Saturday, May 26, 2012

Commentary: Music that celebrates humanity cannot be imprisoned within the narrow walls of racism

"She’s royal, yeah so royal. And, I want her in my life."
I have read the lyrics of the song by Jamaican-American artiste Tarrus Riley over and over again and I have watched the music video trying to understand what it is about the song and the music that makes it so exclusive to women of African descent that it becomes "insulting" for an artiste to sing it in tribute to a woman of a different ethnicity.

Pro-PNM calypsonian Sugar Aloes made a surprise appearance on the stage of the People's Partnership on Thursday night and sang "She's a queen" in tribute to Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago and political leader of the United National Congress (UNC).

The use of the song in this context - of serenading Kamla - is nothing new. It has been done before and no one made an issue of it.

However now that a man who has opposed the UNC in his music and always supported the People's National Movement (PNM) has performed it for Kamla, it has become offensive and "insulting" to black women, at least in the eyes of one prominent and high profile woman.

Pearl Eintou Springer, a vice chairperson of the Emancipation Support Committee, told the Express newspaper the song should never have been sung for Kamla.

"We have this one song "She's Royal" for black women that I use all the time when I work with young black people. Suddenly, it is taken out of the context and taken into a political situation."

Riley's tribute was likely originally intended for women of African descent. However the lyrics do not give it any exclusivity and could be just as appropriate for any woman anywhere.

It is unfortunate that Ms Springer has chosen to use a wide racist brush on this occasion and by so doing she has tainted her own cause in the struggle to emancipate women. 

Music that celebrates humanity cannot be imprisoned within the narrow walls of racism. 

Helen Reddy's iconic song, "I am woman" is by a white woman in tribute to women everywhere. Should one consider it insulting as well when it is performed for a non-white woman?

Kamla has used "I am woman" as well as Bob Marley's music - "No Woman no Cry" and "Everything's gonna be alright" - in her political campaigns as well as in apolitical events because of the significance of the music and the lyrics. There is nothing offensive about that.

Why is it suddenly offensive for the use of Riley's music, which falls in the same category as Marley's and Reddy's work? Is it because a "PNM till ah ded" artiste decided to sing a tribute to the woman who defeated the PNM?

In 2010, I was convinced that we had past that stage of racism and partisanship when we embraced the People's Partnership, a coalition that represented and still does, everybody in our country, regardless of ethnicity, social standing or religious beliefs. I might have been wrong; we still have a great distance to travel.

Those of us who still wear ethnicity on our sleeves to justify our actions and rationalise our decisions need to change those views and see us all as one, because that is what we are.

People of African origin have suffered the greatest indignity that the human race has ever inflicted on itself. But we have to move forward as Martin Luther King did when he delivered his historic "I have a dream" speech.

Recall his words, spoken on August 28, 1963: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character..."

Those were the words Basdeo Panday used in 1989 when he implored our citizens to rise and embrace his new movement - the UNC - and join his crusade to end discrimination and prejudice in Trinidad & Tobago.

Kamla and the People's Partnership are dedicated to those same ideals, to create a just society in which all of us are equal. Each of us needs to banish our fears and join hands to help. Our society has been divided for too long by people who have been so conditioned by prejudice that they find it hard to let go.

Let us live in a state "where the mind is without fear, where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls...". Let us follow the dream of Rabindranath Tagore and live together in harmony and celebrate our diversity to let our country "awake".

We are one country, blessed with a rich heritage of different cultures and a plurality of views. And now is the time to free ourselves of the chains of the past and make the hope expressed in our national anthem a reality: "Here every creed and race find an equal place".

After 50 years, let us stand strong and rise with pride and sing the lyrics of everyone who celebrates humanity and freedom. Only then can we sincerely believe that "everything's gonna be alright"!

Jai Parasram | 26 May 2012 

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai