Branford Marsalis takes One Small Step for Mankind (But Not Big Enough!)
(*Note: an earlier version of this incorrectly identified the musician as Wynton Marsalis, the brother of Branford – any apologies for offense caused.) A lovely friend of mine recently shared a link on Facebook of an interview with the famous American jazz musician Branford Marsalis in which he appears to ‘fess up about some of the really unpleasant attitudes towards women in African-American culture, as typified in a lot of rap and urban pop and which is a somewhat taboo subject within the community. Rather than explain his point of view, take 1:52 to watch the clip. The Didleybopp comment is mine, but you can skip that as what follows below is a better exposition of my thesis in response. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJiUi3dcOp0
After watching it, I posted the following and shared with all the people my friend had shared it with. All three, males of the most sensitive and enlightened variety, were correctly humbled by Branford’s comments but I asked them to go further. I could tell they were all really feminist-type men who were proud of and awed by Branford’s bravery in speaking out about violence against women in the black community, and yet I wanted to push them, hopefully not rudely, forward. This is what I wrote:
Although part of what he says is true, it is incorrect to shift all the blame onto the experience of slavery and I hope that he didn’t leave it there in the rest of the interview, thought I suspect he did or it would be in the clip. Let’s be perfectly honest. In many African cultures that are still living in their traditional ways that were never enslaved and whose practices go back thousands of years, women are routinely regarded as property and beaten, raped, genitally mutilated and all the rest of it. The problem of objectification and ownership of women goes much deeper into the male psyche and actually this clip pissed me off a bit because it failed to recognise that. Sounded like a bit of a cop out and like Branford just tryin’ to blame whitey.
It just so happens that last night I went to a film screening of a short documentary called “Dishonourable Killings” about ancient tribal practices in Southeast Turkey, where women are murdered on the slightest of pretexts of impropriety. But this type of practice has independent and ancient origins ALL over the world, including in Africa. It was once considered acceptable in Europe as well (a la “crimes of passion”) but whilst men still kill women here, it is a long time since they received reduced or no penalty, or cultural acceptance for so doing. Whilst not diminishing any of the appropriate level of outrage with which the International slave trade deserves to be regarded, it is also disingenuous to state that this was a European invention. I hope everyone knows that slavery is still in existence by the way. Man’s inhumanity to man – and especially to woman – is not the province of any one culture, race or religion.
Unfortunately it is more universal than that.
I commend Branford for raising the issue at all, because denial within the community he’s speaking of is common, but I would like to see not only him but everyone elevate the conversation to a much deeper level, (if I may use a somewhat contradictory metaphor!) It’s time to look beyond race and deeper into gender politics and cultural dissonance, dear friends, without always seeking to cast the blame outside; the war is within. But while it’s our own inner violence that we ultimately have to find peace with, I think we have to also have the courage to critique “cultural practices” that have gender imbalance at their core without being accused of “cultural imperialism” and so forth. That is the point of having a rule of law and also the reason that I would argue for International laws that supercede cultural or religious practices. Pressure from “the West” is not, in this regard, a bad thing.
Although women in, say the Hamer tribe, or women in Sudan, who have of course been indoctrinated into accepting the importance of tradition are going to largely speak out in favour of being flogged until their skin hangs off or having their clitoris carved off before puberty, unsurprisingly, females from these same communities who have been exposed to education, start to question these practices and often then will refuse to participate or try to change things. These women are then often killed or at least outcast, although some of these brave souls become activists, again at great personal risk. The so-called West is guilty of many things, but the relative gender equity that I have enjoyed since birth in the UK and then over many years in the USA, (though far from perfect) is something that billions of women all over the world could never even hope to dream of. Many millions of those women are living in Africa and I would like to see Branford’s critique become even more daring and go THERE.
Can we elevate the discussion please? Let us be sure to ask the real hard questions and never shy away from the mirror. I ask my brothers to be tougher and more searchingly fearless and ask this: at what stage of the evolution of humanity did men, of whatever colour, race, religion, or culture, wherever in the world, come to believe they had rights over woman? That is a more fundamental question than asking when did a particular race or religion find itself to be superior to another and must be answered first. It must be healed first. Because the ultimate source of all war is the family which begins with a man and a woman. Here is a link to some writing I have online about the subject of gender imbalance, if you are interested. Ladies, it’s also a great company that raises money for women’s isues worldwide through the sale of natural cause-metics (!) I wrote and researched all the advocacy issues which you can access at the bottom of the following article if further interested.
Dare to dig down deep guys.
Thanks for reading, if you did.