The Jamaica 50 song controversy and the rise of the Template Era

Lisa Hanna is a fucking idiot. Of course, no one should be surprised by that she is a fucking idiot, as most people who are attracted to power are stupid, mediocre and venal, Hanna being no different. Why then, are people shocked at the duplicity and mismanagement of the Jamaica 50 project, when institutional incompetence is part and parcel of post-1992 Jamaican government. What has Hanna done to prove that she is a qualified statesman other than look pretty and debate nicely? No, matter, in a democracy, people generally get the government they deserve, so we deserve what we get.

The latest nontroversy to grip the Jamaican public has to do with the sudden and unexpected change of the Official Jamaica 50 song from the original “Find the Flag” to the new “On a Mission.” The difference between the songs should be obvious, but the songs themselves are not the point – what they say about Jamaican culture over the last 50 years is.

A little techno, a little dancehall. a little electronica, a little hip-hop, but not much of anything. Just like the songs Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj, Justin Bieber and every other mass produced pop song, it uses templates.You get your standard issue music sequencer (FL Studio, Reason, Ableton Live) and using a predefined set of musical notes, you create your song by drag-and-dropping your drums and synths from a (usually massive) library of musical instruments. All that is required is a decent Internet connections in order to access one of the many websites that host the thousands of templates. No creativity required.

But this is not just a feature of modern music composition. Our entire middle class economy and workplaces are affected by templates.

  • Microsoft Office templates that give us a predetermined set of resumes, memos, databases and flyers.
  • Adobe Photoshop templates for our programmes, menus and flyers.
  • Vehicle diagnostic tools that are used by mechanics also rely on the use templates on which to base their diagnosis.
  • SAP ERP templates that sit at the heart of modern business and industry

All of the above examples use templates to automate repetitive tasks, as well as to enhance the skill of user, who would normally use an artist or a massive reference book. But when such templates and techniques are used in the arts and especially music, it can result in dull, mechanical music that is a generic, shallow parody of the genre that it tries to emulate. It is an unimaginative and derivative sound, like when you hear a news report of a murder that you know is just a cut-and-paste with the names and places changed.

The mass production of Jamaican popular music is not something that we should despise, as long as producers realize that that mass production and templates are merely labour saving means, not the musical ends. The producer may use software to introduce templates, a tracker interface to easy drum composition or a piano roll to ease string composition, but he is able to use them because he already understands reggae basslines, 4/4, 3+3+2, nyahbinghi and traditional mento drum patterns, and how to manipulate reggae synth and guitar patterns. In other words, he merely uses the software as tool. Or, that is how it should work.

The vast majority of Jamaican music produced nowadays, is devoid of ingenuity or any musical craftsmanship. They hardly approach the level of skill or talent that is seen in a Dave or Tony Kelly, an Augustus Pablo, a Sly and Robbie, or any of the superb musicians whose compositions represent the artistic zenith of Jamaican music.

And it is the same with our politicians, and our managerial class in general. They can only follow a select set of techniques that they have swatted either from their textbooks or some foreign school. They do not know how to govern, and are devoid of new ideas and solutions for the myriad unique problems of Jamaica.That is the main flaw of the Template system – it is mass produced by a set of people, usually foreigners,  who have no interest or knowledge of local situations or culture. Anyone would have realized that “On a Mission” would have had been wholeheartedly rejected by the Jamaican people, but only a fucking idiot like Lisa Hanna could have failed to realize that.

“Find the Flag”, however, is just another side of the same coin.

Lets say tat a Jamaican music lover living in 1972 had a time machine that allowed him to get music from the future. He dials in 2012 and gets the Mikey Bennett song. I have a feeling that he would almost immediately check to see if his machine was working right. And he would have every right to, as it , just like 90 percent of what comes on on IRIE-FM, sounds like it could have had been made 40 years ago. Ours must be the first era in history where music has remained so stagnant. It was just about 11 years from ska to rocksteady to reggae. 10 years from The Beatles to first rap song. Yt Jamaican music has been stuck in a 40 year creative rut.

During the 1980s, the neo-liberal programs that were instituted on recommendation if the International Monetary Fund gutted the educational and health sector of the Jamaican government. Music programs at our schools were slashed, affecting the quality of musical talent that our nation would put out for years to come. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like its just our musicians that were affected by the breakdown of our educational system.

 

Advertisements

Are Jamaican DeeJays really cunning linguists?

Most Jamaicans have a very odd sense of history. We do not see our history as continuous, but instead as a set of discrete points on an an every decreasing timeline. There is Nanny’s guerilla war, Sam Sharpe’s rebellion, Emancipation, The Morant Bay Rebellion, then Independence, Bob Marley and then finally whatever was in the newspaper yesterday. And not a thing in between.

So when I read Carolyn Cooper’s latest post “Jamaican Men Love Oral Sex” I believed that I would be getting some sort of Lacanian-psycho-fucko-analytic-Foucaultian-polictical power-structure-rude-boy-garrison-politics-hypermasculinity critical theory analysis. Hey, some people collect stamps, I like to decipher post-structuralists. Everyone has their thing.

Sadly, none of that was present (guess I’ll have go get my Frederic Jameson…).  See, the long and short of it is that some Jamaican men (claim they) don’t suck pussy. Not only do they not suck pussy, they will publicly ostracize, if not outright beat, anyone who has been confirmed to be eating under the sheet (Note’: People are starting to tell these person to fuck off.). I refer to these “gentlemen” in plural is because they will not make a move on you unless they have four or of their tight pants wearing, skin bleaching, eyebrow arching buddies to back them up.

skin-bleaching-ghetto-trash-male
An example of the above specimen

Unfortunately, these “gentlemen” are, for all intents and purposes, the cultural trendsetters. This fact, combined with our myopic view of history, makes us unable to see any alternatives to our present situation by using lessons from the past.

I remember listening to Mutabaruka, a few years ago (back when I thought Jamaica could become a better place). That particular night, he had a mento artist who had a big hit back in 1955. The name of the song? Night Food.

Here are some sample lyrics:

The room is dark

She said, ‘Come and eat

This night food is very warm and sweet’

I said, ‘Lady, there’s no knife and fork

And how can I eat food in the dark?’

She said, ‘This food needs no knife and fork

How can a human be so dark?

The food is right here in the bed

Come here, man, make me scratch your head

I think its safe to say that you don’t need to be Jacques Derrida to deconstruct them lyrics.

Of course, when Alerth Bedasse was pressed by Mutabaruka as to the meaning of the song, he came up with some mealy-mouthed excuse as to it being about cold food being left in the fridge for too long. I supposed he had to use a similar excuse back i 1959, when Willis O. Isaacs, the Minister of Trad and Industry, finally got around to creating a nontroversy about his song.

Well, at least back then the national government might have had been taken somewhat seriously. Today, instead of government, the church, or another legitimate institution to uphold social mores, we have a some ridiculous looking bleached face monkeys to keep us nigras in line. I guess this what we deserve for ignoring our history. One must see the irony of a country responsible for creating two of the most powerful black cultural movements having its ideas of masculinity and culture dictated to it by androgynous, deracinated, apolitical skin bleachers. The more things change.

Book Review: Amusing Ourselves to Death

The other day, a friend of mine and I were watching the pre-Batman Christian Bale movie “Equilibrium”

Here is the summary from the Wikipedia:

The film follows John Preston (Christian Bale), a warrior-priest and enforcement officer in a future dystopia where both feelings and artistic expression are outlawed and citizens take daily injections of drugs to suppress their emotions. After accidentally missing a dose, Preston begins to experience emotions which make him question his own morality and moderate his actions, while attempting to remain undetected by the suspicious society in which he lives. Ultimately he aids a resistance movement using advanced martial arts, which he was taught serving the very regime he is to help overthrow.

As is typical of the type of people who enjoy these times of movies my  “friend” begun to expound on how our society was going in this very direction. We were, he claimed, headed towards a prison planet where we would be drugged up, brainwashed, and then kept in permanent serfdom in a neo-fascist state.

Being the contrarian that I am, I had to ask him some issues regarding this scenario – Why would you need to force people to take drugs? Why not make the drugs addictive? How can a fascist nation be economically viable?

But there was also something about that movie. Anyone who has watched the trailer, read the above summary, or watched the whole movie will notice just how utterly derivative it is. Its one of those new “mashups” that all the cool kids are talking about. It combines the Soma drug from Brave New World, the fascist state from 1984, the book-burning from Fahrenheit 451, the fascist uniforms from the Matrix, the sterile cinematography of Gattaca, and  the Guardian characters from Judge Dredd, with all the self-importance and pretentiousness that we have come to expect from sci-fi action movies. And as with any  mashup, it is inevitably lesser than the sum of its ripped-off parts.

I had asked my friend if he had read any off the books that the movie had been “influenced” by. He said no, though he had watched the 1984 movie with John Hurt.

Now my “friend”  is one of those “people” who believes that the world will end come the 21st of December 2012, that 9/11 was a U.S. government operation and that there is a second star in our solar system called Nibiru that also influences our planet. Obviously we should not take him seriously, but that is not the point.

When most people think of a totalitarian state, they think of a 1984 type situation, as seen in Equilibrium. What Neil Postman is here to tell us is that we are heading in a totally different direction. See below.

Neil Postman’s 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death:Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business “, posits that, rather than being controlled through the application of pain, we will be manipulated through the inflicting of pleasure. He believes that we have switched from a contextual, analytical, print based culture to a context-free, graphical one. As a result, the rational, liberal democracy that was created during the 18th and 19th century is becoming unsustainable as our visual culture is leading us … somewhere else.

We were not amused (in the old days)

The book is divided into two parts. The first part contains its legendary foreword, an explanation of its main theme and sub-themes, as well as a short history of American typographic culture, pre-telegraph. The main theme, from which all else flows, is not that television is making us stupid, neither it is that a print based culture is superior but that the form in which an idea is expressed affects what those ideas will be. From this value neutral theme, Postman develops an idea in Part 1 known as the Age of Exposition.

To quote Postman

The name I give to that period of time during which the American mind submitted itself to the sovereignty of the printing press is the Age of Exposition. Exposition is a mode of thought, a method of learning, and a means of expression. Almost all of the characteristics we associate with mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, for reasons I am most anxious to explain, the Age of Exposition began to pass, and the early signs of its replacement could be discerned. Its replacement was to be the Age of Show Business.

Note that he did not say that the print media creates “a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response“, but that it amplifies it. Postman is no fool. He is quite aware of all the junk romance novels, gossip and all the other nonsense that anyone with access to a printing press can put out. Those simple ideas are nothing for a complex form to reproduce. But it takes a complex form to produce complex ideas. Not complicated – complex. A web browser, with its Javascript JIT compiler, tabbed windows and JQuery/Flash animations is quite complicated. A book, is complex, but not complicated.

Postman uses the legendary Lincoln-Douglas debates to further his point about Man in the Age of Exposition. At one debate at Peoria, Illinois on the 16th of October 1854, Stephen Douglas went first for three hours. By the time Douglas had finished, it was 5 in the evening. Lincoln then suggested everyone go home to have dinner, then come back in the evening. They did, and when they returned they were treated to another four hours of oratory, starting with Lincoln’s rebuttal of Douglas.

They certainly were not bored into a catatonic stupor by sentences such as

It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say in an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which  I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground.

In fact, these debates would take place at fairs and circuses. The music would not be played during these debates of course, but the crowd would quite often shout encouragements (”’You tell ’em Abe ‘) or scorn (“Answer that one, if you can”).

The above excerpt by Lincoln is not something that one finds in an oral culture, which is dependent upon poetry, proverbs and limericks are used as mnemonic devices. Nor would it be normally found in a graphic culture, with its focus on charts, graphs, Youtube clips, soundbites, LOLcats, smiley faces, and jump cuts. Both the pictorial medium, and its counterpart, the medium created by electronic communication . The whole point of a photograph and the bit is to preserve information like a a mosquito trapped in amber. But determining whether or not the mosquito is relevant in that time or place is not a within by those media, as they are primarily suited to preserving an eternal present and transporting information, not its exposition or its interpretation.

We are always amused (nowadays)

Of the audience at the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Postman asks “What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory?” He, of course, means this as a rhetorical question. The Americans of the time from the Late 17th to the early 19th century were analytic and rational, as a result of living in a print based culture. Thus, they were able to readily deal with the all the new ideas and techniques that were part and parcel of the Enlightenment, whether it be the Protestantism of Jonathan Edwards, the economics of Adam Smith, the literature of Charles Dickens, the politics of Thomas Paine and the oratory of Abraham Lincoln.

So what does he think of the 1985-era citizen? Here is his take on a viewing of a 1984 Presidential Debate (emphases are mine ):

Prior to the  1984 presidential elections, the two candidates confronted each other on television in what  were called “debates.” These events were not in the  least like the  Lincoln-Douglas debates or anything else that goes by the name. Each candidate was given five minutes to address such questions as, What is (or would be) your policy in Central America? His opposite number was then given one minute for a rebuttal. In such circumstances, complexity, documentation and logic can play no role, and, indeed, on  several  occasions syntax itself was abandoned entirely. It is no matter The men were less concerned with  giving  arguments  than  with  “giving  off”  impressions, which is what television does best. Post-debate commentary largely avoided any evaluation of the  candidates’ ideas, since there were none to evaluate. Instead, the debates were conceived as boxing matches, the relevant question being, Who KO’d whom?

Let us look at the skills that were fostered by the Age of Exposition

  1. A sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially
  2. A high valuation of reason and order
  3. An abhorrence of contradiction
  4. A large capacity for detachment and and objectivity
  5. A tolerance for delayed response

Anyone who watches a debate on TV nowadays knows that it is nothing more than a more sophisticated version of an exchange of “Yo Mama!” jokes. Yo mama jokes are subjective and emotional attachment (opposite of 4.), They require an immediate response, as no one expects . At the debate itself, the emphasis is not on reason or order, but on emotional appeal and non-fiction versions of manatee jokes. Contradictions are par the course in politics.

To put it simply, people vote for pretty faces and nice slogans, both in Jamaica, and in the United States. They vote for politicians based on the narrative that has been created for them, not on the content of their policies.

Postman explains that the progenitor of the television, the photograph and telegraph, were the technological systems (and epistemologies) that caused the shift from print to visual culture. The telegraph made introduced into the culture irrelevant information, the information would be about things so far away that no one in the receiving location would be able to do anything about it. This is a direct result of the form of the the medium – it is intended to bring information from far away – not to aid in its exposition. One does not construct a telegraph link within a small city or town. It is not feasible and besides, why would you need a telegraph when you could just go outside? The photograph, can only show concrete examples of things, it cannot deal with abstract categories. It can show a man, but not Mankind, lovers, but not Love, pornography, but not sensuality. Both media only need to be recognized, but words need to be understood.

In order to demonstrate how the de-contextualized media of the Age of Show Business (post-telegraph age) creates information that leads to “irrelevance,impotence, and  incoherence.”  Postman develops a concept called the information-action ratio. It is the measure of how much action you take based on how much information you have. For example, let us say that you are a white guy that has heard about the plight of some poor darkies Ugandans via a YouTube video.

I think you can tell where I’m going with this….

Being the well-meaning person you are, you want to do your very best to help them. Now, having watched that half-hour video on YouTube, you should be very well informed about the situation, right? Do you know the name of the President of Uganda? The name of the capital? What about the name of the last President? What is an Acholi? I am willing to bet that the answer would be “no” to all those questions. Those are very important questions that are quite relevant to the action you would need to take. But because a television based epistemology (in this case, a YouTube video) depends on slogans and appeals to emotion, instead of explanation and exposition, you would information that was not important, merely sensational. And even if you did get important information, you would be impotent to do anything with that information.

Well, that is one action you could take.

I have used the example of YouTube because even though the book was written in 1985 (Postman talks about “microcomputers”), it is still relevant. This is because Postman does not see television as a technology, but a philosophy of knowledge. He shows how the television philosophy renders everything it touches into entertainment. Religion loses its theology, dogma and ritual, and becomes a personality cult. Education loses its ability for  exposition, perplexity and need for prerequisites, and becomes mere entertainment.

This is the logical conclusion of Postman’s argument. Television’s inherent structure reduces everything to entertainment.The medium of television is a Procrustean bed that cuts the profound, erudite foundations of the serious aspects of our culture, reducing it to mere trivia. At the same time, it stretches the commonplace, irrelevant, piddling, trite features of consumer capitalism to fit those foundational principles that it has so efficiently eviscerated. Postman has no problem with entertainment -indeed he agrees that the television is best used for entertainment. The problem is when it is used for serious affairs such as religion, politics, news and education, then it becomes a problem. These institutions still retain the features that he had when they where created in the late 17th to the mid 19th century, and  still require the analytic-rational skills that are fostered by a print based culture. Attempting to engage them using a 20th century image centered philosophy, is folly, as Postman hints at, but Chris Hedges says openly

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

Will you be amused?

It might seem strange that a book that mentions shows like “Cheers”, “Dynasty” and “Dallas” as if they are still being broadcasted can still be relevant, but 27 years after it was first published Amusing Ourselves to Death is actually more relevant than ever. With this book (and others such as “Technopoly”, “The End of Education” and “Building a Bridge to the 18th Century”) Postman cemented himself as one of the premier cultural critics of our time. While he may lack the profundity of a Lewis Mumford, or the conciseness of a Ivan Illich, and he often fuses ideas from previous greats, his writing style is what catapults him to the top, his writing is funny, yet never curmudgeonly, and always penetrating. Some examples

On  December 5, 1989,  Daniel Goleman, covering the social-science beat for The New York Times, gave considerable space to some “recent research findings” that doubtless unsettled readers who hadn’t been keeping informed about the work of our scientists of the mind: Goleman reported that psychological researchers have discovered that people fear death. This insight led them to formulate “a sweeping theory,”  to quote Goleman, “that gives the fear of death a central and often unsuspected role in psychological life.”

As I write, the trend in call-in shows is for the “host” to  insult callers whose language does not, in itself, go much  beyond humanoid grunting. Such  programs  have  little content,  as this word  used to be defined, and are merely of archeological interest in that they give us a sense of what a dialogue among Neanderthals might have been like. More to the point,  the language of radio newscasts has become, under the influence of television, increasingly decontextualized and discontinuous, so that the possibility of anyone’s knowing about the world, as against merely knowing of it, is effectively blocked. In New York City, radio station WINS entreats its listeners to “Give us twenty-two  minutes and we’ll give you the world.” This is said without irony, and its audience, we may assume, does not regard the slogan as the conception of a disordered mind.

I should go so far as to say that embedded in the surrealistic frame of a television news show is a theory of  anticommunication,  featuring a type of discourse that abandons  logic, reason, sequence and rules of contradiction. In aesthetics, I believe the name given to this theory is Dadaism; in philosophy, nihilism; in psychiatry, schizophrenia. In the parlance of the theater, it is known  as vaudeville.

The first quote is from the his book “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology”, another of his books that I will soon be reviewing. And as Amusing Ourselves to Death is one the books of The Satanforce Canon, a chapter by chapter summation, with specific reference to Jamaica will be done at a later date

I had previously stated that Jamaica had a tradition of producing fine ministers and theologians, who were steeped in the intellectual and philosophical tradition of Christianity. Well, it seems that in the Age of Show Business, the possibility of this tradition continuing is in jeopardy. Could we have gotten a Malcolm X when there is a TV room right beside the library? A Sam Sharpe when the slavemaster realizes that Carnival is greater allure the church sermons? I don;t know, not yet anyway, but on the meantime, here’s som Gun Kata!

We used to be good at theology.

That we in Jamaica have come to consider the above as “debate” is a sad reflection on the low level of intelligence of our public intellectuals. Of course, he has been soundly rubbished here and at other places, but I still have some questions about his intellectual capacity (or lack thereof)

Why is it that this gentleman cannot tell the difference between a parody and a fantasy? Why is he unable to properly cite a Lancet article? Or explain why buttfucking is a social ill? And who or what exactly is this Omniscient Ominous Council of Vaguely Described Battymanism?

The gentleman has stated that the “Gay Lobby” wishes to lower the age of consent. Well, lets check that.:

A) We demand passage of a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender civil rights bill and an end to discrimination by state and federal governments including the military; repeal of all sodomy laws and other laws that criminalize private sexual expression between consenting adults.

1. Passage of “The Civil Rights Amendment Act of 1991” (HR 1430 & S574).

2. Repeal of Department of Defense directive 1332.14

3. Repeal of laws prohibiting sodomy between consenting adults.

4. Repeal of laws prohibiting cross-gender expression (dress codes) between consenting adults.

5. Repeal of laws prohibiting non-coercive sexual behavior between consenting adults.

6. Amendment of the Code of Federal Regulations to recognize same-sex relationships.

7. Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

8. Implementation of, funding for and enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991.

    9. Passage and implementation of graduated age-of-consent laws.

Graduated age of consent of laws mean that an age gap between two teenagers involved in sexual relations would be taken into consideration. These are also known as close-in-age exemptions. From the Wikipedia

Some jurisdictions have laws which explicitly allow minors under the age of consent to engage in sexual acts with partners who are close to their age by enacting legal close in age exemptions: for instance in Canada the age of consent is 16, but there are two close-in-age exemptions: minors 14–15 may have sex with a partner who is less than five years older, and minors aged 12–13 may have sex with a partner who is less than two years older. These different defenses can change dramatically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, even between neighboring states of the same union with the same age of consent. Other countries state that the sexual conduct with the minor is not to be punished if the partners are of a similar age and development: for instance the age of consent in Finland is 16, but the law states that the act will not be punished if “there is no great difference in the ages or the mental and physical maturity of the persons involved”.

Fortunately for us ‘good’ Jamaicans, Peter Garth’s is about as intelligent as Portia Simpson-Miller with Down’s Syndrome. This is indeed sad, considering Jamaica has produced some very good theologians such as

Gladstone Wilson, a man who had 3 doctorates and spoke 14 languages – at the age of 28. He was also considered the world’s seventh smartest man, which would put him on the same level as Black Panther and Reed Richards. But we have also produced Sam Sharpe, Raphael Morgan and Herro Blair. Compared to men like these, Garth and the rest of the Jamaican fundamentalists have produced nothing of merit, other than being talking heads and little else.

We may live in postmodern Jamaica, but that doesn’t mean that our experience parallels that of other nations in postmodernity. Between the time the Spanish brought the first African in chains to the time we were emancipated, the Western world had undergone two events that we were not privy to – the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Those two movements were essential in separating Man from Nature, and thus giving us the idea of the individual. It would behoove us all to learn the lessons from that time.

Unbeweavable

I don’t find most black women attractive. No, I’m not some brainwashed , self-hating black woman hater like what you see on YouTube ranting about black women choosing “thugs”. Nor am I particularly colourstruck – I’m sure there’s some woman out there for me. My problem, well one of my problems is this. No, not the surgically attached battyjaws. Nothing wrong with that. The dead animal hanging off of the top of her head is another matter completely. And yes, if you’ve gone and put chemicals in your head to straighten your hair, we still have problems.

No Straight Answer on Hair Straightening

The practice by black women of altering their has to make it look , ahem, more presentable, has always been something that bothered me , as well as the young men in my peer group. I remember growing out my afro while sitting for my A-Level exams. Me and my friends would ask the young ladies in our peer group why they did not grow their natural hair. We would get laugh at, dismissed, deflected, but never a straight answer. When I do get answers, they generally fall into the areas of function, or form.

The functional answer is usually based upon on how easy it is to maintain false hair , and more styles being available for straight hair. This obvious cop-out can be shown for what it is when you realize that there is now an entire sub-industry for black women with natural hair.

The same goes with the notion with regards to form. A black women with Caucasian hair is like a car with bicycle wheels for tires – they just don’t go together. The pink skin on a white woman’s face is usually quite well complimented by her long straight hair, as the colour of her skin does not reflect light and shadow the way the chocolate toned hue of a black woman does. Anyone who has had the pleasure of staring at a black woman’s face will understand what I mean. The way that shadow contours itself so smoothly against the hue of her cheeks, the softness of her eyelids as the light curves around her brow, is something that is unique to black women, and is not complimented by having tufts of straight hair hanging down the side of her face. The straight, striated, hair that grows naturally on white women perfectly compliments their angular cheeks, eyes, and noses. Black women, however, have hair that grows upwards, or, in the case of dreadlocks, in identifiably separate strands, that allow that perfectly compliment their rounded features.

Straight , stringy hair for angular features….
and an updo to show off facial features.

Of course, you cannot say this face to face to a black woman. That is a no-no in most black communities, where you will either be laughed at, or called a “natural hair Nazi.”

There is no such thing as “Natural” Hair

The term natural hair Nazi has come to describe a person whose vigilance in espousing the benefits of wearing Afro textured hair is so intense that it comes across as proselytizing, condescending, patronizing, annoying, and rude. I don’t know about the patronizing behaviour, but the idea of a “natural hair Nazi” is ridiculous to me. Not the Nazi part, Godwin’s Law notwithstanding, but the “natural hair” part.

If you go to a white woman, and ask her if she wears her in its natural state, she is going to look at you funny. Ask a woman of East Indian descent she wears her hair “natural”, she looks at you funny. Same thing with an Asian. Same thing with a Native American. The idea of natural hair is a misnomer to them because hair either hair, or extended hair, or processed hair.The idea of “natural hair”, to them, would be something like “wet rain” or “hot fire” or “dishonest PNP politician” – it is so redundant as to be unthinkable.

So if white women don’t have “natural” hair

Asian women don’t have “natural” hair

And all other women don’t have “natural” hair,

Why do black women have “natural” hair?

But within the Black Jamaican community “natural hair” has come to represent the (small) subset of women that do not chemically alter their hair, or use weaves. That an entire subculture has had to created for women who keep their hair in its natural state, should be seen in the same light as black people who choose to keep their skin in its natural complexion – a choice so natural as to be non controversial. Just as black men escaped the spell of the relaxer and its direct descendant, the jheri curl, so too must black women.

Ironically, it is the adjective “natural” that makes anyone who wishes to espouse black women using their own hair so difficult. This is because using the word “natural” to encourage black women to wear their actual hair makes any argument seem like a naive’ appeal to nature.

The perception of natural hair is even worse in the United States, where it is seen as merely a social signifier. At best, it is a signifier of Black consciousness or upward mobility. At worst, it signifies that the person is exclusively interested in romance with other races, a hippie, a neo-soul fan or, worst of all, a vegetarian.

The best way to fix this would be to create new categories – hair, processed hair, and artificial hair.

Weaves are hyperfeminine

Take a look at the below picture.

now, compare it to this one:

The woman up top has a traditionally male haircut, a Caesar style (all-in-one). Would you consider her to look more feminine, or less feminine than the ones in the below picture?If you are a normal, properly functioning, mentally stable, sexually healthy, heterosexual male, you would definitely say no. The women at the bottom don’t look like women, they look like exaggerated versions of women. In other words, they are women that look like men that look like women. By taking on an exaggerated femininity, they look exactly like another group of people that are an exaggerated parody of femininity – drag queens.

Worse still, are the other effects of processing and weaving – the smell. If you have ever had to endure the chemical smell of the lye mix (or any other alkali that they put in their head) you will know what I am talking about. The weaves are even worse than that. If you ever had the displeasure of waking up beside one, you will know that it is an experience akin to the way the hot air flies out of a hot oven and just hits you. Just replace hot air with the stench of formaldehyde and raw sweat.

Yet these women wish to consider themselves as being some sort of royalty or Barbie. I find it hard to see how they can arrive at this. When we were in West Africa, black women would wrap their hair in cloth (sometimes rafia cloth), and decorate it with flowers. The hair would be styled upwards, as the head was usually the part of the body closest to the sky, and thus closest to God.

Royalty

The effect was to make the hair look like an exquisite bouquet. Nowadays, black women buy hair cultivated from wildebeests, dead Russians, Chinese heroin junkies armpits and pubic areas, Indian temple goers and sofa cushions.Let me tell you, its hard to be black royalty when your crown is a Chinese junkie’s coochie hair.

Not royalty

They don’t call it a “yaki” for nothing.

Could it be that we all can just choose our blackness? That all our black is beautiful? The simple answer is no. If we can just choose our blackness, then we may just as well include the wiggers as black people. Saying that all black is beautiful while including features that are explicitly non-black ignores that blackness is not some belief system like Judaism, but has a specifically physically component that is inherently part of the black experience. Remember, there would be extreme consequences for any black who was  caught with an afro pick, or any other implement that was related to their indigenous culture.

But am I being too harsh? After all, white women get weaves too1 And you don’t see their men complaining about them weaving? That argument is like when white people say that they shouldn’t be held accountable for slavery, because “Arabs sold slaves too!” That type of derailment fails specifically because

  • White women are extending their hair – not replacing it with dreadlocks. In fact black people’s hair gets thrown into the garbage or burnt, instead of being resold back to us by Koreans
  • The fact that it has to be pointed out that white women wear weaves means that it is unnoticeable, and is thus intended for their head.
  • If the black women’s defense for wearing weaves is “black women wear weaves too!” then does it mean that they are trying to be white?

But the above delusional arguments did not just spring up out of nowhere. Black women rejecting their hair, to me, means a reject of blackness. Their rejection of blackness is a response to a metaphysical question that was asked by black people at the start of the 20th century -“Who am I?” and “What am I?” That question was answered in the middle in the of century by movements such as Rastafari and Black Power. But the way that they answered that question forced black women to make choice between being black, being a woman, or being a black woman. Those choices

Who killed natural hair?

That black women have, for the most part, disengaged themselves from issues of race is lamentable, but it was inevitable. You believe that black women still think of themselves as being a part of a community that is called Black People? Then go outside, and take a walk. Count how many Rastamen you see. Repeat that walk. Count how many Rastawomen you see. Maybe you live in another country, so repeat this exercise with Five-Percent Nation or Nation of Islam instead. I’m looking at something like a 6.2 to 1 ratio in favour (or rather, displeasure) of the men.

The reason why I chose those particular organizations is because in their respective societies, they represent the political vanguard of what is considered “Blackness” in each of their countries. Each of them eventually developed a culture of misogyny that was an exaggerated mirror of the the very societies that they claimed to be against. According to Barry Chevannes, Rastafari’s dominance by the House of Nyahbinghi in the 1940s, saw it take a fundamentalist turn, that embraced Old Testament biblical literalism. Specifically, the Book of Leviticus, complete with the cleanliness laws that have alienated black women from Rastafari – and by extension, most other black movements.

That’s just one example. Whether it be Stokely Carmichael telling black women that their only position in SNCC is “prone”, not to mention the treatment of women in the Black Panther Party, one cannot blame black women for being skeptical of any black movement. Here is Elaine Brown in th Black Panther Party.

“A woman in the Black Power movement was considered, at best, irrelevant. A woman asserting herself was a pariah. If a black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the black race. She was an enemy of the black people…. I knew I had to muster something mighty to manage the Black Panther Party.”

The above statement epitomizes everything that would keep black women away from any movement that involved blackness or Black Power. And then we wonder why black women have aproblem with blackness.

I’ve realized that its going o be very hard to celebrate blackness, without celebrating black women (yes , warts and all). And the sooner that other black men realize this, we can start celebrating ourselves.

We are all PNP (Personal National Party) members now!!

Veritas has posted about Jamaica’s infatuation with the People’s National Party,  The post, not surprisingly is with regards to the Estimates of Expenditure of the 2012 to 2013 budget.

 Of particular concern is the $19.4 billion tax package outlined by the Minister. Taking careful aim, Phillips applied the GCT to everything from milk, to crackers, to saltfish, even patties – while lowering the overall rate of the GCT by 1%. The tax on electricity, which was to have been abolished as promised by the PM herself, was expanded; printed material, the telecoms sector, the tourism sector – all taxed. Coupled with this massive tax package was a public sector wage freeze. The stage seemed set for riots and demonstrations, as was the case in 2009, when then Minister Shaw outlined a similar tax package. Instead, there has been little more than murmurings of discontent at the tax burden and a quiet acceptance of the wage freeze by public sector groups. I was stunned. What was so different when Shaw had proposed these measures? All hell had broken loose then, why not now? And then it hit me, this is PNP country. Jamaica is in bed with the PNP, and like an abused spouse, we silently bear the beatings, because surely Mama P loves us, a dats why she beat wi.

So a politician lied. Why is Veritas surprised?  He is surprised because the country has given up. When the Greeks got screwed over, they knew what to do. From Chris Hedges:

Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

Fuck with the Greeks, and they’ll get all Spartan on you ass.

But there is something that doesn’t sit well with me when I read Veritas’ article. The idea that Jamaica was PNP country only makes sense if a majority of the Jamaican population votes for the PNP. And with a voter turnout at the general election of 53% and a local government voter turnout of 34.5% I think its safe to say that the majority of Jamaicans aren’t really concerned about the political process. Hell, I ‘d put forth that the majority of Jamaican people really don’t care much about anything.

Well, there is something Jamaican’s do care about. Themselves. Everybody is an individual now, just compare Michael Manley back in 1972 with the 1988 version. When the Berlin Wall came down, and American consumer capitalism and Mont Pelerin style neoliberal governance came to dominate the Western world, all hope for a democratic socialist utopia got dashed and scattered like a boardhouse after Hurricane Gilbert. A simple glance at the number of scandals that the PNP took part in during from 1988 to 2001 will show that they have gone from being a socialist party to a kleptocratic, Machiavellian, political machine.

But doesn’t that describe all Jamaicans at this point? A non-ideological herd, struggling apart, yet alone together Go to any verandah, street corner, university or workplace and ask Jamaican people what they believe. Blackness, socialism, capitalism and other ideologies aren’t even on the radar. What we have are a nation of people that believe… nothing. Want nothing. Hope nothing. Expect nothing. Dream nothing. Desire nothing. Lets use the old Olympic test. Here’s the defining image of 1968:

And here is 2008

High crime rate, police killings, skin bleaching and economic stagnation? Chinese workers committing suicide at Foxconn’s factories? Fuck all that , I’ll take a PUMA contract , thank you very much….

Things wont change until someone gives Jamaicans something worth believing in. Because just like the PNP,  we sure don’t seem to believe in each other, even though every man believes in himself.