It is strange and somewhat frightening how our ideas about self, society, gender relations, masculinity, politics, culture, and indeed, the world has changed over time. Recently, a colleague and I had a discussion surrounding some of the social issues which irk us. He was very obdurate regarding how much in bondage we still are as a people and society. According to my colleague, the freedom we lose as a society with each fleeting culture change is disturbing and unacceptable.
It bears thought as to what are some of these freedoms? We are also left to ponder whether or not culture is static or is on a continuum defined by globalisation. Culture is defined by The Center in Research of Language as the characteristics of knowledge of a group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition goes a step further by defining culture as shared patterns of behaviours and interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialisation. This bondage of self to which we seek freedom is to a great extent self-imposed, having been socialised in a manner not to critically think about issues which affect us, including those pertaining to cultural matters.
We live in a society in which mores and norms are part of the socialisation process handed down from role models and parental figures usually along matriarchal lines. To this extent one can easily dismiss the father-figure role in the process of socialisation since many of our black homes are fatherless. This is quite troubling on many fronts, especially since the how to be a man role has been taken over by mothers, strong black women, who single-handedly have had to raise generations of boys into men. This is especially true for Jamaica as the 2012 Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions shows that 46.4 per cent of all households were female-headed. One can surmise that the situation has worsened since the survey was conducted five years ago.
Dr Barry Davidson of the Family Life Ministries research was a bit more probing and revealed that father-absent children scored lower in Intelligence Quotient (IQ) than father-present children. This finding is rather disconcerting and should be of concern not only to parents, but to the policymakers, especially those in the field of education. Undoubtedly, this finding has serious implications regarding parenting in light of the absence and burdens this parental absence places on the other parent in administering discipline and raising the children.
We live in a world and society in which even drinks have been coloured by gender. We often speak of female drinks and male drinks. I was at the barbershop recently, and my barber informed me that Smirnoff was a female drink; he added that Campari was a male drink. I went to the barber for a haircut, not to be schooled in the binary construction of drinks. However, we all know that the barbershop, just as much as the hair salon, is that space where ideas collide consciously and subconsciously on life and social issues. The higher the alcohol content in a drink the more masculine gender the drink is thought.
Additionally, our fruits have also taken on a gendered complexion. The peach, for example, is largely considered a female fruit. My colleague added that many men do not eat strawberry, simply because they claim nothing red should pass their mouth. Just stupidity if you ask me! However, this is the reality, and these realities represent men from a wider cross section of the society, regardless of the intersectionality of social class, educational background, religious persuasion or age.
These gendered ideas are rooted in a culture of hyper-masculinity and machismo. Ironically, behind closed doors, some of the said men who have these twisted ideas are the very ones who are indulging in ‘fifty shades of grey’-esque and ‘under the table’ activities.
Years ago males who used lip balm were looked on as being weird, now it has become commonplace, especially in North America for men to wear lip cream, especially during the harsh months of winter. The examples are endless and all these issues are associated with social constructs that each society has in place to somewhat regulate human behaviour.
The politician by the name Andrew Fletcher once said: “Let me write the songs of a nation: I don’t care who writes its laws.” His point is all too clear for if music were a workman’s tool it would be a hammer. As per definition by the Center for Research in Language the behaviours and thought patterns that create culture are learned. However, one does not become cultured by merely reading about a culture and I would argue that the halls of academia have little impact.
Culture is formed through living and interacting with people, together we form culture. I made reference to music because I believe this is our most effective way of influencing behaviour and thought construct. Parents have a lot to do with our cultural make-up. Music, especially reggae, touches people at the very core (heartbeat music), stirring emotions and imprinting on our minds the doctrines that becomes culture. Some may see this as another attempt to malign reggae music. However, this is not the case. I am a lover of our music and I am proud of it being a hallmark of our culture. With that said I look back on my own life and remember messages and ideas that were conveyed via all genres of media but found music to be the most influential. During the 1980s crack cocaine was a new issue to Jamaican youth, but not for the life of me can I recall one advertisement regarding this issue. The mass was once again reached through music. The lyrics: “Dohn gi mi that; mi nuh waan nuh crack” and “coke is a ting weh feed pan yuh system” comes to mind. This was followed by Shine Head encouraging us to “strive, remove the doubt from out your minds and let good flow”.
The Jamaican cultural identity continues to evolve. Our values and attitudes are no longer being shaped and defined by ourselves. Instead, the Jamaican cultural identity has become a cultural hybrid mirroring closely the happenings of those who control the economic purse strings to which the Jamaican State needs access in order to realise sustainable development and progress.
In the words of Neinhold Niebuhr: “Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.”