Poor Buju Banton! The reggae singer's show at Nocturnum nightclub later this week was canceled after local people swiftly organized a protest in response to the singer's history of violent gay-bashing. Illustrious chapters of this history include a hit song called "Boom Bye Bye," which lovingly describes the murder of homosexuals, and a trial charging him with participating in a gang assault and home invasion targeting six gay men. (Charges against Banton were dropped under shady circumstances.) And yet everywhere he goes, the gays are out to get him!
Let's be clear. "Homophobia" is too weak a term to describe what happens in Jamaica. Vicious, violent, murderous persecution of gay people is an everyday fact of life. There are many people in that country who live in terror because of their sexual preferences. If Banton were serious about having changed his views, as he sometimes professes, he would take ownership of a desperate situation he helped to create. He is in a position to do more to stop the violence and bigotry in his country. And he does nothing.
Poor Buju fans! Judging from blog comments, some of them feel personally persecuted by the Banton show's cancellation. There is no need for this. I think I speak for everyone when I say that if bone-dumb dreadlocked frat boys want to smoke themselves silly and bop around in dark, sweaty rooms all night -- then hey, good on you. Everyone wants to feel like they belong. But if you're going to feature a special guest who has cheered on mass murder, and who has stood back while that murder takes place ... well, people are bound to take offense, even if you don't. Tough luck, and nothing personal.
Of course, none of the heartbroken reggae fans who profess to be oh, so offended by this outrageous attack on Banton's freedom of speech would give a damn if the protests were aimed at some hypothetical shitkicker from the South. Say this shitkicker -- let's call him "Bubba Banjo" -- had scheduled a gig in town. Say he had recently signed a statement renouncing his first big hit, "Kill the Queers," and that while he was signing he winked at the camera and kept his fingers crossed behind his back. Do the noble sons of Selassie raise their bongs to demand that Bubba be given a fair shake?
I take leave to doubt it. Far more probably, they reload the bowl and never give it another thought. They want to defend their tribe, somehow, but principles don't really enter into the calculation.
Speaking of which.
A friend of the Journal -- or a former friend, I fear -- called Friday to ask if we would be running advertisements for the Banton show. Since we regularly run ads from Nocturnum, the answer was presumed to be yes. We had contracted some work to this fellow, but the fact of our plans to run the ad, it seems, was enough to end our relationship. He graciously offered to finish the work, but he refused to be paid for it. (Strangely, the Banton show wasn't in last week's Nocturnum ad, even though other club events throughout October were listed.)
I admire the man, and I think he has a point. When I first heard of his call Friday, my first thought was that we should print all ads. But then I remembered that the Journal does, in fact, have a policy of refusing at least one class of advertising on moral grounds -- that is, advertising from tobacco companies. "We've had a longstanding thing on tobacco, because it's one of the most evil drugs and it causes so much damage," said Journal Publisher Judy Hodgson when asked about the issue Monday.
This seems honorable enough, but why is tobacco more evil than, say, homophobic lynch mobs in Jamaica? If we refuse the one type of ads, why should we not refuse the other? Hodgson said that the issue had never come up before. Which is true enough, as far as I know.
The upshot of all this is that the Journal will be developing a written policy on ad refusal. As Hodgson noted, this will be a tricky thing -- in ultrapolitical Humboldt County, probably not a week goes by in which some segment of our readership or another would prefer to ban some advertiser or another. But incitement to murder, combined with insufficient atonement for same, might be a reasonable place to set the bar.
If you have any thoughts about what such a policy should look like, please e-mail me at [email protected]. I will pass them on to the relevant parties.