Josh Butler skyrocketed to popularity when videos of his dancing were shared across multiple Caribbean social media accounts. But recently, those same accounts have named and shamed him, with users flooding the comment sections with jokes and tagging him in memes, sarcastically likening him to Christopher Columbus after he claimed he paved the way for Caribbean dancers to turn wining into a profession.
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 is quoted as saying that he, “Likes the attention” he has received from being a white winer.
In his apology, he essentially doubled down, suggesting that the clip was edited in a way that invited misconstruction of his words. However, many who saw the original video agree that it wasn’t the editing; it was the actual sentence that exited his mouth that was problematic.
Josh’s 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. He goes on to say, “Anywhere I go or anyone that I speak to, I always give credit where credit is due.”
That last is especially interesting, given that Fiona Compton has highlighted an instance where Butler stole a shirt design from St. Lucian designer Kimberly Solana Mathurin. The shirt read, “I’m only here for the Dennery Segment”. It was Mathurin’s design, but Butler began wearing it and passing it off as his own. Mathurin says that she spoke to Butler directly, and her concerns were ignored; when she began speaking to Butler’s St. Lucian friends, they did nothing; most worryingly, when she went public with her concerns, even providing a time-stamped photograph of her design, the St. Lucian community criticised her and suggested that 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. 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.
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. 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 a 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 (often better) been afforded these same luxuries? The answer is no.
Since the incident between Butler and Mathurin, she has stopped designing and creating art. This makes it much more difficult to accept the comments suggesting that, “He meant well,” “He was set up,” or, “Backed into a corner,” or, “Obviously didn’t mean that”. The fact that Mathurin no longer pursues her passion is the cost of white interference on the level we saw with Butler. We have lost genuine, innovative Caribbean art and design, and not only in this instance.
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 have 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.