LIFEBeat, the organization that works with musicians to raise public awareness to HIV/AIDS, hired two Jamaican dancehall artists–Beenie Man and Tok– for a July 18th NYC benefit concert that is specifically attempting to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among people of Caribbean descent, who currently make up the majority of people of African descent here in NYC. Many Black LGBT New Yorkers are mobilizing against this concert, as they see it as a slap in the face, an HIV/AIDS organization would hire two artists that have recorded and performed songs about killing gay men & lynching lesbians, would then be called upon to perform at an HIV/AIDS awareness benefit concert. An organization, that also has gay members of the Board of Directors.
Led by Keith Boykin, many Black gay & lesbian bloggers have joined together in an online campaign to force LIFEBeat to cancel the appearances of those two artists. It’s actually very refreshing to see Black Lesbian & Gay folks mobilizing over an important issue, and exerting their power to see change, especially when it is not the result of yet another bashing or murder. Keith had tried to engage the LIFEBeat Executive Director John Cannelli on this issue, and he was met with an acknowledgement of the contradiction, but he simply refused to do anything about it. So the new coalition, Black LGBT Bloggers Against Anti-Gay Musicians are calling for them to shut down the show.
So, what do I think? While I support the initiative of LIFEBeat to try to raise public awareness of HIV/AIDS within the Caribbean community, I think it is so fucked up that LifeBeat would hire these artists (I think most people forget most artists still get paid their rate for benefits-they probably aren’t donating their time), when there are other prominent artists they could have gotten to attract the same community they are trying to reach who aren’t (at least) so vocally homophobic. And can we add sexist? If we also consider the HIV/AIDS epidemic and Black women (and the way Black women are treated in their videos) in the US and in the Caribbean, this choice of artist seems doubly problematic. Does LIFEBeat not see a connection between homophobic & misogynistic violence as part and parcel of the HIV/AIDS pandemic?
Do I think the artists should be barred from the show? I am trying to decide if this could be an opportunity to engage those artists around some of these issues—but it’s not like they are unfamiliar with the critique, so I highly doubt it. Do they really care, or is this another way to get paid and look good without any real commitment to the issue? Do we shut down the event? What happens to the potential $$ raised, or the potential people who would have been reached with the HIV prevention messages (which I think are often problematic in and of themselves) as concert-goers?
The final analysis is fuck LifeBeat. And I don’t really care if they raise $$ for their music program (The proceeds donated are to benefit their Hearts & Voices Project) . While I think that there are Black LGBT folks raising the stink this time is good, I also want some weigh-in from Black folks of Caribbean descent specifically to also be able to decide how they think the issue should be addressed. I think that the homophobic dancehall does impact Black LGBT folks born in America–African-Americans listen to and purchase dancehall music and I have been threatened with the phrases “batty man” and “chi-chi man” several times in NYC, but I think we also have to be conscious of not mirroring the bahavior and narratives of some of the white protests in the UK of Dancehall, and not use those same narratives, that further paint the Caribbean (and Jamaicans, specifically) as some cesspool of violence or “backwards.” It is helpful to have converrsations about the nuances of how we language our concerns, or what we strategically ask for in the process.
I also hope that we also mobilize to protest hip-hop artists like Ice Cube, 50 Cent, Dead Prez and Busta Rhymes (who assaulted a gay fan for touching him in South Beach this past March) when they turn up for performances at benefits or otherwise.
But thats an aside.
There is some conversations happening amongst Black LGBT Caribbean folks (both in the US and in the Caribbean) who are demanding that the $$$ should go to support some Caribbean based work like J-Flag. Would this also work for you?
So, I will leave you with the contact information of LIFEBeat execs, and you can choose to tell them what you want them to do:
Write your own letter to LIFEbeat:
630 Ninth Avenue (between 44th and 45th Streets)Suite 1010
New York, NY 10036http://www.lifebeat.org/
John Cannelli, Executive Director, x101, http://us.f325.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?Tofirstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Peters Manager, Operations, x119, http://us.f325.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?Toemail@example.com