Monday, July 28, 2008

Young Boy Banned From Kindergarten For Being Native?

Arg. A frustrating story to start the week with, but at least there is action that one can take after reading this.

As reported by Jessica Yee on Racialiscious (and originally on Shameless), the superintendent at the Houston based Needville District School made a ruling that forbade 5 year old Apache Adriel Arocha from attending kindergarten. Why? Because he has long hair. In one foul sweep, superintendent Curtis Rhodes has enacted the double-whammy injustice of reproducing racist neo-colonialism AND gender conformist crap. Oh but there is more, as Jessica writes:

The kicker though is that the school board is willing to make exceptions on religious or other “proven” moral grounds, but doesn’t think that being Native American cuts it.

Even after Adriel’s father Kenny submitted a DNA sample of his blood and explained the long history of why many of us do not cut our hair until a family member dies, he received this response from superintendent Curtis Rhodes:

“To make exceptions, you have to be provided evidence of something, and to this point, I don’t feel I’ve been provided evidence to make an exception.”

Whatever. This is an absolutely ridiculous, gross misuse of power. Its a good thing that we can simply contact Curtis Rhodes to tell him what a shameful racist and gender-conformist power-tripping bully he is being, eh? Dial 0 for the district operator once you call.

Jessica Yee continues to write from a Native perspective here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mark Your Calendars! Men's Story Project @ La Peña, August 17th.

Hey Bay Area, its almost here y'all! The first installment of the Men's Story Project. I am proud to say that I was actually selected to perform in this project, but it looks like i need to wait for the next one to roll around, because I gotta WHOLE HEAP of personal vibes going on that are taking up emotional space, and self-care dictates that I not take this time to go up on stage and be all vulnerable. That said, I encourage people to support this project, I saw some of the performances in progress, and... WOW. Men are bringing the REALNESS. Speaking truth. Being vulnerable. Being strong. Being funny. Being... men.

Josie Lehrer, the awesome person who conceived and curated the project describes:

The Men's Story Project (MSP) is a new public performance and community discussion project examining social ideas about masculinity, using the arts as a medium for community-building and social change. It aims to give voice to men's stories that are less often heard; to break silences on issues including sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism and violence – and ways in which these interplay with norms around masculinity; to celebrate men’s beauty and strength; and to stimulate active discussion on what being a man can be all about. The ultimate goal of this replicable project is to help expand the presence of genuine personal expression, open dialogue, peace, and social justice in communities. The project is getting started in the San Francisco Bay Area.

...In tha East Bay to be specific! EAST BAY! EAST BAY! ok, lemme calm down... but did you ever notice that East Bay is pig latin for beast? I digress. So yes, mark dem calendars, and see you in the house! Also peep the website for more info, and a picture of our smiley faces. Bless up


Monday, July 21, 2008

Bob Marley's "Kinky Reggae": A Coded Song Preaching Tolerance For Homosexuality And Jamaican Sexual Taboos?

This might be a challenging post for some Jamaicans and Bob Marley fans! Good :)

But if you are "challenged", please write a comment-- and tell me what you think Bob is singing about!

Ive talked about this song to friends for years, and how it seems to be dealing with homosexuality and cunnilingus (another Jamaican taboo, sigh... maybe that is another post to deal with this issue! It is definitely a product of Jamaican patriarchy though, clear in the language... songs tell men not to "bow" and advises us to keep our "heads high", because i guess men should not bow to women. I suspect that it may also have something to do with not teaching "your woman" to enjoy "lesbian sex"). For years I sung along to this song, practically thinking it was just a silly, almost nonsensical song really. Then I really listened to the words:

Kinky Reggae by Bob Marley

I went downtown
I saw Miss Brown
She had brown sugar
All over her booga-wooga.

I think I might join the fun
But I had to hit and run.
See I just can't settle down
In a kinky part of town.

Ride on;
Don't you know I've got to ride on.
Ride on; see I just can't settle down.
Oh, I'm a leavin' town.

Kinky reggae
Kinky reggae, now!
Kinky reggae; all I've got to say,
kinky reggae, now!
Kinky reggae, oh baby!
Kinky reggae, now!
It's gonna be kinky reggae.
Kinky reggae, now!
An' I would say: ride on, ride on, ride on
Oh, ride on, baby!
Ride on, ride on.

I went down to Piccadilly Circus
Down there I saw Marcus:
He had a candy tar
All over his chocolate bar.

I think I might join the fun,
But I had to hit and run.
See I just can't settle down
In a kinky, kinky part of town.

Nice one; that's what they say,
But I'm leavin' you today.
Oh, darlin', please don't play
Mama say - mama say.

Kinky reggae
Kinky reggae, now!
Take it or leave it!
Kinky reggae
Believe it!
Kinky reggae, now!

Kinky, kinky, kinky as kinky can be ! Reggae! Eh!

See what i mean? It looks like Bob put a message out there on these subjects the only way he could so it could be assimilated by a mainstream Jamaican audience, as a cryptic allegory. I remember wondering if Bob was operating from a different usuage of the word "kinky" that would have him declare that this song was "kinky, kinky, kinky as kinky can be", because the song seemed extremely tame sexually. But then, upon a second look, it would seem this really is some Kinky Reggae!

Miss Brown has "brown sugar all over her booga-wooga" is clearly a code for being invited to go down on a woman. Some Jamaicans may argue that "boogas" is our slang for sneakers, which is true. But this is booga-wooga thang... think its something else people. Besides, lets remember, the name of the song is "Kinky Reggae"! Not sure Bob was trying to take this to shoe fetishism...

In the song, Bob also muses "i think i might join the fun, but i had to hit and run, see i just can't settle down in a kinky part of town." What is great about this is that Bob actually contemplates accepting the invitation! He has an open mind on the issue. He just knows for himself where the boundaries of his preferences lie. 

Ok. Here is the arguably more controversial stanza! Here, Marcus approaches Bob with "candy tar all over his chocolate bar." Woy! Now, this is controversial for multiple reasons. Not only because it is a coded invitation for Bob to perform fellatio, but because, of ALL names to use... Marcus?? Bob, yu well kinky fi true. Anyway, AGAIN Bob actually takes a moment to contemplate accepting the invitation, he doesn't fly off the handle, he calmly mulls it over, which is something a lot of us hetero men DO NOT DO. So much of male hetero posturing is around reflexively reacting with disapproval to male homoerotic situations without actually thinking about it in a deep way. This is where the root of the word homophobia really comes to light. Fear That You Are The Same. Many hetero men cannot tolerate really thinking about these issues for fear of their own sexuality. This fear is then acted out and projected onto queer folks, some of whom may actually have more fully engaged themselves in the quest for knowing oneself. More so than a person who cannot even honestly dialogue about the spectrum of sexuality without starting to feel angry. 

Anyways, after some open minded contemplation ("think i might join the fun") Bob again decides that it is not his thing. No violent reaction, just "ride on."

Bob continues, saying "mama say, mama say", which gives testament to the passing on of the conditioning around these issues, which he acknowledges in himself. He concludes with "Take it or leave it! Believe it!" Which is the most beautiful message in the song. An acknowledgment that this "kinkiness" is not for everyone. An invitation to really allow yourself to contemplate where you stand, and if it is for you, take it. If it is not for you, leave it. And leave others alone who choose it. And you best Believe It!

"Take it or leave it" makes so much sense to me in terms of dealing with sexuality, and also as a slogan directed towards actively homophobic people who may be abusive to queer folks. It reminds me of a hilarious bumper sticker I saw that read: "Don't like gay folks? Then don't f**k any!!" That is so perfect. The preoccupation of supposedly hetero folks with what queer folks are doing is a suspect activity. It is bordering on fetishization.

My dad, rest his soul, always maintained that he never understood this preoccupation, this energetic overcompensation. Why care so much about what other people are doing, that has nothing to do with you? I am proud to say that after my dad passed, I found out that he had intervened in a gay bashing in downtown Kingston sometime in his 20's. My sister related it to me as he told her; he apparently came upon a scene with a man getting beaten. My dad, always with a heart that loathed injustice and loved building Jamaican community, shouted for them to stop. The men said in not too kind words that the man was gay. My dad maintained that this was a stupid reason to hurt a human being, and somehow broke up the bashing. I am proud that my dad, a man born in rural Jamaica (Manchester) and lived most of his life in Kingston, was somehow able to discard years of cultural taboos and see things in terms of justice and humanity. Giving thanks for that dad. Nuff love and respect.

If you know some yardie people, beg yu fowad dis to dem! I am well curious as to what my fellow Jamaicans have to say about this one! Gonna close out with a video of Bob Marley and the Wailers performing "Kinky Reggae" with a rather eccentric variety show host :) Enjoy! As for me, riding on, riding on....

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Thomas Glave Creates A Pioneering Anthology of Gay Writings From The Caribbean.

Thomas Glave, an activist, writer, and gay man of Jamaican descent has fulfilled a dream that has been in the making for 5 and half years. The dream? To compile the invisibilized voices of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks from around the Caribbean. Voices that he says have also long been "separated by language and the sea". The book Our Caribbean: A Gathering Of Lesbian And Gay Writing From The Antilles is the actualization of that dream. It is the first book of its kind, and includes the works of 37 writers from 14 Caribbean countries, and some of the entries are published here in english for the first time. It includes the works of Audre Lourde, Andrew Salkey, Makeda Silvera, Helen Klonaris, Achy Obejas and many more including works from Thomas Glave himself. The literary works in here are as varied in style as they are in perspective, from journalistic academic essays, to poetry, to bittersweet humorous narratives and more. The anthology embodies a "wild salad of all the ways of being" as Thomas Glave describes it in his NPR interview. There are many perspectives, but many entries also share a thread of commonality around struggles with family, community, Christianity, and navigating love and desire against the tidal wave of invalidating cultural taboos.

On the topic of religion and sexuality, Thomas Glave has called himself a "living breathing paradox: A Rasta Battyman." This was in an interview in the premiere Jamaican newspaper too, The Daily Gleaner. And i gotta say, as a Jamaican man, that phrase falls on my ears as a cultural impossibility! Nuff props to him for walking that path and holding the complexity. Though not as culturally visceral for me on a personal level, this paradox reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend and creative collaborator, the super talented and wonderful Meshell Ndegeocello. With a smile she spoke about her journey as a tattooed, queer Muslim. She told me that she expressed this personal navigation in her mostly instrumental album, which is subtitled "The Dance Of The Infidel", since she is considered an infidel on many levels in the faith that she belongs to. Glave's book also documents similar journeys of being a member of a religion that has moral stances from thousands of years ago that condemn same-sex love.

So far, i have found some positive responses in Jamaican blogs that cover this book, including BonitaJamaica, Geoffrey Philip's Blogspot, and i was pleased to find a review in ForeWord Magazine that focuses on the piece contributed by my Bahamian friend Helen Klonaris, "Independence Day Letter." Go Helen! Also check out her blog, she is a great writer.

It is definitely worth noting that Thomas Glave is a co-founder of J-FLAG, the sole Jamaican LGBT advocacy group. They are an important resource that among other functions, essentially operates as an underground railroad for queer Jamaicans. The straight/gay alliance group I belong to (and Helen Klonaris as well!) Love Liberation Collective has had events where we do book drives and raise funds for JFLAG. Thomas Glave, in accordance with his activist work, recently issued a statement that was directed towards Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who as i recently blogged, stated that he would never have a homosexual in his cabinet. Glave's response:

As a gay man of Jamaican background I am appalled and outraged by the Prime Minister’s having said only three days ago on BBC-TV that homosexuals will not have any place in his Cabinet and, implicitly, by extension, in Jamaica. I guess this means that there will never be any room in Mr Golding’s Cabinet for me and for the many, many other men and women in Jamaica who are homosexual. And so I now feel moved to say directly to Mr Golding that it is exactly this kind of bigotry and narrow-mindedness that Jamaica does not need any more of, and that you, Mr Golding, should be ashamed of yourself for providing such an example of how not to lead Jamaica into the future. And so, Mr Golding, think about how much you are not helping Jamaica the next time you decide to stand up and say that only some Jamaicans – heterosexuals, in this case – have the right to live in their country as full citizens with full human rights, while others – homosexuals – do not. That is not democracy. That is not humane leadership. That is simply the stupidity and cruelty of bigotry.

Woy! Ah some real talk dat... I wonder if we will ever get a response.... you know i will blog it if THAT happens!

In closing, I wanted to post a quote from the book that I think essentializes the struggle that us Jamaicans have at this point around homophobia in our culture. Because impositions from other countries on Jamaica (other countries with their own institutionalized heterosexism and cultural paradigms) without dialogue or understanding of Jamaica and Jamaicans aren't going to create change in Jamaica. I think that can cause more harm than good. I would more so see change happening from within, with assistance from outside that is specifically asked for from queer Jamaicans. Any ally to queer Jamaicans can't run tings, you know? But first, on the internal tip, i believe this is our task at hand:

Even as we seek to restore "indigenous knowledge" systems, we must simultaneously seek to sharpen an "indigenous" criticism.
- Charles Carnegie, anthropologist. pg. 80

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

John McCain Vows To Overturn Roe Vs. Wade If Elected

Ok... sorry to be alarmist, but... its clinch time people! McCain is promising to flex his white (house) male privilege muscle and decide what women should do with their bodies. He has a statement on his website where he shares the steps he will take to make abortion illegal, except in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman might die from childbirth. His answer is adoption. He has even led by example and adopted a child from Bangladesh (please god let that have been the only white child in the orphanage, its gonna be rough enough). For some reason, the fact that orphans in US orphanages are currently growing out of adoptable age and leaving without ever having had a permanent home... yeah. The Angry Black Woman blogs about this and some of the other reasons why McCain is not the best person to vote for.

If you are reading this, probably you are already on point. But we need to TALK to disgruntled Clinton fans about solidarity here. If you were pro-Clinton, I understand that you are disappointed. Angry. And a host of other feelings. I would even say, allow yourself to feel these feelings thoroughly. Because we are going to need you on Election Day. We are going to need you to (yes) vote for Obama. I mean, not even Bush made a statement about planning to illegalize abortion. Sure, he appointed conservative judges, but so far, no re-plunge into medieval policies around reproductive rights.

Don't make a decision now, just look at McCain's site, and think about it. Promise?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence? Freedom? Liberation? Born In Flames!

I was on my way to a Farce Of July barbecue and was thinking, what can I put out there today that can truly speak to freedom and independence? So many of us could not vote, were enslaved, weren't allowed to marry (and some of us STILL aren't allowed to marry) at the time when we celebrate the "independence" of this country. Its always good to have time off with friends and family, but it can also feel at least a little weird, celebrating this holiday.

I offer an activity to celebrate today-- watch Lizzie Borden's "Born In Flames!" (1983) This is the classic, revolutionary, feminist, speculative fiction film that unites the Black Power/Black Feminist Movement, Riot Grrls, and the Queer Liberation movement in an unprecedented alliance for the liberation of women. It is done in a DIY documentary style that has non-linear 70's psychedelic elements as well. The conclusion is chillingly prophetic too. Check it out if you haven't peeped it! I know i am due to see it again, gonna go buy a copy.

I'll leave you with a clip of the movie (one of my alma maters, Lehman College gets a big up! Boogie Down Bronx in the house!). Maximum respect to all survivors of oppression and your ancestors. None of us are free til all of us are free. Ashé.