“[…] Does Tribe Carnival owe us an explanation? Not really, because what explanation would they come up with other than ‘yes our business model is colourist and we’re actually catering to a market demand’?
“The truth is, if Tribe and like-minded bands were to cease operations, others with the same ethos would take their place.
“[…] Perhaps the focus should be on us. What is it with our need for acceptance by people who wince at our dark complexions?”
The following letter to the editor on Tribe Carnival’s black lives matter statement was submitted to Wired868 by Emile Wickham:
A Carnival band whose marketing and screening process runs counter to the spirit and principles of #blacklivesmatter decides to show its solidarity with the movement via an Instagram post. The criticism that follows in the comment section is ignored with no attempt to limit or delete, like a parent letting an infant engage in temper tantrum: yuh done?
It’s a sequence of events which encapsulates how racial discourse takes place in Trinidad and Tobago.
What does #blacklivesmatter mean coming from entities whose business model is moulded on colourist gatekeeping and quotas; and in this time of racial consciousness how do we respond to such performative acts?
Statements from mas camps are as cheap as their costume materials.
Before we go any further, I hope we can understand the nuance between where Blacks fit into a band and their presence in it. Because in a country whose soil is rich in the blood of African slaves and indigenous people and whose recent history involves the Trinidad country club, where Blacks fit matters—it will always matter.
Does Tribe Carnival owe us an explanation? Not really, because what explanation would they come up with other than ‘yes our business model is colourist and we’re actually catering to a market demand’?
The truth is, if Tribe and like-minded bands were to cease operations, others with the same ethos would take their place. Our society demands these creations to ensure the ‘safety’ of the non-black elite—ask Mario Sagba Aboud.
Perhaps the focus should be on us. What is it with our need for acceptance by people who wince at our dark complexions? Our need to be seen by them reveals the invisibility we see in our Blackness.
How would we, as Black people, feel if Tribe was more inclusive, affordable and creative? Would it lose its appeal?
Whether we like it or not, Tribe is a national ambassador and their mas a national product—synonymous with Trinidad carnival to the rest of the world. Tribe’s business model would not be so much of an issue if it wasn’t marketed as who we are and what our men and women look like : light skin, racially ambiguous and toned.
Its global success means that we critique a celebration of colourism and classism, despite being willing consumers of it. These bands and promoters know their countrymen, they don’t have to change.
A green light on Carnival 2021 means their social media critics will fall into line, begging their ‘committee link’ to accept their US dollars, British pounds and Island finance carnival loans. A couple extra dark skin models with Eurocentric features at band launch should be enough to placate the restless without a single note addressing the issue.
This is racial discourse in the land of ‘rum and soca’.
Mas has always been a microcosm of society — the haves, the have nots who pretend they have and those who want to be in their proximity. The truth is, these bands are catering to a need, a need to feel safe, a need to feel comfortable, a need to party with those who look like their house guests.
While Tribe can be chastised for their hypocrisy and colourism, we must come to terms with why we have made them the juggernauts they are.