I generally write about my life so far, but after seeing my Bajan neighbor’s recent attempt at being an exotic dancer I had to put in my two cents, or maybe just my carefully worded view since money seems to egg her on. I know this is an inflammatory title, but it’s merely an opinion based on my experience as a Caribbean woman. The recent influx of Rihanna’s body parts and ganja penchant littering the social network makes me wince. I only think of the little girls throughout the Antilles looking at her as some kind of ambassador for our culture, turn away girls. Caribbean women are inherently sensual, we have a unique feminine confidence and I wouldn’t mess with an island girl if I wasn’t one, but Rihanna is taking it to a point of vulgarity that separates her from that. She had that quality initially, but has not developed it into any kind of mysterious exoticism, which is way more appealing.
Our island culture has an underlying pulse that lends itself to the drums in our music and the frivolity of our people. We love being sexy and free, dancing in the streets covered in glitter and soaked in rum. We love Soca, Calypso, Reggae and the rhythm it gives to our movement. But we own it enough to know when to pack up the feathers and glitter and get back to work; the freedom’s the thing, you see. This concept is something Rihanna has lost sight of, she doesn’t seem free at all or in touch with her culture, but merely a young woman who has sold out for the attention she desperately seeks. You can possess your sexuality and also be self-possessed; she just seems possessed.
Surely, we both grew up in Caribbean households, with families that would rag on us for wearing a sleeveless top to church? Cussing? Forget about it, I’m a grown woman and still get the evil eye if I drop an F bomb. But I’m thankful for that in a way, because it’s given me a sense of propriety but also the kind of graceful restraint that made Eliza a lady. Now, I swear, drink, dance provocatively and follow no religious denomination with the best of them but I know my limits, I hold back because reputation is everything. Reputation is important to Caribbean women, how we are perceived is vital because it reflects status yes, but also allows room for our voice to be heard and respected. I don’t respect Rihanna mostly because I’m not sure what her message is. She certainly doesn’t have to be a role model but if you take it too far, there is that point of descent where you fall into (gasp!); indifference.
Tessanne Chin, (a Jamaican artist who was recently on The Voice), is amazing and exactly what a Caribbean woman is to me. She doesn’t need antics and heightened sexuality to display her talent and island attitude. It gives me a great sense of relief to know she’s out there on the world stage for our culture. Oh and don’t forget Beryl McBurnie, Jean Rhys and Calypso Rose, past examples of positive ambassadors.
There’s a calypso by The Mighty Sparrow called Jean and Dinah where he speaks of the increase in prostitution while the American faction had a military base in Trinidad, post-WWII. The chorus in particular is a throwback that accurately reflects how I see Rihanna right now, because she is what she is choosing to be; “workin for de yankee dollar”. That’s fine but please know she does not represent a Caribbean woman’s sensibility, at least not one the best of us possess.
Jean and Dinah
Rosita and Clementina
Round the corner posing
Bet your life is something they selling
And if you catch them broken
You can get em all for nothing…