Discussing Carnival with Friends and Family

The fun side.

After a few years of playing mas, I found myself visiting my dad and his wife at home in Harlem, NY.  Because the Army has loved stationing me no-where-near my hometown, I only go home maybe once or twice a year.  I remember sitting on my dad’s couch petting his dogs and catching up on what I had been up to since we last physically saw each other.  Somehow, I ended up discussing carnival.  My dad’s wife had seen the photos of me on social media and initially had some reservations going into a full blown discussion because she was HEAVY into the church, and anything not related to the Lord was “worldy”.  I initially imagined her telling me that I needed to give up the feathers, and come to church with her.  But I braved the discussion anyway about Carnival, what it meant to me, its cultural significance and was shocked to find her very supportive.  She even mentioned that maybe one day she would get in costume and join me on the road.

My best friend is a strait-laced Catholic.  Seriously, I do not understand how we ended up as best friends. But in natural best friend fashion, she loved to see me happy and admired the photos and videos of my joy.  Watching me closely as a best friend should, she found herself in awe of my confidence on the road even as my weight fluctuated with the life changes. My bestie is also Brazilian, and very much in tune with the African-influence of her culture.  She felt inspired and wanted to know what it was like to feel that free.  Last year, she registered to play mas with me for the very first time at Atlanta-Dekalb…but of course, COVID-19 had something to say about that.  She is still desiring to experience that infectious joy and hopes to be able to get on the road with me in the future.  I can’t wait to see her in costume.

A High-Five in the Face.

Dating a non-masquerader was touched on in a previous blog, so hit the hyperlink if you’d like to learn about my experience there.

I remember shortly after either my first or second jump in Atlanta-Dekalb carnival, I got a phone call from my sister.  She was clearly pressed and I asked her wha had happened.  A family member on our father’s side had seen our photos on social media.  He was so upset by what he saw that he had to call my own father to tell him that we were “parading half naked in the streets” and that we needed a talking to; a check on our morals if you will.  At that time, I had not completely done my research on the culture and frankly had no rebuttal about what I had heard other than its part of a culture. Im a grown ass woman and I’ll do as I please.  Luckily, said family member never fixed his fingers to dial my number, and my dad is just happy that I am doing well in life, and could care less as long as I was safe, sane and happy.

Sometime after a deployment, another family member visited me to help me put my home together.  We spent approximately one full week together catching up on life and getting my affairs in order.  I told him about Carnival and he found himself excited all the WRONG REASONS. Showing him photos from carnival provided a different type of reference that was not intended.  For him, Carnival was something purely sexual, and an opportunity to objectify women.  Although I had educated him on its significance, his mind was fixated on sexualizing masqueraders and I was not going to have any of it.  My invitation to share this experience with him was immediately rescinded.

An Educated Advocate.

Over the years, I have engaged many perspectives and have handled them in unique ways.

Having been an uneducated masquerader myself, I genuinely see both sides of the coin. Over the years, my defensiveness with snide remarks and misunderstandings has waned and I have chosen an approach that would welcome conversation.  Rebuttals with frustration or irritation would only permit someone outside the experience to stay fixated in their sentiment.

At this point, I have come to listen quietly and ask them questions such as, “what makes you feel that way?”  Immediately, most people are thrown off guard my approach but find themselves in the hot set to answer, and they do.  Their responses such as “because it’s just not appropriate” or “I could never do that” or “ its just unprofessional” or “I think its just_____” is responded to with a place of understanding. I bridge the gap by telling them that I see how they might view it that way, followed by “but did you know_____?”  Most often, they hadn’t.  

                                       “It’s just the culture” is never going to be an adequate response.

I remember when I started on this journey of learning asking many people in groups about certain aspects of Carnival.  The response “its just our culture” always left me feeling empty and slightly confused.  Imagine how someone else on the outside might be?

Understanding a little more about Caribbean culture and Carnival not only helps you tap into the significance of what could be an cathartic experience, but it also helps you engage in discussions with the people that you care about — friends, lovers, or family.  

Minds Can(t) be Changed.

For sake of my personal peace, I prefer to be very open about my life as a masquerader.  I understand how some may feel differently because I too was once in your shoes, and had the same reasons for not discussion my participation.  Discussing the masquerader life with someone not of the culture,  or who has not experienced it can be very daunting and at times, UNCOMFORTABLE.  I have found that coming from an educated frame of reference not only boosted my confidence in discussions, but it also made people feel a bit more comfortable, and encourages the open-mindedness that you want.

Just know that there are some minds that can’t be changed– your friends, your family, or your lover.  Only you can determine how you wish to navigate your life with these people.  Whether you choose to remain quiet about your experience or discuss mas freely, all I care about is what is genuinely best for you.

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