Last week, SFCritic made a post concerning the continuing debate between dancehall performer, Buju Banton and the LGTBQ community that is protesting his music. The debate concerns the LGBTQ’s proposed boycott of Buju Banton’s performances in the US as a result of a statements, and particularly a song Banton made in the past, which has lyrics describing how to kill gay people.
After posting this article, SFCritic received a reply from a reader named “Optimistic Spirit.” Through a detailed correspondence, SFCritic and Optimistic Spirit, debated the issues concerning the boycott, Buju Banton and the freedom of speech. Below, I’ve highlighted some of the points that Optimistic Spirit has made; also, if you’re interested in reading more, follow the links at the bottom to see all of the full replies between SFCritic and Optimistic Spirit.
This is a very serious issue with its implication for the freedom of speech of artists, as well as the issues of violence against members of the LGTBQ community. I encourage you to read these messages, and add your own comments at the end of the article.
Some of Optimistic Spirit’s Points:
1. in addition, such mistruths, halftruths, and an overall climate of censorship and outright lies by gay activists has resulted in controversy without clarity, and has not moved the discussion forward.
2. both sites you link to contain numerous inaccuracies–the biggest probably being Peter Tatchell saying “this is not a free speech issue,” which directly contradicts the opinion of the Florida ACLU.
3. look, gay rights in Jamaica is an important issue. But Buju Banton is not a head of state. the government’s official position is that laws banning gay sex will not be lifted.
4. In other words, the First Amendment cannot be used selectively. The repercussions of censoring Banton by cancelling his shows might actually be that they could have a chilling effect on free speech overall, which might actually limit the rights of LGBT groups to express themselves freely, such as by holding peaceful protests. That’s why it’s a slippery slope.
5. i also find your characterization of Buju’s music as “homophobic” misleading at best. regardless of his ideological beliefs, it’s a fact that he has recorded exactly one homophobic song, 21 years ago.
6. In 2005, the gay lobby said they would lift the boycott if he stopped advocating killing gay people and committed to making “positive music.” yet they have not only reneged on this, but have in effect, insisted he reject his Rastafarian ideology and embrace gayness. That is the imposition of moral standards, and is something which is not only troubling, but hard to justify legally–that’s called fascism.
“In his meeting Banton stated, “This is a fight and as I said in one of my songs, ‘there is no end to the war between me and %$@$^&# and it’s clear.'”
this is a blatantly distorted account. Buju never said that at the meeting. He made that comment to Jamaican radio after someone pepper-sprayed his SF show. The meeting itself was peaceful and resulted in a constructive dialogue.
while the lack of legal rights for gays and lesbians in Jamaica is an important human rights issue, the persecution of Banton for a 20-year old song he doesnt sing anymore does nothing to address this concern.
in addition, such mistruths, halftruths, and an overall climate of censorship and outright lies by gay activists has resulted in controversy without clarity, and has not moved the discussion forward.
both sites you link to contain numerous inaccuracies–the biggest probably being Peter Tatchell saying “this is not a free speech issue,” which directly contradicts the opinion of the Florida ACLU.
and the Lorri Jean video also contains outright lies, such as her insistance that Banton engineered the meeting for PR purposes. in actuality, gay blogger Michael Petrelis sent the photo of the meeting out to numerous outlets, along with his inaccurate account of the meeting, which contained no actual quotes from Buju or anyone else.
look, gay rights in Jamaica is an important issue. But Buju Banton is not a head of state. the government’s official position is that laws banning gay sex will not be lifted.
there’s nothing wrong with protesting something you dont believe in–that’s free speech–but holding a clear double standard is wrong. and so is censorship in the name of free speech.
LGBT activists should be able to make their case without distortions, mistruths, halftruths, and outright lies. The fact that they haven’t been able to do so speaks volumes.
thank you optimistic spirit for such a detailed and rational argument.
First let me say this, by no means is Buju the poster-child for dancehall’s gay bashing. It is true that Jamaican law still restricts against homosexual activity. It is also true that Buju is not the only artist to make comments like, “Batty Boy.”
Second, let me state that this is an issue of free speech. I do not disagree with you on this topic. However, there is important legal repercussions which must be mentioned. Legally, you cannot yell “Fire” in a public space. While this is a restriction on free speech, this is necessary for the safety of our citizens. This is a documented case by US Supreme Court exemplifying legal restrictions on speech.
Accordingly, while homophobic music like Buju’s or others may not be illegal, it’s rightfully and truthfully harmful to our society’s view point on homosexual relationships. To argue that it’s acceptable to make homophobic slurs, is a slippery slope, which eventually leads to the permission of racial slurs, which in today’s society no one should/will tolerate.
In this regard, censorship is a tricky subject, because in truth, censorship is allowed when restricting harmful and unsafe language is viewed as benefiting the general public.
optimistic spirit says
Hmm. well, after 17 years of protests against one song, Buju is definitely the poster boy for homophobia in reggae. if you meant to say he’s not the only one to express antigay sentiments, you’d be correct. if you meant to say that he’s actually recorded the least amount of homophobic material of any of the dancheall artists who have come under fire, you’d be correct. otherwise, i’m not sure what your point is here.
as for “important legal repercussions,” i’m not sure by how you’re framing the issue that you understand the legal context of free speech. i refer you to the Florida ACLU’s recent opinion on the matter.
Basically, free speech is protected unless it constitutes an actual threat, such as incitement to riot. in Banton’s case, the Florida ACLU ruled that since he had performed in Miami previously without incident, there was no merit to any claim that his performing contributes an actual threat or incitement to violence. They also warned that free speech cannot be held to a double standard; censorship in the name of human rights undermines those very rights by restricting freedom of expression.
In other words, the First Amendment cannot be used selectively. The repercussions of censoring Banton by cancelling his shows might actually be that they could have a chilling effect on free speech overall, which might actually limit the rights of LGBT groups to express themselves freely, such as by holding peaceful protests. That’s why it’s a slippery slope.
i also find your characterization of Buju’s music as “homophobic” misleading at best. regardless of his ideological beliefs, it’s a fact that he has recorded exactly one homophobic song, 21 years ago.
I’m not arguing that it is, in fact, acceptable to make homophobic slurs–not to me, anyway. but censorship represents a greater threat. i agree this is a slippery slope, but i think the angle of incline starts much later than you infer. Racial and homophobic slurs are used all the time–it’s not illegal for a rapper to use the N-word, nor is it for a gay person to refer to other gays as “fags.” and the b-word is entirely permissable on television–i have heard Desperate Housewives use it in reference to each other.
So, you are dead wrong that censorship is permitted, except in cases which constitute an actual threat to public safety, not an assumed or theoretical one.
so Slayer performing “Angel of Death” may be morally reprehensible to some people, but it’s technically entertainment and not a threat to public safety and thus falls under the domain of Constitutionally-protected free speech.
so does “Boom Bye Bye,” although Banton has not performed the song on his current tour and has not made homophobic remarks onstage.
in effect, imposing moral standards on anyone else is not something which can be done legally. as for the public safety issue, merely holding a belief which doesn’t accept homosexuality is not a threat to that. Holding a public forum calling for public executions of gays would be.
here’s how i see the issue: the fact that he made the song in the first place has upset some people, though he’s since apologized and said he’s moved on. unfortunately, the gay lobby wont let him move on–they need to have a symbolic protest target. unfortunately their campaign has only engendered more bigotry, on the part of the gays themselves as well as among Caribbean reggae fans. (homophobic lyrics were never a big deal to American reggae fans)
i understand that people are upset that he has performed snippets of the song–without referencing the violent calls for death–as recently as 2006. if you watched the Miami video carefully, you would see that Banton actually censors himself–he says “boom” but omits the rest–then segues into an entirely different song at about the 0:17 mark. this might seem like a minor point, but it’s an important distinction.
In 2005, the gay lobby said they would lift the boycott if he stopped advocating killing gay people and committed to making “positive music.” yet they have not only reneged on this, but have in effect, insisted he reject his Rastafarian ideology and embrace gayness. That is the imposition of moral standards, and is something which is not only troubling, but hard to justify legally–that’s called fascism.
Buju may hold a personal belief that homosexuality is wrong and no one can tell him different. as long as he doesnt use his concerts to call for the killing of gays, i’m okay with that. merely making political and social commentary about the gay agenda, as he did in 2007, is not a call to violence. so you can’t use the argument that such statements are harmful to public safety in this case, when in fact they’re not. had anyone been gay-bashed at or because of a Buju Banton show, that might be different. but that has never happened–in the US, Europe, or Jamaica.
You don’t do the LGBT activists who are trying to bring the issue of gay-bashing in Jamaica to light any favors by reporting entirely inaccurate information. You juxtapose a later comment made on Jamaican radio with an earlier meeting in SF–that’s disinformation.
where this issue gets complex is that it’s not only bigger than Buju, but happens to be the official position of the Jamaican government, which as recently as Oct. 14 categorically rejected the repeal of the anti-buggery law and any legalization of same-sex unions. 96% of Jamaicans oppose the legalization of gay rights, and a recent poll felt 88% of Jamaicans felt gay rights groups overstepped their bounds by asking Buju to make a song called “i love gay people.”
In the US, we have different standards for society, such as a guarantee against discrimination and equal rights for all. In Jamaica that’s not the case. But merely by playing a concert, Buju Banton is not promoting discrimination against gays. He actually mentioned he met with LGBT groups in SF and had a dialogue with them onstage–which is far from a call to incite violence. Yet this has not been reported by the gay blogosphere, which has thrived off of spreading disinformation about Banton and promoted a agenda of mindless protest which is actually harmful to gays and lesbians in Jamaica.
In 2004, the Guardian (UK) reported that the SMM campaign resulted in a backlash–increased violence–against gays and lesbians in Jamaica. more recently, JFLAG warned tof the possibility of the same thing happening if American gay activists continue doing what they’re doing. If the goal is to help a persecuted minority in a foreign country who have no legal rights, it’s unclear how targeting a performing artiast–who’s not a head of state–could have a beneficial effect on those people.
As i stated earlier, Lorri Jean makes numerous untruthful statements. so does Tatchell. If you follow that link, you would see he contradicts himself in successive paragraphs on whether Buju has or hasnt signed the RCA (which is controversial in and of itself, since artists werent invited to participate in a discussion over the wording). He also denies this is a free speech issue, directly contradicting the ACLU’s opinion, which was co-authored by the head of the LGBT Advocacy Project. Tatchell also claims that the JFLAG leader who was killed in 2004 was a “homophobic hate crime”–in actuality it was a murder in the commission of a robbery by an acquaintance with a history of substance abuse.Homophobia was not a motive for the crime.
And in her open letter to Buju’s management, Jean attempts to link the recent murder of John Terry to Buju Banton. That case appears to be a crime of passion by one of Terry’s gay lovers–there were no signs of forced entry, take-out food and open beer bottles were found int he apartment, and Terry was seen with the suspect who has been arrested hours before the murder. (It’s worth noting that despite the hypebole and rhetoric surrounding the gay lifestyle in Jamaica, Terry had been dating young black boys there for at least 30 years).
so, to sum up, while gay-bashing and homophobia in Jamaica is an international human rights issue, censoring Jamaican artists in America doesnt help that cause. LGBT people should be able to make a case for human rights without distortion, mistruths, and outright lies. instead they have turned Buju into a scapegoat for a situation which he is not personally responsible for and has no power to change. you have contributed to this misguided campaign by publishing somethign which is entirely untruthful. So where’s your apology to Buju? or at least a correction, since your error can easily be confirmed.
i think it’s fair to say that the gay reaction to Buju has been an overreaction in almost every possible sense of the term.
also, SF critic, you’re coming a bit late to the party: you posted your blog two weeks after Buju played SF and after most of his tour has already happened.
given that there is much more info and background available on this issue, and everything that’s transpired in the past couple of weeks, it’s disappointing at best to see such a shoddy post which not only adds nothing new to the discussion, but reports seriously erroneous material.
regardless, i’m still gonna listen to Buju Banton’s music, because he’s an amazing artist with a very strong catalog of inspired material. it’s too bad he’s homophobic, but since i don’t listen to “boom bye bye” anyway, that one song doesnt stop me from enjoying his other, non-homophobic material–nine albums worth.
alright, first–I’d like to say up until the second post you made, I was very interested and inclined to follow up and research more about Buju’s case. Attacking my character, my post, and my decision to speak, is counter intuitive to creating a discourse, which by responding to your comments, and not deleting them, was my intention.
I will not retort your statement that indeed my post is late–I’ve had other posts I needed to make. I will also state that you are correct in stating that I might not be fully informed on the issue, which it appears you seem to have a good grasp. Kuddos.
I will still say that a song that goes as far as “kill gays,” is something no one will ever live down, indepedent of whether they perform it once, twice, or three times. It’s outrageous, careless, stupid, and wrong. If any white southern country singer asked to linch n%^&&, I can assure you that would never be lived down. So I feel it’s erroneous to make this an issue of minorities.
I am very familiar with dancehall, Carribean culture (I have many friends who schooled in the US, but are originally and have returned to the Carribean. I understand that anti-gay sentiment is not limited to one person, but is transitive through a population of mislead people. Just because the government says it’s okay, doesn’t mean it’s okay. If this were a plausible argument, racism, homophobia and sexism would remain in the US.
Furthermore, boycotting an artist, and requesting that others do the same is a freedom of speech. This is not about giving Buju citizenship, or labeling him a terrorist and sending him to Guantanamo. I would also suggest boycotting other homophobic artists regardless of their musical style, or geographical location.
Florida is a very tricky place for censorship. Historically, Florida first placed censorship on 2 Live Crew for their album Nasty As I Wanna Be, which was overruled. So using Florida as an example is needless to say, unique, and not representative.
I don’t agree with LGBTQ community trying to force Buju into creating a “I love gays” song. That’s just stupid. Let the man be stupid himself.
I also think it’s important to mention the principals of the ACLU. Having worked for the ACLU, I’m somewhat familiar. The ACLU has defended groups from the KKK to Buju, all in the name of free speech. I respect that. Stating that because the ACLU defends Buju, therefore he’s not at fault for his actions–is wrong. Buju, like Bill Clinton (“I did not have sex with that woman”), stated something that will forever tarnish his reputation. The ACLU is not defending his actions, but trying to maintain a standard for the freedom of speech. Again, I don’t disagree with him. Buju should be able to sing his song about “killing gays” if that’s what he wants to do.
The LGBTQ should also be equally allowed to slander his career for making such a hurtful and ill advised claim.
I don’t think you’re respecting the LGBTQ to the extent they deserve. The reason it was such a big deal here in SF is this is considered the safe haven for the LGBTQ community in the US. There is still violent attacks against members of the community throughout the US, even in the new millenium. The community must take firm stances against characters like Buju, because yes he’s being exemplified, because even in the US our society remains largely homophobic (as gay marraiges in CA still remain illegal!!) and this is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
I am not defending the authors of those articles. I provided them as sources because those sources were provided to me. In my post I affirmed one comment, boycott Buju. I still affirm this comment.
optimistic spirit says
“I will still say that a song that goes as far as “kill gays,” is something no one will ever live down, independent of whether they perform it once, twice, or three times.”
point well taken.
at the same time, however, the metaphorical aspects of dancehall should be contextualized. for example, mega banton has a song called sound bwoy killing. that’s not intended as an actual call for murder. cutty ranks has another song, who seh mi done, in which he “kills” rival deejays with an electric chain, dynamite, and other violent imagery. are these lyrics meant to express literal meaning? no.
“Just because the government says it’s okay, doesn’t mean it’s okay. If this were a plausible argument, racism, homophobia and sexism would remain in the US.”
but that’s not MY argument. i don’t agree with the government’s position in this case. i personally think it’s wrong. i also think, however, that one man cannot be held accountable for the attitudes of an entire people, nor the official position of a government.
“Furthermore, boycotting an artist, and requesting that others do the same is a freedom of speech.”
nope. boycotting is censorship. protest is freedom of speech. the first amendment does not grant the right to censorship; rather it grants the right to free speech, except in cases where public safety is directly threatened.
“I would also suggest boycotting other homophobic artists regardless of their musical style, or geographical location”
this gets tricky, depending on how you define homophobia. regardless, i didnt see a concerted campaign against eminem’s last album or bruno. so it does seem that buju is being signled out. beenie man played the same berkeley club as buju a week before and there was no national campaign against him. he has an exponentially greater number of homophobic lyrics. so what’s the difference?
“using Florida as an example is needless to say, unique, and not representative”.
representative of what? in this case the ACLU people who defended Buju’s right to free speech also wrote the 2 Live Crew opinion, which was a test case which set a precedent across America–in both cases, it could be argued that the opinion is actually representative of how the first amendment is supposed to be applied.i dont see how the fact that the Florida ACLU has addressed censorship and free speech issues before invalidates it in this case–i think it’s quite the opposite, in fact. Also, the fact that Florida has a large gay population, and that the co-author of the opinion is the director of the LGBT Advocacy project there gives special merit to the ruling, in my opinion.
“Stating that because the ACLU defends Buju, therefore he’s not at fault for his actions–is wrong.”
i never said buju is not at fault for his actions. and why are you even bringing bill clinton into this? let’s stay on topic, ok?
“Buju should be able to sing his song about “killing gays” if that’s what he wants to do.”
free speech gives him this right. but the fact is, he hasnt been singing that song on his current tour–nor has he sung it any of the other four or five times i’ve seen him perform. since that was supposed to be a condition of lifting the ban in 2005, what’s different now?
“The LGBTQ should also be equally allowed to slander his career for making such a hurtful and ill advised claim.”
this point makes no sense. slander is acceptable? telling outright lies and distortions is ok? cant LGBT activists make a case for hate speech and the moral unacceptability of homophobic lyrics by telling the truth, with no added extras? by stretching the definition of hate crimes to include crimes where homophobia was not actually a motive, they’re causing confusion–and playing on the fears of gays and lesbians. the end result is not only hatred,but ignorance, and in some cases, bigotry and racism. how does this serve the cause of universal human rights?
“I don’t think you’re respecting the LGBTQ to the extent they deserve.”
pointing out contradictions and showing context which has been left out is disrespect? ok i’ll be honest, i don’t respect Petrelis for his actions in this case–even JFLAG called it a “missed opportunity.” he had a chance to create a much more meaningful dialogue and he blew it. Lorri Jean played the entire thing like a photo op. Tatchell is a media whore as well who called the fact that his campaign resulted in increased violence against gays and lesbians in jamaica “tragic but necessary.” that’s pretty callous and shows that his ego is out of control.
other than those three, who are the leaders here? a bunch of gay bloggers armed with half-truths? fromt he beginning, the campaign has been an exercise in rabble-rousing with no clear goals in sight other than protest and censorship. just the fact that the ACLU specifically commented they were “disheartened” by the tactics used by their colleagues should tell you something. but that’s not to say that people who have an alternate sexual orientation dont deserve my respect, or buju’s. the thing is, he’s done what no other dancehall artist has done–meet with LGBT activists face-to-face. and for that he was met with derision and pepper-sprayed.
“The reason it was such a big deal here in SF is this is considered the safe haven for the LGBTQ community in the US.”
ok, but the fact that a drag queen can peacefully protest against buju without fear of violent attack should tell you something about banton’s fans. actually, i think buju showed respect by meeting with activists and mentioning that onstage, but the reports didnt mention this. all they said was, he denied all requests–which isn’t in fact true. he was asked to contribute to an AIDS charity. he told them he’d had an AIDS foundation in Jamaica–where 1/3rd of the gay population is HIV+, btw–since 1994. this was never reported.
“There is still violent attacks against members of the community throughout the US, even in the new millenium.”
i dont think anyone’s disputing this. there’s still racism post-Obama. and sexism, too.
“The community must take firm stances against characters like Buju, because yes he’s being exemplified, because even in the US our society remains largely homophobic (as gay marraiges in CA still remain illegal!!) and this is NOT ACCEPTABLE.”
(yawn) this is just the official party line. it shows a remarkable lack of tolerance on the part of someone arguing for tolerance for a special-interest group with its own agenda. bottom line is, all that protest and the dialogue didnt move forward. some concerts were cancelled, there was a lot of ink spilled, i’m sure some donations were made to LGBT organizations, but there was no progress made on the issues. LGBT tactics were criticized by gays in jamaica–and the ACLU. i dont think this can be so easily dismissed.
“I don’t agree with LGBTQ community trying to force Buju into creating a “I love gays” song. That’s just stupid.”
it’s more than stupid, it’s silly. if the LGBT activists wanted to be taken seriously, they should have been realistic. that’s why it’s a missed opportunity for further dialogue, resolution, and closure.
i’m not saying buju isnt at fault for making the song in the first place. and i do think he should have refrained from agitating people with his comments. and also that he should renounce the song and its sentiments once and for all. i also think there’s a disconnect in the reggae community between ideals and practice that needs to be seriously examined.
but one wonders, will the gay lobby ever be able to move on, even if he agrees to whatever demands are being made?
i understand you’re mad, but it seems that you need a symbol of homophobic hate to fuel that anger. just admit that you’ve scapegoated buju and blown the issue way out of proportion already.
i understand what you’re saying in principle–that homophobia is wrong and shouldnt be tolerated–but i dont think there’s been any objectivity or balance on the LGBT side on this issue. and it goes without saying that gays care more about homophobia, perceived or actual, than other people do.
think about this: by blowing up the issue so big, how many more youtube views and itunes downloads has that song had since this campaign started? rather than burying boom bye bye forever, you and your colleagues have resurrected it to live in infamy for eternity.
bottom line is you can’t fight hate with hate. and don’t get mad at me, i voted against prop 8.
optimistic spirit says
“nope. boycotting is censorship. protest is freedom of speech.”
sorry, got my words mixed up here. here’s what i meant to say: boycotting is freedom of expression. protest is freedom of speech. censorship goes against first amendment rights and undermines both freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
i agree with the ACLU that censorship cannot be used to uphold freedom of expression–that’s an oxymoron–which is what happened in this case. gay people being gay is freedom of expression. banton performing is freedom of speech. if banton agrees not to perform the song, and isn’t in fact performing it, why are his shows being cancelled? protest all you want–it’s your right–but don’t blur the lines here. there should be no double standard where human rights are concerned, whether it’s in reggae music or LGBT activism.
No one has the right to perform. That’s why his shows are being canceled. People don’t agree, or want to be associated with his message, regardless if he made the statement, now, or then–it’s not a message anyone wants to seem supportive of.
Maybe you’re right that the LGBTQ didn’t approach the problem correctly. This does not mean that Buju is renounced of his faults.
Finally, if you look at the article at WetPaint you’ll notice that in the second article Steven Jackson does mention that Buju met with officials and spoke with the community. There is even a photograph. This is not all one sided.
What is your deal anyhow? Are you upset about freedom of speech issues, or that you didn’t get to hear your favorite artist?
Boycotting is not censorship. That’s incorrect. Boycotting is a tactic that unions have utilized as a bargaining power. Petitioning for signatures is a way for the LGBTQ community to show unified support.
Venues who choose to cancel Buju’s performances are not being strong armed, this is a “democracy,” and the politically active and majority wins.
optimistic spirit says
well said, SF critic. i agree with most of your statements here.
except that Steven Jackson is a Gleaner reporter. he was not at the meeting and was forced to rely on Petrelis’ account, which was inaccurate and missing key context. the picture is Petrelis’ too.
when i say one-sided, i’m talking about the gay press and gay blogosphere, which has been extremely nasty and particularly unethical about spreading distortions and lies about Banton, reggae, and Jamaican culture. i dont see how that serves their cause.
i took back the part about equating boycotting with censorship, maybe you didnt read my second post.
i’m not so sure about the not being strong armed part, though. i dont think most venues would have made that choice on their own, but were bowing to pressure from the gay community, pressure built on distorting banton’s career and reducing him to one song they dont agree with. regardless of how you or i may feel about that song, there are some disturbing implications there.
what is my deal? good question. let’s just say i’ve been following this issue for a while. i did get to hear Banton–who’s not my favorite artist, btw, though i do like almost everything else he’s done in the past 20 years other than ‘BBB’–and i am concerned about the implications of the tactics and strategy used by LGBT activists.
essentially,it hasnt moved the debate forward, and hasnt improved conditions for gays and lesbians in Jamaica. that should be the bottom line, not selectively persecuting someone for a song that’s 20 years old.
i also think there was a chance to open up a larger dialogue with the reggae community both here and in jamaica that has been lost, perhaps irrevocably. in the future, will other dancehall artists be likely to sit down with gay and lesbians groups if they know they are going to be treated disrespectfully and pilloried? not likely. so, just looking at the larger picture.
personally, i would like to see less homophobia in reggae, and i would also like to see an overall human rights agenda being pursued by LGBT activists, rather than a gay rights agenda.
well said–thanks for a good discussion.