Posts Tagged ‘black women’

Race and Desire on a Fantasy chat line

April 1, 2013


For a few months shy of a year, I worked part-time, then full time at an adult chat line business in the United States. Much to my friends’ chagrin (those in the know), by day, I went to grad school; by late evenings and over night on others — I was having conversations with and getting random dudes off. I did so in the chipper, (so-deemed) all-American-cheerleader-type sound that I was required to employ. On top of it all, as a person with a pronounced non-American accent, I had to actively work at feigning a strong American accent alongside the requisite  chat line “sound.” I took a cutlass to the Trini inflection of my words, chopped my accent out and blunted the sound on consonants like the “t” in party that was typical of the American accent. And I became an expert at orgasmic breathing over the phone and recreating the sweet squelch of wet pussy inside an ear.

The adult phone chat industry is a sub-set of the larger sex and pornography industry in the US and elsewhere, and on its own, accounts for a “4.5 billion” dollar revenue of the overall sex market that brings in “57 + billion [in] world wide business annually.” Certainly, it’s another one of those places where race, desirability and perceptions of desirability underscore many facets of the very workings of the industry, similarly, inside the adult film industry.  The chat line, too, is also a place where sexual desirability is reflected in and revealed through the “products” of this industry, and the ways in which they are marketed. Because of the pervasiveness of sociopolitical, cultural and historical constructs of race, the insidious effects of racism, internalized and otherwise,  and white supremacist heteropatriarchal norms, it’s no wonder that who we deem desirable or want to date becomes informed by a variety of these norms.

On the phone, you are able to engage with various individuals in a unique way: through the medium of the analog and or the caller’s mobile phone. You hear voices and nuances, you talk, flirt, share and arouse and release through language and sound. And if we can gauge anything by what some people are willing to profess via online postings and/or online personals — anonymous folks calling into an adult phone chat line are just as revealing, and potentially just as problematic in conversation.

Unsurprisingly, fantasy phone chat is rife with gross generalizations, misogyny, ageism, racial and ethnic stereotypes; in fact, problematic frames of almost every kind, to say the least. There were many times that I cringed inwardly, reflexively, while doing a call — while panting, “oh yes, big Daddy!” salaciously on a call. Most interestingly, playing the default “white girl” character and assuming that role as a black West Indian woman was a fascinating juxtaposition with calls involving men of all colors.

As per my job description, the role of the phone chat operator is to play a stereotypical (usually) heterosexual female “character.”  We were effectively “fantasy girls”.  A kind of dream young woman, between the ages of 18-24 (unless otherwise specified) that a (more often than not) man could pick up the phone and connect to for conversation and sexual pleasure. We were always available, always perky, ultra stereotypically feminine, submissive (unless otherwise specified), always ready to indulge and utterly capable.  And the default character was always white. Always, again, unless otherwise specified. The collusion of whiteness with ultimate fantasy female presupposes that this is what the majority of male callers are looking for (especially regulars), and expect — and seemingly, they do.



The Beauty Myth & An Open Letter to Some Trinbagonians

July 19, 2012

In case you missed the awfulness surrounding the 2012 Miss Trinidad and Tobago World 2012 representative: Athaliah Samuel; the awful missology thread headline proclaiming how ugly she is; the Jay Blessed weigh in; the Miss Trinidad and Tobago Fans page’s awkward, painful, cringe-inducing retraction and the numerous Trinbagonians online bemoaning her as choice — the fact that she is a “non traditional beauty”, from Laventille, dark skinned or “not your cup of tea” are all bullshit explications for the classism, colourism, elitisim, racism and just all around, meanness of spirit that has been shown to this girl in too many places.

Many of the people who would allege that their assessment of her features have absolutely nothing to do with colour are talking crap. Everyone is carrying around internalized beauty ideals and deeply entrenched racial ideals (especially simultaneously) — especially us. Contextualize your notions of symmetry or whatever stupid yard stick you are using for cover over internalized, cultural mind fucks. The diaspora has been officially and thoroughly fucked over in that regard. (I have come to that sad conclusion). Some of us resist (and are resisting), and some of us are unlearning and have done so. Some of us still don’t know that we need to. Harriet Tubman knew what the hell she was talking about. Athaliah’s beauty (the perceptions surrounding it), her colour and class status are all blessedly intertwined, make no mistake around that. People didn’t think Wendy Fitzwilliam was beautiful once upon a time, either. Remember that? Then lo, and behold…

I am a Trini, but the self absorption and levels of superficiality of some of you are disgusting, almost on the verge of nauseating. This whole fantastical narrative of ‘some of the most beautiful women in the world’ has gotten to your heads and I want you to check yourselves on that, please and thank you. If you think a globally commodified “beauty” competition is the best platform to exemplify some cultural estimation of “beauty” — and you are personally offended when said choice/s don’t meet your own personal standards, you need to open your mind some more and get over your fucking self. A beautiful people don’t move that way. And your clearly unexamined biases and perceptions of East Port of Spain communities, its people and your narrow constructs of beauty are showing. Even if you don’t agree, the audacity of being affronted by her looks — her physicality and phenotype, style choices and saying so in terrible terms is still disgusting. You and your words disgust me. All this to a daughter of the soil who is young and undoubtedly a work in progress at 24 (aren’t we all in some ways?), trying to achieve her goals.

Athaliah, sistren, my hope for you is that you know that you are beauty, whether you win or lose, that crown doesn’t define you. Pretty is conventional, often stereotypical, fleeting, falls slack off the bones and finite. Beauty is inside and out. It scares and enthralls. And is sometimes elusive to pin down in exact words. It’s still there when your back bends and skin is weighed down by the extent of life’s journeys. Third-eyes often espy it. And spirits know it is there when your spirit takes to somebody and vice versa. Beauty, like love — is deliberate. The people that see it, mean to see it and it is for them (and you) to savor in those realizations. Everyone knows a pretty girl when they see her but everyone isn’t going to see beauty in you.  Not everyone can. Fuck the naysayers. May your journey be splendid and filled with growth and new experiences.

The echoes and reverberations of some folks’ voices about all of this, will say more about how we view our collective cultural selves than any of the other people and things we rush to rally around the red, white and black for.  And right now, those colours eh looking too nice. Not at all.

‘Femme is on Purpose’: Truthtelling for us all

May 27, 2012

My Trini sista Kim, speaking fierce truths at Slutwalk Toronto 2012.


Hair, Home and Meaning

January 28, 2012

“To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.”  — June Jordan

I come from a culture, it is said, somewhere between where the Ganges meets the Nile, converging with European colonialists, Chinese, Syrians and indigenous people. Where girls slicked their hair back with petroleum jelly and water — cinching cinnamon buns wound close and pulled tight with woogies. Where box-plaits were common and traditionally, you got braids for carnival, even my East-Indian, white and black mixed friend whose hair I’d done, tightly winding the ends with tiny rubber-bands. Her father hated them, she told me — hated how it looked when she plaited up her hair. And my curly haired primary school friend: a Trini ‘Spanish’ — every swivel of her head echoing with the clack of snap fasteners and aluminum foil on the ends down her back.

In secondary school, rebellious girls shaved half the underside of their heads — it was a way to be definitively edgy then. And more than one East-Indian girl came into her own by loping off the long, dark strands she’d been waiting to remove. Many of them, never looked back. Some girls permed their hair straight; some were life long naturals like me. Some of those naturals permed then when natural again — some stayed natural, adding length in locks, in nattys: coiling, clumping, unbridled, twisting, spiraling across shoulders, down lower backs.

Our heads once smelled like Luster’s pink oil, Let’s Jam! pudding and African Pride products. We pulled brushes from school book-bags and dipped them under the tap before dragging them across our scalps and flaked black gel buildup from our tresses.  We leaked jheri-curl juice onto the top of our blouse collars and maintained dry-curls and glittered finger waves.  We learnt about “weave-ons” and sat still with our selves, quietly dancing fingers around and around to put our hair in corkscrew twists.

We traded in banana clips, barrettes, the sharp teeth of tortoise shell hair combs and baubles; and sported bandeaus, bandanas wrapped around buns and metal hair clips made famous by those girls tumbling through the air at the Olympics on TV, instead. Once upon a time, our mothers slow-rubbed Dax grease into our roots, coated strands with coconut oil and wove colored woolies into plaits and styled them to match uniforms. They burnt and sewed the edges of our hair bows so they wouldn’t unravel — and when they did, we ran the length of school yards in vain, searching for them like lost dreams in the breeze.



In the Castle of Our Skins: The Darker the Candy The Sweeter the Syrup

November 1, 2011

By: Tanya Marie Williams


In the Castle of Our Skins: Darkies, Brownings and Red Woman

November 1, 2011

By: Tanya Marie WilliamsDarkies, Brownings and Red Woman: Female Desirability and Skin Color in the Caribbean

By: soyluv (Soyini Ayanna)

The proliferation of “darkie” to describe women of a dark skin tone in Trinidad and Tobago is a fascinating and complicated space within which to explore. Though “darkie” and its popular conflation with “sweet” may exist as catcalls alongside a sout [1], frequently proclaimed by men to dark-skinned women out in the street or elsewhere, this term is not solely reserved for females. Men can and are categorically defined as “sweet darkies” too. Most importantly, darkie is understood to be reserved for those of a specific skin shade and ethnic group simultaneously.

In Trinidad, where “darkie” takes root and flourishes in the local parlance with t-shirts available by a local designer proclaiming, “I love my Trini darkie,” (as well as “my Trini reds” and “my Trini browning”), the term functions as an important reaffirmation of Afro-descendant beauty, by calling attention to a certain skin tone in all its chocolate splendor. Its contemporary usage in Trinbagonian society is also markedly different from the American term “darky” (or other cultural uses, with or without a “y”) which is an old termed racial slur, rooted in the era of blackface, epitomizing the negative stereotypes of all dark-skinned people.

This is a country where “madras” refers to a dark-skinned East Indian person and a “dougla” (any person of mixed African and East Indian descent), may fall within a range of skin tones from fair to dark. Darkie functions in a slightly different way, where it serves to singularly encompass an Afro-Trinidadian aesthetic of perceived attractiveness. It certainly can be used as purely descriptive, along the lines of a general physical trait, but darkie is usually understood to be nuanced in a way that makes it different from the terms mentioned above. Darkie is flexible, in that it may solely be attributed to implied attractiveness or one’s skin tone and usually, the context involves an understood interconnection of the two. Far from simply objectifying the individual, darkie is a celebratory, verbal sound-kiss against ebony skin and represents a reimagining of who can be declared attractive.



Brams, Fete-ishness and the Female Form

October 13, 2011

One day during the summer, I went into a Jamaican food spot to politely ask if I could leave a stack of flyers for my friend’s party. Caribbean party flyers are usually always hella interesting to peep. They’re fascinating snapshots into male centered flights of fantasy, and gives a look at what will presumably sell an event to the masses (read: cisgendered hetero men). The average event flyer is full colored, about 6″ x 4 ” on average, bordered or highlighted by images of female bodies in various levels of sexy (or scant undress).

When was the last time you saw, er, Tyson Beckford or a bevy of half-dressed men advertising a party? Exactly. Even though, on average, the soca & other Caribbean parties I go to, seem to be predominated by women — usually. Men are there for sure, but young women frequently run the route. And while not all women care about whether men are on a flyer or not, some of them just might appreciate it. Meanwhile, said flyer images will be plucked from just about anywhere — so you end up with a picture of Stacey Dash advertising a soca party in Florida. Or a random photoshopped still of Vivica Fox with a vacant stare looking back at you.

Which is fine; women on flyers don’t deter women from parties and they shouldn’t, but it all points to gendered notions of event marketing and what’s acceptable and the norm, especially in West Indian themed events. And because it’s only fellas I know who seem to have connects who do flyers (always another fella) and the party promotion circuit seems to be overwhelming male around here — advertisement reflects this. The agouti look-back, the stereotypically pretty women armed with unrelenting come-hither eyes. In fact, the only men I ever see on Caribbean party flyers are ubiquitous dancing crews, local-famous types celebrating a birthday bash or some other seminal event, performers that are male or sound systems that are always all male. You’ll see a whole flyer teeming with men then.

“Wow. It’s Stacey Dash! Is that really her body?” I asked my friend, the party-thrower. I’ve only known Stacey Dash from “Clueless” (as if) in her box-braids and fabulous knee-highs and I have not really been keeping myself up to speed with her current manifestations. On this flyer, she looked over her shoulder back at you, bronze skin glowing, ass-cheeks like full breadfruits beneath an ivory colored bikini swimsuit, beckoning you to come the shorts pants and summer dresses party. And as it turns out, the event went well. Perhaps Stacey had a lot to do with it.

At every Caribbean restaurant and small grocery in the area, posters and flyers can be seen lining some of the windows and layered thick on the appropriate counters. All use the bodies of black and brown women to entice the masses to come rockaway and bruck out to reggae, dancehall, soca, chutney and calypso. And they really completely turn a blind eye to any notion of pandering to the tastes of straight women who might be looking for beefcake.  The formula I’ve heard before is that fellas go parties for ladies — ladies will either come regardless, or not — so  marketing to the men is key to get them to come.

Women in the West (especially in North America) are already inundated with a media market that is saturated with the female form to sell and push products or ideas. So, it’s not too surprising that other parts of the English speaking world follow the same models. The same or similar models of masculinity get disseminated far and wide too, which is why no straight man wants to see shirtless males advertising an event that he might be thinking of going to — even if it’s not on there for him, per se. Men on a flyer would disrupt the straight male, fantasizing gaze — and West Indian men, on average, wouldn’t like that. Women (straight or otherwise) are expected to filter through or past the images and extract info about the event but the images are not there to titillate them. Even though, conceivably, some lesbian or bi lady might be watching a flyer and thinking, “Waaays, Stacey Dash have more forms than a secondary school. Bram sounding nice — I up in dat!”

But really, male centered event promoters aren’t thinking about them in the slightest. Even though, clearly, the extent to which any  Caribbean party is considered successful is based on whether both men and women show up and show out at  your party.  A ‘stones party’ is one of the worst things you can have — as a straight man promoter. Yet party advertising finds it all too easy to erase women attendees from the equation, with their primary focus on tantalizing and luring the men with visual bait, like carrots on a stick, hoping or knowing that women will invariably follow suit.


Images that don’t let you go

May 27, 2011

I don’t  know who she is or what she’s about but needless to say: it’s all mesmerizing. First of all, I   t-shirt dresses and peep toes, ergo, her whole look. Also, she’s absolutely stunning and the image & all the unknowing-ness around it is captivating on so many levels. Lenny should have written that song about her. Of course, there are some people somewhere, who won’t think she’s at all gorgeous—on principle, because she’s so dark. 

I didn’t plan to write about this but I felt the need to since I had planned to post this pic up today anyway, then I saw the link for the preview of the documentary: “Dark Girls”, pop up into my facebook stream multiple times today. It’s not at all something I presently have the psychological strength or interest to go into detail explicating on right now, but suffice it to say, I’ve touched on colourism before here and there and it’s a painful, difficult, unending unraveling, with almost no end in sight (for someone inhabiting my skin tone anyway, that’s what it oftentimes feel like on a regular basis).  Intraracism + racism make for formidable bedfellows, let me tell you. Which brings me right back around to local language and the power of language for transformative imaginings like that of: dark-skinned, black beauty.

While the Caribbean is no less a space for some of the exact same hierarchies of beauty & desire & Eurocentric ideals, the presence of “darkie” constantly reminds me of what is possible and why I am excited that it exists as a site for considering dark skin tones attractive and lauding dark skin, specifically. Unambiguously. And why I’ve written about it more than once. How often is that kind of reaffirmation happening? Why not? Language is not all there is to it but it helps. If you hear you are pretty enough all throughout your life; you just might believe it, because it hasn’t been my experience that we draw these constructs of beauty without input from others, devoid of context and not as a result of no-end of weighing in by the media or other people, whether we want their opinions or not, unfortunately. If I can celebrate and complicate these tenuous notions of beauty, all colour-struck and problematic and difficult and gnarled as they might be in some ways, I might as well do so, on, being a darkie—because I am one. And evidently, I can’t be sitting here, scratching & waiting around for anyone to do it for me.

Beautiful image originally espied on the awesome fuckyeahblackbeauty tumblr.


Unfurling a tightly woven rope—

June 8, 2010

might at first prove easy to do but then what do you do when it wants to—fights to, curl back up on itself?

Late last week I finished Marlon James’ incredible Book of Night Women and I’ve been thinking about some of the many things that struck me about the novel. It was an extremely riveting and visceral book to read on some levels but I got through it and I would highly recommend it to anyone. On top of which, week before last, while I was still reading it, I heard Spokenheart ( a local poet) read her stellar poem “House Nigger” at an open-mike, reflecting on the historical legacy coupled with her own experiences of being a light-skinned, pretty, black American southern girl with light eyes, grappling with all that comes with inhabiting her skin. Her words were a powerful examination of colour privilege, stereotypes, intra-racism, race, identity and the self.

Because colourism, its manifestations and perceptions and constructs of beauty fascinate me (and also makes my head & heart hurt sometimes)—the colourism in James’ book was interesting to me. Inside a slavery narrative, where fiction meets historical context in the West Indies on a  Jamaica plantation estate—of course there is going to be colourism and some of its attendant intersections; but the complexities of how it is woven into this particular story and James’ own attention to interrogating some inherent constructs of said colourism was some powerful stuff. In one fell swoop, he takes The Tragic Mulatto, the “browning”—the notion of the presumed beauty of the mulatto woman, the presumed unattractiveness of the un-mixed black woman—and complicates the whole lot of them. This, on top of everything else that is taking place within that space.



Is that Who I think it is?: Passing Porn & Notes on Life in a Small Place

March 12, 2010

“I say the whole worl’ is only a dam’ little morsel of a place. Besides Trinidad is a smaller place even. It all close up on itself, an’ you have to look out fo’ that with the bigges’ eyes you have.”– Old Boss, The Humming Bird Tree (1969)

One of the things I aimed to do in the new year was to write more about things I had wanted to  talk about before—but hadn’t had the time or gumption to do before. A prime example of that would be the Anya Ayoung-Chee episode and so, here I go, talking about it now. Now, when Anya’s porn tape/s got “leaked”–one of the most fascinating aspects of the whole debacle to me, were the ways in which certain people immediately closed ranks around the issue (and her) and grew a moral spinal cord, refusing to pass on the footage.

Sometimes, the same people who were passing Sampson Nanton footage left, right and center (for anyone who remembers that episode, for anyone who hasn’t the foggiest idea—ask a Trinbagonian) not to mention, other sundry videos/stills. So I couldn’t figure out if some of the Trinbagonians I knew, on a whole, had just evolved to the point where the moral high ground on which they stood just got loftier and markedly higher, or what the heck was going on. Or whether Nanton, being a man, made it easier for folks to engage in the passage of pornographic footage of him. Either way, both are/were relatively public Trinbagonian figures whose sexual interludes ended up, being unfortunately broadcast for the public through the medium of the internet.