Posts Tagged ‘race’

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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Good Wining: Dancing and Cultural Identity

November 9, 2014

“She had no timing; she was East Indian.” * 

The truth is good wining is really subjective. One person’s perceived expert daggering is another person’s “leave me alone nah.” I always like to think that I can tell where people are from — by their wining. In Caribbean parties, when a groin stealthily presses against me, fusing its oscillations into mine, sometimes I’ll dance back and afterwards, whirl around to guess triumphantly, “You’re Jamaican, aren’t you?” Sometimes I am wrong, but I am usually correct. I can tell a Trini wine too. Boy, can I tell a Trini wine. We fit like puzzle pieces riding a soca rhythm that we both know intimately. Let me restate that, a good Trini wine.

There are good wines and bad wines and across cultures, we can find different wining styles. Vincentians don’t wine like Trinbagonians or exactly like Bajans. None of this is inherently better or worse. It all depends. I like to lead and set the pace. I hate to be juggling with a dancing partner over leading a wine. Sometimes, our rhythms don’t match up. Sometimes people are off beat. And a hot mess. Sometimes, it’s all Mean Girls-esque like, “You can’t wine with us.”

So, how do we end up deciding what “good” wining looks like? It’s not so much that the video lead can’t wine in Olatunji’s recent “Wining Good” video, but when her wining then gets filtered through the peculiar lens of race and culture, some interesting things start revealing themselves. Judging by youtubers, there is plenty of that occurring with recurring echoes of this Indian girl can’t wine good forming a significant portion of the criticisms of the video. Inside of Trinidad and Tobago, cultural anxieties about race and nationality get well wrung out and tellingly signified inside of soca and calypso. Olatunji himself, is part of a rich lineage of black and Afro-descendant Trinbagonian men singing about wooing, seducing, loving, and or paying homage to a certain East Indian woman.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, wining often symbolizes sexual ownership and alternately or concurrently, sexual agency — the question of whether wining itself, is inherently, primarily, sexual, is another issue altogether. I think it can be whatever you want it to be. The exact same movement can constitute a polite wine you might deliver once then hustle off and extract yourself from it. It can mean nothing. Or it can mean something. The same movement can also be incredibly sensual when both parties want to take it there.

Before Olatunji, there was Mighty Sparrow’s “sexy Marajhin“, Shurwayne’s “East Indian beauty” in “Don’t Stop“; Scrunter’s “Indian gyul beating bass pan coming up in Despers“; Preacher’s “Dulahin“; Moses Charles’ “Indrani“; Machel Montano (with Drupatee) in “Indian Gyul“; and of course, curry songs like Xtatik’s “Tayee Ayee” and Mighty Trini’s classics about “Indian obeah” or the curry and the woman who packed up and left him. I would also classify Second Imij’s enduring “Golo” as firmly within this trope too, where the golo, “this Indian beti living Caroni”, takes a firm hold of poor Uncle’s sensibilities under some questionable means. Or, we could just say that Uncle went quite tootoolbay over his Indian woman.

Conversely, Indian artistes very rarely sing about or employ Afro-descendant amours in soca, chutney or calypso. Black and African descent female soca women sing about Indian men far less than the men sing about Indian women. Denise “Saucy Wow” Belfon’s “Indian Man” and Destra’s “Come Beta” are notable exceptions. Drupatee Ramgoonai burst onto the soca scene significantly claiming her space in a male and Afro descendant space. Drupatee could not  have done so singing about how well a black man wined, I imagine. Absolutely could not. When Rikki Jai enters the soca arena, fittingly, the mango of his eye is a lovely Indian girl named “Sumintra” whose Indianness, in fact, is strongly mitigated by telling Rikki “I am a Trinbagonian” and “hol’ de Lata Mangeshkar, gimme soca.” She exists in song in sharp contrast to widely held local ideas of Indian nationalism.

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Of #prisonbae and Beauty Ideals

June 23, 2014

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So, #prisonbae is now a certifiable meme and while I am not too surprised, I was annoyed that so much of the rhetoric around this unfolding meme and Jeremy Meeks’ perceived attractiveness got leveled onto the shoulders of superficial women of the interwebz everywhere. Of course. Because we love driving the machine that upholds unrealistic and problematic beauty ideals and we do this by imagining giving cute guys with arrest records a shot at getting with us. It was all: look at these women! Look how thirsty they are! Most of the commentary on my social media feeds looked like this with few people actually taking to task the constructs of beauty that we get inundated with or anyone really grappling with the ways in which these ideas particularly impact, specifically here, hetero women. No, women are just beyond thirsty, when the reality is no one — and I mean no one — adversely suffers from the effects of beauty culture and its endless demands like women. If there’s someone who understands the lookism of society and the leverage it pays out: a woman does. Fat women and black women (of all sizes) know it even more.

Likewise, female-of-center, cisgender women and trans*women — whose “woman-ness” often gets mitigated against how well they can adhere to “traditional” (and often Eurocentric) notions of feminine beauty know this. It’s insidious and difficult to just be able to live fully, as you are. People can make it shitty for you and we can make it shitty for ourselves based on beliefs about looks and being attractive, or not. The extent to which most of the hetero women who “liked” Meeks’ pic understand that an attractive man — recently arrested or not, represents a standard of beauty that affords him privileges, is probably a given. To live in the world, wherever we are, inhabiting a female body, means that we also grow to know this well. Women are held to unrealistic standards of beauty on a societal level and personal level that most hetero men will never have  to deal with, quite in the same ways.

So I couldn’t give a judgmental damn about women thinking that Meeks is attractive. What would you do, if you worked at the front desk somewhere and he walked it near late to drop off/send in something? Would you give him a bligh? I probably would, especially if he asked nicely with some charm. Lots of people would too. The same people who are out on social media calling people misguided etc. and preaching respectability standards to women. Have some standards; he’s a felon. And what? Perceived attractiveness is one of the attributes in this world that keeps on paying out for some people, in small ways and big ways. And we all know this. Why else are so many of us bleaching ourselves into walking jumbies? Why are celebs product pitching?

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The Problem with Red Woman (And Red Man)

October 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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Race and Desire on a Fantasy chat line

April 1, 2013

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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.

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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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The Color of Justice

March 20, 2012

In a white supremacist society, white people are the victims EVEN WHEN they are the perpetrators. #TrayvonMartin via Son of Baldwin

So, so much fuckery happening in the state that I currently reside it, I can barely process it all. A young boy leaves to get a snack and ends up dead — probably the most tragic juxtaposition of doing anything to ‘taste the rainbow’ ever. Firstly, Florida’s awful stand your ground law is truly the stuff nightmares are made of. Please consider yourself informed if you plan on ever coming here. Everyone is in some danger, but brown and black bodies are especially unsafe here which each passing year of this madness.

Secondly, I’ve found some of best sense-making, calm-after-the-infernal-storm-inducing and people of color rage on some tumblr and facebook interwebs and wanted to share some powerful contextualizations; for their grief, their rage, their solidarity, overstanding, love and fierce truth-telling, when I couldn’t even find the words to myself. If, as Dr. West has said, “justice is what love looks like in public” — then how much do we love slain children of color? Not a whole bloody lot, it seems like.

“Whiteness is White people telling a person of color that not all White people are bad and saying so would hurt their feelings when they are expressing their pain over one of their babies being killed.” – theoceanandthesky via Son of Baldwin

Save Your Tears (For the Day when our Pain is Far Behind)

“It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.” —Mahatma Gandhi

White people, this is for you. And only you.

For a long while, during discourses about racism, race relations, and human rights in general, I have watched you and your interject your opinions time and again, derail the discussion, and center it on yourself and your feelings. And I have watched—and participated in—the attempts to either shut you up or make you realize that these issues are not about you; these discourses are not a personal attack on you. You aren’t even welcomed in those discussions most of the time.

This one is. This one is yours. Feel free to interject, but don’t cry when we barbecue you. You’re the one who came with a thin coat of BBQ sauce on your ass.

Recently, if you have kept tabs on the POC on here like you are so wont to do at the wrong time, you may have caught wind of the cold-blooded murder of 17 year old Trayvon Martin (TW: violence). I will condense the story for the convenience of those who haven’t heard it, and to keep you focused on this thread.

George Zimmerman, the self-appointed Neighborhood Watch President for a gated, mostly-white community in Florida, stalked Trayvon Martin in the middle of the night, and shot him; not once, but twice. The police tell Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon and to let them handle it. Zimmerman claims that Trayvon looked suspicious. It was raining, Trayvon was on his way home from from the store with candy for himself and his brother, and he had on a hood.

Before you ghost your fingers over the keyboard to bang out some indignant defense, ask yourself this: had Trayvon been a white kid, would Zimmerman have stalked and shot him?

Had Trayvon’s screams for mercy and begging for his life been that of a white woman, would Zimmerman be able to walk freely? Would the police be trying so ardently to cover this up and chalk it up to an honest mistake?

He shot the boy twice. Not once, twice. Once to silence his screams, and second to finish him off. That’s what we call an execution…a double-tap. That’s an execution if ever there was one. If I didn’t think Zimmerman was just another racist white person, I’d be demanding to look in to see if it was a sanctioned hit.

It was not someone trying to protect his neighbors. It was someone looking for a reason to kill someone, and all the better that the person happened to be Black. Why?

Because in this society, we are conditioned to believe that Black lives hold little to no value in comparison to white lives. In this society we’re conditioned to believe that Black boys are destined for prison and one less Black boy in the world is one less Black boy in the prison system that your tax dollars clothe and feed. In this society, we are taught that Black people are expendable and interchangeable, incapable of anything more than lawlessness and decadence.

It’s 2012, and Black people aren’t safe in their own neighborhoods. In white neighborhoods, where some of us go to escape REAL dangers of everyday life in the city. And here we are, being taught that the no where is safe for us. We’re in danger from real criminals in the city, and we’re in danger from our white neighbors in the suburbs. And what did Trayvon’s fellow neighbors do? What did they do?

They defended Zimmerman.

How can they look Trayvon’s parents in the face, now? People who live in the same neighborhood as them who are burying their firstborn son because one of their neighbors EXECUTED HIM?

We’re angry. All of us. Every last one of us are angry, and you all should consider yourselves lucky that we don’t rise up and take every last one of you out, now for this. Because this demands more than that. This demands justice. This demands vengeance.

Zimmerman should not be rotting behind bars. He should be executed, as he executed an unarmed, Black boy—his own neighbor, on the grounds that he looked suspicious. When he came up to Trayvon, how come he did not immediately recognize him as his neighbor’s son? As someone he has probably seen everyday going to school and coming home? How come as Trayvon begged and screamed for his life, Zimmerman didn’t back off?

Where was the compassion of the man who claimed he was protecting his neighbors? Compassion does not dwell in the hearts of those who have decided to kill. A true self-proclaimed protector would exercise reason, would retreat, would stop themselves from doing something that could possibly bring harm to another.

But Zimmerman is not a protector. He is a cold-blooded murderer, and he went through with the execution because he knew—even if it was a subconscious knowing—that the law would always be on his side because he is a white, cisgendered male, and Trayvon is what society will write off as just another nameless Black boy who was probably never going to amount to anything.

That’s what Whiteness does to you. That’s what Whiteness does to us.

But I’m not going to let this pass into memory. We’re not going to let this be swept under the rug until there’s justice meted out, or until Zimmerman’s blood soaks the streets.

Either way, we’re not going to be silent about it.

Now, if you want to interject, feel free, but it would be in your best interest to utilize reading comprehension before you do…because I am not fucking with you people anymore. No GIFs, no image macros. This is not a joke. (via thegoddamazon)

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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.