Posts Tagged ‘trini’

The Trouble with Culture

May 17, 2009

Part rant, part retrospective, part pissed off-ness for my friend…

The trouble with culture is that it belongs to all of us, yet to no one person—-simultaneously. There are those who may say Ellie Mannette and Rudolph Charles (God res’ de dead) are responsible for the innovation of our beloved pan, does that make Mr. Mannette and Mr. Charles the sole bearers of the culture of pan? No, it doesn’t and as a Trinbagonian, it belongs to the collective registry of all that is part and parcel of our cultural landscape. You can possess it—but you cannot actually own it. But what happened after word got out that the Japanese tried to patent the steelpan shows that whether you can or can’t actually own vestiges of culture, it does matter who tries to do so however.

Sometimes Trinis like to bemoan the alleged carnivalesque nature of our work ethic and you frequently hear other Trinis complaining that it is hard to get anything done properly with our fellow country folk and things along those lines. You hear it all the time and I am not going to dig into that issue/perception right now but the fact is that there are plenty of enterprising sons and daughters of the soil, all over the place, both IN and OUT of our islands, making their mark in a variety of areas. Some are doing so through creatively re-appropriating and re-inventing cultural idioms and images. They’re making art, t-shirts, jewelry, sculpture, music and so on. Which is fine. Good.

Which leads me to wonder, when one is aiming to employ and economize off of a uniquely Trinibagonian aesthetic, does said individual owe anything to the inspiration of their art? Any responsibility to that culture? What about the people therein? If so, how and in what ways? Who is to say what that is? One of the ways to do so is to respect your other countryfolk. Respect their money and respect their interest in your product. They would have after all, more of a vested interest in some of your images than say, people half-way across the world who don’t. (Not that they can’t either but it’s not the same).

Ultimately, I wonder, what is to be the legacy of what you are doing? To just make money? To create a vision about what it means to be from this place called Trinidad and Tobago and make a statement about it—-whatever that is. On your own terms, re-imagining what that means for yourself and the greater cultural landscape at large. Because when you are putting products out there, the people who buy them with a critical eye, will be (and should be) interested in that. Yes, it can just look good too. No, it doesn’t always have to be that complex but I am hopeful that it might because I happen to value complexity.

So there is a clothing company called Coskel University which is partly owned and spearheaded by a Trinidadian. Coskel makes a wide array of women’s, men’s and children’s apparel. Many of their designs employ some vision of a uniquely Trinbagonian aesthetic and their designs are influenced and inspired by the music, culture, flora and fauna of Trinidad and Tobago. Their designs, their Kaiso icons t-shirt series are amazing. David Rudder on a tee is a yay! for me. I even own one of their coat-of-arms university tanks (pre John Legend and pre-stiffing my friend out of money!).

But I question the goal behind their vision the more that I see and hear. A press release statement issued last year, announced the company’s partnership with John Legend’s tour. In the same press release, the company’s statements on the vision of Coskel asserts, “if our product is marketed properly and is stylish the quality will speak for itself and reach the masses even if they are unaware of the culture itself.” Hmmm. Which somehow got me to thinking of that silly Skippy peanut butter ad with the elephant with dreads, wearing a Rasta tam, replete with a bad, pseudo-reggae jingle. If we don’t contextualize our own cultural images, when we put them out there, clearly no one else is going to do it for us. People will do want they want with it anyway! I don’t claim to know how it should be done, I’m just suggesting that if Coskel is selling shirts with Black Stalin and “beat pan” on it, how then, is it okay if people are “unaware of the culture itself?” It has to be two-fold I think, especially when you are capitalizing off a culture. I can’t tell someone what to do with their art, but I can certainly ponder what this means for the ways in which I subsequently view and/or choose to support their product.

On to my friend. A friend of mine, who co-owns and co-runs a small business in East Trinidad, selling all things Caribbean (clothing, accessories, handbags, natural soaps etc.) had placed an order with Coskel, that to this day, hasn’t been fulfilled. There is an outstanding balance of 250 USD still to resolved and the goods, yet to be delivered. Furthermore, to go into all the ins-and-outs of this situation: the e-mails back and forth, the tireless wrangling for what was sent—how many times allegedly by Coskel and the fact that they never ever reached my friend, could be a whole other blog of its own. The fact of the matter is that money was received for goods that have never materialized. NO refund and no product has been forthcoming til this day. And based on what I have heard, gleaned and peeped in e-mail transmissions and the like, I can’t help but see their dealings with this small business venture in Trinidad, as indicative of their broader product culture. I bet if this was some large-scale retailer in Asia courting them, the outcome of this scenario would be very different. Plain talk.

Extend to them, the same courtesies and opportunities and presumably prompt service, that you do to foreigners. In between the global expansion and while you are slapping the national coat of arms on a shirt, how do you not see the relevance in selling your product in said homeland and investing in doing so. Or to quote Sizzla Kalonji, “dance ah yard—before yuh dance abroad.” To my knowledge Coskel has been courted by a certain Syrian-Lebanese enterprise in Trinidad (a deal which didn’t materialize for whatever reason) but the brand has yet to set up any kind of showroom and be regularly stocked anywhere in Trinidad or Tobago, least of all by my friends for whom the order and the money is still outstanding to.

This does not mean that the brand is “limited by [its] Trinidadian culture” (from the Oct 31st 2008, John Legend and Band to wear Coskel University Clothing press release statement) but serving Trini retailers large OR small, locates the brand squarely there, literally and figuratively, much in the way that the brand is “defined by its cultural references.” There is nothing wrong with that. For instance, you can go to Jamaica and encounter lots and lots of people wearing the brand Cooyah. We can also find it on the streets of Port-of-Spain just as much.

You would be hard pressed to find the same amount of Coskel anywhere in TnT, at any time, because there’s nowhere to get it easily. It’s mind boggling that a world-expanding Trinbago-inspired brand, with a base in Brooklyn, New York could be so hard to access in Trinidad and Tobago. Similarly, the company’s website touts Coskel as a response to “Caribbean-themed apparel…from the Bob [Marley] or beaches viewpoint” (in the company profile) yet the company has no kind of recognizable presence within Trinidad and Tobago, on par with what they have set-up elsewhere.

Personally, as I have assessed everything, I would rather buy any new funky tank tops or t-shirt digs from local artists like Tanya Williams (among others) and other lines that show a real interest in locating their Trini specific products in Trinidad, about as much as they are intent on making a splash in the rest of the world. Not just Trini, but I would quicker support any West Indian cultural product or other product that does so. Which is also why I buy fair trade shea butter from an African booth in the flea market. West African women (and their communities) who cultivate karite have as much a right to benefit from the reach and popularity of shea butter around the world as anyone else.

Finally, Coskel can ultimately do what they want, where they want, with their own product. But the ways in which they fail to integrate the Trinbagonian market in any way is slightly problematic because of the way in which the Japanese aesthetic (the other half of the Coskel duo) is not as prominent as the other, nor is the product entirely marketed as such. Their products are marketed and located admittedly within a Trinbagonian aesthetic. Naturally, there is more money to be made elsewhere and one’s culture is only exoticized and fetishized outside the homeland, not in it. But there are several generations of Trinbagonians right now, reclaiming some kind of Trinbagonian aesthetic and placing a high value on it, just as they do with other Western brands. Which is a good thing.

Somehow Coskel is already in the works of a distribution deal, factory and store in China (which may or may not be up and running already). And they are big in de dance in Japan. Good fuh allyuh. But they still are yet to fulfill their order in Trinidad or grant my friends the money and/or goods that has been supposedly coming to them for the longest while. 2007 was  when my friend last tussled over this and they haven’t heard anything from Coskel since then. Or seen a refund. I won’t be surprised if one day, I see Coskel on the racks at Wal-Mart stores worldwide (hopefully by then, people will be able to distinguish between Stalin the dictator and Stalin the great calypsonian) but in the meantime, before that happens, I hope they find the time to give my friends their blasted money!

In Trinidad? Check out the D’Caribbean Culture Shack for all things Caribbean and Caribbean oriented [except Coskel apparently] Give them a call at  @ 377-9869/748-1927. Find them on facebook groups and fan pages and see what’s new in stock!

D' Caribbean Culture Shack
D’ Caribbean Culture Shack

 Citing for Coskel’s press release statement:

 http://www.coskeluniversity.com/news/pressrelease_nov08_eng.htm

 ok, on a related side-note to ALL ah dis. This comment was left below on my “about” page. Why not as a comment under here? *shrug* Didn’t see the comment link, didn’t care to….who knows. Either way I really didn’t want us going into a whole diatribe about this THERE cause that’s not the place to. So after several days of irking me from the “about” page, I just copied them from there, deleted the posts and reproduced them for anyone concerned about where the[ir] comment/s went.

person David Hubert says on:

May 18, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I read your article about “The problem with culture” and wile I understand your point of view, I wholeheartedly disagree. More so much of your information is incorrect feel free to drop me an email I will be more than happy to discus your views in further detail, or even have a phone convo about the subject

Then I said this on:

May 18, 2009 at 4:23 pm

hmmm…what is incorrect specifically? the fact that coskel did receive money from my friend’s business [which i know for a fact that they did], that they in turn didn’t receive the goods? [which i know for a fact that they didn’t and there’s an e-mail trail to prove both]. the fact that coskel ISN’T as engaged in the trinbagonian market on the same scale as they are elsewhere—cause if they are, it must be way under the radar cause no one i know of, seems to know that. the fact that i am musing about cultural capitalism and the ways in which people may or may not engage in that practice? musings, last i checked are more or less substantiated [or unsubstantiated] opinions and renderings.

if i’m wrong about the product culture of coskel then it’s only because i am locating my view based on what i have seen [and heard and know and read] of their practices thus far: in regard to a friend vs. their global [asian] expansions etc. when i KNOW otherwise–i’ll FEEL otherwise.

if you disagree with specific points about what i have written, i’d rather if you posted as a comment to THAT blog and take the discussion there, respond as a comment under “the trouble with culture” and i’ll be happy to address your concerns there. otherwise: phone conversations and e-mails are really not warranted or necessary. if you happen to be connected to coskel—i am hardly the person that you need to be e-mailing or talking to on the phone.

Then Lin had her say:

May 18, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Who are you Mr David Hubert as far as what is written in this blog everything is on point nothing is incorrect and if you want to challenge me talk to our lawyers.

Drama fuh yuh mama y’all. <— My final assessment.

Invisible Women [pt 1]: The Plight of Missing Black Women and the Media

May 14, 2009

“I have come to the conclusion that to a lot of people, nothing black girls do is good enough!! They get the blame for everything seem like it!!”–young black girl commenting on the demonizing of black women on a BET message board.

“I am so sick of losers like you putting black women down, like we are the lowest thing on earth.”—black female poster on another popular black message board.

It’s an interesting time to be a black female in America. The difficulties it seems are paramount. What makes it so difficult being black and female in America in this day and age? Well, lots of things. First of all, there are many more mediums out here that do more harm to the representation of black women than good. American pop culture and its ideas are so pervasive too; its images take root and reach all around the globe, far and wide. Think about the implications behind this range of the image of black women and girls, and not just on this continent.

In particular, the position of young black females who view these images (wherever they might be located) is particularly tenuous. It is this group that I am most concerned with as well as not so young ones (smile) like myself. The insistence of the media in various forms and fashions to blatantly ignore the plight of young black women wherever danger befalls them, to consistently fall short in its representation of women of color ends up sending a clear message to young women of color. One that says, you are not valued and you are not important.

If you think this message is not resonating loud and clear in the minds and souls of young black girls, then maybe you should find a cross section of them, sit down with them and see what they have to say. Or perhaps take the time to trawl some message boards where they frequent. Everywhere you go, the message is this same. Young black girls feel increasingly disenfranchised, they feel ugly, unrepresented, unimportant and irrelevant.

While young black girls should not be looking to the media to develop a sense of self worth, they still do so. Teenagers are particularly susceptible. Now there is nothing innately wrong with doing so, if there were balanced healthy images available for them to ingest and if they could consistently view these images with a critical eye. Young people must be actively given the tools with which to develop the skills that will allow them to take in these messages into a more discerning mind. Still, TV and pop culture should not be the sole outlet by any means because we all can see that MTV and BET and the like, seriously fall short.

However my central criticism is that whenever the media does send a message of inadvertent omission (or a consciously direct one), this in and of itself, is a message. One of the most powerful ones of all. If it’s not a message that black people do not exist within a particular space whether it’s as scholars, upper class, intellectuals, middle class, eclectic and so forth, because these images are nowhere near as populous as some of the other kinds. Then it’s one of dismissal. Non recognition and non inclusion makes an equally powerful statement. So it becomes an argument quite beyond that of simple inclusion and visibility. It’s also about those faces and voices that have been seen, felt, heard and still ignored. Maybe because they were not deemed good enough or worthy enough.

The significant thing about the invisibility of black women in some places despite all that I have learnt about race, gender, sexism and the like, is the strange way that I end up internalizing some of it. I feel as though I am less fearful than some of my fair headed and fairer skinned female friends when it comes to certain matters. I am not afraid of The Bad Man (whoever that is), some infernal boogeyman or strange things that go bang in the night. No looking out for suspicious vans with curtains that practically scream “serial killer inside!” But it’s not because I think that I am invincible at all, rather I have, at one time or the other, in a dark parking lot with aforementioned creepy van encroaching thought, “now who would want to grab me?” I suppose I am more fearful of specific people, places and things—more than any mysterious things out there.

Pop cultural discourse on The Serial Killer and Other Scary Things doesn’t ever seem too concerned with trying to make black women look over their shoulder but as a demographic—white women always must. Not just the actual Ted Bundys out there but all these other myriads of scary things out there, primed to get women—white women. The biggest difference we see with this message is when The Serial Killer forays into the world of sex workers or some other group supposedly on the fringes of society—then and only then, does the call to fear and fearfulness usually begin to cross racial lines.

Like Jada Pinkett-Smith’s character in the Scream 2 movie—subtextual messages in certain films, the absence of people of color in many popular horror films or the ease with which they might be decapitated early on, if there are any in the first place—all help contribute toward creating this absurd, twisted bubble of safety that I feel I sometimes exist in. These representations are further compounded by the fact that the black actresses and actor in the second Scream movie were seen by many as a way to save face for the absence of any in the first film. Black women in horror films are clearly dispensable when we even exist to be preyed upon at all.

Invisible Women [pt 2]: The Plight of Missing Black Women and the Media

May 14, 2009

We can connect these images too, to the larger discourse about black women, their desirability when stacked against white women. Macabre perhaps, but in the context of horror films and the larger conversation—clearly significant. By that same token, black women being picked off by a psychopath with a carving knife for example, would be equally problematic. I do not want to be mistaken for coveting more race-specific depictions of violence against women, encouraging it, nor wistful for any.

Rather, I am trying to consider how our social, racial, cultural, historical, political past informs those pop cultural images inside these dark places that we voluntarily want to go to—-like those inside of a scary movie. Even at a relatively young age, when we are supposed to be psyched about safely encountering our fears and having our hair follicles prickle, like inside the pages of the Fear Street books of my youth—these always seemed to feature wide-eyed, white females on the illustrations on the covers.

I know that I am not necessarily safe from anything in this world, but so much of the discourse on certain kinds of violence against women that we hear about, when not committed by someone close to the victim (and sometimes even then), is often portrayed in the media as linked to female desirability. If the victim is physically appealing, you hear about her beauty all the time. The awful media swarm around the JonBenet Ramsey case was always underscored by the little girl’s beauty and her glamorous pageant footage ran endlessly over and over on many news programs. She was portrayed as the tragic little woman-child.

One hardly ever sees accurate linkages to power, control, other systems of oppression, pornography and other factors explored in these kinds of cases. If black women are then considered less desirable, are we any less fearful of certain kinds of violence? Along with films, mainstream media and their news outlets play a large role in the creation of a culture of fear, fear of violence against women, as well as clearly establishing exactly which women need to be fearful. Take for example, the case of Stepha Henry who went missing in May 2007.

Stepha Henry is a great example because I had often heard newscasters espouse the fact that young, attractive women who go missing in America will have a better chance at their story gaining national attention regardless of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance. Race of course conveniently being that factor that was left out and overlooked. So I wondered about Stepha Henry because she was young, about to go to law school and attractive. But then again, she was black. What message does this send to black women in America when her story is initially ignored?

This of course being coupled with the lack of options for diverse representations of black women in the media and entertainment that are positive. Missing black women are at the other end of the spectrum, voiceless, faceless to the masses because of a media that refuses to publicize their tale, forgotten and ignored by all but those who are personally invested in the story. That’s how the media works though. A story only becomes imbued in the public consciousness because of this very media manipulation.

Which is in fact why I can recite so many of the facts of the Natalee Holloway case off the top of my head as I type, little nitty gritty things like she was a straight A student and on her senior trip, she liked to dance, she was about to start university on a full scholarship. This is also why I can in fact get the unique spelling of her name right in the first draft of this piece and not type “Natalie” because I know. I do not know her but I do. She is blonde and young and missing in Aruba. Her disappearance is certainly tragic but I wonder, why wasn’t Stepha Henry afforded the same personalization and coverage? And why (if I am to be honest) am I not surprised? What happens to the other stories of black women who go missing?

Historically, black women have had to deal with a lot, both within our communities and outside of it. Between colorism, slavery and its various legacies: the black mammies on Southern plantations, slave concubines for slave-masters, colonialism, oversexualized stereotypes of black women, the so-called video vixen, good hair vs. bad hair and more. I couldn’t even begin to list them all. The Hottentot Venus exemplified the ways in which perceived black female sexuality was literally dissected and paraded to a curious European populace.

American southern states clearly placed a higher value on the lives and preservation of white women, while the lives and well being of women of color were considered expendable. Southern trees would often bear the fruit of black men who in some cases, refused to accept this disregard for their wives, mothers, girlfriends and sisters. Our collective story runs deep and is rife with complexities, some stretching back centuries, some self-imposed, some not, all being part of the rich fabric that is the black female experience. At once beautiful, painful, poignant, enduring and so much more. Yes, so I guess there has never been an easy time to be a black female.

A Short Drop

March 30, 2009

red-band maxi

It seems like wherever enclaves of people from different cultures are found, vestiges of our home and the culture from whence we came soon follow. Like roti shops and mini-buses. When I was an undergrad, you could take a ride from my campus in North Miami, all the way to downtown Miami (and back) for one dollar each way on the local jitney. The benefits meant that you weren’t limited to the schedule of the Miami-Dade city transport system, nor limited to their routes which didn’t necessarily go everywhere that people might want to go. The jitney ride in North Miami functioned as a main source of transportation (as well as supplemental to other public transport ) for large numbers of people including college students within the area. Here was where you were summoned onto an already full mini-bus by a nodding driver assuring you that there is room, while you scanned the darkly tinted windows with slight skepticism.

The thing is, you never really knew until you actually got on. Then you did, only to survey the hodge-podge of arms and knees, tightly folded legs, rapid fire kreyol over the sounds of kompa–with increasing doubt; while from his perch behind the steering wheel, you were solidly assured by the driver, that there was indeed a place for you, deep in the belly of the mini-bus. You just had to keep going. Eventually you’d find the space, sandwiched between two strangers, tightly squeezed on either side.

When I was riding the jitney, there were still mini-buses with no buzzer, so you had to holler from the back over the din and once in a while, between the animated conversations and the music, the driver did miss your stop. But these people beside you, these people you only knew from this ride, would always help, passing on the call for “stop!” from person to person and mouth-to-mouth, like a verbal smoke signal until we came to rest. Even people that did not know English well, knew how to yell stop on the jitney.

Throughout the developing world, you can find versions of the mini-bus as a cultural variation of the government created transportation system. There is always something subversive about the way in which they function as a means of getting people around. These small mini-buses cramming as many people inside as they can, undercutting the cost of other transport in some places and/or providing flexibility of routes in others.

They are privately owned and in many cases, this mysterious individual (or individuals) may not even be the person who is doing all the driving. In many parts of the developing world, mini-buses are part of a larger cultural representation of everyday life, in a way that other modes of transport supposedly are not. Or at least they are, in a different way.

In a large Western metropolis like New York city for example, city buses and other kinds of public state transport don’t function in the exact same way as the mini-bus, since you would find a successful mortgage broker riding next to a blue-collar worker, on the same train on any given day. In the developing world, mini-bus culture (and there usually is one), especially in the Caribbean (and Africa) is indicative of the other social and socio-economic forces at play as well.

So much so that you can find people in Trinidad, who proudly declare that “they never take public transport” before (specifically maxis, and least of all a PTSC bus) because this fact is representative of being in a certain socio-economic class that is not dependent on (or never has been dependent on) public transport. Which means you are one of those people who has your own car and when you didn’t, you’re used to getting dropped around all the time.

I want to feel like in 2009, you would still be hard-pressed to find someone who has never taken a maxi before but from what I’ve heard, that’s not true. Never taken a maxi? And okay with that? Never experienced the hustle of an ambitious tout in City Gate saying he had a special seat, just for you. Never been privy to the random conversational encounters on a maxi. Never been in the front seat of a maxi, music blaring loudly while barreling down the priority bus route at break-neck speed, with the breeze whipping at your face. Never had to dodge a bottom in yuh face after shuffling yuh own bottom around for seats on a maxi.

In Trinidad, there are more and more cars on the road and we’re building more and more walls, around ourselves (literal and otherwise) to shut undesirables out, so there’s a whole growing section of people for whom, maxi taking just will not do. As to safety concerns, I would reckon that hopping a maxi from somewhere to town and back in the day, would still be somewhat safer than doing so in a flashy car.

Plus in actuality if you ask certain kinds of people who don’t take maxis, why they don’t, it has less to do with being safe, than the notion of being cheek-on-jowl with the masses. The problem is being in close quarters, like, say a “bread van” maxi, with de marrish and de parrish. In Trini we have our maxi taxis and in Guyana you can find the “mini bus” as well. In fact, throughout the Caribbean they exist, all over Africa, as well as regions in South and Central America. In South Africa they’re called “combis.”

A friend informed me that in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto-Rico, they’re called “guaguas.” In the Vanity Fair 2007 Africa issue, I read Binyavanya Wainaina’s description of the Kenyan “matatus” as “anarchic public transport vehicles,” embodying the “edgy and beautiful” enterprising spirit of a transforming African country economy.

These “Isuzu mini-buses,” these “loud, aggressive vehicles” reminded me of the red, yellow, green and maroon-band maxi taxis on the streets of Trinidad in their heyday. Nowadays, maxi drivers and owners in Trinidad have their own association or representative body, that is very active in attempting to regulate the ply of drivers and conductors. The rides themselves are relatively tamed down, compared to the excess of the earlier years where you might find a fuzzy, faux fur interior detailing inside on the roof, black lights in a maxi and more than enough bass to feel it reverberating inside your chest.

But during the late eighties and exploding in the early to mid-nineties, maxi culture flourished in a way that made them the scourge of everyone from school principals to middle-class parents. They represented a vehicular hustle, propelled by young brash men of color, driving and touting and jostling for passengers (and sex).

From the school children liming late in town for subsequent runs of their favorite maxi, the branding of certain maxis as popular rides, to the epic pong of the bass line pulsating through the whole maxi and disturbing the peace, the dub, the dub lyrics, the school girls breaking biche to get whisked away by maxi men, the ambitious tout wetting some school girl’s ears with his own (or borrowed) lyrics, the tout shuffling through wads of cash to lure some teenager/s astray, the allegations of these big hard-back men being on the prowl, the tout who allegedly had HIV and was spreading it wantonly to school girls all over the place.

These stories and others like them are part of the maxi culture in our society, particularly ones exposing the seedy sexual underside of maxi culture. It’s Trini street culture. Trini urban culture. And just Trini culture—all stemming from a ride down the road in a red-band maxi. You can find similar sentiments and stories permeating all throughout our region of the supposed ills of mini-bus culture and the complaints about the drivers.

What is it about these buses? That they are clearly indispensable is a fact. But also because of the way in which public transport, by its very design, forces the converging of different layers of people (even within the same socio-economic bracket) into a confined space. Every one cannot have a car after all. So they do create an actual socio-cultural space while providing a real nececessity and a service to the population.

Classic footage below of calypsonian Bally’s 1989 classic “Maxi Dub,” describing his dislike  of the youths’ maxi-culture and especially the loud dub music they play that he cannot decipher!

Pineapple chow is awesome!

March 11, 2009
pineapple chow!

pineapple chow pic hoff from d simplytrinicooking site. find a chow recipe there!

so carnival was fantabulous and i finally got sucked into playing with the BIGGEST mas conglomerate ever (uh, TRIBE) being the large multi-million dollar enterprise that it is, while pretending to some people, that i didn’t actually pay more than my month’s rent to palance down the streets of port of spain. still, i do declare that i had a great time.  (at the risk of sounding like a friggin’ freshwater. *shudder*)

some of the highlights of the season included:

a bess pineapple chow

anything i ate…actually

the proliferation of the word “gunta.” i love words and i LOVE new trini ones

hugging my mummy

hugging anyone at home–really

 and this sign, we saw at a stall around the savannah:

only in trini! gotta luv it!

only in trini! gotta luv it!

maybe now i’ll get back to my coursework rather than reliving fastasmic (fantastic + orgasmic<–not a result of the sexually related kind)  trini memories, creating new work and finishing up some new posts that i started and need to finish. I’ll be ranting about dell PCs (please don’t EVER turn to them for “tech support” outside of your warranty. In fact if you can afford not to–don’t ever BUY a dell) *Insert ginormous steups here*).

criteria: or why one should not become emotionally/romantically/sexually involved with particular individuals

December 14, 2008

1. shredded slivers of past lover’s heart are clearly embedded in spaces between teeth but person claims that this is chicken

2. you each have competing versions of what constitutes reality

3. people who know them look past you with hollow eyes when it is announced that you are indeed involved with this particular individual

4. people who know them are in fact excruciatingly and overwhelming nice, sweet and welcoming of you into the fold after having just met you only once, as though trying to make you steelier for some impending tragedy

5. person squirms a lot

 6. person just has way too many friends, whether of the opposite sex or not and is not reclusive enough

7. when things implode into the proverbial shit storm, you marvel at that irony that you can at long last place what that stench was

8. person has a long track record of exes that are never to be seen again, shrouded in a cloud of mystery and offers little or no details upon inquiry

9. person is never reciprocal—ever

10. person’s family members always strike you as being embroiled in some kind of vicious inner turmoil, as though they really long to tell you something but just, can’t

Black People. Black Identities.

September 26, 2008

Being a person of color in the world today oftentimes means existing in some kind of hypenated category. Especially if you’re black, we’re prone to using the “black” as a kind of qualitative factor alongside whatever other label you need to insert thereafter. And so, it becomes, I’m not just a feminist, but a “black feminist,” a “black nerd,” “black gamer,” “black surfer,” “black west-indian,” “black skateboarder” et al. It’s important too, because how else does one distinguish one’s self from the legions of other participants who are, by and large, of another ethnic persuasion.

We need this visibility too, because it creates community and it’s essential for the broadening of the scope of “blackness” and what it means to be “black.” Much like a reincarnation of Dubois’ notion of the “double consciousness” for African-Americans and other transplants from the African Diaspora, black people often have to straddle multiple realms of identity.

Certain kinds of subcultures, are for the most part, made up of enough other kinds of people, that the black folk therein, form a distinct subculture within said subculture. Movements and films like Afropunk give voice to a space where like-minded persons of color, can be free to conglomerate and be punk-and-rock loving, lip pierced-and-tattooed black people without judgement. Or for that matter, just any representation that falls outside of what is usually deemed ‘mainstream black culture.’ Whatever that is…..but yay to that! I am huge fan of thinking outside the proverbial box.

So, Shotgun Seamstress (see cover pic above) for example, is a great zine out of Portland, dedicated to the black punk scene. And yup, there is one! While I grew up in a black majority place, seeing people of color play rock music wasn’t an anomaly per se, but it didn’t mean that some people I knew, didn’t think I was weirdo for rocking out to Green Day and Pearl Jam in secondary school while everyone was pounding dub all the time. My musical tastes have grown considerably more eclectic since, (inclusive of dub as well) but I would have loved to have seen something like Afropunk back then, to let me know that it was okay that I didn’t like what everyone else seemed to predominately like.

Recently though, I began to wonder, to what extent do black people involved in certain subcultures feel divided by this dual identity of self. More importantly do they even feel that way? I started with skateboarding, not just because I LOVE the idea of black people on skateboards, but along with surfing, strikes me as this quintessential example of a cultural scene, that is heavily populated with white people–usually.

Trying to find black skateboaders in my immediate area was almost virtually impossible and surfers—quite impossible, even though I am in Florida and nearby a coastline. But I did find two skateboarders finally, a male and a female, who were willing to reply to my questionnaire and share some insight with me, about what it’s like to be black and skateboard. I also had a black, Trini friend from the technology field and Microsoft, give me some input as well and the findings were interesting.

I also asked the girl pertinent questions related to her gender (had to throw that into the mix). Both skaters have been skating for all, if not most of their lives.  Being a girl affected her perceived perception by others, slightly more than being black did. And that I presume was relative to the question posed. For question # 3 What does the term being a “black skateboarder” mean to you? [if anything?]  generated the following responses: “Nothing really. It’s just cool to be involved in a sport or activity other than the typical “black sports” like basketball or football. I mean I love those sports too, but skateboarding gives me something a little different.”

Another answer stated, “I’m a mothafuckin skater period. ‘Black skateboarders’ are the douchebags ruining what I cherish everyday.” The next question # 4, on that note, are you “black” first and foremost, THEN a girl-skater, or does it not matter at all out at the skate park?” garnered the following response, “I think people notice the fact that I’m a girl skater first, and then it kinda shocks them to see a black girl skater. I guess it makes sense because you don’t really see a lot of us, but once you hit some decent tricks you kinda blend in as just another skater. Like everyone is there for that common goal….to work on their tricks and get better, soon after, gender and race are out of the picture.”

On the other hand, for a similar question # 4, on that note, are you “black” first and foremost, THEN a skater, or does it not matter at all out at the skate park? The respondent replied, “Race has never played ever the smallest factor in a damn thing I do at the skatepark. That’s why I started skating because we were ALL rebels who no one liked and came together and didn’t give a fuck what the next person looked like…”

One participant used to see themselves as part of a sub-culture, ONLY as separate and in defiance of “mainstream” skateboard representations and the other understood that they were viewed as a subculture when posed with the question, but admitted that they tried not to “consciously see it.” When questioned if and how being black, may or may not affect or influence their skating style, both participants declared that it had no major effect. 

I think it’s interesting that black people within certain subcultures [as with outside] just want to–belong. They want to fit in and be regarded as just another PERSON doing whatever it may be. In the words of my technology respondent, “I like to think I can transcend the race part.” In this case, this person also saw themselves as actively part of multiple subcultures like “the caribbean sub-culture, I’m in the black-subculture, I’m in the technologists subculture, marketers etc.” Unlike skaters which required the mastering and execution of different kinds of skills-sets (largely physical, curiously), the technologist saw how being a person of color clearly affected their own ‘style’ and perspective in the field, as well as the effect of their Caribbean heritage. 

It’s also a matter of choice. Some people choose to identify that way and some don’t. I am a black feminist and I identify as such. Being black has informed my positionality in the world just as much (if not more), as being a female and a feminist has and this is how I choose to see myself. I take ‘black’ with me into other spheres as well, because I want to. In some spaces, taking ‘black’ with you, is a bummer for other folk. And a buzzkill. People don’t dig it. It makes you less authentic somehow, rather than a neutral participant of the particular activity and all that it entails. A connection was made by one of the participants more than once, between the ‘realness’ of true skateboarding culture and the supposed absence of race.

In many subcultural spaces, this would not be possible (and I am not too sure that it even is, but then again I am not a skateboarder so I don’t actually know) but I suppose I appreciate it for what it is. That’s what we’ve always done anyway. Simultaneously bound by the extent of this lovely color and its legacy, some of us have always found ways to do just that–transcend–and others, to simply just, be. Like James Brown said, say it loud people. Say it loud.

Speaking of alternative representations of glorious blackness and people of color:

Order copies of ShotgunSeamstress through Microcosm Publishing at www.microcosmpublishing.com

Check out the Afropunk community

Support some local trini rock for free at http://trinidadandtobagoisfucked.blogspot.com/2008/05/trinidad-tobago-is-fucked.html

 

 

Late nights with pancakes

August 3, 2008

Late night IHOP runs are cri-min-nim-min-nim-min-nim-min-nal to the waist line–and yes, I know that was corny to those who got it. But the taste of America pancakes are worth it. They’re oh so yummy, delectable and good. My heart bleeds currently for the New York Cheesecake pancakes and the Washington Apple Crisp thus far. I highly recommend them.  *sigh* Wonder what a taste of Trinidad and Tobago run would look like?

Something along the lines of:

Tobago Mango:  Two buttermilk pancakes formed in the shape of the sister-isle topped with heaping slices of sweet julie mango pieces, mango glaze and a scoop of home-made coconut ice-cream.

Caroni Cane Cakes: Two warm and spicy pancakes, drizzled with brown sugar sauce and a rich dollop of fresh guava jam.

Santa Cruz Cocoa Coffee Bean: Two cocoa flavored pancakes with cinnamon, covered in a sweet coffee flavored sauce, cocoa shavings and topped with whipped cream.

Port-of-Spain Banana: Two buttermilk pancakes covered in a sweet and citrusy banana and portugal sauce, crowned with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

A girl can dream….can’t she?

In case you didn’t know–I LOVE pancakes!

ode to carnival [and the self]

March 3, 2008

     a speckle of glitter hanging around a temple

arbitrarily

is swept away by a finger’s idle caress.

     the resurgence of a familiar bass-line

is a call to reminisce

over visions of sun-soaked bodies

moving rhythmically to the beat.

     this poem is filled with cliches

just like the bead-trimmed bikinis we donned

were we ever one?

or was this all an illusion?

     forlorn feathers

of a once coveted costume

lay withering in a corner

[under the bemused gaze of a daddy-long-legs]

yearning for its former hey-day.

     not breathless

not blazing

not waving anymore

but arms akimbo

holding steadfast to the promise

of the self contained within

and the promise of what’s yet to come.

forget this nostalgia

i am my own damn carnival

watch me play myself.