Michael Abrahams | Dalton Harris has exposed our immaturity and ignorance
Dalton Harris is not just a good singer. He is exceptional. He first came to the attention of Jamaicans when he competed in the local talent competition ‘Digicel Rising Stars’ in 2010. He went on to be victorious, and at 16 years old became the youngest winner in the history of the contest.
Today, Harris is in the spotlight once again, as the winner of the popular British music competition, ‘The X Factor’. To say he has done well on the show would be a gross understatement. His performances have been mind-blowing, earning him standing ovations and prolonged and riotous applause. Singer and judge on the show, Louis Tomlinson, a member of the phenomenally successful group One Direction, and also a popular solo artiste, declared he believes that Dalton is the best singer to have ever appeared on ‘The X Factor’. Tomlinson, by the way, was a former contestant on the show.
Dalton’s performance in the competition, however, has stirred conflicting emotions in me. On one hand, I am extremely proud of him. He is my countryman, and I absolutely enjoy seeing Jamaicans excel. On the other hand, the response of some Jamaicans to things Dalton has said and done offstage has exposed two ugly sides of our culture: homophobia and our tolerance of child abuse.
A photo was posted on the Instagram page of Tomlinson, who is Harris’ mentor in the competition, of Harris and two other contestants being mentored by Tomlinson sitting with their vocal coach. In the photo, Harris is seen playfully sitting in the lap of one of the male contestants. The young men were smiling, but many Jamaicans fumed at the picture and shared their feelings in social media. Homophobic slurs and derogatory comments were hurled at the young man as people expressed their displeasure. Popular dancehall artiste Bounty Killer, who was previously a strong supporter of Harris, publicly withdrew his endorsement, calling Harris’ behaviour “fafunky” and even deleted a video clip he had posted on Instagram praising his talent.
While that controversy raged, some of his fellow Jamaicans were on his case once again, this time about comments he made about his childhood during an interview. Harris spoke about growing up in poverty and being subjected to physical and emotional abuse. He said that a man his mother was in a relationship with punched him so hard he crashed through a window, and that he has scars above his right eyebrow, around his ears and head, and on his chest, arm, shoulder, back, thighs, legs and feet.
He also spoke of the emotional abuse he endured, such as being told to walk into the road and kill himself, and revealed that he now has no relationship with his parents. Again, many were quick to judge, claiming that Harris was being ungrateful and disrespectful to his mother, and that he should repair their broken relationship.
The negative reactions to Harris are disappointing, but not surprising. Our society is severely lacking in emotional intelligence and empathy, and the disparaging comments of his critics serve as a glaring indication of the work needed to be done if we are to evolve into a more functional society.
To make assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation and to withdraw support, based on a photograph, is asinine. A man sitting in another man’s lap is not diagnostic of homosexuality. And even if Harris is gay, why on earth should it matter to us? His orientation is none of our business. As a matter of fact, many of the singers that his detractors embrace could be, unknown to them, gay and closeted.
As for the roasting he has received over his comments about his childhood, we should be ashamed of ourselves. By trivialising his accounts of child abuse, his critics have clearly shown that they fail to understand what child abuse is and the profound effect it has on those who experience it. In subsequent interviews, Dalton’s mother admitted that a former partner of hers did not like him and did indeed punch him through a window; that she herself was responsible for a scar on his scalp, as he sustained a laceration and bled after she had struck him on his head; and that it was she who told him to stand in front of a moving truck and let it kill him. If that is not child abuse, what is?
The young man has clearly been traumatised. The scars of childhood trauma run deep. Very deep. Sometimes they never heal, and the pain persists until the survivor’s heart ceases to beat. His mother’s admission that some of Dalton’s accusations are true should induce us to empathise, not criticise. What Dalton needs are our congratulations, love and support, not judgement and rejection.