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Dancehall and Homophobia

 

Friday, July 27, 2007.

 

By Keith Boykin

 

Over the past few weeks I've heard a lot of conflicting reports about homophobic reggae artists Beenie Man and Buju Banton signing a deal with activists to stop performing so-called "murder music."

 

A report back in June suggested that several artists had signed a pact not to perform the controversial music, which advocates violence against gays and lesbians. Beenie Man, Sizzla and Capleton each reportedly signed that deal. Buju Banton's name was released later as a signer as well.

 

Then came word this week that Beenie Man denied signing the deal at all. "I do music," he told the Jamaica Observer newspaper. "Dancehall mi do, I can't promise nuh man dat. And mi neva sign it, yuh hear sah." And Banton also denied signing the agreement. Speaking to Radio Jamaica, Banton's manager Donovan Germaine claimed that Stop Murder Music, the group responsible for the pledge, had lied to boost their efforts.

 

But Peter Tachell, a British gay activist involved in the negotiations, disagreed, claiming that both Beenie Man and Buju Banton had inked the deal. Tachell even provided copies of the signed statements that seem to bear the two men's signatures.

 

So what's going on here?

 

The original June statement said: "It must be clear there's no space in the music community for hatred and prejudice, including no place for racism, violence, sexism or homophobia...We do not encourage nor minister to HATE but rather uphold a philosophy of LOVE, RESPECT and UNDERSTANDING towards all human beings as the cornerstone of reggae. We agree to not make statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against anyone from any community."

 

After the statement was released, I said that I was "cautiously optimistic" about the agreement, citing the failure of a previous agreement years earlier as a reason for skepticism. "I can only hope that the artists will be true to their word this time," I wrote at the time. But it turns out they weren't.

 

This whole back-and-forth game about whether they did or did not sign an agreement that bears their signature is silly and childish. Maybe the artists are playing to the crowds back at home to prove that they weren't pushed around by the gay Europeans. But that's no excuse for going back on their word, assuming their word even means anything anymore.

 

For all the macho posturing in the homophobic world of some reggae artists, they seem to have lost sight of the true meaning of manhood. One of the most important parts of being a man is sticking by your word and honoring your commitments. And being a man is about treating others with dignity and respect. Maybe Beenie Man and Buju Banton didn't get that far in their Manhood 101 class.

 

Many of us who have watched this cat-and-mouse game are tired of all the antics. If these artists want to go on singing homophobic music and supporting anti-gay violence, then go ahead and do it. But be prepared for the inevitable consequences and at least be man enough to say it without talking out of both sides of your mouth.

 

But if the artists want to move their careers forward and beyond all the controversy, then they should renounce the homophobia and the violence and the murder music publicly, visibly and repeatedly from their own mouths.

As I said in June -- and I still believe it now -- the best solution is to keep pressing the artists by educating them and others so that they understand that violence against gays and lesbians, or against any group of people, is not acceptable behavior in society.

 

The artists need to know that all humans deserve dignity and respect. The time for all the game playing and the backsliding has past. It's time for men to be men. Would the real Beenie Man and the real Buju Banton please stand up?

 

Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at Keithboykin.com

 

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