Jamaica hits back at critics of homophobia

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Jamaican academics have hit back at claims that rap and reggae music have incited violence and homophobia towards gay people in the Caribbean.

International Development Minister, Gareth Thomas, blamed the music genre for sparking homophobic abuse, on a visit to the country last week, but some Jamaicans are suggesting the cause is from Britain.

Groups reacted strongly claiming the MP for Harrow West is acting like a colonial master, he said on the visit to promote HIV programmes, “Within the Jamaican gay community homophobia is a key part of the spread of HIV/AIDS…there are also particular problems with some rap and reggae music which includes lyrics inciting violence against gays.”

Dr Lez Henry, a sociologist and cultural historian told Black Britain that if the claims were true, then the genre would be inviting violence against everyone, he said: “In reggae dancehall culture everything is the recipient of violence. From the sound systems to the person who plays the set, to the unfaithful baby mother, to the person who looks at you wrong.

“So it’s not just gays.”

Dr Henry added “We need to think about the historical role of people of African descent and how the bible was used to control us both psychologically and physically.

“The church is absolutely culpable in these beliefs and I think it is a disgrace that a minister can come from England and distance his government’s historical role in that continued situation and act as if ‘these people’ somehow don’t understand the bible properly. You cannot separate the Jamaican psyche from biblical doctrine. It’s impossible.”

Professor Carolyn Cooper, an author and head of the Department of Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica said: “The problem in Jamaica is that music has functioned to give a voice to the values and in other cultures you don’t have that popular culture speaking in the same way. I think that is what the issue is.”

“A parent will say to their child: ‘me a go kill you wid licks today,’ and the parent doesn’t intend to actually kill the child. It is a statement to suggest the seriousness of the offence that the child has committed. It’s not meant to be literal – it’s a metaphor.”

Professor Cooper added, “We come from a culture in which verbal power is very important so that people who do not even have guns will be singing: ‘boom bye bye in a batty bwoy head.’ What they are doing is asserting their sense of displeasure with homosexuality.

“The talk gives them a sense of power but I believe that the talk is cathartic. People identify with the anti homosexuality lyrics that the DJ is performing that functions in a therapeutic way of dealing with the feelings of revulsion without having to go out there and actually trouble any gay person. It is a kind of collective catharsis.

“Jamaican music is being used as a scapegoat. That is an easy route to just say that the problem is down to the musicians. The problem is that the music has gone global and so the messages have gone out too and the music amplifies the messages… people who don’t understand the culture don’t understand that a lot of the talk of violence is just that – talk,” she told the paper.