Why I am Conflicted About “Ban on Ifrica”

Freedom of speech & expression are rights I support and feel strongly about. It was a disregard of these rights that partially led to the death of transgender teen, Dwayne Jones. And, now, it is a right that Jamaican reggae performer, Queen Ifrica is saying that she is being denied.

Yet, in the recognition of the freedom of speech, we must be guided by the responsibility that freedom places on us. Our freedoms must never be used at the expense of other people’s – no matter who you are and what you believe or are fighting for. Our freedom of speech must never be used to be maliciously injurious to others. That is why libel laws exist. It must never be used to incite violence, discrimination or prejudice against people. We all have to learn to let people live in their truth and that there is no need to have a crusade against persons who hold a different view from ourselves. Allowing a person who disagrees with my faith, my lifestyle or what I choose to wear or eat is not an affront to my own views. Why then is the proselytizing necessary? Why the need to allow my views to create hegemony?

I may be wrong in my assessment of the situation and so might you. I may be right and so might you. We have a culture that teaches us that for us to be right, someone else has to be wrong. NO! That is a false claim. While there might be one version of the truth, there may be many sides/perspectives/paradigms to that singualr truth. Perhaps we should stop all simplistic & unsophisticated discussion about Ifrica & the lgbt community? This is, for me, a complex issue (and that is MY truth), which is more than clashing of rights. It is a conversation of privilege, power & purpose. I can only specualate about Ifrica’s purpose for making the statement she did at the place and time that she did. Only Ifrica knows the truth about that. She had the right to make an ass out of herself by making potentially divisive and incendiary comments at a national event, meant to unite ALL Jamaicans. And,her right to not support gay marriage or outright voice her opposition to homosexuality must be upheld & respected.

Ifirca, did NOT, however, only state her opposition to gay marriage. Her proclamation might have further provoked the exclusion of lgbt persons as she, implicitly, sought to proselytize other attendees to adopt her views ensure that there are “No gays round here”. My question is, what does that mean? If no gays in Jamaica, Ifrica, where should they go? Are you implicitly calling for their expatriation or annihilation? We have to begin to see the trouble in that claim. That it is not just the expressed speech of disagreement or disaproval; it is, especially for the rabid homophobe, an instruction – a call to action – a call to ensure that there are indeed, “No gays round here.” Ifrica’s statement undermines the quality of citizenship for people she considers gay. They perhaps do not deserve to be at an event for citizens like the grand gala (perhaps because they are not citizens?) and by extension may not even belong in Jamaica. It might not have been her intention but can we just admit how problematic and incendiary the statement is? She never knows how her statement can be read by gays and by homophobes.

And so, the international gay community has gotten all into their feelings about what they considered, a veiled threat that was just wrongly timed (just days after the senseless murder of Trangerder teen, Dwayne Jones. Consequently, they pushed back and bread has been slapped from Ifrica’s mouth. People are angry and hurting and will often react from that place. Ifrica is now saying her right to freedom of speech has been undermined; though on August 6, 2013 she used that right to undermine the rights of a section of Jamaica’s population (who might have also been at the gala) to love whom they choose. People have freedom to say as they wish but privileged people, like heterosexual Ifrica, must consider how their words affect the lived realities of the non-privileged (gays).

I understand the lobby group who blocked Ifrica’s performance in Toronto. I understand that her comments might have caused hurt. I understand and respect the right they have to fight back against the privileged who seek to push them further into the margins. I do not necessarily think that the robbed her of any right because she does NOT have a right to work in Canada. It is a privilege that LGBT community protested to not be afforded her. That said, I might not have tried to stop Ifrica’s privilege (NOT right) to work in Canada. As I get older, I am learning to value conversation over confrontation; to win wars by forming friendships/establishing relationships over starting battles/fights. That is why I am conflicted. While I am not condemning those who lobbied to have her barred, I perhaps would have preferred to help her understand the ramifications of her utterances via conversation. Perhaps that latest move may further alienate Ifrica and people like her and cause the antagonism to swell. This, too, is another blow to Jamaican artistes and indirectly to Jamaican culture and economy (and I am not one given to patriotism at all cost). There is a time to broker peace and a time to draw arms. My challenge is being able to discern the appropriateness of the time (or else we would all be just as ill-timed as Ifrica at grand gala). I have mixed feelings on this because it is a complex issue, which brings into conflict some of the principles I believe in.

I do not think that either advocacy strategy is better. I think we need a healthy balance of both and that is why I have mixed feelings. I hope, above else, that this provokes conversation – that it forces us to come to the table and talk TO each other and not at each other.

9 Responses

  1. Ok, Albert… (*packs up dulcimina and exits your head*) haahahahaha. We all see through a glass dimly. As a post-modernist I realise that I (and everyone else) only see part of the truth and that we come closer to what is true when we bring all those pieces together. I do not understand the GREAT need for absolutism and hegemony of views. THANKS FOR READING and for providing feedback

  2. Damien, I am also very conflicted on this issue. There are many, many grey areas here – the whole issue of rights, freedom of expression and so on is a complex one that has been much debated over the years, and will continue to be I am sure. I think the essence is to find a balance. This comes through knowledge, education and mutual understanding. I found Queen Ifrica's comments extremely inappropriate for the occasion, to start with; and also very offensive. We must ALL learn to take care how we express ourselves, as people have learned in other countries. We can express our views without trampling on the views (and the rights) of others. Seeking to understand each other is key. We have to keep trying. And that applies to everyone on all sides of the argument…Not just the "Queen." 🙂

  3. Yes, Emma… you have raised some interesting points. I am still working through the issues… so many things intersect and overlap. I admire all those who have full clarity on the issue already.

    Thank you for adding your perspective. Always sapient thoughts! 🙂

  4. Read your blogpost Damien Williams. I think we agree in principle. As I understand the post, you are NOT saying that Ifrica has this unlimited right of free speech that Jamaicans suddenly invented just to defend her.

    You quite perceptively point out that Ifrica used her right from a position of hetero normative privilege to undermine the rights of a whole class of people who are not so privileged. I agree and would only add that such a use of speech is truly deserving of condemnation. That's why some countries have hate speech laws that prohibit speech aimed at ostracizing vulnerable groups in their societies (see modern Germany regarding the Jews and Holocaust speech).

    So we agree that free speech cannot justify what she said. But where I detect the difference is that you would not have tried to stop her performing. In other words having agreed on the problem you would have preferred a consensus based solution as opposed to a confrontation that led to her being banned in Canada.

    I'm all for consensus and seeking dialogue, but given the specific circumstances here, I do not think Ifrica was willing to entertain any consensus with the LGBT community. So that even if LGBT advocates were willing to understand her position, she was not willing to understand theirs. Damien, how do you find consensus when one side is unwilling to understand the other?

    Since her inappropriate comments at the Grand Gala she has been nothing but defiant and unapologetic. Amid the public controversy over her comments which forced even the Government of Jamaica to apologize, she kept insisting that she said nothing wrong. No one expects her to apologize for her views. But she could have apologized for the inappropriateness of them at the event. She refused to do that.

    When the JAGLA campaign started this week while she was in Canada, she could have apologized even then. She didn't. Instead her manager and partner Tony Rebel, when contacted by TVJ, dismissively characterized the concerns of JAGLA as "malicious" and made a crude sexual innuendo to it being "funny" (which in Jamaican slang is also a derogatory reference to gays i.e. "funny men").

    And then as if to rub salt in the wounds, she quickly produced and released this week the inappropriately titled song "Freedom of Speech" in which she repeats her defiance. Damien, this is a woman who does not think she did anything wrong and is being defiant about it. Where is the understanding on Ifrica's part? How do you think your consensus approach would have produced a better result than JAGLA's approach bearing in mind her defiance?

    When all is considered she had every opportunity to apologize or even if not an apology at least express some remorse for the inappropriateness. She refused to do so. Is it that you expect LGBT advocates to force dialogue even when the other side is committed to their homophobia?

    Having looked at the events and circumstances since August 6, 2013, in particular Ifrica's defiant conduct, I think JAGLA's approach of calling for her performance in Canada to be banned was the right and appropriate approach.

    Having said that it does NOT mean that in another situation, perhaps where the artiste has apologized or recognized the error of his/her speech, I would support the same confrontational approach.

  5. Dear MJ,

    I am grateful that you took the time to read and comment. As you might have realised, I did not make a case for rightness or wrongness. I merely sought to explain my mixed feelings and where I am in my evolution as a human being and advocate. You might have also recognised that I embrace a mix of pressure and conversation and my confusion is in knowing when to apply which. Thanks, again, for your feedback. Much merit in the points you raised…


  6. Ifrica's comment was inappropriate for the event but I didnt hear she preached any violence towards the gay community in her presentation. Why is that we cant just agree to disagree and move on. No need to impede someone's earnings because you dont agree with their views on something.The Gay activists needs to understand that an artiste is a social commentator and they often disseminate view of the masses in order to appeal to the masses. Culture and mosrality is deeply imbedded within people so we cant expect change overnight. Sometimes it appears the gay activists are trying to bully people to accept that homosexual practices are normal. As Damien said dialogue and education is what we need not combat.

  7. Again a well written article Damien, love the fact that you sited the libel versus slander law, which allot of Jamaican's and/or people fail to recognized that there are limits to there "Freedom of Speech". In my own opinion what Ifrica did was inappropriate at the time, using a national forum to slander other Jamaicans regardless or sexual orientation.

    There is a time and place for everything.

  8. Thanks for sharing your bit on the issue Jamcore. We certainly need to ventilate more around issues as polarizing as this. Keep reading and sharing and adding your voice to the conversation

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