The Vibrant Carnival Palette | Why is it so Fair Skinned?

Image via Facebook/Tribe Carnival © Tribe Carnival 2023.
In terms of West Indian styled carnivals Trinidad and Tobago's festival is one of the best known Caribbean carnivals in the world. Carnival 2023 was a sell out with many revelers disappointed that they could not get a costume to play mas with some of the more popular bands masquerading on the streets of the capital city. In fact, Trinidad and Tobago's carnival is one of several vibrant and exuberant festivals that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Caribbean. However, for this post, I want to talk about online images. Everyone involved in the festival loves the masquerade bands where participants don elaborate costumes and parade through the streets in a celebration of music, dance, and self-expression. Think about it for a moment. The music is dominated by black artists (the music that drives the carnival), the Steelband players are all local talent with a few players from foreign countries but the masqueraders in the bands, mostly female, are light skin colored. Why is that the case?

Now, I am not trying to make myself crazy here. However, let's face it Carnival though originally a European import was shaped into what it is today by mostly people of African ancestry. Granted that Trinidad is a very cosmopolitan society boasting people of African heritage, European whites, Syrians, Lebanese, Chinese, Pyols from Venezuela and East Indians the disparity when one watches the main masquerade bands is striking! We have to face the fact that Carnival still flows from our African heritage. The music including Calypso and Soca, the cultural events are all African with the exception of the "Chutney elements" from the East Indian community. This historical diversity continues to influence the country's demographics and cultural expressions, including Trinidad's Carnival.

It is true that the diversity of culture in our society makes our festival what it is today... that's true! Before the main parade days, we go out and experience everything. Indeed, there is diversity in the fetes. People of all colors and status attend fetes and have fun together. It is imperative to recognize that Carnival is not solely about race or skin color. Instead, it is about embracing Trinidad and Tobago's cultural diversity and vibrancy.

I am most likely to get in trouble for what is said in this paragraph. However, this is how I feel about what we see online. Unfortunately, many cultures worldwide have historically perpetuated beauty standards that favor lighter skin tones, associating them with notions of privilege, attractiveness, and social status. These deeply ingrained biases are a consequence of colonialism, where Eurocentric ideals were imposed on communities, creating a hierarchy based on skin color. In Trinidad we are sinners when it comes to thinking that 'red women', a term used in the Caribbean to reference lighter skinned women, are better than dark skinned women. If you don't believe me just ask any Trinidadian woman how the Trinidadian male reacted to the Venezuelan women entering the country. C'est la vie!

Color of our skin may not be the main issue here. Perhaps it is just a question of finance. Less is more and the skimpier the costumes, the more enticing and costly they are. Is it true that most of the women in those high-priced bands are financially better able to pay US $1,200 for those costumes? Perhaps the dark-skinned women don't think it is a wise decision to spend that much money playing games. Maybe the freedom to just hang out and have a good time means more to them than spending money just saying I was in 'that band'. Wait, maybe some women of color won't dress to that extent to have a good time. What is your opinion?

In society, colorism concepts need to be addressed. Maybe there could be workshops to deal with this issue. In the end, from what we see online, not much has changed. Just recently, the Barbados Crop Over carnival bands launched. The models on stage were mostly light-skinned. Now while Trinidad's Carnival is a celebration of cultural diversity, artistic expression, and inclusivity, we need to become inclusive of all colors. Just maybe the people playing "pretty mas or skimpy mas" may truly reflect the women in the society. 

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