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Trouble in the tribe

By Terry Joseph
October 07, 2005

It remains a source of personal amazement that a national furore has not erupted over the decision by a Carnival band to reject females whose measurements do not match a patently prejudiced version of attractive; effectively excluding all thickset black women from certain sections of its 2006 presentation.

The band, ironically called Tribe, is seeking to portray What Lies Beneath, lifting its title and presumably some substance from the Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfeiffer movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis, of which South Florida's Sentinel Sun reviewer Todd Anthony said: "By the time all the secrets have been dredged up, we find ourselves wishing that What Lies Beneath had laid there a little longer."

For my part, I wish there was some lawful mechanism to ensure it never surfaces, if the portrayal is going to reduce this country's national festival to a staging area for selective apartheid, these Johnny and Jenny Come-lately bandleaders deciding that black people, whose role in the creation and sustaining of Carnival is not in dispute, should now be put to the ignominy of having to fit physique paradigms dictated by persons of lighter hue.

Frankly, I became sceptical when news broke that, within 48 hours of launching What Lies Beneath, the band was completely sold out. This transparent ruse to debar targeted women from the Tribe exploded when registration resumed, although those seeking inclusion were screened for bra-cup and waist sizes before being allowed to make a down payment.

According to an Express report, women with breasts bigger than 34C and whose waists exceed 34 inches are not being allowed in Tribe's "Nylon Pool" section, while the band's "Tale of Benguela" subdivision is refusing any female with a waistline bigger than 40 inches or bra-cup better than 36D; the organisation coming up with a lame excuse about using Swarovski rhinestones which, they said in a statement, "needed a rigid frame to be displayed."

The Swarovski Rhinestone website makes no such claim but Tribe insists that: "Due to the nature of the design's rigidity, there is insufficient flexibility to accommodate all sizes of masqueraders;" hiding discrimination behind the embracing fašade that women who do not conform to the rules for those two portrayals can play in any of the other 14 sections.

Well, to hell with Tribe and that condescending concession, as it is widely known that black women, particularly those who have borne children, aren't likely to meet these contrived standards. Tribe could just as well have said in the statement: "If you're plump or black or worse, both, forget coming here to register for "Nylon Pool" or "Tale of Benguela", because this is dainty mas and we only want persons of compatible description in these sections."

This is hardly what we want in Carnival, since it really is the only time people of all tribes, shapes and sizes can safely say "all ah we is one" and 20th century festival history vindicates such a claim. We have fought long and hard to stop this kind of segregation, scoring a triumph when the high-brown and well-to-do descended from their trucks, joining black people at street level in what we could only then call a truly national festival.

Nothing at law can prevent Tribe from parading the streets on Carnival day but certainly, at competition venues where facilities and prizes are State-sponsored, there ought to be some very strict regulations about discrimination, if only on the basis of whoever pays the piper calls the tune; before the people take it upon themselves to physically redress this blatant denigration of black women.

And this comment is not limited to the proprietors or producers of What Lies Beneath. In fact, all who play mas with Tribe, whether in the slim-waist, small-breasted sections or anywhere else in the band, provide music or offer sponsorship, having advance knowledge of the preferences of its presenters, are equally culpable as accessories before the fact.

Mark you, some of their costumes cost up to $6,500, perhaps another way of sifting potential masqueraders but still that didn't work to the satisfaction of the selectors, so the additional caveat was put in place to let Ms Thickness know she cannot be a member of that Tribe.

My feeling is they should keep their costumes for people they think suitably lithe and graceful and go jump up in a place where spectators are selected in a similar way, so all people of like mind can be together and revel in their reprehensible preferences and not mingle with the rest of us, lest they discover what lies beneath the smiling faces of black people is not always pleasant.



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