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Take licks...I love you

Thursday, May 8, 2014
London Calling

When I watched the video of the girl being beaten by her mother, I wondered why she didn’t curse her and run away like Bim when his stepfather tries to beat him in Raoul Pantin’s 1974 film. I would have.


A Welsh friend described the minor revenges she exacted on her parents after beatings—scrubbing the toilet with their toothbrushes or pouring water down the back of their TV—amusing, Roald Dahl-esque revenges. 


We forgive our parents almost anything. Their wrongs have a way of evaporating over time. 


We think of the good and their sacrifices and forget their mistakes, ignore the scars of indifference, neglect, rage, violence. Forgiveness is natural, especially of the mothers who bore us. But what of our fathers?


In the days after the six-minute mother-daughter epic, a video emerged of a father chasing and beating his son publicly with a piece of wood.


Trinis shared the video accompanied with the words “haha,” or simply, “lol,” because violence in Trinidad is funny once it’s happening to somebody else. Who knows whether the long-term effects of fathers’ licks may be more profound than mothers’ licks.


The word “licks” is etymologically interesting and deceptive, the employment of a soft word for a hard fact. It’s a disguise to avoid the difficult truth.


A Trini friend told me the worst part of licks isn’t the fear or apprehension or even the pain, it’s being told: “Sorry I had to beat you, I love you,” afterwards.


A difficult truth (love) combined with a difficult lie (that they had to beat them.)


There are ongoing social negotiations between authority and subserviency in the Caribbean. Nobody wants to feel like a slave ever again, but many are completely cowed by those who have adopted master mindsets.


Iconoclastic, anti-authority explosions, like the shocking murder of Dana Seetahal, may be expressions of this unresolved and repressed anger.


Or maybe I just want to believe that there was something more than senseless, wanton destruction in the killing. It already seems likely that we may never know why she was killed.


In response to last week’s column, Death in Paradise, my friend, the artist Chris Cozier, wrote to tell me the problem of death is entwined in the problem of life.


“There is, here, also a struggle to really live,” he said. “Naipaul has a sentence or two around that in one of his later works, about people collectively adjusting to the lives other people have decided or constructed for them. The constructs of family, school system and class are quite restrictive and the callousness around the value of life seems to match those structures. Absurdly it seems almost normal that the many have to sacrifice their desires, dreams and now even their lives daily...


“Climbing through that mental obstacle course is very different here for each generation. I came from a very particular moment here, the 1960s and ’70s, in which the battle with self-doubt still had a slight, even if faint, British colonial flavour.”


The classroom scene in Bim, where the schoolmaster lashes the emotionally fragile boy, reflects the callousness of Trinidadian (née British) authoritarians, rule-makers, discipliners—the dereliction of a duty of care.


The same frustrations for young Trinidadians—taught to “know their place” and to comply with “how things are done”—are still in place, like the ’60s never happened.


My mother told me children in the ’50s in Britain were not seen as thinking individuals, just expected to be quiet obedient creatures, while children in the Caribbean were seen as appendages able to be left with whoever was available while parents searched for a better life in good old Britain.


In England and America, the ’60s cleared a pathway for young people, swathing through the ancient timber, creating a new horizon. The defiance of counterculture pioneers like Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix—their words, drugs, clothes, sex, art, music—gave young people courage to tell disciplinarian parents and teachers to eff off. Punk in the ’70s, grunge and house in the ’90s exploded the remaining constraints of social hierarchy.


The stratification of generations in England is clearly marked. My grandmother, born in 1928, still sings war ditties and literally doesn’t understand the world today.


Here in T&T, generations are closer in terms of behaviour, 70-year-olds wining and smoking weed.


In some ways this is a good thing. But still the fear young people have of older generations constrains them. The fear of telling your parents to f--k off if they are unreasonable or drunk. The fear of getting lashed with a belt.


The struggle to survive, which Naipaul identifies and Trinis recognise, must be broken down. And it ought to be music that breaks it down, as music always does.


But instead, the soca stars want to sing about drinking and wining—nothing serious—while our young adults foolishly validate, endorse and repeat their parents’ mistakes.


Yes, we should forgive our parents’ misdemeanours, but we shouldn’t forget them.


In the words of the poet Philip Larkin:


They f--k you up, your mum and dad.


They may not mean to, but they do.


They fill you with the faults they had.


And add some extra, just for you.


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