It’s just hair

Guiltiness rest on their conscience, oh yeah
These are the big fish
Who always try to eat down the small fish
They would do anything to materialise
Their every wish
Woe to the downpressors
They eat the bread of sorrow
Woe to the downpressors
They eat the bread of sad tomorrow

—Guiltiness, Bob Marley

It’s just hair. Tell yourself that so you can make sense of this story in the newspapers. The one where the soldiers rob a man of his locks. Well it’s not a robbery. It’s more of a rape, come to think of it. A deliberately dehumanising, socially acceptable form of torture. It’s just hair. Tell yourself that so you can make it through to the end of the story without throwing up. Without wanting to go out and mash up things. Because your hair is still on your head and you can feel the locks tingling to their very ends. With absolute, uncontrollable rage. It’s just hair. This shouldn’t be the story that gets you the most vexed out of the whole state of emergency farce where the politicians finally get the chance to play the role of badjohn and they put their all into it.

It’s just hair. You should be more upset that people are saying that we should bring back the PNM, as if they ever had any interest in improving the fortunes of anybody other than their cronies. It’s just hair. Take a deep breath and consider that soldiers are just doing their jobs, stamping out troublemakers of all kinds. It’s just hair. That is why Samson was destroyed when Delilah cut his. It’s just hair. That’s why soldiers think they have a right to cut it. It’s just freedom. That’s why somebody else has a right to say who can be free and who can’t. It’s just hair. That’s why you can’t escape the irony of a Christian neo-colonial notion of decency being endorsed by a Hindu who must have grown up in a house with a picture of Lord Shiva, watching the Ganges spring from his jata wrapped like a crown around his head.

It’s just hair. And Selassie wasn’t a Rastaman. But Lord Shiva was. And so too, perhaps, was their Christ with his lambs wool hair. And so too the Shaivite saddhus who introduced their sacred ganja and ascetic life to the rural Jamaicans who gave the world Rastafari. It’s just hair. There is no power there that strikes terror into the hearts of Babylon, and the worst kind of Babylon is the one who looks like you, and talks like you but hates you as much as he hates his own blackness. Black like sin. Black like the devil. Black like power that he will never have except to take away your hair and make you feel less than human.

It’s not a thing of beauty. It is a thing of defiance. To wear your hair long. To refuse to deny your hair its right to grow. To reject their notions of beauty and manhood and decency. It’s just hair. And the State has a right to your body. Because the State is a corporation and you are its asset. But your dutty stinking Rasta head is a liability. Cut it out. Your offensive hair that flies in the face of authority. That says you will not be who they want you to be. Cut it out. And straighten it up so that you can look like a decent member of society. Because you can’t possibly be a good person with hair like that. Oh no. You have to be doing something illegal. You have to be a weed-smoking or selling pariah.

So if you have white skin and you grow your ganja hydroponically in your daddy’s nice Westmoorings backyard, that’s okay. If you have a few letters after your name and you’re a successful academic you can do a few lines of cocaine with your friends. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for those of you for whom your hair is your crown, a soldier could come and take it away. Who are you to think yourself royal anyway? It’s just hair, dread. It’s just hair. It could grow back.  It could grow back like the murder rate. It could grow back like the feeling of unsafety.

It could grow back like your contempt for people in authority. It could grow back like your disgust for citizens who are willing to accept that a lack of freedom is okay, once they’re not the ones who have to be disturbed. Certain things for me may never grow back. Like the cojones of certain people who have remained suspiciously silent during this state of emergency. Like your faith that any politician currently serving in the Parliament of this be-loved nation has any interest in building a functional state, a progressive nation. It’s just hair. And in Trinidad, in 2011, it is a symbol of all that is bad and dangerous. Because hair could unseat the power of those who want to turn us all into slaves of capitalism. Again.

De place gettin warm…

Every other morning for the past couple weeks, I’ve received calls from friends in La Brea about what is happening down there.  You would never be able to tell by watching the nightly news broadcasts, but hundreds of residents in that part of the country have been engaged in daily protests against Alutrint, the government owned aluminum smelter plant that they have recently begun construction of.

This morning things came to a head. My sistren called me to say that a police officer had just fired a shot, in the midst of women and children in Union Village.  He had to be quickly escorted out of the community, as this angered many of the residents who have been engaging in various non-violent protests since 800 acres of land were first cleared from around their village five years ago.

Tomorrow morning Prime Minister Patrick Manning is carded to turn the sod for the Alutrint power station.  Word is that attempts will be made to stamp out any sign of protest, from destroying their camp to arresting anyone seen to be making the Prime Minister look bad.  La Brea is a PNM stronghold, which is why the initial resistance to the smelter was able to be overshadowed by what seemed to be overwhelming support from the community.  But the promises of jobs have turned out to be, well, not exactly true and now even the people pro-smelter people are taking to the streets.  

The following statement is from those members of the communities who are standing firm against the building of the Alutrint smelter.

PRESS STATEMENT

JUNE 9, 2009
FROM ORGANISED CITIZENS OF SOBO, UNION, VANCE RIVER, VESSIGNY, AND SQUARE DEAL VILLAGES

We understand Mr. Manning is planning to come La Brea tomorrow to turn the sod for Alutrint’s power plant.

Protests involving the villages of Sobo, Vance River, Vessigny, and Union are growing. The citizens involved are against the building of the Alutrint Smelter. We now have the information that Alutrint has been hiding since February 2008 on the health risks of the smelter and the facts on such things as the loss of our beach that has been hidden from us since 2005.

Please note protests that started about two weeks ago were for jobs and fair relocation practices. However, our protest is by villagers being left to live near this smelter and we do not want it! The residents scheduled for relocation and the residents being left behind are standing together.

Those who want jobs in Alutrint have a separate platform. However, we sympathise with them as we have all been fooled that there would be safe jobs for our people. Instead we have hundreds of Chinese roaming about our backyards.

The representatives on many village councils and in the Parliament are representing Alutrint not us. They are trying to shove the smelter down our throat to silence us. This is why we are in the streets, we are representing ourselves.

Today the police discharged a firearm in the air in the midst of children in Union Village. Our protest is non-violent. We will not back down.

The State wants the people of Trinidad to believe that only a handful of residents of La Brea do not want the smelter. This is not true. For example, last week when C-news came to do a feature on La Brea they were only taken to La Brea Village where some persons told them they want the smelter. We waited for them but they never came to our villages. Please note the La Brea area consists of many villages. It is the some 4000 plus residents of Sobo, Vance River, Union, and Vessigny villages that have to be tested every two years for cancer. The residents of La Brea Village do not have to be tested. They cannot speak for us! We speak for ourselves. We do not accept this hurtful smelter.

The State is trying to create the impression that all is well and that the smelter is moving ahead at pace and is unstoppable. They want the people of Trinidad to believe we cannot stop it. This is not true. There is no plant on the ground yet. No plant will go on that ground.

We are calling on right minded citizens of Trinidad to support our call for justice and fairness. This is not just about the environment. We will continue our non-violent protests tomorrow and as long as it takes to safeguard our health and community.

The day they came

Ah say we forge from the fire

And together we aspire

Just to take this damn ting higher

In this quest we never fail

Never falter never tire

Never sacrifice yuh freedom

Fire fire in yuh wire

 

We free

We free

No no nobody cah hold we

We Free, 3 Canal

They came for us. To teach us a lesson. That in this land of mimic men we never deviate from the regularly scheduled programme of lies, damn lies and skin teet. They came because they assumed we didn’t know the law. That we wouldn’t know that the UNC government repealed the law banning the playing of drums in public in 2002.

They came because they understand that when people start to agitate culturally, when the drummers and the dancers and the singers and the painters start to get blasted vex, then they have a problem. They came because they are afraid that their mask is falling. Cracking under the pressure of their endless fake smiling. Cracking like their Beetham wall of shame that now has earned them international media attention. They came because they don’t realise that the more you deny people a voice is the more they will find reasons to shout.

They came because they believe the hype that Trinis are docile. Trinis don’t like confrontation. They came for Michael because in this country young black men should be on street corners holding their testicles. They can’t compute a young man passionate about the environment. Because idleness is putting up a poster to ask questions about their Summit wastage and this is a far worse disservice to the society than advertising a short pants party.
They came for Auntie Verna because she looks like she should be a government supporter. Because women her age must stay home and mind their grandchildren. Stay home and pray and cook and watch television.

And then beat their breasts and wonder why the country is the way it is. They came for Wendell and Roger because artists must sing and dance only when instructed to. Because artists are not required to have a social conscience or a connection to the people. They came for Norris because farmers must mind their business and not consider that food security is a national concern. They came for Shivonne because good Indian girls must stay home and keep quiet. Must not have opinions.

There were children there. Children playing drums. Children being children. Children that could be mine. They came for them too. To send a message to the next generation that social activism is not acceptable. That having an emotional investment in your country is not an option. That resistance is futile, although everything about this place screams defiance. Everything about this place shouts loud that somebody was willing to sacrifice and put their life on the line so that we could prosper.

They came because they thought we would be so awed by their guns and their tear gas canisters that we would retreat. They came for you too. To remind you who is boss. To show you that your voice means nothing. Your life even less. They came to warn you not to get any ideas. To kill your fighting spirit just as you need it more than ever. They came to aim at your dreams. To trample your children under their government boots. They came because they know you are dissatisfied and disgruntled and disappointed with the way they are running the country. 

I look them in the eye when they come for me. They are more afraid of us than we of them. They know they are wrong. They came for us because they follow orders. I shout at them because I don’t know what else to do. They are my neighbours and brothers and liming pardners. They are the people I stand in line for doubles with. That I support the West Indies cricket team with. That I weep for dead children with. Shivonne makes one of them cry. His eyes fill with water. His eyes shine with shame and pain from behind the plastic shield.

They dress back because they know that this battle is not a righteous one. They dress back because, regardless of automatic weapons and tear gas, they have no protection against their own intense sadness and pain at the state of this place. There is no difference between us and them. There is no line that separates their pain from ours. They come for us but cannot complete their mission. And it is the people who teach them a lesson. That in this place sometimes the people win. And power is not about weapons and they haven’t made a gun yet to kill ideas.

Surviving the fears

All over the world hearts pound with the rhythm
Fear not of men because men must die
Mind over matter and soul before flesh
Angels for the pain keep a record in time

Fear Not of Man, Mos Def

You know you must be doing the right thing when even the police parked up outside the Prime Ministers residence in an unmarked black SUV hail you out by name.
So you smile and you wave back at the cheery good morning.  Trying not to be too suspicious.  Because isn’t this what you’ve wanted ever since you came back?  For people to greet you like they used to long time?  For the police to be your friends and not your distant and intimidating strong arms of the state.  You smile and you walk on, hoping that they don’t see the bemusement. Hoping that they don’t hear that your heart is beating faster and your mind is racing because you’re trying to remember where you could possibly have met a police man who would be parked up outside the Prime Minister’s residence in an unmarked SUV.
You must be doing the right thing. And maybe he makes you out because you’re on television sometimes.  Your ego self, strokes you a bit and says maybe he’s a fan.
I mean it’s not like you live in a country where they victimize people for speaking their minds. I mean you’re number 17 on the Reporters without Borders rankings, a point that your government always boasts about.
And anyway, this is not the kind of country that takes its outspoken ones seriously.   Let the jackasses bray, once the Johnny Walker flows and everybody gets a kick back, people like you can say what the hell they want.
So you make jokes about it. You joke about the blimp looking for you and put it on your Facebook status update so that your friends can catch some kicks too.  Like you joke about whether Papa Patos reads your column every week.
When the night comes you sass a minister who tells you you have a sharp tongue and you treat it like it’s a compliment and not a reproach.
And in your arrogance and contempt for authority, especially of the masculinist political kind, you know you’re doing the right thing.  You go home, haughty and self-righteous.  Reach home safe, you say to the people you’ve hitched a ride with, and you mean it.
You find yourself remembering your grandmother’s voice, walk in your house backwards, not for the spirits but for the real jumbies, the half living crack heads, the young killers who were left to languish in classrooms for duncie children, the second generation coke heads who would grab at a cell phone but run at a raised voice.
You try to lock your worries out with the nights other terrors.
You want to forget for a few hours that you’re living in a society that is now so paranoid about itself that we’re willing to give up our civil liberties in order to feel something like safe.  We live in fear under electric lights and behind electric gates and burglar proofing as if we fear the douens and jumbies that stalked the imaginations of our grandparents.
You fall asleep to a lullaby of police sirens, wailing somebody dead, oh.
In the insomniac hours when it’s just you and the moon and Mr. Coltrane battling it out for your sanity and your immortal soul, you know you’re doing the right thing.
By now you’re used to the mango trees pelting hard little fruit you will never eat, that hit the galvanize like bullets ringing out into the cool night.  The old wooden gingerbread house moans and creaks like an arthritic old woman in the night breeze.
And every now and then the dogs in the distance howl, like somebody dead, oh. And under your window, cats meows sound like people begging to be let in.
You try not to think you’re living in a Martin Carter poem, where men in steel tipped boots crush your tomato plants and aim at your dreams.
Your fingers move faster and more determined across keys as if you’re life depends on you keeping writing.
The dawn is coming, so you roll out your mat and do your salute to the sun, glad that you’ve lived to see it again.  You think about the smiling policeman in the unmarked black SUV, the blimp that will start making its daily rounds, but miss the young boys who keep breaking into your neighbour’s house.
You smile that you were ever even worried, because in the light of day nothing is scary anymore.
You think about ministers who reproach your sharp tongue and the cat that pissed in your hammock.  Mild annoyances, but not the end of the world.
You resist the urge to turn on the news and find out who died in the night.   For a moment you want to celebrate that you, like your tomatoes, are still living.