Up Front by Emma Hart


I'll Take Actium and Trafalgar

One of the things I’ve had to learn (the hard way, naturally) to do with my CFS is to look after myself. I can’t do too much physically, or I’ll have a relapse. I can’t take on too much stress, or I’ll buckle and end up sitting on the kitchen floor crying like I just rewatched Children of Earth. That’s why you’ll never see me doing a column like Does My Mortgage Look Like a Slag in This? or Are We There Yet? two weeks in a row. I recognise that it takes a lot of emotional strength out of me, so I mind how many arguments I’m simultaneously engaging in.

I’ve had to learn to pick my battles.

So it interested me when I read Renegade Evolution describing this in gaming terms. The people you see constantly fronting those battles on whatever issue – feminism, racism, sex workers’ rights, homophobia – are meat shields. Tanks. Their role is to be up the front, taking a pounding.

That’s their whole job, running head-long into the fight, grabbing all the aggro, and keeping it while everyone else just mops up amid the mayhem… being the Meat Shield can suck.  There are times you end up face down with the baddies stomping all over you while the rest of the team runs for their lives.

No matter how tough you are, there are only so many hits any meat-shield can take before they have to stagger off to have a wee sit-down behind a crate and down a couple of med-packs.

We all have only so much energy we can use to fight for causes, so we focus it where, as someone whose name I can’t remember said about Womanism, it hurts the most. Devoting my energy to LGBT issues doesn’t make me sexist or racist, nor does it mean that I don’t have the deepest respect and sympathy for those causes and their meat shields. It just means that I don’t have the energy to spare. So often the answer to the (hardly ever genuine) question “Why are you down on this and not that?” is “Because I’m not fricking Wonder Woman okay? I just have the clothes.”

The whole Beenie Man controversy was a fight I wanted to sit out. I have that choice, I can say, “Nope, I can’t hack any more of this right now. I’m tired, I’m ill, I just want to go to bed with a Marguerita and possibly a drink as well.” It’s especially tempting to sit out a fight where my position is middling. It’s closest to Idiot/Savant’s, and yet even there I have reservations. I have them right here, actually:

The answer to speech we disagree with is more speech, not less.

Now, in general I believe this. Despite what I’ve already been accused of after just one tweet on the issue, I’m a Free Speech advocate. But, it’s just not that simple There’s an underlying assumption in this attitude that both sides have the ability to speak. In New Zealand that’s true. In Jamaica, it’s not.

Stop Murder Music is the campaign that’s been driving and organising opposition to dancehall music internationally. It was put together by OutRage!, the Black Gay Men’s Advisory Group, and a group called J-Flag - Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays.

In 2006, J-Flag’s founder Brian Williamson was found hacked to death in his home. Coincidentally, a Human Rights Watch researcher, Rebecca Schleifer, was on the scene shortly after his murder, and described what she saw:

She found a small crowd singing and dancing. One man called out, "Battyman he get killed." Others were celebrating, laughing and shouting "Let's get them one at a time", "That's what you get for sin". Others sang "Boom bye bye", a line from a well-known dancehall song by Jamaican star Buju Banton about shooting and burning gay men. "It was like a parade", says Schleifer. "They were basically partying."

Speaking back in Jamaica, one of the most violently homophobic countries in the world, can be a death sentence. The situation in Jamaica is so bad that several Jamaican homosexuals have successfully gained asylum in Great Britain, on the grounds that returning to Jamaica would be a death sentence. J-Flag say they know of 30 gay men murdered between 1997 and 2004.

These deaths are not, of course, caused by dancehall music or homophobic lyrics, any more than video games cause mass murder. (Michael Law’s verbal trolling is so patently ridiculous that yes, that’s a fight I feel I can skip in good conscience.) The music is a reflection of the culture – but it’s also a symbol of it, and a perpetuation of it. In 2001, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding used Chi Chi Man by TOK as a campaign theme song. In 2004, Buju Banton was accused of being personally involved in an assault on five gay men – a case which was dismissed for lack of evidence, in a country where the police have been known to encourage and participate in mob violence against gays.

And no, boycotting murder music artists isn’t going to magically fix Jamaican culture. Nor does a protest at a rugby game bring down Apartheid.

What all this brings home to me is that I have the option. I can choose not to fight, because I’m safe. I’m privileged. You have to go all the way to the provinces to get a taste of this kind of fear in New Zealand, and it’s just a taste. I still remember the terrified teenager I was, and I owe her a debt, to fight the fights she couldn’t, because she was too vulnerable.

The price of fighting in Jamaica is death. Can I really not

be arsed getting out of bed to be a meat shield for them?

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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