Brazil Tabanca And The Game of Exclusion

World Cup 2014 was definitely one of the most exciting World Cups of all time. High in emotion, local bar patrons turned lawyers challenging FIFA regulations and refereeing, major Internet blogs on football rules, game statistics, team strategies and player personalities – nuff vibes. And we were all happy to see in our lifetime the increased Latin American representation in the Finals and the Colombian celebration dance! Conversely, this WC was not as exciting for the mass of Brazilians who neither achieved major successes in their public demands of the State for equity and accountability nor did they have their chance for dinner at the desired table of national pride with the golden cup as the centerpiece.

Everyday on Facebook, I read posts about Bandwagonists. Some commentators went as far as arguing that Trinbagonian support for non-national teams was unpatriotic. Not quite true. Limiting my writing to the Institution of Brazilian Football in Trinidad and Tobago, I argue that an oversimplification of emotional ties to non-national teams is a saddes’ position that will give you about sixteen (16) likes on your status by close family, two neighbours and that hater from form 5 who neither liked Samurai X nor Box Lunch.

Ask anyone who supports Brazilian Football: Why Brazil? He or she may reply, “the style”. (Ask anyone why he or she does not support Brazil? A typical reply may be: “ummm, I doe like how everybody like dem”/”deyz win too much”/”deyz not a team, is ah individual”). Some persons say they like the ‘offensive’ nature of Brazilian football. This is a very limiting description and categorization of their ‘art of football’ because it imposes football and football strategy as either offensive or defensive; a false binary that can bring little success in today’s game.

Literally, 80% of Trinbagonians love Brazil (made that number up). Part of it has to do with the Brazilian success story of returning home the most number of Cups to their homeland. Part of it also has to do with the production of ARGUABLY the greatest 20th Century goal scorer Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pele. And part of it has to do with the entrenching of Brasilian football into their national culture, which became a global cultural phenomenon – ask your older family and friends about Brazil in the 1970 World Cup (first WC televised in colour). The style of football was full of artistry, improvisation and playful expressions of sport versus the textbook technique football established in Europe. This resonated with other peoples of the world who also shared those same bodily rhythms and dances in everyday life. The ‘Brazilianisation” of the European sport connected with the lovers of the game. Thank Jah for Capoeira!

However, the purpose of this blog piece is not to speak to the aesthetics of Brazilian football nor journey into their history. After all, we had one of the most humiliating defeats in Football’s hall-of-shame at the World Cup (7-1). I thought Ashton Kutcher would jump across the television screen and would have successfully Punk’d the world into believing the score. Germans played liked a national football team against an INTERCOL team in a zonal game. And believe it or not, most people in Trinidad and Tobago missed the ‘thirty-second’ goal when the replay was busy showing what happened earlier that minute. This blog piece notes some of the observations I made this year where FIFA’s anti-racism campaign only offered lip service to the realities of black/brown peoples and how Brazil’s performance was always about their political troubles.

We saw the reality of global migratory movements in the colouring of Euro-American teams. That’s why I tell my students in class, “Globalization is not about crossing borders…it is about going down de road”. However, one must ask where were the black/brown peoples in the stadium? Or, was it just camera bias? Notwithstanding that most subsidized tickets were sold on the Internet, which required credit cards. Notwithstanding a significant portion of tickets were auctioned and placed on lotteries for nationals AND foreigners. Notwithstanding the ban on local vendors in the stadium where lower-class black and indigenous groups may have brought into question: world cup as economic stimulus for whom? Suzanne Mills has highlighted some of these hypocrisies in the Sunday Newsday, July 20. A glimpse at history shows us how the success of Brazil football since the early 20th century has helped create an intimate reflection of a Brazilian national self-image.

Football, used as a metaphor for nation, race, modernity and ‘progress’ articulated Brazil as a mixed society of racial hybridity and harmony. In Trinidad and Tobago, we do pretty much the same with Carnival expressions and glossy magazine covers of beautifully brown racially ambiguous female bodies that represent the ‘national’ or ‘Trini beauty’. However, this ‘national spirit’ does not examine the underlying attitudes, structural problems, and impediments that undermine the very same people they preach to include – the black/brown peoples.

Affirmation of unity, more than often, is an argument used to sanitize racial discourse and promote classist divisions of hegemonic and dominant structures (upheld by powerful people with brown and black faces too). Not confronting the issue of racial exclusion, the position of minorities, the uncritical eye discerning, ‘what constitutes the national?’ will allow us to overlook the fact that an economic apartheid exists in Brazil, a country which hosted one of the largest slave populations in the Western World and produced sugar along with one of the most complex colour hierarchies of a race-colour continuum of blackness and whiteness. In context, when a star player visibly “deviates” from his childhood complexion and teammates straighten and dye their hair; please understand that up to today, black people thrive on opportunities to be white for upward mobility and social status. However, in this day and age of DNA testing and ‘life span’ photography, many people would settle for just the ‘opportunity to be less black’.

In Brazil, scapegoating and statistics forced Fred into early retirement. You could say what you want but what Coach Dunga tried to develop in 2010 sure as hell mattered in 2014! *Ronaldhinio where you at, bro?* Maybe the President of Brasil should have run her government like a football game. Maybe her public would have been satisfied and her national team more successful if she followed some basic tenets of the game. Even if goal supremacy is the aim of football – a developed striking talent is as good as a creative midfield, which creates the environment for forward play. Similarly, industries grow from wide business environments with consumer power – this spurs economic growth.

A strong defense will not make the keeper vulnerable. A strong defense is for sustainability. This is your social net that protects and defends the interests of a people – this is your investment in social growth.

People of Brasil and the President were in trouble from day one. The climate of political unrest, mismanagement and lack of transparency in the football federations, consistent exportation of top-talent to Europe (sometimes in contravention of FIFA transfer rules) and Scolari’s poor decision to keep starting Fred and keep him on for more than one minute all combined to bring about Brasil’s lackluster performance for the world to see. Dilma Rousseff did not deliver on the social promises and mop the blood from the favelas and her reluctant handover of the cup to Germany was not her best smile. We know, we know, football is more than a game.

At home, my Prime Minister travelled to Brazil “privately funded”. Common sense asks, “what are the attached costs to the State for the visit?” Its funny how Barack Obama is required to answer questions that Caribbean Prime Ministers do not. Something that hits home more is the footing of the bill for the Soca Warriors, a ‘gift’ to the nation advertised on my television set (privately or publicly funded?). The big decision happened without a parliamentary debate, a national discussion. Allowing public officials to circumvent legal matters and take public affairs into their private hands without challenge is a symptom of our poverty of Information and lack of public accountability.

So tell me why people did not build conversations about hair and skin colour, Eurocentric commentary and bias, celebrity culture and media sensationalism of an individual star over the team, global norms about beauty and masculine ideals, tattoos, migration, Argentinians’ rocky history with other Latin countries, globalization, citizenship, US right-wing assertions that soccer is a non-American immigrant game, Surinamese players for Netherlands and France the new Republic in Africa (if you took a look at the players), tell me why these discussions did not emerge? Why post a picture of Hitler to express your support for Germany’s national football team? Why you no read yo history?

In the end, Brazil hosted a World Cup and the candle cost more than the funeral. I hope they/we have learnt our lesson moving ahead.

No matter how much I cried…tears don’t always win.

I Geh Lixx Too

What happened? Mother took a traditional “disciplinary” method (probably inherited from her mother) with a traditional value system and enforced this system [of violence] on her daughter on a non-traditional communication medium. Basically: She cut she chile a$s on a digital main road.

Throughout the entire week, I have engaged (and sometimes endured) rigorous, long and drawn-out debates with persons who speak of discipline and love as if they were synonyms with violence. At no time, the discussions interrogated power. At no time there was a discussion of the painful and long history of violence in the Caribbean that has shaped our social and economic structures and how this has been internalized into our psyche. I had flashbacks about the awkward moment when Elliot and Olivia reads you your Miranda rights in Law and Order and you can only recall police officers kickin’ dong and cuffin’ dong everyone involved in a fight before throwing them into a police vehicle at the Bazaar! I remember seeing children in school hit for raising a question (“Why, Sir/Miss?” ) and the teacher was both judge and jury in all matters. And that time when you laugh at someone else getting lixx but you swallow oceans of saliva when a close relative of yours – child or adult – is hit as you cry and cringe observing your own powerlessness.

I grew up with a mother who made the conscious decision to not hit me to discipline me. Surprise! There is no AK-47 in a shoebox underneath my bed nor have I hit her a Hadouken when we ever got into an argument. We actually did things the long way, sat down, talk, cry, sometimes shout, intellectualize, apologize. After all the emotions, one had to commit oneself to not do the wrong thing again and try one’s best to understand the purpose of parameters. Like all young people who yearn to live their own lives, we make mistakes. And like our seniors who were once young, who all, in some form, put their hands by fire to know what hot is, learnt from their mistakes (and also from the mistakes of others). Many have told me that my position against corporal punishment is not practical in the real world and “Amilcar, ah go love to see how your children come out!” The real world, at least, in our island, sometimes shows a place where people do not give the necessary time, effort and patience to teach and learn a lesson. I am not arguing that all young people’s actions should be excused. Rather I prefer that we explain to them what they have breached or done wrongly and allow them to explain themselves. If wha we do, children/youth, can cause harm or has harmed someone, let us go through the full process of explaining how we have hurt others, how we hurt ourselves and how we hurt – the pain that may precede the action (anger, a desire to be loved and get attention, feelings of insecurity, the need to uphold a particular self-image, etc.).

What about my primary school friend whose father beat her with a fan belt from a car for having ‘boys call de phone when she supposed to be on books’? Tell me about the genius statisticians and scientists that became of my Form 3 Class when the teacher beat half the class for not doing we homework on Pythagoras theorem? And what goes to say about my aunt who was born writing with the left hand and her schoolteachers thought it was not appropriate and beat her into submission to writing with her right hand? Of course, we laugh at the militant mother and father now. We can boast that after Common Entrance/S.E.A the lixx did not matter, yuh didn’t feel a ting, but what happened to the fathers who kept hitting their sons and mothers, or, mothers who gave permission to other men to beat their sons? I heard, “lixx is fuh only when yuh break de rules. It does work on some people and it doe work on some. But if yuh hit dem enough, dey does get respect and dey doe jump out deyself!” So leh we go dong in YTC visitor room and tell de parents we eh beat dey children enough. I cannot forget that Form 4 PTA when my best friend returned a blow to his father with the car antenna as his old man choked him and pressed his fifteen year-old body to the car for bad grades – the neighborhood was in uproar. The idea of parent-child violence where the child hits the parent always seems absurd because it was never about discipline; it was about power and more specifically, authority. We prefer to have authority over our children rather than train them to develop intellectual and emotional autonomy in their lives.


Now, our West Indian middle class sensibilities, tradition, my-mudda-used-to-isms, mixed with ageism looks down on every young person “caught on camera” in online communities that expands way beyond their potential audience in their off-line lives. We abhor schoolgirls fighting but anyone who goes to school in Port-of-Spain or San Fernando or goes to Trincity Mall on the last day of teaching has been aware of the age-old problem of school violence and gang culture among youth. We could post a million videos of young girls and boys whining or simulating sex when we all know about ‘parry in de IT room’ ‘heads on de football field’, whining in front of the mirror to Lady Saw and Red Rat and maybe your own fear of the existence of delfies (pictures of your penis) and pelfies (pictures of your vagina) floating somewhere around in cyber space since msn messenger. If we do not unpack the public discourse on lixx, we may very well set our children up into a more violent society and entrench authoritarian models of leadership. We may underscore the racist undertones in the conversations about these young males and especially, female bodies, completely miss the boat on sexual education and reject proposals that assist the youth in managing their social identities in an ICT-age.

The hardline distinction between the public sphere and private sphere as it relates to state ability to defend all its citizens propagates the very idea that the home is potentially the bastion for the sociological brutality of the family. If we do not know how to deal with our problems effectively in order to create healthy human beings and a safer society, let us use evidence-based approaches and research to make prescriptions for our national development. Let us work toward the nation where children do their homework not because they get lixx if they do not; instead, they see returning a CXC grade slip with ‘good grades’ as a receipt to the Return on Investment for the parent and all the school uniforms, books and brown-paper bag covers.

All de children who pee deyself when dey see somebody han’ raise, all ah allyuh who cry and hide your little sister or brother, all ah allyuh who still angry and think to yuhself ah couple times dat yuh too old to have mummy and daddy issues, de people like me – where allyuh? We know what we inherited as children and we are old enough to discern the well intentions from negative outcomes. We can make the choice to change our lives and reset de ting!

Comments on the Statements of the Hon. Minister of Road

“Giwwe a ministry of road (MOR Road)
To build when we mash up on de road (MOR road)
Fix up when we movin to de stage (MOR stage)
Nobody ca stop we
If iz lock up Charge or pay money
Giwwe road We have authority now to
Work, Work, Work, Work”

The Minister of Road won the Road March title. Surprise! I had hopes this year to be a little bit more involved with the Carnival event hopping, however, my pockets could only afford so much (or, so little). Maybe, I should have worked to be de man on de stage that held Machel foot in his localized version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ anti-gravity lean at the International Soca Monarch finals. Dat could win yuh $2million today, oui. I wonder if de foot holder get $1million?

The reality is that ‘Ministry of Road’ was always the front-runner for the Road March title since its release! It is an amazing song! I take the opportunity to big up the songwriters Jelani Shaw, Kasey Phillips, Nikholai Greene and Machel Montano. At the same time, one can listen to the song more carefully and appreciate that this Carnival road song is more than just another jump and wave power soca. The song had Kleptocracy, Kamla and Kublalsingh all over it. From the protest cry for “MOR” in the background to the Junior Sammy handshake (4:30) and brand placement of his company throughout the music video (Directed by Cowin Thorpe and Machel Montano). “Gi we ah Ministry of Road” was a rallying cry to some very specific segments of the society. We need to look beyond what the artiste said/sung and pay attention to what the audience heard/hearin’!

The same way Machel Monatano and Xtatik’s ‘Big Truck’ (1997 Road March) marked a shift from the centrality of Steel Pan bands to the supremacy of the Big Trucks in Carnival street parades – the ‘Ministry of Road’ describes a particular moment in the state of the affairs of our society and government.

The establishment of the Socadrome incited useful public debates on the parade of the bands and the meaning of Carnival. On one side, some passionately defended the right of bands to extend their route with the hope it reduced the human congestion around the Savannah stage.  On the other side, some saw this move as antithetical to the spirit of Carnival and public participation – reading this shift as an elitist attempt to preserve the business and class interests of band membership and management. The social consequences of these shifts are significant. It cannot simplistically be understood as extensions of the parade route. We learn about the power of private capital in designing national festivities. Fundamentally, the problem is that the State is still not prepared to have serious discussions and decisions on the delineation of what is public and private Carnival activities and spaces.  This determines what, when, why and how the State pumps tax payer money into the Carnival. Therefore, whose interests do we serve when we ask for more roads and more stage? For who to jump up, eh?

The song may very well be articulating a critique of the Highway Reroute Movement. In our island, leading public servants and economists continue to tout the developmental paradigm of “the road to development is the development of roads”. We are also aware that this model goes hand-in-hand with the underdevelopment and degradation of the environment when good governance fails.  Montano’s political ties with the People’s Partnership Administration cannot be ignored when considering the multiple resonances of his music in which “MOR” can be interpreted as a justification and campaign advertisement for state projects such as the Debe-Mon Desir Highway.

Let us take a look at the role of roads and electioneering in Trinidad and Tobago. Road building, reconstructing and paving not only translates into real votes by beneficiary communities. The construction serves as a form of stimulus to campaign financiers, party activists and people who lookin’ for a wok long time now. We were exposed to the box-drain and road repairs “discourse” in the last local government elections. These projects involve major construction companies by some businessmen who wield political influence throughout switching government administrations. Within this road paving landscape, cabinet reshuffles in the name of cabinet discipline often accompanied with renaming and invention of new ministries – with roads so central to the electorate’s political feelings – are we thinking too far ahead when we consider a Ministry of Road is in the making or, does one exist already by function?

With all said, Machel Montano, song writers, music video directors and production team were on point with this chune! The song emerges from a set of social and political conditions that articulate multiple messages from the “Ministry of Road”. Yes, many of us like to whine, jump an’ wave and doe care and throw we stress away. I too like to throw my han’ up in de air but when I do, I also ask a question!