Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Value of Caribbean YA Books in Reducing Bias and Prejudice

Read Jamaican YA Novels) on Biteable.
To reduce destructive transgression in our societies, every individual needs to experience, from birth, the security of being valued the uplifting feeling of respect, and to be raised to consciously perform lifelong socially cohesive behaviours and self care.

Forgiving all the slights that we have received because of some kind of prejudice against or or bias is not easy, especially after a lifetime of being short changed by loss of opportunity or even the passing over of someone's eyes when you believe that you are worth more than a glance.

Self-affirmation is good within your close-knit group, and helps to make you resilient from a wider torrent of humiliation, but if you have to live in a society that continues to demean you, that is really passing a grudge down to another generation.

Each of us is probably guilty of some kind of bias, but when the society, as a whole, has ingrained prejudices against its own membership, that is cannibalism and will hurt the advancement of the society.

It can be possible if more of us, recognise the shortcoming in ourselves and commit to change. This is not going to happen spontaneously, and YA books of the culture that you associate with and have internalised can play a healing role.

A reading of passages from fiction or memoirs can help to open up thoughts of the effect of living as a person both giving and receiving bias. The value that I am pointing out here is more than documenting examples of bias and prejudice in society, but allowing it to liberate us from victimhood and also helping us not to perform as a bigot and a bully which most of us perform, to some degree, throughout our lives.

Our cricketing heroes, do have passages in their books that describe the insults and prejudice that they received while playing overseas. It would be useful to discover what they had in their personal resources to allow them to overcome this. Twinned with their experiences, would of course be, the real life sad decline of sportsmen who broke a society rule and played for money in South Africa during apartheid. Examples of books by these sportsmen are Whispering Death by Michael Holding and Six Machine by Christopher Gayle.

Another moment describing prejudice that converted to triumph is The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands where, at a moment when a racial slur was used in her presence, but at a time she had an upper hand, she performed with outrage to memorable effect.

In "A Way To Escape" by Michelle Thompson, it is the expectation that women will be the hard workers and accepting of the harmful behaviour of their spouses to themselves and their children can be explored and how she got out of it. Dew Angels by Melanie Schwapp also has a mother who does not do well by herself or her children because she is under the control of a domineering husband. In each case, both mothers found a way of redemption.

The favourite bias of authors in the Caribbean is how the skin colour bias expresses itself, and how it is closely linked to the social status bias. This is an important issue that needs to be told and retold with the aim of gradually dismantling it. Books that do not explicitly tell you the skin colour of the characters may also be helpful in this regard. My books Bad Girls In School, Young Heroes of the Caribbean do not describe skin colour of characters.  I have freed the reader to see the actions of the characters without explicitly describing their skins. It allows the reader to add that bit of imagination and it may be interesting to hear what different readers thought and whether that affected their view of the characters or not. I did describe skin colour of characters in my book Something Special.

By their scope, YA books aim to be helpful to the reader in some way. A story may not have a happy ending, but it provides another possibility.

The stories in YA books are a treasure trove of promoting greater justice and harmony in the society if leveraged where it can become available to young minds. Not just in the written form, but also as other media products such as stage plays, radio dramas and films and documentaries.

One can hope that with the foray of the streaming leader Netflix followed by other companies in the USA, Europe and China, that some Jamaican stories can get the financial backing that is needed to bring fresh storytelling to the screen.

Promoting them will hopefully spur even more creations that address the range of social challenges that can be imagined and that we live with.

The organisations in our society that support hegemony or that are the opposite, causing change, are naturally crucial to any influences on bias and prejudice.

Some of these influences will be to urge voluntary behaviour, such  as the Ministry of Health Jamaica Moves lifestyle programme, or non-voluntary such as the justice system.

The actors who will carry out these influences will be teachers, health workers, law enforcement officials, policy writers and persons who create and distribute content that is widely consumed by our societies.

In the UK today, arising out of comply or explain regulations related to reducing bias in companies that are related to race, sex and gender differences, publicly listed companies are expected to put policies in place to reduce behaviours that are unfair to certain segments of the population.

In the USA, it is the radical activists against policies of the government and longstanding abuses by celebrities and a range of powerful figures who have been pushing for social change that will reduce biases.

Moving adults humanely toward change is complex, and one of the outcomes is that persons are at least aware of what their biases are, I can call this having been sensitised to your orientation. We need more of this in order to move the society ahead.

The Jamaican society, being pluralistic in lifestyles and biology and ethnicity, has developed a morass of ways to denigrate and be biased against groups of people. We have an active cultural history of tracing and insulting and a wide range of words and phrases handed down over generations that successfully denigrate people in our minds.

Yet, oh yet, we can assimilate into other societies, keeping our identity without resorting to enclave living. Caribbean people become elected leaders, military leaders and leading citizens in the societies they adopt... or should I say, that adopt them.

At this time, we should be investing in sensitising ourselves to discover and acknowledge our ingrained biases and learn how to disentangle ourselves from them.

I should be trying to realise how I am biased against my students, co-workers, church sisters and brothers, patients, and members of communities that I am supposed to serve. What are the transgressions that I am giving a bly - a pass without sanction?

Wake Rasta and Other Stories and For Nothing At All by Garfield Ellis; and the clutch of books by Colleen Smith Dennis such as Generation Curse and For Her Son propose lifestyles that are not easily embraced, but when we do, we have allowed ourselves to experience the lives of our fellow citizens, more on their own terms than not.

If we are committed to grow as a society, then we will not be afraid to confront our stories when they are told.


A bookshelf with a few Jamaican books suitable for YA audiences

Here is the Implicit Harvard Test

The test says that I am not biased against men or women who are attractive or not....something like that.

I am still searching for a test to confirm my biases.

I acknowledge that I am biased against artistes who sing off key.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Walking to Lacovia With a Pink Pedicure

Singing and Walking to Lacovia with A Pink Pedicure

These are my thoughts after reading the writing of two poems written by Jamaican poets some 50 years apart, and the writing of one British poet another 150 years before them. Depsite the difference in times and locations, the thoughts of a lone woman at her business becomes the subject of all three.

The poets are Jamaicans Michael Edwards writing Pink Strips and A L Hendricks writing Road to Lacovia and the British poet William Wordsworth writing Solitary Reaper.

Last month, Michael Edwards released the anthology of poems "Wall Street" on Amazon. What I appreciated about reading this anthology of his poems is the immediacy of it as several of the works reflect the period 2016 - 2018 locally and also globally.

One of the poems that I noted was Pink Strips as it is a poem as it provides inspiration and hopefulness for young Jamaican girls. It reminded me of two other poems. The first is "Road to Lacovia" a famous poem that I first heard about a month ago.

The preceding sentence is similar to the structure of that poem where there is a paradox in the single thought: that is, a famous poem that I have never heard about.

Road to Lacovia was written by A. L. Hendriks. It describes a scene of a woman who is living an obviously very hard life but who "dares to walk, and sing", and anyone who lives in Jamaica would be familiar with this phenomenon.

For me, Edwards' poem Pink Strips brings the spirit of this woman who is walking to Lacovia sometime before Independence, perhaps the late 1950s, into the present era. Pink Strips does not focus on the hardships of her life, instead, this woman who is slightly beyond youth has, "toes perfect shades of chic" completing Saturday shopping, "on she goes, pegging a future on painted toes."

Contrast this with William Wordsworth's "The Solitary Reaper" in 1807, in deep rural Scotland where a woman is engaged in hard labour, binding and cutting grain, and she is working and singing.

The poem tells us that the writer does not know know the words that she was singing, only that it had an emotional impact on him and he presumes that her mood is melancholy.

Perhaps, it was not. Perhaps, like our woman walking on the road to Lacovia and Edwards' woman shopping with a pink pedicure though her "supply's short", that in life you can give yourself freedom to be happy, joy is inherent in life, we just need to be open to receiving it.

These are words that are great for YA reading as they evoke optimism while providing an opportunity for a deeper reflection.

From The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth
Behold her, single in the field, 
Yon solitary Highland Lass! 
Reaping and singing by herself; 
Stop here, or gently pass! 
Alone she cuts and binds the grain, 
And sings a melancholy strain.

Image may contain: text