Read Essay 1: ... and Friends.
I once read that people write poetry because they experience an emotion so huge that ordinary sentence structure, a traditional paragraph, will not do. That the emotion can only be adequately expressed in verse with a random hyphen and rhythmic rhyming pattern.
So when I sat, and listened to Nick Hutchings, I thought damn. He feels so strongly about white folk’s ‘exclusion’ from the art of Gombey dancing that he had to put that shit in a poem.
Not one for nuance, he titled it ‘White Gombey’.
His reading of this poem was the third event of the night. The first was a singalong that I pettily refused to join because I was vexed at having missed Yesha’s performance (#late). The second was Yesha’s performance. (#oh)
So, Yesha has left the stage and I am sitting there reveling in her amazing-as-usual lyrics (that cheekily poked fun at the event), so excited for how much her work has grown, in awe of how hard she’s worked on her craft…
… when a mediocre piece of storybook rhyme dripping with caucasity is read aloud. I’ve copied it here from the Bermuda Anthology of Poetry:
Hey Bye! Dance with the Gombey, set yourself free
From the spirit jailer called bigotry
How can you refuse to move your feet?
It’s an African rhythm with a British beat.
Observer status – that reality?
Reserved for the white minority!
Oh, but the mask will make them blind
And protect you from the crooked mind.
Hey Girl! Put on the mask and dance with me
We’ll dance the dance anonymously.
They’ll never know, so who’s to say
There’ll never be a white Gombey.
Time stood still as I sank into a thick viscous mud of Bermudian white privilege. (I would be fully immersed in it by the end of the night. It has a not unpleasant smell of Chanel, musty cedar interiors, and a Sunday roast.)
Question: How many places are there in the world where a red carpet isn’t rolled out for rich, white men? Where they don’t feel welcome? Two, maybe three? But nah, Nick’s big mad.
* stomps feet and bangs on a Gombey’s door *
“LET ME IN. LET ME INNNNNNNNNNN!”
In my video rant, I speak about how the opportunity was there for a thoughtful piece about the conflict a white man might feel at wanting to be a Gombey, while at the same time knowing and understanding that Gombeys only exist because of colonialism and white shenaniganery. Gombeys were slaves. Gombeys today are descendants of slaves. I haven’t studied the Hutchings family tree butttttttt… they seem slave-ownerish. (If you’re wondering what that looks like it’s a white family that has been in Bermuda since the 1700s and is wealthy in present-day. It’s not a hard and fast rule but I’m happy with it.)
You wanna a-yo. You wanna ska-dank-dank.
But that isn’t your space.
I’m still unsure if the ‘bigots’ in his crappy couplet are black people who say he shouldn’t be a Gombey or white people who say he shouldn’t be a Gombey. Maybe it’s the one thing everybody agreed on. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that I feel white boys should be excluded from being Gombeys. * whispers * Umm.. how you feel about those who are direct descendants of slave-owners? Yeah I feel iffy about them too.
In any event, while I would completely understand if a troupe says nah, I’m also completely cool with another saying okay. In fact, as Nick so gleefully pointed out, there are now white Gombeys. I would hope these boys’ parents have explained to them that it isn’t their right to be Gombeys, that they aren’t entitled to it. That in fact it is an honour and a privilege regardless of the ‘British beat’.
Clearly, Nick’s parents didn’t sit him down for that important convo. Or maybe they did and he just didn’t listen. I’m not going to automatically blame you Elder Hutchingses – we know how kids are.
Either way what we have is a middle-aged white man lamenting his life’s greatest woe: that of all he was able to do in life -
smoke weed without fear of being stopped and frisked,
sing and dance along to YMCA without irony,
get his bad poetry published in a national anthology,
attend university and get a job without having to use a fake name on his applications,
walk around Jack n’ Jill’s with his backpack on
sail, I’m sure there was tons of sailing.
… what he didn’t ‘get to’ do, was don a peacocked hat, feathered cape, and hand woven mask to hide his identity from his oppressors and their ‘crooked mind’. Forsooth and alas he wanted to grab a whip (Objection! Inflammatory! You could have said hatchet!), dance through the streets of black neighbourhoods he normally wouldn’t deem to go, not even to read poetry * rolls eyes Chewstickishly *, while black nanas throw money at his feet.
Prior to the Sunday Chat, I knew there was nothing, NOTHING, that anybody could say to me about ‘White Gombey’ that would change my mind. I wasn’t even really interested in hearing from anybody who felt differently about this wack limerick.
Yet, although there were differing opinions about who has the right to use vernacular in their art (that’s the next essay) that was the not the case with White Gombey. When the discussion had ended, only one person remained cool with it. Everybody else viewed it as the problematic piece of shit that it is, especially considering there was a shiny, new line about ‘reverse’ racism in this performance.
One of the points at our Sunday Chat was about artistic freedom and what is art? What is art’s purpose? Shouldn’t art create strong feelings, elicit discussion?
Well listen, Nick. What can I say? You CERTAINLY did that.
So go head on ‘bye’. Under the banner of ‘artistic freedom’, whine and be disagribble about the myriad of things Black Bermudians are keeping you from experiencing. I look forward to your next piece about barbershops, steak n’ takes, and Berkeley Institute alumni gatherings.
Meet you back here.
This is the second essay in what at present looks like will be four part series. It might be three, it might go on forever...