Book Clubs and Bozos

Rebel Women Lit (Jamaica-based book club) finally has a Mobay chapter and I was all over the first meeting.

There were three of us. And despite the book on the table – Marlon James’s Black Leopard Red Wolf – the meeting was delightful.

Well, except for the gatecrasher who wouldn’t stop offering unsolicited opinions on a variety of topics not related to the book at hand. Gems included:

“The Bible is a great book – you should read it”

Also,

“I really think you’d like Cowboy Bebop”

and not to be outdone,

“Don’t you think people are too sensitive about everything these days? It’s like you can’t even make a joke without someone taking offense”

I am not making these up, you guys. They’re actual quotes from an actual stranger who sat down with a group of women discussing a book and felt that was the best moment to go full Kanye West.

And if you guessed that he was a man, you’d be right.

Specifically of the cisgender heteronormative variety. (You know, those people).

When I reflect on the experience I think the universe was just trying to give us the pinnacle of feminist experiences. I mean, he was only the biggest stereotype ever to walk into a cafe. We couldn’t have planned that if we tried.

In the moment though, we were all paralyzed by politeness into exchanging glances that said “Can you believe this guy?” for TWO WHOLE HOURS.

(We could not, in fact, believe him.)

Despite the interloper, we enjoyed ourselves. I have some strong opinions on the book – we agreed it was a polarizing story – even though I didn’t make it past the first twenty pages. Some other time I’ll write about why we all need to stop reading books just because they’re popular (life is too short to read shit that doesn’t spark joy).

For now I’m glad my social calendar is evolving. And if this first meeting is any indication, I may not always be on board with the book picks but I’ll always show up for a bookish conversation.

And coffee. Coffee is non-negotiable.

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From Preatoria to Hopefield

Some thoughts on “The Problem with Black Hair”

Jamaican girls with unmixed African hair – that super coiled, cry when it combing out, deceptively short until you tug on a strand hair – have mostly always relaxed their hair. Which, like most major life decisions, is totally okay when it’s a choice. Not so okay when  mothers relax their 5 year old’s hair because they just can’t bother to comb it.

Recently there’s been a movement toward “embracing your curls” – which some of my more cynical and curlier friends have decried as a purely “mixed girl hair” movement. African hair doesn’t bounce around your ears in curly waves, they complain, no matter how much product you put in it. Fair point, but short accessorized afros are steadily gaining pace among trendy hairstyles of the 21st century. And I am so happy when I see people not giving up on their natural hair for the sake of having it easy.

If you know me, you would know that statement is more than a little hypocritical, because my sole purpose in locking my hair was to have a low maintenance hairstyle. I hate combing my hair, bitterly, but I didn’t want to relax it because chemicals are terrifying. Locs were the compromise.

It helped my decision that locs are still relatively uncommon in this part of the island – the Kingston liberal arts and hipster scene is awash with dreads both real and temporary but in Montego Bay I’ve found locs are largely restricted to the working class. And I like to make minor stirs when I can, upset people’s predisposed notions.

The radically opposing points of view on black hair simply cannot find middle ground. There is the “natural camp” and the “neat camp” and for some reason they have decided that never the twain shall meet. Obviously one can be natural and neat, if one only adjusts and compromises the meanings behind those adjectives.

The afro is going to face the same uphill battle that locks did, because of its historic associations. Once upon a time, the only people with locs or afros were people who couldn’t afford to straighten their hair (read: poor people) or people who were rebelling against society (read: criminals). This antipathy toward hair that isn’t long and straight with no strand out of place is as entrenched as our antipathy toward melanin, toward the spectrum of sexuality, toward difference on a whole.

But the world is moving forward, tentatively. Acceptance is in.

Journo Thugs! Pen-toting Partisans Drive Fear into the Hearts of Intellectuals

Firstly, congrats to all the recent MBBS candidates who were successful in their examinations! The Class of 2015 is officially next in line (pretending not to shake in my boots here).

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Jamaica Observer recently published an article entitled: Homo Thugs!: Gun-toting Gays Drive Fear in Citizens of Garrison Communities by Karyl Walker.

Cue outraged gay rights lobbyists.

In addition to its subject matter, the writing in the article is a complete journalistic travesty. To quote a friend of mine (fully qualified – in postgrad journalism school. There’s a fancy word for that).

There are relevancy issues, libel issues, morality issues, source issues – all on top of really bad writing and lazy reporting.

Since we can all agree that this article has no journalistic merit, I’ll tackle all the emotional pots it is trying to stir. Which is all of them. Sensationalism has found a new home.

The attached picture features a tube of pink lipstick overlying spent shells and a necklace with the male symbol. Which is just all kinds of stereotypical.

No way am I claiming this image. Horrible image.

Imagine if the article was talking about black people and pictured fried chicken and grape juice. Maybe someone in a ski mask robbing a grocery store. Not to mention the persistent belief that all the homosexuals are men. Female homosexuality is always shuffled off to some quiet corner, tacitly condoned with creepy leering and socially acceptable fantasies.

The first paragraph really sets the tone for the entire article:

DESPITE claims from local and international gay rights activists that Jamaica is a fiercely homophobic country, recent evidence is suggesting that homosexuals are living openly in some of the country’s notoriously tough garrisons without hassle or intimidation.

It sounds like they’re saying Jamaican garrisons have accepted homosexuality, but what they’re actually saying is

“YOU’RE SLACKING OFF, GARRISONS. YOU HAD ONE JOB.”

Their aim is not to prove that our country can be accepting, it’s to prove that gay men will kill us in our sleep if we don’t.

Image credit: cocoacasino.com

The train wreck continues.

A reliable police source said that it is common knowledge in the constabulary that some of the top names in the criminal underworld were homosexual and had relations with multiple gay partners.

However, because of their fearsome reputations, many persons who know of their lifestyle keep their mouths tightly shut in fear for their lives.

Why is Karyl Walker trying to tell us that people would call the cops on homosexuals if only they weren’t criminals too. It’s like saying, “I want to tell the police what this man does in the privacy of his bedroom, but I can’t say anything because he also sells guns and drugs to children.”

So-called informers are ready and willing to point fingers at “crimes” of sexuality, but hesitate when confronted with crimes against humanity: murder, rape, human trafficking.

Image from dvice.com

She finally crashes into what may actually be libel with her closing paragraph reaching for an illicit relationship between recently murdered Montegonian Kenley “Bebe” Stevens (openly gay and rumoured to be a criminal) and Member of Parliament Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams.

Stephens was fingered in the illegal lotto scam, the stealing of electricity, among other illegal activities. He had strong connections in the ruling PNP, as he was one of the main fund-raisers in that part of Jamaica, and was recently elected vice-chairman of the party’s West Central St James constituency, headed by state minister for industry, commerce and investment, Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, who is also MP for the constituency.

I know journalism in this country has been taking a turn for the worse ever since I learnt how to read but sometimes it’s just really disappointing (and slightly nauseating) when the top stories from our national newspapers are no better than the top stories in our tabloids. I expect bad journalism from The Star but the Jamaica Observer has disappointed me for the last time.

Housewives and Happiness

Housewife (n): a married woman whose main occupation is caring for her family, managing household affairs, and doing housework.

What is the deal with people hating on housewives? Feminists especially seem to see the designation as a kind of personal insult. As if the business of running a household is a demeaning occupation that all women everywhere should try to rise above.

May I be the first to disagree?

I’ve had this argument with my classmates, mostly because everyone has the same stereotype about housewives. You know, the desperate type; the dependent ones; the gold-diggers. If that’s what you’re calling a housewife, then no wonder there’s so much disdain for them. But that’s not really what being a housewife is supposed to be. At least, that’s not the way I think about it.

To me housewives don’t just spend their husband’s money and do nothing all day. They’re the backbone of the home. They cook and clean and make sure things run smoothly. They stay home with the children. They greet their husbands at the door. They write and blog and have interesting hobbies like hand-making DIY crafts out of mason jars. For the most part, they’re happy and fulfilled.

I do realize that my idea of housewives is a little idealistic but I just don’t see them as depressed or useless or boring. I don’t see why a woman who’s a housewife is any less of a woman than a woman who’s a doctor. Or the other way around.

People find fulfilment in different ways. You might feel a soul-deep contentment when you’re elbow deep in resecting someone’s colon cancer; I might get the same feeling from knowing my family is happy and well-fed. The goal as a woman – as a human being – is to find what makes you happy and do that, regardless of stereotypes and expectations*. We shouldn’t fight to fit into some predetermined mould at the cost of our peace of mind, and we ought not to judge someone whose source of happiness is different from ours.

I realize this is difficult and, again, I’m probably being idealistic. This is a world of compromised values and hurt feelings. Some of us like to think we’re a little better others and judge them accordingly but that isn’t what we should be doing, and it isn’t making us any happier. We strive for ideals everyday; we try to achieve perfection in a million different things. Why can’t happiness be one of them?

And while you’re off learning to be happy, try not to judge people who are doing the same.

 

*Although if torturing puppies and small children makes you happy, I would strongly encourage you to live up to society’s expectations of not being a sociopath.