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Friday 18 October 2019
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African Pride, Alfie Kohn & apologies

Wet Dutch waxprint and kente. I missed that smell on Thursday.

A seasonably predictable rain-drenched parade of African wear has become the central motif of how the globe’s first nation to make it a public holiday commemorates Emancipation. In the Manning years, this tradition would end standing soaked listening to mindless speeches winding up to that year’s Government-imported dictator.

Unhappy Emancipation Day, a young Trini historian wished us on his social media, chiding that “making Emancipation Day all about the celebration of African Pride is beside the point. In fact, it might actually help to defeat the purpose of freedom. African Pride is a beautiful thing. To be honest, I sometimes think that it is a cruel white supremacist joke that has our society using Emancipation Day to dress up and ignore for the most part the real powers that continue to frustrate black people’s search for freedom.”

It mirrors LGBTI critiques of “Pride” commemorations of Stonewall.

I’ve long had my own unease that, while our three historically “Indian” ethnic holidays celebrate faith and arrival in relatively unfraught ways, our two relatively newer “African” ones, because they commemorate structures of oppression, make how we celebrate Africanness pivot on violence. And Harvey is right about “African Pride.” Emancipation’s celebration misses the opportunity to reflect on the monumental historical transformation in human rights and the global economy it marks, to engage in national conversation about international capitalism, ideologies of race, and profound questions of self-determination.

The unrestrained expressions of delight at last week’s judicial smackdown surprised me — even parliamentarians celebrated the Chief Justice’s language replying to Carol Gobin’s assignment complaints, suggesting it be used in rhetoric instruction. I found the whole matter a cringe worthy reminder of the state of national leadership and institutions, the shift of a dysfunctional parliamentary tradition to the bench; and I couldn’t help wonder — especially seeing the gendered epithets about Gobin’s intimate life — if race and gender weren’t in play in some Trumpian way in much of the glee.

Shade is so delicious, and it’s triumphant to be right. Yet, a few clicks down in the feeds of the same people finger-snapping the CJ was a passage from Alfie Kohn’s book The Myth of the Spoiled Child that generated major likes just a week earlier. Kohn’s writing challenges us to rethink the goals of parenting and schooling, especially with regard to reward, punishment and competition.

“When we set children against each other in contests,” the viral quote read, “we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health. We invite them to see their peers not as potential friends or collaborators but as obstacles to their own success.” Our deep cultural commitment to authority and competition undermine so much that facilitative leadership could accomplish.

This was one of my hardest life-lessons. That being right doesn’t win you trust or leadership; it simply makes the people you have to work with who were “wrong” wait for the opportunity to do for you.

Last week’s column triggered a lot of responses. Thanks to all you readers.

Sadly, many of your wonderful and generous comments were the fruit of my failure as a writer. A number of you came out to me as prostate cancer survivors.

I’m not one. And the column was not a coming out about that.

I was a story about how, in the face of minimally invasive surgery that did not involve loss of a sexually important body part like a breast or prostate, I still faced a dread that having a piece of my insides removed, and surgical scars on my belly, would render me “sexually disabled.” And that I felt such panic despite a pretty flabby belly and poor-quality sex life before any incision. My anxiety wasn’t over losing an orgasm, nor having an appendectomy; it was the terror that all cancer disables. That I chose to be vague about my illness didn’t help, and I’m sorry.

In ending, I pivoted to tell stories I had wanted (but failed) to share before from people who had survived their own or partners’ prostate and breast cancer surgeries. The stories may have made things even more confusing. My intention was to use them to bring home the point about how much weight and meaning “ableness” of bodies carries in our sexuality. How hard it is to communicate, in intimate sexual relationships, about disability. How medical choices we make about our own bodies are wrapped up in bravery, disappointment and other people’s needs and desires.

But here’s the joke: I was too fat for them to complete the procedure laproscopically, and they had to cut me open. But the scar is a work of art.

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