Archive for the ‘feminist’ Category

Without Context

January 10, 2019

During December 2018, this blog registered a few pingbacks from the University of Chicago Press Journal HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. “Without Impunity,” which links one of my blog posts as a citation, is an examination of the #MeToo movement and staunchly in the vein of won’t-someone-please-think-of-the-men in its scope. The article is concerned with the “anarchic” aspects of outing reputed sexual harassers and abusers, “ruthless simplifications and magnifications” which unfairly malign men, false accusations, and ultimately decides that “norms have been destabilized,” and “the scales tip toward mob rule.” In an essay concerned with wrestling with context: of kissing and hugging, compliments and erotic situations — it is irksome that my writing is then decontexualised by Thomas Hylland Eriksen in this very piece.

The quote “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” from “Why I love to Love and Hate to Love West Indian Men,” is very specific to this particular essay’s unpacking of some aspects of West Indian masculinity, lovingly.

In that very same essay, I also wrote “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.” It is me giving some West Indian men a bligh and bigging them up. This does not give carte blanche to run and reframe that quote with a lead-in of “some even see complementary gender roles as natural and good.” I actually don’t see gender roles that simplistically at all, and I make no estimations of that kind in that essay or in any other writing on my blog. I have struggled with “traditional” expectations of West Indian womanhood, which I also indicated in that essay. West Indian masculinity is socially constructed in ways that are absolutely detrimental to women, other men and gender nonconforming folks. I am not a nameless “some”; I am one black West Indian feminist writing a blog, and I have a name.

Although my first name (and email) can be found clearly on my blog’s about page, and my full name on the home page, two posts down, nowhere am I named in Eriksen’s essay. I am “a female Trinidadian blogger” whose words are used to bolster hand-wringing about the #MeToo movement, a positionality I am diametrically opposed to. My writing dispossessed from its context and reconstituted by someone who couldn’t even bother to muster the effort to cite me by name, or does not cite me by name but cites everyone else by name, intentionally. Writing cultural criticism outside of academia means reckoning with notions of hierarchical knowledge; it also means seeing how the rigor and attention with respect to context and naming that Eriksen employs to the work of others, compared to mine, is telling. Most of all, black feminist women’s intellectual labour is not just there for the cherry-picking, to link to and quote anonymously whether we have institutional affiliation or not.

In fact, why find a West Indian feminist writer to quote in such an essay? Why not quote a woman whose politics are actually engaged in disseminating #MeToo backlash because those women do exist. I find it hard to believe that an academic, a winner of a research prize, would read one blog entry, never look around to get a sense of my other writing then trot off deciding on a citation. If the takeaway from any encounter with the gender, culture, music, sexuality and lived life that I have written about for years is gender roles are “natural and good”: you are not reading me correctly, you have missed so many points and all the nuances, and you should probably not quote my work without a grasp of this.

Brilliant cultural commentary, gender and sexual analysis, and content curation is consistently being done by black women online; women like Amanda T. McIntyre, Aysha BeeLa Tosha Hart, Ro-Ann MohammedTakeallah Rivera, and Riya Jama to name a few. These include Facebook statuses, images, vlogs, other commentary eventually expanded into longer pieces, or cross posted as Tweets or on Tumblr, and the value of their necessary, relevant clapbacks, resistance and truth-telling should not be underestimated.

There have been multiple instances of content created by Aysha and Riya going viral via other people, but first the content is decontextualised from the original creator who is pro-black woman and very intentional about that, then they are unnamed as source, so their work multiplies into the stratosphere of the interweb, “sparking conversations” they should be “grateful” for, but the work is pointedly lifted with no attribution. When they speak up about it, there are many people who still don’t grasp that black women are entitled to and have every right to be properly credited for their writing, particularly when their names, usernames and blogs can be easily found. Naming is important; and saying, well, that’s how it is with the internet is not an excuse. If you can find writing to directly quote from and repost — you can find the original with the same energy.

Eriksen’s decision to use the Caribbean as a touchstone for the global reach of #MeToo loops from a couple whose business is out on the road, to a misconstrued quote from myself, but the region, en masse, has not engaged in #MeToo on a wide scale. Some West Indian women undoubtedly have joined the call-outs of predatory behaviour, but it has not been a concerted undertaking. While Tarana Burke‘s movement is the originator and predates the hashtag of the same name, the Caribbean has its own sexual violence and harassment activism preceding the onslaught of the second incarnation of #MeToo.

The Caribbean’s homegrown reckoning came with #LifeInLeggings, an on-going movement and hashtag created by Ronelle King from Barbados. Localized movements, actions and marches created by women living in the Caribbean wracked islands with an unflinching pronouncement that women had had enough: of the sexual harassment, street harassment, sexual violence and abuse. West Indian women studying away or living in the diaspora also joined the rise-up on Facebook and on Twitter. We shared posts, commented and messaged one another. So much came pouring out. And yes, men were also publicly named and shamed and even hit with a tambourine. A livestream of a Life in Leggings public discussion from Port of Spain, Trinidad, unmasked a local man as a serial sexual harasser to an audible gasp of persons in attendance. Consequently, since then, said man, his social status, and business venture seem to be doing just fine.

Meanwhile, Eriksen presents the region in contrast to the bloodthirst of #MeToo of the Global North, a space where public arguments are lo-fi #MeToo ensuring “witnesses are present,” “full context is known,” and this Trini feminist blogger thinks all is fine and wonderful with gender roles. Yeah, no. The boldface erasure of my entire worldview to use as support for permutations over #MeToo is upsetting. It’s not a project I would have ever wanted my words to be entwined with. Between the anonymous in-text citation and the fact that my words are even in there, I don’t know which is more aggravating. Though honestly, probably both, to varying degrees.

Eriksen is adamant that #MeToo is “murky terrain” because the movement doesn’t just focus on rape, “a punishable crime in most societies,” “but also on harassment and unwanted sexual attention” as though the three are widely disparate acts. From lived experiences, many women know how easily a man can move from small talk to harassment to sexual violence, from unsolicited comments to subtle or direct sexual coercion, and the shape-shifting dance of cultural negotiations and dangers means that one is never far from the next. You give some men an inch, they will take a mile and then some. Trust and believe that.

Even in parts of North America, men are barely being held accountable for acts of rape, allegedly, a punishable crime. Brock Turner and heaps of unprocessed rape kits both occur after all. What that means for women and girls of the Global South is much, much worse, and that’s not because the men are all brutes, but the existence of rape laws does not serve to address sexual crimes or bring justice for most women — anywhere. Mentioning such laws cannot be done without acknowledging systemic barriers in place and overarching patriarchal power structures, all of which necessitate movements like #LifeInLeggings and #MeToo to reframe narratives, call ish out, force systemic overhauls and empower survivors. Who else is going to do that? Societies that often blame and shame women? Police? Law enforcement in the U.S. has an issue with rape of its own.

For black women, black queer or lesbian women, queer women of colour, transwomen, poor women, women with no immigration status, wherever they are, the potential for legal redress is even worse. A woman in a coma under residential facility care was not even safe. The amount of sexual violence that women and girls face around the world, precisely for being who they are is tremendous. #MeToo is not “murky,” it is a clear signifier of the kinds of interconnected and multiplicities of dangers women face.

Another important aspect of Life in Leggings was showing West Indian men just how much rape and sexual assault proliferated among people they knew. One Barbadian man, Corey Sandiford, noted on Facebook:

I used to think rape was mostly about a mentally disturbed man hiding in dark clothes at night, waiting to ambush a woman walking alone. Just like the movies.

Only to get older and be appalled at the number of women who have casually mentioned to me – personally and professionally – that they were sexually violated by someone they knew when they were younger. A family member. A friend who took advantage of a situation. A school teacher. Someone from church. Not “casual” because they have a lax attitude to what happened mind you – but casual because they managed to make peace with it. . . .

Anger, I’m not sure yet at whom or what, or how to direct it. I don’t know what the ideal intervention point is, or how I can help protect. But #Barbados and the #Caribbean are rife with rape stories.

The vast majority of men are not in fact, being chased by a hashtag wielding mob with scant evidence. Many continue to face no consequences for their actions whatsoever. And if it seems that sketchy, sexually-tinged encounters trail behind so many men wherever they go, perhaps you are grossly underestimating many men’s entitlement to accessing women, and the tacit, toxic messages they’ve received from society for years — from childhood.

That this is being undone is good. I support women, abhor sexual violence and I stand with survivors. My blog quote being used by Thomas Hylland Eriksen does not change any of this. I remain committed to feminist engagement, creative work and unlearning nonsense that no longer serves me. I am rooted in a community who has shown me more than once how we are the ones we have been waiting for. I will continue to take up space, here on a blog post, or elsewhere, demanding clarity and decrying blatant disrespect.

I will not be erased.

Queer Dancing at CWSDC (Revelations of a Sort)

October 14, 2017

West Indian Day Parade x Labor Day 2014

This year’s 2017 Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference (CWSDC) found me in Saint Lucia aboard the Black Pearl boat lulled by rum, dancing and working up a sweat despite the cool ocean breeze, and I have thinking a lot about it and in particular, about queering spaces and what that means and feels like. Before I launch into these observations, a few things: these are just a few thoughts I have mulling around; nothing claims to be empirical. Different people will have varying thoughts about these experiences from that night and that’s okay. And lastly, not all of these thoughts have been well wrung out. Some are still soaking and marinating.

This experience was really important for me because even though I reside in the states, the opportunity for experiencing queer Caribbean spaces in my city is non-existent. Collectives throwing queer dance parties specifically for people of colour like New York’s Papi Juice and Fake Accent or Toronto’s Yes Yes Y’all don’t occur in here. There are gay clubs, then there are Caribbean spots, and there isn’t overlap between the two. While I have enjoyed gay clubs, I really can’t take house music in my head all night long (not even trap all night, sorry), but I deal with it when I have to, whereas the West Indian parties, I can hear all my soca, old kaiso, Afrobeats, dancehall etc. but the space is not queer.

Most of my Caribbean local partying in Florida (and I have done a lot) has been inside heteronormative places (shout-out to Élysse for unpacking the term “heteronormative” at the conference). Like compulsory heterosexuality, social spaces can and are heteronormative because that’s the presumption and expectation: that men will only dance with women, that everyone who looks like a man is and everyone who looks like a woman is. Plus, people can be homophobic assholes and get angry when they feel “visibly” gay people are “pushing their lifestyle” in their faces when they are simply doing the exact same thing as straight people: going out, getting turnt and having a good time with each other.

Queerness as verb: people can and do identify as queer as in the noun and queer can also refer to a verb, the action of queering a space. Is that possible? Yes, I would say so. What does it take to actively queer a space?

Safety is a must. The Black Pearl was a safe space because it felt like a space where you could be safely queer in. I have no idea what the boat is like for other events, but for this party on this night, that’s what it felt like. This is supported by the interaction of other gay, trans and queer individuals. Secondly, queer people of colour simply being in a space doesn’t make it queered though. The space is queered when the queer people inside are actively engaged with each other and using and interacting with the physical space: so yuh wining, can approach someone to dance, can navigate the space and not shirk who you are; you claim and take up space and and are unapologetic for it. If you are in a party and queer and you cannot freely take up space or wine on your preferred dance partner, and you have to stand up whole night for example, the space is not queered. You are just there existing. However, that’s understandable and happens. Sometimes we attend events because we really want to go, but the space is not safe to be queer in.

Ideally, a queered experience is interactive. So there was a Florida soca party I used to attend all the time and there was this one lesbian couple who would show up: a girl with a ras and her girlfriend.  I did not know either of them personally, but I knew through mutual connections that one of them was a Trini; the other girl may have been too. Anyway, so when they showed (which they did often), wining up on each other, being affectionate, very unambiguous about what was taking place and freely moving inside and participating in the party space, even dancing with other people: the space is queered a bit.

Having company in numbers helps with queering any space, and you really can’t do it alone. The other example that comes to mind is during last year’s CWSDC conference in St. Croix in the karaoke bar. That space was likely not normally a queer space by any stretch of the imagination but once we saturated the area with our presence, dancing and interactions — even shout-outs from the resident local lesbian DJ, we were actively queering the space; we also rolled deep. Of course, it is not always safe to do so, and it’s possible also that some people there did not like it either.

Likewise, at the street party in Gros Islet, wherever we were and engaging with the energy of the event and each other, that space was queered. At one point during the night as we walked by, a St. Lucian man addressed me and said, “You’re pretty.” He was polite enough and made no attempt to touch me or move closer, and I graciously told him thank-you. He then said to me, “If yuh was a flower, I woulda pick yuh” or something to that effect, and it is at the point that another woman at the conference who was walking in front of me, interjects, takes my hand and leads me away. With no semblance of possession, she strategically shuts the conversation down.

There were other similar occurrences; effectively, times when we queered a space for ourselves within the open street and the loud music, then men attempted to insert themselves to disrupt what we had created. Some men felt because they wanted to engage us, they were entitled to and they did. When our queerness bucks up against the presumed heteronormativity of a particular space, tension can be created. When men’s access is flagrantly denied by other femme and femme-presenting people, assumptions are challenged. This can also be dangerous in certain instances.

Navigating wines was interesting. As someone who has primarily feted in majority heteronormative party spaces, this was actually my first time like, deeply submerged in a whole queer dancing soca session (among other musical genres) with people I did not know well. Not counting a queer dance party in New York a couple years ago where level vintage reggae and some soca was played or being home earlier this year, and my friends taking me to a club around the corner from where my parents live in St. Augustine, but in both instances I only danced with really good friends of mine. On the Black Pearl, I really break away.

I also learnt that it’s different bracing to receive wines and I definitely have to work on that (ha!). I recognize that my understanding of wining dynamics is couched in the heteronormative, and in that context I am usually always “giving” the wine and throwing it back on someone. In a heteronormative dance space, cishet men pretty much receive the wines all the time which is to say, put ah woman in front and ah man behind is the general guideline. The differences are really subtle inside a queer dance space and I know this sounds like some quasi-essentialist ting: men wine this way vs. women — but at least I’m aware that it’s all constructed.

Really, it’s not so much the wining but the mechanisms of it, surrounding it and some of the assumptions that I am making depending on the “role” I am in, which I am not going to go into much detail at this time. Nevertheless, West Indian women (speaking from a lived Trini experience here) have an existing history of women wining up on each other (see blog pic and maybe your own personal experiences too), that is dancing that may have had nothing to do with anyone’s attractions and orientation/s and was sometimes used as a convenient tool to block nearby annoying dance partners and also, I think, simply as an expression of a kind of camaraderie and vibes among you and your crew.  All of this has given me a lot to think about while making me feel all the feels. There aren’t many things more beautiful than the resilience of queer Caribbean women dancing, thriving and living out loud. My life’s goals include experiencing so much more of that.


*I do not personally know the women in the blog pic or how they identify (but it’s a great pic). Photo credit: Demar Watson via Tumblr. Used under a creative commons license.

Saltfish, Pleasure and the Politics of Eating

August 25, 2017

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Hearing Ishawna’s “Equal Rights” for the first time months ago was so very satisfying. I’ve written about Ishawna before and I am a fan, so when I first heard this song, I hollered out one stink jamette cackle. It is the kind of song you nearly don’t know you need until it happens: actively demanding pleasing, riding and owning a “mainstream” dancehall beat and Ishawna coyly demanding “show mi what yu tongue can do.” The song is also gratifying because we haven’t heard female pleasure articulated in that way before while we were so busy being inundated for years with men’s opinions of why it shouldn’t be done.

Lyrically, not all of the metaphors work to the same degree; I’m so here for the delicious physicality inside the verbs “suck” and “nyam”, but “chewing” on my pussy decidedly like French fries of all things — not so much. Still, nearly every line is unapologetic. The weaponising of the pussy and Ishwana’s reinscribing of the dancehall men’s lyrical and phallic gun (for one example, but there are others that approximate the cocky and specifically, penetrative sexual intercourse, with violent imagery) means that what is between her thighs is simultaneously like a cutlass: a tool frequently used throughout the region to enact horrible injuries upon bodies in both public and domestic spaces.

The spectacular horror of a cutlass attack wielded high, with every dull thud of the blade’s crack through flesh and bone is likened to the pussy’s grip and the pussy owner’s potential to extract what’s needed and demanded through its cutting hold. What does the investment in vaginal tightness mean for women and can women elect to do so: elevate their own pussy performance on their own terms for their own damn selves and satisfaction? I am reminded of Red Dragon’s classic chune and how I am further of the belief that the pussy pat is an affirmative and declarative statement when outside of and separate from a man directing you to do so.

Sections of Ishawna’s song’s hook and its title are obviously hyperbolic to some extent, but the estimation of “equal rights and justice” with getting your pum pum eaten, given the specific cultural context, does not happen in a vacuum.  There are reasons behind why women are squealing out hearing this song. Those people expressing indignation that “rights” and “justice” have anything to do with pussy eating were probably not lambasting performers and regional sound systems that have continuously made violent assertions of masculinity against the backdrop of not eating pussy.

Ishawna’s evocation of the pussy as cutlass, rooted in questionable sexual respectability concepts of vaginal tightness versus looseness, is not less problematic just because she said so, but it further complicates our examination of what good pum pum looks, feels and tastes like and where we, as women, get those ideas from. It would have been wonderful to hear yu gon’ eat whatever comes out of these panties and yu will enjoy it, but Ishawna is not about completely subverting the sexual expectations of cishet men; she still chooses to cater and she just reframes their expectations, so the pum pum is well shaved and she drinks her pineapple juice daily.

The other issue with one part of the song’s opening is it uses pum pum eating as a prop for a man to feel good about otherwise failed sexual performance, not because he genuinely loves and wants to go down, and his partner deserves all the orgasms; but the clincher is really the next line where Ishawna caustically observes that the man is “bright enough fi a look gyal fi shine you, but yu no wan’ taste.” The whole double standard is here laid bare and stripped to its center of nonsense.

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How Ishawna Encourages Us to Be Sexy, Brilliant and Free

August 25, 2016

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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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Dancehall Daggerings’ Patriarchy

May 16, 2016

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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

Riri

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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The Language of Blackness

July 11, 2015

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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

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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

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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. (more…)

Trinidad James and Cultural Respectability Politics

February 27, 2014

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Full disclosure: this post was started a long-ass time ago and has been languishing on my WordPress dash since forever. I just never bothered to finish it earlier for no particular reason; I also got sidetracked by other projects along the way. The last draft was dated quite April 2013. I figured I might as well go ahead and post it anyway — finally.

If a beauty queen from a small Caribbean island appears in a rap video, does she cause a ruckus at the behest of respectability politics? Apparently, yes. And if said video includes shots in a low income community on the island, are some folks crowing in unparalleled indignation? Also, yes. On Facebook, folks lamented among other things, that “she’s in Trinidad James’ music video about being a hoe. So not becoming of her” and Metro Magazine (among others) had long running threads on Facebook dedicated to whether it was “beneath her and unbecoming for her to be in a video for a song that calls women hoes.” All this after Trinidad James visited the land of his birth before Carnival and shot this video for “Females Welcomed.” Look, what Athaliah decides to do with her own self is her own decision and how we can make the leap from appearance in a rap video to “hoe” is beyond me. Just stereotyping on top of stereotyping.

I disagree with the notion that by wearing the Miss World Trinidad and Tobago crown, this means that her autonomy becomes null and void. She also doesn’t become a slave to national respectability politics either. Especially not after a slew of us were disparaging her looks and her background. Oh, no, you don’t. (Google search Athaliah Samuels — go ahead do it. See what Google asks you.) A beauty queen is not an emblem of a living, throbbing West Indian culture and its diaspora and she doesn’t have to lug around the weight of your expectations and unending demands of respectability on her back. She’s just a beautiful young lady, probably doing the best she can, that is all. To quote Trudy from Gradient Lair, “I am NEVER gonna be here for respectability politics meant to intraracially police BW who are already intraracially policed.” Furthermore,

Now some will argue that if someone is beautiful (or “ugly”), famous and/or in a field where their sexuality is a part of their image, they no longer deserve respect from Whites or anyone else. They lose their right to discern who may touch them. I’m fully aware of how the politics of respectability and Eurocentric beauty myths manifest for Black people, especially Black women. However, I don’t agree with this. I will NEVER accept the faulty logic that if anyone perceives someone as “not respecting themselves,” everyone else has the “right” to disrespect them as well.”

I eh here for that either. Athaliah herself, would eventually have to take to Facebook in the form of an open letter to nicely read the widespread hypocrisy of Trinidadians for utter filth and claim her space to negotiate her own future and decision making. Enter Trini Trent‘s rant about respectability, Trinidad James, and most of all, the representation of the country, which of course, is rooted deep inside cultural respectability politics.

About that, first off, a Trini living in Trinidad vexedly lamenting all the national symbol waving by folks no longer living in Trinidad is really a pointless harangue. Yes, we all love the country, but of course, people who migrate go a bit extra with that. Understandably so, they left or their parents left with them. Some of it is all psychological really: I will rep this place so damn hard because I don’t want to ever lose sight of the fact that this culture is a part of who I am; even though, I am not physically living there anymore and may never be. How and why is Trent’s use of the “Trini” moniker more legitimate than James’ usage and claim of “Trinidad?”

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