The South side of things

Ad Meliora (Towards better things)

Bronze Age Reasoning at its Best

In writing this article, I would firstly like to pay tribute to the late Asami Nagakiya, a Japanese citizen, but arguably, a Trini at heart; a lover of Trinidadian culture, especially our steel pan. I further want to mention and to remember the victims of rape, murder and gender based violence, regardless of whether the victims were male or female.

 

Background

On February 10, 2016, the body of Asami Nagakiya, a Japanese citizen was found in the Queen’s Park Savannah, in Port of Spain. After an autopsy was conducted, it was found that she was strangled to death. Tributes have been pouring in as this young lady’s love for Trinidad and Tobago culture saw her travelling from her home country of Japan, to T&T to participate in the festivities as well as to play steel pan (the national instrument) with a local steel band.

The Mayor of Port of Spain, His Worship Raymond Tim Kee, on commenting about the death of the young woman, commented that “…women have the responsibility to ensure that they are not abused.” (He neglected to point out however, the role and responsibilities of men to NOT rape and commit murder).This comment, and other comments in his statement, has prompted widespread backlash, as well as support, dividing the country’s opinion on this issue.

The full video of his comments may be viewed  here (courtesy CCN TV6).

At the time of speaking, the goodly mayor began making assumptions about the victim being raped. However, at the time of speaking, the autopsy performed indicated that she was strangled to death. No rape was mentioned. However, the mayor continued that you must “let your imagination roll” thus, ignoring the facts of the report conducted.

The mayor’s comments went on to be covered by The Washington post, The Japan Times and the Antillean Media Group.

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Article taken from the Saturday Express. February 13, 2016.

“I apologize, but people agree with me”

Women’s rights advocates, feminists, politicians and civil society have harshly condemned the words of the mayor. Subsequently, he issued an apology via a statement which included the following:

“His Worship the Mayor unequivocally apologises to women and the national population who were offended by remarks attributed to him following the death of Carnival visitor and mas player, Asami Nagakiya. Mayor Tim Kee says his comments were completely misconstrued and one particular headline unfortunately stated ‘PoS mayor criticises women’ drawing fire even before the article was read. Mayor Tim Kee said he advised women to take responsibility and protect themselves, as so many women are the victims of abuse at the hands of others.”

The statement went on  saying that the mayor “…has also received calls of support from several women agreeing with him on the lack of modesty displayed by some women and girls on the streets during Carnival.”

Many have rejected this apology offered by the mayor, saying that instead of being heartfelt, he paid lip service, opting to eventually revert to his original stance. An online petition circulating calling for the resignation of Mayor Tim Kee has garnered (at my last check) approximately 6000 signatures.

Religious leaders to the rescue!

The mayor’s comments about this matter, which barely acknowledged the horrendous crime that took place, were targeted at women’s behaviour, symptomatic of a wider issue of women-shaming in our country. We needn’t look any further than the evangelical right wing that operates in this country, or religious leadership in general. I feel like I must quote verbatim from an article by the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, titled Religious Leaders support Tim Kee:

“Pentecostal Pastor Dr Winston Cuffie, in a strongly worded statement, condemned the behavior of women during Carnival, saying Carnival highlights that women are their own worst enemies…Cuffie continued, ‘Carnival is all about the sordid, callous denigrating and exploitation of women by the dragging of their dignity, worth and value into the gutter. And the saddest part of this, is that the most ardent accomplice to this crime is the woman herself.’

Sat Maharaj, Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, stated unequivocally, that Tim Kee was right and did not need to apologize. Maharaj commented, ‘I agree with him (Tim Kee) that women’s vulgar and lewd behavior make them vulnerable to sexual crimes.’ ”

Interestingly, not one of these religious leaders attempted to condemn those who were doing the ‘exploitation.’ None of these religious leaders admonished MEN for not having self control, putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of women, thus exonerating men. In other words, they accepted it as fact that men are horny, randy individuals who, by nature have no self control, thus making it the woman’s responsibility to not get raped. Such an  insinuation is an insult to every decent, law-abiding, respectful man who stands up for the rights of women, and I am appalled that the religious leadership of this country would spout such patriarchal and misogynistic vitriol, all the while trying to convince us, that they speak in defence of women.

Even our Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr. Keith Rowley, while admitting that the mayor may have “misspoken” continued by saying that there were no grounds for his removal. A photo of a Facebook comment made by Point Fortin mayor Clyde Paul has, at the time of writing, begun to circulate on the web. It continues to prove my point, and the point made by many in opposition to what the PoS mayor has said.

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Facebook comments allegedly made by Point Fortin Mayor, Clyde Paul.

It is my hope that civil society does not let this issue rest, and that good sense prevails, and that national dialogue is started.

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Protesters at Woodford Square in Port of Spain. Photo credit: Naseem Rahman

It is sad that many think nothing of a man wearing nothing but his boxers walking out into his porch (or even from yard), but cry foul if a woman should do the same in her underwear. It is sad that the accusations of lewd behaviour were directed to the women and not to the men. It is sad that the leadership of this country espouses Bronze Age beliefs and feelings towards women. It is sad that many women in this country accept and defend the patriarchal double standard that exists in T&T.

The picture below is my response to a woman who espoused these beliefs. I tried to be as respectful as I could, and address the issue.

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Here are some articles and opinion pieces for further reading:

  1. Autopsy reveals Japanese pan player strangled
  2. Trinidad Carnival murder victim’s ‘vulgarity and lewdness’ helped lead to her death, mayor says; petition calls for resignation
  3. No, women are not responsible for their murders
  4. Women march to City Hall: Mayor Tim Kee must go
  5. Carnival Death: Tim Kee says women must protect themselves from abuse
  6. Religious leaders support Tim Kee
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Columbus Day: Getting Over Colonialism

As a citizen of the Caribbean, I have never celebrated Columbus day. In fact, it is not a recognized holiday in any part of the Caribbean. In the United States, on the other hand, the holiday is celebrated with a plethora of sales, parades, and accompanying fanfare. In recent years, more and more dissenters have been coming out against the celebration of this holiday.

Should Columbus Day bear any significance to me as a Trinbagonian? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, permit me to briefly restate what we know to be true about the advent of Christopher Columbus and his ‘discovery’ of the Americas: wealth for some, but for many others, hundreds of years of oppression, brainwashing, violence and death, cultural eradication, legacies of which still last to this day.

Columbus' voyages

Routes taken by Christopher Columbus on his four voyages across the Atlantic. Source: Keith Pickering

Given the many atrocities that were committed in the wake of Columbus’ journeys to the Americas, it still shocks me that many still choose to ignore them. Perhaps it is a fear of having to acknowledge that the rise of one civilization came as a result of the enslavement of several others.

And while the argument can be made that we cannot go back in time and judge history using our present-day value system, the opposite can also be said: that the practices that we thought were right and absolute, even condoned by God, back then, but have now been abandoned, cannot have any basis in today’s society: racism, sexism, and supremacy in all its forms, to name a few.

At what point do we stop throwing our hands up in the air shouting “colonial legacy!” and start taking responsibility for our own actions and our own destinies? When do we decide to just get over it? These are loaded questions, and questions that I have been asked before. The answer is that we cannot simply get over it. Maybe when white privilege ceases to exist, when unarmed black Americans are no longer shot for no valid reason, when cultural imperialism and neocolonialism cease to push the chosen religion down the throats of the unsaved heathen, when history is taught from the perspective of the oppressed and not the oppressor, or perhaps when a formal apology is offered for the enslavement and degradation of native peoples, the importation of slaves, and the importation of indentured labourers for the gains of the superpowers at the time occur, then can such a process of ‘getting over it’ begin.

Looking Towards an Answer

It seems that everywhere I look, the once oppressed, and arguably still oppressed, are fighting back in droves:

In Canada, the Truth and reconciliation Commission recently asserted that Canada practiced cultural genocide against indigenous peoples, a long known truth to the indigenous communities, now made official for the entire world to see.

Efforts have been underway in recent years by representatives of indigenous nations in the United States to abolish the celebration of Columbus day, and have it replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While this gesture would not change the past, it is undoubtedly a move in the right direction towards acknowledging the worth of indigenous peoples, something that colonialism sought to take away from them. Too often it is forgotten that they were here even before we were, and that their lands were forcefully seized in the name of God and King.

Here in the Caribbean, 15 nations have banded together in the hope of suing Great Britain, Holland and France for slavery reparations. When slavery was abolished, the businesses that stood to lose profit were financially compensated, whilst the compensation received by those under the whip was their freedom. UK Prime Minister David Cameron, on his recent trip to Jamaica encountered a particularly awkward moment when Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller brought up the topic of slavery and reparations. PM Cameron’s response was to say that he did not think that reparations were the answer and that we should look ahead. Perhaps reparations may not be the answer, perhaps it is just part of the answer.

Consider now an international system that sends the message that the Global South needs to achieve a level of development equivalent to the Global North, whilst ignoring the centuries long head start that they themselves had, built on the income generated from the slave trade. Forget reparations, is it too much to ask for a simple apology?!

I often go back and forth in my mind, pondering these questions, wondering if they will ever be answered, if it is all a waste of time, and should I just ‘get over it.’

Once the Oppressed, now the Oppressors: Our Myopic Religious World View

Fred Phelps Jr. of Topeka, Kansas laughs at counter protestors as he demonstrates against the consecration of Reverend Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church outside the ceremonies in Durham, New Hampshire, November 2, 2003. Some fear that Robinson's consecration will cause a split in the worldwide Anglican Church. REUTERS/Jim Bourg JRB - RTR64FB

Fred Phelps Jr. of Topeka, Kansas laughs at counter protestors as he
demonstrates against the consecration of Reverend Gene Robinson as the
first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church outside the ceremonies
in Durham, New Hampshire, November 2, 2003. Some fear that Robinson’s
consecration will cause a split in the worldwide Anglican Church.
REUTERS/Jim Bourg
JRB – RTR64FB

Background

I didn’t think that I would be writing another entry so soon after my post on Columbus Day, but recent events in the realm of Trinidad and Tobago politics have compelled me to speak out. I refer of course, to the recent comments in parliament referring to one male Member of Parliament as a “princess,” a thinly veiled attempt to call out the MP on his alleged homosexuality. It is not public knowledge whether the Member is gay or not, and I daresay that it is nobody’s business. The slur was not isolated, as later that day, another MP added fuel to the fire via Facebook. The second MP in question has since said that his Facebook account was hacked.

A number of local NGOs have spoken out against such words and behaviour and have called on the leader of government to start meaningful dialogue on the issue of homosexuality.

It should be noted that homosexuality was stricken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973 by the World Health Organization. (And even if it were not stricken from this list, and still considered a mental disorder, is this how we are supposed to treat those with mental disorders? Mock them? Make fun of them? Bully them and taunt them?) It is now common knowledge to many, definitely NOT to all, that homosexuality is NOT a mental disorder nor is it a psychological condition. However, this news is yet to reach many countries across the world, Trinidad and Tobago being one of them.

Worldwide laws regarding homosexual relationships and expressions. By Various (Initial version by Silje) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Worldwide laws regarding homosexual relationships and expressions.

Worldwide laws regarding homosexual relationships and expressions.

But God Says so!

Christians are quick to point out that the Bible, believed by many to be divinely inspired, provides the final word on how this, and many other issues should be handled. “Gay people are an abomination!” “Men should not be with men! The Bible says so!”

As the descendant of a slave,  I find it especially sad that religion, backed up by the Bible, was used to condone slavery and to justify its existence. I look around today at my fellow citizens, also descendants of slaves, some of indentured labourers, who now use the very same religious reasons to isolate, discriminate against, and hate an entire section of society. The once oppressed have now become the oppressors of today. The reason given is that homosexuality is unnatural, yet when furnished with evidence that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom (indeed hundreds of species practice it), it is conveniently ignored. Of all these species, including us, guess which is the only one that practices homophobia?

Christianity, as backed up by the Bible, is also fraught with instances which clearly dictate that men are supposed to be superior to women. Look no further than the Roman Catholic church, a male dominated institution that ex communicates women preachers. If society were to be run by these teachings, women would still be considered property of men, and perhaps not allowed to to work, or even to vote! The legacy of this still lives on today, as women are still not afforded the same rights as are men.

It is interesting to note here as well that for every clinic that has opened up, claiming to “cure gay people” not one has been successful at doing this. For those who would have others “pray the gay away,” the simple fact remains that this does not work.

It is strange that there are many in society who have never spoken to a gay person, never bothered to educate themselves about sexual orientation, never tried to understand it, yet denounce it from the top of their voices, speaking from a place of complete ignorance. They do not see a whole human individual, but rather, all they see is someone who is gay, who deserves to be mocked. Tell me, how is this different from judging a person solely based on the colour of their skin, or the texture of their hair?

To those who vehemently oppose homosexuality, insisting that it is a choice, as though one flips a switch and immediately becomes gay, I say this: no one would choose to be gay, because choosing to be gay would be akin to welcoming discrimination, hate and even violence. If still unconvinced, I challenge all straight people out there to choose to be gay for a day; choose for a day to be attracted to persons of the same sex; choose to be discriminated against and to be on the receiving end of hate speech and hate actions. Tell me how it goes. The only choice involved with respect to homosexuality, is the choice to accept oneself.

Many of my gay friends are some of the STRONGEST, NICEST people that I know. Having experienced first hand, discrimination and hate, they go the extra mile to make sure they do not treat others in the same way in which they have been treated. I CANNOT say the same for many religious, self-proclaimed morally upstanding community members, including those who are close to me.

How many times will religion get it wrong? How many times will those who claim to be morally superior, continue to discriminate and hate in the name of an all-loving God? You say that you are absolutely sure that homosexuality is a sin? There was a time when we were absolutely sure that slavery was A-OK, and that women only served one purpose: to serve men. You say that your religion compels you to speak out against homosexuality? Then it should also compel you to love one another unconditionally as well.

If your religion prohibits you from having same sex relations, or marrying someone of the same sex, then don’t do it! But please, keep your religious views to yourself, as religion is something profoundly personal.

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Research was done by Caribbean Development Research Services (Cadres). It used a stratified random sample of T&T and analysed data from 1,176 questionnaires from interviews done in October 2013.

A Message to our Leaders

If you are using your position of leadership to segregate instead of to unify, then you are doing it wrong! If you are using your position of power to spread hate instead of spreading love then you should take a step back and reassess why you are a leader in the first place. A government must be prepared to fully understand issues before making up its mind. A government must be prepared to make the tough, and even unpopular decisions.  Let me put that in another way— A government must be prepared to listen with an open mind, listen to the facts, and then govern fairly! The role of the state is to allow equality of treatment for all. Where discrimination exists, it is to be vanquished. The T&T government is not a religious institution that is bound to uphold the writings of any particular religion. There are millions of people around the world who do not subscribe to any religious tradition, yet they know right from wrong, they are perfectly good people who are kind, compassionate and loving.

No one is born a racist, it is a learnt behaviour. Similarly, no one is born a homophobe; homophobia is taught.

It is clear that religion has been wrong many times before. Is it possible that it can be wrong again?

Useful links

  1. MSJ: New Government, Old Politics
  2. NGOs Respond to bullying in Parliament

NGOs Condemn Youth Minister’s Parliamentary Bullying, Praise National Response, Call on PNM to Discuss Homophobia

Source: NGOs Condemn Youth Minister’s Parliamentary Bullying, Praise National Response, Call on PNM to Discuss Homophobia

To vote or not to vote?

T&T_flag

2015-the year of elections: Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Canada. Here in T&T, the big day is September 7 and the country is rife with political tensions, rooted firmly along racial lines with the Kamla Persad-Bissessar led People’s Partnership (PP) capturing the majority of the Indo-Trinidadian support and the Dr. Keith Rowley led People’s National Movement capturing the majority of the Afro-Trinidadian vote. Alas, as the polls go, the undecided voter shall determine who goes into office for the next five years. (At the time of writing, a poll commissioned by Nigel Henry/ Solution by Solution has the PP at 38%, the PNM at 36%, the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) at 1% and the undecided voter at 25%. With a margin of error of +/- 2%, the poll reflects a statistical tie between the PP and the PNM).

Given this information, the pressure is on from both leading parties to capture the undecided voter. Yet, the more the major political parties try to target these voters, the more unsuccessful they seem to be. A recent call from the former president of the senate, Timothy Hamel- Smith urges voters to ‘spoil’ their ballots by ensuring that they make a mark other than an ‘X’ as an act of protest since, for the undecided voter, neither of the prevailing parties seems to be right. (In Trinidad and Tobago, there exists no ‘None of the Above’ option on ballot papers.) The Elections and Boundaries Commission must make a note of all the spoilt or rejected ballots and have this information available to the public. The desired effect is to show voter dissatisfaction with each political party up for election.

This call has been met with various reactions: some of endorsement, some of disdain. The traditional wisdom has always been “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain or comment on what is going on in the country.” I often heard these words parroted at anyone showing any inclination of not wanting to vote in a general election. I accepted this conventional wisdom as true for a very long time.

The conventional wisdom is WRONG.

In short, those who are undecided are undecided for a reason: they disagree with the policies of each of the major political parties; they think that neither is fit to be the next government. However, as it is, the electoral system does NOT allow for such persons to express this view on Election Day. What is such a person to do? If we defer to the conventional wisdom, such a person would have to bite the bullet and vote for the lesser of two evils. However, if the voter is adamantly opposed to each of the political parties, what is she left to do? Well, abstain, or submit a ballot that will be rejected in the final count.

Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In the Trinidadian context, history has shown us that with the change in government comes no real positive change in the country’s development. (I recognize that many readers may have an issue with this statement but in my defence, I don’t use material indicators such as infrastructure to measure development. I maintain that if one gives a government unrestricted access to the treasury, then of course that government can build roads, bridges and hospitals! Instead, I judge governments on what they do to unite our people, how they tackle crime, how they fight corruption and how they prosecute those caught red handed with their hands in the treasury, to name a few).

How then can we demonize those who choose not to participate in a democracy that is failing them? Short of abstaining from voting as a form of protest, the next best option is indeed to spoil the ballot in protest.

Additionally, such persons who decide to either abstain from voting or to nullify their ballots are therefore in a position to criticize more effectively the prevailing system of government than someone who has participated in the flawed system. After all, such a person has long recognized that neither party brings any real change.

I am curious to hear your opinion on this topic as I do recognize that it is controversial.

Feel free to comment below.

My First Research Paper Presentation

In this short video, I present my findings after conducting research into Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. I argue that the dignity of workers is violated because of the treatment that they receive and the conditions under which they are employed, as they are seen primarily as economic commodities.

Kim Kardashian, Consumerism and Colonialism

In this two-part episode, I talk a little bit about Kim Kardashian’s photos from papermag.com, beauty and self-esteem, and then proceed to link it to our consumer culture and colonialism.

PART 1:

PART 2:

A good article to read- “Growing up ‘too black’ in Trinidad”

 

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