“Nasty Men and Ghetto Girls”: Blackness, Indianness, and Sexual Visibility Politics in the Caribbean Indian Party Scene

Anjanette M. Chan Tack, University of Chicago

This paper examines ethnic boundary drawing between Indo-Caribbeans and South Asians in New York City.[i] Utilizing ethnographic data from the West Indian nightlife scene in Queens, New York, as well as interview data from Indo-Caribbeans and South Asians living in the ethnic enclave, I examine how Indo-Caribbeans’ cultural hybridity – specifically, their cultural assimilation into Afro-West Indian “Carnival” party culture, music, and dance forms, as well as their social intimacy with Afro-West Indians – creates tensions between them and South Asians. These conflicts focus on the appropriate comportment women in public space and crystallize on the nightclub dance floor. While Indo-Caribbeans exhibit an Afro-West Indian cultural ethos that locates female empowerment in the “wine” – a highly public and sexually expressive dance form – the South Asians they encounter subscribe to cultural norms that locate ideal “Indian” femininity in the performance of chastity. These cultural differences in what I call “sexual visibility politics” create moments of severe ethnic dissonances between Indo-Caribbeans and South Asians. On the nightclub dance floor, South Asians are scandalized by Indo-Caribbean women’s proclivity to wine, decrying it as “slutty” behavior, and interpreting Indo-Caribbeans as both lower-class and racially Black (“ghetto”), because of it. In contrast, Indo-Caribbeans read South Asian men’s sexually aggressive behavior towards Indo-Caribbean women as disrespectful (“nasty”), and consider it evidence that “Indian culture” is inherently regressive and patriarchal. These encounters cause South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans in New York City to draw symbolic boundaries between each other that emphasize their ethnic differences and to delineate the limits of authentic “Blackness”, “West Indianness” and “Indianness” .

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 10. Intersections of Migration and Gender