In a piece titled 'On National Heroes', Rohan Budhai, a Jamaica Observer contributor, took the opportunity to congratulate Miss Robin “Rihanna” Fenty on becoming a national hero of Barbados. He did so on behalf of the peoples of the entire Caribbean. He confessed to a paucity of information relating to the selection of national heroes, and admitted to consulting Google for guidance. On conducting my own Google search, I found the following: “First, a hero is admired and idealised for courage, outstanding achievements, a person who combats adversity through ingenuity, courage, and strength in the face of danger. A national hero embodies all these notable qualities and has made significant positive contributions to the growth and development of their societies.” My thoughts on this Rihanna-as-national hero matter is a little different from this contributor.
Yes, I am happy for her — puzzled as I am about this decision coming from someone like Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Motley, whose intellect I had admired long before she entered public life. However, I think I may have a bias, which may be unfair. It's just that I can't get an 11-year-old photograph out of my mind.
The picture was taken in November 2010 and Rihanna was shown hugging children, at least two not yet in their teens. The problem for me was that she was wearing a necklace with the words “F**k You”. I questioned her judgement for about two weeks and then just dismissed her as being too shallow to be worthy of anyone's attention.
The following year, she stepped out in public in Beverly Hills wearing a necklace spelling the C word, possibly, according to The West Australian, “…the most offensive word in the English language”.
This young woman is now known for her sexually overt performances, her lack of clothing, and her racy video clips.
Budhai goes on to say, “At the tender age of 33, this young lady has much time to make her mark.” And that's where my main concern lies. It seems that the award was for possible future heroics. I have searched the considerable body of literature I have on these matters and Miss Fenty may well be the first person to be so honoured because of what it is hoped she will do in the future. I thought such an honour was for what was already done.
I will yield to the temptation to compare her with another Caribbean person and, for fairness, I will stick to the same profession — singing. His name is Bob Marley.
To be fair, I must point out that he was my age, and I knew him personally.
He accomplished what he did at the same tender age as Rihanna. Miss Fenty has the first advantage as, standing barefooted, she is exactly 2 inches taller than Bob. Her songs include, Bitch Better Have My Money, Kiss it Better, and Rude Boy. When a video clip of her single Man Down was released, it attracted the wrath of Australia's Parents Television Council, whose members blasted her for showing a “cold, calculated execution of murder” in the clip.
I remember her at Miami's Mariner Arena. Wearing a revealing white bondage leotard, she shocked the crowd when she performed a raunchy and overtly sexualised lap dance on a female fan, from the same community as my sister, who was brought on stage without knowing what she was in for.
Former Spice Girl Mel C attacked her and other pop stars for using excessive sexual imagery in their videos.
Marley and Peter Tosh, after witnessing poverty and oppression in Haiti, put pen to paper and gave the world Get Up, Stand Up, one of the most rousing anthems in reggae. Discover Music, writing about timeless political anthems, lists War as being among the top 20 best protest songs in history. And, can anyone question the sheer universality of Redemption Song?
Budhai points out — quite correctly — that he thinks it is risky to honour a young person in such a way when future events could make the decision regrettable. He states, however, that with a net worth of US$1.7 billion, she could do a lot for Barbados. But should it be a money thing? I can think of at least 14 Jamaicans who have fortunes in excess of that figure. Should we increase our hero count to 21? I think not.
Then, finally, Budhai admits to being smitten by Miss Fenty's beauty and thinks it may have coloured his judgement. Well, since we have reached the truth and honesty section, I will confess to having pictures of her modelling her Valentine's Day swimsuit collection, which I have looked at a few times. It is also my intention to look at it one more time before deleting it.
I have an enduring admiration for people who are unafraid to speak against injustice, who take on the issues of the day but transcend their eras with messages for future generations. When one uses one's craft to transcend that calling to question, provoke, and inspire society about civil rights and issues like war and political unrest and injustice, one is truly special.
It is for these reasons, and without the benefit of Google, that, for me, to qualify for the exalted status of national hero, one should be instrumental in bringing about successful social revolution.
A heavy and enormous burden has been placed on the shoulders of this young woman. We should all wish the best for her.
Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org