Caribbean bloggers take on race, class, gender, nation… and Nicki Minaj

Three very popular Caribbean bloggers have written recently about gender, race, class and nation in the region. These are must-read articles, check them out:

Annie Paul writes about the Caribbean Court of Justice Case currently being heard.  The case concerns the infringement of the rights (and sexual assault) of CARICOM citizen and Jamaican national, Shanique Myrie.  She examines notions of gendered respectability and class and how they are at the heart of this case:

This landmark case is not only about nationality, it’s also about ‘class’, the ungainly elephant in the room no one wants to explicitly mention. It is important to portray Myrie as ‘decent’ ‘respectable’ and ‘sober’ because the image of Jamaicans in the region is overwhelmingly influenced by the higglers, DJs and hustlers who often represent the face of Jamaica,  visiting, even migrating to other countries, where they are not always welcome.

Why? because these enterprising but capitally-challenged individuals (ie owning  little capital, whether financial or social) often violate all the dearly held norms of ‘decency’ ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ with their choice of garments, raw speech and boisterous behaviour. They regularly transgress the zealously guarded borders of civility and decorum as much as the borders of nation states which under the new Chaguaramas Treaty they now have a right to breach.

Perhaps this was why Myrie was given the finger when she arrived in prim and proper Barbados, regionally glossed as ‘Little England’. Not just because she was Jamaican but because she was perceived to be a particular kind of Jamaican. So @Emilynationwide was right to emphasize the outfit and demeanour of Ms Myrie. It may be extremely germane in the instant case.

The Eternal Pantomime examined  how race and class intersect to render some Trinbagonians as “sub-humans” or “niggas” who should be shot according to one journalist and his facebook friends:

Yesterday a man lost his entire family in seconds. Seconds. We can’t return them to him. Yesterday and this morning that man is firm in the knowledge that he may never receive justice…ever. Because in this corrupt narco state of a country the cliques protect their own. In the midst of wrenching grief, this man knows that the person responsible for killing his family may never be brought to justice. The community of Sea Lots responded angrily, impulsively and violently. The police and armed services responded back.

Meanwhile, on a computer somewhere, a citizen, who happens to be a freelance journalist posts up a rant. It is both classist and racist. He sincerely believes that poor(economically) black people who protest should be shot and killed and cabbages planted on them. He is unapologetic. Within seconds, other people who have little to no clear details of the tragedy, but who also have a deep and abiding disgust for poor black people because they believe them to be a burden on society, click like on his status and add comments. Of the five people who clicked like, one is a police officer. Another one is a friend of mine; and yet another is an online persona I know who is quite comfortable with using the word Negro to describe and define Afro- descended people.

Tillah Willah took umbrage with Nicki Minaj’s description of Trinidad & Tobago as “nothing” demonstrating the extent to which this characterization relies on a homogenised understanding of blackness as outside of humanity.   It is a critique worth noting especially as some feminist scholars think of Minaj as queer, subversive and transgressive.

Maybe it’s all that peroxide that’s eaten through Nicki Minaj’s scalp and started affecting her brain.
Or maybe it’s just the contempt that all Trinbagonians have for their own. You know, the place that gives you so much, that all you can manage to do is bad talk it at every opportunity.
I’m not, as you might have guessed, a fan of Ms. Minaj. There is a lot of really good hip hop out there and she is not it.
In a moment of empathy, Ms. Minaj reached out to an American Idol competitor – a refugee from Liberia – to say that she was so happy that the two of them had made it alive out of their horrible countries and come to the earthly paradise known as the United States of America to have a shot at being human.
In one fell swoop she perpetuates the myth of the savage Third World and also the streets paved with gold that exist outside of these Third World hell holes.
You really have to wonder if Ms. Minaj has some sort of post traumatic stress disorder. But if she does, if she is yet to deal with the traumas of her childhood, she should see a specialist about it, instead of going on American television and describing her country, my country as ‘nothing’.
Also I am curious about the something that she says that she is now. I suppose having millions of dollars is success. It doesn’t matter if you get this money by acting like Oversexed Barbie. It doesn’t matter if you are part of a media machine that sexualises girlhood, that preaches bamsie shaking as the sure fire way to get attention. And if you’re a black woman of any kind of popularity you start to get progressively whiter the more famous you get.
It fits the mainstream world media agenda for us to continue to think that anywhere in the so-called Third World is backward and savage. Trinidad and Liberia are one and the same, although Trinidad has not had decades of civil war. Far from being an expression of solidarity with a fellow person of colour, she is spewing the same ignorance that lumps us all into one amorphous bunch of black savages who can’t help but kill each other.
Oh and by the way? Violence and poverty do not exist in Queens. Racism is a long past dream and we’re all just getting along and having a big old party.

From local journalists, to the Caribbean court of justice to Nicki Minaj, there’s lots to unpack about our understanding of blackness as outside of the human and how this is mediated by gender, class and nation.

Join the discussion…

Edited to add

Negril Stories also wrote about the Shanique Myrie case in an aptly named post “I am Shanique Myrie or Jamaicans and Women are also Human”. Check it out.

Over her dead body: Nationalist rhetoric as (erasure of) violence against women

Natoya Ewers, a Jamaican woman, was hacked to death by her intimate partner, leaving behind three children.  I came across this Jamaican facebook page where the occasion of this woman’s death was used to denounce the fact that Bajans did not like Jamaicans.  Many users asserted that the woman should not have left Jamaica to travel to that third world full-stop of an island Barbados.  Absolutely no mention of violence against women.  No mention of the Jamaican women who lost their lives at home in Jamaica at the hands of intimate partners during that same week.  No mention of how increasingly violent Caribbean societies had become.  I told myself it’s just one facebook page.  Surely that is not most people’s reaction.  Then I saw the Jamaica Observer cartoon above and it confirmed my initial fears.

Caribbean feminist scholar, Alissa Trotz, has outlined how “women’s bodies [become] the site on which group loyalties are enacted.”  Not to be outdone, on the Nation News (Barbados) facebook page comments were also nationalistic as readers alleged that the man who committed the murder and subsequently killed himself was Vincentian.  They quickly moved from the nationalistic to the sexist:

But lets face the truth. Bajan women take and take and take and just take too much from men. Its not like the men can afford to give so much. Men feel compelled to give because its the only way they can keep these selfish bajan women. Bajan women have become a society of beggers.

Just say ” hello” to a bajan women and she wants a top up.

Of course, the other facebook users moved to correct the commenter quoted above, not to chide him for his sexism but to remark that the woman in question was not Bajan but Jamaica.   The stereotype of Caribbean women as mercenary, materialistic and financially dependent on men and these “facts” in and of themselves being presented as a justification of murder went unchallenged.

While the recent tensions surrounding the treatment of Jamaican nationals at the Barbados airport and the rape of a Jamaican woman in police custody explains in part this recourse to an unthinking nationalism, it does not explain why all the “talk” following this woman’s brutal death made absolutely no mention of  the similarity with so many other murders of Caribbean women and displayed very little feeling for the woman herself.   Reports are that she had confronted her partner about sexually abusing her daughter.  On local television one of her neighbours reported watching the woman’s murder from the safety of his bedroom window.

Women’s bodies are used as boundary-markers in what has become an asinine Barbados versus Jamaica beef played out at the highest and lowest levels.  Wasted time, talk and energy that could be put towards fighting against what is really at issue here: men’s violence against women, society’s sanctioning of it, incest and child sexual abuse.


Carnival is woman…but not just any woman

Women’s public performance is always political, the fat black woman’s even more so.  There mere fact that this video* is circulating so widely is because people view the fat black woman’s performing body as disruptive and “unruly” (to draw on the work of Jamaican literary scholar Andrea Shaw.)

Some people argued that images of this woman would deter tourists from visiting Trinidad and Tobago for carnival.   This calls up how women’s bodies are used to signify the nation, in ways that are ultimately harmful for women.  Despite this nation being one where “every creed and race find an equal place” the fat black woman’s unruly political body is out of place, especially at carnival which itself has become a more commodified, commercially driven enterprise which re-inscribes class divisions rather than turning them on their heads as carnival has been expected to do.

Not just any body can represent the nation.  (Think of how he Caribbean’s beauty queens have traditionally been light-skinned, middle-class and slim.)

Trinidadian comedian Rachel Price had this to say:

That have to be CONFIDENCE to leave yuh house with nothing but red lace. When de holes in yuh arse that bigger than the holes on de road to Lopinot and of ALL words SEXY THING on the drapes posing as a panty ???

Yup, a fat joke! A cheap ridiculing of one woman out to have a good time.  What strikes me as most disturbing is the assumption that a fat woman couldn’t and shouldn’t be confident.

You would think that generations of fat, black Caribbean women who have refused to know their place would have put an end to such ignorance and prejudice.

Andrea Shaw’s The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies is available at Amazon.

This post was originally posted to our facebook page and tumblr.  Read a response to our post from the roots and rights blog.