Not for the first time has West Indies’ master batsman Christopher Gayle found himself in hot water for making inappropriate on-air comments to a female journalist.
When he did it the first time, the reaction was relatively mild. In a world that is generally sympathetic to the excesses of superstars, Gayle obviously feels very comfortable repeating what he refers to as jokes without fear of intense reprimand. But this time around, something in the popular consciousness snapped, discharging a plethora of responses that ranged from outright condemnation to fierce defence of Gayle against what is seen as an orchestrated attack on his dignity.
Those who have condemned his remarks have, for the most part, confined their condemnation to the sexist nature of the offending remarks. There is no doubt that the world has become much more literate about, and alert to, women’s equal dignity. What is refreshing is that many males were loud in their condemnation.
This is an interesting development, for Gayle represents the height of manhood. His brutal stroke-play on the field, his imposing physical appearance, his rude-boy persona and embrace of the bling culture combine to feed the image of “the man.”
Gayle’s defenders have predictably reached for his identity as ‘a black man from the Caribbean’ as the overriding cause for the incessant condemnation. They argue that, had he been a white Australian, the outcry would have been quite muted. There is the suggestion that what are at play are the old prejudices against those who come from the social bottom and are bold enough to poke their fingers in the eyes of the privileged class.
Understandably, the calls for Gayle’s banishment from the Australian Big Bash competition fuel these pro-Gayle sentiments.
I recognize the sentiments on both sides of the divide. I add my voice to the condemnation of the obvious sexism embedded in Gayle’s remarks. Whether he was joking or serious, such remarks have no place in the public arena.
Portraying the journalist as a sex symbol while she is doing her job exposes a mindset that is steeped in the worst forms of male chauvinism. That kind of behaviour should not be tolerated. Period! Those who try to pass it off as light boy/girl banter are obviously oblivious to the historic struggles for gender equality and respect which have been waged mostly by women in recent decades.
I am sympathetic to the argument of double-standards on the part of some of the Australian elites. This is an ongoing pattern that needs to be called out every time it occurs. However, I wish to caution that condemnation of double-standards should not result in us giving Gayle a pass. The stereotype of the black man as a predator cannot be confronted by parading our maleness in front of the world like that. If by now we do not know that they are always waiting for the Gayle moments to pounce on our collective dignity, then we have learned nothing about racism and domination.
The irony here is that Gayle’s generation of cricketers, with few exceptions, care very little about, and have slight consciousness of, their Black identity. But that’s another matter for another day.
There is something larger at play in Gayle’s behaviour that should cause us Caribbean people to reflect on our own condition, our own civilization. Chris Gayle is not an ordinary citizen; he is perhaps the most visible West Indian cricketer of his generation. The game that he plays is an integral part of our Caribbean identity. It is a game that we have used to fight against empire and the domination and degradation that come with it. It is through cricket we got the world to pay attention to our collective quest for respect. It is the West Indian that transformed cricket into an arena of struggle for a just world. Gary Sobers’s unparalleled skills in all aspects of the craft, Rohan Kanhai’s audacity and daring invention; Viv Richards’ revolutionary aggression, Michael Holding’s artistry in motion, Carl Hooper’s musical feet in full flight, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s tenacity have combined to give essence and righteous meaning to our Caribbean Independence. That, I argue, is ultimately what this debate over Gayle’s remarks should be about. Does Gayle represent that tradition, or even care about it?
There is something un-West Indian and sobering when our premier cricketer, after conquering the ball on the field of play, can only confine himself to hitting on a woman. I continue to believe that any poor West Indian rising from the bottom and scaling forbidden heights, when given a microphone, must always have something uplifting to tell the world and our people. Failure to do so suggests that something is going wrong with our Caribbean Independence.
Chris Gayle comes from our Caribbean, he is our product; but one cannot help but feel that his generation of cricketers does not have sufficient understanding of its origins, its place in our freedom journey, and its responsibility to the collective.
Everybody talks out of turn, and Gayle must be granted that; but one cannot help noting the ease with which his insensitive remarks have, over a period of time, betrayed a misplaced understanding of his own importance.
Ultimately, we all have to take responsibility for Gayle’s embarrassing behaviour. Beating up on him and simplistically defending him are not enough. This is not simply about Gayle, the person; it is about the West Indian civilization.
Our cricket has drifted and ultimately plunged in the last 20 years. Recently, we, or most of us, have found a whipping boy – the WICB. In some respects, they asked for it; but we West Indians are good at ducking the real issue until it’s too late.
Our collective inability or reluctance to confront the dangerous individualism and hyper-materialism that have been visited upon us by an uncaring global system has left us condoning and justifying the worst public indiscretions. “Leh de man do he ting and meck e money” we say with scant concern for the consequences. For all the faults of the WICB, it is not they who are responsible for our top cricketers choosing to play festival cricket for money, rather than representing the nation. The responsibility lies in our collective surrender to the opposite of our independence promise – individualism.
It is in this context that I think we can better come to grips with the uprising against Chris Gayle’s remarks. Gayle thinks he is representing himself, he made it on his own; he has no clue of his responsibility to the rest of us, the nation.
I end with this: The young black South African batsman Temba Bavuma, upon becoming the first black South African batsman to hit a century, was given a microphone to speak to the world; and this is what he said: “When I walk on the field, it’s not just me walking on the field. I understand the significance. It’s about being a role model and an inspiration to kids, especially black African kids.” We West Indians may want to rekindle that spirit in our young cricketers. Perhaps therein lies the key to our rise from cricket’s bottom.
(Adapted from the Guyana Chronicle)
Dr David Hinds is a Guyana-born political scientist and associate professor of African and African American Studies, School of Social Transformation, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.