Crop Over was this past weekend, which to this Trini is Barbados’ version of Carnival; to me that translates to great fetes (parties), good food, drinks, music, liming (hanging out), costumes, glitter, and unadulterated fun. I have never been to Crop Over although I have always wanted to check out the Bajan version of the festival, experience how the Bajans does fete and ting, how they get down. I mean, really experience a part of their culture. In the recent years, I have noticed that a few popular Trini parties have expanded their brand not just to Barbados, but to Jamaica, Canada, and Miami, and this coming together for the sake of carnival in different countries really warms my little heart. People coming together in love and unity for any purpose, even if it’s to party, lifts my spirit, both inside the Caribbean or the wider world; but when I see it happening in the Caribbean, it makes me especially proud as I am from there.
Rihanna of course was the star of Crop Over, and she never disappoints. Her costume from the carnival band Zulu International was gorgeous. But it is not just Rihanna’s costume or celebrity that makes her a star in my eyes. It’s her love of life and her love of family and friends, her ability to live her life by her rules and no one else’s that makes her a Caribbean Girl and as captioned in the above pic: a Black Girl to be proud of. The way she interacts with her fans and people on the whole is to be commended.
But can we talk about that caption for a minute? “Black iz Beautiful”, that she identifies as black and does not go out of her way to say she is mixed, or her family has some kind of European heritage in the family tree; that she doesn’t play up her eye color or skin shade to identify and signify being a red woman is very powerful and endearing. As I casually scrolled down Instagram whizzing by all the pics, I instantly stopped when I saw that pic and its caption. I sat there for a long time just staring at the pic: at the joy, exuberance, beauty, confidence, fierceness, and friendship that the pic depicted. And then for her to claim her blackness unabashedly when this world teaches us to be ashamed of our melanin is astounding.
I may not have always been her biggest fan; I may have and I am embarrassed to admit this, judged her as “oh she is too vulgar,” “oh, she is looking for attention with all that nakedness.” And I am embarrassed to have judged her and others when we all have our struggles and trials, and we all make our mistakes and we all don’t think the same way. Isn’t it a much better option to love and try to understand another than to stand in judgement and disapproval? We don’t like it when we are judged, but we do it all the time. I know they say it’s human nature, but I think it may actually be learned behavior. I say this because when I observe little children or babies, all I see when they see other children is a sense of wonder and curiosity–not judgment. They want to touch, see, taste the new object or person, to understand it.
Moreover, as I read some of the comments under Crop Over pictures on Instagram, most were positive, but you know, there are always the few that spew hate. I read one that called her whore and made fun of her beautiful distinct accent, and I thought myself, really? All I got from her pics were beauty, and happy, fun times, but I think that’s where the cultural divide appears because although I had been guilty of judging her in the past for her very revealing outfits, it was not based on her carnival apparel. Rather, I was judging her club outfits or awards outfits. Having been a masquerader in my home country and Miami, and a longtime observant of the subtle particulars of mas design in women’s costumes, I was enamored with Rihanna’s costume. I loved how the jewels gleamed in the sunlight and the unique color combo employed. She looked great and stunning in all her regalia. How someone got whore from that confused me.
Now, that is not to say that I have never seen a costume and said to myself “but where is the rest of that costume”, or “that is not a costume, it’s strings she is wearing” because I have; however, I did not get that at all from Rihanna’s attire. As I pondered about it more, I understood that to someone looking in and not having grown up with the culture of carnival that her dancing and strutting with confidence in her body and self may be perceived differently. But for those of us that grew up with the culture, carnival is the time of year where good girls could be bad and not be judged or stigmatized as a result of said behavior. It’s the time of year that you can let loose and dress up and glitter up and have a blast; it does not make us whores.
In many societies in the Caribbean, where the colonial way of thinking still strongly lingers, and everyone is watching what everyone else is doing and talking about it, women are told they should behave in a particular manner from early on (this societal watching has both good and bad benefits but will be addressed further at a later date). So, yes, you want to make sure you make your parents proud and not give anyone anything to run back and talk about. Carnival is our freedom from that. Do I always care for some of the vulgar dancing, myself? No. But do I label a person a whore because of it? Also, no. The furthest I might go with judginess is to say that they crave attention (which in itself is wrong, and I am getting much better at not doing this. However, it takes a lot of practice), but most times I think, wow she’s having a frolicking good time.
I cannot close this article without addressing the body shaming comments being flung at Rihanna. I have read everything from she is fat and looks like a fridge, too she looks bad bodied. Although we all have our own perceptions of what beauty is, to subject others to our sometimes unrealistic standards is disheartening to say the least. Again, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, but really by any standards, she looked absolutely divine.
My point is I rate Rihanna, so BIG UP YOURSELF!!!! YUH LARGE GYUL!!! Caribbean girl to Caribbean girl, black girl to black girl, woman to woman, person to person, global citizen to global citizen, human to human, I admire her style and grace to be herself under pressure, to be herself with the whole world watching her, to live and enjoy life on her terms which speaks to her strength. I think we all could learn a thing or two from Rihanna, beyond what it takes to be a Caribbean girl, but also as a human being, and what it means to embrace what we all have in common–being human, because you see at the end of it all, we have more in common than we do in our differences.
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