Cul­ture of slack­ness dis­cussed at UTech

Jamaica Gleaner - - 24/7 - Michael Reck­ord

HOW IM­POR­TANT is a man’s rep­u­ta­tion in Ja­maica? Is it nec­es­sary for a woman to be re­spectable? Will slack­ness lead to a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion and even­tual de­struc­tion of the so­ci­ety?

Ques­tions like those arose dur­ing a dis­cus­sion on slack­ness, es­pe­cially in dance­hall mu­sic, by a panel from two Cor­po­rate Area uni­ver­si­ties last month. Those con­sid­er­ing the topic, Cul­ture of Slack­ness or Slack­ness as Cul­ture? were Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Ja­maica (UTech) lec­tur­ers Dr Kai Bar­ratt, Dr Karl Whyte and Dr R. An­thony Lewis and Univer­sity of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, moral the­olo­gian Dr Anna Kasafi Perkins.

Mod­er­at­ing the dis­cus­sion were Dr Martin Schade and Dr Nova Gor­don-Bell, both of UTech, where the dis­cus­sion took place. The event was the first of what is to be an an­nual cul­ture fo­rum put on dur­ing Her­itage Week by UTech’s School of Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sci­ences.

Whyte op­ti­misti­cally as­serted that slack­ness would not de­stroy Ja­maica, as so­ci­eties tend to au­to­mat­i­cally self-cor­rect and pull them­selves back from the brink of so­cially de­struc­tive precipices. But Lewis and Perkins were not as san­guine about the fu­ture.

Opin­ing that dance­hall mu­sic was the pri­mary source of Ja­maicans’ con­cept of slack­ness, Lewis said “the gate­keep­ers of the norms of lan­guage, gen­der and val­ues stren­u­ously de­bate [their] im­por­tance ... in de­ter­min­ing the sal­va­tion of our Dr Karl Whyte, health psy­chol­o­gist and head of So­cial Sci­ences at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.


Perkins said that “what we be­lieve about our­selves is the­o­log­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant and af­fects how we live in the world to­gether” and that “the­o­log­i­cal val­u­a­tions of the body and sex­u­al­ity call for a reen­vi­sion­ing of the sex­ual, sex and the sex­u­alised body in or­der to treat with it in ways that are life-giv­ing and ben­e­fi­cial to each hu­man per­son”.


Defin­ing slack­ness as “a cul­ture of sex­ual raw­ness that leaves lit­tle to the imag­i­na­tion”, Lewis gave an el­e­gantly ar­gued the­sis on Brutish Adams, Naked Eves: As­pects of Lan­guage, Gen­der and Re­li­gion in the Ja­maican Dis­course on Slack­ness that ad­dressed sev­eral fas­ci­nat­ing themes. They in­cluded:

The sep­a­ra­tion of the world and the lan­guage that de­scribes it into the de­cent/po­lite/ re­spectable/sa­cred ver­sus the slack/vul­gar/raw/pro­fane.

The twin con­cepts of re­spectabil­ity (those con­sid­ered re­spectable are ed­u­cated, speak ‘proper’ English and are up­per or mid­dle class) and rep­u­ta­tion (where it is learn­ing and wis­dom

IIDr Anna Kasafi Perkins, se­nior pro­gramme of­fi­cer in the Qual­ity As­sur­ance Unit, Univer­sity of the West Indies, Mona.

that are val­ued). That con­cept would ex­clude Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­si­cians, who typ­i­cally come from the lower classes and who have, since the 1980s, gen­er­ally aban­doned English in their lyrics.

Lewis noted that the men who dom­i­nate the dance­hall space “are not, by virtue of their (mainly in­ner-city) back­ground, ex­pected to be ex­em­plars of gen­til­ity, even as public com­men­ta­tors wish for the erad­i­ca­tion of their slack­ness.”

He added, “Women who par­tic­i­pate in main­stream dance­hall trade in the com­modi­ties it sells – sex and sex­u­al­ity. Their bod­ies, of­ten scant­ily clad ... be­come the tableaux on which the dis­course of slack­ness is writ­ten and per­formed. “

He ex­plained that “in this dis­course, slack­ness re­mains the coun­ter­point to the con­struc­tion of a de­cent so­ci­ety; re­spectabil­ity be­comes the de­sired tra­jec­tory for the good of all ... On the other hand, the pro­fan­ity of slack­ness, and by ex­ten­sion, the lan­guage that de­scribes it is (re­garded as) the do­main of the sin­ful. Pro­scrip­tions against these are per­ceived as good and whole­some for the so­ci­ety as a whole and for in­di­vid­u­als in par­tic­u­lar”.

Para­dox­i­cally, Lewis con­cluded that those be­liefs are held even by the pur­vey­ors of slack­ness them­selves and that “there is thus no in­con­gru­ence in the trans­for­ma­tion of the Ninja bike-rid­ing Lady Saw ... into a re­spectable preacher lady.”

Perkins said “slack­ness” in Ja­maica has an al­most ex­clu­sively sex­ual con­no­ta­tion and Mar­ion Hall after at­tend­ing church. mean­ing, re­fer­ring to raw or ex­plicit sex­ual terms and ac­tiv­ity, and the use of pro­fan­ity.

“The usual con­text for us­ing such a term is around fe­male be­hav­iour (a woman/girl who is sex­u­ally pro­mis­cu­ous is slack), or in the pop­u­lar-cul­ture space, es­pe­cially dance­hall, where ex­plicit dis­cus­sions are had about fe­male gen­i­talia and sex­ual ac­tiv­ity, usu­ally by men with their sub­mis­sive fe­male part­ners,” Perkins said.

She noted that in the Ja­maican con­text, the op­po­site of slack­ness is ‘cul­ture’, which “deals with more con­scious mat­ters hav­ing to do with life and liv­ing, op­pres­sion, strug­gle, spir­i­tu­al­ity, etc”.

She con­cluded her pre­sen­ta­tion by not­ing the dou­ble stan­dard by which women are judged.

“The equat­ing of slack­ness with the be­hav­iour of a woman is a form of gen­dered op­pres­sion and may con­tinue and re­flect cer­tain Chris­tian val­u­a­tions of the fe­male as less than and more sub­ject to fall­ing into sin.

At the same time, it pro­jects an ethics of be­hav­iour that judges the fe­male more harshly and of­ten­times holds her ac­count­able for the be­hav­iour of men. By her chaste/proper/ ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponses, she is to hold men to de­cency,” Perkins said. Mag­num Belleh Satur­days, the ul­ti­mate danc­ing party, is at 28 Der­ry­more Rd. Adm: free. Krazy Kris of Kool 97 FM presents Rea­sons: A Night of End­less Love Songs, start­ing at 8 p.m., at Jew­els In­ter­na­tional Re­sorts, Port Hen­der­son Road. Mu­sic by Krazy Kris, Senor Da­ley and Michael Bar­nett. Adm: $800 presold, $1,000 at the gate.

Women who par­tic­i­pate in main­stream dance­hall trade in the com­modi­ties it sells – sex and sex­u­al­ity. Their bod­ies, of­ten scant­ily clad ... be­come the on which the dis­course of slack­ness is writ­ten and per­formed




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