I need to disclose the following before I share my thoughts on a topic close to my heart.
- I love my culture – All elements of my mixed culture – English, Caribbean, Nigerian.
- I don’t identify as American, in spite of my very American accent. I wasn’t born in the US. My parents are not American.
- I love my family – the English, Nigerian, American, West Indian family members
- I have a complex relationship with nearly everything and I appreciate that no one person has the exact same views as me.
- What I am going to say may offend some of you but it is not meant to offend but to give some people cause to think differently.
I have not actively participated in Carnival for over two years. I need a break from the constant stimulation (some background here – my first carnival was at the age of 1). This doesn’t mean that I don’t keep a constant beady eye on all the comings, goings, ill-fitting costumes, bamcee eating in public, you know the stuff that passes for Carnival these days.Credit https://unsplash.com/@twistedphoto
Caribbean Carnival was born out of frustration, fighting for identity and freedom of expression. We should all know the story of transatlantic slavery (if you don’t, please find another blog to read because I don’t have the time) and indentured servitude. Europeans, in particular the English, Spanish and French took the lands of indigenous people, shipped resource (African people) to the Caribbean and imposed their way of living and their standards on the people they stole, the land they stole and the people whose land they stole (very much the abbreviated and much needed context). One of those imports was carnival, a celebration of the senses before embarking on Lent. As with many indulgences, Europeans excluded slaves from their celebrations.
In each Caribbean country, slaves (and later plantation workers, and later indentured labourers from India and China) found a way to rebel and create a celebration that was uniquely their own, festivals the Europeans frowned upon. Please see scrutiny shared by Know Your Caribbean (I highly recommend you follow this page)
“We will not dwell on the disgusting and indecent scenes that were enacted in our streets–we will not say how many we saw in a state so nearly approaching nudity as to outrage decency and shock modesty-we will not particularly describe the African custom of carrying a stuffed figure of a woman on a pole, which was followed by hundreds of negroes yelling out a savage Guinea song (we regret to say that nine-tenths of the people were Creoles)–we will not describe the ferocious fight between the ‘Damas’ and the ‘Wartloos’ which resulted from this mummering–but we will say at once that the custom of keeping Carnival by allowing the lower order of society to run about the streets in wretched masquerade belongs to other days, and ought to be abolished in our own.” – Account of Trinidad Carnival celebrations 1838 by Scottish onlooker.
Why am I giving this history lesson? Well, as the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” In my opinion, Caribbean people, and to a greater extent people of the African diaspora are often times desperate for the approval of our former masters. The opinion of others matters more than the inclusion of our brothers and sisters of bondage.
Why do I say this? Carnival groupies (I am not judging you guys today, I promise) will be familiar with European groups and fractions professing their love of all things carnival and Soca. While it is refreshing to see the culture receive global recognition, it is concerning that popular DJs, bandleaders, and promoters focus their efforts and attention on non-Caribbean European people. I have noticed that Carnival bands will use their platforms to post images of their white masqueraders, popular Soca DJs liking the pages UK Soca groupies with less than 500 followers, while not acknowledging a group of Black American Soca Lovers. Why don’t we show this same love to African-Americans, Africans, people from other islands?credit: https://unsplash.com/@capturedevelop
Why do I care? Because the disparity is obvious, its tangible (non-West Indians have approached me about this). And because the preferential treatment of some of these Europeans goes against the very spirit upon which Carnival was borne of. Our expression was stifled for generations. The black people who couldn’t speak Ga when they were stolen from the West Coast of Africa because the person next to them was Igbo. The Indian who couldn’t practice their religion and had to build a temple miles away from their homes. Ultimately, the English oppressed the Chinese, Indian and African diasporas for hundreds of years. And what I see in carnival, globally is systemic self-hatred, a love of anything white (in this age of PC gone mad, this is where I state that this is not about a dislike of Europeans, white people or any other groups. I am concerned about self hatred that is expressed in excessive love of white people while seemingly disliking people who look like you). The desperate desire of our people to have the descendants of our oppressors love them and their carnival. And this obvious in marketing practices – the sharing of images of predominately white women and men, the use of white models to an audience that is comprised of black people. Here are some of the excuses I hear when I discuss this with topic with others:
1. White people spend money, black people don’t. That’s bullshit. Your results are a direct result of your marketing. If you target white people, you get white people. And newsflash! Black women have the steepest growing trajectory in entrepreneurship and higher education. Meaning they have money to spend!
2. We want to share our culture with others – if you want to share it, Why do you discuss black people with such disdain and white people with such reverence? Why can’t you share the carnival, a result of a shared history and struggle with other black people?
What adds insult to injury for me is that many of the Europeans being encouraged to storm the culture is that they are not educated on the origins of carnival (I personally feel that before you can play mas, that you have to be inducted) and just view it as a really fun festival to get pissed (drunk) and hook up with people. This is a great disservice to you (yes, you reading this. I am sure that you have encouraged your non-Caribbean friends to join you without providing any history lessons), your friends, and our community.
I would like to see us encouraging Africans, African Americans, Indians, Chinese people, the people who genetically understand what it is like to be conquered by the British Empire. Admittedly, I would like to shrink wrap the culture and preserve it, similarly to other populations but that would be selfish.
I am not opposed to any one group partaking in and enjoying our culture but we are in danger of blindly handing the keys of the deeply rich kingdom away – remember the first Thanksgiving dinner?
(if you doubt the power of African diaspora economic influence, please look up that Popeye’s chicken sandwich and the $65 million USD that was made in less than a month)
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