surely it’s equally important to cultivate an academic community capable of communicating with scholars abroad and bringing up-to-date knowledge to bear on local problems? Surely epistemic diversity is just as important as epistemic sovereignty?

Before I digress too far from the subject of this post–that is Stuart Hall and Brand Jamaica–let me rein in the argument I’m trying to make by invoking what acclaimed film director John Akomfrah said about the British-Jamaican cultural theorist. “Stuart Hall was kind of a rock star for us. For many of my generation in the 70s…he was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn’t crooning, dancing or running. His very iconic presence on this most public of platforms suggested all manner of ‘impossible possibilities’.”

In Britain Stuart was integrally involved in combating the stereotyping of black migrants by the lily white English establishment, literally inserting the black in the Union Jack. He did so most of all by vigorously amplifying the narrative of what it means to be Jamaican/Caribbean by embodying the black public intellectual par excellence. Let’s claim him–for he would burnish Jamaica’s image and identity no less brightly than Usain Bolt does every time he runs a race.

Of course before we can do so we have to get to know Stuart Hall. I post two clips from his memorial service last November–one immediately above from the documentary he made on the Caribbean in the 70s–Redemption Song–and the second Jamaican theorist David Scott’s tribute to him. Scott’s remarks are interesting also for his discussion of ‘Brown’ Jamaica. The third (at the top of this post) is a clip of Hall talking about representation and the media in a lecture given at the University of Westminster in London in the 70s (it ends abruptly but continues in Part 2 of 4 available freely on YouTube). His ideas animated the world, radicalized the study of the humanities and social sciences globally and continue to be relevant today.

Still, as another Jamaican intellectual in the diaspora, Columbia University’s David Scott, noted at the memorial service held in Hall’s honour in London last November (for the full text please see video):

…Jamaica scarcely recognized Stuart, maybe no one should be surprised by this. He certainly wasn’t. Because he understood that part of what makes Jamaica enviably, unsettlingly Jamaica, part of what draws from us a grudging admiration, is precisely its scornfully prideful soul, its insouciant  indifference even to its own, its willful, sometimes self-destructive, don’t care attitude… its proverbial ethic of not begging anyone a glass of ice water. Stuart i think would have been the first to salute the defiant principle of this moral posture as an invaluable inheritance from the bitter past, it was in a very special way his inheritance too, in fact in that instinct for independent-mindedness, for finding his own way, his own idiom of dissent and refusal, in his way of being done, finished with exhausted phases of his life, we recognize something familiar, something that made him, to paraphrase CLR James, of Jamaica, Jamaican.

One thing I do know is that the Jamaica Scott describes here–the scornfully prideful, insouciantly indifferent, self-destructive country–is one that no amount of shallow ‘rebranding’ can redeem. It would be a hard sell. Part of the exercise of building a new identity for Jamaica will have to involve a radical shift in attitude and world-view. There is no one more equipped to help with this than Stuart Hall–he may be gone but he has left behind archives of new knowledge that students all over the world eagerly consume. We should too. His work on representation, the power of the image, stereotypes and how to dismantle them are directly related to the discussions on branding. But the most important thing about Stuart Hall as a symbol of what Jamaican intellection can and should be is the example he sets for Caribbean youth of a  Jamaican operating at the top of his game not in athletics, not in music but in the virtually impenetrable world of high theory.

“So the real world boss land”: Obama in Jamaica

A selection of tweets from the day Obama arrived in Jamaica

Who knew how much Jamaicans love Barack Obama? I didn’t until he arrived yesterday and the country went into full One Love mode. “So the real world boss land” commented Colin Channer referring to the local self-titled Worl’ Boss, Vybz Kartel, languishing in jail. Meanwhile “We welcome the President on this hysterical moment” a newscaster is reputed to have babbled in his excitement. People congregated at key sections of the road from the airport to New Kingston but were disappointed when Obama was transported by helicopter instead of the Beast. Nevertheless as @wayneprawl tweeted: Marine One just frigging passed over my house. The entire Port Royal just erupted in waves and screams. Others noted that POTUS’s arrival had displaced the live draw of Cashpot, a national lottery, that never yields its airtime not even for the Olympics. Obama has managed to stop Cashpot and NOTHING stops Cashpot tweeted @jomariemalcolm in awe while Alison Stuart said: What! He stopped Cashpot!!!!! He mus really be a powerful man!!!!!!!

Meanwhile my neighbour Deborah Anzinger told me her daughter Zoe, 6, had asked if her parents could take her to talk to  Obama. What do you want to talk to him about? her mother asked. Her answer: she wants to ask him “why are you here?”

#outofthemouthsofbabes

Gender-based Violence at Mona: #SpeakUpUWI

A Closer look at gender-based violence on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies.

The University of the West Indies’ repeated claims that it was clueless about the level of gender-based violence (GBV), or any violence on its campus for that matter, because it “cannot admit to a phenomenon that is not supported by data collected by UWI” are damaging the institution. They are an embarrassment because they lead to the inevitable conclusion that there are fundamental problems with UWI’S methods of data collection. Either that or the methods are designed to evade collection of data that would indicate beyond any shadow of a doubt the enormity of the problem.

Because of course the University’s claims that GBV is not a major issue at the university flies in the face of the experience of students who have to live and work on its campus. On February 12 students at Mary Seacole Hall, one of the only female halls of residence at UWI, mounted a silent protest against gender-based violence on campus (See video above). Accompanying this, for the first time in a long time, students mobilized social media to make their views known using the hashtag #SpeakUpUWI. There were of course the usual disparagers.

“You guys think UWI care abt your tweets?” scoffed @Appleton_King.

“No but UWI cares about their image #SpeakUpUWI” responded @italisvital crisply.

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And that is the crux of the matter. It seems there may have been careless under-reporting going on all these years in an effort to ‘protect’ the University’s reputation (see my previous post Sexual Harrassment and UWI: Can we talk?  for more background). If UWI Admin think it is the reports of GBV that are ruining its image I suggest that everyone from the Vice Chancellor down to the Hall managers study these #SpeakUpUWI tweets carefully. In the meantime the administration’s stubborn insistence on a policy of denial is not one that the rest of us who work at UWI can or should support for it is bringing the university and all of us who work at it into disrepute. It is simply untenable. We have a vested interest in insisting that Senior Administration reconsider this unconscionably dishonest policy forthwith.

From all available reports around 11 pm on Tuesday, Feb 10, two Taylor Hall girls were walking between the halls of residence when some male students started throwing stones at them. When one of the girls objected and told off the boy who had stoned her in no uncertain terms it appears that he attacked her, leaving her with serious head injuries. The rest of the male students, proud Chancellorites by all reports, stood by and did nothing to intervene. A security guard was also said to be present yet this did not prevent the student from being injured.

Only the previous week the Gleaner had published an article titled UWI Halls of Horror outlining the risks faced by female students on campus. The University’s Registrar and Marketing Director strenuously objected to the article, claiming it wasn’t aware of any such problems. The tragedy is that in spite of having its prevarications thrown in its face by what happened to two female students at Chancellor Hall, just a few days after the University had loudly proclaimed that there had NEVER been a report of GBV on campus, once again the Deputy Principal finds it important to reiterate the tall claim that so-called data doesn’t support the evidence of the numerous attacks that have and continue to take place on campus. What kind of scholarship is that? You fail to collect important data and then claim a problem doesn’t exist because data doesn’t exist??

This is as absurd as a bank saying that it had noticed large chunks of money disappearing from clients’ accounts but as no one had officially made a report it didn’t think there was a major problem. Haha try that NCB!

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It’s only a pity that the poor Taylorite whose forehead was bashed in by a male student wasn’t part of a building, or a car or some other piece of private property, the University would have treated the incident like a major crime and steps would immediately have been taken to prevent its recurrence. I bet if asked the University can produce a complete list of property crimes on campus, disaggregated by all sorts of components.

But hey its just another female who’s been attacked. She’ll shut up or go away eventually when she realizes she has to continue attending classes with her assailants as well as those who stood by and watched without intervening.

Take a look at some of the tweets I extracted from the #SpeakUpUWI hashtag and see if you think I’m wrong (i’ve combined consecutive individual tweets for ease of reading) in bringing these matters to your attention.

RT @DanielleaAlexa: Went to UWI for a yr and Likkle bit. Lived on post grad and I was always scared as shit. Scared scared scared. 1 of my fren frm trini who lived on PG was attacked by a guy who lived on PG as well bcaz she never want him. UWI wanted her to hush hush. My girl get her lawyer an everything. Ole demons bwoy had to move off pg. like the whole a dem ova deh a drink mad puss piss to claart. They told her they would move the guy to another building in the complex. She was NOT standing for it. they moved him to the other side of campus.

RT @jdrenee_: Girls are safe at UWI yet I need to find a male friend anytime I want to leave my faculty? #SpeakUpUWI

RT @jdrenee_: Girls are safe by UWI but I got trailed when I left the Library by myself at night with no-one around? #SpeakUpUWI

RT @ShanaCogle: If violence is the way of the educated, what say the uneducated? #SpeakUpUwi

RT @Occupy_Jamaica: The first major sign of #Campus social media Activism in the Caribbean in a longtime. Get moving on this #SpeakUpUWI

Responding to the suggestion that things like this happen at all universities and universities in the USA and other first world countries have responded evasively as well, tweeter @Rosina_v retorted “yes but don’t have the time to care about overseas. [I] Care about the university i went to and suffered gender based harassment at.” She then went on to recount her experiences when she was a student at UWI.

Haile Minogue @Rosina_v
I was stalked for months by a man who would follow me to library and laywait me and scribble disturbing notes to me #SpeakUpUWI. had to go 2 a legal aid+get a civil injunction. He ws held by police who found 3 knives on him. Still no help from student affairs #SpeakUpUWI. tried to report it, turned out he had been doing the same to several other girls but me the worst. Directed to student affairs #SpeakUpUWI. I was told by head of Student Affairs not to tell her “Hi” when speaking to her, as she has a PHD & prefers the formal “hello” #SpeakUpUWI. That man had been deregistered from UWI since 1991! Still walking around campus terrorising women w impunity for over a decade #SpeakUpUWI. I couldnt bring myself to attend UWI graduation even though i was nominated as Valedictorian of my faculty. I couldnt stand for u #SpeakUpUWI.

In answer to a follow up question Rosina told me the following:

I went to UWI between 2008-2010. Did a BA in Philosophy and minor in Political science, graduated with a 4.01 GPA and was one of 5 students nominated to be valedictorian of Humanities and Education…Gender based harassment and violence is REAL, and the whole overall culture of the campus–and I can personally attest— is subliminally and overtly abrasively sexist and is a distressing environment for girls to achieve within–if places like the library, where late studying is a must for achievers breeds this kind of unwanted attention. Even in broad daylight, as in my case, harassment was not restricted to day or night.

Then there are the apologists for the University:

RT @GodivaGolding: We can’t blame UWI or Chancellor for the actions of a few. #speakupuwi

RT @GodivaGolding: It seems lost on some that UWI is a mere microcosm of the wider society we operate in. #speakupuwi

The apologists were swiftly dealt with. As @Cuddlephonics pithily put it: Cant and wont blame uwi for the incident but I will chastise them for how they handle these situations. #SpeakUpUWI

RT @Mandi143: “@KristinaLien: Nah we blaming UWI for something they’ve seemingly been ignoring for DECADES/” #SpeakUpUWI

UWI Problems @UWI_Problems
I wonder how many more things UWI plans to sweep under the rug…& how many things it has already that we don’t know about. #UWIProblems

Gaza Slimesha @AudiNatlee
Whether it is being investigated or no, SAY SOMETHING. Let us know you are as deeply outraged as we are. But sitting silence makes it worse.

Jack Mandora @darius_roberti
Women are speaking up about instances where they HAVE attempted to report things and were rebuffed.
So yes. That’s a UWI problem.

Odel @odelkerine
It’s been a good while now we’ve been crying out for PROACTIVE measures.
But now, AFTER the fact meetings being held.
#SpeakUpUWI

Jack Mandora @darius_roberti
If the ‘meetings’ aren’t about the expulsion of the responsible parties and them being charged for assault, what’s the point? #SpeakUpUWI

sash. @sashsolomon
Campus Police are bigoted, sexist buffoons with no empathy to rassclaat. You are there to SERVE and PROTECT, not victim blame #SpeakUpUWI

If the University wants to tackle the problems women have been trying to bring to their attention for decades let them start with the male halls of residence. @brandonallwood puts his finger on the problem: I went to UWI for a semester. Hall culture is abrasively macho n OBVIOUSLY n PATENTLY distressing for women.” #SpeakUpUWI

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What is Hall culture? Has anyone at UWI taken the trouble to study it? Have any of my esteemed colleagues in Social Science thought of investigating the fascinating sociological problems sitting on their doorstep? It’s a charge Verene Shepherd, head of the Regional Unit of the International Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) department has often made. The university’s researchers have been busy studying external problems instead of the ones that beset it internally.

Of course its also true that when a scholar undertakes a study as Taitu Heron did in 2013, the University is liable to reject its conclusions because it suggests there is a serious problem with GBV on campus. This is untenable. The Administration needs to lay out for us what it’s data collection methods have been all these years. Also what happens after a student reports an assault to the Police? Do the Police make weekly or monthly reports to the University about assaults on campus? If not why not? and if so why has the University said Ho, hum! and turned away?

Fortunately not all senior administration personnel at the University of the West Indies, Mona, are in denial. “Sexual harrassment is a troubling aspect of life on the Mona campus and has always been so from the time I was a student. It is not always manifested in violence but it is verbal also,” says Professor Verene Shepherd, head of IGDS at UWI.

“If Taitu found in her research that 67 cases came to the attention of campus security, one can bet it is a higher figure because it often goes unreported,” continued Dr. Shepherd. Education is vital; and I would suggest a Foundation course for all students — a kind of Gender 101 to sensitize all students to the historical roots of GBV and to the fact that the female majority on the campus is no excuse for male students to think that women are available for harrassment.”

In addition to a foundation course in Gender Studies let us at once examine the charge that the male halls of residence at UWI are little more than fraternity houses or frat houses as they’re more popularly known. At many American universities frat houses have been barred from campuses because it is widely acknowledged that such fraternities with their ultra-macho culture and investment in rowdiness, conspicuous machismo and male-oriented behaviour have contributed to the prevalence of rape culture. Yet at UWI not only are fraternity-type dorms such as Chancellor, Taylor and Irving part of the campus, some of them have also been turned into co-ed residences with female students placed in these havens of ultra-masculinity.

Add to this Hall Managers who have graduated from fraternities to become their managers (rather than the post being filled by the most highly qualified and competent candidates whether they lived on the particular Hall or not) and there is almost nothing to curb the masculinist excesses that occur, in fact are encouraged, from time to time.

It is noteworthy that in the instant case of the two female students who were attacked at Chancellor Hall around 11 pm on February 10th the University administration itself was unaware of the attack until the afternoon of the 11th. Allegations are that the Hall Managers concerned neglected to report the matter until it became obvious that the media, social and otherwise, was not going to turn a blind eye to what had happened.

It is sad also that the injured student’s parents, a working class couple from Montego Bay, were not given accommodation at the University so that they could tend to their daughter, instead of having to return to Montego Bay the same day they arrived to inquire into what had happened. Inexcusable also, if true, that the University did not escort the student back to Montego Bay after her doctor’s examination yesterday. These are simple ways the University could have started to repair its image instead of flatly denying the violence that is plaguing its campus.

I end with two tweets worth sharing. Let’s hope that everyone comes to their senses and starts doing what’s necessary to make campus safer for students, faculty and everyone who works there.

RT @_JKav: Worse thing is that some people are going to complain that it’s being made a gender thing.
But it is a gender thing.
#SpeakUpUWI

RT @italisvital_: My prayers go out to that girl. Confrontation or not, she doesn’t deserve a cracked skull and what they did to her face #SpeakUpUWI

Sexual Harrassment and UWI: Can we talk?

A discussion of The University of the West Indies’ peculiar policy towards sexual harrassment on its Mona Campus.

campusregoffice

Everyone agrees that in order to deal with a problem you first have to acknowledge it exists. I thought of this when listening to Camille Bell-Hutchinson, University Registrar, energetically refuting the charge that gender-based violence is out of control on the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies. Today the Letter of the Day in the Daily Gleaner is from the University’s Director of Marketing, Recruitment & Communications, Carroll Edwards. Like the Registrar she denies allegations of rampant attacks on campus women made in a Sunday Gleaner article dated February 1, 2015, ‘Halls of horror: gender-based attacks haunt UWI, Mona’.

The denials come in response to a study cited in that article quoting Taitu Heron, currently National Programme Coordinator at UN Women Jamaica, who chronicled some of the reported cases of violence against women on the campus in her 2013 study Whose Business Is It? Violence Against Women at UWI, Mona. The study, conducted  while Heron was a lecturer at UWI’s  Institute of Gender and Development Studies, used data compiled from incident reports  made to the Office of Security Services on campus. Records showed 67 reported incidents including stalking, physical assaults and domestic disputes.

Astonishingly this was categorically denied by the UWI registrar who stated in the media “…while the university cannot say sexual violence does not take place on campus, the university has never had a report of sexual harassment on any of its six halls of residence.”

Remarkable! If this is true it is a huge feather in the university’s cap. Its security arrangements are so good that not one case of sexual harrassment has been reported–EVER. I hope the University’s PR and marketing department is making lavish use of  this extraordinary ‘fact’ in advertising the campus and the excellent security that obtains there to potential students.

Considering how prevalent sexual harrassment is on virtually every other University campus in the world this should also qualify UWI Mona for some sort of global award–for it has NEVER had a report of sexual harrassment on its campus if the Registrar is to be believed. I would imagine that the University’s gender specialists and social scientists have done considerable research on this amazing state of affairs so that it might lead the way in showing other universities how to manage gender-based violence on their campuses.

Returning from UWI’s alternate universe to the one described by Ms Heron, much of what she reported sounded alarmingly familiar. I still remember a women’s group on campus in the early 90s putting up posters inviting concerned individuals to a forum to discuss the many violent incidents female students were facing on campus with a view to forming some sort of strategy that would provide women with better support than was then available.

Before the meeting could be held an edict was issued by the administration. There was to be no such forum and all posters advertising it were to be taken down forthwith. Organizers were reprimanded for jeopardizing the ‘good reputation’ of the university by holding such a discussion in public and ordered never to do it again.

Very little appears to have been done by the University to upgrade the security of female students between then and 2007 when the attacks grew so flagrant that another women’s advocacy group took the matter of female security on university campuses to parliament. A Gleaner article detailed the issues:

Rape, a major problem at UWI – advocacy group
April 12, 2007
Complaining of a disturbing number of rapes and other forms of sexual offences on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), a female advocacy group on the campus is calling for special legislation and other measures to combat the problem at all universities in Jamaica.
The recommendation was made yesterday by the Society for the Upliftment and Advancement of Women Via Education (SUAWVE), a group based at the UWI’s Mary Seacole Hall, during a presentation to the joint select committee of Parliament considering legislative changes relating to sexual offences.
Real-life incidents
Lanoy Crumbie, president of SUAWVE, related three real-life incidents on the campus: In the first incident, she said a female student attending a party on campus was gang-raped by male students from her class, who videotaped the assault. Student number two was raped by her male study partner in his on-campus bedroom, after they had finished studying. The third student was raped by a classmate, whom she had invited to her bedroom; but he flatly denied that it was rape, since she had invited him to her room and, by her own admission, he did not use physical force.
Crumbie admitted, however, that none of these incidents had been reported to the university authorities or the police, citing the victims’ reluctance to undergo the “trauma” associated with rape cases.
Responding to the report, Joseph Pereira, deputy principal of the Mona campus, also made clear in an interview with The Gleaner, however, that these incidents had not been brought to the attention of the university administration.

Heron also cited SUAWVE’s 2007 initiative to Parliament in her paper. In its submission to Parliament SUAWVE noted the prevalence of ‘acquaintance rape’ as a particular problem at UWI’s Mona Campus.

“Shortly afterwards”, as Heron notes in her paper, “the Student Group was called into the Prinicipal’s Office and reprimanded for bringing the university into ill repute”. Heron concluded “The primary concern was not that the incidents of violence against women occurred but rather that speaking about it in an open forum made the University look bad.”

Nothing much seems to have changed between the early 90s and 2007 or since in the University’s strategy for dealing with problems of sexual harrassment. Suppressing information and preventing potential victims from mobilizing support for themselves or discussing the problems seem to be cornerstones of its policy towards sexual harrassment. In another incident I’m aware of two girls narrowly escaped being raped by a mob of young male students at one of UWI’s Halls of Residence at Mona. When a student newspaper tried to publish a report on this incident, in an act of blatant censorship, they were ordered to drop the article from the publication immediately. How women are to take precautions when much needed information is suppressed in this way is something an institution of higher learning such as UWI needs to explain.

In the same vein a few years ago some female students called up Ragashanti’s virally popular Newstalk 93 talk show to complain about rape and sexual harrassment threats they faced on the Mona Campus. Ragashanti was sympathetic, urging them to speak freely, only to be hauled up by the administration who ordered him to cease and desist from holding conversations on the subject of female vulnerability on campus. The virulent arguments between Ragashanti and Rodina Reid, a senior campus administrator, originated over this matter.

Recall also poet and writer Stacey Ann Chin’s vivid description of the near rape she suffered in a bathroom at UWI.

What is consistent in all of this is the University’s tactic of demanding and imposing silence on victims and potential victims of sexual harrassment on campus while at the same time doing very little to secure the safety of its female students. It was striking that in her appearance on Newstalk 93, University Registrar Bell-Hutchinson insisted there were hotlines for students to call in case of trouble though she was unable to provide the number when pressed by the host to announce the numbers for the benefit of students who might be listening.

Also striking is the emphasis placed by senior UWI management on the lack of reportage of sexual harrassment incidents as some sort of vindication of its reputation rather than recognizing it as an extraordinary situation that requires immediate investigation. Instead of claiming proudly that the university “has never had a report of sexual harassment on any of its six halls of residence” or that “these incidents had not been brought to the attention of the university administration” let’s try and find out what is preventing such reportage, let us then put systems in place to facilitate female students who are being victimized, and let us immediately stop this foolish strategy of censorship, cover-ups and bullying of advocacy groups who are legitimately attempting to solve problems the University has been more concerned to deny than address.

Finally no more of statements such as this: “The UWI, Mona, also rejects the allegation that the issue of gender-based violence has not been accorded priority by the campus.” Had this issue been prioritized as it should have been as far back as 30 years ago it wouldn’t keep returning to haunt the university today.

From Analog to Digital: Mind the Gap

Why the gap between Jamaican media and latest technologies?

analogue clock cartoons, analogue clock cartoon, funny, analogue clock picture, analogue clock pictures, analogue clock image, analogue clock images, analogue clock illustration, analogue clock illustrations
Can’t afford the rights to this cartoon, but am carrying it with a link to the original site as free advertising…

Recently I heard Naomi Francis and Emily Crooks on Nationwide Radio exclaiming how Twitter has changed the way they consume content, especially television and other live streaming content, and how much they enjoyed watching The Voice while commenting simultaneously along with so many others on Twitter. A heartfelt Hallelujah. Our media has finally got it. Not a moment too soon for this is the end of 2013 and one day scholars and analysts will want to know why Jamaican media were such late adopters of new media in general; the first big-name journalist to start blogging here was Dionne Jackson-Miller in 2012.

There were several younger, lesser known journalists who started Twitter accounts in the early days and used social media tools (Laura Redpath was one of them), but there seems not to have been any recognition on the part of their media houses that what they were doing was valuable activity, that should have been taken up at the highest levels.

For those plebs like myself who started blogging in 2008, and tweeting in 2009, it remained a mystery why the media here seemed to be spurning the most revolutionary news and opinion-gathering tools to come along in decades. For us the Tessane Chin moment Ems and Nems were describing on Nationwide had happened in 2008 when we watched Obama’s historic win, while talking to each other on Twitter, not only regionally but globally.

I’d really love to know why it took Jamaica’s top media fraternity another five years to get clued in on the powers and pleasures of Twitter. I suggest it behooves them to take a good, long look at their own foot-dragging in this context and ask what it means. What does this hostility to change imply for Jamaica’s future? The world as we know it is irrevocably moving from analog to digital modes of communication. Abandon hope all ye who insist on ignoring this fact or who convinced themselves that social media was just a fad that would go away. If it might help let me quote from a post I wrote in January 2010, “Jamaica’s Twitter-shy Media: When will the would-be watchdogs of Jamaican democracy wake up?“:

I wonder if 2010 will prove to be the year when Jamaican journalists finally discover Twitter. Their silence on/in this increasingly crucial new medium is deafening. Where are @Boyne, @MartinHenry, @Wignall, @Hughes and @emilycrooks? Don’t you know that Twitter is how news is telegraphed nowadays and audiences created?

Ah well, i continue to scratch my head in perplexity at the lagging behind of those who claim to be our watchdogs. Their caginess and timidity would be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic. While the formal, English-speaking posse bury their heads in the sand the Patwa-speakers are off and running with the new technologies. I was able to get a blow-by-blow account of the rather uneventful Sting finale this year because the dancehall massive and crew were tweeting comments and photos, alternately transmitting their disgust at the lack of clashing and fear when shots were fired amongst a range of reactions which i wouldn’t have missed for the world.

May i recommend that our celebrated journalists…take a crash course in Twitter? The lagging behind in use of new technologies from the most literate segments of Jamaican society contradicts the ‘English is better than Patwa’ message that the English-speaking elites are constantly advancing, claiming that English is necessary to ‘move ahead’, converse with the rest of the world, keep up with new knowledge and so on. It would seem from the example that they’re setting that English is actually holding back the learned, speaky-spoky elites.
Even the latest Shebada play Serious Business, pivots on the plot-bending detail of ‘Facebook and Twidder’ for he plays a Revival preacher from New York, with 5000 Facebook friends and 3000 Twitter followers. Those are his qualifications for being hired to replace the crufty, corrupt old Preacher who is busy ripping off the Church at every opportunity he gets. It’s an amazing development when the less literate massive and crew get the new technologies before those who benefited from the highest education this country can offer. What can it portend for the future?
I’ve also tried, unsuccessfully so far, to interest my colleagues at the University of the West Indies in logging on to things digital, for Twitter and Facebook are prime hunting grounds for researching social opinion, commentary and discourse in general. With a few exceptions (Damien King, Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, Donna Hope, Julian Cresser, Marcia Forbes) most UWI academics have spurned these new modes of communication and research. While it may once have been possible to claim to be world-class without having to prove it, be warned that the lack of a significant digital footprint today in any enterprise that claims to be cutting edge, immediately betrays the falsity of such truth claims.
Meanwhile according to a Daily Beast article listing the 10 most popular journalists on Twitter: “MuckRack…reported that the New York Times has the most journalists on Twitter, with 502 tweeting reporters, editors, and photographers. Reuters was just shy of the lead with 496.”
What’s our excuse?

The Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, Mona: 60 years of Praxis

A potted history of the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Social Sciences at Mona, Jamaica

NB: The following article was written in 2008 for a commemorative insert in the Gleaner at the request of the then dean, Mark Figueroa. It is NOT an official document put out by the University of the West Indies. Today I received a request from a lecturer at UWI, St. Augustine, asking me where her students could source this article and i thought the best way to do this was to publish it here. It would also take care of today’s post for #NABLOPOMO which requires participants to post something each day for the month of November 🙂

The study and teaching of social sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, is an academic venture that started in 1948 with the establishment of the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the then nascent UniversityCollege of the West Indies. The funding for this new institution was provided by a Colonial Development and Welfare grant provided by the British Government.

It would be another twelve years before a Faculty of Social Sciences was instituted at the University. The thinking was that researchers working at ISER on social and economic issues in the Caribbean would create a bank of relevant local research that academics could draw on in the teaching of Caribbean Economics, Political Science and Sociology.

As early as 1953 therefore, a quarterly, inter-disciplinary journal, Social and Economic Studies (SES), was established with a view to publishing and disseminating the fruits of the research conducted at ISER. The climate of intellectual ferment at the Institute was such that despite the lack of an approved budget the Director Dudley Huggins decided to go ahead with production of the journal using small grants from various sources including the Leverhulme Foundation in London and a contribution from the Colonial Secretary. The Institute also embarked on a publishing programme producing books, monographs and working papers. These were to become important texts in the teaching of Caribbean social science.

The Faculty of Social Sciences was formally established in June 1960. The Faculty initially had only two departments: Government and Economics. Later a one-year course in Public Administration was instituted for technical and administrative personnel in the British Caribbean. In October a two-year certificate course in Social Work was introduced and in 1961 the Department of Sociology was established. Early staff members were recruited from Britain and it was only by the mid-sixties that lecturers of West Indian or Caribbean extraction began to teach in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

This early cadre of West Indian lecturers set out with alacrity to analyze, research and teach various aspects of Caribbean reality. By so doing they aspired to contribute to the development of Caribbean society as well as make their mark in their respective fields. They ran headlong however into resistance and hostility from the British researchers who formed the core of the teaching departments who felt that there were no social and economic problems specific to the Caribbean and that the creation of a Caribbean-oriented Economics, Sociology or Political Science would lead to a dangerous parochialism.

The Economics Department was particularly active in the early years with lecturers representing a wide range of differing ideological perspectives. By the late 60s and early 1970s there was already a vibrant critique of the work of the Nobel-prize winning Arthur Lewis’s Theory of Economic Growth and the work of George Cumper, a stalwart of the department since 1949. The latter was a prolific contributor to Social and Economic Studies, the journal started by ISER.

These critiques came from a group of loosely allied thinkers known as the New World Group in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Their aim was to develop an “indigenous view of the region”. It was members of this group that produced the influential ‘PlantationSchool’ model of economic analysis which was rooted in a strong sense of pan-Caribbean nationalism. The group included thinkers such as Lloyd Best, Norman Girvan, George Beckford and Michael Witter. In recent times this paradigm has in turn been challenged by a younger cadre of economists such as Damien King, Dillon Alleyne and others.

Meanwhile the Sociology Department was animated by the work of social structuralists such as Lloyd Brathwaite and R.T. Smith. A younger generation was hot on their heels with M.G. Smith and his theory of plural societies leading the way. The latter was the principal author of The Rastafari movement in Kingston, Jamaica co-authored with Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford and published by ISER in 1960. This was the first academic study undertaken of this unique indigenous religious movement. Smith was in turn challenged in later years by Marxist sociologists such as Don Robotham and Derek Gordon and others who posited a ‘Creole Society’ in opposition to Smith’s Plural Society model. In more recent years sociologists such as Patricia Anderson, Hermione McKenzie and Ian Boxill have continued the tradition. By 2002 the Department was expanded and became the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work.

The Department of Government in turn had its own ideological battles with the likes of Trevor Munroe, head of the Worker’s Party of Jamaica, in its ranks. In the seventies ISER published Munroe’s The Politics of Constitutional Decolonization: Jamaica, 1944–62. In general UWI political scientist concerned themselves with “an investigation of questions concerning power and state legitimacy, community and justice, and authority and civil order in contemporary Jamaica”. Louis Lindsay’s seminal works The Myth of Independence — Middle Class Politics and Non-Mobilization in Jamaica and The Myth of a Civilizing Mission: British Colonialism and the Politics of Symbolic Manipulation were published as working papers by ISER. Meanwhile Rupert Lewis engaged in ground breaking research on Marcus Garvey, producing important texts on the pan-African leader.

The eighties were dominated by the quixotic figure of the late Carl Stone (1940-1993), and his theory of “clientelism”. Stone was a public intellectual with his Gleaner columns and his surveys and polls. The theory of clientelism, it has been said, is to the political sociology of the Jamaican polity what M. G. Smith’s theory of pluralism is to the anthropological analysis of its society and culture. Stone offered “his social-political clientelism in direct criticism of Smith’s cultural pluralism as the theoretical handle able to supply the best understanding of modern life in Jamaica.” In his first book, Class, Race, and Political Behaviour in Urban Jamaica, published in Kingston in 1973, Stone made the case for building up an empirical tradition of political science in the Caribbean.

Younger members of the Department of Government such as Brian Meeks, by contrast, concerned himself with the re-historicization of radical politics (especially revolts, insurrections and revolutions) so as to make visible the “hidden transcripts” of those whose voices and actions have been marginalized or suppressed. Anthony Bogues, sought “to generate an understanding of the “symbolic orders” of a popular political tradition, and of the alternative conceptions of history, freedom and sovereignty that this tradition articulates and embeds in its practices”.

Meanwhile the Faculty continued to grow with the Department of Management Studies being officially established in 1971. In 1978 the Centre for Hotel and Tourism Management was established as a specialist department within the Faculty of Social Sciences, Mona although located in Nassau, the Bahamas.

In 1984 a major landmark of the Faculty came about with the establishment of  ISER’s Mona Documentation and Data Centre for the storage, retrieval and dissemination of documents and data.  This was followed in 1985 by the founding of The Consortium Graduate School in the Social Sciences. The introduction of an experimental multi-disciplinary MSc Social Sciences degree was approved to start from October 1985 for a minimum of two (2) years in the ConsortiumGraduateSchool.

In 1999 the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) and the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences (CGS) were merged to create the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES). Sixty years after its creation the Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, Mona continues to retool and re-invent itself to cope with the demands of a region in constant change.

The Rastafari Report: An Academic Betrayal?

RRep1960

Ever since I heard Robert A. Hill’s lecture in April this year titled ‘The University Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica: The half that has never been told’ I’ve wanted to blog about it. I started a post soon after but it remained a draft all this time because I felt quite inadequate to the task of conveying the brunt of what Bobby, a friend of many years standing, was saying.

Robert A. Hill, Professor Emeritus, UCLA; Director, Marcus Garvey Papers Project
Robert A. Hill, Professor Emeritus, UCLA; Director, Marcus Garvey Papers Project

That talk, sponsored by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), where I happen to work, began with Bobby announcing:

What I’m going to talk about this evening might be rephrased as the hidden history of the University Report on the Rastafari Movement. It is hidden because in my view the report was based on considerable deception.  This was not my view going into this research, I’ve spent 6 years probing, researching, trying to understand how this report came to be. It’s only in the last two months that I felt ready to go public with my findings and this evening is the first time an audience will hear the findings and I leave it to you to make your own interpretations.

After that dramatic opening Professor Hill handed out timeline worksheets, essentially Xerox copies of  calendar pages with cells displaying the months April–October 1960 along with pens for those who didn’t have their own. It was important  Hill said, to keep track of the dates he was  going to talk about, the chronology being  important, “so that we are all, not just figuratively on the same page, but literally on the same page.”

The impact, influence and staying power of the Rastafari Report, he pointed out, has far outweighed any of the other reports emanating from the University, most of which are collecting dust today. Hill remembered seeing the report for the first time as a 17-year old. “It was like a meteor had crashed into the whole world. Jamaica has never been the same since that August day when i first saw it. ”

JPEG 1968 REPRINT OF REPORT ras daniel hartman cover - Copy

Although first published in August 1960 when Rastafari was spelt as two words ‘Ras Tafari’ most people are familiar with the ‘edited, redacted’ version reprinted in 1968 with a Ras Daniel Heartman image on the cover. There were many reprints thereafter with different covers like the one below, reprinted in 1975. What the reprints all have in common is that they spell ‘Rastafari’ as one word, again something pointed out by Hill in the course of his lecture.

RRep1975

The Report was a triumph for the Rastafari movement, Hill claimed. “I’m going to say very carefully that the Report was a propaganda victory for the Rastafari Movement…but I’m not using propaganda in its sinister sense, I’m using it in its classic sense, namely the propagation of one’s beliefs.” Hill then went on to recount how the Report ‘armed the mission’ sent by the Jamaican government to Addis Ababa in 1966 to initiate conversations about the repatriation of Rastafari to Africa.

The first date Hill asked his audience to note on their worksheets was the date renowned Nobel Laureate Arthur Lewis took up his position as Principal of the University of the West Indies. April 16, 1960.

This was where I gave up, unable as i said before, to succinctly convey the gravamen of what Robert Hill was suggesting. Months later I decided to ask Bobby for an interview thinking that would be the best way to capture the sensational charges he was making against the University of the West Indies. He obliged. The interview started modestly but soon swelled to 40 pages. I agonized again over how best to present such a long document here. Finally I realized the simplest way to accomplish this was to publish it as a WordPress ‘page’.

To fully understand some of the points Bobby raises in the interview its important to remember how feared, reviled and despised Rastafarians once were. You can get a good sense of this by reading Roger Mais’s Brotherman, a novel written in the 50s or from Deborah Thomas and Junior Wedderburn’s film Bad Friday, about the Coral Gardens massacre in the 60s. Even VS Naipaul, writing of his visit to Jamaica in 1960, in The Middle Passage, talks about the fear caused by militant Niyabinghi groups pledging ‘death to the whites.’

We’ve certainly come a long way from those days especially when you consider sentiments expressed at the opening of the Rastafari exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica on July 21, 2013.  “Rastafari is deeply connected to Brand Jamaica” said Lisa Hanna, Minister of Culture.  And at the closing ceremony of the Kingston-leg of the Rastafari Studies Conference and General Assembly, held on the campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, on August 15 Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said that Rastafari was “an important part of the image of brand Jamaica.”

Pariahs no more…the hidden history of the Rastafari and their relationship to the nation of Jamaica certainly is the perfect illustration of the biblical sentiment Bob Marley made so famous, “The stone that the builder refused, shall be the head cornerstone…

Well folks, it gives me great pleasure to present my interview with Professor Robert Hill, aptly titled Our Man in Mona. As Bobby said at the beginning of his SALISES lecture “I leave it to you to make your own interpretations.”  I find Bobby’s research and findings quite persuasive but I’m also willing to be persuaded by a counter-explanation of events that is as painstakingly researched and presented as his. In the meantime I thought it important to make this provocative hypothesis widely available to keep alive that spark of agonistic engagement so lacking in the public sphere today.

The Things People Refuse…

On Jamaica’s linguistic identity crisis…

Not many people realize that Jamaica is a bilingual society. This isn’t surprising since the Caribbean island goes out of its way to promote itself as a nation of  English-speakers; after all English is the language with the greatest global currency today. The problem is that in doing so Jamaicans willfully sweep under the rug their mother tongue– Jamaican Patois or Patwa –the polyglot lingua franca of the hoi polloi or common people. Patwa, which developed over the centuries to negotiate social interaction between slave-owners and the enslaved, is an oral language, a Creole.

Creoles, the hybrid languages of the former slave colonies and plantation societies are routinely devalued in comparison to European languages. They are considered inferior because of not being scribal, making them vulnerable to the widely held prejudice that non-written languages lack conceptual depth, thereby restricting thought itself. Their expressive range is considered too limited to handle technological or scientific subject matter and the numbers of people who speak and understand them too miniscule to make them worth studying or preserving.

Thus in Jamaica English reigns supreme on the patios of the privileged while patois/Patwa rules the street. Touting itself as an English-speaking polity (the only official language of the country) disregard for Patwa, the first language of many Jamaicans, is virtually built into the official institutions of society. This has resulted in the relegation of monolingual Patwa-speakers to second class citizenship, because their language (and by extension their culture) is considered an unsuitable subject for school curricula or for polite or official discourse; thus like the proverbial man without a state, Creole or Patwa speakers are in effect rendered persona non grata at the official level.

Countries such as Haiti and Martinique manifest a similar identity crisis in relation to their Creoles or mother tongues which are deprecated in contrast to the French language inherited from their colonizers. Meanwhile as far away as Australia, a new parliamentary report is challenging the pro-English  ‘monolingual mindset’ by constitutionally recognizing its indigenous languages and promoting education in them. The report, Our Land, Our Languages, recognizes that language is “inseparable from culture, kinship, land and family and is the foundation on which the capacity to learn, interact and to shape identity is built.”

The Jamaica Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, an offshoot of the University’s Linguistics Department, has been arguing for years that freedom from discrimination on the ground of language be inserted into the Charter of Rights here. Ironically monolingual Patwa-speakers have more rights in the UK, US or Canada where interpreters are provided if and when one of them appears in court. In Jamaica such citizens have to muddle through on their own with judges and lawyers who refuse to speak anything but the Queen’s English.

Regrettably elite regard for English in Jamaica is almost fetishistic; its hegemonic status and global currency are used to trump any argument for the elevation of Patwa from its lowly status or for its use as an educational tool. In school the medium of instruction is English, a severe disadvantage to the children of monolingual Patwa-speakers, who have the handicap of learning history, science, geography and other subjects in a language they barely know or have enough fluency in. This system benefits middle and upper class children who come from homes where English is learnt as the first language.

MIT-based Haitian linguist Michael deGraffe has identified the same problem in Haiti despite Kreyol being recognized as an official language there. Clearly, changing the status of Jamaican Patwa isn’t enough to correct what has become a deeply entrenched mindset.  It must be used, as linguists at the University of the West Indies have been recommending, as the language of instruction for monolingual Patwa-speakers. Meanwhile ventures such as the Patois Bible project (the translation of the Bible into Patwa) initiated by Malcolm Gladwell’s maternal aunt, Faith Linton, are making inroads into the way Jamaicans view their language.

The problem with relying exclusively on any one European language as the official language is that the citadels of so-called Standard English or French can just as quickly become strangleholds when exaggerated respect for it fosters exclusion, conservatism and officiousness rather than the free-wheeling creativity typically associated with Creole or Patwa and the sonic culture it generates.

Born out of forced contact between wildly disparate cultures, Creole vernaculars are actually highly mobile cross-cultural languages capable of rapid change and very comfortable with new technologies and the new media of communication.  They are inherently languages of negotiation, barter and accommodation, of finding solutions using the slightest of resources. European languages, on the other hand, especially as spoken, practised and codified in the postcolony, become rigid grammars used to police and enforce formality, bureaucratic privilege and ‘good taste’. As a result the Jamaican postcolonial elite are literally trapped in English–like flies in amber.

Note that in the Jamaican context it is not the English-speaking elites who have put the country on the map so to speak, but the supposedly narrow-in-outlook, less-educated, Patwa-speaking majority whose exploits in music and athletics, areas where their lack of English cannot hold them back, have dominated global attention. The former’s obsession with creating “national” culture for the Creole nation-states of the Caribbean, slavishly dependent on European models, has resulted in a kind of unproductive mimicry, an inflexible adherence to models of governance, aesthetics and literacy which have long been reformatted in their countries of origin. In my opinion the antipathy of such national cultures to the Creole languages native to the region, has also deprived them of the vernacular creativity encoded in such cross-cultural linguistic forms.

At the moment Jamaica is—metaphorically speaking—a tongue-tied nation, with all the problems attendant on such a handicap; Tongue-tied not in the sense of being speechless but in its inability to fluently articulate its disparate selves.  Language and identity are locked in a zero-sum game, with Jamaica’s two languages forever pitted against one another like implacably opposed rivals; if one ‘wins’, the other loses. An unproductive stalemate has been reached. There is an urgent need for the country’s vernacular, Patwa, to be given equal status with English and for official recognition of Jamaica as a bilingual society. But any attempt to initiate the first step in this direction is viewed as an assault on English, and by extension, on those who believe or are invested in its superior status.

Perhaps Jamaicans should take the advice of the world’s most famous Patwa-speaker, Bob Marley, who sang “The things people refuse are the things they should use,“ echoing the biblical sentiment that “the stone that the builder refused will always be the head corner stone.” Will Jamaica ever realize its full potential unless it recognizes Patwa as its head corner stone?

One Laptop per Child reaches Jamaica

What the One Laptop per Child project is doing in Jamaica…

 

 

Recently I had a conversation with Sameer Verma of San Francisco State University about an innovative venture he’s involved with — the One Laptop per Child project. Verma, an open source software (OSS) activist, was invited by Professor Evan Duggan, Executive Director of the Mona School of Business and new Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, whom he went to school with, to spearhead the OLPC project in Jamaica. According to the OLPC Jamaica website:

OLPC Jamaica is a general interest group for the One Laptop per Child initiatives in Jamaica. The group started at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, Jamaica on 5th September, 2008. Compelled by the belief that the OLPC has considerable potential for enhancing the efficient delivery, and improved Pedagogy in early childhood education in Jamaica, OLPC Jamaica intends to foster interest, generate ideas and learn from experiences about OLPC both on the UWI campus and in its neighboring communities.
The Group is currently embarked on deployment pilots of the OLPC concept in two local schools:
– The August Town Primary School, located in the heart of the August Town community in the University’s Township neighborhood
– Providence Methodist Basic school, located on the premises of the Providence Methodist Church in Liguanea

Now in its fourth year Verma pointed out some of the recent findings from the pilot project in August Town where Grade 4,5 and 6 students are involved. Each laptop, equipped with wireless connectivity, multimedia software, an edition of Wikipedia, games and recording equipment is provided to the youngest child in each family, there not being enough laptops to be given to every child at school. The computer belongs to them for the year, and they are allowed to take it home. One outcome of this is that children are teaching their parents or caregivers various things using the laptops.

Children at August Town Primary showing off their Xo laptops. Photo: Varun Baker

One of the interesting findings in August Town Primary has been that the most popular software on it has been a math game called TuxMath. It is the most frequently used item on the laptop and technicians who occasionally upgrade the software said that children who had somehow lost the game during upgrades would bother them endlessly to have it put back on. Lest you dismiss this as a mere game (as the blurb says’ TuxMath lets kids hone their arithmetic skills while they defend penguins from incoming comets, or offers them a chance to explore the asteroid belt with only their factoring abilities to bring them through safely!’)  the principal of the school said that normally when Grade 4 students are tested their numeracy scores sit in the mid 40s; for the batch who had played the TuxMath game the numeracy score rose to 61%. At a time when educators are discussing the lack of qualified math teachers in the school system the experience of the children in August Town Primary is particularly instructive.

TuxMath

Verma has met with Ministry of Education personnel to discuss the next step which is the production of textbooks as e-books. While enthusiastic about this, Ministry officials also seem locked into a Kindle mentality, that is, thinking that the adoption of e-books necessitates e-book-readers such as Kindles or Nooks to read the electronic textbooks, whereas Verma is trying to persuade them that this is unnecessary and even counterproductive to the kind of learning the OLPC project is promoting. In fact e-book reading software can easily be downloaded and added to the Xo laptops allowing children to read their school texts on the same machine they use for multimedia activity daily.

According to Verma this speaks to a deeper issue. “Learning is not just about consumption, it also has to be about production because creativity means I learn, I absorb and then I produce something. Book readers are a one-way process.” Interactivity is a core feature of the software provided on Xo laptops. Verma explains: For example there’s a game that will show you a river crossing and a train waiting to cross the river but there’s no bridge. The child’s task is to use drawing tools to build a bridge and connect it and make it strong enough for the train to go across. Then you hit go and the train starts crossing but if the bridge structure isn’t strong enough it crashes to the ground and you have to go back and build another bridge. Laws of physics and measurement come into play and over a process of building and rebuilding until you manage to get the train across a child learns many scientific and creative principles.

The Jamaican experiment with OLPC is funded/supported by several partners: Pace Canada, UWI’s Township Project, LIME and the Early Childhood Learning Commission. OLPC is being used in 47 countries.  In Peru the Ministry of Education funds it and there are 1.1 million laptops. Uruguay however, has the highest density with 100% saturation in primary school, every primary schoolchild getting a laptop when they start school. According to Verma the focus in Peru is different. In addition to integrating it into schoolwork they have a full programme during summer vacation where the laptops are used for summer vacation activities which count towards something at school. For older children in higher grades they’ve also attached robots to the laptops enabling children to explore all sorts of other capabilities. Different countries use the project for different ends and in different ways.  In Afghanistan where girls have been forbidden from going to school by the Taliban, the laptops come in particularly useful allowing female students to stay at home and learn. In Nepal everything has been translated into Nepali and is completely content-driven.

In Jamaica UWI has provided student interns to work in the field. What is needed now is for one major funder to come on board or failing that the Ministry of Education. Having a number of small partners creates a problem with ‘ownership’, if no one feels total ownership, its difficult to move the project forward as is needed. For more information view the video below and link to the OLPC Jamaica website. Also check here for beautiful photos of the children in the August Town project.

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