Open Letter to Mel Cooke:

Dear Mr Cooke,

I was once called “It” because someone thought my hairstyle looked weird or they couldn’t distinguish whether I was a man or woman. When I cut my hair I was just expressing myself, I hadn’t thought for a minute that it might serve as a decisive gender test. Perhaps when you wrote your article last week you didn’t think about anybody else who has been called “It” and felt subhuman and undeserving of life. You may not have considered how your scorn for “It” is similar to the disdain that many other Jamaicans have for other things and people, like poor people or black people or people with disabilities. I remember that day I got my haircut, and how being called “It” stirred up feelings of fear, humiliation, helplessness and shame. I felt that in my attempt at self expression I did something wrong and needed to undo myself immediately. I felt had broken the code and was being punished..

In your article, Bye Bye, Boom Bye Bye you described your response to seeing “It”, this person whose appearance and gender expression you found disconcerting.  I understand that you don’t like homosexuals, especially if they are “flagrant fops”, but your article made me wonder about the subtext. What else you may have been suggesting about how we should deal with people we don’t like. It made me curious how you gauged who gets respect and who doesn’t. As a writer you know everything about the power of the pen and I’m sure much of the respect people have for you has come from you sharing your ideas through writing. All the more reason why I couldn’t understand why you used your respectable craft to be so disrespectful.

Anyway, I’m still wondering why you felt it was okay to describe your discomfort and disgust in a national paper? I want to know, really, why you did it that way. Maybe the question is as much for you as it is for the Jamaica Gleaner. Was it to remind Jamaica’s “its” what they are? Or maybe just to have solidarity with the “whos”?  Either way I don’t need to scold you or try to start a dissing match with you, although I and many others feel very disrespected by your words. Nevertheless, you have reminded me of something important about Jamaican life. Living in Jamaica gives all of us nuff cause for impatience, disgust, frustration and anger that often drives us to hurt each other and lash out with a certain Brand (Jamaica) of hate. Hate is what I would call it. Because people are not “It”. How does it feel to want a better Jamaica, and feel like you may not see it in your lifetime? Or maybe Jamaica ah work out ahrite fe you? How can we want better and feel this way about people? Where will it be better Mel? How can it ever get better, or when will Jamaica feel safer when some people know they are considered “It” by the “whos”.

This letter is about what you wrote, why you wrote it and what it means. I understand that Jamaica is changing, and change can be hard especially when we feel uncertain about the outcomes. But even as you say it’s a post-Boom Bye Bye period, your article is a pointed reminder that as much as things have changed many respectable people really just want it to stay the same. Mel the truth is the “it” wey ah really cause de problem is our unique brand of Jamaican hate, ah it me wish we coulda sey “Bye Bye” to. Bless and Love.

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About afifa

dj. artist. creative director and co-founder of the SO((U))L HQ and DI Institute for Social Leadership. I make ritual spaces.

4 comments

  1. I am so glad you wrote this. Frankly, Mel is an educated person who should know better. My heart sank into my boots when I read it. Why do I always expect better of people?

    • Pinkytoobad

      What does his education or lack thereof have to do with anything? One does not need a degree to be a decent human being.

      • Because as a very good writer and poet I thought Mr. Cooke would have had the sensitivity, knowledge and understanding on such matters that education can impart. I am not suggesting at all that “one needs to have a degree to be decent.” Far from it. In fact, “well educated” Jamaicans are often very disappointing in this regard. And yes, one does expect better.

  2. Melinda Brown

    Succinct yet subtle – touché! Brilliant rebuttal.

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