Part of the burden of being Jamaican in America is that I have to consistently negotiate patriotic allegiance to my native heritage while embracing patriotic allegiance to America. Such allegiances often conflict given the global positioning of both countries—one as imperialistic; the other as object of imperialism. Negotiating allegiance becomes exhausting whenever I have to constantly ensure Americans and Jamaicans realize I employ no patriotic preference when it comes to critically examining popular culture and current affairs.
Whenever I criticize American imperialism, Americans usually accuse me of being ungrateful. These moments sharpen the lenses I utilize to understand Americans. Not all, but average Americans think it’s their business to police the world, to use militarism to destabilize other places into anarchy so as to give popular root to American political ideology as being crème de la crème.
As well, Americans delight in lecturing the globe about human rights even though a popular American narrative is that when a white child is missing, it makes news in the mainstream media, but when black ones are missing, news only circulate around family dining tables. And whenever homophobic crimes are committed against white people, the white-centered gay lobbies are loud and clear that a problem exists. But when the bodies are black or yellow, getting certain prominent gay organizations to consider the matter is really about getting them to log the crime in their computer files to show that they are indeed concerned about people of color. But to expect anything more than an incident log # is to expect something traditionally un-American when it comes to addressing the human rights of queer people of color.
Yet these horrible truths do not prevent America and Americans from puffing their chest, holding their head high, and walking uninvited into Third World geographies with the fat Uncle Sam baton ready to lynch away native ideologies, ready to cripple economies with blockades, ready to remove democratic leaders with American war planes, or remove them by funding rebellious uprisings.
These moments manifest America seeing itself as Righteous Leader and other countries as Stubborn Followers. The average American is introduced to those follower countries only when the American media says something is wrong in those places. That’s when Americans take a peek—not at the strengths of those histories but at the amplified weaknesses during moments of crisis.
Yet Americans feel satisfied they are globally informed, internationally conversant. However, ask them what is the name of a main newspaper from those places they think they know about so well and, ask them—what is the ethnicity of the population? Ask them—what is the population count? Ask—what constitutes cultural pride in those places?
They will become dumb. And dunces many (not all) of them are indeed. Not enough Americans and non-Americans have been noting that America is plague with a dunce-crisis. Everybody is too busying testing IQ and rating ideologies and mannerisms of other geographies. And many Americans will remain dunces because their very conception of America as Righteous Leader and others countries as Stubborn Followers is too “privileged” to usefully interrogate those considered less-privileged.
Similarly, when I criticize Jamaica, Jamaicans consistently attack me. For example, on August 9, 2013, some one sent me this email using the DadlandShutUP contact form:
“From: Yaadie <———@gmail.com>
Subject: Poor Writing.
You meed to inform yourself before you go off writing articles. You obviously know nothing of Jamaica or Jamaican culture so you should probably not write anything more about us until you are able to present factual information.
I find most of your statements to be lacking substance and also just downright untrue. Clearly you are not a professional journalist.”
I suspect this writer meant to call her/his self “Yardie” instead of “Yaadie.” Their name in itself is a lecture to me, a proudly declared signifier that s/he is from home—from Yard—from Jamaica—Patriotic & Proud. I didn’t reply because I suspect Yaadie would have no sympathy knowing I am from Yard as well. From experience I expect Yaadie to be the kind who wouldn’t have been proud of me. S/he would have considered me a sell-out to Jamaica—a Judas Iscariot—considering Jamaica’s Jesus-like perfection. For who dare me to talk about Jamaica in front of those Americans?
I didn’t have Jamaica’s back. I didn’t spin the talk about Jamaica’s criminality. I spoke too compassionately about victims of Jamaican homophobia, thus unpatriotically siding with the gay lobby—the filthy rich white-controlled queer movement! I should have tried to understand that OUR people (Black Jamaican People) are good people, but those gay people are too OUT & PROUD with their battyman lifestyle. I should have used my articles to talk more about our beaches, reggae music, and sprinting athletes like Usain Bolt so as to sell a good image to the world, one that ensures tourism remains a vibrant industry. I should have spoken like a typical Jamaican when it comes to LGBT talk, just like most Jamaican intellectuals do—especially those ones that have tenured professorial roles at the University of the West Indies (Mona), the very institution of supposed higher learner, of which my hero, bold journalist, the late Wilmot Perkins, used to refer to as the “Intellectual Ghetto.” Perkins was wrong for labeling the entire university a ghetto transit. But considering the integrity of the faces that mostly speak for the University and have media access, the labeling at times seems fitting.
I couldn’t do all that Yaadie perhaps had expected me to do given the burdened responsibility of being Jamaican. How could I not condemn the cultural animalistic behaviors that characterize too many Jamaicans? As an example, look back only weeks ago when cross dresser Dwayne Jones was murdered at a party. With the information I had then, in Dwayne Jones Killed In Jamaica—Christian Cannibalism, I decoded this widespread cultural backwardness as emanating from religious traditions that seek perpetual redress for the blood of Jesus who was crucified at Calvary.
At the time, Jamaica’s leading Newspapers, The Jamaica Gleaner and The Jamaica Observer didn’t think it essential to critically give this murder subject sufficient media space. Beyond telling us that Dwayne Jones was murdered, where was the behind-the-scenes journalism? Dwayne Jones was murdered on July 22, 2013 and up to last week, none of these papers (from what I see) had carried out any in-depth journalist investigation aside from saying the police are investigating.
So what about the role of the so-called Jamaican press? The very difference between press and police is what gives journalism reporting and investigative relevance. What papers like The Jamaica Gleaner does best of late is to churn garbage news like this title on August 11, 2013: Vybz Kartel’s Book Offered At University – ‘Voice Of The Ghetto’ Gets Princeton Endorsement.
I was so bothered by the no-news nature of the piece that twice I commented on The Gleaner website. Noticing they didn’t approve my first comment, I revised it, expanded it, and posted it as follows—and yes, they still didn’t approve it:
“So because a university stocks a book in its library, that means the university accepts the book?
I didn’t even know about this book–but if this book is so controversial, of course I would want to read it as an academic researcher–and so, of course, I would expect the university to have a copy. Curtis Campbell’s response in saying the book has received Princeton’s endorsement is very irresponsible reporting–and frankly, this is so not newsworthy. The reporting makes it appear like The Gleaner is starving to create news–the kind of news in which Jamaica has a play overseas.
Has anyone been noticing the many writing pieces these days in this paper? They read like contributions to a high school newspaper–sentence constructions starved of creativity–you can scroll your eyes over passages and fully get the little information buried on the pages, which means the information is predictable–not depth in thoughts–portraying no deep intellectual exploration of ideas–
So many brilliant minds in Jamaica and so few useful writing represented in The Gleaner. I’m longing to see a real journalism piece by The Gleaner, a well-researched story. If The Gleaner is to be considered as a Jamaican blog site, I’m cool with that.”
Oh—how I miss the days of Morris Cargill—the sharp wittedness and daring that anchored his journalism. Oh—how I miss the days of John Maxell who provided an unabridged sociological account of Jamaica in most of his articles. Those seem to have been the glory days of Jamaica’s print journalism. It’s time to sing an elegy for a glorious journalism tradition that has already settled beneath the setting of many suns.
And these print mediums show little promise of changing the-business-as-usual paradigm. It explains why well-known Caribbean gay writer Thomas Glave’s new book Among The Bloodpeople has an article titled An Open Letter To The Prime Minster of Jamaica. In 2008, Glave sent the article to the both The Jamaica Gleaner and The Jamaican Observer. Neither paper published it. But the prestigious Callaloo Journal thought it publishing worthy in Fall 2008. Let’s just say, the article was pro-LGBT—condemning of blood shedding homophobia—a position Jamaica’s leading newspapers has traditionally shown reluctance to embrace. It was foreign presses like The Huffington Post, and BBC World Service, and The Grio that considered Dwayne Jones’s murder important for critical examination. But I must also give credit to Jamaican bloggers such as Annie Paul, and Minority Insight, and Gay Jamaica Watch and persons like Maurice Tomlinson for maintaining a consistent presence in announcing injustices affecting the LGBT community.
Foreign presses have occasionally intervened to shed light on Jamaica’s cultural tendency to embrace homophobic violence in the name of Jesus. But traditionally unwelcoming of this “foreign intrusion,” Jamaican intellectuals, media columnists, journalists, and even some gay activists like to say, “Foreigners must stay out of Jamaica’s business!”
In light of that observation, it’s indeed refreshing to see cultural critics like Carolyn Cooper mending her portfolio on LGBT issues with an August 4, 2013 article. While I would have liked to see a less literarily playful headline than Dressed For Murder to culturally decode Dwayne Jones’s murder, Cooper at least managed to advise Jamaicans, “We must liberate ourselves from those biblical ‘abominations’ that threaten to turn us all into truly abominable brutes.”
Is Cooper forceful in her critique? Absolutely not. In fact, I got the sense that she was caught up playing with words rather than deeply addressing this as a cultural violence predicament–an Enough-is-Enough problem. Can any experienced reader really read Cooper’s article, sense the nuances of the writing, and then say they feel Cooper’s frustration? I don’t think so. That’s because Cooper perhaps didn’t even want to write the article given her legacy in using her academic platform to defend homophobic music. But it does do good for her to be on record in condemning Dwayne Jones’s murder in her sort of way.
Many expect JFLAG (Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexual and Gays) to be the sole spokesperson for the gay Jamaican community. Frankly, I think JFLAG has been doing much good considering that some of their members have declared their sexuality and remain living in a violent place. But the very fact of being situated in the hub of violence precludes JFLAG, as I see it, from being more forceful in its activism. As well, it must be clear that the gay Jamaican community is very diverse. No one organization speaks for all of us, all of the time. And yes, we all don’t get along–and we shouldn’t have to all the time. Evidence of a community getting along, in terms of having consensual views, hasn’t served Jamaica well.
Certainly, there is much truth that America and Europe must stop using their foreign ideologies, economic ties to colonialism, and military strength to bully Third World countries. But these very bullies must be often complimented for saving Third World lives like mine. But how do I say this effectively given the burden of my Jamaican-ness in America?
Oh—the burden of identities!
In future posts, I will explore the burden of being gay, immigrant, atheist, and black.