After Dalton Harris, will Jamaicans reflect on how we raise our children?

With Dalton Harris’ meteoric success on the X Factor and the accompanying controversies which Jamaicans had varied opinions on, his disclosure of childhood abuse and his mother’s response to those disclosures have shone a light on a harmful norm that we historically haven’t been willing to probe. That is, our cultural acceptance of ‘tough love’ parenting (emphasis on the tough) and it’s deleterious effect on the people Jamaican children grow up to be.

How many of us have experienced the manifestations of that favorite saying of Jamaican parents and grandparents, “spare the rod and spoil the child?’  I’d guess plenty. Most Jamaicans have tacitly accepted our traditionally violent methods of child-rearing and parental discipline. Growing up, I remember laying in bed and listening to the wails of another child a couple of houses down who, by the rawness of their screams, was being beaten by a belt. I recognized the sounds because I had experience letting loose those very screams too. Though torturous in an animalistic kind of way, the beatings I received as punishment when I was young didn’t scar me as much as the other forms of cruel discipline myself and other Jamaicans have been victim to.

I’ve seen mothers, who are usually the primary if not single caregiver in a Jamaican home, lace into their progeny with vile expletives delivered with a rage that resembles seething hatred. I’ve heard hungry toddlers told to stop bloodclaat crying. I’ve been on the receiving ends of screeds that I was worthless, dirty, lazy, akin to a dead dog. My mother once told me it wouldn’t be a big deal to her if I killed myself. She once explicitly told me to kill myself. My father was virtually absent. More than once during my adolescence, I was sent to live with relatives and left feeling like I was basically an orphan.Dalton Harris’ revealing profile in The Sun which outlined the abuse he suffered as a child in Jamaica, including being put out on the streets at 15, led me to reflect on my own experience and to wonder how many Jamaicans have similar ones.

Though my grandmother has mellowed in her old age, I know my own mother was raised with a traditional Jamaican strong hand. She likely developed welts of her own from belt beatings, and I’ve heard stories about my grandmother’s explosive admonishments whenever my mother or her siblings committed any transgressions. I fully admit that, as a grandchild, my view of my grandmother may be more rose-colored than that of the children she raised under rough financial circumstances. So, I won’t dismiss the possibility that there’s things she did that may have scarred my mother.

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But the larger concern to me is how Jamaicans over the generations have allowed those scars to past down to their own children, unacknowledged, unexamined, and so given free reign to inflict more scars on future children. The scars themselves have their roots in many things: our adherence to the belief that violence is key to raising a child, absent fatherhood and persistent poverty that makes for simmering discontent and hair trigger tempers, the idea that children are to be seen and not heard, our bias towards believing decisions made by parents are just and unassailable. And though the consequences of the absent father have been much discussed, the archetypal mother is so revered in Jamaica and around the world that there’s not much nuance to account for the many who far from live up to the idealistic depictions of motherhood.

In the day ahead of Dalton’s most high-stakes appearance on The X Factor, his mother gave a video interview to The Jamaica Star where she laments Dalton’s public disclosure of the physical and emotional pain he was subjected to as a child. She demonstrated a sort of anguish in front of the camera, as she groused at him for painting her badly by discussing his truths. Though Dalton’s interview with The Sun about his abuse detailed both the physical and mental scars it left behind (“When people tell you to go and kill yourself, after a couple of years you feel like you probably should,” he admitted), his mother told The Star she didn’t think she should apologize. She admitted telling her child to go stand in front of a truck so he could be run over, but believes that is ‘scolding’ that ‘people move past’. This kind of cruel, dehumanizing ‘scolding’ is something that I suspect many Jamaican people–myself included–have received from the people who brought them into this world and are formative in their development from child to full-fledged adult.

Are we really that naive to believe our people have largely ‘gotten over’ the cruelty that too often characterizes our childhoods? To not question the wisdom of our parenting customs, many of them harmful, is a self-indulgence we can’t afford and that future Jamaican children can’t either. The proof of this can be seen in the culture of violence which successive Jamaican governments have struggled in vain to mitigate. Our people are undeniably quick to anger and disconcertingly comfortable with depravity and brutality. An argument can turn deadly at the drop of a hat. A disagreement between families or neighbors can escalate into a house being firebombed. Whether you’ve been on the receiving end of these performances of rage or carried out a degree of it on your own, it’s clear we’re a nation of the walking wounded.

But why wouldn’t we be? Our hereditary pains have barely been examined because for the most part no one wants to acknowledge them. And so the connection of those pains to the pain we continue to inflict on each other is uninterrogated. Jamaican parents don’t want to admit to any wrong they may have done to their children, though there’s no perfect person or parent on earth. For their children who still grapple with the deeply ingrained by-products of their complicated childhoods, it’s difficult to move beyond it when you’re told what happened isn’t significant enough to apologize for.

I struggle with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I’ve been to enough therapists to understand my debilitating sense of self-hate can be traced to a childhood of being told I was unlikable and worthless. Understanding that the past cannot be changed and my mother was likely suffering from hang ups from her own childhood, I would find an apology–though admittedly symbolic–incredibly healing.

Because it would affirm that what I went through was wrong. It would acknowledge that as a child I was vulnerable and still had person-hood, and that no person deserves to be emotionally decimated at the whim of their parent’s extenuating circumstances. It would be an admission that the pain I feel isn’t baseless, that the trauma I still struggle to overcome isn’t a fiction of my imagination.

But that apology and acknowledgement has never come. Instead it’s sidestepped in favor of reiterating what I benefited positively from–being clothed and fed for most of my childhood, and being the recipient of my mother’s dedicated investment in my education which undoubtedly enriched who I am as a person.

Similarly, in an interview with Loop News Sylvia Campbell disavowed responsibility for any of the emotional upheaval that Dalton says he felt as a result of being abused, but declared responsibility for his talent and success (“He is a star but me a the first star. Ah my belly blessed.”)

Though both can be true—that a parent deeply hurt their child and that a parent was also beneficial to the child in other ways—dismissing the former and implying only the latter matters is cowardly, nonsensical, and detrimental to us all. Dalton’s victory on The X Factor stage wasn’t the result of him being made homeless at 15 or encouraged to commit suicide. He succeeded because he was scrappy and fought back against the limiting narratives he was told about himself. That’s a hard won battle that survivors of child abuse often spend their whole lives grappling with. Alongside every story of overcoming is the silent suffering of Jamaicans still shackled with trauma of their childhood. Providing for a child is a responsibility you choose when you bring them into this world. Providing for their emotional well-being, or at least not being the person who eviscerates it, is another another responsibility you take on when you conceive a human being.

How much has our deliberate dismissal of that second half of the parenting equation hobbled Jamaican society? How much has our concerted refusal to acknowledge, assess, and disrupt the emotional trauma passed down through many of our families robbed us of our growth as a nation and as a people? We can’t be cruel to the most vulnerable among us, and then be surprised at the cruelty we group up and show each other–up to and including the bloodletting that takes place in our streets.

Though it was unfortunate that Dalton’s triumphant stint on The X Factor stage was clouded by a public dissection of the complex relationship with his mother, I’m hoping his bravery and our shared pride in his win will inspire more Jamaican families to have those difficult conversations in their own homes. Let’s not leave our aching hurts buried, and let’s not exhort others to do so, because what’s buried but not dealt with comes out in damaging ways. Let’s not urge for forgiveness while forgetting to call for the acknowledgement and healing that gives birth to any lasting form of it. Every society must periodically reflect on what it’s ‘always done’ to see if it’s working towards or against the betterment of its people. An honest reckoning of the relationship between Jamaican parents and their children, along with meaningful reconciliations based on shared respect and empathy, is a critical component in crafting the Jamaica we hope to be.

White supremacy isn’t harmless. But many Americans like to pretend it is.

It’s a new week in America, so we probably shouldn’t be surprised that Twitter has blown up with a picture of a majority-white class of teenage boys posing with the Seig Heil, a Nazi salute, dressed for what appears to be a school dance. Outside of a few boys, including one who confirmed he chose to abstain from doing the signal and that many of the classmates he was pictured with had bullied him for years, each was positively gleeful with joy in displaying a salute that recalls one of the most horrifying organizations in history, one which targeted Jews and other groups of people because of their identity, held them en masse in concentration camps, and systematically burned them alive.

What’s interesting to me is that the horrified uproar that launched on Twitter yesterday was actually a delayed response to the photo, and not one triggered by an act of literal violence–which is what usually forces the country to briefly face the consequences of white supremacist posturing. The photo of these students posing with the Nazi salute was released to the Baraboo community months and months ago. The photographer who took the picture (and who reportedly encouraged the boys to make the salute which he now claims was a ‘wave goodbye to parents’) had been displaying it on his website with no qualms. Parents had shared it on Facebook. Scores of adults were witness to this hearkening to one of the darkest periods of human history—to the point that they cheerfully helped spread it to their networks online—and evidently no one saw it as a problem that these boys were mirroring the markers of Nazis until a dude on Twitter questioned it.

It’s part of a larger pattern I’ve noticed in America, where people boldly communicate their support of race-based violence on all sorts of platforms (in New York Times interviews, on Twitter, on Gab, on Reddit) and witnesses to this—usually white people—bend over backwards to assure us that the implied and explicitly stated desires of the bigots—usually men—who virulently hate specific groups of people are nothing to worry about.

Friends of Dylan Roof, the white man who murdered 9 black people in a church in Charleston and had an online catalog of his genocidal fantasies, said the mass shooter “would talk about killing people, but none of us took him seriously.”

Cesar Sayoc, the Trump supporter who sent pipe bombs to a number of President Trump’s favorite public punching bags–including Jewish philanthropist George Soros, drove around in a van emblazoned with pictures of Democrats with red-targets over their faces, was known by his family and coworkers as a man who regularly sent racist texts, had run-ins with law enforcement due to previous bomb threats, and was asked to park his delivery van in a discreet area at the job where he worked earlier this year because, according to his former boss, it displayed:

“…puppets with their heads cut off, mannequins with their heads cut off, Ku Klux Klan, a black person being hung, anti-gay symbols, torchings, bombings, you name it, it was all over his truck,”

She added, “He always talked about ‘if I had complete autonomy none of these gays or these blacks would survive.”

The man who opened fire on a yoga class in California, killing two women and then himself, had shouted over and over again—seemingly into the void—about his violent inclinations. He publicly fantasized about molesting, raping, and killing women. He complained about ‘the invasion of Central American children’, admired the Toronto misogynist who shot 20 people because he couldn’t get a date, and recorded songs on Soundcloud like one called ‘Who let the F*gs’ out.  All over the internet, and in real life, he was positively brimming with the desire to have a human target on which to spend his rage.

I admit to being confounded by America’s steadfast adherence to free speech that often makes itself known most fervently when in defense of views that explicitly threaten the person-hood of huge swaths of people. Like the love of guns, the support of a theoretical ideal—that one should be able to say and wield whatever they want, no matter how abhorrent or dangerous—seems to hold more value here than the real human lives which are increasingly sacrificed for those inflexible rights.

We’ve seen white supremacy handled with a similarly indulgent approach; one where many are loathe to even admit it is inherently deadly. Like the school and parent community of Baraboo who did not initially interrogate why a group of boys carried out their best impression of Hitler Youth, the general response seems to be ‘boys will be boys’, as if flirting with white supremacy and reminiscences of genocide is just another benign adolescent phase, or a differing idea worthy of debate and reasoned consideration. Either way, nothing to really worry about and certainly nothing to proactively contain. Meanwhile, the real life implications of these beliefs are both festering and fatal:

  • Hate crimes have risen for the third year in a row. 
  • Our leaders have become bolder and bolder in employing rhetoric that dehumanizes whole groups of people by describing them as everything from dirt to infestations—which historically has preceded the forced elimination of people who’ve been similarly maligned.
  • The killings of Heather Hyer and the Emanuel nine, the recent shootings of randomly chosen black people in Louisville, the murderous attack on worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

On the individual and institutional levels (including mainstream media outlets and the FBI, who has admitted it has no concerted strategy to address the rise of right-wing extremism, but has readily monitored groups like #BlackLivesMatter) the reaction to mostly white men saying plainly—over and over—that they are eager to use violence to assert their self-ascribed superiority in the social order has been decidedly timid.

My hypothesis is that, loathe as we are to admit it, the belief that whiteness inherently deserves precedence lies within many across this country. To acknowledge that that belief cannot be divorced from it’s logical ending throughout all of history: that non-whites should be subjugated, given less opportunities, brutalized, and their numbers regularly culled, forces the low-level racist to own their support of an ideology that is fundamentally evil. To have their cake and eat it too, to hold that white supremacy is just an alternative view, or even more disingenuously, a form of high-level comedy (or low-level, according to the ‘boys will be boys’ crowd) allows those who sympathize with racist beliefs to tell themselves they are separate from the deadly consequences of it.

But they aren’t blind to the fact that non-white people don’t get to escape the bullets of the men whose vile views they indulge, make excuses for, and rationalize away. They’re getting the end result they wanted—the terrorizing of minorities who arrogantly believe they have the right to equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination, to ascend to the schools, jobs, and neighborhoods that racists believe to be their birthright—while getting to pretend all they want is a safe space for white identity politics to be heard. They just want a little separate but equal, is that such a crime?

But white supremacy isn’t benign. It never has been, and never will be. It is invariably coupled with cowardice, and so its most pathetic proponents are driven to distance themselves from its inherently violent conclusions to convince themselves that they aren’t tacitly supporting attacks on humanity.

What those sympathetic bystanders fail to realize is that the race violence they stoke, wink at, and then disingenuously downplay won’t fit within clearly defined lines when it’s ready to devour whatever it needs to quench it’s thirst. It’s a little like Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when he sets a bewitched blaze to a room in hopes of harming those he deems lesser, and then almost loses his life in the flames himself. When the conflagration of radicalized, unhinged white rage takes its final shape of America, we’re all at risk for getting burnt. Even those who saw it coming and welcomed it with their silence.

 

The Kavanaugh Cases Raise the Question: Why Do Women’s Lives Matter Less?

 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have illuminated something we’ve all known for quite some time–to many, women’s lives don’t matter as much as men’s. Despite Dr. Ford’s recollection of an attempted rape so traumatizing it colored her life, relationships, and therapy sessions for decades after, Republican men have come out en masse to send one clear message: they don’t care. From suggesting that not having attempted rape is a standard that will bar too many men from ascending in government or the judiciary, to comparing Dr. Ford’s experience of being held down and groped, but not penetrated, to ‘being respected’, they’ve illustrated the cultural ideas that result in impunity for the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence.

The Senate Judiciary Committee and Dr. Ford’s lawyers have now agreed to a hearing to go into her allegations. But even with emerging news that Kavanaugh may have sexually assaulted other women, the likelihood that this will result in a shelving of his nomination is far from certain. After all, Senate majority leader Mitch Mcconnell has spoken confidently of plowing through the judge’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. And this weekend, Judiciary Committee member Lindsay Graham indicated just how little consideration he’d give to Dr. Ford’s testimony—saying he can’t be expected to ruin a guy’s life based on an accusation.

It’s plain that the pain Dr. Ford has suffered comes nowhere into the equation, and the myriad of dismissals that have sprouted in response to her allegations—it didn’t happen, all teenage boys attempt sexual assault, she didn’t report it immediately so it wasn’t that bad—serve to underscore some fundamental reasons for why that is. Our immediate default is not to trust women, despite the numbers showing how very many of them have suffered sexual violence and how minimal the cases of false claims are. But under that is a truer, more insidious belief: whatever horror has happened to women doesn’t really matter that much. Like childbirth and unequal wages, it seems wide swaths of society—even women themselveshave decided that the pain and injustice that comes with sexual assault is our lot in life and we shouldn’t make that much noise about it. It’s all just collateral damage to the ascension of a man, any man, who we’ve already decided to value more.

Those damages and how little we care about them have been on my mind ever since reading Elizabeth Bruening’s searing deep-dive into the 2006 rape of Amber Wyatt, a high school teenager who was ostracized by her classmates and town after being brutally attacked by two football players at 16 years old. The high-profile revisit of Amber’s story, which details the incredibly cruel treatment she received from everyone including the adult she immediately reported the incident to, led one of her classmates to reach out to and say ‘I’m sorry we all thought 6 months of sports was more important than your livelihood’. And isn’t that just the best summary of where we stand, a year after the #MeToo movement launched in earnest? No reward is too small for men to be entitled to or for women’s well-being to be sacrificed for.

That’s why, to me, the recent explanations of #WhyIDidntReport feel like catharsis for the women bravely sharing stories of (and reliving) their trauma, but not something that will motivate the empathy needed to dismantle those barriers to reporting. At this point, there can be no pretending that we don’t know just how widespread sexual assault is or how many victims it’s left to pick up the pieces of their splintered lives. We’d just rather not hear about it. If forced to acknowledge those who’ve been violated, we’re more than ready to chalk their trauma up as something that can be borne—and then dismiss it. Our unwillingness to see perpetrators experience any corresponding loss—like the ability to play a high school football game, make more millions, or serve for life on the highest court in the land—remains the most enduring roadblock to overcome.

 

 

 

 

Rihanna is Making a Dancehall Album. Here’s Why I’m Not Sure How I Feel About It.

From Drake to Justin Bieber, it seems a favorite pastime of popstars is to dabble in Jamaican music. Reggae and dancehall are infectious sounds developed by Jamaica, a small but culturally powerful island in the Caribbean. But outside of Bob Marley and stints on the Billboard charts from artists like Sean Paul, Jamaicans themselves have yet to receive the international renown that should accompany the global reach of their country’s music. Last summer, Rihanna’s catchy dancehall track ‘Work’ took the airwaves by storm and reignited the conversation about the listening public’s love for this music that seems not to extend to its actual originators. Music critics inadvertently highlighted this disconnect in their own dissections of the wildfire spread of the track, by even coining new names for the genre (like the laughable incongruous ‘tropical house’) rather than tying it to its established Jamaican roots.

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In the words of Chronixx, “RiRi ah work, work, work Dancehall.”

But Rihanna is a quintessential Caribbean ingénue, and she is reportedly working with an array of Jamaican producers to create her next project—an album made up entirely of reggae and dancehall music. My excitement at her irresistible artistry being stamped on these genres is tempered by an understanding that this will also be a turning point for Jamaican music on the international stage—and it will be spearheaded by the daughter of a country that has held enmity towards Jamaicans. Though Caribbean countries can be said to be connected tightly through proximity as well as culture, the truth on the ground is a little more complicated. Outside of Trinidad and Tobago, there is no disdain for Jamaican citizens greater than that of Bajans’. The case of Shanique Myrie is perhaps the most representative of this anti-Jamaican sentiment. Myrie’s detainment by Barbados’ immigration authorities featured two invasive cavity searches, as well as remarks from officers describing their hatred of Jamaicans. The incident prompted the Jamaican government to reveal it had received numerous accounts of their nationals being mistreated in Barbados, and resulted in a judgement by the Caribbean Court of Justice in Myrie’s favor—complete with damages and a declaration that Bardados had breached the plaintiff’s rights.

To me, it is distinctly unsettling that members of a country that once suggested banning Dancehall from their airwaves countries can then bask in the products of Jamaican creativity when it suits them, and also replicate that creativity when on the international stage and profit from it. To be fair, RiRi has never perpetuated the disdain for Jamaicans that seems to be characteristic of some of her countrymen and those in other Caribbean countries. She’s collaborated with artists like Sizzla and has been seen dancing to the likes of Vybz Kartel and Popcaan. But my real concern stems from a fear that she will take ownership of Jamaica’s music—on a global stage—without giving due recognition to where it actually comes from.

Culture is made to build connections between people, and so by its very nature is not meant to be insular. But the crux of the issue when it comes to cultural appropriation is this: a people cannot be divided from their creations, and one cannot love the culture while also despising those who created it. The current latent opposition to Caribbean unification—and Jamaicans’ freedom of movement within a formal system of such—also doesn’t hold with the absurd inclination to now claim shared ownership of the creative products developed by individual countries. Rihanna’s newest project will no doubt shoot Dancehall and Reggae further into the stratosphere, but it will also expose the many cracks that exist within our region and that we are so determined to pretend, when we are on the world stage, do not exist.

Black Women Don’t Need Your Permission

She’s black, she’s a woman, she isn’t a native of this country. But on July 4, the day for celebrating the ideals of freedom that the United States prides itself on, Therese Patricia Okoumou climbed the Statue of Liberty and refused to come down until the immigrant children caged by that same country were released. It was one of the bravest, most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. Not least of all because, as an immigrant myself, I could only imagine the fear she had to overcome to take such a bold stance and put herself at risk for children who could not speak for themselves.

So, imagine my surprise when I came onto the internet to see that black people were mocking her decision. The Root published a video tackling the so-called ‘Savior Syndrome’, asking if black women were fighting other people’s battles. A black woman on Twitter let it be known that she was ‘embarrassed’ by Therese’s actions. And countless African Americans are side-eyeing Okoumou’s stance—again, a stance she’s taken on behalf of children as young as 14 months old—because of the enmity they hold against the Latino community as a whole for not sufficiently speaking out about issues affecting Black Americans.

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That you are perturbed by another human being caring about the well-being of another human being makes me embarrassed for YOU.

My question is this—when did Therese, or any other Black woman, imply she needed the world’s permission to stand up for when she believes in? There’s been Hoteps telling us not to worry our misguided feminine heads about women’s rights, and we’ve seen Democrats scolding Maxine Waters for not being civil enough for their liking. Now it’s Black people, including other Black women, who seem to feel they can dictate what another Black woman cares about.

The burden Black women bear is real, but it is disingenuous to criticize the actions we choose to take on the flimsy basis that you are looking out for our emotional well-being. That shouldn’t be the conversation only when we are speaking up for something you think doesn’t matter. What about our emotional well-being when we’re getting pepper-sprayed and arrested en-masse for protesting the deaths of black men? What about our emotional well-being when we march for those same men, many of whom disdain us because of the darkness of our skin? Let’s stop pretending that what hurts black women solely, or even largely, comes from racial groups outside our own. Much of the pain black women experience comes from people who look like us—our lovers, our families, those within our own communities. As women, it is our right and our due to show up, speak out, and expend our own emotional energy whenever we feel called to do so, as well as to step back whenever we feel it is necessary. No one, not even our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, gets to make those decisions for another person.

The other reasons for critiquing Okoumou’s actions are similarly hypocritical. How is not caring about the well-being of Latino children a valid response to feeling outraged that other races don’t care enough about black people? How can one righteously oppose bigotry by doubling down on that same evil themselves? The truth is, apathy and the uninterrogated guilt that accompanies it is easier to bear when the discomfort is directed at someone else. But Therese didn’t send for you. Own the fact that you don’t care about others without bringing her into it.

Black women are not a monolith, nor are they misguided children. None of us need your permission to do what we feel we must, particularly when we are showing up for ourselves. Therese is an immigrant, she is a woman, she is black, and she is morally opposed to the detainment of immigrant children. She doesn’t need your go-ahead to say so, or to do what she feels is necessary to make her opposition known. You want to support it? By all means. You don’t like it? Then keep it moving.

 

The Audacity of Whiteness

People who are usually comfortable ignoring, downplaying, or just plain denying the existence of racial oppression are now co-opting the history of the oppressed to defend their own bigotry. It’s a sick hypocrisy that has reared its disingenuous head in the midst of one of the most inhumane actions taken by the US government in recent memory—the detainment of immigrant children after forced separation from their parents.

 

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The ‘civility’ of the Civil Rights Era

 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders represents an administration that has implemented policies that specifically target people based on their race, national origin, sexual orientation, or faith. Sanders herself has stood at the podium in the White House Briefing Room doubling down on the administration’s defense of a baker who refused to serve a customer on the basis of his immutable identity—his sexuality. The President she serves has classed black men as sons of bitches, and many of his supporters take pleasure in reveling in their supposed racial superiority while alternately claiming racism is a figment of people’s imaginations. Republican policymakers have waxed nostalgic about the days of the confederacy while diminishing the horrors of chattel slavery—incredibly, even suggesting that the enslaved were happy with their lot. And the white moderate, who is more committed to “order” than to justice, has derided, stayed silent on, or been offended by the life and death urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But a restaurant owner politely asks Sanders’ to leave their establishment due to the concerns raised by her LGBT staff, then comps the Press Secretary’s meal up to that point, and White political pundits begin evoking the most devastating experiences visited upon Black Americans in an aggrieved outcry. Arne Duncan, Education Secretary under the Obama Administration, had the gall to reference ‘the too raw, too real’ history of African Americans being denied use of public water fountains and bathrooms to decry Sanders’ apparently traumatizing experience. Jim Crow laws are now being weighed the same as marginalized people not wanting to serve a visible representative of state-sponsored bigotry. It’s not only absurd, it’s disgusting and offensive.

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Old white men, those erstwhile defenders of black people, have been falling over themselves to now identify with the struggle of African Americans in order to support Sanders. The fervency of this newfound ally ship is especially perplexing when it comes from old white Republican men. The self-righteousness of their outrage would lead you to believe they are also gravely concerned with the violence that agents of the state routinely visit upon black bodies. But that’s not the case. For too many, black pain and suffering is only worth mentioning when it can be used to protect against white people’s discomfort.

Martin Luther King Jr., who the prevailing narrative would wrongly suggest was the darling of white America when he was alive and disturbing the peace, has become a such crutch for people advocating for the tolerance of hatred that the practice could be its own meme. Last week a commentator on Fox News, the station that traffics in narratives about black people’s lack of gratitude for what this country has given them, suddenly cared about the quality of housing projects. Not due to a personal crusade to make the projects better for the human beings who reside in them, but because she was justifying the caging of brown children.

Let’s be clear: the very real and present systemic discrimination that takes place against people of color is not a file cabinet White America gets to rifle through when people of power are faced with the negligible consequences of their actions. The trauma of marginalized people is not your convenient cautionary tale when you’ve never been those people’s advocates or will never live their experiences. Equating the very civil treatment the White House Press Secretary received with the brutal water hosing, beating, and firebombing of black people is audacious in the way only whiteness can be. What it also confirms is the gulf of empathy that still exists between those with racial privilege and those without. To some, there are slight inconveniences people of privilege are expected to be above experiencing, and there is brutal treatment that people of color are implicitly expected to endure.

When the ‘It’ Factor is Less Melanin

Shenseea, a Jamaican performer on the verge of a breakthrough in the American mainstream, is the very embodiment of the specific kind of black woman the music industry and listening public embraces. She’s immensely talented, beautiful, charmingly irreverent, has a great stage presence and that particularly Jamaican knack for lyricism, and is light-skinned.

It’s the unspoken norm in American popular culture that the slang and sounds and trends that originate in the black community are more palatable to the consumer public when packaged behind a face with minimal melanin. Black men aren’t impacted by this as strongly as black women are, so while the Post Malones of the world rise to the top of the charts with what at best are facsimiles of rap music, so do the Migoses of America—who as Quavo so aptly put it are, “Black [men] with a lot of money, got the white man wanna off me.”

This conversation isn’t new, many before me have called out the music industry’s implicit and explicit biases against darker skinned women. One such a woman herself, rapper Azealia Banks, reignited it recently by pinning the consequences of colonialism, slavery, and racism on one individual—the light-skinned rap phenom Cardi B.

I have no intention of doing the same to Shensea or any individual artist who is a de facto beneficiary of systems and beliefs that have existed long before they were born. Banks’ disingenuous rants were fueled by her own bigotry and bitterness against anyone she encounters who is 1. A woman and/or 2. a person whose success she feels threatened by. But her attacks on Cardi B bore fruit because they were rooted in truth, a truth that Cardi herself has previously acknowledged. That, just as racism still permeates every inch of American culture, so does it’s offspring colorism. And because colorism is tied to white supremacist ideas of beauty, it most often makes itself known in the experiences of women.

Shenseea’s career is primed to take flight, and I have no qualms in admitting I eagerly await the global ascension of a fellow Jamaican. I take even more joy in knowing that Dancehall and Reggae will be rightfully claimed by one who is truly connected to those musical lineages, since the enchanting sounds Jamaica introduced to the world have too frequently been co-opted and repackaged by performers who just wear them as a costume.

But it has not escaped me that Shenseea’s mainstream success will add her to a long-list of black women at the top of popular music whose skin tone is what society has deemed attractive and most palatable. Her musical counterparts who are also of Caribbean heritage—Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, even Keida, another Jamaican singer who recently joined Shenseea on a track for Christina Aguilera’s new album—are not what you’d describe as melanin-rich. A similar pattern is also discernible in an overview of American-born popstars.

Though this pervasive discrimination has multiple consequences—including misplaced anger at its visible heirs in the music business—to me the real tragedy is the unknowable number of black women who have been robbed of their chance at success. Shallow (or bad faith) analyses will allege that the music industry is simply a meritocracy, and that society’s ingrained opposition to brown skin and blackness is a non-factor in the success of artists who are female. But the truth is, too many black women with musical ambitions have been sidelined, not because their talents were negligible but because their melanin was not. That this is still the status quo, in an industry consistently led by the artistry and contributions of the black race, is the saddest thing of all.

 

How can we stop this?

My heart is racing.
My legs feel leaden.
My chest is hollowed out but feels on fire.

I am on the bus crying because immigrant children—as young as 4 months old—are being detained by the government. Penned in like animals behind cages. Regimented like in a correctional facility.

And I don’t know what to do.

My thoughts are centered on the trauma these children must be feeling. On the indescribable pain their parents must be experiencing.

My soul aches at the inhumanity it must take to hear children in cages weeping for their mothers, and to crack a joke in response.

My mind is a attempting to reconcile a day for celebrating fathers when one has recently killed himself in response to having his child stolen from him.

I pass babies in strollers and in their mother’s arms and my usual smile falters. When I remember.

I don’t know what to do.

I feel scared even writing this, because I am an immigrant.

But it’s the very least I can do.

How are you coping with the current state of the world?

It’s been a rough few days. Or, to be honest, a rough few months. I’m struggling to find a way to balance my desire to be informed with my utter despondency at the unending negative news cycle. So tell me, how do you manage?

A social media hiatus is always at the top of list of things to do to combat the onslaught of saddening, infuriating, and bewildering information that now streams to our public consciousness a as a matter of fact. As our shared political and social reality becomes more unpalatable, it seems people have also taken leave to be similarly toxic in all the places they take up space–including online.

A man recently dumped a homeless persons belongings in a nearby body of water just because he felt like being an asshole that day. The immensely talented and adorable Millie Brown has been driven off social media due to one of the most hideous and nonsensical online ‘jokes’ I’ve witnessed in my many years of internetting. And my compulsive need to read comments has led me to develop a deeply seeded fear for the collective soul of the human race.

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It’s a lot.

As a coping strategy, I’ve previously cut myself off Facebook and Twitter and the online news I read on those channels. But I am always inevitably drawn back because the need to know what’s going seems to hold more weight.

So what do you do to walk that balance and maintain your emotional health? I’d love to hear, especially since–if you’re reading this–you haven’t yet cut yourself off of digital media. Tell me your coping strategies in the comments!

One thing I have found helpful is the always-dependable balm of music. This classic by the legendary Jamaican singer Dennis Brown has recently felt incredibly reflective of my own feelings:

Ishena

 

When will Jamaica say #TimesUp?

As a young girl in Jamaica, I dreaded going to the shop down the street when sent by my grandmother because I knew the short journey would be peppered with lewd comments from strange men about the stiffness of my breasts, the flatness of my stomach, and the imagined enjoyment of having me in bed. The sexual abuse of girls and women takes place all across the world, most recently demonstrated by the #MeToo movement that started in the United States and has since highlighted the pervasiveness of harassment and sexual assault in all corners of the earth. But my specific experience is unique to Jamaica, where extreme sexual harassment is just a way of life. In a country notorious for its disproportionate crime rate, sexual violence has also long been par for the course.

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Data from UN Women shows that 1 in every 5 women in Jamaica will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. For many, this will start early in childhood, when female bodies undergoing puberty are tapped as fodder for public consumption, which girls quickly learn is the normal state of affairs. Our society tacitly accepts the degradation of our girls and women, exemplified by just how many of us can bear witness to being sexually victimized. The now infamous response of The Jamaica Star’s ‘Dear Pastor’ to a rape survivor’s disclosure only serves to confirm our implicit acceptance of sexual abuse, up to and including the ultimate violation of rape. A direct quote from the pastor’s published advice:

You have kept this thing to yourself for the past four years and now that they are getting married, you are prepared to let your sister know what happened; and so, why now? Is it that you do not believe that she should marry him because he is a rapist? I am not sure that your sister would believe that he raped you.

He also encouraged the woman to attend her attacker’s wedding.

It’s clear our cultural attitudes toward sexual assault need to be addressed, and the red flags are so numerous that it may be hard to know where to start:

  • How many of us know of relationships that cannot logically—or legally— be consensual due to the age gap between the man and the girl he is grooming?
  • How many of us understand that older men prey on underaged girls precisely because of the latter’s immaturity and diminished capacity for reasoning, but place most of the blame for such partnerships on the shoulders of the child being manipulated?
  • How many of us turn a blind eye to these situations because the transactional nature of them benefits our households?
  • How many of us spend our days in a workplace where men treat their female colleagues like walking calendars for a brand of liquor?
  • How many of you are the men who sit in groups in those workplaces (or on the street, or in a car) taking turns to lob a sexual vulgarity at a woman passing by like you would with a football?

#MeToo led to the creation of #TimesUp, a fund to help root out the perpetrators of sexual abuse by providing expertise and financial support to victims without the means to pursue justice. In Jamaica, groups like the Tambourine Army and agencies like the Office of the Children’s Advocate have led the way in raising the alarm on the shameful epidemic that exists on our own shores. But the inroads haven’t been many, because the fight can’t be carried out by these groups alone.

There needs to be a widespread movement across the country to address this dirt that is not so much a secret, one where we all categorically state that we will no longer tolerate it— ‘it’ being our women and girls being treated as bodies rather than people. We also need civil society— yes that means pastors, but also teachers, the media, and the lawyers who are always on tap to defend entertainers and other public figures accused of all sorts of wrongdoing. We need them all to stand in support of the hundreds of thousands who’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted and say, “I will support you. I will stand up for you. I will share your story. I will make getting justice for you a possibility, and not just something that happens to women in other countries.”

So, will you? Will you help Jamaica say #TimesUp?