by: Rohan Lewis
6 August, 2012 has marked Jamaica’s 50th year of independence. We have a lot to be proud of: sports, music, politics, sciences, and more. We have made progress in fields that some other countries have yet to excel, with tidal energy, a woman as prime minister, wildly popular Dancehall and Reggae, our great athletes like Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Yohan Blake, Alia Atkinson, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Usain Bolt, and more.
However, there is a lot to be ashamed of. We have yet to effectively overcome the nightmares of domestic violence and homophobia. Jamaica, renowned for its patriarchal intolerance towards the gender-variant communities, has proliferated violent discrimination through religion, music, politics, and more: unlike many U.S. people’s stereotypical and rather silly assumptions, Catholicism is the dominant religion of the country, unlike Rastafarianism, which has been the brunt of much prejudice since the rise of the conservative Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) and the fall of the People’s National Party (PNP) in 1980. The PNP prime minister Michael Manly, supported a cultural backlash against the effects of colonial control, through the socialisation of industries, thus giving Jamaica to its people. He was musically supported by none other than cultural revolutionary Bob Marley, whose Afro-centric music follows the Rasta tradition of redemption by their saviour Selassie, who ascended the Ethiopian throne shortly after Italy was ousted.
Edward Seaga took command in 1980 of our country, which according to many rumours and investigations, was CIA-influenced. Rastafarianism and socialisation lost steam due to failed prophecies and political defeat. As the JLP took hold, privatising ensued, resulting in the take-over of several international companies and thus shrinking of all industries, which, as we know all so well in the U.S., lead to higher rates of unemployment, and as we are experiencing in Chicago, higher rates of crime. The rise of the “rude boy” or thug/gangster, as many in the U.S. have misinterpreted thanks to Barbadian Rihanna, hence contributed to the infamy of our savagery. Our country fell into greater distress once Seaga turned to the U.S., the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund for a loan of 600 U.S. million, thus ensuring an ally in Regan against the Red Scare.
In this context, we are far from free of this debt that has left our nationhood crippled for generations. The damage of societal violence continues to plague us. Domestic violence towards children is commonplace. Many children, especially boys, are beaten without reason, to teach “masculinity,” which is culturally routed in aggression and violence. Girls, therefore, are ignored, as males are given societal priority in education, domestic and social stance. Males are only taught to be violent, so they show such tendencies towards women, the LGBT community, and their own children. The ascent of PNP Porsche Simpson Miller to prime minister, who openly advocates for respect of LGBT persons, after the U.K. threatened to cease funding, is a clear sign of not only cultural shifting around misogynistic paradigms, but also a reflexion of the power of Jamaican women. However, she is not one of many, and violence towards women and children continue because of the cultural dominance of men within the socio-political arena.
In this context, we are far from free from the colonial assumptions of our savagery, the stereotype of the hyper-aggressive male that gives the colonial mind reason to educate us, because we openly violate the dignity and security of women and children.
Violence towards the LGBT community is also accepted, even encouraged. As the Jamaican Catholic Church condemns the community’s integrity, the music industry has received many raps on the wrist by its industry at large, for lyrics that explicitly dictate violence towards the LGBT community. T.O.K. (Torture or Kill,) a leading Dancehall group, released a song several years ago entitled Chi Chi Man, or Faggot, that explicitly expunges the gays from the Dancehall community and advocates the murder of these men by burning rubber tires around their necks. Buju Banton in his 1991 hit Boom Bye Bye tells a lesbian woman to bend over and accept “di peg,” or the peg, a clear phallus, or as a double entendre, the act of pegging, which is also of phallic relations. He further insinuates that if it’s hot, then she will not run away.
These assaults are commonplace in our country, in which many of the LGBT community face lynching, gang banging, “correctional” rape as it is so-called, often times by the police themselves. We cannot forget people like Steve Harvey , who was taken from his home and shot to death, Brian Williamson , co-founder of the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) who was found hacked to death by machete in his home. However, there are beautiful moments when famous figures like Christine Straw, who competed as Miss Jamaica in the 1998 Miss World and 2004 Miss Universe beauty pageants, openly supports the All-Sexual community.
Through this brutishness, we as Jamaicans continue to adhere to the intellectual colonial authority as we drown in the illusion of “independence.” We continue to prove to them that we cannot be self-governed. How can we be allowed our independence when our society openly promotes this self-destruction?
It is not the word of God, nor the beauty of the illusion of independence that astounds me, but the people who besmirch such concepts with such ungovernable violence.
This is not an issue of morality, but rather the human condition. Yes, LGBT is a Western cultural construct of sexual identity, but sexual identity is universal in its diversity.Thus, we are still slaves to colonial presumptions of our savagery.
That being said, we will never be free of the brands of our past chains until we as a nation can effectively ratify a constitution that was not handed to us by the British, that does not continue to recognise the Queen of England as our reigning sovereign and does not grant the United Kingdom control of our judicial branch.
We are not independent, nor are we ready. We must work to create a document that proclaims that Jamaicans are a multi-cultural entity, of Lebanese, Chinese, Indian, Taino, Irish, English and Filipino immigrants/descendants and more, not just those of African nations. We will be free when we the people make our papers that ensure the absolute respect of a fellow citizen, regardless of gender or sexual identity and furthermore that ensures the quality of life that all people deserve: to live, regardless of religion, gender- or sexual identity, etc.
Why have I written so much? Because in the U.S., people neither know nor care for us. They see us all as a weed-consuming stereotype of Neo-Africanism, without philosophy and without a unique sense of nationhood. Many care little for the rich heritage of every county that survived or emerged from colonialism. Foreigners must learn about their culture, their ways, their history, their reasoning and must melt into their pot.
Both nations are irresponsible for their crimes towards humanity. For that, we must learn equally to ensure that fallen blood can foster the growth of flowers. Then, we all will be free.
Rohan Lewis is soldiering their way through their third year at Northwestern University. An ethnomusicology major with a minor in dance, Rohan invests time in performance and creation. A choreographer, dancer, trumpeter, playwright, composer, poet and fantasy writer, Rohan loves all things “fairytale.” Zie is inspired by Yo-Yo Ma, Lin Hwai Min, J. K. Rowling, Isabelle Allende, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tamora Pierce and Shakespeare. Rohan, born in Florida but raised in Atlanta, also carries a Jamaican dual citizenship.