‘Nutting’ Hill Carnival – a lament for Claudia Jones

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Notting Hill Carnival is on this weekend. Whatever the festival reflects and represents now (party and bullshit and party and bullshit) I’d just like to take a moment to remember and celebrate Claudia Jones, who gave England its first taste of Caribbean Carnival in 1959 in response to the Notting Hill race riots of the previous year.

She was born in Belmont, Trinidad in 1915 and moved to the US at age 9 but was deported in 1955 for her involvement in workers rights and the Communist Party.

She was given asylum in England and it was here that she organized the first London Caribbean Carnival and an Afro-Asian Caribbean Conference which then led to the formation of Committee of Afro-Asian and Caribbean Organisations.

She also founded the West Indian Gazette which later became West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News.

She was a journalist, activist, trouble maker, public speaker and allround badass.

She was also the original Jouvayist because she understood the transformative power of culture and the role that Carnival, the carnival of the masses played in defying the boundaries set by a system designed to make migrants invisible and sub-human.

That first Carnival event she organized in January 1959 in Pancras Town Hall featured the Boscoe Holder Dance troupe, the legendary Fitzroy Coleman and Cleo Laine. It was broadcast on the BBC and funds raised from the event went towards court fees and fines of convicted young black men.

I wonder if a penny from any fete, boat cruise, mas band this weekend is going towards addressing any of the many issues in the Black British community….

It’s unfashionable these days to be critical of Carnival. We have earned the right to wine up ourselves in the streets. To pay ridiculous amounts of money to wear the same costume every year. To dress up and go to fete and adopt postures of freedom and wild abandon.

I love to wine as much as anybody else, but I’m looking at least for a bit of irony, for an undertone of menace for even the shadow of a threat. We don’t even understand the significance of all these English in the street essentially giving thanks for the protests and sacrifice of the generations of Africans and Indians who worked to make this country wealthy and then came here after the World Wars as part of the rebuilding effort. 

The ConDem government is telling people to go home  even as we find out just how much David Cameron’s family got in reparations after Emancipation.

I guess it’s the lack of irony that upsets me the most. The total and complete lack of consciousness at how powerful Carnival could be if we weren’t so busy trying to forget the very things that ensured that we have it in the first place.

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The end of Me and Mr. Sabga Newsletter.

I’ve been trying since Wednesday to find the words to say to make sense of this Guardian folly.
I’ve never felt like the Guardian was the bastion of free press, I’ve read enough of its archive to know that since its 19 Century inception, through Independence through to 1970, the Guardian guards not democracy but the status quo, the elite power structures that keep some of us as masters and the rest of us as slaves.
The key to running a morally and socially bankrupt society is to ensure that you have certain people and institutions that keep people in their place.
People like me find a space in newspapers like the Guardian, because it fits their profile to appear to fair and balanced.
Yet I’ve had several occasions during my time as a columnist when I have had my right to fair comment compromised or threatened.
I had a public spat at a media briefing organized by ALCOA with Anthony Wilson who accused me of being unethical for writing about the smelter issue while I was involved as an activist.
And then in 2009 when Obama was coming for the Fifth Summit of the Americas, I got a call from the then Public Affairs editor Arthur Dash saying that he had been advised to let me know that there was no space for my column the following day. It was only after I made a scene on social media that they miraculously found space for my column again.
I’ve kept my column because I feel like I have things to say about Trinidad, about who we are and who we hope to become.
Few of us have a clear agenda. And that’s okay because it’s only through open discussion and constructive criticism that we’ll start to refine what that agenda is.
But I’m not sure all the voices in the conversation are focused on creating a better country.
The media needs a lot of scrutiny. As much if not more than the government.
A free press and a functional government go hand in hand and it is becoming more and more obvious that we have neither.
And MATT is not the watchdog it should be. If it was, this country would have been shut down the moment Sheila Rampersad, Denyse Renne and Anika Sandiford-Gumbs decided to pick up their jahaaji bundle and ride out. Or when Fazeer Mohammed got removed from First Up. Or when Uncle Jack threatened Denyse Renne and Asha Javeed.
But I guess MATT and the media are made up of citizens like the rest of us. You know, who have a mortgage. And 2.5 children. And long hard days. And hours in traffic.
And if nobody else is willing to, why should journalists sacrifice themselves for the nation’s entertainment?
Just like the public sector and the private sector and the unions and the churches and mosques and temples and the education system, some of my colleagues put their political affiliations before country. And some of us eating a food like the same ones we want to point fingers at. And some of us just looking for bacchanal. And some of us have allegiance to nothing.
Selfishness has us where we are and selfishness will take us where we’re going: nowhere.
The question of who stays and who goes is not the question. The question is who is keeping all of us accountable to each other? And if one person falls on their sword who is going to put up money to make sure they can buy groceries at the end of the month?
The stress and confusion and the lack of the full story created in the last couple days has exactly the desired effect of distracting us what from is really happening and that is the looting not just of the Treasury but our bank of collective responsibility.
They, (and by they I mean we), are trying to keep us in a state of fear and self-revulsion and we are obliging them.
Fear sells papers. And security services. And burglar proof. Fear is big business and the state is acting like a corporate entity peddling garbage and treating its workers like animals.
Once at the beginning of my time as a reporter an editor told me my only role was to fill space and meet deadlines.
I couldn’t reconcile that with what I imagined a journalist to be. I’m reminded of that ridiculous speech when I hear Gabriel Faria, followed by the about turn by MATT three days after they claimed that freedom of the press was under seige.
What we are watching is a freakshow where freedom and excellence are trotted out and flogged by clowns like Mr. Faria the mouthpiece of ‘establishment’ who I’ve never heard in a media context until a couple days ago. I want to know if he ever get a boof from George John. He has neither the professional nor moral authority to have anything to say about journalism.
He and the rest of the GML/AnsaMcAL massas wouldn’t know what excellence is to a journalist if somebody hit them with a Thesaurus. But they get to shout jump and the newsroom must start to levitate.
A journalist is no use without an audience. A newspaper can’t sell without journalists. They need us as much as we need them but somehow the power relationship is skewed and the journalists end up feeling like media owners are doing them a favour.
I’d rather not write for a paper that makes me or my colleagues unsure of who is going to make you bend to their will or wine for your supper.
I have nothing to trade with the world but words. Words and my reputation. My reputation is that I say and do what I think is right. I have a conscience and this is what it has been shouting at me since Wednesday: No compromise. They are threatening people’s livelihoods and that is not just madness it is criminal.
No compromise. This is war and if all citizens aren’t prepared to fight we might as well lie down and dead.

No Justice for Angels

The strong get more


While the weak ones fade


Empty pockets don’t


Ever make the grade


Mama may have


Papa may have


But God bless the child


That’s got his own


That’s got his own.

—God Bless the Child, Billie Holiday

Somebody’s child. Born out of love. Carried for nine months. Dead on the front page. Too obscene to forget. Too callous to comprehend. Somebody’s child. Reminding us that some of us are editors and can choose to put other people’s dead children on the front pages of their putrid tabloid newspaper, and some of us are mothers who weep for our dead children and some of us consumers who allow newspapers to feed our blood lust. Turn your face away. It is too much to bear. Too much to fathom that your life and your child’s life could end up being on the front page of someone’s putrid little tabloid. A day’s worth of newspaper sales. Your child’s life, all her smiles, and her discoveries, every flutter she made in your belly, every moment you marvelled at the wonder of human creation.  Something that you made. Out of love. Reduced to a headline and a front page.

Turn your face away. Wish it could be for good. It’s not the first time. They’ve done this obscene, crass and indecent injustice to somebody’s loved one. You know if it were their child, they would want to mourn in private. They would not want thousands of fingers on the face of their child. Taken in such a brutal way. Will this stop people from buying their driver’s licence? Will this stop people from the road rage? What do we do when we can’t take it anymore? Boycott? Try to ignore them out of existence? So that no other family will ever have to confront their loved one laid bare on the front page of a putrid tabloid again? So that children can have dignity in life and death too? Defenceless ones can rest in peace too? Innocent ones can maintain their innocence without the stink of those who try to capi-talise on human tragedy, whose desire for profit removes them from any connection to their humanity?

Why do they think they can do this to us? Why do they think we will take it?
Maybe we like it so. Maybe we are so inured now. So cynical about life and death that a dead baby on the front page of a putrid tabloid is no scene. Number one newspaper indeed. Good news newspaper indeed. Number one may be an enviable position if it meant that you were confronting us with our ugliness as well as our beauty. Number one may be something to aspire to if it meant that truth was not in the gore of the wound but in the exploration of the wounding and the speed of trying to find the healing. Oh it is too much to bear. It is time for us to rethink what stories we tell and how we tell them. To ask who or what is truth and what right do we have to utter it?

Because every time you think there’s nowhere else below for us to go, the bottom falls out again and we descend further into our la basse of unfeeling. Every time you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, that children couldn’t possibly be more of an abused and voiceless group, some adult is there to prove you wrong. You have to wonder if the devil is really real. If the devil busy in truth, just running about kicking Trinis in their backsides prompting them to do the most evil of acts, under the guise of truth-sharing. Who is wrong in this situation? Is it the mother for having the child in her lap out of a car seat, out of a seat belt? Is it the photographer for capturing the face of a dead child laying in the grass? The editor who thought it would make a great front page?

The child for being born in the first place? Somebody’s child, oh God. You turn away from her face. Her perfect cherub cheeks. But she stays with you. Haunting you, keeping you awake at night. There is no justice for angels who land in highway grass. There is no love for innocence in this gory time. Turn away, close your eyes. Try to forget her eyes forever closed. Like their hearts that cannot understand why this is wrong. Protect your heart from the hurt, because they think they are right and they in their putrid tabloid righteousness will do this crime again. And get away with it. Leaving us hurting, crying, grieving for innocence lost that can never be regained in the thousands of hands of their readers.

Well Said, Papa Patos

On truth devoured
Silent play in the shadow of power
A spectacle monopolised
The cameras eyes on choice disguised
Was it cast for the mass who burn and toil?
Or for the vultures who thirst for blood and oil?
Yes a spectacle monopolised
They hold the reins, stole your eyes
All the fistagons the bullets and bombs
Who stuff the banks?
Who staff the party ranks?

—Guerrilla Radio,Rage Against the Machine

I never thought I would say this, but maybe Papa Patos is right. It irks me to admit it too. That I could agree with anything he says is enough to give me a headache and make me want to leave the country before zaboca season starts properly. The clip came on the radio early on Tuesday morning. A screeching voice that I didn’t immediately recognise as the big daddy himself. I guess I haven’t ever heard him sound so high-strung. It sounds like Papa Patos is finally getting antsy about just how many of the party faithful still love him and would turn out whether or not he sent a bus to pick them up and provided free pan, free rum and a rent-a-crowd appearance fee. The announcer cut through the audio clip to explain that the PM had been addressing party faithful the night before at Woodford Square when he said that he didn’t think the media were playing their role properly.

It’s not the first time that he’s expressed this sentiment. Let’s not forget the whole storming the radio station and getting the announcers suspended because he is a regular citizen who has a right to complain if something bothers him. Maybe he can’t help himself. It’s a time-honoured tradition in Trinidad now for Prime Ministers to have suspicion and contempt for the media. Papa Patos is right this time though. The media aren’t playing their role properly. If they were, people like him would never be able to hold on to power for as long as he has. The default response of course is to presume that anyone who expresses a thought that is not toeing the ruling party’s line must be working for the opposition. Because of course a citizen can’t possibly think in a way that is independent without someone else planting the seed of disagreement in his or her head.

That the media are populated by citizens who are nervous about crime, nervous about falling advertising revenues that pay their salaries is neither here nor there for Papa Patos. But it should mean the world for us. Because if the media can’t truly represent the concerns of the people of this nation, then what is the point of publishing newspapers, what is the point of producing a radio or television broadcast. If the media can’t quarrel with the Government the way that most citizens can only dream of having an opportunity to do, why are we here? Papa Patos is right. I mean, if the media really were doing their work, half of the bobol and bacchanal that people get away with in this country would be properly scrutinised. Indeed, if we had the vulvicular fortitude to really do our jobs we’d have him a little more than sweaty and hysterical in Woodford Square.

Unfortunately many of the people who work in the media are as paralysed by fear as the rest of the population. Or just generally uninterested in coming out of their comfort zones, investigating, questioning or challenging the stories they report on. The critical eye is virtually non-existent, and what is left in its place is some occasional whiny criticism. We are ill-equipped to find the facts, let alone challenge anyone with them. Whether it’s on the Merhair issue or the smelter issue as reporters we are missing the point and getting caught up with the smoke instead of the fire. Information is the only weapon necessary when you are fighting for freedom, and there is information that is missing from our collective national consciousness. However if Papa Patos thinks the role of the media is to be a glorified public relations outfit designed to make the mess that they make smell like roses I hope we continue to be abysmal failures. If the role of the media is to defend a nation with the truth, then we desperately need to start sharpening our tools.

Losers all, we are

Is ah mental block
Dat hard to unlock
It hard like ah rock
an wid it yuh doh wuk
yuh go live wid illusion
Tryin to be another man
And if a man want to set
false standards for you
To follow
To he, wha yuh say?

—Blow Way, Lancelot Layne

Here’s the thing. I can’t say I’m a fan of the fellar. I can even safely say that I find his writing overbearing, condescending and other words ending in ing that I can’t be bothered to list right now.

Hell, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were in the same position he would write a sarky column listing in brilliant detail why it was a good thing that a feminist, Africanist socialist—three strikes and you’re dotish—no longer had column space in a national newspaper. But the truth is I get no joy from the news that Newsday hasn’t run Kevin Baldeosingh’s column for the past three weeks, leading to speculation that he has been fired. You attack one, you attack all. And when the neighbour house on fire, Jah know you better start wetting your own. Or so it is in my book. Perhaps I am being presumptuous to imagine that this lumpy bumpy awkward thing called the media, when you get past the big business media house petty competition nonsense, well we have each other’s backs.

Perhaps I am wrong to think that I should be blasted vex at Newsday’s limp-wristedness. Vex at how they are taking the side of the wrong people. Not vexed as much as shocked at how it’s so easy for people to defend the indefensible. But perhaps it is wrong of me to think that the Newsday people are any different from all the other scared conservative people walking around Trinidad afraid to say boo to anybody. Who would rather hold their corner and hold a safe line instead of rocking the boat. At how integrity means nothing and those who stand up in defence of the truth are the ones who does get their throats buss. Time and again. I, quite frankly, am growing bored of it. My right to speak is something that I am prepared to defend with my life. And a threat to anyone else is an indirect threat to me. But this is unfamiliar territory in this country. This is why anti-smelter protesters can be labelled as outsiders if they don’t come from the communities that are being directly affected.

There is no solidarity among any other group in this country. Perhaps I have no right to use my own column space to speak out on behalf of another columnist. We are worlds apart ideologically but I imagine that we share one commonality. And it is that we who have opinions and are arrogant enough to believe that other people want to hear them, have a right to say what we have to say, in whatever way is pleasing to us. Well as long as it doesn’t involve borrowing from other writers. Part of the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from being a writer comes from the assurance, real or imagined, that someone out there is reading what you have to say and if not identifying with it, at least feeling something. Or so you hope. It is difficult to gauge what makes an impact and what doesn’t. It is difficult to know what has an impact and what doesn’t in this nation of armchair revolutionaries where everyone can speak eloquently about what the problem is but nobody actually wants to get up and do anything about it.

It’s not just about free speech. It is about undermining investigative journalism. Intimidating other journalists who might want to put God out of their thoughts and try to expose some injustice. It is a warning to others to not step out of line. Who wins, then? Who wins when voices are silenced? Who wins when a priest can get away with lifting some copy from another writer but teenagers are on trial for buying copies of exams? Who wins when a journalist gets fired from a newspaper for daring to challenge a holy man even as children’s jhandis are under threat at Barrackpore West? We have lost track of reality.  We have lost a vital voice in our national conversation. We have lost our sense of perspective. Nobody wins. We are all losers in a race we are not yet equipped to run.

The Bacchanal Now Start

They cah stop the bacchanal

They cah stop the festival

Nutting cah stop the carnival

Because tis the season to wine

Hold someting and wine

Hold somebody and wine

I telling yuh

Wining Season, Machel Montano

Who needs to play mas when there are people playing it on TV for us? A big big mas. Even before Carnival Monday and Tuesday. This kind of mas is the one to beat all cockfight. This kind of mas is even more exclusive than all the bikini bands with rope around them charging more money for a miniscule piece of cloth than most Trinbagonians stand to make for the first three months of the year. Only certain people could play this kind of mas. Big, high people playing a big big mas they call the Commission of Enquiry. And the rest of the country like burrokeets, getting ridden through the badly paved roads. The rest of the country could only play a donkey mas while their money jumping up like so many soca fans in a big fete. But who needs Carnival in this place where leaders could play mas with democracy? Watch the whole thing unfold like a Minshall tableau on the now gone Savannah stage. Watch the whole thing move in slow motion with high falutin’ Pierrot speechifiying in big English accent. Watch lawyers carré, dance a big dance with your money. Hear the Professor dreaden them like a King Kootoo doing a bluest devil jook. This is a big big mas and you don’t even need the jackass costume they give you. All you need to do is sit down and watch. Because this is real mas in all it’s mind boggling shiny splendour. This is mas in yuh masses. And sometimes you have to look twice because you not sure if it is a masquerade or mass hysteria, or masturbation. You not sure if to laugh or cry at how your leaders wining down on your right to know what they do with your money. You not sure if this is serious or just more entertainment. You not sure if you’re supposed to get vex and start to riot or hold your head and wine down low, lower than the price of oil. You not sure if all this bacchanal and long reports on the nightly news is just to distract you from the fact that we now have a budget deficit and we not getting anywhere near the proper royalties for natural gas. This big mas and noise come like last Carnival when the big sequins band push the 90-year-old blind Midnight Robber out of the way. Because this mas is the mas to beat all cockfight. Meanwhile Alcoa reported a 929 million US dollar loss and pull up brakes on several of their smelter projects in Iceland. Environmentalists breathing a sigh of relief that the economic decline has saved them from more unnecessary destruction of Europe’s last remaining wilderness. Meanwhile they just laid off 250 bauxite workers in Jamaica, because the global price of aluminum has plummeted so drastically. Meanwhile Rio Tinto Alcan just announced the closure of their Angelesey smelter in Wales, the largest single energy user in all of Great Britain. 14,000 jobs gone there to reduce capital spending by £5 billion.Meanwhile a decision is expected in the case against Alutrint this month, which has been in court since October, without so much as a sideways glance from the media. But aluminum is just as much of a nice mas as Udecott. Definitely not as sexy. Environment and mineral resources and small communities being bullied off their land is not as sexy. It not ready for the big stage yet. Let that stay on the back burners. Let us focus on the bigger better, louder, shinier mas. Because this mas is much more important. This mas is affecting the bottom line of many people who thought they were going to be getting a lot more out of this government. This mas is about the elite—some black skins in white masks, some wild Indians, some foreign drunken sailors on shore leave looking for Jean and Dinah in the construction industry. And all of them want to protect their bottom line and their right to wine. Meanwhile the lack of investigative journalists means the government could continue to play mas with the global financial crisis and say what they want without anybody bothering to question their robber talk. The bacchanal now start. But from the look of things, this masquerade will never end.

Sock and Awe

Yes I know my enemies
They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite
All of which are American dreams

Know Your Enemy, Rage Against the Machine

I want to hit him and I want to hit him bad.
I want to beat him like a Good Friday bobolee for all his crimes against humanity.
I want to pelt him with shoes, with books with flowers and with my words of anguish and grief for all the murder and mayhem over which he has presided.
Not that I have violent tendencies or anything. Nor do I have a particular love of shoes or playing online games.
Truth be told I’ve always found video games far too violent for my little pacifist hippy heart.
But I spent a fair amount of time this week trying to hit a smiling image of Dubya with a pair of brown loafers.
It took a whole ten tries but when I finally made contact with his virtual head I let out a laugh of such maniacal proportions, I kind of scared myself a bit.
The simply brilliant online game, set up by a young Englisher in response to that Iraqi journalist’s act of civil disobedience is a run-away hit among web liberals and idlers intent on spending bandwith on random nonsense.
Still pelting shoes at Dubya is a better way to spend a few minutes than watching who was in which Christmas fete.
At the time of writing this, 46, 182, 018 shoes had been thrown at Dubya, with the most pelters hailing from the United States of America.
I keep going back to the site every now and then, trying to see if I can best my score of seven shoes in a row. Until I begin to wonder at my own capacity for brutality. It’s just me egging myself on to kick a man while he’s down. To pelt shoes at him, like parents who’ve had a bad day beat their children for no other reason but that they are tired and frustrated and underpaid and powerless.
And perhaps I am all of these things. Like that Iraqi journalist who has seen his country crumble around him. Who has been shocked and awed by American might, by the swiftness of the transitions from mustachioed Saddam to a red-mouthed Ronald Mc Donald.
I hear the pain in his cry as he pelts his shoes, his last chance to say to this man, to the world, this is what you have reduced us to to. A nation of people so insulted and cowed by your weapons and your torture prisons that all we can do is throw our shoes at your big pseudo-dumb head.
And I know I can’t get back at Judas for betraying Jesus in the same way that I know I know that it’s symbolic, but the immense glee and warm fuzzy feelings I get is better even than eating fair trade vegan chocolate with bits of crystallized ginger.
The truth is that shoes can’t really do that much damage. It’s not like he was giving him some of his shock and awe dehumanization.
Or raping his women and children in front of his eyes.
A pelted shoe cannot bring back the 655,000 Iraqis who have lost their lives as a result of the bombing and occupation of Iraq.
A pelted shoe can’t compensate for the climate change that he has denied even as American companies have traversed the planet bringing their smoke stacks and toxic dump sites.
Under the watchful eye of the thousands of CCTV cameras all over London, in the heightened paranoia of terrorism times, I am trodding through Babylon-don reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, which documents the rise of disaster capitalism, starting with September 11, and continuing in various and very alarming forms in post-Katrina New Orleans and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And I am plotting ways to pelt intellectual shoes, coming up with ideas on how to bobolise those who would seek to betray my land. Like how poets and playwrights and artists and calypsonians used to be, before they traded in their wit and vision for rum and a party card.
I am looking for allies, for a million shoe pelters who would willingly look their oppressor in the eye and then willingly submit to the blows afterwards.
Because it is a far better thing to pelt your shoe and take your licks than take your licks for nothing.