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Thursday 27 June 2019
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Commentary

Unhooking

The enormously infectious Nadia Batson/Farmer Nappy/Red Boyz (Mikey Hulsmeier & Scott Galt) collaboration, Hookin Meh, has generated quite a lot of discussion this Carnival season over how its message lands in a culture where woman after woman has been killed when she tried to leave a man, who told her that was “impossible to do.”

Barbadian Marsha Hinds probably had the loudest voice. In an early Barbados Today opinion column, she put her finger on several elements of toxic masculinity that had disquieted many of us listening to the catchy tune and watching its music video. Invoking Blackie’s 2005 tune, Gabrielle Hosein painted a different view in these pages of what “hooked” man-woman relationships might look like. Our editors published an offer from a reader in response. Both women’s pieces were republished by Alissa Trotz in her column in Guyana’s Stabroek News, with commentary by Roberta Clarke.

Akilah Holder in the letters pages suggested feminists (and of course Womantra) aren’t picking the right issues to address, which ought to include women’s scanty Carnival costumes and how male and female singers sing represent women’s sexuality; Nappy’s song was a welcome portrait of a man fighting for his relationship. Cate Young and Carol Quash weighed in too, the latter’s Sunday Newsday feature reflects on her young son’s engagement with the song’s powerful motif of putting a loved one’s things in a garbage bag. (So does the video’s child character.)

I was excited that other men too were creeped out by the chorus’s lines; but more that the public was having robust disagreements about the politics of a soca hit.

Sadly, this wasn’t always healthy. More than one person — including a queer young woman I work with — told me effectively to wine and hush. Which reinforced my sense of the trouble in the tune. People were really aroused by the mockery in the garbage bag.

Fifteen steelbands made the song their Panorama tune of choice, twice times any other. The night they played in the panyard for the judges, you could barely hear Renegades’ pans for the chorus singing the words out loud. Twiggy, on the gallery upstairs, waved a garbage bag as frantically as she’d prophesied in Woodford Square the day of the sodomy judgment in April, when I’d collapsed in laughter imagining her combusting into rapturous flames.

The Guardian’s response to Hookin Meh was the strangest of all, especially given its editor’s Barbadian nationality. The paper reached back to Kitchener’s 1967 epic about two down-on-their-luck acquaintances “dying with starvation,” who cooperate to create a meal. The Barbadian proposes, “‘Look Trini, let we make a cook. I put the rice, you going put the meat. Then we going both have something to eat.’ But when the pot was nearly to done. The Bajan decide to pull a fast one,” telling Trini, “man take a fork and pick out your meat. But if you add one grain of rice, the Christ, I squeeze your throat like a vise…Te-ake yuh meat out muh roice.”

Suggesting Barbadian Hinds doesn’t understand Trinidadian culture and should take her mouth out of it, the newspaper’s editorial says that the woman in the song putting Nappy’s things by the roadside is also unfairly telling him to take his meat out her rice, now that they have cooked a relationship together. (Kitchener’s Bajan repeatedly threatens Trini with violence.) Yet the editorial escaped public controversy.

Something else gained little traction in the public debate, despite being voiced by several women. Many defenders of the song find in it the same sense of unfairness to Nappy’s character that the Guardian did, since the singer can’t find any explanation for the breakup: “You eh give me no reason. You tell me this the end of we season. Mash up we thing just, just so.”

But this is precisely the song that women and gay men sing over and over about our relationships with men. How men disappear without reason. Ghost. Gaslight when challenged.

I have a compendium of lines. “I can’t handle being vulnerable on an ongoing basis.” One lover I was horning with hurried out my house suddenly in the middle of a simple conversation about a barbecue, later saying I made him accountable, and that was unpleasant.

Men’s lovers never get to say men can’t leave. And men do over and over and over. With little or no explanation.

For us as men, like Nappy, relationships are things that just happen to us. And when they get hard, when we are called to be uncomfortable, or even accountable, or kind, to not follow our impulses for safety or desire or whatever they happen to be at the moment—when our partners ask us to stretch, we pack our own things in those bags.

What’s “impossible” is whatever we don’t want.

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