It’s time to stop filming whitewashed music videos in “exotic locales” in the Caribbean and Latin America that only feature women my skin tone and lighter and that glaze over the politics and conditions in the country featured.
It’s summer time and you know what that means for pop music. “Exotic” and “spicy” Latinx and Caribbean-themed music videos!
Pharrell and Snoop Dogg have done it. ASAP Rocky has done it. Don Omar* has done it. Now child groomer extraordinaire Tyga and Tinie “Your family is British Nigerean, what are you doing?” Tempah are having a crack at it.
*sad trumpet sounds*
These videos often feature the same visuals. Sweeping shots of bustling, often littered, multicolored houses with tin roof tops in tightly-packed ghettos, black kids with no shoes or shirts playing soccer in the streets, tanned Italian looking girls in tiny Brazilian bikinis laughing joyously on the beach as the non-Latinx, non-Caribbean stars of the video approach them rubbing their hands together, a grimacing abuela in su batita y chanclas scowling at the camera, likely unappreciative of fuckboy antics. The favelas, barrios and slums of these countries are merely backdrops for Western artists to play in, white sand and blue ocean paradises for your pleasure and enjoyment.
These videos are shot with intent and claims of loving the people and the country for its beauty despite its conditions. But I’m not buying that bullshit.
I say that not because I do not understand or see the people and culture as beautiful. As the daughter to immigrant West Indian parents, I know that the Caribbean and Latin America is lush and rich with so much ripe and vibrant culture. And to be sure, we Island folk do love to party, so I don’t even think that is a misleading visual. For often very seriously impoverished people, it costs little to nothing to gather the neighborhood around, put on some food, bring out the libations, grab your instruments, and dance the whole night long. Growing up, I found it strange when houses didn’t have maracas, tambourines, and guitars in them. My parents had little colorful diablo cojuelo carnival masks up on the walls of our home that scared and intrigued me as a child. My mother taught me how to dance bachata y merengue. Every time any music with a beat is playing, no matter where she is and regardless of genre, my mother often starts clapping and yelling out and dancing, grabbing me, her most willing and able child, to join along with her.
That said, I also know that there are complex and often dire living, cultural, economic and political conditions and experiences I will never personally understand or know. In wanting for identity and community in my teen years and adulthood, I always knew that being a born American citizen who never had to worry about the kind of conditions my parents did in a developing nation is a huge privilege. I will never be able to fathom what living in a slum in the Dominican Republic is like, and my parents made huge (and still complicated!) sacrifices to assure that for their children. As I look to hopefully visit the country of my family for the first time, I do so with a lot of heavy questions and considerations as to how to go about engaging the people and the culture as an outsider, an American, someone with a lot of national, educational, financial and racial privilege over many in the Dominican. My love for my people and my deep desire to engage the Dominican Republic (and Haiti and Haitians, for that matter) in a decolonized manner doesn’t automatically remove me from the contexts that I exist in. It doesn’t make me less of a privileged young American woman.
It’s this multifaceted nature of these worlds, non-binary and non-linear tales of displacement and finding oneself, separation and reunification, family and leering tourists, pleasure and pain, wealth and poverty, good food and hunger, safety and violence, birth and death, salvation and murder, womanhood and rape, matriarchs and patriarchy, Caribbean pride and homophobia and transphobia, colonizer culture and lasting diasporic identity, resilience and breakdown, fear and fearlessness that is forgotten in favor of playing a generic Spanish beat over coo’d “mamacitas” and close up shots of butts and slapping it onto thinly-veiled poverty porn. There is danger in these depictions that erase the complications and nuance behind the palm trees and oiled tanned skin shining in the sun.
Even if we’re just focusing on the cultural visuals of the video, they colorism and other forms of erasure is blatant. There are dark skinned women of color and Afro-diasporic folks, including Afro-Latinxs, that get no love. There are curvy, chubby and fat girls that are out here same as anyone else, dancing and whining and stepping and reveling in the light in all their glory, that are getting neglected and erased. There are queer and trans folks that are the already forgotten taste makers and central parts of the cultures and communities featured in these videos that are left out yet again. I’m tired of only seeing the skinny, straight, cisgender light-skinned, non-Black, and/or white Latinx and Caribbean girls getting play in these videos. And I’m tired of the oversimplified, colonized tourist narratives these videos tell of the Caribbean and Latin America.
Even people who have Caribbean ancestry or feature a Caribbean artist in their video still fall into the trap of only depicting light skinned, non-Black, and skinny/acceptable curvy women in their videos, of only showing the fun and the party. Those people and nations yet doesn’t deserve to be reduced to just those tropes by diasporic Caribbean folks either. And in the case of people like Drake, Pharrell and Snoop Dogg and Tinie, people who are not even of Caribbean descent, they are treating the lands, communities, and cultures of Global South African diaspora as fodder for their videos. Even as Black people, they need to be mindful of how they appropriate and colonize the bodies, lives and experiences of those people, especially because then that allows for people like Justin Beiber to muscle in and appropriate Caribbean styles and sounds for their videos as well, except totally removed from their original context and backdrop.
The sexualizing and objectifying of Caribbean and Latinx women and our cultures is also very present and has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Hypersexualizing women of color, especially Black women, is racialized misogyny, and has a long history and is always violent. Treating marginalized women in countries that struggle deeply with women’s rights and reproductive health access, machismo, patriarchy and sex tourism fueled by foreign Western nations as locations for throwing out your tigeraso and picking girls up off the streets is extra egregious considering that context.
My people aren’t backdrops, my parent’s homeland isn’t just a place for Westerners and Americans and other non-Caribbeans to go out and play, Caribbean and Latinx women aren’t objects. Stop perpetuating damaging stereotypes and tropes. If you must have island flare to your art, put actual Caribbean artists and creators on your tracks and in your teams and show the love by placing our REAL and decolonized faces, voices and narratives at the forefront.
*I know Don Omar is Puertro Rican and his video is based off of Afro-Brazilian group Kaoma’s “Lambada”, which is an amazing song from a great group. It’s still a typical fuckboy video.