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Close to my skin
Feminist activist and writer Amanda T McIntrye explored the intersections between race relations, misogyny and Carnival in T&T in her recent talk, Close to My Skin. She said the intersection of the three is related to T&T’s colonial legacy.
McIntyre said Carnival as a cultural expression and the way men treat women in this space are part of the colonial legacy, where Caribbean masculinity was molded by colonials who oppressed black men, who then reclaimed their power by oppressing black women and children. This way of life then spread from the home into the wider society and is seen in the way we treat each other. She argues that the plantation owners felt entitled to our bodies and this feeling of entitlement and ownership transferred into male and female relations and is exaggerated during Carnival.
Said McIntyre: “This continued oppression is a way of avoiding who we are as people; an avoidance of confronting our pain, and dealing with how colonial violence has damaged us. We see this damage as part of our identity and are frustrated because we don’t know how to move past it.
“We have suppressed our historical trauma and erased our true selves by assuming identities, taking on roles, putting on masks, switching codes and compartmentalised our distress in order to survive in a post-colonial space. She said while this performance is laid bare or made most plain during Carnival, to the point of spectacle, we do it consciously and unconsciously during the year as part of a post-colonial self-preservation.”
McIntyre said a lot of what we understand about empowerment has to do with appropriation of masculinity and whiteness. “Images of whiteness came here with Europeans and were presented as an ideal that was further established in religion with the presentation of the white Christ figure and continued to be imported through visual art and literature, then later through television and cinema.” She noted that the importance of whiteness in cinema post-emancipation and Independence had dissolved the black identification.
As an example of this she contrasted the media and national attention given to the stories of Neisha Wattley and then-President Anthony Carmona. Wattley was criticised and vilified for refusing a house after losing her home and a child in a fire while the issue of Carmona and the stolen housing allowance received little or no attention in comparison. “The difference between the two cases is a matter of respectability, as what we feel is good, worthy and deserving is determined by adjacency to whiteness or distance from blackness.”
McIntyre said she came to the realisation that black men recreate colonial patterns in the way they treat black women after years of observing the heightened misogyny at Carnival time both in songs and the general liberties men take with women’s bodies during the season. This came in the height of a Carnival season when an advisory was issued by the TTPS reminding the nation that ‘tiefing a wine’ was an assault. The nation was given a very basic explanation of consent, a further explanation of what constitutes assault and why this is punishable by law.
Shortly thereafter Machel Montano advised people that they could dismiss the advisory of the police, denying the agency of women in front of thousands. Even though, following a social media backlash, he changed his tune and gave an explanation of how he felt about women in Carnival culture, the damage had already been done.
Traditional and independent mas form an important part of the remedy for understanding the way we have contributed to the construction of a post-colonial society, McIntyre said. “This is why each year as I play mas with independent mas band Vulgar Fraction I use Carnival as a platform for protest action. I also look on in awe whenever I witness the Sankar-Charleau family in action, as that is the type of energy activation needed in communities, our nation and in the Carnival.
“It is through play that we can figure out how to escape and answer the question of how not to play and how to be. Then there may be healing on individual and community levels.”
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