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.
When I started grad school in Florida, I happened to stumble into a crew of young men spanning the region from the V.I. to Cayman to Antigua to Jamaica and Trinidad and more. We did so much liming, eating, drinking, sharing, helping, laughing and ole talking. Even some crying. They remain some of the best examples of young Caribbean and West Indian men I have ever encountered beyond my brother, cousins and my few longtime friends. So when I read some of those Caribbean man lists, sure, they seem a bit cheesy and overly simplistic in some ways, but I cannot say they don’t ever somewhat describe some of the men I know and have grown to love.
All these listings are not necessarily my father’s brand of West Indian masculinity either and are very generationally nuanced in certain ways. I don’t know if men above a certain age would see themselves defined by all of these particular accolades. There are West Indian men too, some of whose attributes these lists don’t (can’t?) cover because they are outside the gaze of respectable black and brown men: guntas and badmen whose smiles are incredibly beautiful though rarely seen at times. Men from the ghetto and the country with sharp edges and tender spots below the surface.
As a dark-skinned black woman with natural hair, the Eurocentrism and colourism of desire and desirability is well known to me. But because I am a Trini with an accent — it ends up affording me some cultural capital because right away the voice says, she is not from here. As a just-black-looking woman in contrast to the ‘soft’ hair, brown or mixed-up aesthetic that floats around the racial imaginings of many people (like, so many people) about Trinidadians, it gets quite interesting.
There are plenty non West Indian black men who are impressed that I am not black American, like that in and of itself is some boon. Those are the men who must immediately triumphantly announce that they last dated an “island woman,” predominantly date us and go on about how much they love us in contrast to other women. But I don’t play those cultural superiority games. I don’t encourage it and it doesn’t make me feel good to hear men attempt, in various ways, to throw other black women under the bus in order to big me up. Fuck that.
Then, on the inter-island tip, the expectations and assumptions are also fascinating. I’ve had Jamaican men squint hard at my hair and eyeball me up and down repeatedly enquiring whether I was dougla somewhere in there. Everybody seems to swear all Trinis are always racially mixed in certain predictable ways, even when I am blatantly telling you how I self-identify and what I am not. There are plenty up the islands men who what they are really dying for is a quintessential, idealistic Trini girl that is not me. An Indian, a reds, and men will even allude to this and show scant passing interest in you at the same damn time. You can sniff out when you’re about to be a cultural filler and the backdrop against which other deep seated desires are yet to be realised. And maybe never will be.
Still, with some West Indian men, when it clicks, it can be a sweet rolling wave with rocky breaks here and there. I am simply me with my sometimes awkward Trini black girl self. To you I might sound like yuh ex, yuh auntie or a convent girl (even though I am not one). It’s just me. Liking you. Here and not here. Over thinking a lot. Drinking too much rum in a dance. Loving and living out loud when I can. Shredding myself to pieces on the inside.
I’ve grown to cherish the best parts of them like so many other tangible extensions of my culture. I can spot them too, and occasionally in public I’d see someone and randomly think to myself, he moving/looking like a West Indian fella (and I don’t even always know why exactly). To most West Indian men, I am not some exceptional, exemplary black woman just because I have an accent that’s familiar like the taste of mangoes. I often tussle with the passed-down expectations of West Indian womanhood and sometimes I do want to deliver: “Bring out de pot, I’ll cook yuh food” to quote Nadia Batson. And I’ll cook it and I’ll watch you eat with me not because I name Woman, but because I want to freely give you pieces of myself, watch you devour them and ravenously ask me for more, more.
This post was published as part of Rewind and Come Again’s 2015 June Blog Carnival celebrating National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.
Image source: Reese-k via Tumblr