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CREATIVE SPACE #17 OF 2018 THE LECTURE CIRCUIT UNMASKING
Friday 30th November 2018

By Joanne C. Hillhouse


Dr. Carolyn Cooper

A good teacher can make a world of difference and for a number of us during my years at the University of the West Indies’ Mona, Jamaica campus, Dr. Carolyn Cooper was a good teacher: the kind of good teacher that challenges us to re-consider how we see the world. Dr. Cooper may be now retired from her role as literary and cultural studies professor but, as a roving academic and speaker, she continues to teach. In November, she lectured in both Montserrat, at the Alliougana Festival of the Word and at the UWI Open Campus (Antigua and Barbuda), part of the UWI’s ongoing 70th anniversary observation. The latter was held on a balmy Sunday night after a week of heavy rains that prompted the rescheduling and, as an unintended blessing, gave the organizers and those of us learning about it late, more time to promote it.

Disappointingly there were only 40 people, give or take, at the Antigua lecture, but as we would say in Antigua, to those who didn’t make it, ah fu dem dey loss. Because Dr. Cooper still can teach and she said a Word. Also, the Q & A and after chatter as we sipped and mingled was also fun.`
Dr. Cooper, author of Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Cuture at Large and Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender, and the ‘Vulgar’ Body of Jamaican Popular Culture, true to form roped in art and pop culture luminaries past and present to enliven her presentation. So alongside references to the writing of Zora Neale Hurston and Marcus Garvey, the Harlem Renaissance writer and early 20th century Black rights activist, respectively, there were references to the music and words of the likes of Godfather of soul, James Brown, and dancehall bad man, currently incarcerated, Vybz Kartel. She pulled from traditional scholarship and literature and more oral forms. So that you had references in her speech to Antigua and Barbuda’s Jamaica Kincaid, Ivan Van Sertin who wrote, They came before Columbus, counterbalanced by the rhythmic oral poetry of Mutabaruka and reggae group Burning Spear – variations of the same message.

And what was the message. If I had to sum it up, I would say, as she has ever done, challenging us to re-consider what we have been told about our history and ourselves. Cooper even drew on Black Panther and specifically Killmonger and his iconic line that he be buried in the sea among his ancestors who knew a free death was better than life in chains. There were the ones who died beneath the sea, there were the ones who subverted from inside and outside the plantation, there were the millions before erased or minimized by history, in order to minimize us in our own imagination; so much to consider. And as on the plantation, reading and re-reading can be a revolutionary act. Dr. Cooper spoke, for instance, of James Brown remarking that with Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud, he lost a huge chunk of his crossover audience, because as much of an anthem as it became for black people needing the affirmation in a world that demonized their blackness, white people didn’t want to hear it. She spoke of insisting on speaking your truth – even if that truth is the battle she’s waging with the people behind the Museum of African American History in Washington to acknowledge her sister Donnette Cooper as the first person to make a donation to the building fund.


Dr. Cooper, centre, in Montserrat with, left, Vincentian writer N. C. Marks, and, right, Antiguan and Barbudan writer and bookseller Barbara Arrindell

Her message was about unmasking history, true true history, bringing to light – per the poetry of Mutabaruka – the histories that have been deliberately repressed. And – I might add – our own repression re our histories by her insistence on writing her newspaper column in not only English but also Jamaican patois, freeing our tongue so to speak. Another link to the past and another way of redefining our present and future. We are, after all, as she noted, a folk who have already “from the centre of an oppressive system been able to survive, adapt, create”.
And, good news, the UWI Open Campus (Antigua and Barbuda) head of site Zane Peters said, “spread the word because we’re going to have other lectures (and the ) conference next year.”

This sponsored post originally appeared on Jhohadli; contact Jhohadli/Joanne C. Hillhouse. This installment is sponsored by ¡perdida! Una Aventura En El Mar Caribe (Spanish Edition of the children’s picture book Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). If you wish to sponsor a future post in support of coverage of Antiguan and Barbudan arts and culture, contact jhohadli@gmail.com. All Rights Reserved.


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