Posts Tagged ‘culture’

West Indian Race, Colour & Identity: A Reading List

July 12, 2016
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Photo credit: via Tumblr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Luis Vasquez La Roche, “Walking While Black,” Luis Vasquez La Roche

“Anahita explains again what we are doing and what the walking seminar is about. While she speaks to him I look over to Miatta and tell her that he stopped me because I am black. She asked me if he really said that and replied to her “ Yes, he just told that to Ramon”.

He keeps asking for our documents, which Anahita explains again to him that everyone’s documents are in the car along with the rest of our things. I looked over to my right and see Michelle and Andreya walking over to where we were, followed by another Police car. The Police car was right behind them. It seemed like they were rounding up prisoners or suspects. A few police officers got out of the car. I cannot recall how many Police officers were there with us. Some of them start directing traffic while others talk to other people in the group.”

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

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

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Glitterlove

February 23, 2014

glitter

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.

In the Castle of Our Skins: Who Am I?

March 2, 2012

I’m really, really thrilled to have Luis Vasquez La Roche join the conversations inside the castle of our skins. His work surrounding questions of identity, nationhood, and the self is exciting and it interrogates what it means to “be” in ways that offer no one pathway or one single reckoning but a beautiful and interesting examination of the complexities inside these various spaces that I think we can all relate to. According to his statement:

My project came through my recent body of work called the search, in which I deal with identity, cultural and some other issues pertaining to belonging within a certain space. I started using teeth because it is a way in which a person can be definitively recognized, apart from DNA, or finger prints. So when I use the word “recognize”,  I don’t only refer to your identity by name. Because names, at the end of the day, are just names. Just like everything else has a name to be recognized. What I really was trying to do was consider whether I can pin point who I really was in essence, which I found difficult because I am not one thing but many.

All this came about as I got to Trinidad and all these issues of identity came about.  My race was questioned (I was no longer considered black, which for years, I thought I was),  so I started looking for something inside of me that I can feel comfortable with using to claim and identify who I am.  In having conversations with another artist called Nikolai Noel, he explained to me that in a certain way, everyone has a way how they see themselves and is not necessarily related to race or gender; they use many other ways to describe themselves: personality, career, emotions, nationality, religion — whatever makes everyone comfortable and at ease.

The answer always comes with the context you’re in. So, what if there is no context (there will always be one), what then, will your answer will be? What is that thing that will describe you? So I drew probably 15 or more dentures (same type of denture, different surroundings) and made people take one and tell me what one thing they think they are.

POWER!!!!!!!!!!THE GREAT VISION

January 15, 2012

This is currently my pc screen saver and I’m not sure when it will ever change, to be quite honest. I love all that this image evokes for me: the beauty, Gothic, the blackness and culture-mash-up feel of the whole thing. There is so, so much in Delphine Diallo’s astounding work that constantly stirs my insides and makes me want to get lost inside her art for days on end.

In the Castle of Our Skins Blog Carnival posts

November 1, 2011

We wanted to start a conversation about Caribbean people, about West Indian people, about our contemporary experiences; about the variegation and the connections that “thread archipelagos”, ranging through race & identity to culture, mental health to constructs of beauty and more. There’s no one, easy answer to what it means to be a West Indian, a Caribbean person — or any one way in which that identity shapes the person holding it dear to them.

These posts are a sampling from across that spectrum:

Who Am I?, by Luis Vasquez La Roche

Black Power’s Inheritance, by Mariamma Kambon

Brown Gurl Envy, by Linisa aka Awkward Adult

Continental, Colonial or Creole, by David

Milk in its coffee, by derevolushunwidin

Untitled, by Kim

Being the Fat Friend, by Linisa aka Awkward Adult

Call me crazy, by pieces2peace

Darkies, Brownings and Red Woman: Female Desirability and Skin Color in the Caribbean, by soyluv

Artwork, by Tanya Marie Williams

Thanks for the interwebs link love from:

The hosts at Lati-Negros

The Bad Dominicana

This blog carnival will be continuously updated for the rest of the year so please check back to see what’s new. If you’d like to join in the conversation: email creativecommess [at] gmail [dot] com with a blog link, submission/s or questions. Otherwise, do support the participating bloggers and their links: read, comment, share!

The title of this blog carnival comes from George Lamming’s seminal novel, In the Castle of my Skin.

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.

The Carnival Body

September 13, 2011

“Big ting, small ting, I winin’ up on all ting. . .”

Hot on the heels of New York’s West Indian Day Parade celebrations, I saw two people I know, bemoaning online about the “rights” of women with certain body types to wear carnival costumes. It’s not the first time that the ever annoying body conscious, bodycentric undercurrent currently running rampant in Trinidad’s carnival for a while now, rears its ugly head. The increasingly body conscious aesthetic of Trinidad carnival has been steadily frustrating to me, personally, because of the way in which it enables people to feel free to police the expression of women (always women), with a range of body types who choose to take to the streets for these festivals.

All this “who she feel she is” and, “why she think she could go in de road looking like that,” which is to say: not toned, flat-bellied and slim is both reductive and silly. (Also referred to at times, allegedly, as the “Brazilianising” of Trinidad Carnival. Apologies to our South American neighbours who may, or may not, feel unfairly maligned).

Plus, it bothers me that some of these people are constantly acting as though it personally affronts them — these women who might even *gasp* have the audacity to not choose a whole suit. As though women outside of a certain size range have no business in a revealing costume, effectively engineering an oppressive space for women who don’t fit a certain mould, in a supposedly ‘free’ space, while nothing of the sort happens for men inside that same space.

Yes, men can be fit for carnival and choose to be — or they can not choose to be and you will hardly hear as many people either thrashing viral carnival pictures online and the like, complaining fervently how men with pot-bellies and or less than stellar bodies, have no right to be shirtless or in a carnival costume offending your eyes. Respectability politics practically never seem to come in to play for men’s bodies inside of carnival culture. And the discourse has shifted; from back when I played my first adult mas and if I am re-thinking carnivals past, from my parents’ generation and snatches of conversation I heard back then: the looming issues were always one of cost, and things like design, functionability, colour and themes of costumes seemed to matter more.

The whole point of carnival (if one can whittle down a complex sociocultural, historical expression of resistance, music, dance and revelry to a single point) is precisely that — that these women, and everyone else can have to ‘freedom’ as it were, to participate in these spaces and wield their bodies to the rhythm, however they see fit, and wearing whatever they desire. Why can’t you wine down the road in a two-piece if your stomach has soft folds or your thighs love to kiss one another?

It’s more than just simply fat phobia too, because Trinidad like many parts of the Caribbean and the diaspora, do accept possibilities for a beauty aesthetic that makes way for “thickness” (and I don’t just mean like Beyonce-thick) — to a certain point, so to speak, depending on one’s purview. If I think back to my school days and among people I know for instance, girls and women lauded as beautiful and desirable were never exclusively skinny, or flat-bellied with stereotypical modelesque figures. (Not to mention, considerable levels of sexiness is constantly meted out and lauded in the curvaceous figures of soca women like Alison Hinds, Destra Garcia, Denise Belfon, Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez and Tanzania “Tizzy” Sebastian to name just a few).

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Women’s Sexuality and Music: On Pretty Pussies and (giving) the Bam-Bam

May 21, 2011

The first time I heard of (a) pretty pussy was when someone I knew referenced the song to me. It was so awkward, I didn’t even have the presence of mind to properly process a problematic compliment. Lady Saw said what? was my preeminent thought, followed by something in the zone of, buh what de. . . ? It was also the first time that I really reckoned with the notion that pussies could be pretty, and that women as well as men, from my part of the world were just as concerned with the notion of tidy, pretty, vaginal parts. I knew a smattering of people in general, up here, were concerned with such it seems, if the articles on cosmetic vaginoplasty I came across in popular magazines were any indication. Recently, on Jezebel, I read a contemplation on whether porn gave men unrealistic expectations of what the variegations in vaginas really look like, essentially a reminder that: “your ladyflower is not the wrong color”, (nor possessing the wrong lip length) despite what popular pornographic renderings might tell you.

I was also out of it because to be honest, I really haven’t taken on much of the new (or relatively new) dancehall now, or at that time. I can just barely skip to my lou (yes, I know that’s already old by now, but that’s my point) and I haven’t paid too much attention to Lady Saw since “The Healing”, still my favourite dancehall love-song duo ever. And of course, if I’m in a party, I will totally get perpendicular to her “Back-Shot”, and “Sycamore Tree” to name just a couple.  Overall, I do dig  Lady Saw though, more so than not; her brashness, skill, vocal dexterity: one minute hitting a powerful guttural note, the next purring dangerously or riding a riddim with unapologetic sexually-laden gusto.

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Who’s Laughing? (and Why?): Race and Identity in Trini slap chop

February 3, 2011

OK, the problem with “Buhwamoder” isn’t that  he’s not funny, allegedly, to many people — it’s what makes him  funny that’s interesting to unpack. (And for the record, I personally don’t think Buhwamoder is all that hilarious — must be my off sense of humour — but clearly, hordes of people do think so).

“Buhwamoder Latchmanerpersadsingh” is a hugely popular alternate persona enacted by a one, Dominique Elias hailing from out of Trinidad. Rocking his get-up of ultra-dark shades, (“ah darkers”) and a wig that’s often perched low onto his head — sometimes a link chain slung around the neck  — completes the final look.

The wig, a cross between “janx” (aka starter locks) and small box-plaits or partially done twists, morphs Elias into “Buhwamoder” — a fast-talking, self-professed lover of “shit” (talk, that is); Trini slang dropping, jokey-catch-phrase-making-entity who easily climbed to the highest heights of internet and local notoriety with his now infamous slap chop parody video. Then came the Jamaican answer. Then came the video where the two (the Jamaican and the Trini) negotiate a mock war of sorts, over the rights to claim best originality for their respective vids — which further propelled the internet cult following of their videos.  (Inciting a real cyber war in the comments section meanwhile, but oh wait — it’s Youtube, West Indians inter-argue on there all the damn time just for so. Re: ‘my island better, no, MY island better!’)

In the midst of all this are two white West Indians spoofing race at the same time that they grow more (in)famous and race is a huge component of the way in which their “humour” hits the mark in many, many ways. In fact, in the “Jamaica Trini war” video, Buhwamoder specifically (and ironically) calls “madwhiteJamaican” out as a Jamaican who is “ah white boy” who doesn’t even “smoke weed”. In the original videos, race is the unspoken subtext — the underlying context underscoring not only some of the “punchlines” but acting as a main ingredient in their presentation of (alternate)self and identity and this is revealed as soon as their identities almost simultaneously became increasingly public.

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Things We Say

January 22, 2011

“I bongo with my lingo / Beat it like a wing yo!”– M.I.A.

Being in the company of West Indian guys liming is always interesting for a variety of reasons: the picong and ole talk being just two, and because language, local language and its usage is fascinating to me: listening to how they talk, especially listening for those specific gendered codes of expression that are distinct from how “all ah we” talk, is always intruiging. Plus, I can go for spells without hearing it sometimes, so their talk is kinda like an oasis in the desert sometimes. How we all talk encompasses those more generalised terms and expressions that are cross generational and cross-gender. The ubiquitous “partner” would be one of those terms, in a kind of way—as in “he/she is meh real good partner,” which you can hear from out of the mouth of someone in my parents’ generation down to mine and youth of the generation after me.

(Incidentally, someone told me an anecdote, I don’t remember who exactly, about how their work collegues in America thought that he was gay for the longest while because he frequently referred to a range of men as his various “partners”—the listeners, meanwhile, not understanding that in Trinbagonian parlance and other parts of the region: ‘partner’ in effect means very good friend, yuh bosom body, yuh macomère.) Women can and do use partner too (kinda like how macomère can function though many people outside certain generations rarely use this term anymore) but partner is overwhelmingly a more common male expression of friendship, in my observation.

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