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How Ronnie Thwaites & Carolyn Cooper Disappointed Me


On Wednesday, March 6, 2013, Television Jamaica aired on its current affairs programme, All Angles, a segment that looked at the issues of lengthening the school year in Jamaica as remedial action for poor academic performances and whether or not religion should be allowed influence in the nation's schools. The latter became a contentious issue after principal (or pastor???) of Jamaica Church College (JC), Ruel Reid, organised and executed a full-fledged Christian CRUSADE, during what should have been instructional hours. Understandably, in a nation that privileges Christianity, many would see no problem with the church's blatant attempts at proselytising and with even silencing voices of dissent.

And silencing the voice(s) of dissent is what, in my opinion, Minister of Religion Education, Ronald Thwaites, effectively did on that episode. Minister Thwaites was caustic, combative and condescending in his tone. And his outbursts (frequent smug interruptions)and personal attacks on Javed Jaghai was effectively an act of silencing (by way of deflection). Moreover, I read Thwaites' behaviour as ageist, homophobic and ideologically (religiously) intolerant. "Brother man; Don't do that; Nonsense " and the implicit insinuations that Javed had an agenda were all expressions of the accusations I level against the "minister" (intended pun). Javed's multiple belongings - being young, gay atheist - makes him contemptible and those, more than his arguments, were in Thwaites' view as he engaged Javed. He represents the minority (gay, low status & non-religious)that the minister held in contempt and he constantly defended the (Christian) majority. A minority which, the "minister" promised Javed, will never see the law changed to include. A minority which, the "minister" kept emphasising, can "OPT OUT". A minority who, according to the "minister's" metaphor might have to consider their citizenship that is based on belonging and adhering to the rules of the religious majority. After all, Freedom of conscience is NOT a guarantee under our constitution. Certainly, Thwaites was in no mood for conversation; it was full on confrontation on combat from start to finish - the battle to preserve the privilege of the Christian majority. It bleeds my heart that the minority must constantly be at the mercy of tyranny of the majority & then we smile, turn around and call that "morality". Damn me for expecting better from one in religious and political leadership! He is twice bitten by the bug of such "morality".


On a separate note, the Edna Manley College (EMC) of the Visual and Performing Arts hosted a public lecture in commemoration of Women's Day, entitled, "Who's In Charge of the Rompin' Shop: Sexual Politics in Jamaican Dancehall Culture." The guest speaker was the bright and charismatic, Carolyn Cooper. Cooper is no doubt a very skilled communicator. She easily enraptures you in her gifts of words, wit, (wry?) sense of humour. BUT I left the lecture very disappointed.

Firstly, the principal of EMC made the gender discourse seem to be a competition between the sexes for dominance. This for me was very awkward as gender discourse is not about pitting females against males (that is not woman's empowerment)but challenging systems that foster and entrench gender inequalities.

Then the moment came for the long-awaited lecture, which was clearly running behind schedule. I waited with bated breath to hear Professor Cooper situate the "Rompin' Shop" and interrogate the sexual politics at play in dancehall culture, beyond the content analysis of lyrics written. Unfortunately, what I was left with was a rehashing of "Soundclash","Noises in The Blood" and articles such as "Femstration". For me, Cooper just stamped a different name on old work and delivered. There were some clumsy negotiations of social issues, particularly that of the existing gender inequalities, which play out in sexual politics. Some may even argue, intellectual dishonesty and disingenuousness.

For example, Cooper laboriously took us through the lyrics of Shabba Ranks, who (though not "advocating" prostitution)suggests to women that they must not allow men to make use of their vaginas without some financial/material benefit to her from the engagement. Cooper calls this and Shabba's call for men to own up to their responsibilities to their women and the children that those men fathered by them a veneration of the female. I did not find this to be a genuine critique of the gender issues and contradictions present in Shabba's lyrics. While Shabba Ranks makes it clear that the economic relationship between the sexes is not sex work, and the woman is not seen as cheapening herself from gaining financially, in Shabba's representation of the power dynamics involved, the woman is always recipient/weaker/dependent and beholden to the man; a feature of patriarchy! Women are still commodities - valued commodities - but commodities nonetheless. Sexual expression of women and sexual desire by men are focused on male consumption and validation of (the performance of) masculinity. I expected some real description and interrogation of sexual/gender politics, instead I received the usual dancehall apology rhetoric from her previous works that I mentioned earlier.

Moreover, Cooper went through the entire presentation, totally avoiding any discussion about the "Rompin' Shop" and then shocked me in the end with a little "tups" of Kartel's and Spice's duet by the same name (She should have started there) and concluded by suggesting that the Romping Shop is egalitarian. Apart from feeling that "Rompin' Shop" could have featured more prominently, I was aghast at how she arrived at that conclusion. Admittedly, Cooper said that the dancehall is a heterosexual space; yea, even a heterosexist space. Yet she concludes that said heterosexist space is egalitarian???? The dancehall space cannot be seen as simultaneously a heterosexist (patriarchal) space and a space where men & women equally share (sexual) power (egalitarian). Heterosexism is rooted in patriarchy and features male/masculine sexual ideals; where maleness is legitimized by the male's phallic prowess and femininity legitimized by the woman's sexual role in pleasing the man. Both the male's and female's sexuality belong to the MAN. In a heterosexist (dancehall) space, gay men are seen as sub-masculine. He is called names like sissy, mama man, chi-chi man - any name that points out his sub-male status, which is seen as on par with the feminine (hence the nomenclatures "mama man" & "sissy" and sometimes "Gyal"). The repudiation of homosexuality in the heterosexist dancehall space (which I assume is Cooper's Rompin' Shop") can, therefore, be interpreted as disregard for the 'feminine'. How then would such space be egalitarian? Egalitarianism does not exist simply because Shabba says he loves women and "Man must tek care a ooman" or because Lady Saw boldly grabs her front and talks about it. The over-talk about the vagina in dancehall is not necessarily about veneration if the vagina remains a space for performing masculinity and entrenching heterosexist prejudices. Nuff man who abuse dem ooman and (deceivingly)maintains many other sexual relationships concurrently say dem love ooman bad... Perhaps, I was expecting too much from Professor Cooper. Perhaps, in light of Women's Day, I wanted more than a lesson from the dancehall lexicon to interpret and discuss sexual politics. Perhaps mi just too nuff. One thing is certain, Cooper had nothing new or novel saying and perhaps won't any time soon.


  1. I love ur interpretation of Dr. Cooper presentation.

    1. Good afternoon, Gregory. :) Thank you for reading my musings and thank you even more for taking the time to provide feedback (read: encouragement). I look forward to your continued readership.

  2. Excellent Damien. Of course we have discussed the oppressive and very heated "put down" of Javed by Minister (and Rev.) Ronald Thwaites, who should have at least displayed some respect. He did not, and I expected better. In a way the two parts of your discourse are linked, as Minister Thwaites displayed much of the patriarchic contempt for anyone who does not fit into the dominant male heterosexist (Christian) status quo that he was defending. It clearly translates into the dancehall too. It's a pity Dr. Cooper did not have anything new to offer. She needs to find a different "academic" theory to justify this persistent pattern of inequality in the "rompin shop" - and no, I don't consider Lady Saw a "liberated" woman or a feminist just because she grabs her crotch. It's very sad. Thanks for this very thought-provoking and honest article.

    1. Thank you, Petchary, for reading AND for that very profound feedback - a connect between the two issues that I did not readily see. I, too, am of the view that Professor Cooper (a personality that I admire) "needs to find a different "academic" theory." We have to affirm the worth of dancehall but also find ways to make the dancehall culture and space more progressive and sophisticated; where we challenge entrenched inequalities (whether sexually, economically, lyrically or otherwise).


  3. Thanks for sharing your cogitations on my lecture. I see you and the readers of your blog are disappointed that I didn't have anything 'new or novel' to say. But why should I? How new and novel is Descartes? Are 'new and novel' a priori better than old ideas that still have currency? I suppose you've read my work and know it all. For many other people in the audience, this was the first time they were even hearing the lyrics of these DJs, let alone listening to them. And, as some of them told me, it was an informative an enjoyable experience. I suppose I've never been ambitious enough to want to make the definitive theoretical statement about dancehall. I will stick to my 'content analysis' of lyrics. It may not be sexy - whether hetero or all the other possibilities - but it certainly is worth a cogitation or two.

    1. Dear Professor Cooper. Thank you that you took the time off to comment on my post. This means a lot, especially, since you are someone, whose gift of mind, I have appreciated greatly over the years. I wait for your article every week. I guess that you might have read the post (though your reaction to the post does not readily give that impression)??? If you did, you might have realised that I follow your work. My disappointment in your presentation that I spoke of in my post should not be construed as a disregard or "unappreciation" for your work. It is ironic that you would mention Descartes. He purported not just the need for us to interrogate established thoughts (which I did with your presentation) but that interrogation should perhaps lead to evolution of thoughts. That is why we do not remain "tabular rasa" or simply sponges, for that matter. Wanting your thoughts to evolve is not the same as saying that your thoughts are not important. I am certain that others would have found your presentation informative, particularly if it was their first time engaging with your work. Having read and listened to you work, ad nauseam, I felt that the lecture you gave at Edna Manley was simply a regurgitation of previous work but more disappointingly, it had little relevance to the lecture title, "Who's In Charge of the Rompin' Shop: Sexual Politics in Jamaican Dancehall Culture." I look forward to other works from you. Thank you for what you have done over the years to get people to re/cognise and reexamine how we look at Dancehall & anticipate a maturation in the ideologies that you've previously put forward.

      P.S. I really wished you had responded to the substantive points of the article rather than REACT to me (out of feeling like your ego had been bruised). I really think that if you went through what I said, you would have been able to situate a genuine love for you and recognise that there was no ill-intent towards you. RESPEK TO YOU EVERY TIME, PROF!!"

  4. Two years later, I've just reread your post. Mi still no see no love. But, perhaps, it's just my bruised ego getting in the way:=). Gwaan same way! We need many voices in these conversations about gender politics.


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