I was born in August 1991 and it is true that our childhood, like that of many late 80s babies, was split between the last great decade of the 1990s and the early millennium as we transitioned from childhood to teenhood in the last most memorable parts of pop culture. By the time 2002 hit, we were becoming teenagers and unfortunately, our generation was always considered not to be as valid, interesting as the older ones. From the historical point of view, though we had witnessed important political events such as the last great war in Eastern Europe, 9/11 or the colonial invasion of Iraq by the American army, we were denied the right to be considered valid witnesses to history and so, even in music.
The early 2000s, also thanks to Big Pun, were the apex regarding the explosion of Caribbean pride. For the first time in the history of pop culture, “black music” included the various rhythms of islands nobody had ever heard of in the past. Though ragga muffin and reggae had long been established, reggaeton was becoming known worldwide, and so before its whitewashing in the late 2000s through Shakira. Yet, the world was also exposed to soca from Trinidad, St. Vincent, St Kitts, calypso, zouk but also merengue and bachata with Aventura’s We Broke The Rules in 2004. Such rhythms would be incorporated in house music in Europe in the sounds of Bob Sinclar for example.
Known as “summer music” at the time, it was the fun sound to party and celebrate the entry in the new millennium. If some countries such as France, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom were always used to the rhythms of the Caribbean due to their colonies in the West Indies, it was not the same case for everybody at the time.
The emergence of dance-hall, Latin Caribbean sounds in the early 2000s with anthems such as Oye Mi Canto, were not only refreshing but also were an important moment in history when individuals could represent their ancestry and take pride in it as the American culture always had rejected the essence they never totally understood. Yet, this pride we had in our Caribbean, African, Latin Caribbean culture and roots were not well perceived in our daily lives. At the time, the African independences had only taken place thirty to fourty years prior. In that sense, the trauma and the desire to fit in a white society was the main objective of many families of immigrants.
If we loved representing our colors, wearing the most fluorescent colors in our earrings, such expression was sometimes met with a certain backlash. Jealous white female teenagers would often sexualise the Caribbean female body and consider our outfits and expression of pride as a mark of “superficiality” when in reality, most of us were proud to be represented in this explosion of African, Caribbean wave of representation. The internet was not what it is today and the traditional newspapers still retained most of the power. In that sense, the 1990s supermodels were excluded and replaced by Kate Moss, Gisele Bundchen and other women who would represent the “heroin chic” look. They were extremely skinny and not athletic and healthy like the iconic figures of the 90s, such as Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and such shift was hard as a black teenager back then. Our bodies were not built like Moss’ at all. We had curves, thighs, behinds, naturally and such natural physical aspects were also mocked as our classmates or the critics would call us “fat”. The 2002 Beyoncé who was still in the Destiny’s Child would be called “enormous” or even “obese” by white model critics. It was very hard not knowing where to fit in and even if brands such as Baby Phat were here for us, the white community would still be criticizing us. But not only. Black parents would also join in and disrespect the new cultures created by us as they were not approved by white people. Blackness was vilified to the core by both parties. We would know later on, with the irrelavant Armenian covent from Hollywood, that white people were simply jealous of our natural colors.
Just like rap music around the same time, the culture was still underground as white people would shun, disrespect and consider us to be low individuals addicted to violent music. Yet, when Eminem was pushed by the labels and his black producers, white people had found their vengence and could now support their “rapper” even if his lyrics were probably more violent than any N.W.A’s songs compiled. Unfortunately, even if we were teenagers, we could never escape the competition of culture, the disdain for our ways of dressing and our looks. Even the dancing movies such as You Got Served or the masterpiece RIZE by Dave LaChappelle, which would hit the theaters.
The music videos for Caribbean songs also portrayed black and brown women in an oversexualized way. In that sense, many black teenagers at the time were also victims of sexual remarks made by white young boys who would imagine our sexual prowesses by judging the shape of our lips. The bigger, the better the oral sex. Allegedly. And so, even when most of us did not nothing about sex. Without knowing it, many white teenagers in the early 00s, a period when musical genres were still separated, began to experience their sexuality through the fantasy of the black female body as they were programmed to do so.
If the members of the irrelevant Armenian family now living in the Hollywood hills keep stealing from black and brown women (both bodies and fashion styles), the glamourous Baby Phat clothing lines and fashion styles were perceived as ghetto, made for “superficial black women”, ridiculous and way too over the top. Even when we tried to find our own spaces, we were still shunned and attacked even in the markets which were made to be for us. Black culture in the West is always mocked before it is reused years later.
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