My first introduction to the term Creole was when I discovered that Tina Knowles was Beyonce’s mother. In Rwanda the knowledge I had about people of African descent living in the diaspora was limited, to me the only introduction to blacks were the movie stars and artists I saw on TV. Hence, I was a big Beyonce fan, thus I knew almost every detail about her life that was out there. So I knew her father was a dark skin man from Alabama and her mom was of Creole descent (to me she looked white). In my mind Creole became associated with being mixed and looking almost white. Once I came to America and met people from different backgrounds that spoke creole I was intrigued not only were they not mixed some of them were as dark as me. Thus, this past week’s reading broke a lot of the previous misconceptions I had about the term and what it means. Going back to Tina Knowles, a while ago I read an article about how Matthew Knowles her ex husband had first thought she was white and was drawn to her in the beginning for that particular reason. He talked about how growing up it was encouraged to marry someone of a lighter skin complexion, he made points about how Beyonce’s light skin features have put her in much better position compared to her more dark skin counterparts. As a Beyonce fan I could not help but pause and really think about that, and to some degree I agree. There is really not that much representation of dark skin women in the music industry or Hollywood. But what baffled me most was the reaction the article received, a lot of people were in opposition and making statements such as “we are all black we go through the same struggle”. Colorism is real in black and communities of color everywhere in the world and it just sets us back as a people if we are in denial of the struggles that some of us still face on a daily basis.
The film we watched in class mentioned how some Trinidadians felt as if they were not represented in the particular shows women from the country participated in. The women chosen were always light-skinned, even though majority of the people living in the country had a much darker skin tone. Seeing the clip reminded me of other similar scenarios. For example, the thought some young colored-skin girls have when they’re looking to owning a Barbie. They won’t find a Barbie that resembles them. Lately, the company has been trying to diversify the looks of the Barbie, however to do so, it should take into consideration the particular characteristics that are often disregarded. Similarly, soap operas are very popular in the Mexican culture. For years, Mexican soap operas have been in the making. However, ever since, the protagonists have always been light-skinned. If you trace back on how many have aired, and out of those how many have casted dark-skinned people, especially women, as protagonists you’ll probably find two or three. Growing up I always wondered why that was, especially looking at my family and the people in my community and seeing mostly brown skin. Society all over the world has constructed the idea of light-skinned people being ideally beautiful. It is crazy to think that this occurs in countries where the majority of the people have colored skin.
Through cross generational and bi-ethnic relationships, A Brighter Sun and The Dragon Can’t Dance reveal the intricacy of cultivating unity between the Africans and Indians in the Caribbean Islands. In almost all instances, Africans and Indians invalidate the parallel of their circumstances because of the colonially curated mistrust between them. This tactic ensures that Africans and Indians do not unite and resist or challenge the colonial hierarchy of race and class. The success of this manipulation of the African and Indian union was seen when most (Hindu) Indians would not support the African-made People’s National Movement. It has been almost 70 years since the development of this movement and as America becomes increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, there is still the instinct for Latinx and African Americans to feel as though they are not fighting the same fight. That the fight is between them to be one leg up from the other. It is a huge disservice to disenfranchised and marginalized people to believe that the different details of their existence divide them rather then strengthen them as a whole.
Popular media platforms are trending with debates regarding gun-control. It seems like I can’t escape hearing about it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that it’s important and relevant to the recent shootings. Demonstrated in the video is a man who tries to prove a point about the need for security by whipping out a knife at a parent-teacher association (PTA) meeting. The room is split with some people clapping in support of the man and others in shock arguing against the man. However, both groups are in consensus about more security at schools. What people fail to recognize is that there are some schools that have been implementing prison-like security practices within the past decade. This is not a new phenomenon. Many high schools in my area have metal detectors at the entrances and implement a no-backpack policy.
I come from a majority-minority community in Southern California. I was accustomed to on-campus police officers with guns roaming the school. It actually surprised me that some of my college peers had not experienced the level of security I had in school. I believe that racial constructions manifest in the way security measures are implemented in schools around the country. People of color are constantly labeled as potential criminals because of historical stereotypes set forth by colonizers. I do believe security in schools is necessary but to make it the same for all schools.
I enjoyed the class activity where we analyzed the pictures of the different peoples on plantations in Trinidad. It was a powerful activity in closely looking at the bodies of the peoples, and their differences and similarities. While some looked very much African, some appeared to more closely resemble Indian bodies. We all seemed to make these assumptions in class based on the features and structures of these people. This resonated with me as I do similar things when I look at my diverse family from Barbados. I look at my Grandma and her features and indicate that she is a Caribbean women who looks more European and white, whereas some of my cousins look and have features that are completely different. Similarly, on of my uncles, I look at and associate him more with African and sometimes Jamaican men. It is extremely powerful what associations and connections you can make in visual appearances, even though they might not always be accurate. We looked at clothing and other apparel a lot in this activity, and that is something I have not done in looking at my family members. It would be interesting to look at what they wear and how they wear certain clothes, and continue to make connections and associations.
Part of what interested me most from these readings so far is Francis Galton’s definition of eugenics as “science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage” (79). This makes it seem so clinical, unbiased, and harmless—even inarguable. If the only goal of this so-called “science” is to improve the human race, how bad could it be? The mobilization of science in this way is extremely dangerous as it shrouds the inherent racist biases in what are supposed to be facts and legitimate scientific methods.
At the same time of reading this text, in another class I read Home by Toni Morrison which deals with many things, one of which being eugenics. One of the main characters, Ycidra, is employed by a white doctor in Georgia to help schedule his appointments and keep track of his scientific work. Ycidra discovers that this doctor is heavily interested in eugenics and is mainly “helping” the poor community of Atlanta. He administers shots and medicines he concocted himself to Ycidra. She nearly dies, however after a recovered she learns that she will never be able to have children. Morrison’s Home sheds light on the atrocities committed in the name of a false science as Ycidra is a victim of the forced sterilization of black women as a direct result of eugenics programs in the United States.
Reading these two texts side-by-side was enlightening because reading Galton’s “Eugenics: its Definition, Scope and Aims” allowed me to understand the thinking of people who believed in its message and how these racist ideologies were presented to the public through the ruse of science, and Home by Toni Morrison humanized the issue further by illustrating the experience of an unsuspecting woman who was abused by a doctor that justified sterilizing her without her knowledge or consent because, in his opinion, it was for the good of the human race.
The relevance of this course in my everyday life has manifested again in the form of tying in with my English class. Lately, we have done several readings about identity and some history about the Caribbean, including watching the documentary Haiti and Dominican Republic: An Island Divided. In my English class, we recently read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez which is also set in the Dominican Republic. While the documentary discussed Trujillo, the book focused much more on the impact of Trujillo, specifically on the Mirabal sisters (three revolutionaries who were assassinated under Trujillo’s orders and one sister that survived). Watching this documentary was interesting because the novel focused heavily on gender roles under his reign and did not focus on race or even discuss the Haitian genocide. For example, it mentions the fact that Trujillo wears makeup, but it did not explain that he wore makeup in attempt to make his skin look lighter. The makeup was only brought because Alvarez was describing Minerva Mirabal slapping Trujillo’s face after he made unwanted sexual advances (which happened in real life). The novel is important because of the light it sheds on the plight women under Trujillo, but the exclusion of the persecution of an entire people is disturbing. Both reading the novel and watching the documentary helped paint a fuller picture of the atrocities committed by Trujillo.
Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.
Since our last class on Thursday, I have not been able to stop thinking about the photographs we examined in class of indentured laborers in Trinidad. Being able to actually see snapshots into the lives of a group of people that we have been learning about was very eye-opening. Instead of abstractly thinking about the function of Indian laborers in society in the Caribbean, the photographs served as a concrete source of proof, a snapshot into their daily lives. Being able to see these women stooped over the rice paddies was much more impactful than just imagining it; it strengthened my understanding of indentured labor.
This weekend I started reading On Photography by Susan Sontag, and her ideas allowed me to view the experience of seeing those photographs in a different light. Sontag claims that “[p]hotographs furnish evidence” (5), and I certainly found that to be the case regarding my learning about the Coolies.
A Brighter Sun by Samuel Selvon really struck me in the way the U.S. and the Whites not only have influenced other countries but the minds of the individuals living in these countries, as seen through Tiger in the novel. After getting married at the tender age of 16 and starting his own family, Tiger, initially finds himself trying to replicate the ‘Indian model’ of living in a small village in Trinidad. However, as time progresses, Tiger learns how to read and desires to become more educated while the town he lives in starts to change, particularly by the infiltration of the Americans. As the Americans decide to build a road across the village, Tiger gets excited with the idea of working for the Americans and this opportunity gets him thinking of new ideas particularly the idea of improving his life in all ways and living better. Although this is a positive thing, this infatuation for the new really puts him in a bad position with his wife, who feels that he has become preoccupied with things that have put her and the family second. This juxtaposition is interesting, because it shows the power that the actions of the Americans had on culture and on a society who was not necessarily ready for change or even wanting change. The old traditional way of living means retention of culture, while the new means challenging these values, or getting rid of them completely.
Less than a month after H&M recalled an image of a black child modelling a hoodie with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle,” they have once more returned to the limelight and were forced to recall a range of socks with a pattern that appeared to resemble the word “Allah” written in Arabic. Although it was intended to be a lego holding a hammer, this illustration bares resemblance to the Arabic language. Throughout these controversies, high-profile figures have spoken out calling H&M’s image “offensive”, “irresponsible” and “racist”. Although they hired a diversity specialist, they should have already had heightened cultural sensitivity in both scenarios. Traditional tribal patterns, derogatory terms and prints are often seen in contemporary fashion despite their negative connotations and cultural misappropriation. It is critical to to be considerate and oppose these styles as they foster stereotypes and hurt identities. To keep clear of further controversies, fashion lines should have a strong commitment to addressing diversity and inclusiveness and be vigilant selecting designs.