Like a semaphore your culture was birthed through a triangular movement, precise yet abstract. Ships flowed across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, Africa and the Americas. Your ancestors unwillingly came and had their religion, tongues and bodies tied to colonialism. They were allowed, however, to have some sense of freedom- a liberty to expose the skin on their backs and brown hues. Carnival is defined as the emancipation from one’s flesh. This cultural celebration allows one to become in tune with their sensuous side. Ask no questions and you will hear no lies. For we know Caribbean culture likes to appear noble and its women, gracious. Caribbean women and their sexuality have had an on and off relationship—no one wants to appear as a Jezebel. They keep their “wukkin’ up” to themselves and pray the dancehall walls keep their secrets as they ‘brace and wine’. You can relate to this. You do not want yourself to be misinterpreted or your sexuality translated wrong.
As you examine your pedicure toes you realize your feet still hurt and back, a little sore. Your skin now has a golden hue; you smile to yourself, remembering the cutie who complimented you on it. Oh gosh! Tomorrow is Monday, the start to your busy work-filled week. Your bags are still not unpacked and all you can think of is: “an’ every fete geh de numba to me cell phone”. Yes, di vibes cyan done for you and neither is procrastination. Instead of unpacking and preparing for the week ahead, you go to the kitchen to warm up some leftover Saltfish and Bake from your Aunty. Carrying the food into your living room you decide to upload your Carnival pictures unto Facebook. But then you pause. You do not want any foolishness on the comments. Yuh nuh want no one asking if your mother knows if you “get on bad” or better yet, your nosy co-worker giving you the “side eye”. You realize American society does not understand what you and your people are made of or even stand for. They often believe Soca and Calypso to be misogynistic. Caribbean women are given the labels of weakness due to how power is constructed within their society. It is said by academics and politicians:
“Caribbean women are vulnerable because gender inequality makes them economically dependent on men. Because they are subjected to domestic violence that reduces their ability to negotiate safer sex, and even in matriarchal societies where women head the house and provide the income—as is widely the case in Caribbean society—it is still accepted that the man will sleep around, because masculine norms of aggression, control, and risk taking allow him to”. (playingwithink.wordpress.com)
Besides the label of vulnerability it is often assumed by those outside of West Indian culture that, Caribbean women are hyper-sexualized by their own culture. American feminists who are not Caribbean often wonder if a bag has been slipped over the heads of West Indian women. Who in their right mind would be subjected to such raunchy behavior on a regular basis?
The question is: Who is allowed to deem what is of substance or not? As this question rolls around in your mind, you remember how people responded to pictures of Rihanna from last year’s Crop Over. She was labeled as a “slut”, “whore” and some even chuckled at the idea of her crying over rape alluding to her “Man Down” song. Although her traditional Mas costume was barely there, yours was too. Other commentary came from those of African-American and African descendants who used the necessary language that conveyed an “Us versus Them” thematic. It was made to believe, West Indian women were the only ones within the Black race to behave in a “lewd” nature. It was even stated that, we as women were confused. “How can one celebrate the cultural holiday of Carnival and yet not support homosexual or reproductive rights of others?” (Clutch Magazine August 2011- ‘After Carnival, Are People Too Hard on Rihanna’) Others proclaimed Rihanna’s participation in Carnival (Crop Over) was not a good marketing decision because she is a role model and companies would not allow her to be the “face” of their products. And last but never least, there were those who believed Caribbean women should not participate in playing Mas because it was not viewed as celebrating culture but celebrating sex.
As you continue to edit your photos, making the sun beam brighter and occasionally turning your photos vintage, you wonder if it is best to keep who you really are to yourself. Or should you only give those who went on the trip permission to see the album? Though you may not be Bajan, you and Rihanna’s cultures align under the Caribbean umbrella. She could have been your sister, aunt, niece, cousin or even, you. Those insensitive comments were directed to you, whether you care or not. What does a girl do with the ethnocentric views of others?
You upload your one thousand plus pictures, carefully dividing up the albums. You do not make your albums private; you have plans for your allyuh Facebook friends to see that it was what it was. You played mas, jump and waved, celebrated your roots…half–naked. You “wined up” on complete strangers and enjoyed it. Why? Because your favorite Nadia Batson song played, drinks were flowing and “chippin’ down de road” never felt better. The icing on the cake: you felt at complete peace with your sexuality. Your curves, yuh bumpa and waist line wrote sentences and mesmerized eyes. And besides, it is about cultural control. Who is going to define you, your sexuality and culture? You should, because you help create and evolve it.