A call for social justice

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 15, 2022

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI am not sure that I feel the same angst Ralph Maraj (a fellow columnist), former archbishop Joseph Harris, Raymond Tim Kee (deceased), Ken Gordon and others feel about the debilitating effects that Carnival has on the moral and ethical standards of our people.

Maraj laments: “Our society is threatened when tens of thousands come near to nudity, one step away from copulating on the streets. This corrosive cultural debasement has been eating at the nation’s innards, weakening the social fabric, nurturing generation after generation of young adults who are adrift, driven mainly by pleasure and materialism, so lacking in intellectual and spiritual depth they could fete every day with no commitment whatsoever to society and community.” (Sunday Express, February 6.)

Maraj also places a heavy responsibility on our calypsonians and chutney singers whom he calls “the carriers of a generational cultural disease that has been corroding the society for decades, producing soullessness and an epidemic of annual teenage pregnancies, child abuse, domestic violence, corruption, school violence, crime, drug abuse, alcoholism and more”.

This is a deep indictment of these griots and troubadours who, in many ways, have served as keepers of our indigenous culture.

These singers represent just a small slice of what French sociologist Emile Durkheim calls the collective conscience (la conscience collective), “a totality of the beliefs and sentiments common to the average citizens of the same society”.

The entire society bears the burden for the ills that Maraj and others have outlined.

In piloting the Whistleblower Protection Bill, the Prime Minister declared: “Many think of murder and violence when they think about crime [but] white collar crime was just as insidious. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will never see one million dollars in their lifetime. But then there are others in nice white cotton shirts, nice polished shoes, in air-condition, eating the best, drinking the best, driving the best, taking the best and they are in fact the cancer of our society.” (Saturday Express, February 5.)

The Prime Minister said he had to drive around in a bulletproof car prior to the 2015 election because people wanted to assassinate him. He described corruption in our society as “a balloon that is just getting bigger and bigger”.

One can look at the headlines of our newspapers any day of the week and see the sliding decline of our society: “Police investigating the AG”, to which the AG responds, “Bring it on.” Or, “Rowley slams ‘dotish’ labour leaders”, “Murders without end: child among 4 sprayed with bullets”, or, “Pathologist calls on Medical Board to probe allegations of plagiarism in court affidavit signed by CMO in cremation issue”, or “Union leader accuses PM of lying in ESOP deal”.

I don’t know what issues Maraj and others have with the human body or human nakedness, but they see it as the source of our problems.

Carnival is a celebration of the flesh. When Constantine, the Roman emperor, converted to Christianity in 313 AD, he did so on the condition that his followers be allowed to celebrate their original rites for two days (Carnival Monday and Tuesday) and reconcile themselves to demands of their new religion (Christianity) on Ash Wednesday.

Being nearly naked on the streets on Carnival day or gyrating on fellow revellers are not the worst sins one can think of.

In thinking of social degradation, it would be wise to examine Queen Elizabeth’s decree that Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, an adulterer or horner woman, will hold the title of Queen Consort once Prince Charles is named king of Britain.

Equally questionable is the behaviour of Prince Andrew, the Queen’s son, who is being sued by a woman who says he “sexually abused” her.

Prince Harry, the Queen’s grandson, and his wife, Meghan, have accused the royal family of “callous and racist behaviour towards them” (The New York Times, February 6).

A month ago, Ishwhar Manoo (we called him Goo), a neighbour of mine for over 70 years, was returning from exercising in the Orange Grove Savannah, when he was shot dead. I believe God would rather have met 100 naked women or 16 vestal virgins than be confronted by a man with a gun sent to kill him.

The singing of calypsoes, nearly nude women, or fornication are not the real problems in our society. Our major problem lies in a disequilibrium in our social order that manifests itself in the killings, the hold-ups, the kidnappings and the corruption that are manifested in our everyday transactions.

Durkheim refers to these social ills as a form of anomie, an abnormal form of the division of labour which ultimately weakens the social cohesion of a people.

These problems affect the entire society. Our cultural warriors and Carnival revellers only reveal the fault lines of our society.

We can understand our social problems better if we examine how we allocate our economic resources, the advantages we grant to those who control them, and listen to our citizens’ insistent demand for social justice.

Each group needs to feel that it is treated fairly and that we appreciate its contributions to society.

2 thoughts on “A call for social justice”

  1. “Being nearly naked on the streets on Carnival day or gyrating on fellow revellers are not the worst sins one can think of.”
    Carnival was a magnificent display of beautiful colors. I remember as a boy looking at the “red indian” band and appreciating the costumes. But somewhere along the historical time clock the lovely costumes disappeared and the skimpiest display of skin appeared.

    Along with the skimpy outfits was the calypsoes with more “shake” “wine” your bum bum. Riding along this expression of near nudity is unwanted pregnancies, STDs and the break up of families. The descent into the abyss continues to this day. The modalities of a degenerate expression was transferred into the culture with maxis blasting the rude vocabulary into young impressionable ears. And men taking a closer look at underage girls. Yes in the course of time the music is played year round and carnival culture resonates like a cancer infecting the nation.

    It is hard to shift gears when millions of dollars are put into what we can say is the “we ting” street party. Yes, the revenues generated from prostitution, costumes, and other indulgences justifies the expression of misguided culture. “raise yuh hand if you wanna jam”…

  2. “Being nearly naked on the streets on Carnival day or gyrating on fellow revellers are not the worst sins one can think of.”……..WELL SAID.

    I CAN THINK OF GREATER SINS BEING COMMITTED BY MANY IN PUBLIC OFFICE ON A DAILY BASIS THAT IS MORE DEGENERATING TO OUR SOCIETY THAN THE EFFECTS OF NAKEDNESS AND GYRATING IN PUBLIC. Chief among those are corruption, racism, greed, selfishness, tribalism, lack of respect for the constitution, lack of patriotism, extreme partisanship and economic hierarchy. Those structures represent consistent hardships to those who are not in a position to benefit from the nation’s treasures. In effect rendering them the ‘dalits’ from a system that channel its resources only in the direction of those who have historical advantages to opportunities that the state and private enterprise offer.

    In many societies around the world, nakedness is a lifestyle that is not just commonplace but void of any vices attached to the physical body. While nakedness in Carnival may have emerged as a result of the exhibitionist nature of its participants, it is by no means a daily occurrence of their lives. Calypso is NOT an out-growth of carnival. To the contrary, it was an addition to carnival. Calypso was born out of the frustrations of enslaved African people who were deprived of an education, freedom of expression and physically abused for non-compliance of the plantation owners’ wishes. It was (and still is) an outlet to express suppressed truths about real life experiences. That is the true history of calypso. Not necessarily the lyrical pleasures of sexual inhibitions. In the days of slavery, the plantation owners encouraged calypsos as entertainment for their own pleasures.
    It is in effect racist to suggest that the art form adds to the degradation of our society. I vehemently object to such characterization of our ONLY original and cultural art form.

    The art form of Calypso tells us who we really are. They are the analysts of our behavior, the interpreters of what goes on in our society, comedians of our habits and psychologists of our fractured psyche. Those who criticize it are usually publicly conservative in description of themselves and privately promiscuous in their vices. These people are usually found among those who maintain and preach puritanical religiosity, class morality and exclusivity. In other words, it only the hypocrites among us who will put Calypsos in the same class as our sexual vices and degradation.


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