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Reader: Buju Banton coverage lacks context

A letter to the editor:

The Miami Herald's articles regarding reggae icon Buju Banton lack perspective and are devoid of historical and cultural context. Dance-hall artists like Buju Banton discuss a number of issues using violent terminology. They talk about killing competitors, their sexual partners, informers and homosexuals in their lyrics.

However, these lyrics are merely hyperboles and are not intended to be taken literally.

Just as Bob Marley's song I Shot the Sheriff did not incite violence against sheriffs, Banton's song Boom Bye Bye does not incite violence against gays and lesbians nor is there any evidence to support that claim.

In that song written almost 20 years ago, a young macho Banton was responding to the rape of a young boy and articulating Jamaicans' outrage against this act of brutality. Furthermore, using the typical exaggerated bravado style of dance-hall lyrics, Banton expressed the popular Jamaican opinion of the day that homosexuality was a sin and should not be encouraged.

Jamaicans familiar with the Jamaican language and culture understood that the song Boom Bye Bye was only a song and not intended to be taken literally. Jamaicans are not rabid savages who kill gays and lesbians at Banton's behest.

Gay and lesbian groups focus on one extremely minuscule aspect of Banton's music and ignore the fact that Banton produces uplifting positive music reminiscent of Bob Marley. Banton is the most prolific voice of the poor oppressed masses in the Third World of his generation. His music sheds light on the many issues plaguing Jamaica like the unrelenting violence and abject poverty afflicting many Jamaicans.

-- Tasha C. Rodney, Atlanta

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Apart from his lyrics, Banton's actions speak for themselves. From Banton's Wikipedia entry,"Banton was charged in connection with a 2004 incident in which he, as part of a group of about a dozen people, allegedly beat six men believed to be homosexuals, after forcing entry into a house in Kingston, near Banton's recording studio. One of the victims lost use of an eye in the attack."

In the past two years, two of the island's most prominent gay activists, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, have been murdered — and a crowd even celebrated over Williamson's mutilated body. Perhaps most disturbing, many anti-gay assaults have been acts of mob violence. In 2004, a teen was almost killed when his father learned his son was gay and invited a group to lynch the boy at his school. Months later, witnesses say, police egged on another mob that stabbed and stoned a gay man to death in Montego Bay. And this year a Kingston man, Nokia Cowan, drowned after a crowd shouting "batty boy" (a Jamaican epithet for homosexual) chased him off a pier. "Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen," says Rebecca Schleifer of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch and author of a scathing report on the island's anti-gay hostility.
Time Magazine, April 12, 2006

To check the context, look at these links:

http://tinyurl.com/yf5xo56
http://tinyurl.com/y9hy27v
http://tinyurl.com/yd49fl5 Look for Post #57 (numbers on right)

the author of this letter makes a salient point: that gay protesters have offered a distorted view of banton, reducing his 20 year career to one song which doesnt appear on any of his studio albums.

while few Americans or reggae fans outside of Jamaica can condone what appears to be violent homophobia in "boom bye bye,", it is true that violent imagery is par for the course in dancehall and is often used metaphorically-- without constituting a threat to public safety from inciting violence or rioting.

the reason this must be contextualized is that Jaamica is the third-most violent country in the world.

unfortunately, there are incidents of homophobic violence, yet statistically speaking, this amounts to less than 1% of all murders in jamaica.

furthermore, homosexual acts are illegal under jamaican law, and the government's official position is that same-sex unions will not be legalized anytime soon.

the anti-banton arguments lack this important context, in effect blaming a 20 year old song for every single instance of homophobic violence in jamaica.

while there may be a correlation between hate speech and hate crimes, this cannot simply be assumed or extrapolated without a concrete link. mentioning a case dropped due to lack of evidence and questioning the investigation is speculation, not fact.

there should be a middle ground between endorsing a gay agenda and endorsing homophobic violence.

unfortunately, it doesnt seem like it's possible to have a civilized debate over this issue and place the issue of jamaican homophobia and anti-gay reggae lyrics in an overall context of universal human rights.

homophobia and homophobic violence IS a human rights issue, but it's not the only one that matters. AIDS education,for example, is way more important, especially because 34% of gay males in Jamaica are HIV+.

it should be possible for buju banton to uplift people without advocating violence against a persecuted minority, just as it should be possible for queer activists to include gay rights within a larger context of human rights.

but after 17 years, gay rights activists havent really been able to have a two-way conversation with the reggae community--it's been more of a case of, here are our demands--and the result is that instead of dialogue and progress, there is a lot of disinformation and propaganda being spread by one side.

Ghetto Youth Don, please stop trying to export your violent culture into this country. We have enough problems.

Thank you for attempting to put this in context. Perspective is always incredibly important. Jamaica is an incredibly poor, violent, drug ridden nation. Is it really a surprise that these plagues have infiltrated the culture and music it exports? We all share this world, the more we try to understand each other the better off we will be. I am proud that my country is a safe place for homosexuals - no human being should live in fear or persecution. I wonder if Jamaicans were given the same opportunities as those of us in the US, if these venemously hateful attitudes would begin to fade. I suspect they would.
But in the meanwhile, I wish human rights groups would realize that the church (where do you think Jamaicans learn to hate gays?!) and the intolerant views it encourages are today's greatest threat to homosexuals - not dancehall music.

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