Posts Tagged ‘island life’

Trinidad James and Cultural Respectability Politics

February 27, 2014


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?”


To Look Inside: West Indian whiteness & identity

August 9, 2012


Wide Sargasso Sea is one of my favorite books. There is so much in the book that feels familiar, especially in the landscape of “ginger lilies,” “leaning coconut palms,” “pink and red hibiscus,” “frangipani,” and “orchids.” The colors, and the “razor grass” that I have cut my own arms and fingers on before.  The lush textures and the richness of the landscape that Rochester complains is “an extreme green” with too much; “too much blue, too much purple, too much green.  The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near” (59).  This landscape along with Antoinette’s Catholic all-girls education and Rhys’s rendering of those nuns who populated my formative educational years as well. There is a haunting, Gothic feel of Rhys’s prose that draws me into its beautiful sadness. Perhaps because I know it is all about a descent into madness in the end.

If I tell the truth about this book the first time, I will say that when I read it — I mainly noticed the black people, first and foremost. The whiteness lay inside of the text itself, just outside of my periphery. I saw it but did not see it at the same time. I could not acknowledge what that was, did not want to, and felt no need to. In some ways, considering and writing about white creole identity forces me to peel away the landscape, the black people, the river -– all of the things that immediately struck me as places and people I knew well inside of this book. It is about interrogating the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable, and some of the many things I’d missed before. It feels like extra work, partly because honestly, parts of me are resistant. I am resistant to this process of using the lens of white creole identity –- first acknowledging there is one -– then using that lens to crack open new considerations of this text. It also means disengagement from myself as center -– the black West Indian –- center here, only to a certain extent; yet liminal and liminal yet, within the larger structural constructs of race, color, class and identity. Whatever privileged self there is for a black West Indian is contained inside a relative, fixed, small space. And only there. Whenever I attempt to crawl into the deeper annals of race, identity and personal history.  I am a little afraid of what else I may find.

There are white people there?

In my first semester of my freshman year at university in the states, I remembered my roommate, a mixed-raced Canadian born, now American citizen to West Indian parents, asking about photos tacked up on the dorm wall that we shared. Who was this person?  And who was he?  She inquired about their personal stories and connections to me. And where was she from? And her?  pointing to two of my white looking friends in a birthday picture with me and other girlfriends, all of us smiling, out to dinner for my nineteenth birthday.  Trinidad, I say, confused that she would ask. There are white people in Trinidad?  she asked me incredulously?  Yes, yes, I told her, flabbergasted, how do you think “we” got there?

On the excellent Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago Facebook page, a fascinating thread was prompted by an irreverent, poignant and humorous observation that ” Living in Trinidad is real entertainment oui. Now its well known that white Trinidadians are an endangered species confined to the northwestern peninsula with stray populations sighted occasionally south of the Caroni River, particularly in Bel Air and Gulf View near Sando and another fledgling clutch thought to exist in Palmiste near a large park. You will practically NEVER find a white Trini living say, in Barrackpore or Palo Seco for instance and truth be told the odd one or two white folk in these wildernesses are foreigners who have married locals and are setting up for their own ‘dreadlock holiday’ lifestyles until the burgeoning crime rate exterminates them or forces retreat to the aforementioned Northwest or back on a plane. You will possible NEVER see a white civil servant these days although no laws prohibit their employment in the public service and as recently as the 1950s, they were the dominant upper echelons of government administration. Its also a common fact that all local whites know each other and are related in some way.
So long story short, your average country bookie has never really had any interaction with local whites , social or otherwise and thus still possess a pliant conviction that
a) All whites are the boss
b) Dey have money
c) May be aliens from Mars for all they know.
This in itself leads to some amusing encounters when my white friends make the long and dangerous trek into the badlands of south to visit me or else we go traipsing to some historic site, beach or forest. . .”

I commented noting, “the inherent contradictions that in a small place (relatively speaking), having the luxury to ‘not be seen’ by and large–say, waiting in line for a new birth certificate or ever catching a maxi, or other kinds of seemingly mundane, everyday life interactions one could list (something i’ve mused about myself on and off with regards to race, class & visibility) in and of itself contributes to the notion of not being visible and not recognized as part of a particular cultural landscape. people can then become a kind of phantasm in their own land of birth. there are of course, other factors at play as well. it also makes me wonder about how people remain tucked away inside exclusive enclaves and are happy to do so, selectively participate in sociocultural endeavours, then have to confront some kind of existential crisis when people don’t know that they exist! how would they?” I was glad to see this kind of conversation because I have been thinking for a while about (though, admittedly not vigorously explored publicly til now) how space and visibility become connected to cultural and racial narratives and their impact on the racial consciousness of the people inside of those spaces. Like inside small island societies like ours.


Pinky and Emigrante

July 30, 2012

Pinky and Emigrante. Get on it.

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.

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

November 1, 2011

By: Tanya Marie Williams

Call Me by My Name

October 27, 2011

OK, here is the image that sparks the Facebook thread partially copied below and this very post. A person I know personally responded to this image, including the poster who I sort of know from around, so all names have been scrubbed to protect identities, including the folks I don’t know personally.  An attempt has been made to show where the same person posted again on the thread. The person who posted this image of PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar‘s Divali greetings captioned the image (quote): “kamla where the black children.”


In the Castle of Our Skins

September 20, 2011

“The needles of their masts /  That thread archipelagoes. . . ” –Derek Walcott

A call to submit to:

“In the Castle of Our Skins”: A blog carnival series focused on voices exploring the range of contemporary Caribbean/West Indian heritage, background, culture and where these intersect with race & identity.

Contributors and bloggers are encouraged to ponder their own range of issues and intersectionality such as: What concerns do you have if any about your race and national identity? Do these function in tandem at all for you and in what ways? Are they separate or intertwined; in what ways? Is it complicated, this business of how you see yourself and your collective cultural identity? What about where your gender intersects with any of these ideas?–Your sexuality? How you look at the world? How has this skin that you’re in impacted your worldview? Do these outlooks/concerns/ideas change when you’re outside the Caribbean versus inside? In what ways?

What about skin tone? Socio-economics? Crime, perceptions of crime or political agenda narratives? Constructs of beauty, attractiveness, virility and the like? Body image? Your sexuality? You’re a straight, black West Indian man or a gay Caribbean man, or a queer, ‘mix-up’ Caribbean femme? How do you negotiate these variant identities — and in what ways?  What’s everyday survival like and everyday living? What bothers you about these conversations? What would you like to see changed or hear more of? And anything else you want to say!

We’re a small collective of Caribbean and West Indian bloggers, feminists, writers, creative thinkers & artists who think the conversations in this blog carnival are both vital and necessary.

Talk yuh talk — join us and be part of the conversation!

We’re hoping to broaden this conversation with a specific focus on Indo-Trinbagonian identity, womanhood, personhood and what these variant identities mean for the people embodying these spaces. How do these multiple spaces function inside of contemporary West Indian/Caribbean identity? And in what ways? (This call for examination too, is a work in progress—but doh study it, it’ll come together somehow).

Pieces can be any length, any style. Be unflinching if you need to be — or not. Previously written posts and essays are welcome. Send questions, thoughts, suggestions, concerns, essays or submissions links to creativecommess [at] gmail [dot] com.

hashtag SOE

September 15, 2011

i purposefully hadn’t bothered to comment on the trinidad and tobago government’s state of emergency all this time because i think it’s a load of crock and save for that, i really didn’t have anything constructive to employ in the conversation initially. who goes pulling states of emergencies all willy-nilly from out their backside like it’s nobody’s business? & sorry, but i also don’t trust the average local officer to not exploit the SOE — i feel like some might be gorging themselves on power, beating the pavement like giddy overlords drunk on the high of tossing alleged miscreants into the backs of pick-up trucks with no recourse. the whole thing just doesn’t sit well.

also, i’ve mused on crime & race before on here and though jack warner doth protest too much — images do tell a perspective, a slant, that is all. the whole discourse in parliament and outside is often full of fail. first of all, coming from the presupposition that black males in trinidad are posited, innately, as The Criminal — that in and of itself is a flickin’ problem! all the hand-wringing is coming from these problematic, patronising places from atop a moral high ground that makes some of us feel good about ourselves and meanwhile, root issues and inequity aren’t being solved. the kinds of insensitivities being spewed also makes me shiver to my core: “lock dem up” — “all ah dem” and things of that nature, when you don’t even know the hows and whys. bet your talk change when they come for you or someone you love though.


Two Parts Hard Wine, One part Guinness

August 15, 2011

Passing time on The Island, drinking lots of Hard Wine, musing on love, daily julie mangoes and being pleasantly surprised by the grace of corbeaux.

(Try the recipe-title for “hard bull”: I hear it will real lash. Once again, you can thank me later).

The Girl I was: or Me, Revisited

March 10, 2010

My dusty old diary and its rusty key!

Yesterday, late last night and just into the early morn, I went looking for, unearthed, deep in my closet— then perused an old diary of mine. I recall that I didn’t leave it in Trinidad for fear of it falling into the wrong hands—whoever that may be! Hey, you never know. To be safe, I packed it with me as I set off for university. It covers my thoughts and life, during the years, ages 13-15. I haven’t peeped in it in many, many years but I knew it was here somewhere. It is this rainbow-and-neon hued Lisa Frank diary.

It was as though I sat down to catch an inner glimpse into my teenaged self from my older self’s vantage point. I eventually christen the diary “Lisa-Anne” after Anne Frank and Lisa Frank, the namesake of the Stuart Hall Co.’s then uber-popular stationery line. My entries start as “Dear Lisa” then morph into “Dear Lisa-Anne.” I had read the Diary of Anne Frank and enjoyed and loved it tremendously as a girl. Admittedly, without any sense of irony at all, this—my diary—without a doubt, is one of the most compelling things—out of anything—that I have read in a long time. What a strange, brooding, angsty teen I was. Good Lord.