Post 413.

I WAS DEEPLY saddened by the killing of 15-year-old Akid Duke and 17-year-old Christopher Cummings. These boys were still children. It made me think back to 17-year-old Denelson Smith and 16-year-old Mark Richards, whose murders in 2016 were described as a “slaughter of the innocents.” You may have missed the story of 14-year-old Michael Sooknanan, electrocuted and abandoned, until found on top of an electricity pole last month. 

All of these are tragedies, leaving grieving families.

There can be no single explanation for why people march for some dead and not others, some children and not others. Sometimes, it is a question of race, class and respectability politics. Sometimes, it is explained by the time of year, the breaking point a population has reached, or the circumstances of a killing. 

It’s been asked why the country protested the killing of women, but not the murders of men and boys. It’s a question without any single answer, but it’s not the right question. 

There is insufficient response to the deaths of men and boys, just as there always has been, and remains, insufficient response to the daily threat of sexual and physical violence in the lives of women and girls. 

There have also been vast resources spent on trying to curb men’s violence against men, gang violence, proliferation of guns, and crime. Far more than has ever been spent on ending violence against women. 

In this context, the question isn’t about why women’s deaths are getting more attention than men’s. The question is, why do men continue to be violent to women and other men? Not all men are violent, but there’s enough violence by men, including against each other, for us to ask the right questions.

Men’s murders of other men and boys, including in domestic-violence contexts, are only one side of male violence. The other sides of this triad are men’s violence against women and men’s violence against themselves. Such violence is not simply an emotional-intelligence or relationship-conflict issue. It can be to assert and prove public status and power, and gain inclusion and respect. As well, low levels of skills and literacy, family and community insecurity, limited legal livelihood options, and easy access to weapons and drugs create a risky environment for boys to grow. Schools, courts and prisons also have combined culpability.

Men and boys are not bad people. Patriarchy harms and dehumanises men even while it accords them privileges denied to women and girls. Patriarchal gender ideals that valorise violence and associate it with dominant and invulnerable masculinity are the deep root of this issue. It’s the reason why we bring up youth in a world where men call each other names such as monster, criminal, shotter, soldier and badman as signs of respect. It’s the shadowy culprit that should be the target of those concerned about the threat to our boys. 

It is true that women can also be violent and predators, but their harm to men and boys, measured in sexual abuse, rape and killings suggests far different prevalence, severity, form and impact. Not everyone is equally violent across sex, and there are good reasons for highlighting violence against women. There is a war against one sex by another, regardless of age, ethnicity or place of the victims. Indeed, women and girls become targets of men precisely because of their sex. This year’s gatherings against men’s violence against women were decades overdue. 

Our greater silence about male deaths is because we want killings to stop, but manhood to remain the same, even at the cost to boys’ lives. We practise the stoicism we have assigned to men. Our response to murders of our boys is also related to the fact that they are often, but not only, working class and Afro-Trinidadian, and those bodies are stereotypically associated with criminality and lesser humanity. Anti-blackness means that black bodies carry lower value, whether to their killers or to the public, regardless of whether they are innocent or children. 

My friend Colin Robinson cheekily said to give a boy a doll. He argued in his column that masculinity doesn’t protect boys from violence, and for “socialising boys from infancy to be nurturers and to welcome and manage loving feelings” (March 11, 2018). 

The senseless death of another boy should make sorrow boil over, again leading citizens to the streets. Not to protest attention to women, but to protest the taking of each life by cold-blooded ideals of manhood which we must let go.

Sunday night. Monday morning

Post 223.

For Jouvay, I was Death playing mas in Trinidad. Roaming the road, sharp silver scythe in hand, culling those closest to the ground, and knowing neither law nor sin.

I was also Woman, entangled in a long skirt, made of shredded, black garbage bag, for those used and discarded, refused, their pains mere abandoned detritus in the wake of killings. Carrying death’s scythe as a sign of its shadow overhead, like a cross to bear.

Such is the schizophrenia of living in Trinidad and Tobago. Grieving amidst violence, with more than one murder a day, and historically-familiar rhythms of dark-night mourning, where women birth the lives that death takes away.

Lest we forget. Three boys in particular were on my mind. Jodal Ramnath, Denelson Smith, and Mark Richards. Jodal, six years old, killed within minutes of the New Year by gunmen shooting with high-powered rifles from the roof of a nearby school. Real life midnight robbers, missing poetic license. Then, judged by a population which hypocritically ropes off pretty mas for those with money, as if little Jodal’s photos of dressing up in gold, like a King costume, excused the coast guard, the police, the political parties, the shotters and the drug men from their responsibility to prevent harm to our children.

Later, Denelson Smith and Mark Richards killed in their school uniform by devils who come out for pay. Imps terrifying the young, with neighbourhood crossroads like judging points with scores counted and winners declared.

As Death continues to stalk through region and town, in now year-round fetes with dames, tiefs and dark souls in glittering clothes, Justice seems to have taken to an armchair, like many others watching the macabre dance on TV.

For the insight it offers, post-Carnival, I want to hail out Jouvay’s mirror to darkest ourselves, and its metaphor for restless hope for a new day. For, when else could I or anyone else express freedom and pain, in public, in the dead of night, while passing the walled yard of sacred graves, wondering if it is still possible to save ourselves, heart beating hard at how, for some, it is already too late.

Jouvay’s mas and masking traditions often get eclipsed by the ‘pretty mas’ of Monday and Tuesday. Beyond standard images of muddied revelers, Jouvay’s mas, which is as political as it is personal, as transgressive as it is stylish, is least likely to make it into Carnival magazines, for grim commitment to mixing anger with splendor isn’t easy to package, sell or consume. Yet, here one can find stories of iron meeting iron, hardship meeting creativity, contradictory realities meeting the next step with no easy resolution ahead.

This was evident in 3 Canal’s band, Blk.Jab.Nation, where it was clear that many played a mas they individually imagined. Amongst women, there were hand painted masks, translucent cloths top-knotted and then slung over women’s faces, and mesh veils sewn, like brides’ own, to hang from men’s bowler hats, in a runway of women’s masking on parade. To see masking re-emerge is to witness a counterpoint to the contemporary focus on cosmetics for Carnival. As more and more women get their makeup professionally done, masking becomes more important to see and be seen on terms that the male gaze cannot easily penetrate, or get access to without consent.

Among women were also those bare-chested and covered in black paint. One woman in nothing but a regular panty, defiantly taking back the night in a world where women’s sexual safety relies on them covering their bodies in fear and shame, where consent means too little without an end to all sexual vulnerability and violence.

Lest we forget, there is history and richness of masquerade in Jouvay that prettiness cannot encapsulate. This haute couture ruins an aesthetic of colourful sequins, opting instead for a different language with which we can work out what it means to be brown and black bodies negotiating darkness, womanhood, motherhood, beauty and community in pursuit of our humanity.

Crick. Crack. Having played its mas, may Death now tire and offer respite, leaving Woman, already entangled with too many aching memories and stories, to tend to her days of unaccustomed strife.

12743545_10209215044320265_6023616669767541233_n