Vulgarity & rural development

19 February 2016*15-2a__Franklin_Khan

Franklin Khan is no Obama. Yet scripted remarks the PNM’s chairman stuttered through his phone and technical difficulties onto television airwaves Tuesday morning quickened my pulse a way little has politically—giving me some audacity of hope. After six years that unmasked the corruption of nice words, the falter, the inartful, the surprise of Khan’s words was their eloquence. Chairman and party will need to be held to them—and offered a good deal of support and guidance to make good on them. I’m cueing for the ensuing moral panic; but wondering anew about getting that party card.

I’ve sung verses before how joining parties is commonsense for social change, on our lost Caribbean heritage of parties as transformational movements, how civil society should abandon neoliberal notions of non-partisanship for Latin American norms where state power and party structures play key movement-building roles.

What was so remarkable about Khan’s utterances?

Carnival week on the whole was remarkable. With questions about Ronnie & Caro security and Kyshon Bell’s 2015 laslap killing still unresolved, an elected official’s Carnival Monday beat-down by Yuma’s “extraction force” again exposed the lunacy of a festival about taking to streets, kilometres of which are cordoned off like private property by multi-million-dollar Carnival band enterprises.

Aren’t the Carnival economy’s ropes simply placing young, unskilled African men on opposite sides of yet another border, fighting each other needlessly in someone else’s war? I hope the St. Barbs-Chinapoo Councillor and his Canadian friends won’t accept an easy payout, that their case will force new public policy on Carnival ropes.

I sang on Yuma’s ropes last year; the year before on Ray TimKee’s first Carnival as Mayor of the city whose 19th-century jamettes created it.

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Where we don’t need new Carnival policy is for vulgarity. The structural role of Carnival is to make ritual space for our every vulgarity—sacred to profane—which, rubbed up against Lent, guarantees handwringing oratory about naked lasciviousness and self-destruction. This is an integral function of the festival—one of its centuries-old sacraments. Entrapment in this misunderstood morality play by a public official, and scores of working-class African people whose vulgar bodies are the very ones moral elites reference, was what was remarkable about TimKee’s Ash Wednesday foot-in-mouth on Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya’s murder. Her discovery occasioned a sneering mayoral response that since no truck eh bounce anybody, we should let our imagination roll a bit as to how lewdness, alcohol and abandonment of dignity might be at play.

That a Trinbagonian politician reluctantly fell on his sword after a self-inflicted wound is remarkable—even over a Japanese woman. That Nagakiya is foreign has everything to do with the unusual responses to her murder. That her death failed to become just another occasion for grief and helplessness is to be celebrated. The focus and message of the largely young, educated feminists who created history in mobilising successfully for TimKee’s resignation has been consistent: Perpetrators must be held accountable for violence against women, not women themselves; public officials have a heightened duty to guarantee an environment where women are protected, instead of blaming them; and women’s vulnerability or behaviour do not license their violation. The former Mayor’s Muslim instinct to cover up just women is not a solution to violence; instead we must all must create a framework of masculine and public accountability for safety. They have a clear campaign for training officials, education in schools, and public dialogue. How men join this work is wide open.


As voices of a campaign to keep TimKee in office, Juliet Davy, Samuel Stafford and Farai Hove Masaisai II, were allowed to mark it as about class, ignorance, dishonesty and, surprisingly, homophobia. Councillor Masaisai misled the public. City Corporation worker Davy—famous for her steadfast comments about Hindu women’s power-seeking seduction of African mentold the media gays were leading efforts to remove the mayor, and want heterosexual women to dress and behave immorally, just like us.


In taking to the press to push a vacillating TimKee off his ledge, his party chair did a most remarkable and un-coincidental thing. He swam upstream and hacked a policy opening in a PNM thicket where the party just last election had derided accountability as “fashionable”.

We can no longer take an antiquated approach to things like abortion, gay rights, gender bias, abuse to children…these old dogmatic doctrines of rural Trinidad…the 50s and…60s are no longer relevant in a modern world.

As the Opposition devolves to a rural, scorched-earth strategy of polarising the ignorance of its base, it’s fascinating that the holder of this novel “rural development” Cabinet portfolio announces a commitment to move his party and nation beyond what he calls rural ideas about gender. Basing policy on modern-day ideas about gender may be as important to men and women in rural communities as it is for those in our urban “hotspots.”


I discovered arithmetic and nationality errors in my last column: “On De Road,” Massive Chandelier & Ronnie McIntosh’s Carnival 1995 tune, set off nationality roll-calls in fetes two—not four—decades ago. Oscar Wilde was Irish. André Gide, 15 years Wilde’s junior, was less than two years older than Marcel Proust.

* This entry was submitted for publication in the 21 February Guardian, but has not appeared.


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