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Not Caribbean-Looking Enough?

Listening to the Darkness, Watching the Silence.

The Culture Clinic column by Dr John Hunte

The lack of interest in my welfare as an artist and citizen came into focus recently. One Friday, I was casted as an actor in a local/regional commercial. However, on the following Monday morning, the advertising agency and the client determined that my look was “too well-known” and not “Caribbean-looking” enough. “Cancelled”, I can only hope that I receive the agreed-upon pay as I was alerted mere hours before the shoot was to begin. Yet, it does not feel or look like a mere unfortunate incident.

Photo by Hasani McClean

Rejection is par for the course for any arts professional. For any black man, choosing a dance theatre career comes with accusation and innuendo.

Still, some businesses, careful not to use words that would make them liable, should be aware that their conduct, regardless of circumstance or intention, reinforces institutionalized and systemic discriminatory practices. Being almost immune to the way some corporations operate here, apologies would only add insult to injury. Some ought to check their manner, often callous, hypocritical, and thoughtless.

However, as I began to share this story, I realized I was grieving. Initial laughter (that #barbadosisnotarealplace) turned to boredom and denial. Beyond the silences are the bigoted, conservative, closeted, elitist and homophobic taboos that still tangle this island’s mindset. By Wednesday, I was raging with indignation and shaking with terror. “What have I done to deserve this? Who did I offend? What are people so apprehensive about? I have so much to give, so much to offer!” The ableism, artist oppression, homophobia, race, and sexism (among others at play) triggered emotions and memories from early childhood, making this incident feel even more like a personal attack.

As I remained still, “watching the silence”, I found solace in the natural surroundings of the village where I now reside. I reflected that the entrenched and entitled groups that make these ad hoc decisions only have as much influence and power as I allow.

Almost immediately, trusted colleagues and friends across the diaspora and the region responded with threads of similar messages:
“Huh???”
“Odd!!! What does that even mean?”
“There are myriad ways to look Caribbean.”

Then came this wisdom “from the dark”, this sense of “belonging” and “connecting” to what grounds me against this “clear-air turbulence”. As I face and make sense of my own uncertainties while moving toward a rational sense of freedom, I need not be derailed by other’s agendas or fears. Unfounded aspersions are reprehensible. Accusations and assumptions impact on a person’s career, especially where the information is false, immaterial, and irrelevant to one’s ability to deliver excellent work. As such, I find it prudent to reciprocate a level of excellence that should be both respected and valued.

Living on this island with all its imperfections remains a mystery. Meanwhile, I continue to move to another call at a different pace, noticing the communities of support that step forward as I take charge and continue my journey. 

None but ourselves can free our minds.

Bob Marley

Culture Clinic is a column crafted by Dr. John Hunte. Photography by Adrian Richards. Thank you and please share this story. We welcome your comments below to continue the conversation.

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  • If they say your look is “too well known” and “not Caribbean enough” then accept it as that. The agency may have liked your look/ experience but maybe it did not fit what the particular brand or ad really required. Maybe your photo look is so polished you are more generic, or regular Male model image than “Caribbean “. Just a thought.

    • beautifulbarbadosblog, the subjectivity of the agency is not the issue, its their (lack of respect) that is at issue. “Your look is not what we are looking for,” would have sufficed. Also, I think there are some deep-seated questions about what is “Caribbean-enough” that deserve far more context that even your brief speculation offers.

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