Few music videos of soca have become as viral as “I like” the singer Destra García. The song – one of Destra's offers for the upcoming Trinidad and Tobago carnival season in 2020, with over 400,000 views on YouTube – generated quite a few memes and unleashed a lot of casual conversations online.
The video premiered on November 24, 2019, and shows a provocative dance scene between Destra and Ali Khan, an American cricketer of Pakistani origin. Khan has become a sensation in Trinidad and Tobago since he started playing for the Knight Riders in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), held annually. In the video, Destra “gears” Khan, a hip movement that is a signature of the Trinidad and Tobago carnival.
The fans loved the video, but it is said that Khan's parents were not happy with Khan's appearance, so Khan issued an apology video. In the video he explains that although he approved the final result, he did not realize that the choreography of “Like” would be “too much” for his family. Although Khan did not specify exactly why they were unhappy with the video, many Internet users assumed it was because of the suggestive dance.
In an interview with Newsday from Trinidad and Tobago, Garcia said he wanted Khan in the video because of his popularity. She didn't expect Khan's appearance to generate controversy.
Dwayne Bravo, a close friend and colleague of Khan, also posted a video of apology to Khan's family on his behalf, because Bravo helped coordinate the collaboration. Destra García replied that both men showed “great courtesy” in handling the situation.
But when Khan publicly apologized, the initial and casual jokes the video sparked soon gave way to further discussions about cultural norms, gender and racial relations in Trinidad and Tobago.
For Trinidadian culture, suggestive dance like Destra's is normal – many reactions to the video that were posted online were stained from humor. But most of the comments online made fun of Khan for his decision to apologize, which some Internet users thought was “unmanly” – especially when viewed through the “macho” lens of Caribbean society.
On Facebook, a user did not understand why Khan felt he should apologize publicly.
Another cybernaut on Twitter insisted that Ali Khan should know the consequences of his actions:
My mother talmbout some destra should’ve known the people culture before she wine up on Ali Khan like if Ali Khan is a dummy who don’t know whats ok in his own home girl GOODBYE
– s? (@safiyaaaax) November 29, 2019
My mother says that Destra should know the culture of the people before provoking Ali Khan, as if Ali Khan was a fool who doesn't know what's right in his own girl. GOODBYE.
Another was incredulous about how several social media users could blame Destra Garcia:
Ali Khan father vex and is Destra's fault? He's a biggggg man ?????????
– Amanda (@AmandaNer) November 28, 2019
Ali Khan's father is irritated, and is it Destra's fault? He is a big man.
This Twitter user summarized all the controversy like this:
So Ali Khan agrees to be in a music video with Destra. His parents allegedly express disappointment in the video. Now DJ Bravo issues a public apology to the parents because the whole thing was supposedly his idea. ?
Ali boy, next time stick to cricket.
– JN (@jasonnPOS) November 28, 2019
So Ali Khan accept being in a music video with Destra. It is said that Khan's parents express disappointment over the video. Now DJ Bravo issues a public apology to the parents because supposedly everything was his idea.
Ali, boy, next time stay with cricket.
Some social media users came to rule out Khan as if he no longer deserved attention, a trend that is often observed in the online “cancellation culture”. Very few netizens showed sensitivity to Khan in what seemed to be a difficult situation for him.
Comments that cross the line
But comments about the controversy over Khan's choreography continued even after his apology was known – and some seemed to cross a line.
A lawyer who spoke with Global Voices over the phone and preferred to remain anonymous confirmed that the privacy rights of celebrities are diminished when information circulates in the public domain; however, the risk of slander or defamation is significant for social media users who comment on situations such as Khan's.
The old slander and defamation law of Trinidad and Tobago, and its most recent cybercrime bill, are intended to protect people, whether or not celebrities, from harmful online content. Although social media users are not authors of the messages they spread, they can also be held responsible.
In the case of Khan, although his appearance in the video is public, the comments generated about his alleged religious beliefs or sexual attractiveness are personal.
Black woman, man from South Asia
Perhaps the “turn” of Destra García and Ali Khan attracted all that attention because it evokes the historical tensions surrounding Indian and African unions in Trinidad and Tobago. Destra is Afrotrinitense, and although Khan is of Pakistani origin, for the Trinbagoneses he represents the people of South Asia.
In Trinidad and Tobago, people of Indian and African heritage represent the two largest ethnic groups in the country.
The children of the unions of Indians and Africans are known as “Douglas.” The term is derived from the Hindu word Dugola (दुगला), which means “many” or “a mixture”, referring to caste unions in India. In the Caribbean, the term is only used to describe people of Afro-Indian ethnicity.
In conversation with Global Voices by phone, Amilcar Sanatan, a professor of behavioral sciences at the San Agustin headquarters of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, says he was surprised by the local reaction to the concept – even if it is only the plot of a video – of demonstrated sexual interest among people of African and South Asian origin.
Other artists of soca music have already explored the concept: “Wining Good (Bharati Laraki)” by Olatunji, in which he exalted the virtues of an “Indian girl” (perhaps inspired by Destra's “Come Beta”). For its part, Sally Sagram's “HandyMan” video featured an Indian woman interested in Afrotrinitean men.
Sanatan told Global Voices:
I'm not sure who's fetishising who, but what's really interesting to me is that when videos like these, which are often sexually empowered and racially ambiguous, are consumed by non-European or American audiences, the values of those societies – like India and its diaspora, for instance – begin coming into play in a nuanced way. Usually, the discussion of such differences happens between the Global North and the Global South, but now we have an opportunity for it to be a South-South dialogue.
I'm not sure who turns who into a fetish, but what really interests me is that when non-European or American audiences consume videos like this, which usually have sexual power and are racially ambiguous, the values of those societies – such as India and Indians living outside the country, for example – begin to come into play in a nuanced way. Usually, the discussion of such differences occurs between the north and the south, but now we have the opportunity to make it a south-south dialogue.
Sanatan suggests that the more Caribbean countries play cricket in the Indian Premier League (IPL), for example, and the more players from other countries play in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), the more the region will have to accept such narratives – issues to the which also believes that the music trinbagense responds.
“In‘ I like it ’, Destra is trying to represent something global, and other cultures are reading it in different ways.” Trinidad and Tobago, he explains, is accustomed to the discourse around douglarization, which often raises questions of purity, adequacy and even morality. “We love the product of an Afro-Indian union,” says Sanatan, but the process still clashes in some way, and that is something we have to deal with, ”he said.
While he doesn't believe the online response to the video was racist, Sanatan did not rule out the racial nuances that motivated much of the negative comments about the video.
Although Khan is far from public attention for now, Garcia has released a new soca tune, entitled “Permission Slip”, just days after the release of “Like”, much to his fans.