Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Forever Oblivious Youth

Watch what you say...I guess this is something we've heard from our parents, our teachers and even once or twice from that little voice inside our head that mediates between what goes on in our minds and what comes out of our mouths. Our conscience, our gut-feeling, our instincts all play simple roles: stop adults from acting like children, allow children to process information like adults should, making humans out of the animals we are, and at times turning animals into humans. It is a strange and mysterious phenomenon...thinking before we talk, before we act, sometimes thinking before we think...is it over rated? I ask because I feel like language we use, our choice of verbs and adjectives is marked by the jargon of the forever oblivious youth unaware and uninterested in the means they hold not only to the ears receiving it, but those in the past who have felt the lash of the tongue burn upon the skin.

Our words have the ability to hug, hit, bend, break, smile, love, twist, empower, betray (etc) people. They're just as alive as humans think are, and more importantly they have more power that any human can have on his/her own. Language, the ability to communicate, to transfer information between each other has been a central feature to the survival of our species. Stringing sounds together to make words, words into a sentences, sentences into coherent conversations...it's what supposedly sets us apart from 'animals'. Yet ironically we are the very things we have evolved from, thanks to none other that the very characteristic that gave us that push into humanity: those little words we think we're so clever for inventing. 

Recently I've heard a lot of words that I feel have come to characterize the First World example-setters and as expected (by extension), Caribbean society. I'm not sure how we all came to use these words but I feel it is a strange phenomenon, these words end up in everyday conversations. 'Nigger' and 'rape' are just some of these terms, the latter being the one that has irked me the most recently. So lets talk about these words a bit, as I'm curious to research their real vs their intended meanings in the average conversation.

  • A noun in the English language...originating as a neutral term referring to black people...by the mid 20th century, particularly in the United States, it's usage became pejorative (abusive or degrading), a common ethnic slur directed at people of Sub Saharan African Descent. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigger

Interesting...starts as a 'neutral term' then becomes an ethnic slur (a derogatory way of referring to a particular ethnicity) by --and this is just to note-- the United States, a nation of immigrants..

  • The term 'nigger' is now probably the most offensive word in English...despite this, referring to a 'black person' is sometimes used in a neutral or familiar way among African Americans...can be used to refer to other victims of prejudice eg. 'The Irish are the niggers of Europe' from Roddy Doyle's: The Commitments but other uses are considered hostile and contemptuous. (Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nigger)

So the term has shifted back to being neutral...except in this case the neutrality lies in use between the descendants of those once persecuted by this same word?? 

What I find baffling is that the term still is not completely neutral as it is used as an adjective to describe people who face same/similar circumstances and discrimination (real or perceived) as Africans did during colonization and slavery. How can the same word be neutral and have meaning at the same time?

  • I'm not even sure what context 'nigger' is being used in on these Twitter posts...can someone explain what #nigger stand for? In this case the term 'nigger' seems to be used in a fashionable, urban, or new-age sense. Sorry if I can't analyze this..my mind is blown right now...(Twitter Search: https://twitter.com/search?q=%23nigger&src=hash)

  • A word that everyone else is afraid to define except in utter seriousness, for fear of being branded a racist, in total ignorance of the colloquial usage of the word, its characterization in popular culture and the populations of people it is used most by.
  • A term that is racist, as long as the speaker is not black. Forbidden on most all of television and other forms of public entertainment, at times referenced as the "n-word".
  • described an ignorant, uneducated, foolish individual regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation etc. (Urban Dictionary http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nigger)

I absolutely LOVE this first definition...'total ignorance of the colloquial usage of the word'...total ignorance or reassigned definition of the word? 

Secondly, 'a term that is not racist as long as the speaker is not black'..what is this strange concept? You're allowed to call yourself a "formerly" discriminatory word but I'm not? If the word no longer means what it used to then there should be no problem using it in all its neutrality...am I right, my nigger? --I mean my "n-word" (because the censoring makes the use of this term so elusive to the average person)

Lastly, 'an ignorant uneducated, foolish individual regardless...' Interesting take on that new-age (re)definition/use I mentioned earlier...what a cool word to use to describe yourselves my fellow hipsters! 

Lets move on then...

The tern 'rape' has been used a lot by those 'forever oblivious youth' I mentioned before at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine which I attend. From my experience it is used to describe an exam or assessment which was particularly challenging for the student, eg. "That exam today was rape...". Recently I've heard it used to describe success. As you can see by this cleverly worded caption the word 'rape' is used to describe how badly Dortmund beat Madrid: 4-1...very cheeky indeed! Unfortunately you clearly don't understand the term rape, probably because you've never experienced it...

  • Rape is a type of sexual assault involving sexual intercourse which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape)
  • Rape is seen here to express stress or shortcomings brought on by a certain experience...well I should rephrase--certain trivial experiences considering what the experience of rape really is                                                        (Twitter Search https://twitter.com/search?q=%23rape)
  • I googled 'rape victim in India'. Note the time stamp on the articles: 45 mins ago, 6 hours ago, 16 hours ago...these abominations are happening at this very moment..while I waste time writing this blog entry hoping to change at least one person's  misuse of the word RAPE.

This is the before and after photography of the highly publicized rape victim in Dehli, India. She was gang-raped in a bus and her soon-to-be husband was beaten badly in the process. I cannot find the exact description of what happened to her but I have a quote from the BBC: According to the reports, the couple were attached after the man objected to another group of men taunting her. Police said the woman was raped for nearly an hour by at least four men. Both she and her companion were beaten with iron bars then thrown out of the moving bus into the street                                                                                     (BBC report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-20869185

She has died as a result of her wounds. 

Just to be absolutely clear: Is this what your exam is doing to you? Is losing a football match equated to this idea of rape? Just to be sure...what definition of 'rape' do you use?

"Great and unfortunate things..."

Quoted from Spartacus, War of the Damned series finale...he was referring to his destiny if he went to war (as predicted by his wife). I feel like this quote represents to me what words are. We think little of our everyday speech...thank the universe we do, as I'm sorry to think what would be our state if we really dissected each word we use and who it was directed to...

Your in Writing, 

Friday, 26 April 2013

Foreign is better: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

This is an assignment I wrote this semester for a course entitled Geography of Development (we had to write about something that we feel passionate about)...This post stands as a tribute to this course, representing a voice I never had the confidence to let out prior to this semester. If I had to sum my experience up in one statement I'd say I've learned a great deal about what it means to be 'developed' versus 'underdeveloped' in a world where everything status-related is decided for you by higher forces. While I hope this won't the continuous tone of my blog, I was quite proud of this piece and so I'd share it with the Internet. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

Yours in writing, Hannah.

Foreign is better: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
The more I learn about the Caribbean and its development strategies, the more I feel that the region is characterized by a series of ‘get-rich-fast’ schemes some of which have left us handicapped. The Caribbean is plagued with a warped sense of what it means to be ‘developed’ and a severely devalued self image. In reading case studies of various islands of the region I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated as more and more, the Caribbean seems to be expending all of its resources for the sake of economic growth, ‘developed nation status’ and ‘modernity’ with help from the always extended arms of transnational and multinational companies. We as free Caribbean nations seem to always be ready and willing to concede to the top-down version of what it means to be ‘developed’ forgetting the people we have on the ground and forgetting the struggles of our ancestors in their fight for freedom, equality and a future in which we do not second guess ourselves, our people, our expertise and our ability to be ‘developed’ without foreign intervention.
‘Foreign is better’- We teach our children to aspire to be doctors and lawyers not bred in the Caribbean, but at the best schools in America and Europe. We buy imported cereals and snacks at the grocery because of the variety, foreign meats because they seem to be of a higher quality and foreign vegetables because somehow they look cleaner or more appealing. When it comes to development we are quick to jump onto bandwagons of ‘Invitation’ schemes and foreign aid. Everything is foreign: the television stations we look at, the words we say, the clothes we wear and now more than ever the thoughts we have. Somehow we have managed to convince ourselves that being waiters, servants and puppets in our own country is acceptable. Tourism, Education, Commerce: all better if they are foreign, if they are white, if they have the global North’s stamp of approval. When Sir Arthur Lewis publicized his Industrialization by Invitation plans, Trinidad was one of the countries in the Caribbean that supplied multi-national corporations with facilities, equipment and labor in return for the expansion of the oil and gas manufacturing industry. Tax holidays, environmental degradation, the move away from agriculture and self-sufficiency all seemed like ‘necessary evils’ at the time, given the rapid growth of the population. As mentioned before, get-rich-fast seemed to be a first priority, but to what end? In terms of education, I remember teachers and students alike complaining about the switch from GCE O and A level examinations to CXC and CAPE because it was too much work, a waste of time and not accredited. In other words, it was not foreign and of course anything that does not come from ‘up above’ is a complete waste of time and energy in our eyes. When I entered UWI, the mother of a friend of mine asked me what my plans were, so I told her “well, I’m going to UWI to pursue Geography and Psychology”. Her reply to me was “why are you going to UWI? It’s such a waste of time; no degree you get there is going to be worth anything”. The moment that made me truly realize how our people view themselves was when I asked her what university she went to: Her reply was, “UWI”. How is it possible to downplay, degrade and as Trinidadians say, ‘bad-talk’ the institutions our very own ancestors fought to create and preserve? How can we, as proud Caribbean people, prefer to do what others tell us, rather than to make our own way? In terms of recreational activities, ‘foreign’ seems to be the only avenue we endorse. Currently the cinema complex Movietowne we all love to go to is built on precious mangroves but we’re happy to let it all slip away for air conditioned buildings, big screens, comfy chairs and popcorn. I have often heard Movietowne referred to as ‘our very own slice of America’. We are proud to say this and support the services it offers, yet how many of the outlets and services are local and can be seen as representative of Trinidad’s progress and development? As far as our government sees it, development in Port of Spain involved the water front development and NAPA, our very own National Academy for the Performing Arts. However, how much of ourselves and our culture are truly invested into these establishments? We use foreign architectural designs, foreign planners and architects, even foreign construction companies! We say that NAPA is the landmark of culture and the arts within Port of Spain, yet literally across the road is the Queen’s Park Savannah, the hub of Trinidadian culture for past generations, forgotten and overshadowed. Why must development involve skyscrapers, large highways, foreign franchises and policies? Why instead of the Hyatt Regency on the national waterfront is there not a park for children to play in, or a cultural space for Trinidadians to express themselves? Is our idea of development and progress a Port of Spain skyline where the Twin Towers are barely visible amidst a sea of foreign glass towers and hotel chains?
Without a doubt Trinidad and Tobago is experiencing growth because of outside investments into our oil and gas industries, commerce, recreation and education and it is through foreign loans that we were able to further develop our nation, but at what cost? Out of the frying pan of slavery and colonization, and into the fire of industrialization by invitation, environmental degradation in the name of ‘development’ and a brainwashed region who believes themselves to be servants, waiters, second-in-command over their own lands and their futures. Our way of thinking must change, the way we evaluate ourselves, our worth and our abilities must be corrected. Caribbean people are not damaged, we are not abused and we are not a dependent people. Local is better, believe it or forever be chained within the age of mental slavery that is, development away from the ‘local’.