March 29, 2009

Another Presumptuous Post About Calabash 2009

I've read your open letter to the Prime Minister of Jamaica and I think it's quite presumptuous.

This was the opening salvo from a prominent Caribbean writer/critic whose reaction to "An Open Letter to the Hon. Bruce Golding, Prime Minister of Jamaica," was to send me a personal e-mail that defended the Jamaican government's decision to reduce the funding for Calabash 2009, thus forcing the organizers to cancel the festival. But after "an amazing outpouring of sadness, disappointment, and disbelief from all around the world," the government decided to reverse its position and fully fund the festival.

I've decided not to reveal the person's name because his or her identity is not germane. Rather, it is his/her ideas and the manner that s/he chose to defend the government that interests me.

I've read your open letter to the Prime Minister of Jamaica and I think it's quite presumptuous.

I thought we lived in a democracy and as a citizen who had serious concerns about the direction of my government, I could voice my opinion through my blog to another citizen who had been entrusted to make decisions about our collective fate. Apparently, I was wrong. I continue to be wrong.

But not entirely.

As I wrote in a post some time ago, "Blogging Bypasses Gatekeepers," blogging is a threat to politicians and to people who want to continue the "mental slavery" against which they rail publicly. Blogging is a kind of freedom that can only survive in a democracy where there is a free flow of ideas and any attempt to shut down or diminish freedom of speech, especially given our collective history in the Caribbean, has the scent of empire and colonialism.

Mea culpa. I have breached the social order. I should know my place.

I've read your open letter to the Prime Minister of Jamaica and I think it's quite presumptuous.

Tell me which writer isn't?

I know this person and s/he knows me. But instead of publicly making a comment on the blog and revealing her/his identity, s/he chose to make this personal by sending me an e-mail.

It's not the first time I and/or my writings have been labeled "presumptuous." It's part of a larger pattern.

I've been called nuff, extra, and out-of-order. One of my classmates at Jamaica College once called me "Sister Big Stuff,"--a slap at my sexuality because everyone knows it's saaf battyboys who enjoy literature.

But as with all things Caribbean, only "certain people" are allowed to have an opinion. I am not one of those people. And I know this person. We've even been snapped in a few photographs together.

And you would have thought that after writing as many books as I have that I could have at least earned the right to criticize my government.

But no. Not quite.

This person is a professional writer, so his/her words were chosen deliberately to have a chilling effect on my criticism of the government. This scholar belongs to that class of Caribbean critics that continues to ignore my work at home even while my novel and short stories are being studied abroad. This writer belongs to that class of Caribbean critics that publishes articles about Bob Marley, Louise Bennett, Sparrow, and Kitchener and their ability to "speak truth to power," yet when they are given the chance to demonstrate this ability, they choose to attack someone whom they think has the audacity to speak his mind.

And the strange irony is that I am not the author of the letter. I am merely a co-signer and publisher of the letter. Yet I was the only one who received a personal e-mail.

Yet, this is not a poor me, pity me post. If anything, it is a post about disillusionment and reclaiming personal power.

There was a time when this would have shut me down because I would have thought, "This is a big person. They know what they are talking about. Boy, shut you mouth and keep quiet."

I would have folded my wings, gone back into my shell, and been silent.

But those days are over.

I will continue to be nuff, presumptuous, out-of-order and extra.

The times of being small are over. If there is one thing that the Calabash incident has proven to me is that we've had our YES WE CAN moment in Caribbean writing. We can and should build on that moment to extend democracy in all its forms to every part of Caribbean life.

But more than anything else, I will continue to be grateful to the readers of this blog who have supported me by reading, commenting, and linking to my blog. Freely. You haven't followed anyone's opinion. You've read because you think that I sometimes have interesting things to say.

Thank you. You have made me stronger.



clarabella said...

Are you sure you are not making this up? I just re-read the letter. I confess that I cannot discover the presumptuousness. It can't be that people chose to write the Prime Minister. The US has a President that's busy writing and talking to people (he wrote his supporters the night of the election before he went to Grant Park, to tell them thanks) and begging them to write him. And you know how we love to follow dat fashin! So it cyaan be dat yu mek bol an write de PM. And it look to me like the letter was very respectful in how it said what it said, and that read closely, it was suggesting that any sensible government would recognize that it was to the advantage of the people and so inevitably, the government, to support Calabash! Ah well. Let freedom reign, and so let every donkey bray. (That is not an insult. I am very fond of donkeys and very respectful of their inherent abilities, their stubborn commitment, their comely homeliness — or homely comeliness!) 1love

Geoffrey Philp said...

Pam, if I were to show the full contents of the letter, you'd really believe I was making this up.

As it is, I've performed a kind of exorcism. I'm not going to keep stuff like that inside and let it eat me up.

I've left many things on the other side of 50, and that is one of them.


Rolin Oliver said...

Mr. Philp, gwaan do yu ting wid yu nuff self!!! Freedom a speech mi seh!!!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks, Pam and Rolin!
I will continue...

Anonymous said...

Splahsed -

mikeyjiggs said...

Geoffrey, thanks for being so presumptuous. I appreciate you for that. I stand with you on posting the letter to the PM. I also thinks of my questions from some time ago. Keep on doing what you do.
mikey jiggs

Geoffrey Philp said...

Mikey Jiggs, Give thanks for the support.


Tobias Buckell said...

Forget the haterz man, there are always those down below trying to claw you back down.

Nalo said...

Bredda, all I can say is, if that was presumption, thank you for presuming.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks for the support, Some writers!
Give thanks!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks, Nalo, and good luck with Blackheart Man!

Anonymous said...

Keep on doin wat yuh Geoffrey,
'cause if yuh stop, we'll be losing Geoffrey ...
Mash dem corn my yute!!!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Ah, Anonymous, thank you--wherever you are!

LADY ROOTS said...

Idren Geoffrey,

Peaceful greetings from Jamaica!

Nuh mek di fool-fool crabmind dem drag unnu back down inna di barrel.

Yuh fi stay more dan nuff, presumptuous, out-of-order and extra. Is dat majik combo what give di honesty to yu writin' pen. Yuh ha tings fi say dat need fi herd roun' di worl'. Yu voice nuh fi silent! Right on, write on, Idren Geoffrey!

Now that we have made our voices heard and Calabash 2k9 has risen from the funding ashes, we must all attend and bring with us at least one person who hasn't been to Calabash before. Find a student whose nose is always in a book and let them ride with you to Treasure Beach. Tell people at your work place about Calabash. And when you get there...BUY BOOKS!

I believe in feeding writers (by buying their books) who feed my soul with their words.

Bless Up,
Lady Roots

Geoffrey Philp said...

Lady Roots, respec'
I will tell you the truth, the support that I've gotten on this one was overwhelming.
I will keep on with the blessings of all the Idren...

Much love,

Anne said...

It is difficult to believe that any writer, muchless jamaican, would want to protest your letter.

You, my dear friend [any defender of Calabash is a friend of mine] had all right to be presumptuous in replacing the wedge that would have been created in Jamaica's annual calendar and the livelihood of at least one entire community.

I have always been a lover of the written and spoken word and still find this hard to believe, maybe someone else wrote it disguised as the writer?? Show us the rest of it.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Anne,

Thanks for the comment.

I have kept the person's name out of the discussion because I do believe that all of us from time to time make some choices for which we'd rather not make public.

Besides, as I said, I'm interested in the ideas of the person and what they represent.