Intersectional Feminism: Anti-Indigenous Racism & Capitalism During Carnival Season

Posted on - in intersectional feminism
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intersectional feminism carnivalIf we are interested in intersectional feminism, we can’t allow any intersection of identity to go unexamined. Race plays an important role in our lives as West Indian women. Race can even be important during Carnival season, believe it or not. Saint Lucia’s carnival season is approaching at a faster rate than I’m willing to admit. ’Tis the season for carnival bands to release their designs and costume theme in the hopes of attracting hordes of revelers to  purchase costumes with them and play mas. I often wonder quite how divorced carnival has come from what it was originally intended to be about…

 

I don’t have a clear idea of how divorced it has become, but for once I try to reserve judgment. As I scrolled through instagram, ogling costumes that I will talk myself out of buying, the title of one of the themes stuck out to me: SAVAGE.

 

I instantly recoiled. From my time in the United States and my education, I’ve learned that the word savage is not one thrown around lightly. It’s not just “offensive”, it’s a slur that has been hurled at native peoples across the U.S. (AND the Caribbean) that solidifies the white supremacist notion that white is good and anything not white is bad.

 

“Ok… Don’t start typing your blog post yet bitch,” I muttered to myself.

 

I continued scrolling through each costume, wondering if in fact it was going to get quite that bad. As it is with most things I take a closer look at, I found myself thinking that it indeed was that bad. It got worse. Far worse. Random words from the Hopi nation, Algonquian nation and others were mashed together with commentary that looked like it was copy/pasted out of a hotep guide book. I took screen shots of every single caption and then discussed said captions with my friends.

 

“Where the hell do I begin?” I said, again defeated.

 

I knew that I couldn’t not write anything about this. I knew that I had to say something, anything, to delineate the layers of wrongness. Now as a disclaimer before I begin: This is not an “attack” against a specific carnival band.

 

This isn’t a boring, unnuanced discussion of cultural appropriation leaving you feeling like I’m angry but confused.

 

This is an analysis. I am going to pick apart the attitudes that underly the captions and the notion of “savagery”, and I’m going to explain to you the ideas that underpin them. You can decide what to think and what to do for yourself.

 

The concept behind the theme “Savage” as it turns out, was to highlight the ways in which “others” — of course we lack the bravery or the exactitude to name imperialist powers or white people in our wishy washy call outs — are the real savages as opposed to people in the West Indies. Okay.

 

That sounds good. Well, that’s what I would have thought if the way this was done didn’t rely on “noble savage” stereotypes and an ahistorical take on what causes the “problems” of modern society.

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This attempt at depth falls flat on its face. The message here is that the “modern technology” of the first world is corrupt, but since we don’t have these kinds of things in the Caribbean, we aren’t the savage ones, they are. Interesting.

 

Here are all things that people in the Caribbean have and are very invested in for improving their “status” in life: social media, smart-phones, bank accounts, fast cars, suits, ties and stilettos. Literally the only thing on this list that West Indians aren’t obsessed with is fast jets. And bet your ass if they could dangerously drag race fast jets all around their islands they would find a way to have them.

 

Why pretend that we are divorced from the modern world for “fake depth”? Why do people blame social media and smart phones for problems? This is an almost artful way of avoiding self-examination and avoiding taking responsibility for the multitude of ways in which West Indians mess themselves all the way up without any pretentious rambling about how “bank accounts” are corrupt.

 

The next line is:

 

“As you engage in wars, rumors of wars”

 

Okay… Because violence makes people savage. Right. While West Indians may not engage in imperialist wars, is this supposed to suggest we don’t battle our own people on our own soil? Considering the massive amounts of violence against women, children and the mentally ill, are we somehow exempt from calling that violent? What is the measuring stick these creative  use to measure our society? Because every single ill they decontextualize and whine about here FLAGRANTLY EXISTS IN THE CARIBBEAN.

 

“tribalism in politics”

 

I just… I love the half-poetic attempt to include the word tribe in there. Good job. Unfortunately, it also has the side effect of equating “tribes” a very native thing to something negative like the behavior of politicians. Also, like literally everything on this list, ALL WEST INDIANS ENGAGE IN THIS. “Tribalism” in politics is not unique to first world people.

 

“raping of your women and children” 

 

This statement “your women and children” places women and children as possessions of West Indian men. Not just because of the casual sexism, this statement stuck out to me the most. Rape is one of the most egregious and violent crimes in the Caribbean that more often than not goes unpunished. If it’s not unpunished, the punishment is light. We are one of the guiltiest regions in the world for minimizing and ignoring sexual violence.

 

I won’t even bother go into too much detail about the irony of “widespread poverty” being a non-Caribbean thing.

 

And then the cherry on the cake: “who is really primitive and uncivilized”. Both words pack a punch: they embody anti-native sentiment that has led to genocide. Societies being “primitive” has allowed colonizers to justify “civilizing” them. This has involved murder, rape and a destruction of multiple cultures across the Americas.

 

But here, they manage to take something incredibly serious and painful and make it lighthearted. If this were an actual examination of Caribbean history and not just an ahistorical recycling of fake deep art, perhaps it would have landed. Alas.

 

 

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This isn’t one of the worst captions; despite the fact that it forces rhyme to do unspeakable things for the sake of what I suppose some might call creativity. What’s so interesting about this caption to me is how vague and meaningless it is. If this isn’t a case of a West Indian male artist being coddled and rewarded for the bare minimum their entire life, I really don’t know what is.

 

What’s interesting is this mashup of the “divine order” (a completely meaningless statement upon closer examination) and “all for one and one for all”. The confusion between hierarchy and communal living is painful here. Which one is it? Is there a divine order or is there the opposite? I don’t have much to critique here because it’s mostly nonsensical. It only serves to further highlight the lack of thought behind most of the captions.

 

This statement shows the massive amounts of internal confusion that people living in a post-colonial world experience. They think their beliefs are set in stone but really, they don’t have a single clue what they stood for or what they stand for. What they know of their history is fairy tales and mythology; the narratives are still controlled by colonizers and still viewed through a colonial lens. This post highlights that confusion very neatly, in a very awkward attempt at poetry.

 

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While the critique of religion and “fundamentalist” is valid, I find it ironic coming from a country where religion is fundamentalism. How can we claim that religion and fundamentalism from other places divides us where people use religion to justify marital rape and they use religion to justify state sanctioned homophobia and other forms of oppression?

 

The concept of a supreme being that unites instead of divides is certainly appealing but the reference is confusing. Before Christianity in the Caribbean what did we know of a “supreme being”? Not everyone who was in the Caribbean prior to Christianity practiced a monotheistic religion. In fact, non-Christian practices are all but squashed out in Caribbean culture.

 

Again, this caption highlights the ahistorical nature of this entire theme.

 

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Where to even begin with this one. Now chronic diseases are a sign of immorality and savageness? Considering heart disease is a major cause of death in the Caribbean is it really fair to equate that with savagery? Can you really say that something like cardiac arrest is “manufactured” when that’s the actual reason that most people die? Again, decontextualized and for a larger point that doesn’t land very well overall. Cancer and chronic diseases are certainly not manufactured either. Considering the earliest case of cancer was long before “the labs of the riches”.

 

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This is yet another attempt at blending poetry and what I can only assume was meant to be a political statement. In the confusing first sentence, the current societal “problems” are selfishness, selfies, barbarism and narcissism. All of which are completely new apparently. Because having your photograph taken totally hasn’t been done throughout the ages. Because narcissism hasn’t been an issue across generations. I don’t even understand what they were trying to get at with the sentence fragment “codes of conduct of modern man?” I am curious about what tablets they used to “teach and uplift” considering the iPad was invented during my lifetime. Is this about cave paintings? Should we go back to living in caves to solve the major societal issue of THE SELFIE?!

 

“[O]ur paintings and pictures glorified and praised.”

 

Again, this is a vague statement that doesn’t really mean anything. What did they glorify and praise? Who is “our” referring to. Overall, this failed attempt to comment on the vapid nature of society only reveals the emptiness of the mind of whoever conceptualized it. It’s not well thought out, it’s not insightful and it falsely attributes “modern problems” to things that have existed across cultures for centuries. It’s a pity, because this carnival theme actually had potential to be well done.

 

This entire theme plays into the racist idea of the “noble savage”. The reason why this is racist has been explicated in many sources. You can find them here. In summary, it’s racist because it exotifies and erases the real culture of Native Americans, reducing them to a fantasy instead of acknowledging the fact that there are many Native peoples across the Americas. They exist in the modern world and they don’t exist as a prop for others to point out the “flaws” of our modern society.

 

There is a way that this theme could have been done well without the flagrant erasure and disrespect towards native peoples. An accurate commentary on our post-colonial world would have examined our society’s ills accurately. An accurate commentary would have acknowledged that these “first world” social ills are actually pervasive in our society. We don’t know “the old way”. We can’t claim it and we certainly can’t claim to be above modern things such as “bank accounts”.

 

There is an idea that West Indians are incapable of upholding oppressive or damaging ideas about both black and native people is pervasive. Despite many being both black and native, West Indians are not exempt from doing damage. They still exist in a world that doesn’t teach the realities of the black and native experience — in history or now. I remember a while back, Nicki Minaj was critiqued for wearing a native headdress. Many (rightfully) defended her by saying that it was a part of the carnival tradition.

 

But does that mean that everything related to carnival is exempt from carrying on a dangerous legacy of colonialism? Does this mean that we cannot push anti-native racism? While I disagree with reducing the use of native inspired costumes in carnival to “cultural appropriation”, I do think we should examine carnival themes critically. What do we want our culture to represent today? How do we look at the past? Are we sticking true to the roots of carnival and rebelling against colonial hierarchy or are we merely enforcing colonial ideology whilst pretending it is our own invention. I invite you to contemplate this as you select your costume this year or as you peruse the band themes as they are released. Enjoy the season!

 

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