The PNP lives in a glass house so it shouldn't throw stones

The PNP lives in a glass house so it shouldn't throw stones

CHRISTOPHER BURNS

Sunday, February 23, 2020

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Last Sunday's presentation of Dr Winston De la Haye as the People's National Party's (PNP) standard-bearer for the St Catherine East Central constituency took an unusual and grotesque turn. The on-stage performances of a few senior party members were classic examples of indiscipline and desperation. Instead of using the occasion to motivate and mobilise its grass roots supporters, and win over swing and independent voters, speaker after speaker descended into an avalanche of vulgar, vituperative, and boorish innuendoes against Alando Terrelonge, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) incumbent Member of Parliament.

By virtue of the fact that the PNP has spent years fending off similar polemics, and pushing back against consistent accusations about having too many homosexuals in its rank and file and officer corps, it should have been enough to impel party-central, as well as those who dare call themselves leaders, to resist the temptations to participate in the politics of personal destruction and character assignation.

It is the heights of political malpractice for the PNP to be kicking, screaming and bawling about spurious, unfair, and unfounded allegations against its members and officers, while simultaneously engaging the same slimy conduct against its political rivals. The PNP cannot have it both ways. If it lives in a glass house — as it surely does — it cannot be throwing stones. And, since it cannot take blows then it shouldn't throw stones.

Isn't it criminally sardonic how selective our memories can be at times? But, as Shakespeare asked, “What past is prologue?” As far as I am concerned, all past is prologue. History is akin to a stenographer who keeps recording; therefore, both parties should avoid unforced errors. Errors, might I add, that could create serious negative and unintended consequences for our country, but more so for the generations that will eventually succeed the current cadre of leaders or join the ranks as followers.

Essentially, those who aspire to lead must take leadership seriously. It cannot be about which man is “straight”, “bend up, bend up”, or “lean”; it ought to be about who has the energy, capability, vision, and honesty to lead the country in a way that redounds to the greater good and benefit of all its people.

Lest we forget, it was circa mid-October 1997, and in absolute frustration with a barrage of unsavoury innuendoes and allegations launched against him by the leadership of JLP, then Prime Minister P J Patterson took the unusual step to declare, on HOT 102 morning talk show, the Breakfast Club, “My credentials as a lifelong heterosexual person are impeccable...anybody who tries to say otherwise is not just smearing in vulgar abuse…but when you talk about demonising, that is what it is…[so] I want to put that on the table squarely…It is wicked!”

To this day, neither the JLP nor any of its leaders have publicly apologised or atoned for those dastardly acts against Patterson — except through a series of electoral defeats. Even the metropolitan transportation system in Kingston came under a barrage of severe attack by persons who stoned the buses they called “chi-chi” bus. Sadly, TOK's “chi-chi man” song continues to encourage “bun dem” type violence against perceived homosexuals.

By any objective moral standard, the platform performances and utterances by the senior PNP members at the presentation rally for Dr De la Haye were abysmally churlish. Some of the expressions exposed the ugly underbelly of political expediency and exploitation. The viciousness that was launched against Patterson and the pain he must have endured representing Jamaica at home and abroad should continue to appeal to the social conscience of every single member of the PNP. Consequent on that, the performers at last Sunday night's improv should cause them, collectively and individually, to hang their heads in shame for promoting acrimony, as well as for propagating homophobia in a violent society already bursting at the seam and that has yet to adjust to, or understand same-sex relationships.

Listening to those men spew ridicule at a fellow human being, all in the name of politics and power, forced me to question if any one of them is a father, brother, cousin, surrogate parent, an uncle, or even a grandfather. For, if even childless, we should not only be very worried by their lack of empathy and emotional intelligence, but also troubled by their collective over-endowment of ignobility and wretched crudity.

The PNP has since issued a vapid statement reaffirming its “…commitment to non-discrimination based on class, creed, or sexual orientation…” But make no bones about it, the party's reaffirmation does not reflect any serious act of contrition; the party has not apologised. Given the sociocultural realities and violent backlash that gay people face, nothing short of a full-throated condemnation of those who perpetrated or participated in the verbal attack against Alando Terrelonge should be accepted from the PNP — a party that prides itself as a national movement.

Happily, when it appeared that all hope was lost, Mark Golding, the PNP's spokesperson on finance, and one of the chief provocateurs on that PNP stage last Sunday, issued a very contrite and seemingly heartfelt apology which read in part: “…my conscience does not allow me to let the events of [last] weekend go without a personal remark from me...I am publicly and personally apologising [my emphasis] to Alando Terrelonge, who I disparaged….I regret getting caught up in the hoopla of a political meeting and indulging in that unworthy form of political discourse…he [Alando] has always treated me with respect and decency…he did not deserve it, especially coming from me…So, I am sorry.”

Well enough, Mark, but all of that could have been avoided. You know, perhaps more than your fellow “disparagers-in chief”, why God gave us two ears, one mouth, and a brain. I will leave it at that for now.

No moral equivalence justification is necessary. What transpired at that now-infamous rally to introduce none other than the former chief medical officer of Jamaica, who is also a psychiatrist, was absolutely disgraceful, socially destructive, and politically amateurish. But even more disappointing and benighted were claims by another speaker, medical doctor and lawyer Dayton Campbell, who claimed not to know the meaning the term “toxic masculinity”.

Dayton's claim of ignorance in this circumstance is as strikingly dis-ingenious as it is awfully ironic, to say the least. According to Dayton, “…[The] little fake Rastaman weh name Terrelonge...all mi hear him talking about is toxic masculinity...Mi ask him, 'A wah dat?' Every day him get up, him deh pon 'toxic masculinity', and I don't know what that is…”

Well, well, if he, a medical doctor and lawyer, really does not know what toxic masculinity means and still has not taken the requisite steps to inform himself sufficiently by expanding the circumference of the kingdom of his mind, then may God help us.

Dayton Campbell spares no effort reminding everyone he meets about his socio-economic antecedents as a child. He tells a very compelling and believable story about his childhood; his home, his father's misplaced priorities and errors, his mother's love and sacrifices, and the struggles they endured as a family in pursuit of a better life. “My mother don't have to wash people dutty clothes nuh more,” he likes to boast. Before I help the impetuous doctor understand the term toxic masculinity he so glibly disclaim, he would be delighted to know that the term is not as new, as he already knows.

His theatrics aside, simply put, toxic masculinity refers to harmful behaviours and attitudes commonly associated with some men, as typified by the need to internalise emotions during stressful situations, and to act in aggressively dominant ways. The term toxic masculinity was reportedly first used by psychologist Shepherd Bliss in the 1980s.

Alando Terrelonge is not promoting anything foreign to Jamaicans in his use and reference to the term. Only a jackass would find greater meaning in the term than what it really means.

What's more, Terrelonge is not promoting any particular sexual choices or deviances, as some members of the PNP would have us believe. As far as I am concerned, he, like a great many of us, has seen enough social and cultural pathology to sound the alarm and appeal for some semblance of social and behavioural recalibration. For, according to Bliss, the “avoidance of emotional expression”, the “over-aspiration for physical, sexual and intellectual dominance” and the “systematic devaluation of women's opinions, body and sense of self” are sure signs of toxic masculinity. “Toxic masculinity and the notion that men must act in a dominant and aggressive manner in order to command respect is a concept that may stem from the perpetuation of the patriarchy…” Honestly, do we not see these manifestations around us every day?

Admittedly, I am not a trained sociologist, nor am I qualified to practice psychology or psychiatry, but in this instance there is one constant that supersedes mere formal training and exposure, it is the application of conscience, clean conscience. As such, we cannot operate in ways that promote or pit one group against or over the other; neither should we ignore the fundamental truth that speaks to our common identity as human beings — complex though that appears.

Humanity is very complex. Hence, we must be slow to judge, to condemn, to disparage, and tear down one another. We should not allow reckless insinuations to cause harm to those we disagree with, especially in the name of politics. Neither should we base our own sense of self on some false premise of piety and superficial enlightenment. For, try hard as we may, we will never know exactly what our sons or daughters are going to become as adults. We can only hope the best for them since we cannot accurately predict or manage the choices they will make, or the path they will pursue in their personal lives. If they choose the 'forbidden path', does it automatically disqualify them from being recipients of our love, care, support, and protection? I think not!

It is a classic combination of toxic masculinity and fear that cause so much of the antisocial behaviours and stereotypical assessments we make of others we do not fully understand. Change is needed, Terrelonge is correct. The balm in Gilead must begin with dialogue that encourages tolerance over hate and bigotry. It must eschew behaviours such as that of the father who, in February 2004, concerned that his son might be gay, turned up at the Dunoon Park Technical High School in eastern Kingston and encouraged other students to “beat di bwoy”.

Mind you, the boy was an 11th-grader at the time. Had it not been for the intervention of a teacher this child could have been killed. The abuse and beating were bad, one of the teachers who gave an eyewitness account said: “They were intent on killing him…They were like a pack of wild animals who smelled blood, and if it wasn't for another staff member who jumped on top of him, you [media] would be reporting on a mob killing...” This incident was widely reported at the time, I often wonder what became of that boy. One thing for sure, I cannot identify a single constituency or seat in Parliament that is worth the life of a fellow citizen.

There are always going to be disagreements around the subjects of love and relationships. Some of the disagreements are shaped by experiences, fear, politics, religious indoctrination, and a host of other things which cause more of us to “agree to disagree”. Agreeing to disagree is substantially better than waging war against each other or inciting violence — however tacit — toward a group with which some of us hold staunch divergent views. Tolerance is an imperative, especially in societies where members of minority groups have to walk on egg shells every day of their lives, and where governments are less concerned about comprehensive human or justiciable rights, but more focused on political expediency and populism.

Christopher Burns is the CFO and vice-president of a multinational corporation. Send your comments to the Jamaica Observer or burnscg@aol.com.


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