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Our outside man: the othering view

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LAST WEEK Dara Healy was, among other things, vex. Sad, frustrated, hurt, angry and – incredibly, in that mix ­– also lucid and thoughtful. If you have not done so, read her column Soucouyant stalking Laventille again (June 8) in this paper.

Dara’s focus was on the much-in-the-news gang-infiltrating YouTuber and all the things that signalled to her and the things she felt the videos reflected on Laventille.

It is not my focus, but it’s a hell of a jumping off point. Well, it is and it isn’t. We won’t be sharing notes or comparing grouses.

But you see, she landed squarely on the matter of people who are not of this place elbowing in and, for reasons best known to no one I’ve asked, we’re all over them.

They take our pictures, our stories and our time. And we give them, not merely freely, but enthusiastically. Why?

I have a not-bad camera. When I walk around with it, people don’t come running into view to make sure they’re in the frame. What is it about us and the outside gaze? After all this time. Still.

There are probably more, but let’s say there are two incarnations of this matter that bother me.

One is the wild excitement over anyone from anywhere (except the Caribbean – they’re basically us with different accents) showing up with a camera and claiming they’re here to tell the world about our food/culture/people/beaches/snow cone/flora/fauna/standpipes.

The other feels more hideous and heinous because it comes from us. From deep within. There are students, employees, people with interests in sport, gardening, fishing, archery – you get the picture. They do what they’re doing. Maybe competition or recognition for good work done is part of their lives. Their wins are things we may or may not hear about depending on the PR machines available to them.

Let’s take the second one first. Because the world is upside down anyway.

I find this to be the most damning thing. We do not judge ourselves and each other dispassionately or compassionately. We’re constantly belittling each other. But let one of us win a foreign competition for Best Paper Boat Maker and suddenly that’s a thing. We do it all the time. It’s as if you’re not real or world-worthy unless you have a foreign stamp. No, not as if. That’s exactly what it is

Long, deep breath: why? Really stretch that “y.”

If we don’t love and validate ourselves for ourselves, as ourselves, how can anyone else truly give it to us? You must know this. They can give you a stamp, but that does not make you one of them. Was that what you wanted? To be them? To not be us? To not be you?

If the way we unlove ourselves breaks my heart (heartbreak is complicated), the way we let outsiders have their way with us is much simpler. It’s pure rage.

The food vloggers are fingernails on the blackboard. Maybe food is holy ground because I spent so much time writing about it. Maybe it’s because most of what I see is predictable, rehashed, lowbrow, something bordering on patronising.

We have some good (and less good) vloggers of our own and it’s like oxygen when I see decent numbers for their views and likes. But.

But what was the point of being the boss of ourselves (sometimes called independence) if what we really want most for Christmas is for any and every provincial American or European to post videos of their time with us cheery natives?

We need outside for export markets. We need to extend our brand, to be part of global dialogue and all those good things.

We do not need to keep being rediscovered. Is how much Columbus we need?

When I was in my teens, I worried that I might come down with xenophobia. Then I realised it was ok to be exceedingly fond of your country without crossing that line. In hindsight I see what I was casting about for was a way to say I wanted them to better understand us.

I hated all the stereotypes. I resented being cast in the role of small, exotic, rustic, charming.

Because that is not who we are. So why do we play that mas? Why do we give it to them? The tourism dance does not run in our veins, so it can’t be that.

It’s not lost on me, all the lumping together and stereotyping I did here. Badly done, me.

But we’ll never see ourselves clearly if we’re looking over someone else’s shoulder.


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