Archive for the ‘trinidad’ Category

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

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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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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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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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Glitterlove

February 23, 2014

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I kind of love glitter. Most Trinis probably have an ambivalent relationship with glitter. You love it sometimes or you hate it other times. But like plumage, feathers, sequins and all things great, sparkly and iridescent, it often evokes images of carnival. Glitter is to carnival as mud is to J’ouvert. I feel a similar way about gold or silver lamé fabric, its scratchiness and rustle taking me back to kiddies carnival and all of the attendant memories. Snow cones topped with condensed milk. Orchard juice boxes, popular soca blaring, and strapping on parts of your costume. And my mother, and all the (mainly) mothers chipping along the route, toting snacks and sandwiches wrapped in aluminum foil and beverages that will not stay cold; fixing costumes, fastening safety pins and making sure hair styles stay in place.

Fantastical local lore or deep sea waves, I have been all of this and more. I have been a hooved La Diablesse, a bolt of lighting, Thumbelina, Blight, and one of the Israelites leaving Egypt, among others. There was always some glitter involved. Glitter is the ultimate tactile reminder, to me. Back in the day glitter was rough and made our tender skin itch. The pieces were bigger too, sharply squared and worn by the pound, layered on top of generous smears of petroleum jelly. Carnival meant glitter. Gold or silver, and there was always someone’s mummy or aunty or other mother figure with plenty to share liberally and sprinkle on everyone in the section.

In the 90s, glitter became in vogue again. Club kids and ravers wore glitter. It was always symbolic of revelry and good times — even outside of Trinidad, and a willingness to be celebratory. Glitter embodies a kind of spectacle of the body when worn. Glitter is otherworldy. The disco era worshiped at the high altar of glitter. They say no one would take you seriously wearing glitter but there it was, a kind of style again, outlasting many other trends: suddenly, glitter gels were everywhere, scented and non-scented alike, and rolls-ons. Perfumes and body sprays released shimmery editions. Of course, I wore and continue to wear my fair share, gravitating to the shimmer like a moth dancing towards flames. I was the girl slathering something glimmering on me, just because. I was the girl who rocked starry glitter pieces at the corners of my eyes.

Glitter is stupidly gendered. A friend once famously noted that “Badman doh wear glitter” when I offered to sprinkle some on him, but glitter doesn’t care. If you wine on me, you will get glitter on you anyway. Glitter is deliciously queer. And genderqueer. Glitter is femme. Ethereal. Our attempt at stardust on earth.  Glitter is a fabulously good time. Glitter is subversive on the bodies of men and masculine of center folks.

There was a popular meme passing around once observing how “glitter was the herpes of craft supplies” (no shade to those living with an STI) — but it’s true. Glitter doesn’t go away, not easily at any rate. It clings to your skin like a needy lover. You wore it and it wore you. You’d find remnants of glitter on you, days, maybe even weeks later, on a part of your scalp or in the soft crease of an elbow. A lone, reflective speckle could resurface when you least expected it.

The ground outside of my apartment is a testament to the glitter boots I made for Miami carnival last year. The glitter may never leave. Glitter has trouble letting go. It is the last person to leave the fete. Glitter is waiting for the next event, the next carnival and the next party. Glitter is adding vibes — to poster board or bodies. Glitter is here to stay, maybe for always. I am more than here for that.

Image by Amelia Fletcher via Glorieuse Désordre on Tumblr.

2013 in review

December 31, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,200 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Strength and powers tee

December 16, 2013

Strenth and powers tee

Reppin’ for our Caribbean and West Indian women writers.

Click photo if you want one!

The Problem with Red Woman (And Red Man)

October 23, 2013

The problem with “red woman” isn’t really an issue of individual red women, per se, but rather it’s a response to, and emblematic of the ways in which we, as a society, process skin colour, beauty and desirability. In the end, it ends up muddled into an expression wrapped in humorous observation that puts folks of the lighter-skin persuasion on the defensive but really, it eh have nutten to do with you on a personal level.

What’s really taking place is a quasi-examination of desirability privilege and beauty privilege (conversations not often had on the Trinbagonian pop cultural landscape) via these observations, but the observations themselves are rooted in the historical and social capital many of us tend to place on colour. These are systemic concepts not meant to attack individual red people, though individuals are complicit in the ways in which these ideas remain rooted and passed on.

Two popular videos currently trending in the Trinbagonian social media network, “Top 5 Worst Women to be with in Trinidad” and the “Top 5 worst men to hook up with in Trinidad” both posit individuals of a “red” skin tone — the only skin tone singled out by shade on both lists — as people to be wary of getting romantically/sexually involved with. The subtexts  of both vids, with regard to colour are fascinating and revelatory. Fascinating, perhaps more so if you get the subtext.

Responses by red-skinned individuals on social media, particularly women, fell into the existentialist “what allyuh have with red woman so?” and “why the hating on red woman?” categories, as though the listing themselves indicated anything less than a preferential inclination toward light skinned men and women–the irony being that this was cast (ironically) as a bad thing, but clearly, obviously, it’s not (that’s in the subtext).

I mean, the biggest problem with red men (according to the vid) is that you will have to fight other women off yuh man. And for red women, “their attributes allow them to stand out in a crowd, thereby drawing attention.” This woman also has multiple men, allegedly, doing her financial bidding. And why is this woman standing out? Among other things, Trudy at Gradient Lair informs us that: “When people speak of “traditional beauty” and those considered attractive, several factors come into play. For women, it’s Whiteness in general, or light skin for women of colour, its thinness, it’s height/weight distribution (i.e. curvy but not too curvy), it’s length of hair, it’s texture of hair, it’s hair colour, it’s eye colour, it’s facial symmetry; it’s how these all interact with class and overall appearance. (It’s also time. Different eras in time meant different conceptions of beauty.)” Trinidad and Tobago, like much of the diaspora, as a product of colonization, imperialism, slavery, indentureship and Eurocentric norms means that we also grapple with similar notions of what it means to be beautiful and “stand out” because of that perception of beauty.

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March 6, 2013

Check out our new prezi on lipstick resistance and The Two Lips Collective!

Two Lips

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You might have questions and we’re trying to formulate answers! The new Two Lips Prezi answers why Two Lips? Why Lipstick resistance? See link below:

The Two Lips Project

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Makin’ Style: Trinidad James and Saga Boy Aesthetics

January 5, 2013

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The cultural shadow gets cast when someone from your own cultural background or heritage does something noteworthy or cringeworthy — Trinidad James is currently casting one. Depending on who you ask, the responses range from shame to staunch or low-key West Indian pride. The eyes of the twin-island republic (and its diaspora) that carries the name of his moniker have been watching especially close. So amidst all the hoopla, I finally sat down near the end of last year and watched the video for “All Gold Everything.”

I wasn’t terribly offended at all (surprisingly), but I was highly intrigued by the imagery after I took several minutes to process it all. From the time the beat started thumping and the camera pans to the flag ring next to James’ gold laden fingers, the gold handlebars, the leopard print (crushed velvet looking) shirt, the crisp Trinidad and Tobago bandana clutched like some kind of scepter, the puppy and the sawed off shotgun; this interspersed with scenes of James’ crew on the block, James up in the club — I was relegated to sorting out my piquing interest.

While trying to order my thoughts around the visual imagery, the sparse lyrics and the criticisms I’d heard and read, I was struck by Trinidad James’ style aesthetic and why it seemed to strike a culturally familiar chord. And I’m not the only one talking and thinking about the way he dresses.  In an interview on New York’s Hot 97, when asked about his unique fashion sense, James acknowledged that he “ran a boutique in Atlanta for like, three, four years.”

Trinidad James Of course, indie rap is hardly a strange place within which to indulge a different kind of fashion sense. Other rappers like The Based God (Lil B) and A$ap Rocky also help reinscribe the boundaries of what rappers, black men and black men rappers could dress like. A$ap also has a penchant for gold but then again, few rappers don’t. What makes Trinidad James of curious note is where his aesthetic converges at the intersection of nationality and cultural emblems.

As any visit to any major North American carnival would show, flag bandanas and nation colors have long been imbued inside the fashion sense of folks who are part of the nostalgic West Indian diaspora. I see more Trini flags in Miami carnival, than I do on the streets of Port of Spain, like, ever.

At the Ft. Lauderdale airport this holiday break, when I said to my new friend (we were on the same flight up and back) that I liked an older gentleman’s hat, a straw fedora with the colors of the Trinidad and Tobago flag wrapped as a neat side band around the crown, my friend commented derisively that he didn’t because he used to don “all kinda flag ting when I first came up” and he didn’t like any of those things anymore.

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