Writer, Editor, Stand-Up Comedian

Colour conscious

Posted: July 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

One of Miss Thing’s friends is a willowy beauty. She’s caramel coloured, with exotically slanting eyes and neat features. She’s a natural model, if I ever saw one. It’s not that she’s prettier than any other girl, but she seems to have that fortunate coincidence of height, slender build, perfect skin and good deportment that makes a good runway or photo model.

She went to a casting call the other day and came away feeling like, for the first time since she started this nascent career, she might not have nailed the job. Why? She wasn’t dark enough.

Yup. The casting call asked for a model who was “dark”. My girl went anyway and her caramel colour was too light for what they were looking for.

This particular call drew the annoyance of at least one person, who wrote in response to the call on FB: “Perhaps you didn’t realize publicizing skin preference in a model search … would register as discrimination…it does. And now you know. It’s not like you’re casting an actress to portray Rita Marley or Heather Headley…naturally she would need to fit unique and narrow aesthetic parameters. Caribbean Beauty in 2010 is defined by a melange of aesthetics, not just ‘dark’ complexions.”

I thought about the post, the comment and my own outrage (particularly on behalf of my daughter’s friend) that the call was so restrictive. But was it racist? That’s another question. In 2010 are we doing the opposite of what our grandparents did 50 years ago? Are we turning the “brown paper bag” code on its head with reverse discrimination? Is it now, “Black, step up, brown, get down”?

I subscribe to a Yahoo group called TT Arts, which is used as a message board of sorts for all kinds of things. Publicising shows, advertising services, and yes, even casting calls. It was my friend Aaron’s misfortune to post a casting call for models for a commercial with the following requirements:


GENDER               COMPLEXION                         AGE

1)                 FEMALE               BROWN                                  approximetely 8 – 10

2)                 FEMALE               BROWN                                  30

3)                 MALE                    BLACK                                     55

4)                 FEMALE               BROWN                                  50

5)                 MALE                    INDIAN                                   30s

6)                 MALE                    BROWN                                  30s

7)                 FEMALE               BLACK                                     25

8)                 MALE                    INDIAN                                   45

9)                 MALE                    BROWN                                  30s

10)            FEMALE               LIGHT BROWN                      28

11)            MALE                    CHINESE                                 30

12)            MALE                    LIGHT BROWN                      40

13)            MALE                    BLACK                                      36        )

14)            FEMALE               BROWN                                  35        )

15)            MALE                    BROWN                                  15        )  ALL ONE FAMILY

16)            FEMALE               BROWN                                  13        )

17)            FEMALE               BROWN                                  10        )

18)            FEMALE               LIGHT BROWN                      35

19)            MALE                    BROWN                                  50s

20)            FEMALE               BROWN                                  30s

I first wondered what the ad was for, because that is a huge cast. I next considered how far we’ve come in just 20 years; back when my ex- worked in advertising in T&T, the complexion he called “Cannings Brown” (a light, honey colour, not quite “red” but not as dark as sapodilla) was de rigueur in locally produced advertisements, whatever the product being advertised. Seeing actual dark skinned black people, not to mention dark skinned Indians, on TV in local ads was pretty rare.

I dismissed the casting call (I wasn’t interested in applying), but many others didn’t. A sudden and angry wave of emails followed:

“The true issue is that the terms such as ‘darkie’ have been used in the States and abroad to insult people with darker skin. Let us not forget the slave trade as well. People of all colours must be aware of the history of darker skinned people and understand why casting in such a light is frightening and disturbing to not only them but others who are aware of the racial ills in this world. Therefore, I suggest that next time you are casting do not make a list of different races. Simply state that you are a looking for various races to fill roles, ranging from men to women, young to old etc.”

“thanks man, every time i think i’m in the 21st century, you people are here to remind me the Caribbean is as racist as ever…what could you possibly need all those ‘brown’ ppl for…oh lemme guess, its a high class/colour commodity?”

“Only 1 ‘black’ female required for an advertisement in which several ‘brown’ or ‘light brown’ females are (with a similar ratio applying for the men). We are still heavily mired in an unhealthy colonial legacy.”

There was one voice in poor Aaron’s defense:

“If art imitates society then there has to be room for selective casting when aiming to depict life with true accuracy.

“Where is the line drawn between indiscriminate casting and casting for an accurate depiction of our society without being criticized for stereotyping and/or for contributing to racial divides?”

I don’t know if Aaron got his models. I can say for sure he got at least one response (from an actual model) from the call on TT Arts, from someone who wrote:

“I am available as a female brown 28/35.  What’s your phone no?”

I wrote a manuscript some years ago and gave it around for some friends to read. One responded that one striking thing about it was how everyone’s colour was painstakingly described. He got tired of it, he said. I hadn’t before really considered how much I think about skin colour in my characters. But I didn’t change it, and continue to write characters’ descriptions that include their skin colours. I’m not colour blind, and I don’t want to be. The rich and various colours of our people are one of the things I like about this place. We are not homogenous.

Back to the model casting call. Were they right to call for a “dark” girl? Who defined “dark”? If they were white, my daughter’s friend would be considered pretty dark—but they’re not. They’re black, just like me, just like her. I wonder what will happen in the end with all of us colour conscious folk—conscious of colour but not necessarily restricted by it—when all the world is one uniform colour as Wayne Browne predicted?

‘Allo, à bientôt

Posted: July 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | No Comments »

BAHS Senior Choir, farewell concert, Trinity Cathedral, POS, July 2010

Miss Thing leaves for her Great European Adventure today. As a member of the Bishop Anstey High School Choir, she and about 50 other girls, and a dozen assorted chaperones, musicians and parents will go to Prague, Vienna and Salzburg to participate in the Rhapsody Children’s Music Festival. They’ve spent some three months intensively learning music for the festival–music in Czech, English, Spanish, Latin… and Trinidadian Creole. David Rudder’s Calypso Music and folk classics like Ice in Yuh Ice and Coconut Water are jumping up with songs from the high classical tradition of European music. They plan to do a London concert as well in the last week of July, so stay tuned for dates.

I’m excited for her, as this is her first trip of this kind. I’m also sad, because when she comes back in three weeks she will likely depart for the US within days to start her baccalaureate. My baby is all grown up!

It’s a busy week with arrivals and departures. My dear schoolmate Arlene is visiting from the UK, a trip timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary reunion of BAHS Class of ’90. Apart from being totally in shock that I graduated from Fifth Form TWENTY YEARS AGO, it was lovely to see ladies I hadn’t seen since then. Some had changed, some remained the same. Altogether it was brilliant and fun to sip white wine, nibble on shrimp mini-roti (I’m a mini-roti fiend!) while Sara talked about regression therapy, Marianne discussed her disdain of all-inclusive parties, and Heather sat seemingly bemused by how much hard work she and Cherisse had put into the event. It was missing a lot of people– only 21 of us attended, of the 120 who started BAHS in 1985. But it was lovely anyway.

And finally, my macomere and her hubby have come home with their charming baby, visiting from Amsterdam. Those cheeks! Those eyes! That new-baby smell! I’m in love already after just seeing her once. It almost gives me the baby jones again. Almost. But not quite. Seeing the diaper change, hearing the screaming shower… makes me remember the OTHER side of babies… Next time I’ll rent, instead of buying.

Fighting fat

Posted: July 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

George Monbiot, whose blog I enjoy in spite of the criticisms of his detractors, this week blogs about the UK government’s planned deregulation of the food industry, in the context of the government’s seeming tendency toward deregulation generally. This, he says, is a bad idea, because it unduly penalises the poor and the rich don’t feel the brunt of it. As he writes about deregulation, “The referee is government. It is always biased and often bought, but in principle in a democratic society it exists to prevent us from being fouled. More precisely, it is supposed to prevent those who have agency – the rich and powerful – from planting their studs in the chests of those who don’t. When the government walks away from the game the rich can foul the poor with impunity. Deregulation is a transfer of power from the trodden to the treading.”

In the case of food and obesity, he says, “Last week the health secretary Andrew Lansley sought to shift responsibility for improving diets and preventing obesity from the state to society. He blamed the problem on low self-esteem and deplored what he called ‘a witch hunt against saturated fats, salt and sugars’. In future poor diets would be countered by ‘social responsibility, not state regulation.’ From now on, he announced, communities will be left to find their own solutions. The companies which make their money from selling junk food and alcohol will be put in charge of ensuring that people consume less of them. I hope you have spotted the problem.”

Indeed. Speaking as a consumer, I can tell you the cheap fix is always much more enticing than the healthy diet; to eat healthily on a consistent basis requires dedication and dosh in equal measure. In my mother’s generation it was cheaper to cook your own food than to eat out; that may be true in the wider sense because it still costs $8 for a bundle of bhaji and $23 for a box of KFC, but you have to cook the bhaji (with other ingredients, naturally), and the KFC is right there in the box, eat it and go.

We have had some campaigns in Trinidad & Tobago encouraging people to eat well. Not enough. And the price of fresh fruit and veg seems to me prohibitively expensive, even taking into account seasonal fluctuations with drought, flood, etc. It’s now $15-22/lb for tomatoes. Tomatoes? I kid you not. Same thing for sweet peppers.

This fluctuation and the generally high prices speak to a national agriculture policy failure, in my mind. There is a need for subsidies (all the cool countries are doing it!), for better infrastructure for farmers, and for help with getting them to develop their markets. Farmers is folks too and if they aren’t feeling the love, so to speak, is we to catch–and pay through the nose for their produce.

As for encouraging people to eat well, there must be some way to do it; whether through increasing the already present attempts of the School Nutrition Co to educate children on diet; through pumping up the Health & Family Life Education curriculum in the area of diet and nutrition; or through a tax on fast foods. I sure don’t want to have to pay more for fast foods but if you’re taxing cigarettes and alcohol you  might as well tax them too; obesity is linked to enough lifestyle diseases that it should warrant about as much attention as a fag or a beer, not so?

The Mommy Track

Posted: July 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

In the States, in corporate life, there’s something called “The Mommy Track.” That’s the opposite of the fast track. The fast track is where you work weekends and insane hours every day for insanely high pay, make junior vice president by age 25, and by 36 you own shares in the company and are a partner, at least. You drive a great car, wear great clothes and possess enough pairs of shoes to stock your own modest DSW.

The Mommy Track is the opposite. It’s the track where you leave work at 3.30 pm on the dot every day so you get time to take the kids to football practice, ballet, piano, or whatever after school niceness they get up to. In my case, it’s pan, choir, track & field, SEA lessons, youth group, astronomy. You don’t work weekends, ever. That’s when you get to do laundry, house cleaning, go to the park or the zoo or cinema or wherever takes the children’s fancy. You don’t spend much money on your car, personal grooming, stylish clothes or the killer heels you saw in the mall. Instead, most of your income goes to paying for all the lessons, tutors, football tugs, guitar strings, children’s limes and parties, new jeans, glasses, etc etc ad infinitum.

If you’re lucky, like I have been, you get to work part-time, or even work from home.

I’m on the Mommy Track but good.

Being on the Mommy Track has its benefits. You get to actually see your children and play a meaningful role in their development. When they come home with good marks, you feel personally responsible for it, because it was you who took them up in spelling the night before they aced that test. You can shop for good food and actually cook it, and sit with your children to have a meal together on evenings. When I worked at a real, full-time job (this was years ago), my children saw me about two hours a day, and only one day on the weekend. Now they’re probably sick of me. I spend all day Saturday driving them around and on a good weekend I cook for three hours, producing the lavish Sunday Lunch which Rito Allen & Dolsie Ollivierre used to make every Sunday when I was a child. (Minus the custard pie and soursop drink, sorry!)

On the rare occasion I have something like a full-time job (as I have for the past few weeks, teaching two three-hour English classes a day, Monday-Thursday), I feel it in my bones. Narcoleptic that I am, I come home exhausted and sleep for three hours before I can even think about doing anything else. Cook? Ha. Chinese, roti and pizza are on speed dial on my phone. Laundry piles up tall as me, and there are strange looking dust bunnies under the couch. (I fear there will one day be an uprising–The Revenge of the Dust Bunnies…Coming Soon to an Apartment Near You!!!)

With any luck, I can soon return to the Mommy Track. The money sucks but if you measure life by your take home pay, you are poorer than you know.

The people and them place

Posted: July 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , | 5 Comments »

My daughter Miss Thing is trying to go to the US to study for a baccalaureate at the UWC College in New Mexico. It’s an incredible opportunity: she would get to meet students from all over the world, undertake a rigorous academic programme, hike, ski, do community service and all kinds of other good stuff. The goals of the UWC are to increase sustainability and world peace by teaching young people from diverse parts of the world to think of the world as one world, with one goal–making that one world a better place.

Miss Thing was one of only six T&T students who were chosen by the local committee of the UWC to attend these colleges worldwide. Other students got to go to Wales, Costa Rica, Canada, Hong Kong… Same curriculum but different local experiences. In Hong Kong you make field trips to Tibet, for example; in New Mexico, you go to Mexico. Some of the places, including the US one, came with a partial scholarship.

The only teeny, tiny flaw in this grand plan is that you still need a US visa to attend the US college. And your getting a US visa is contingent on the mood of the interviewer at the Embassy when you get to his window. I’m not a big fan of the US, and my love of the Embassy in POS … Let’s not go there. Needless to say, this has not been a fun experience. Hopefully on our next attempt we bring all the documentary evidence they require to know that 1) we’ll pay our part and 2) she’ll come back to Trinidad & Tobago when she’s through. The interviewer did not even glance at the letter from UWC-TT saying they were paying part of the cost. All he wanted to know was that my bank balance (no other financial statement would do, just a BANK statement) showed that I had enough cash to cover the fees.

This experience once again reminds me why people have the relationship they do with the US and with US Embassies worldwide. Why can’t the officers there treat the citizens of the countries–in which those officers are guests–with humanity, dignity and respect? Lest you think I’m alone in my grouse, check out this video.

Time for local music quotas

Posted: July 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

Saw this report in the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian, in which PanTrinbago makes a call for radio stations to have quotas for local music. Lots and lots of people have made this request before. Maybe this time, new government and all, we’ll get what we want?

And while they’re at it, make some local TV quotas too! It’s insane for a TV producer to spend thousands of dollars on a programme only to have to BUY airtime from TV stations to air that show. TV stations should pay to air local shows. I feel stupid even having to say that. This back-to-front system helps nobody. Why do they air rubbish like The Cougar when perfectly good local TV languishes?

Blogging = Work

Posted: July 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | 4 Comments »

Who knew? Not I. I feel chastened by the relatively few mocking comments I’ve had about my volte-face since I announced I would begin blogging after swearing I never would. Years ago I decided blogs were navel-gazing rubbish, for the most part. (Perhaps it is not politically correct to say that…)

Since then I’ve encountered a lot of good blogs, blogs with wit, substance and great style. Did they change my mind about becoming a blogger? Nope. The real kick in the butt was that I no longer have a weekly column with the Guardian and I find myself itching to say things… and to have people say things back. Being a columnist spoiled me to some extent. Blogging is much more rigorous; I have to file? submit? publish? entries more often than I would have as a member of the print world.

There’s also nobody standing over my shoulder saying what I can and cannot write (not that Arthur Dash was that kind of editor, but you know what I mean). It’s heady, this freedom. I feel like running out and libelling somebody just for spite. But no, I’ll hold myself in check. My court clothes need cleaning since I did jury service the other day…

In the meanwhile, I’m plunging into the world of bloggers. Check my blogroll (what a word!) for a growing list of some of my favourites, and some blogs of my friends. This is a work in progress. My own blog here is also a work in progress and should become brighter and shinier as time goes by, if my sweet doux doux darling ex-husband (the senior branch of my tech support division) will oblige…

What do you think should go on it?

In other news, Karel Mc Intosh at Outlish Magazine sent me a note that one of her interview subjects mentioned Trinidad Noir in their interview. You can read the interview here.

Save President’s House

Posted: July 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Column | 1 Comment »

Press Release from Citizens for Conservation

President's House, part of which has collapsed.

Citizens for Conservation is dismayed that a decision to demolish and re-build The President’s House was made with no reference or input from the Project Architect or the existing consultant team of British Restoration Architects and Engineers, who know the building well and have already made recommendations regarding it’s restoration.

We understand that cost is an issue.

With all due respect…..Restoration Engineering is a SPECIFIC science, and solutions for retrofitting modern buildings DO NOT apply to 134 year old historic buildings in the same way. I am not aware that The Ministry of Works has any such engineering expertise. How then was this decision made? What were the reasons? How can you make such a decision with no expert advice? WHERE ARE THE RESTORATION EXPERTS to properly advise the Minister?

Daily we see how much considerable damage is done to the building fabric of historic Structures by well meaning engineers who apply modern solutions to the restoration of Historic Structures. Was the perceived “too high cost for restoration” based on modern solutions which do not apply to this type of building fabric?

Where is the scientific analysis that shows that the restoration will cost more than a new structure of similar size, style and detailing? Why can’t the collapsed areas be rebuilt with modern technology and the rest of the building restored as is done in other countries? At least something of the original will be kept. There are other solutions that should be explored by restoration experts.

Citizens for Conservation asks that the Minister of Works please defer any such drastic decisions until proper experts are called in.

One of the purposes of restoration is to preserve the building technology of a past era for the education of future Generations. Even if you build a new building in the same style…it DOES NOT qualify as historic. It is simply Disney World, and worth nothing as part of our Historic Architectural legacy.

The Government would do well to use this opportunity to champion the cause of Cultural Heritage and try to reverse the neglect of the last political regime, instead of putting the last nail in the coffin.

Enormous good will can be gained from properly informed intervention.

Citizens for Conservation.

Moving forward

Posted: July 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

Now that the deed is done and I’m Guardian-free, I feel a bit odd. This is the first time in over ten years that I’ve been disconnected from the Ansa McAl group and specifically the Guardian. No matter where I was, I always had them in the background, whether I was working on the Style Desk at the Washington Post, or holding a press conference for the Anthony Sabga Caribbean Awards. It was a tether and a shield and now… ? I don’t know how to feel.

What I do know is that The Allen Prize for Young Writers is going to need all my attention. Fund raising, planning, implementing, facilitating… I have a very strong team, thank God, but it’s still daunting to think we have to raise nearly TT $1 million in the next year just to function and do all the things we want to do for young people.

Shout out here to all my potential speakers! Start drinking honey and lime and get your voices in order. We will have plenty talking to do when the seminars start. First one is planned for October, then one a term thereafter… for the rest of my life. Sounds like a lot, innit…

…and I have three books to finish this year. I mustn’t forget myself in all this, right?

Las lap

Posted: July 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

I’ve been writing with the T&T Guardian since 1998, and writing a regular column there since maybe 2006. (Yes, you read it right…I’m not really sure how long it’s been. My record keeping sucks.)

This week marks the end of that relationship. From today I’m no longer a Guardian columnist or writer. I’m a former Guardian columnist and writer. Ha!

You can read it here.

As I explain in the column, I have moved on in order to administer The Allen Prize for Young Writers, the NGO I founded last year. I’ve been planning and plotting this move for a long time and I can’t wait. Yesterday I did a budget for the Prize and nearly fell through the floor at the amount of money we have to raise. But God is good and this is a worthy effort. I know I’ll get support–in fact, I already am getting support from the good people on my board and committees, and my friends and family.

So wish me well!