The real problem with @WhiteChocolate758
Social media erupted this week when a roundtable discussion featuring popular dancer White Chocolate “758” surfaced, making claims that he paved the way for Caribbean dancers to turn wining into a profession.
The dancer, whose real name is Josh Butler, skyrocketed to popularity when videos of him dancing began being shared across multiple Caribbean social media accounts.
Of course, the Caribbean community was able to find humour in the situation – drawing up memes of Christopher Columbus and photoshopping his face into the photo, cracking jokes in the comment sections of his photos and laughing with each other.
But underneath the humour and at the core of this moment in the culture is a very disturbing pattern that we’ve seen several times before – and sadly, will likely see again.
In 2017, Butler was featured in an article in The Voice SLU. The article praised him for being “good looking and physically fit,” calling him the “highlight of local fetes” and touting his “wit and charm.” He’s quoted as saying that he “likes the attention” he’s received from being a white winer. But most disturbingly, the article claims he is an “honorary Lucian” and he responds by saying, “All that’s left is to apply for my passport; the easy way is to get a wife. So, any takers?”
There is a common theme of entitlement to the space and Caribbean culture that we’ve seen unfold in this situation and many others. And it’s nothing new to us. But typically, it’s not as problematic as it has been in Butler’s case – and it’s largely because of two things. First, his sheer ignorance and second, the success he’s acquired as a result of appropriating Caribbean dancing.
Prior to this video surfacing, Butler boasted 163,000 followers on Instagram. He seems to have lost about 4,000 of those followers after his preposterous claim, and lost a bit more after his very concerning apology.
In his apology, he essentially doubled down, suggesting that the clip was edited in a way that misconstrued his words. However, tons of people who saw the video agree that it wasn’t the editing, it was the actual sentence that exited his mouth that was problematic, which was – and I quote - “In a way I have been paving a way for Black people to come after me,” referring to turning wining into a profession.
His apology also claims that he noticed influencers are not as popular in the Caribbean as they are in the U.S. and the U.K., which is categorically untrue, and that he wanted to show both companies and social media users that using actual people to promote their brands and products could be a lucrative business for both parties. And then he says “anywhere I go or anyone that I speak to I always give credit where credit is due.”
It’s interesting that he said that last part because a woman named Fiona Compton highlighted an instance where Butler stole a shirt design from St. Lucian designer Kimberly Solana Mathurin. The shirt said “I’m only here for the Dennery segment”, and it was in fact Mathurin’s design. But Butler began wearing it and passing it off as his own.
Mathurin says she spoke to Butler directly and her concerns were ignored. And when she began speaking to Butler’s St. Lucian friends, they did nothing. And most concerning, when she went public with her concerns, even providing a time stamped photo of her design, the St. Lucian community criticized her and suggested she was jealous and should be grateful he was wearing the shirt in the first place.
This is one of the clearest cut instances of cultural appropriation I’ve ever seen in my life. You’ve got a white guy from England who went to St. Lucia, fell in love with the culture, reportedly began telling people he was from St. Lucia – which was later proven to be untrue - including the use of the area code in his social media handle, carrying on like a St. Lucian and reaping the benefits – not of being from the Caribbean, but being a white person associated with the culture.
A few years ago, we first learned of Rachel Dolezal – also questionably known as Nkechi Amare Diallo. Dolezal was a white woman who claimed she was Black and only admitted the truth after years of deception and profiting off of her imaginary Blackness – which included her role as a chapter president with the NAACP. But this year, we’ve seen quite a few more cases like this.
A few weeks ago, a white professor named Jessica Krug came forward, admitting she lied about being Black – and admitting to being an imposter for her entire professional career.
"To an escalating degree over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness," she wrote in her confession.
And just this week, a grad student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison resigned from a teaching position after admitting on social media that they falsely claimed to be a person of colour.
CV Vittolo-Haddad, who uses the nonbinary pronouns of they/them, was the co-president of the university’s Teaching Assistants’ Association. They apologized only after an anonymous post on Medium accused them of misleading people about their racial and ethnic identity.
The thing about people like Butler, Krug, Vittolo-Haddad and even Dolezal is that they would likely argue they’re well-intentioned. But as we’ve seen, intention does not negate impact – and the Black community has suffered unimaginable losses due to the selfishness of these people who attempt to be people they are not.
Butler’s white waist afforded him flights around the world, coveted fete tickets, attention and success. Krug took up space that belonged to a Black person in academia, a realm that already suffers from extreme underrepresentation by African-Americans. Vittolo-Haddad earned and utilized her position under the false pretense that she was something she was not. And Dolezal occupied a powerful position in the NAACP that belonged to a Black person – and then went on to write a book about her deceit, with a play on words as the title. Yuck.
White people can add some tanning lotion and change the texture of their hair and commit the act of blackfishing, a term coined by Wanna Thompson. And then they can go on to take up spaces in places that rightfully belong to Black people. But let’s think about the difficulty involved for a Black person to try to change their physical features to appear white for a mere chance at experiencing just a taste of white privilege? Even if this were to happen, the likelihood of the white community being nearly as accepting as the Caribbean community was in this instance is questionable.
Fiona Compton made an important point about the role of white validation in the Caribbean. She touched on the idea that when a white person does or approves of something we’ve been doing for years, decades, it’s seen as this golden stamp of approval.
But why do we need that when it’s always been good enough for us? She talked about the unpaid work being done by Black people against the backdrop of Butler’s travels to several different carnivals and his paid sponsorships and brand partnerships with companies like Digicel. But have Black dancers, Black influencers and Black people who do what Butler does (and often better) been afforded these same luxuries? The answer is no.
I want to shine a light on the fact that since the incident between Butler and Mathurin, she has stopped designing and creating art. This realization made it much more difficult to accept the comments suggesting that “he meant well” or “he was set up” or “backed into a corner” or “obviously didn’t mean that”, because we always seem to empathize with those who have done wrong, rather than those who have been done wrong.
Mathurin’s resignation from pursuing her passion is the cost of white interference on the level we saw with Butler. We have lost genuine, innovative Caribbean art and design, not only in this instance but several others.
We’re not telling you not to come. We’re not telling you not to dance. We’re not telling you not to enjoy yourself. Our culture and our music has always been invitational - as have we. But what we are asking is that when you show up in our spaces, you show some respect. Because while you guys get to enjoy the calm after the storm of fighting for emancipation, it was our ancestors that had to get us – and you – there in the first place.