Friday, July 22, 2005

What next? a ripley ramble

As Billmon has a handy summary of all the rights our government has apparently permanently signed away, I'll leave just a few questions for New Yorkers:
1) will you submit to random bag searches, and
2) how exactly is that going to stop someone who wants to get on the subway when there are multiple entrances to multiple stations mere blocks apart from each other, and
3) - bonus!- are you REALLY prepared, now, every time you pack a bag to go out, to think about what a cop will think about everything you put in it?

and I'll jump straight to the fact that The ROLLING STONES apparently have a song critical of the Bush regime on their latest album. It's called "Neo-con" This is fine. great, actually. look how mainstream criticism is becoming - maybe that will one day translate into political awareness or even action on the part of more mainstream music fans (what if Wal-Mart refuses to sell it?)
However, I would like to point out that the description of the song includes this point:
"he lyrics don't flatter in any way National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice."

I'm quite happy to talk about Condoleezza's lying, power-mongering, fascist, blood-soaked, race-baiting ass till the cows come home. But somehow, that the critique from the Stones is apparently notable for treatment of a woman and a woman of color, is, erm, unsurprising I guess. I guess I should wait for the lyrics to come out, huh? Maybe I'm projecting too much..

When trying to find the actual lyrics I keep coming across people saying "(those awful) feminists have a problem with Stones lyrics." Uh, yeah, people who get irritated by objectification of women might be irritated by Stones lyrics. Somehow, the Stones manage to survive, and people who hear feminists talk manage to either totally ignore them, or maybe think for a minute about language, lyrics and their uses. (although I like the essay linked, I have to say there is also not enough talk about the feeling I sometimes get when a whole roomful of men (or mostly men) chant sexist lyrics happily. Whatever the critique and the complexity of my personal, individual relationship to sexist lyrics (and as someone who has put Mystikal's self-admitted raping self on more than one mix CD).. I can't deny the unpleasant and threatening effect of the roomful-of-chanting-men. I ask all y'all to think about it - it's an important thing to think about, anyway, when you are not in the minority in whatever way.. what would it feel like, really, if I was in the minority? If I was the only one in the room?

On that note - on the subject of context - there was a recent shooting in my town. Apparently, a group of young women hanging out on the sidewalk were "disrespected" by a group of young men, who used "foul language." When one women took issue with that, an argument ensued. **(edited because I have read contradictory stories about the conclusion of this event, but the point can be made with general facts..)**

So when people have a discussion about verbal harassment, about men commenting publicly on women (or to them) - let's think about the risks women run when their acts are misconstrued. The threat of rape or sexual violence is in the air, in our society. It happens too often (and not just from strangers, of course). But anyone who's been raped and made it public (or even sometimes just told a few people), or been part of a rape case, or seen public discussion of a rape case, knows that women's behaviour (and clothing) is part of the discussion about how much they actually "invited" what happened to them.

I always think of this when people complain about "political correctness." If you have less power in a particular environment, if you are the one facing greater risks, you have ALWAYS had to think about how your language can be misconstrued. Most people who are complaining about it just reveal to me that they have been pretty sheltered before, if they never thought about it. More generally, the point about all this back-and-forth about whether "man-bashing" is as bad as "woman-bashing" (as well as any other "this-bashing" and "that-bashing") is that the context of power and threat is different for each side.

To go back to music - I'm minded now of being in Sizzla's home neighborhood with Irie-la a few years ago. An amazing experience, at an outdoor block party where the man himself, along with Military Man, Anthony B and a host of other amazingly talented performers were getting up on the decks. And hearing the way the MCs got the crowds going: "t'row your hand in the air if you nah f*ck batty!" "t'row your hand in the air if you nah suck p*ssy!"
Well, not having a problem with either of those things, I felt a little weird.. and also cultureshocked, like, really? 600 people out here, and none of them suck p*ssy? at all? But when it got to ""t'row your hand in the air if you BURN battyman!" it shifted again.

Before that there had been shouts (it was bobo dread territory on the weekend of Easter, mark you): "Burn jesus!" and "Burn the pope" - Both being self-intentionally symbolic entitues, as well as the first being long-gone, the second being far away, and also well able to protect himself.

Basically I felt divided right down the middle. the music was so powerful - viscerally and achingly spiritually moving.. and yet as a queerminded person I felt quite unhappy and unsafe. Now the scene is not transparent, and it's possible there were crews of queer Jamaicans at the party, not sweating it, like some folk get down to dancehall in NY clubs I've been in. And it's damn sure that there were individual queer Jamaicans (whether they knew it or not) at the event, since, isn't it something like 10% of all people fall on the entirely homo side of that spectrum, Jamaica like everywhere else..

But the context was pretty different from the queer/friendly dancehall nights - as it would be in some OTHER NY clubs I've been in. the feeling, generally, was awful. Overall, it was one of the more intense experience, to be intensely pleased and joyful and simultaneous intensely threatened and put off by an outpouring of hatred and threat of violence. And there is no shortage of violence towards queer folk in JA (or most other places).

kay, I'm not sure where this is going now. But it's how some of things on my mind these days flow together.

(I'm not unaware that race complicates the context of this - as a white women at these events, or critiquing homophobic and sexist lyrics.. and for sure, in talking about wider issues, nothing trumps anything else as the "real problem" or "real oppression." But let's not bullshit around about the actual, physical threats folks face, and our roles in condoning or questioning or trying to change them).


  1. I remember reading in Madaline Albright's memoir that it pissed her off that news commentators never talk about what the politico guys are wearing.

  2. i much prefer gyal dancehall to dancehall in general, partly b/c these political questions are eliminated from the equation, and partly b/c i like the more "feminine" feel

    and as much as i may object to the queer-bashing orientation of so much dancehall music, i'd like to see change come from within the jamaican community, not imposed from without. i think it's *their* responsibility, not ours. (though you could perhaps say that it's american dollars and british pounds that fund the hatred on vinyl.)

    last, i couldn't help but reminded by your comments regarding rape of the young actress killed on the LES earlier this year. she had evidently been raped in college several years earlier, went through therapy, sorted out the issues, etc, and rather than be a "victim" this time around, she asserted herself and challenged the muggers with the words, "what are you going to do, kill us?!" -- and then they went and did precisely that -- snd then once the story hit the papers, people thought her a fool for challenging her assailants in this manner, i.e., there was much snickering about her murder, though such snickering was perhaps driven by a sense of the injustice of her murder getting so much media coverage while so many other murders go without note b/c the victims aren't (relatively) privileged and "promising" white women

  3. (1) will you submit to random bag searches?

    not sure -- if i have drugs on me, then definitely not!

    2) how exactly is that going to stop someone who wants to get on the subway when there are multiple entrances to multiple stations mere blocks apart from each other?

    well assuming they won't keep an eye a person to make sure he doesn't resort to another entrance at same stop, then yeah, it seems like a very poorly designed measure, with the ends and means and general invasiveness completely out of whack (though i could see court saying that subway is a public space w/ no expectation of privacy, and the government interest as compelling)

    (3) are you REALLY prepared, now, every time you pack a bag to go out, to think about what a cop will think about everything you put in it?

    again, i'm not a habitual consumer of drugs, let alone a dealer, but it could be a problem from time to time . . . . ALSO, what about time considerations? the massive and unpredictable inconvenience this will mean for people trying to get from point A to point B . . . . "sorry i'm late for work, boss, but i got strip searched on the subway again this morning. they keep singling me out. don't understand why."