The two faces of the ‘Scotiabana’ carnival


The launch of the ‘Scotiabana’ carnival on July 12, like the Greek God, Janus, wore two faces. One was backward looking, the other forward looking. Neither portends good for Toronto’s Black community.

The backward-looking face was found more in the speeches and their common subtext. For example, both of the Festival Management Committee (FMC) representatives spoke, and did so close to the end. The first was, as usual confident, addressing the onlookers with poise and avoirdupois. These launch days are not days for speeches as much as they are for images. Imaging! Hers, with a thousand and one details in a hot sun to consider, was flustered, and nonetheless flawless. Her closing remarks, were however … underwhelming.

“Caribana,” she enthused, with a breathless intimacy embracing the restive crowd, “is for everyone.”

True, to an extent. But would it have embarrassed the other guests on the lectern (not podium that comes from the Latin, podere, to stand on) if she had preceded this with “Caribana, born from the Emancipation carnival celebrations … ‘is now for everyone”?

Wouldn’t a host speaker on a St. Patrick’s Day event, or on a Hannukah stage not remind both onlookers and invitees on the stage of the historic roots being celebrated or commemorated?

In contrast with these, the launch had as subtext, ‘frivolous and vexatious’, “jump up, jump up”.

In fact, the other speaker from the FMC, where the first speaker was all self-control and poise, had the decorum and class of a prize-fighter going under, bracers and all.

And where others, for example, the Minister of Tourism and the City Councillor were more subtext, he was all text trying to rouse a tepid audience at the end of his presentation with, “jump up, jump up …!’


This launch was backward looking; looking back to the early 1980s when Alan Tonks, then Chair of Metro Toronto, palancing on stage, instead of emphasizing the job creating impact of Caribana, would sing out, “Day-O! Daaay-OOO! Daylight come an’ me wanna go home …”

What was then sad and saddening was how Black people would laugh, scream, and then join him. It is as if, beaten down for so long, even insults combined with some familiarity we accept as communion. Others also expecting us to and we do not disappoint. Or be dubbed radical.

You think he, or any other politician would stand on the stage of any other community in Toronto, one in which their youth suffer from the criminally absurd phenomenon of homicide being their major cause of death; or where their youth have a more than 40 per cent unemployment rate, regardless of levels of education, and sing that community’s equivalent of “Day-O”?

“Jump up! Jump up!”

In fact, it was obvious that the guest speakers brought their own little speeches. Thus did the Minister of Tourism speak more of Scotiabank’s contributions, than of the carnival’s.

To add to this, the only person who emphasized and actually used the phrase, “Caribana creates jobs ..” was Councillor Joe Mihevc. This isn’t surprising. He’s been there awhile, and has memories, no doubt, from the late 1990s when the speeches of politicians like then Premier Bob Rae were written for them by Caribana reps to include the phrases we wanted used.

This is the way it’s done. Politicians on stage aren’t doing us a favour; we’re doing them one since in their election campaigns we provide them with photo-ops. When they go to other communities, they expect to be given the speeches and phrases they will use, not their own!

Therefore, whenever you hear a politician or other using phrases like “Caribana creates jobs; Caribana creates wealth; Caribana creates culture” they’re using our words, spreading our messages looking forward, since Caribana is more than a ‘jump up’!

And looking backwards? Think of a distant and condescending past of White politicians blessing us with their presence and Black people breaking their necks to have photos taken with them. And not them with us.

No wonder the majority of officials on stage were White, and the Black people, apart from the two FMC reps, were Black youth dressed in feathers and beads and bikinis.

Is this theatre without walls, or striptease at Nathan Philips? And with spears.

As a community, it sometimes appears that today our labour as a people is harder than that of our forbears defeating slavery.

To quote Harriet Tubman: “I could have freed more slaves if they’d only known they were slaves.”

Farrell is a retired educator and a past board member and chair of the Caribbean Cultural Committee, the owners of Caribana.

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