I was having a conversation with a friend about the Super Bowl and something really intriguing came up. My friend–who is white–was saying that she appreciated the celebration of Latin culture, but that J Lo and Shakira were a little too sexual for her. What troubled her even more was that it seemed that the only people on social media who were bothered by this were other white people. People of color were the main ones saying how lit the halftime show was. So she wondered, “Does the fact that this bothers me make me racist?”
I had to really think about it. And when I did, I discovered that intriguing thing.
But before I move on, I want to clarify something. I’m not about to villainize the halftime show. I’m not about to slut shame J Lo or Shakira. In my opinion, there are three elements in question: the halftime show, white people’s response to the show, and Caribbean people’s response to white people’s response. This article is specifically addressing the Caribbean response. Therefore, I’m not going to talk about the political/social/cultural significance and symbolism embedded in the show. For a more in depth view on that, check out this article. I’m also not defending white people who were disgusted by the show and spewing derogatory hatred over social media. Again, for a response to that, see the above article.
I’m speaking to my Caribbean brothers and sisters who are confused as to why some of their white friends thought this was overly sexual and I want to point out a blindspot that we have.
I believe that hypersexuality is to our culture what racism is to white culture. Let me break it down…
If you’re Caribbean and you had a white friend come to work and tell you, “That half time show was way too sexual for me.”, I’m 99% certain the first thing out of your mouth was something like “Well, that’s part of the culture.” Here’s the problem–that’s exactly what some white people would say about racism. If someone is born and raised in the south then comes up to New York for the first time and says something ignorant to you and you tell them that’s racist, they’re gonna say, “Really? Where I come from, we say stuff like that all the time. It’s part of the culture.” And we would argue back, “So what? It’s still wrong.”
As Caribbean Christians, we need to be able to do the same thing about the fallen parts of our culture.
I’m not saying that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that all sexuality is bad.(Honestly, white evangelicals have a lot to learn from Caribbean Christians when it comes to being comfortable with sexuality. But that’s neither here nor there.) I’m specifcally talking about the HYPER-sexuality that we can easily become numb to. The parts like the daggering, the grinding, dirty whining, the essential sex on the dance floor, and much of what was displayed at the halftime show.
I’m also not saying that racism and hypsersexuality are equally evil. I’m saying that white people are as equally blind to the racism embedded in their culture as Caribbean people are to the hypsersexuality embedded in ours. So we point at white people and say, “How can you not see how racist that is?” and they point at us and say, “How can you not see how unnecessarily sexual that is?”
That being said, regardless of what sort of conversational acrobatics we pull off to defend our culture in this argument, another white friend brought up a point that was particularly embarrassing. We spend so much time talking about how bad human trafficking is and we know that it’s at its highest during the Super Bowl. Mind you, I was bombarded all of 2019 with articles from black friends about black women getting kidnapped for trafficking and how we should blow it up all over the media etc. etc. And yet we had a stripper pole in the middle of the halftime show and none of us batted an eye. How do we fight sexual immorality with one hand then celebrate it with the other? We don’t notice it because one is cultural and the other “isn’t”. But we can easily argue that human trafficking is part of human culture–it’s literally been around since the beginning of time. But no one defends it because we know it’s wrong. And that’s my point.
Imagine J Lo and Shakira had been replaced with Wyclef and Jason Derulo. Imagine they had done a showcase of Haitian culture and in the middle of the show dropped a mini voodoo ritual for a little razzle dazzle. The whole world would’ve only seen the voodoo. It would be irresponsible for Haitian Christians to then respond with, “But voodoo’s part of the culture, though.” It would also be unfair to respond with, “So you mean to tell me all you saw was the voodoo? You didn’t see the mangoes? Or the patties? Or the flag?” The responsible reaction would be, “I’m not gonna lie, there was voodoo there. Yes, it’s part of our culture. Yes, it’s part of our history. But no, as a Christian, I don’t support that. I can call you out for only noticing the voodoo. But I’m not gonna defend the voodoo.”
J Lo and Shakira are getting a lot of flack for this and there’s already a lot of back and forth on social media with white people saying how sexual it was and people of color saying how racist that is. But if you’re a Caribbean Christian, before you get offended and go on the defensive, think about this: if you defend this, you’re defending the sinful part of our culture. It’s basically the same thing as a white person defending racism because they’re from the south.
I’m not saying that everything about the halftime show was bad. I’m not trying to villainize Shakira or J Lo. I’m not even saying that we’re not allowed to celebrate our sexuality. I am saying that as Caribbean Christians we should be aware of the fallen parts of our culture and be open to critiquing it instead of defending it.