Regionalism in need of radical love

Guest post by Rashad Brathwaite

 2013 has been an intense year in the development of the legal framework of Caricom. The Shanique Myrie case engendered a host of political, legal and social commentary; necessary dialogues; dialogues worth having. Progress is seemingly followed immediately by failings. Following the legal formulations by the Caribbean Court of Justice vindicating and fleshing out the nature of the freedom of movement, a cohort of Jamaicans were rejected from Trinidad and Tobago. Following the signing of a Trade agreement between Jamaica and Trinidad, The Minister of National Security metaphorically sent many more home claiming the Trinidadian State is not a Mall.

In the face of failings by National Leaders and Institutions, from across the Caribbean whether in the direct denial of rights, the inflammatory language, our failings to join the Caribbean Court of Justice, our responses as Caribbean citizens impassioned in the moment, have often been violent and vitriolic. This piece focuses less on the legal development of CARICOM, which is no doubt critical, but instead focuses on our responses to these acts of violations; to our speech-performances of violence in response to violence.

It asks questions of our claim to moral authority when our responses in moments of oppression is to become equally oppressive. It problematizes our discourse when Caribbean citizens transform Facebook text-boxes into stereotypes, a devaluing of cultural differences and a claim to superiority. It rejects these notions of superiority. Cultural capital does not make you superior. Human-Resource capital does not make you superior. Natural-Resource capital does not make you superior. We are not superior.

Our liberation into a Region that holds each fibre of the Caribbean fabric as important, must start with us as members of the Community, of a Caribbean Civilization. The work of CARICOM, the spirit and ethos of Caribean-ness, not merely the Legal Mechanisms and Functionings, is in the everyday interactions of us as a Caribbean people.

When a Barbadian Minister reduces a country to “a rot”, when the Trinidadian Minister of National Security says the country is not a mall, When a Leader claims we should abandon, or refuse to join our Regional Court in favor of the National or in favor of the Colonial Power, our resort must be a radical Love; A Love that rejects these damaging notions, but does not replicate them.

These moments of Institutional failures must be our greatest call to actions as individuals. In a world dominated by realpolitik, rational self-interest, protection of the Sovereignty of the State, the national interest, is there a room for Love and Loving? Is this love and loving the space through which Caricom may flow? Is it not in these precise moments that those who form the established intellegensia and those outside of its boundaries; those whose wisdom does not ordinarily fit within the intellectual formalism or expression that defines the academy; those who possess the everyday wisdom of age, of experience, of youth, must respond in love?

In no way does this radical love preclude justice; it precludes vengeance. It does not preclude legal recourse to mechanisms designed to protect these rights, nor does it preclude denouncing sites of oppression. It precludes bigotry in response to oppression. It precludes claims of superiority. It precludes debasing our humanity in response. Paulo Freire contends in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that “the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed:[is[ to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.”

When our leaders fail to set a spirit of Regional integration on fire, and instead seemingly set fire to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, do we not have an obligation to water it with love? Undoubtedly, this is an unusual position, what place does a discourse of love have in the face of these seemingly ever growing moments of Regional War. But, Is it not precisely in the face of this war, that this discourse of love must take root? What will our liberation look like? How may we liberate ourselves from our existential realities of oppression? How may we liberate our Caribbeanness; our CARICOM? Tessanne Chin sang Bob Marley and the Wailer’s Redemption song on the Voice this week. The Caribbean sang along. We did not sing divided. We ALL sang along. What will the notes, the harmonies, the melodies, the chords and the lyrics of our Regional song of freedom be?

Rashad Brathwaite is a 22-year-old graduate of the Faculty of Law of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement

Before you say anything more about what the Shanique Myrie ruling means for CARICOM, why Jamaica should boycott Trinidad & Tobago products or the slaughter of Haitians in the Dominican Republic you should read this article.

It’s the text of the keynote address which Alissa Trotz delivered at the 20th anniversary symposium of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. The title is Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement.


Caribbean bloggers take on race, class, gender, nation… and Nicki Minaj

Three very popular Caribbean bloggers have written recently about gender, race, class and nation in the region. These are must-read articles, check them out:

Annie Paul writes about the Caribbean Court of Justice Case currently being heard.  The case concerns the infringement of the rights (and sexual assault) of CARICOM citizen and Jamaican national, Shanique Myrie.  She examines notions of gendered respectability and class and how they are at the heart of this case:

This landmark case is not only about nationality, it’s also about ‘class’, the ungainly elephant in the room no one wants to explicitly mention. It is important to portray Myrie as ‘decent’ ‘respectable’ and ‘sober’ because the image of Jamaicans in the region is overwhelmingly influenced by the higglers, DJs and hustlers who often represent the face of Jamaica,  visiting, even migrating to other countries, where they are not always welcome.

Why? because these enterprising but capitally-challenged individuals (ie owning  little capital, whether financial or social) often violate all the dearly held norms of ‘decency’ ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ with their choice of garments, raw speech and boisterous behaviour. They regularly transgress the zealously guarded borders of civility and decorum as much as the borders of nation states which under the new Chaguaramas Treaty they now have a right to breach.

Perhaps this was why Myrie was given the finger when she arrived in prim and proper Barbados, regionally glossed as ‘Little England’. Not just because she was Jamaican but because she was perceived to be a particular kind of Jamaican. So @Emilynationwide was right to emphasize the outfit and demeanour of Ms Myrie. It may be extremely germane in the instant case.

The Eternal Pantomime examined  how race and class intersect to render some Trinbagonians as “sub-humans” or “niggas” who should be shot according to one journalist and his facebook friends:

Yesterday a man lost his entire family in seconds. Seconds. We can’t return them to him. Yesterday and this morning that man is firm in the knowledge that he may never receive justice…ever. Because in this corrupt narco state of a country the cliques protect their own. In the midst of wrenching grief, this man knows that the person responsible for killing his family may never be brought to justice. The community of Sea Lots responded angrily, impulsively and violently. The police and armed services responded back.

Meanwhile, on a computer somewhere, a citizen, who happens to be a freelance journalist posts up a rant. It is both classist and racist. He sincerely believes that poor(economically) black people who protest should be shot and killed and cabbages planted on them. He is unapologetic. Within seconds, other people who have little to no clear details of the tragedy, but who also have a deep and abiding disgust for poor black people because they believe them to be a burden on society, click like on his status and add comments. Of the five people who clicked like, one is a police officer. Another one is a friend of mine; and yet another is an online persona I know who is quite comfortable with using the word Negro to describe and define Afro- descended people.

Tillah Willah took umbrage with Nicki Minaj’s description of Trinidad & Tobago as “nothing” demonstrating the extent to which this characterization relies on a homogenised understanding of blackness as outside of humanity.   It is a critique worth noting especially as some feminist scholars think of Minaj as queer, subversive and transgressive.

Maybe it’s all that peroxide that’s eaten through Nicki Minaj’s scalp and started affecting her brain.
Or maybe it’s just the contempt that all Trinbagonians have for their own. You know, the place that gives you so much, that all you can manage to do is bad talk it at every opportunity.
I’m not, as you might have guessed, a fan of Ms. Minaj. There is a lot of really good hip hop out there and she is not it.
In a moment of empathy, Ms. Minaj reached out to an American Idol competitor – a refugee from Liberia – to say that she was so happy that the two of them had made it alive out of their horrible countries and come to the earthly paradise known as the United States of America to have a shot at being human.
In one fell swoop she perpetuates the myth of the savage Third World and also the streets paved with gold that exist outside of these Third World hell holes.
You really have to wonder if Ms. Minaj has some sort of post traumatic stress disorder. But if she does, if she is yet to deal with the traumas of her childhood, she should see a specialist about it, instead of going on American television and describing her country, my country as ‘nothing’.
Also I am curious about the something that she says that she is now. I suppose having millions of dollars is success. It doesn’t matter if you get this money by acting like Oversexed Barbie. It doesn’t matter if you are part of a media machine that sexualises girlhood, that preaches bamsie shaking as the sure fire way to get attention. And if you’re a black woman of any kind of popularity you start to get progressively whiter the more famous you get.
It fits the mainstream world media agenda for us to continue to think that anywhere in the so-called Third World is backward and savage. Trinidad and Liberia are one and the same, although Trinidad has not had decades of civil war. Far from being an expression of solidarity with a fellow person of colour, she is spewing the same ignorance that lumps us all into one amorphous bunch of black savages who can’t help but kill each other.
Oh and by the way? Violence and poverty do not exist in Queens. Racism is a long past dream and we’re all just getting along and having a big old party.

From local journalists, to the Caribbean court of justice to Nicki Minaj, there’s lots to unpack about our understanding of blackness as outside of the human and how this is mediated by gender, class and nation.

Join the discussion…

Edited to add

Negril Stories also wrote about the Shanique Myrie case in an aptly named post “I am Shanique Myrie or Jamaicans and Women are also Human”. Check it out.