“Dem doh need no sex eduction. Dem lil gyul hot already, yuh just making them take more man…”
What you just read is not even the worst of it. The fact that the person who made this statement—which I overheard at an academic conference—is involved in social work in East Port-of-Spain is what really bothers me.
Now Christmas season done, so moral panic season start. That’s when the Bible-waving, Qur’an-clutching and Gita wielding moralists moan about the conduct of (mostly) women at Carnival time.
Okay, yes, they does complain throughout the year too but just get my point nah. The point is that in the Western patriarchal society we’ve inherited and built upon, we’ve internalised their hang-ups about what is good sex and bad sex. ‘Good’ sex is what is done by a man and woman within the confines of marriage; ‘bad’ sex is everything else.
Oh wait, hol’ up dey; I nearly forget. According to Christian tradition all sex is bad sex: whether premarital, extramarital or intra-marital; all bad.
But if you must ‘do it’, it could only be for procreation—of a male child—not pleasure; or else you’d be guilty of the ‘sin’ of lust. And that’s in between those days in which you can’t ‘do it’—such as fasting days, feast days, Sundays, daytime, Sabbath… Basically you barely had one night in the week to ‘brush’.
Oh and none of them funny position eh; and definitely no position with the woman on top. Not many Christian clerics tell their devotees this because, let’s face it, there’d then be an exodus of a different kind.
Now it may appear that I am making fun of some people’s religious beliefs and to some extent I am. Some of the more zealous religionists on real shit and need to be given an intellectual, if not physical, kick in the arse.
This is precisely why decontextualised mistranslated myths and ‘nansi stories’ have no business determining public policy. Yet that’s exactly what has been happening for far too long.
Now some people’s concerns about the sexualising of children is based on very real issues given the way sex is commodified in the capitalist ethic plus the reality of sexual predators who walk among us, such as Akiel Chambers’ killer. However, much of the pearl-clutching fears surrounding sexual awareness among children stem from generations of indoctrination into egregious Western phobias about sex.
Europe/Euro-America has an obsession with sex that stems from the elevated ideal of total, absolute control over all aspects of life and environment.
More correctly, this obsession is rooted in a deep, visceral fear by patriarchists over losing control. And their most dangerous enemy, Jean DeLumeau argues, is that element within their own selves.
Scholars like Rosemary Reuther in “Sexism and God-Talk” trace this back to prejudiced ideas of Greek philosophers, who believed that human sexuality was part of a person’s lower, inferior, uncontrollable self. Sex and sexuality has long been associated with societal destruction among patriarchal, militaristic cultures, but ancient Athens seems to have surged to the front in codifying these beliefs.
That fear intensifies when said sexuality is a woman’s own and then becomes batshit schizophrenic when it’s black/African sexuality. The misogynist, elitist, racist worldview that is the backbone of Western civilisation pathologises women’s sexuality in general—more so working class/peasant/rural (wo)men—but specifically fixates on, is fascinated with, disgusted and terrified by black (wo)men’s sexuality, regardless of her social status.
An example from antiquity gives us a snapshot into the beginnings of the ethnocentrism that would later become Western philosophical thought. In commenting on the Garamantes of the inner-African region south of Libya, Solinus, a third century CE Roman geographer describes them as:
“[H]aving no knowledge of marriage. It is the custom of this country to have the women in common. Hence only the mothers recognise their sons; the honourable title of father cannot be applied to anyone. Who could […] distinguish a father in the midst of such moral licence?
“So the Ethiopian Garamantes are rightly regarded as a degenerate people since, as a consequence of that promiscuity, the family name is sadly lost.”
So here we see the early strains of Western arrogance in which, like ‘scientific methods’, institutions are only what they define it to be.
Much of Eurocentric sexual schizophrenia also comes from the way they thought of that aspect of African culture that gave the world jazz, kaiso, reggae, pan and hip-hop: spontaneity, the antithesis of the rigid austere controlling aspect of Western patriarchal culture.
In Africa, essentially all the various aspects of life including transitory rites of passage were and are celebrated through dance and music—from anger to joy and even funerals. Death in many non-Western cultures was conceptualised as transitioning from one state of existence to another in a cyclical fashion. Dr Hollis ‘Chalkdust’ Liverpool in “Rituals of Power and Rebellion” informs us about erotic ‘dead songs’ which were sung to assist the bereaved when the clothing of the dead was being washed.
One celebrated the participation in the various aspects aspects of life, including sexual interaction, as part of one’s normal lived experiences. Sexual coaches such as the Ugandan ssengas and the male counterpart the kojjas guided young people in the arts of arousal from relatively early ages.
This doesn’t mean that these cultures were ‘promiscuous hordes’ who only ‘brushing down de place’, but their approach to sex was hardly in keeping with the teachings of the sterility cult that Christianity in particular devolved into.
Our Carnival, for instance, originated some 6,000 years ago in Egypt as a celebration of the fertility of the earth and women. These Africans of the Nile Valley also had priestesses who functioned as sexual surrogates of the Divine Mother entity, as did those of ancient India and Sumer and there was no stigma attached to this.
It should be noted that Bronislaw Malinowski, cited by Wilhelm Reich in “The Invasion of Compulsory Sex Morality,” observed similar approaches to sex among the Trobriand Islanders. They also exposed and sensitise(d) their children to sex from a very early age and as a result, the children grew up with much healthier and more mature approaches to sex than in the West.
However, to the Western(ised) mind—immersed in linear thinking as well as pessimistic, self-loathing theological ideas (hence the egregious notion of ‘sin’)—such displays of sensuality and gaiety were shocking and threatening. In their cultures sex was just another expression of masculine power.
Therefore, regarding the advancement or the mere presence of what the Euro defines as ‘civilisation’, open displays of sex and sexuality outside of their definitions was/is an instant disqualification. Any display of sexual behaviour or any action such as dancing, gaiety, merriment, laughter, compassion or love meant that the person was sexual, therefore impulsive and easily seduced by sensual pleasures; and so did not have the mental strength needed to govern a society.
In this mindset sex is a weapon; a person’s sexuality—once it is outside of the approved heterosexual, monogamous marital model—is ‘weaponised’ to dismiss that person’s legitimacy to make a contribution to the advancement of society. Just think about how and in what ways women living Sea Lots, Laventille, Beetham and Morvant are demeaned in ‘polite’ conversations.
That idea eventually diffused to Rome and ultimately Christianity. The writings of the early Christian theologians—Catholic and the later Protestant—drew heavily from these ancient Greek philosophical prejudices that saw in sexuality, merriment and pleasure patriarchy’s gravest threats. Jean DeLumeau examines this in exhausting detail in his book “Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th-18th Centuries.”
The key, however, was reversing that feeling of inadequacy onto the subjects of patriarchal anxiety: women, the supposed permanent purveyors of dangerous sexual powers.
Shame became the psychological complement to physical force that coerced women into being apprehensive of their own bodies. This was later extended to include subjugated men of colour who mostly came from regions where matri-axial customs abounded. Additionally, they were further ‘effeminised’ by being shut out of the narrow expressions of patriarchal power in Euro-centred societies.
Paradoxically, the lineal ancestor of Christianity, Judaism, had a much more open, embracing of sexuality. Although strongly imbued with its own deeply patriarchal values and certain misogynist notions that may have originated in Babylon, the cultural and spiritual diversity of the Hebrews often favoured human—and especially women’s—sexuality.
Raphael Patai’s “The Hebrew Goddess”, John M Allegro’s “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth,” Jonathon Kirsh’s “Harlot by the Side of the Road” and Margaret Starbird’s “The Woman with the Alabaster Jar” are just four books that help us piece together the existence of different Hebrew tribes and the masculine AND feminine deities they worshipped, along with the sexual customs that went with them.
Dr Ruth Westheimer and Jonathan Mark, in “Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition” inform us that “tradition […] encourages a husband and wife to have sex not just for procreation, but for pleasure” because “(s)ex is not only for reproduction but recreation.”
Even more noteworthy is what they say on pages 122-3:
“Although it is presumed that the bride and groom have not had sexual relations prior to marriage, this custom of separation (the period just before the wedding) is even more useful and cherished among the modern bride and groom who may already have had some sexual interaction. The week of total abstinence—even visual—reinforces the idea that each new relationship comes with a fresh beginning
“It is for this reason that the bride wears white. In the Jewish tradition, the wedding gown is white not to denote virginity but almost the opposite. No matter how sexually promiscuous the bride may have been prior to marriage, the wedding purifies her…
“It is important to note that for Judah to seek a sexual relationship outside of marriage was by no means a sin according to the Jewish laws applicable in Genesis era. Judah was shamed because he attempted to deny responsibility, for irresponsibility is never an option. At that time concubines were an acceptable accessory (their words, not mine) for the holiest of men, including Judah’s father Abraham…”
Compare that to St Jerome, an early theologian whose advice to young women was that they “regard everything as poison which bears within it the seeds of sensual pleasure.”
This notion that sex is something dangerous, even contaminating, is a theme that is played out over and over and is regenerated, generation after generation, right up to our own time. It’s a theme especially popular in the music video industry and more so the ‘exotic’ black (wo)man who is often portrayed as not just sexually inviting and available but dangerously sexually inviting and available.
With that in mind, it is very instructive that for centuries the black body was associated with mud, which in Western thought was associated with death. If we connect that to their assessment of the culture of gaiety and celebration in many African societies, an interesting picture emerges.
In keeping with the valuated ideal of absolute control, in Western patriarchal culture there is a constant desire to flirt with danger, usually to defeat and control it, to show mastery—a “masculine” trait.
In the specific context of sexuality with its innate ‘dangers’, the desire is to tease it while at the same time feel disgust towards it—and the women who are the ‘natural’ purveyors of it.
We find this to be the case in the West and among some patriarchal Arab cultures. In these cultures, nakedness or the exposure of certain body parts identified the person as sexual, thus impulsive, thus uncontrolled, thus polluting, contaminating and ultimately destructive.
This is why today, no matter how successful some women become or how intelligent they are, they often find themselves reduced to their clothing or their hair. They, as well as black/brown men, are reduced to their genitals as Sander Gilman puts it in “Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness.”
However, connected to that is an enduring racist conceptualising of African people in particular as animalistic—synonymous with savagery, unrestrained sexual urges and childlike mindsets. The “Wild Man of the Forest” is a mythical figure that dates back to Ancient Greek stories. Beginning, arguably, from the fifth century CE, that imposing, fearsome, irrationally destructive entity became identified with people of African descent.
The monk John Cassian began to sow the seeds of anti-black racism when in his ‘Conferences’, the devil was depicted as a hideous African while sexual temptation was ‘a Negro woman, ill-smelling and ugly’.
It’s a myth that has replicated itself down through the centuries. Following the so-called Age of Discovery, these became pseudoscientific tropes—legitimised by racist scientists, theologians and philosophers—developed to strip native peoples (with specific attention placed on African people) of their humanity.
The societies that had more open, permissive sexual codes were interpreted by Western colonists as proof of the wanton sexual savagery and childlike nature of the peoples there. To this day, variations of this theme are still used to provide ‘moral’ grounds to take possession of the lands they occupied, subjugate native peoples and deny them their right to govern themselves as they see fit.
So it’s somewhat amusing how the moralists obsess over how foreigners think about us when at Carnival time there are public displays of ‘winin’ and other erotic dances. They’re mostly speaking through incurably colonised minds.
They’re also several centuries too late.
Racist theories already abounded about African primitiveness due to their ‘animalistic’ sexuality and appearances, by social ‘scientists’ like Jules Virey, J S Dennis and Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) which had widespread impact. In 1607, one Edward Topsell in his book “Histories of Fourefooted Beastes” describes African people as having:
“Venerousness of apes, who ravish women with their outsize ‘virile’ member.”
Here we can see a forming of the hyper-sexual black male. Compare it to many comments made today or observe certain predominant themes that are found on almost every porn site involving black and brown men or women.
However, since the 16th century, the Caribbean and Africa were already ‘porno tropics for the European imagination’ as Anne McClintock puts it in her book “Imperial Leather.” Pent up, frequently perverted desires by an element often occupying the lower rungs of society in Europe, were given free reign in the tropics.
Yet, it was the Africans who supposedly had the ‘wild’ violent nature which was also supposedly expressed sexually, posing a danger to white women—the convenient buffers between African people and white men.
It’s not coincidental that many of the lynchings that took place in the United States also involved the severing of the male genitalia. Fears of ravenous African sexual predators also came to the fore following the end of WWI when the French stationed Senegalese troops in Germany
It also is what lay at the base of much of the hostility towards African women. In the early Dame Lorraine portrayals following Emancipation, women from among the labouring classes used to taunt the mostly white French onlookers to the Carnival celebrations in Trinidad.
They would throw open their skirts’ hems over their arms, exposing their petticoats, and possibly themselves. To the French (and British) elites—immersed as they were in the firm beliefs of white masculine entitlement and absolute authority—to be tainted this way by somebody whose skin was dark was intolerable.
Further, influenced by sexist ideas of how a lady or a ‘good’ woman is expected to be, the loud, assertive ways of most African women supposedly ‘proved’ the validity of the racist theories that were prominent in such prestigious journals as The Scientific American.
Throughout colonial rule this formed the pretext for and justified the colonisers denial of positions of power and authority to persons of African descent, unless they were thoroughly schooled and churched in European institutions. It is from this that we got people like Dr Eric Williams and the whole Independence Generation.
Priests and pastors, many of whom were in charge of education schemes, tailored their ‘moral’ teachings to suit the interests of the plantocracy and the Crown which needed to legitimise their exploitative agendas.
In Trinidad, Canadian and British missionaries worked fervently to break the independent spirit that existed among many African labouring classes which included their more realistic, pragmatic approaches to sexual interactions.
Based on the information supplied by Dennison Moore in “Origin and Development of Racial ideology in Trinidad”, a new dimension of psychological violence emerged when militaristic jargon were woven into their sermons to further dampen spirits and create a culture of conformity.
Yet, in this hostile environment, the interesting thing is that as I was going through research material for my book project examining the impact of these European values on our society, the sexual ‘liberation’ Ms Akilah Holder believes exists today seems to have been greater in our great-grandparent’s time.
Published diaries from Fr Armand Masse, A C Carmichael and Vincent Tothill point to working class/rural women ‘taking man’ as far back as the 1800s.
Some of these relationships were undoubtedly exploitative for the women, but many others suggest very strongly, the autonomy of many women even in a hostile patriarchal environment fed by Victorian prudery and racism—how many women today are (or can be) open about the ‘keepers’ (extra-marital lovers) they have with the full knowledge of their legal husbands?
Tothill indicates that it was very common with both sexes in the 1920s. More importantly, in the event of offspring, African cultural retentions facilitated informal familial/community-based child support structures that functioned from the 1800s right up until the 1980s—I grew up in one as both my parents were working.
So, are we better off as a society because we’ve supposedly abandoned biblical principles? I don’t know that we’ve ever done so. I do know that many Scandinavian countries seem to be doing just fine without these mistranslated, decontextualised myths contaminating their public policies.
I also know that it was adherence to biblical principles that gave us the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Jewish pogroms, Salem witch trials, slaughter of indigenous peoples and what got many of us dragged here from Africa—unless, Ms Holder, you think like that jackass Kimberley Daniels, the Florida State Representative who last year thanked god for slavery.
Most of the comments rightly treat Holder’s articles with the scorn they deserve. But the fact is that she—and those Bible-wavers, Qur’an clutchers and Gita wielders who think like her—will remain steadfast in their thinking.
What is even worse is that people holding such views pass it on to younger impressionable minds who will be conditioned to be as uncritical in their thinking—as I recall, Ms Holder is an ‘educator’. She herself was very clear that she is writing to influence people.
Therefore they must be isolated and circumvented, left to their toxic monologues, while much, much more must be done by progressives to directly discredit the religious passages that spur such bigoted thinking.
This is no longer just a clash of ideas, this culture war is the first stage that includes economic as well as physical bullying, spurred by evangelical religious beliefs in political policies.
Time to act.