How Ishawna Encourages Us to Be Sexy, Brilliant and Free

August 25, 2016


It’s been a long time since I was last a schoolgirl, rolling up the waist of my dark blue, A-line skirt to make it shorter, scraping my hair into a ridiculously tight bun with the aid of copious amounts of hair grease and water. There were at least a couple desks bearing futile attempts at immorality and infamy through etchings noting that I was here once, and naturally, my form class was the best and baddest. Now, secondary school and its accompanying experiences almost seems like a whirl. The schoolgirl though, forever occupies a significant space within the Caribbean.

She is still ever watched over and lectured to, and her comportment and decorum in the streets — particularly in uniform — are still lamented over. We always hear more about the ills of schoolgirls than the schoolboys. Under a video shared on Facebook of a line of teens, seemingly on the balcony of a school getting wined up on, the caption considered whether this is what young girls are being sent to school for. Nothing is said though to the young men receiving those wines.

Education is one of the pillars of West Indian cultural identity; it’s a social marker in our respective islands and a vehicle for possible socioeconomic class movement and in migration, it’s wielded as a veritable cultural staple of who are as a people: people who utilize the benefits of and understand the need to “beat book.” Many West Indians abroad are beneficiaries of post independence educational offerings like government scholarships which allowed our parents to study and helped some of us to be the second ones in our families to go away for university. We project a lot onto schoolgirls through the ways we revere education and its possibilities, with the hopes and dreams of generations getting stuffed into their book bags and saddled onto their backs. And because they are little women in training, everything expected and demanded about good womanhood is also heaped upon them early as well.

The schoolgirl fighting videos, which are plentiful and nearly endless: a flurry of hair pulling and shouting and cuss-outs and blouses askew and fists and legs flying, feed into the public’s haranguing over them. The fights are problematic for true, but are the boys not fighting as much, or are the girls just showing out more? At times, it seems we’re so captivated by being voyeurs of messy schoolgirl violence that no one stops to enquire what else is behind what’s taking place. No doubt a plethora of factors contribute to the filmed altercations, but the path of decent womanhood means containing anger. Women with broughtupcy aren’t supposed to thrash about and rage.

I can only make assumptions about why it appears as though that girls fight more these days, and they fight for an audience, and they fight to assert themselves and eke out an identity that is against what society, for a long time now, expects school girls to be. Though school-aged boys do occasionally appear in parent shaming videos, school-aged girls are far more prominent. They are shamed and violently berated and hit for twerking and being sexual among other reasons.  A schoolgirl got peed on by R. Kelly once. Some schoolgirls ceremoniously pledge their virginity to their fathers assuring the sanctity of their hymens. This shows the sexual violence, dangers and sexual gate-keeping afflicting all kinds of school girls.

In dancehall and reggae, the schoolgirl intermittently appears and nine out of ten times, she is a kind of cautionary tale and invariably, in need of guidance of some sort. Sometimes, it’s already too late, and although Vybz Kartel gallantly decides to stand by her side, in nearly no way, shape or form is schoolgirl pregnancy considered acceptable by most religiously informed West Indian societies.  When not directly prefaced by “school,” she is a girl, no doubt of school age, who is referenced in song  who will “never stay at home”, and has “been with many men since she was only ten.”

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West Indian Race, Colour & Identity: A Reading List

July 12, 2016

Photo credit: via Tumblr

This is a reading list for West Indians examining race, racism, colourism and identity. Every time racism comes to the forefront in the United States, the black and African descent diaspora shows itself: in good ways and not so great ways. There are West Indians on the #AllLivesMatter bandwagon too, and I am giving you all a stink cut-eye.

One of the things some West Indians cling to is the narratives we tell ourselves about the absence of “real” racism, compared to the U.S., and West Indians in foreign perpetuate this thinking as much as some in the region. When they migrate, they join the ranks of those who are simply exhausted with African Americans whining about race, as they see it. They don’t get, they claim, because of where they’re from.

The absence of Jim Crow and public lynchings does not mean that we do not and have not had to deal with racism — systemic and otherwise. Furthermore, being from black & brown majority places doesn’t magically mean folks are immune to internalized antiblack racism or that it cannot and doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean the police are immune there, either. Some of the worst agents of white supremacy are other black & brown people. True talk.

How is it that the exact same caricatures of and aversions to blackness have managed to traverse the globe and thrive on our shores too? Strange how that works, eh? In no particular order, here is a sampling of West Indians considering privilege, colour, identity and much more. They are not afraid to share their lived experiences. To say when we need to do better. And when we need to sit and acknowledge the aspects of our societies that we’d rather pretend didn’t exist while pointing a finger at others for doing and thinking the same.

1. Dylan Kerrigan, “Transnational Anti-Black Racism and State Violence in Trinidad,” Cultural Anthroplogy

“Just as it was in colonial times, Trinidad and Tobago’s political elite disseminates an uncomplicated image of crime that links criminality with poor, urban, opportunistic Afro-Trinidadian males who kill each other. Rarely are any other groups in society implicated. This is an irony not lost on many locals, since Trinidad and Tobago is well-known for a never-ending list of white-collar crimes that are rarely punished in the courts.”

2. Eriche S., “Black Feminism in the Caribbean: Examining the Mulatto Effect,” West Indian Critic

“Without a distinct and large white upper class we see anti-black dynamics play out in a way that misleads people to believe we have transcended race. We’ve merely transplanted a racial hierarchy in a way that suits our population. The closest to white occupy the top, whereas the furthest away from whiteness occupy the bottom of the hierarchy. Every aspect of this hierarchy was constructed during colonialism and has not disappeared, even today.”

3. Nicole Dennis-Benn, “Growing Up With Miss Jamaica,” Elle  

“Their lives existed far away from ours in a world beyond Kingston 8—worlds beyond Constant Spring and Hope Road. Their worlds existed on hills that seemed to touch the clouds. At night, the lights on those hills blinked like stars, mocking us for living in the pressure-cooked alleys of Kingston, the ugly trenches. They seemed to have it easy, never once having to think about disguising their blackness or growing their hair. They woke up that way. Went to bed that way. Sometimes we spotted them in public. They stood out among the dark black faces like beautiful red hibiscus flowers among weeds.

The solution first appeared in hushed whispers throughout the school compound. Dark-skinned girls flocked to the restroom on the fifth-form block. “Yuh see how Lola face look clear an’ pretty? Is bleaching cream do it!” The other girls listened reverentially, as though what they heard would somehow answer a lifelong prayer.”

4. Ayana Malaika Crichlow, “Growing up a Black Girl in Trinidad,” Huffington Post

“Although I currently live in the U.S., I grew up in Trinidad in the 80s and 90s as a black girl. To be black in a country that idealizes a mixed ethnicity aesthetic, was rough to say the least. Although I shared the same parental genes as my sister, she was considered mixed, whereas I have dark skin. I also had kinky hair, whereas my sister and all my cousins had curly hair, or “good hair” according to Trinis. It didn’t matter that my heritage also included French, Scottish, East Indian and African; I was black to everyone who saw me. This wouldn’t have bothered me, if I hadn’t been treated as less than my sister for most of our childhood because if it.”

5. “Carlie Ester on the culture of race in Barbados,” Antillean Media Group

“Kadooment, a street parade of rum-fuelled revelry that draws masqueraders from a cross-section of Barbadian society, bares an open secret that is rarely publicly questioned: it has a masquerade band whose members are almost entirely White.

The band, known as Blue Box Cart, is traditionally always the first band to lead the Kadooment parade, and stands in stark contrast to all others that – by and large – reflect the Black ethnic make-up of the 166 sq. mile island. Says Ester, ‘to witness a sea of white faces gathered together is at first glance, surprising…[but] it’s just another way in which the race relations of plantation society curiously manifest themselves in 2014.'”

6. Victoria Brown, “In Solidarity: When Caribbean Immigrants Become Black,” NBC News

“While the majority of my immigrant students could weigh in on why they considered African Americans less successful, Caribbean immigrants in particular were at pains to define themselves as separate from native born African Americans. Most discouraging was their de facto confidence that American blacks made poor decisions, and their lack of criticism of undeserved racist stereotyping.

I taught writing but felt my students needed an historical context to understand how black struggle and resistance had made so many of their immigrant aspirations, including a post-secondary education, possible. Indeed, how they came to have a black, immigrant woman as their professor.”

7. Eriche S., “White Privilege In The Caribbean,” West Indian Critic

“Whiteness is a funny thing in the Caribbean. Some pretend that it’s nonexistent, but really it is invisible, similar to whiteness in the United States but not quite the same. While our lives are different from those of Black Americans, we suffer oppression along the same lines.”

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Dancehall Daggerings’ Patriarchy

May 16, 2016


Several years ago for Trinidad Junction, I blogged a kind of weaving introspection about daggering, dancehall and sexuality, where among other things, I attempted then to lay bare the ways I saw how:

So many young men see their dancing skills as representative of their virility. This being representative of their skill, an extension of their sexual self even. Thus they think it’s really cute to pick up a girl and ram her like a human jackhammer in a circle of people.

If you’re a female in or near that kind of dance circle, prepare to have your body swamped and owned. And you’d better be malleable like the dough of a pretzel. The sexual aggro of dancehall dejays’ lyrics today and their accompanying dances are at an all time high. I’ve heard many people I know say with regard to this issue, that dancing cannot possibly get any dirtier. . . . What connections if any, can be drawn from young men who choose to wipe the floor with a female back for their dancing/pseudo sexual pleasure or those who think it’s cool to do so? What messages does this send to young women?

The blog quoted is dated and some of my frames for certain aspects of dancehall dancing and sexuality have widened, some have shrunk imperceptibly, some have morphed into other things. There was some exaggeration too, because evidently, dancehall DJs sexual aggro then couldn’t possibly be worse than it is now. And in hindsight, it didn’t really peak back then at all with “Ramping Shop”, now did it? But what does that mean for where we are now?

For discussion purposes, daggering is a singular dance move that also contains multitudes; and here I’ll use that term to involve a range of transition movements not limited to rhythmic pelvic thrusting on a batty, but inclusive of all of the other imposing moves used by male dancers leading up to, around and alongside the actual daggering: so picking up a woman and throwing her in the air before swinging her around, for example, counts, even though technically, this may be considered a precursor to a dagger and not actual daggering itself. Forcibly bending her over to receive daggering also counts.

Even if a woman is at a dance and dancing, the assumption cannot be made by all dancing men that her body is open to all manner of wrangling; her body can still resist if she chooses to, and she should be allowed to extricate herself  from any dancing scenario she does not enjoy. Mobay Marvin and crew’s viral video of them groping on and assaulting a party goer to force her to receive daggering and be on display for their benefit really reminded me of how it seems we have come full circle with some of my earlier questions. The sexual and physical violence of this clip and the near feeding-frenzy vibe of the male dancers’ insistence that she participates in their sport is very disturbing.

The extent of the violence enacted upon this fat, dark-skinned black woman’s body can be connected to representations of fat black women’s bodies in West Indian music culture. She is almost always used as a trope to test a man’s mettle in both soca and dancehall. There are countless examples of this taking place on stages even when women explicitly volunteer to participate in the dancing. This is somewhat different from Saucy Wow choosing and deciding after trying, that no, a man cannot handle her bumcee. Still, the idea persists culturally, that “a rolly polly” or a big fat bottom must be conquered and handled. When the large bottom vanquishes the man, the joke is on the fact that he couldn’t manage what he should be able to.

I am not saying that daggering is uniquely, inherently misogynistic or problematic, to be quite clear, but it’s absolutely functioning as an arm of patriarchal expression and has been for quite some time now. I think we can say that male dancehall dancers’ societal, personal and cultural constructs of masculinity, sex, gender, strength and ownership are imbued within and communicated through their dance moves: the ways they grab, violate, take claim of and presume access to female bodies. Every time we see the ante getting upped in some new clip, it’s just more of the same old, perhaps only in slightly different ways.

I regularly watch and subscribe to several Jamaican video entertainment brands on YouTube. There are young women in dance crews whose acrobatic feats of winery, head top balances, splits and reception of daggering are worthy of slow-claps and all the awards. There are women giving the men permission to frenetically pummel their pum pum to the beat. There are women who want to bruk off some cock and can puppy tail at a serious pace, and they do so quite well. Nothing is wrong with any of that. It’s a skill set like any other and West Indian party culture, again, by itself, divorced from context, is not some entirely awful expressive space as far as I am concerned.

The issue with daggering on display, specifically, and not just people wining or women choosing to get dagger, is the way it hinges upon decimation of female bodies through movement, or at least, it has come to a point where that is a large component of the male dancer’s exhibition of competence for the cameras. The male dancer’s perceived prowess, in fact, is directly proportional to the subjugation of dancing women’s bodies; and there is an undercurrent of female debasement in some daggering that is very troubling and at the same time, nothing new. The spectacle of dancehall daggering involves the actual or pantomime of climb or some other physical feat (and this might be across a woman’s back or speaker box for launching onto a woman); speed of thrusts; bravado of movement; surrender of the woman on her back or some other position (but most often on her back); if the woman attempts to leave, she is prevented from doing so; humiliation: extensions and wigs removed, or by physicality through bullying strength and not giving a woman the space to brace or situate herself the best way she can to participate fully in the dancing; and in the above mentioned video, covering her head with a bucket.

She is a prop against which the male dancers’ bodies are thrown and her concerns, needs and safety become irrelevant. Which isn’t too surprising a leap if you consider the culture of gender in the West Indies. Oftentimes, I know Jamaicans stereotypically get a bad rap for regional macho identity, but really, we all have to deal with it and we are all touched by the reach of its violence.


Photo credit: Acrobatic dance in Negril, Jamaica, by Pietro Carlino via Tumblr. Used under a creative commons license.

Cultural Resonance in Rihanna’s Dancehall

February 25, 2016


Rihanna’s “Work” is slathered with dancehall aesthetics, oozing and dripping off the brows and shoulders of dancers, the froth spilling from Red Stripe neck and mouth, and in every twist, dip and arms crossed on the lower back arch of a woman throwing it back on a man. The dancing is straight dancehall as is her look, equal parts dancehall queen and fashion staples from yard.

When The Guardian explored Rihanna’s use of accent and language in the song, linguist Lisa Jansen is quoted as considering how, “Although she uses some prominent Caribbean features in Work, they are not specifically or uniquely Bajan”; while contemplating that “Rihanna draws on various elements and eclectically builds her own linguistic repertoire.” What Jansen doesn’t note is that those “Caribbean features in her lead single” aren’t just quasi-Caribbean-sounding-kinda-ting, and yes, it’s not Bajan at all, but it’s not some Rihanna-speak, it’s specifically Jamaican patois with a Bajan lilt. I am not fluent in Jamaican patois (not even remotely close), so I won’t presume to comment on the replication of that patois, but we know it’s Jamaican patois being employed — at least the Anglophone West Indies and anyone who knows sung Jamaican patois knows this.

Jamaican patois is the lingua franca of Caribbean Cool and dancehall is its long standing center as the pulsing vein of contemporary West Indian popular culture. And in a region that is sometimes bubbling with inter-island assertions and jealousies about culture, pride and ownership, this might be a difficult thing for some of us to acknowledge, but it is. Jamaicans know this; the rest of us either begrudgingly admit this or pretend this isn’t the case.

Where dancehall culture and black cultural masculinity meet, further interesting things unfurl which dictate the lean and swag of men, the stereotype of the screw face of every badman in a Jamaican movie, the clothes they wear, how they operate, receive and give wines, dagger, receive or give oral, or purport not to, and this is all encoded in the language of dancehall. It’s part of what DJ Khaled taps into in his snapchats punctuated by sporadic Jamaican patois interjections and phrases, and his claims that he doesn’t go down on women (“like a Jamaican”): it both complicates and ups his cool quotient.

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Let’s Talk About Race, Trinidad

September 15, 2015

In the aftermath of the elections 2015 outcome, there has been plenty talk about race and racism in Trinidad and Tobago. This piece is an attempt to add to those much needed on-going conversations considering what we can do collectively to improve race relations in Trinidad and Tobago.

The difference between prejudice and racism is the latter means having the institutional power to enact the former upon others. For Trinidadian purposes of discussion, I am really not making strict distinctions between the two. Because if you freely indulge in the categorization of black people as sub human on social media, and given some of the degrees of separation on the island or the connections you might be able to influence, then the power to employ that thinking in some tangible way, is highly plausible.

The state — the island’s governance — even when filled with black and brown faces can act in collusion with global systems of  black and brown oppression and violence. Colonized people can pass on some screwed up thinking about people who look exactly like themselves or are a few shades off of their own. Internalized race and skin shade messiness doesn’t go anywhere but into wider society or another generation if it was never dealt with seriously at all. And that’s not even touching on the white and white-by-proxy (not incumbent on a particular ethnicity) social elites who exist outside of and away from machinations of the state in some ways, but are there, at the same time.

Diversity doesn’t always equal tolerance or true love and acceptance of people who look or live differently than you. While it’s common to hear some Trinis say it’s the older generation promoting racism, lots of those people posting racist opinions and epithets weren’t looking a day over 30, most of them. Children can be immersed in a racially and ethnically diverse cultural environment on paper, from small, and still grow up to be racists.

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The Language of Blackness

July 11, 2015


Alternately, I could have named this post “On How America Taught the World to ‘be Black’ ” and not be too far off from either sentiment. Of course, it’s about more than simply language as spoken communication, but the specifically unarticulated as well. A language of knowing and understanding in a plethora of ways. As I was reading through the real time tweets of those epic #AskRachel memes, I kept thinking about this, how a kind of blackness becomes codified through popular culture and all the rest of us, black people from elsewhere — know the answers too.

It’s knowing that even though I have never been to a family reunion before,* replete with matching t-shirts and a rounds of the Cupid Shuffle, I feel as though I know what it might be like. And even what I think I know probably pales in comparison to the real experience. I understand also, that black Americans are not always singularly in control of or ultimately responsible for the way those cultural images of themselves are reproduced and disseminated. I’m not going to delve into whether all the images are nuanced enough or multifaceted enough. But I will say in many parts of the world where black people reside, seeing glamorous black people in daytime soaps or movies — in fact, kinds of reflections of ourselves in any form on screen — took place in American movies.

I grew up primarily on American pop culture and occasionally, British. When I was younger, we paid one price to see double features from Hollywood, sometimes Bollywood. Every wave of fashion and music rooted in African American culture made its way to the West Indies. Though the boys in my secondary school worshipped at the altar of dancehall, with original songs, “dollar discos,” and chanting sessions accompanied by poundings on the desks mimicking riveting basslines — at my graduation dance, someone also breakdanced. Although breaking was no longer in vogue then, unexpected dexterous dancing was always cool. We got in a circle like we’d all seen on TV, and we whooped and cheered him on.

That the cultural blackness of the Rachel memes was instantaneously recognizable for segments of the English speaking black diaspora should come as no surprise. We all greased and sprayed with African Pride and coated strands slick with Pink moisturiser at some point, because it was being done in black American culture. And the ways in which capitalism spun blackness into products and encoded blackness into branding found markets far beyond the United States for those who had access to them.

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Why I Love to Love and Hate to Love West Indian Men

June 4, 2015


Every now and then, an article or two makes the rounds touting the pros of dating “a Caribbean man”, primarily for the elucidation of women outside of the region and our cultures. Sometimes, a few women and men friends of mine post these on Facebook with either an eye-roll, a pointed ‘no comment’ or as comment bait, but more often than not, they often go ignored by most of the folks I know personally. It’s almost like once you’ve been living with it all your life, like sunshine and warm oceans, it’s not that special — The Caribbean Man — and certainly not warranting all that list attention. Plus, we like to try to not feed the machine (cough, egos). Furthermore, not all of us may agree. According to a Trini sistren I know, “Trini man is de worst!” But unfortunately, guess who holds her heart right now? Yes, a Trini man. Cue the sound of sighs. Love dem too bad and hate to love dem.

But what is it with West Indian men? Living abroad, dating West Indian men can be like comfort food. I like hearing my own accent and dialect tumbling in my ear. I like the worn familiar feeling of an old and obscure-to-nearly-everyone-but-Trinbagonians Machel song. I like how they love me — for the most part. I like how they freely wine or stoically rather not. How we fight. How I challenge their worldview as a queer black feminist. Or, watch them leave me, walking away with a headshake saying, “Nah. We are too different.”

I love West Indian men’s carriage and swagger, their walk and heteropatriarchal expressions of protection and care. I love how they hail up one another and embrace, give each other bounces and touch thumbs. I love some of the many things they share all up and down the archipelago, not just Trinidad and Tobago. There is plenty that I don’t love about West Indian masculinity too, by the way. But right now, for the time being, I just want to sit on the verandah and watch them gallery deyself.

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‘But Mi Hear Say She Gi’ It ‘Way’: New Dancehall’s Sexual Politics in Song

April 18, 2015


How does a dancehall song surprise me in 2015? Well, hear nah, Dexta Daps’ “7eleven” does. It’s been a long, long, long time since I last heard a dancehall song possibly complicate the areas of gender and sexuality in the West Indies. And possibilities for complexities count for a whole damn lot where I am coming from (I’ll take it where I can get it at this point). Worse yet, a song being sung by a man. Worse yet a hot song at the cusp of an artiste finally blowing way, way up.

Female sexuality is, of course, no stranger to dancehall. All throughout the diaspora, we find musicians and performers wrestling with an articulation of self and culture through the rhythms and lyrics created. Sex is ever (though not solely) prominent. In Jamaica, as elsewhere in the region, we often do a dance between the “virgin/Madonna-whore dichotomy. On the one hand, venerating the female body and womanness, purity and fidelity when enacted appropriately, and demonizing the sexuality of women who don’t play by the rules, who have too much sex and like it, who dress provocatively, and who have had more than one man* to name just a few. (More on more than one man later.*) These women are thots, hoes, sluts, skettels and baddises.

With its liberal usage of “fuck” and “pussy” inside beautifully melodious articulation, I really like the song. I dig it for several reasons, least of all how it helps us delve into pum pum politics in song. Firstly, to hear a West Indian man acknowledge — even barely acknowledge — that his woman has a sexual past (maybe) is nearly unheard of. Men do not do that in dancehall. Or many other places even. They don’t and if they do, they are hardly singing about how she’s his main in the same breath.

Most men sing about a woman as though the only man who has ever existed on her realm of sexual experience is them. Even though, in reality, that’s often hardly the case. Dancehall love songs like Kartel and Spice’s “Ramping Shop” or “Conjugal Visit” create the same kind of sexual bubble. There’s a whole lot of fucking and quinting going on, but only between Spice and Kartel. Nothing else exists or has ever existed in the history of their fucking.

Obviously, if you’re in a presumably committed relationship, probably your sexual history is in fact, not relevant to the current boo and no one expects it to be brought up regularly, but the fact is it’s all part of who we are. It shouldn’t undermine your current sexual relationship/s at all. Separating women from their sexual history is this weird patriarchal inclination whereby a woman becomes incrementally devalued by her sexual experience (basically anything and anyone outside of who you are currently dealing) but for men, it’s a plus. A lot of men internalize this nonsense and pathologize sexual women. They would do the same to their gyul too, the only difference is being with her now. Too many men are overly consumed with notions of how much man a woman might have had before they came along. Get over it, you’re probably not the only person she’s fucked. Read the rest of this entry »

The Wine That Almost Broke the Internet

December 7, 2014



I wouldn’t claim to be the biggest Bobby Shmurda fan out to be quite honest, but what I am a fan of is wining on a whole, and men wining. Always, always a fan of that for a range of reasons. Bobby Shmurda’s West Indian background has already been acknowledged, so I’m not surprised to see he can pelt some waist. Gwan Bobby. It’s always fascinating too how the masculinity enacted and projected in “Hot Nigga” (and even the dancing in there) seems interpreted as mutually exclusive with the dancing seen above. A lot of online commentary showed just how uncomfortable and displaced some folks are with reconciling the rapper of “Hot Nigga” with hip rolling. There was plenty of flabbergastation, shock, disgust, and head shaking to go around.

Meh. His wining is the least of my concerns.

Good Wining: Dancing and Cultural Identity

November 9, 2014

“She had no timing; she was East Indian.” * 

The truth is good wining is really subjective. One person’s perceived expert daggering is another person’s “leave me alone nah.” I always like to think that I can tell where people are from — by their wining. In Caribbean parties, when a groin stealthily presses against me, fusing its oscillations into mine, sometimes I’ll dance back and afterwards, whirl around to guess triumphantly, “You’re Jamaican, aren’t you?” Sometimes I am wrong, but I am usually correct. I can tell a Trini wine too. Boy, can I tell a Trini wine. We fit like puzzle pieces riding a soca rhythm that we both know intimately. Let me restate that, a good Trini wine.

There are good wines and bad wines and across cultures, we can find different wining styles. Vincentians don’t wine like Trinbagonians or exactly like Bajans. None of this is inherently better or worse. It all depends. I like to lead and set the pace. I hate to be juggling with a dancing partner over leading a wine. Sometimes, our rhythms don’t match up. Sometimes people are off beat. And a hot mess. Sometimes, it’s all Mean Girls-esque like, “You can’t wine with us.”

So, how do we end up deciding what “good” wining looks like? It’s not so much that the video lead can’t wine in Olatunji’s recent “Wining Good” video, but when her wining then gets filtered through the peculiar lens of race and culture, some interesting things start revealing themselves. Judging by youtubers, there is plenty of that occurring with recurring echoes of this Indian girl can’t wine good forming a significant portion of the criticisms of the video. Inside of Trinidad and Tobago, cultural anxieties about race and nationality get well wrung out and tellingly signified inside of soca and calypso. Olatunji himself, is part of a rich lineage of black and Afro-descendant Trinbagonian men singing about wooing, seducing, loving, and or paying homage to a certain East Indian woman.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, wining often symbolizes sexual ownership and alternately or concurrently, sexual agency — the question of whether wining itself, is inherently, primarily, sexual, is another issue altogether. I think it can be whatever you want it to be. The exact same movement can constitute a polite wine you might deliver once then hustle off and extract yourself from it. It can mean nothing. Or it can mean something. The same movement can also be incredibly sensual when both parties want to take it there.

Before Olatunji, there was Mighty Sparrow’s “sexy Marajhin“, Shurwayne’s “East Indian beauty” in “Don’t Stop“; Scrunter’s “Indian gyul beating bass pan coming up in Despers“; Preacher’s “Dulahin“; Moses Charles’ “Indrani“; Machel Montano (with Drupatee) in “Indian Gyul“; and of course, curry songs like Xtatik’s “Tayee Ayee” and Mighty Trini’s classics about “Indian obeah” or the curry and the woman who packed up and left him. I would also classify Second Imij’s enduring “Golo” as firmly within this trope too, where the golo, “this Indian beti living Caroni”, takes a firm hold of poor Uncle’s sensibilities under some questionable means. Or, we could just say that Uncle went quite tootoolbay over his Indian woman.

Conversely, Indian artistes very rarely sing about or employ Afro-descendant amours in soca, chutney or calypso. Black and African descent female soca women sing about Indian men far less than the men sing about Indian women. Denise “Saucy Wow” Belfon’s “Indian Man” and Destra’s “Come Beta” are notable exceptions. Drupatee Ramgoonai burst onto the soca scene significantly claiming her space in a male and Afro descendant space. Drupatee could not  have done so singing about how well a black man wined, I imagine. Absolutely could not. When Rikki Jai enters the soca arena, fittingly, the mango of his eye is a lovely Indian girl named “Sumintra” whose Indianness, in fact, is strongly mitigated by telling Rikki “I am a Trinbagonian” and “hol’ de Lata Mangeshkar, gimme soca.” She exists in song in sharp contrast to widely held local ideas of Indian nationalism.

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