Posts Tagged ‘race in the west indies’

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, 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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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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To Look Inside: West Indian whiteness & identity

August 9, 2012

Telling

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.

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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.

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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.

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