This won’t be long. There’s more to say, but I have a deadline.
Deadline: by the time my coffee gets too cold to enjoy.
As I see it, my job is not to legitimize the Caribbean, its people, or our culture to people who obviously don’t want to understand. And for those who want to understand, the legitimacy is already presumed, so we can usually get to more important stuff pretty quickly. As a rhetorician, I try to explain particular phenomena; specifically, I try explain “rhetorical” ones, gleaning from them what forms of intention, expression, and outcome I consider useful or meaningful to Caribbean people and their audiences that (imho) would improve our collective understanding and so hopefully improve our lives. It’s a difficult pursuit. So it’s with a particular degree of annoyance that I write this for the @rihanna haters out there–those who thought her wining during CropOver the other day was problematic. I don’t really have an issue with folks who called it “twerking.” That’s easily correctable:
Nah, nah. Dat ent no twerkin. Is wine she wining. It does look de same, but it ent de same–it different.
Boom! Corrective done. What I do have an issue with is that some folks found it so problematic that they were willing to ignore the fact that she was performing in a festival that is historically grounded–about two and a half centuries grounded, as a a matter of fact. Context matters.
My coffee cup conclusion is as follows: It’s not that you can’t understand us and what we do and who we are but that the mechanism for your understanding–inquiry–is significantly outperformed by the default mechanism for reading differences in/between cultures. Ignorance. That ignorance is not unique to African Americans; rather, it’s a reflection of the kind of myopia that one is likely to find in any insular social formation. According to how much power you possess, your myopia can masquerade as conservatism or, worse, full on exceptionalism, along with the usual ideological accoutrements.
I suppose it’s easier to cast aspersions than ask questions, to make pronouncements on what you don’t know about rather than learn.
[View the story “RiRi (addendum)” on Storify]