The Utility of Violence: Does the End Justify the Means?

Violence has a long history of getting shit done; of getting oppressed people heard. Slavery and colonialism were their own special brand of violence and people who were subjected to the vileness that came with these oppressive systems could not be passive and expect Massa to treat them fairly and with dignity. Riots, uprisings and revolutions were therefore common place, for the simple fact that the oppressor only responded to the language of violence.

Imagine my dismay then, at seeing (black) Jamaicans chastise the people of Baltimore who resorted to rioting to air their frustration about the wanton ways in which the lives of black men and women are taken by agents of the state, after peaceful protests about the killing of Freddie Gray went largely unnoticed. These comments largely pander to respectability politics which says black people just have to follow the law and be upstanding citizens and the white supremacist state will honour their lives. Except…

Telling people who have been oppressed and suppressed by violence in the first place, that responding with violence makes them barbaric is the epitome of hypocrisy. If violence didn’t work why did Massa find it necessary to use violence to keep us in our place?

See, this idea that if we follow the law and act right then we will get justice has been disproved time and time again when we see how often unharmed black men and women who pose no threat to law enforcement officers are killed.

The truth is, PROPERTY MATTERS to the oppressor. That is precisely why there is now attention being drawn to the situation in Baltimore. When we stop focusing on the life that was lost and put all our attention and energy on the property that was damaged we are telling those people that their lives do not matter. Broken windows and damaged property can be replaced, that life is gone forever.

We are so vehement about the wrongness of violence that we are missing the point of why all of this is happening. I don’t know what it is like to live under the constant pressure of my life being in danger every single day of my life and so I will not propose to demonise the people who do because of their response to same.

I would love to hear from the people who are criticizing the use of violence. What do you propose? #HashtagPolitics? While there is a place for online activism, the truth is, the powers that be will not respond adequately to such a benign strategy. Every time I see the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag I can’t help but rhetorically quip “to whom?” in my head. I mean, we wouldn’t be peddling #BlackLivesMatter so much if it truly did. Black lives absolutely don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. That is why black lives are being taken at the drop of a hat by agents of the state who are tasked to serve and protect all.

We cannot pretend that all people have access to power and to the formal systems that can effect change. Some people can perhaps make a call and have the ears of an individual, organisation or the state that can address their issues. Some of us however, must confront power in order to have our plights dealt with. Justice and freedom cannot be taken for granted when many of us are obviously still fighting for those rights to be respected.

It is absolutely mind boggling to me that we expect people to remain silent, passive and peaceful in the face of these human rights abuses.

Let us consider a case closer to home. In August of 2014, Mario Deane was arrested and taken to a lock-up in Montego Bay for having a small amount of ganja in his possession. He was later killed while in the custody of the police. From the very beginning people were incensed at the injustice they felt occurred with the killing of Deane and started online petitions as well as organised peaceful protests several times. These protests were arguably ineffective when we consider that justice has still not been served.

Over and over again young men in Jamaica, usually from poor backgrounds, are abused by agents of the state. Like with race in the United States, men from poor backgrounds are systematically targeted. These men do not have access to many of the privileges that their more economically resourced counterparts have. This includes access to justice.

While I am not arguing that riots, or violence in general, is the only way to solve these problems, I think we have to be honest about the difference in response from the state and wider society to this as opposed to other methods. When we have a system that is unresponsive to the injustices meted out to a section of the population then things will escalate. Additionally, people know that at the very least there will be some attention and interests will be piqued when they use these methods to get justice.

In her work “Disciplining the Nation: Considering the Privileging of Order over Freedom in Postcolonial Jamaica and Barbados”, Maziki Thame (2014) argues that the privileging of order “[is] problematic given the historical place of order as a means to disciplining Africans on the totalitarian slave plantation and under colonialism in the Caribbean.” I would argue that this can be extended to violent protest, in the context that our insistence that order should prevail is at the expense of freedom and justice for people who have been wronged and have no other recourse.

I hold the view that violence is indeed a legitimate political strategy. Insofar as we continue to marginalise some members of our communities, we will have to contend with the fact that justice and freedom are not the reality for many and they have a right to use whatever strategy gets them to that goal.

What say you? Do you believe the end justifies the means?

It Takes Two To Tango in a Friendship

It is often said that our friends are the family we choose. We rely on our friendships for love, support, entertainment and a good dose of reality, among other things. Frankly, it would be remiss of us to underestimate the true value of a great friendship.

My support system is perhaps 90 per cent grounded in my friendships. This is because friends are the people who I feel most connected to, based on interests and needs, as opposed to family, over whose existence in our lives we have little to no control. This is not to say that family cannot be a great support system (it often is), however, the friendships we create tend to be more fulfilling simply because those connections are deliberate.

We have all, at one point or another, found ourselves in situations where we need help from others. Nothing compares to a friend who shows up for you when you need them most. Whether that is to cheer us up out of a funk, kill our cheating ex help us through a difficult break-up, remind us that we are awesome when we feel like crap, or simply to hug us when we need it. And while we sometimes wish we could rely on ourselves for all the things we need in life, being able to count on friends is pretty damn awesome.

Of course, friendships are two-way streets. We have to be willing to give as much as we get for a friendship to be meaningful. That is, both parties have to feel fulfilled — they are both getting what they need and deserve from the other person.

I have always found it strange that people expect friendships to remain functional when they do little to nothing to ensure their survival. That’s like allowing your car to run down or not putting in gas and then get mad when it breaks down mid journey. In other words, it makes no damn sense.

Like romantic relationships, friendships must be maintained. We have to show the other person that we are as committed as they are to the cause. Moreover, it is easy to recognise when the other party in a friendship is fucking messing up. Let’s face it, sometimes we are the bad friend; we are the ones not pulling our weight and providing what the other person needs.

I have amazing friends. One of the things I do to maintain this is by auditing my friendships. I take some time to (re)evaluate my relationships with my loved ones. I ask myself the following questions:

  • Is this friendship healthy? If not, why?
  • Am I happy in this friendship?
  • Are my efforts being reciprocated?
  • Am I at fault for the breakdown, if there is one?
  • What can I do to make things better?
  • What would the other person need to do to meet my needs?

N.B. It is important to note that we don’t get or want the same thing from all our friendships so it is imperative to judge each friendship on its own merit and not in comparison with our other relationships.

After answering these questions I try to work out a way forward. Now this is the hard step (I still struggle through this part). It means speaking to the other party about the status of the relationship if it is in trouble. It can be difficult to say “I am unhappy in our friendship” to a friend – especially because we don’t know what their reaction will be. Say it anyway. Be honest about how you feel because if you don’t, you risk losing that friendship. The more you withhold the way you feel, the harder and longer it takes to resolve the issues. You may begin to resent your friend or you may allow it to get so far that you just drift apart until there is nothing left.

When approaching your friend, take the following tips into consideration:

  • Approach your friend in a calm way
  • Say what you must in the nicest way possible
  • Try your best not to cast blame
  • Take responsibility for your part in the breakdown of the relationship
  • Listen to your friend
  • Don’t just state problems; suggest solutions
  • Highlight what is right and not just what is wrong in the friendship
  • State and reiterate your commitment to the relationship

If all goes well your friendship will be one step closer to its better days. Try not to get back to this place by working on the things you’ve both decided will help to move the friendship along to more bountiful terrain.

Despite your best intentions however, things may not workout in your favour. When having the conversation, take note of your friend’s disposition. I suppose defensiveness is a normal reaction but if the person seems uninterested or unwilling to deal with the issues you are raising then that may be a sign that they don’t value the friendship. While you would love to fix the broken part(s) of the friendship, it is important to identify whether or not the relationship is salvageable.

It might be difficult to accept but some friendships do not deserve saving. Toxic friendships in which selfishness is the order of the day are ones you shouldn’t be hurting yourself trying to repair. Some people will always take without giving because that’s just who they are. You have to know when to walk away.

How do you maintain and keep your friendships healthy?

Father Ho Lung & the Case of Jamaica’s Selective Morality

Father Ho Lung seems to have a weird obsession with the Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna. He named her the biggest disappointment of 2014 for wearing a bikini on the beach, describing her as an attention-seeking egotist and intimating that her behaviour (said bikini-wearing) reminds him of Lucifer’s fall from heaven. Powerful imagery there, Father. I wonder if the behaviour of many of your compatriots in the Catholic Church who have been found wanting in the area of gross molestation misconduct where sexual impropriety is concerned, evokes this sort of imagery for you. I highly doubt it.

He has once again challenged Hanna, this time in a public letter, arguing that “I do not believe we can go the way of Bacchanal, carnival, and hedonism”. He went on further to say that he is “deeply encouraged that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has never given in to abortion lobbyists and to homosexuality as a way of life.” I have dealt with the abortion issue in part elsewhere so I won’t go into it here, except to say women’s sexual and reproductive health rights simply cannot be held hostage by a largely male political directorate and a well-resourced conservative religious sect, who believe everyone should live by their convictions.

Selective Morality

Jamaica is said to be one of the most murderous religious places on earth. Proof? We have the most churches per square mile; churches filled with pious and God-fearing people whose morality can be made examples of, allegedly. Beyond the church-going though, I struggle to find other ways in which we prove this religiosity that we love to use as a crutch when we are tasked to treat minority groups with respect.

I, for one, would understand why the PM would so boldly proclaim that she does not watch the news if it was on the basis that her poor heart simply cannot cope. Afterall, the Jamaican news cycle is a constant stream of gory incident after gory incident — children being murdered, women and children being raped, homicide after homicide! Our murder rate averages around 1,500 persons annually and rapes are recorded at similar rates of countries at war (rape is often a weapon of war). When we consider that rapes are especially known to be grossly underreported, we can no longer pretend that we are not in crisis.

Father Ho Lung comes from a long-standing tradition of selective morality in this country, characterised by the blowing up of sins that we are most abhorred by while barely noticing and not being proportionately outraged by others. Homosexuality, for instance, is presented as the single most reason for Jamaica’s ‘moral decay’. So much time is dedicated to denouncing, often violently, this one presumably immoral ‘lifestyle’ that I would be surprised if all Jamaica’s problems don’t simply fall away if there was some way to quarantine every gay Jamaican and ship them to another planet. Hell, I would be disappointed!

The truth is, gay people are not going anywhere and the sooner we (re)focus our energies on working together to fix our social, economic and political problems, the sooner we will reach the lofty goals we’ve set for ourselves in Vision 2030.

Despite our murder rates, most Jamaicans are upstanding citizens – that includes gay Jamaicans – and it will take all of us to get Jamaica from the tragic position it is in now to becoming the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.

My Foray Into The Blogosphere

I recently quipped on Twitter that “everybody want blog but a nuh everybody a blogger”, so me sitting here setting up this blog and typing my first post is slightly amusing. I subtweeted myself unwittingly, but that’s okay as we often end up doing things we never thought we would.

This is to say that I only very recently started to harbour thoughts of blogging. While I’ve been writing since I was a very small child, I was not exactly keen on sharing my musings for public consumption – largely due to the fact that my writing is very personal and would therefore take along with it all my vulnerabilities.

I’ve published in the past on more than one occasion and in different places but that hasn’t tempered the queasiness I feel about sharing my thoughts on a fairly consistent basis to strangers. In a nutshell, this is a challenge for me but I plan to stick it out and eventually build the courage to seriously consider publishing my literary works.

You can expect a lot of personal discourse and social commentary in this space as I navigate my world through social-justice-tinted lens.

Come mek wi hol’ a reason!