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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Badness Forever


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Show me a country where the majority of the populace comprises descendants of slaves, slave masters, and indentured workers, and where law and order is not a major problem, and Beelzebub will show you the kingdom of heaven on earth. Is there some historical element in our psyche that forces us to defy law and order? Have we inherited this inalienable right?

You can read tomes of literature on the causes of crime. You might even be a victim of crime, or worse, (or is it better?), a perpetrator of crime. You can agree with the experts, like Jamaican Dr. Bernard Headley, that the cause of all street-level crime and violence resides “in the nature of society itself, not in the mental or emotional states of its citizens”. Yet when you confront the corollary that the recipe for preventing crime would be the creation of a social-economic system that can deliver social and economic justice to all, you embrace your head in worrying doubt.

Can it be that a society that has not engaged in reconciliation and reparations for past wrongs, continues to live out the past? The foes may change but the forces of evil remain the same. How else can you explain the way we treat each other? It’s not that criminals do not know their neighbours as themselves. Indeed, they have to study them very well before executing (pardon the pun) their jobs. It’s simply, according to Dr. Headley, that the neighbour is a removable, depersonalized obstruction standing between the criminals and their prize. It’s akin to traversing a nasty pothole on route to a prime, crime destination. Fix it, for badness sake.

Another expert, Dr. Obika Gray, writes about the concept of badness-honour. He notes that defiance among the urban poor is remarkable for its preoccupation with matters of identity, honour and respect. Tie this to the treatise by Dr. Orlando Patterson that to understand slavery, we must grasp the importance of honour. He contends that slavery is a great deal more than an institution allowing property-in-people. It is “the permanent, violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonoured persons”. “Dissing” is not new and it has always carried a heavy price. Criminals, including dons and their subjects, understand “diss”.

Badness-honour, simply put, is the idea that there is honour and respect in badness. It is the securing of power, honour and respect by use of intimidation. This intimidation may be overt or covert; covert even to the point of passive vulgarity. I recall a Jamaican who visited Antigua in the 70’s complaining to me in Jamaica how he initially found Antiguans tame and almost respectfully docile. He had passed a dread on the street and shouted, “Hail de dread”, to which the dread replied, “Goodnight Sir”.

He received the obverse, classically and uniquely Antiguan response, when he was ignorant enough to ask a saleslady (so he thought she was) in a bread shop, if she sold needle and thread. Her response was bombastic, fantastic and iconoclastic, “Arwe na sell dem subben ya”. Figuring out the dialect and the dialectic response from “the look” of her voice, he readily apologized by saying that he was a stranger who had just arrived in the island. Such a feeble admission earned him the coup de grace response, “Ana fu me fault that”.

It must be registered that badness-honour is not the currency of the vast majority of the poor, but rather, of a tiny minority. It should also be placed on record, as Dr. Gray does, that badness-honour is not a resource available only to the disadvantaged. Power holders from slave masters, to colonial authorities and party bosses in postcolonial societies have employed it.

Badness-honour can take the illusion of goodness. As my dear father told it (God rest his soul), a bank customer, who just happened to be a white English man, complained to the bank manager that my father had opened the bank door late. It was sympathetically explained to the bank manager and the English gentleman that the bank opened by, and only by, the wrist watch of my father, a timepiece that carried BBC time. Moreover, massaged my father, if he were to open the bank door by the gentleman’s time, he would be compelled, by the inimitable logic of the bank, to close the bank by the same gentleman’s time. My dear father suggested to them that for the sake of good customer service, he was not averse so to do. But, and he slowly kneaded and injected the coup de grace, he would have to go searching all over the island for the good gentleman because he had no knowledge whatsoever of where he lived. You see the problem?

It is ironically remarkable, until you understand badness-honour, that some of the demonstrators, right up front with giant placards, chanting and waving, in public marches against the UPP government, are the very same ones who benefit most from the policies of this government. Be silly enough to point this out to them and you will earn an unadulterated dose of our second national motto, “Me na kay”, sometimes adulterated by a concoction of expletives delivered with an adagio that only a badness-honour symphony can play.

Justification of badness-honour is ubiquitous. With all the wrongs meted out to Jews, and they have meted out their share, it took me an extra hour to fall asleep to BBC radio when an American Jew rebuked President Obama for comments about Jewish settlement in occupied territory. After all, the territory was given to the Jews by God and was once “occupied’ by King David. You see the problem.

Badness-honour takes all forms of expression. When you hear talk on the radio that rape is not about sex, and that it is all about power and control, you wonder if these people have actually had sex. Sex is all about power and control. But in rape, the power and control is neither shared nor consented. Rape hijacks the native power and control ingredients of sex, and perverts them to and beyond the most imaginable extreme, to a vile and inhumane form of badness-honour. Christian fundamentalism and badness-honour inform some dancehall proponents to kill homosexuals and yet the same self-appointed social gladiators are unsighted of their depersonalization of women, to which the dancehall queen contributes so much.

So again, is there some historical element in our psyche that forces us to defy law and order? Have we inherited this inalienable right? We have to know the answer because it seems strange to me that badness-honour exited from slavery time until now, that badness-honour can be used and manipulated, that in our attempt to prevent crime we will create a social-economic system that can deliver social and economic justice to all, and yet badness-honour will still throttle our existence.

It also seems strange to me that slavery has ended and yet, to at least attempt to remove or reduce badness-honour on all fronts, there is no reconciliation, no reparations to restore honour; not one communally rejuvenating thing. So, in the eyes of the criminal, we the majority are left with the empty solace that society should look on the bright side of life because he did not shoot the neighbour, he did not shoot up the police station (this time), he did not shoot the deputy (for “dissing” him). We are lucky. He just shot the sheriff.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Road to the Future


Dr. Lester CN Simon

We can predict the future. We do it all the time. The last time it rained and we ventured outside without an umbrella, we got soaking wet. We predict that the same thing will happen if we do the same thing the next time it rains. Predictions do not have to be absolutely correct all the time. They just have to be good or fair often enough to give our predictions an acceptable degree of credibility.

We recall there was a badly filled ditch across Friar’s Hill road many weeks ago and that it went from bad to worse. It was partly responsible for the death of two persons in a terrible motor vehicle accident. Immediately afterwards, Public Works (one of our oxymora) fixed the spot. There is a similar area in the road by the northern gate of the Anglican Cathedral. It’s unlikely that there will an accident here because of speeding since it is on the crest of an often congested hill. It’s also unlikely that someone will become so irate over the disrepair of the road that they will stop and put down one piece of cursing. After all, they would be just outside Big Church. We predict that it will not be before next Easter that the spot of bother will be fixed.

Next Easter, the church will enact the walk of Jesus to his crucifixion. Someone, preferably a worker at Public Works, and a churchgoer) will be asked to bear the symbolic cross, and he will stumble and fall at the very spot that needs repairing. When our predictions are generally good, we will occasionally make a knowingly false prediction to some people, in order to get the appropriate, opposite action from others. Let’s see.

The world is watching to see the future of countries like ours, comprising the descendents of slaves and slave masters and others. In particular, the world is watching to see the future of Antigua and Barbuda. Because of the unique mix of Caribbean nationals and other nationals living here, we are unwittingly the nidus of the future of the Caribbean. To see what our future will be like, we have to understand the journeys that descendants of slaves and slave masters must take whether or not they are aware of their fated rites of passage.

First, let us regard the descendants of slaves. Initially, we must recognize why we were enslaved and why and how we were freed. Then we will sing and dance and dress up like nobody else. Different forms of emancipation will last for varyingly long periods of time. You must have heard the story about the rapper, Talib Kweli, driving through the Mississippi delta and seeing a brother running with no shoes or shirt on. Stopping the car for fear that the man might be in trouble, and offering assistance, the man, unaware of the end of slavery, responded, "Shhhhhh... I’m escaping!"

Our self adoration, as a form of emancipation, will become so defining, a popular, local clothing store will cleverly advertise itself using the slogan, “We go kill dem wid clothes”. Our singing, dancing and dressing, as well as our conspicuous consumption, will be the life motif and motive of many. The next, future step away from the middle towards the end of our rites of passage will be the hardest. It demands the partial stepping out from ourselves, the truest emancipation of them all, and our beginning to see our environment as us and not just a place, a landscape, a geography.

We will know we are approaching our remarkable future when we stop littering and literally see beyond our noses whist smelling and abhorring the stench so close to us. We will redesign our cities and environs for business and for pleasure, in equal measure, primarily for us, as if we were the substance of a cake, and our visitors, guests, and tourists, the icing. Designing our environment will be a natural extension of the laying out of the inside and outside of our homes. Emancipating ourselves will be defined by our freeing of our environment.

When we look ahead at the burgeoning development along Friar’s Hill Road we will see that the entire eastern area needs to be circumscribed by major roads. In addition to Friar’s Hill Road itself, and Lauchland Benjamin Drive, two more roads paralleling these two should be added to form an embracing square or a quadrilateral roadway with a verdant oasis somewhere within.

Secondly, for their rites of passage, the descendants of slave masters will accept that there were various classes of slaves and that some of the ingenuity and expertise ascribed to slave masters were in fact engineered or modified by artisan slaves who came over with immense knowledge and high levels of skills. Until and unless the symbolic gesture of reparations is made, we will be denied the respect and the resources for the reconciliatory healing process. We will continue to wander though an economic, social and psychic deuteronomy. Interestingly, reparations will remove the pseudo-philosophy some of us espouse, refusing to repay loans we signed for and blaming others for every single, little error we make, including all the bad manners and all bad mindedness we harbour, and all our inefficiencies and misfortunes.

When, as a candidate for president, Barack Obama opposed offering reparations to the descendants of slaves and yet contended that, “The best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed”, was he being duplicitous, diplomatic or both?

We can judge people by simple, common actions and qualities. How many times after stopping our vehicles for someone, young and old, to cross the road, do we have to remind them, using a geometry of gesticulations, to say thanks? Our future will begin when we no longer have to remind others to give thanks (and praise, as our Rastafarian brethren remind us). Our future will begin when the indecent haste to dig up the road to lay utility pipes will be followed by an equally decent haste to repair the damage.

We predict that the emancipated future of the Caribbean will be assured when, in our Sunday-best clothes, going to mass in an edifice described as "the most imposing of all the Cathedrals of the West Indian Province”, after 28 years of independence, we do not accept driving or walking for weeks over lumps and bumps and patches and pitches of stone and dirt, in a major road, at the steps of a cathedral whose cornerstone was properly laid more than 165 years ago.