Month: August 2016

Kerlea Joseph via St. Lucia

IMG_0978As a St. Lucian who works virtually, I’m always on the look out for people who work virtually, especially if they’re St. Lucian. One of my beliefs is that building a community of people who reside in St. Lucia but work virtually anywhere in the world will be important to the future of our economy — a real future, where we don’t rely on tourism for subsistence. Kerlea’s interest in returning to St. Lucia after a long time abroad mirrors my own experiences of spending 9.5 years in the U.S. and decided to return home… Reading this interview will give you great insight into some of the considerations that can be made about returning to the Caribbean after a long absence. 

Kerlea Joseph | 21 | St. Lucia (currently residing in Canada)

Follow Kerlea on Instagram! Here you can find black and white illustrations and in the near future, photos of gorgeous calligraphy.

IG: dynamodandridge

Tell me a little more about yourself? What do you currently “do” in your spare time? What are your interests?

I’m extremely interested in Illustration particularly Fashion Illustration as well as Calligraphy. While I’m not currently studying either at school I really hope I can make a career of it someday (at least part-time). A good chunk of my time is spent researching sources of visual inspiration to keep my drawing habit going. I’m also an avid reader so I invest a lot of time reading all kinds of books (I don’t have a particular genre or type of book I favour over another) because I am also a huge fan of storytelling.

How would you describe your ethnic/racial background?

Well racially I would describe myself simply as black. While I know there’s a high possibility of having indigenous blood from my dad’s side because of my paternal grandparents features, even if it was confirmed I probably still wouldn’t list it as part of my racial identity

You’re no longer living in Saint Lucia, do you plan to return? Why do you wish to return?

Yes to the 100th power. I’ve been living in Canada for what will be ten years as of next year, and while living in a first-world country comes with a lot of benefits and incredible amounts of access to things we’ll probably never be able to have in St. Lucia, it’s also been very hard in ways people back home will never understand and people overseas will rarely admit to.

First off, in terms of weather, no matter where you live in Canada, a full-blown Canadian winter is no joke, like that shit is relentless and overbearingly oppressive. Like as a person who has suffered from depression and general anxiety for as long as I can remember far back into my childhood and only had to deal with two seasons (both hot) before I moved here, I really could not anticipate the profound effect it would have on my mental health. Winter is ALWAYS the time I feel most close to going over the edge. I always feel trapped and suffocated, like life is trying to metaphorically and literally bury me. Even if I was sufficiently medicated, I really don’t see myself coping with weather like this for the rest of my life.

(null)Secondly, I live having the support system and sense of community that I just don’t have here. I feel like this is a big one people often take for granted back home because I know I did. Like I know for my family in particular, even though we’re not the most well off and a lot of times we have disagreements and don’t always like each other, we’re still there to support and help each other where we can. Even though I consider myself a highly independent person, not having that invisible support system has just made it 100% harder to navigate the minutiae of everyday life. Like yeah I have friends and realistically I can ask them for help with things, but with a lot of stuff I just feel more comfortable asking my family. Like if I’m hungry and totally out of food, I can’t just call up parents to drop some dasheen and green figs off for me, I’m just screwed. If I’m looking to buy a car or apartment, I have to manage it all on my own. There’s no one to say “Aye, I know somebody selling a car for this much” or “I know somebody renting an apartment for this much let’s go” which I would have back home have back home which is really hard.

Thirdly, I hate the general feeling of not belonging I have living here. I would probably feel a lot better about it if I did live in a community with a lot of black people, not even other St. Lucian/Caribbean in particular, just black people but it’s been very difficult for me to connect with or even find those types of communities. It’s incredibly tiring, always having to navigate mostly white spaces in a country that likes to pat itself on the back for “being more open minded and not as racist as America”. Canada has done a pretty good job of branding themselves as the polite, inoffensive middle power. Like racial anxiety is not a joke and I am 1000% over it. I’m looking forward to living in St. Lucia, where I won’t have to worry about how I express myself, at least racially anyway.

Lastly, I just really feel a lot of guilt at the thought of being one of those people that leaves home and never turns back but always has something shitty to say about St. Lucia. I want to be able to use what I’ve learned during my time overseas to help people at home in whatever way I can. Like building up the country so it’s a place where people feel like they have more opportunities than leaving.

How informed do you feel about last month’s election season? (If you feel informed, what were your perceptions of the election season activities?)

To be honest, I felt very disconnected from the whole thing in the sense that while I did have general news information about what was happening, I wasn’t able to listen in on radio discussions/debates which I know where a lot of the action traditionally happens. Obviously I would talk to my mom about it, but it’s very different when you’re on the ground and it’s all around you.

Flambeau, Labour or neither?

Even though my family is staunchly red all the way, personally I would say I’m not for either one.

Do you feel comfortable expressing yourself and your gender/sexuality in your family and/or your community?

This is a very interesting question because right now, I’m at a point in my life where my gender and sexuality are really in a state of flux where I’m really questioning whether I am a cishet woman or if I mostly identify this way because I’ve been forced to. But to answer your question, I definitely would not feel comfortable expressing my gender/sexuality if it deviated from the traditional cishet framework that my family is used. Even now I don’t always feel comfortable expressing even my sexuality because I think there’s too thin of a line of what counts as an acceptable display of heterosexual sexuality and what isn’t when it comes to being a woman in West Indian family and the youngest daughter at that. In that role of the good, ambitious hard-working youngest daughter, I feel like I have to present a decent interest in men but nothing overly sexual or lascivious. I can be cute but not too cute, I can wear short shorts and skirts but nothing where “my business would be hanging out for the dogs” (one of my mom’s favourites). But in the same token I can’t present asexual either because that would be equally as ostracizing.

So for me, most of the time, these subjects can be very frustrating and uncomfortable when it comes to my family because I often feel trapped by the narrow examples of sexuality presented to me.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why is feminism/womanism important to you?

I actually consider myself more of a womanist. Obviously I have a lot more researching and reading to do, but by what I’ve learned so far of womanism (feel free to correct me, I love learning more information), it sounds more focused on developing and nurturing a community wherein the focus is placed on black women outwards, as inorder to dismantle the global system of white supremacy the most oppressed individuals in society need to be cared for first.

In terms of feminism, while I do think of course agree with a lot of its ideals my biggest sticking point is seeing how it can be applicable to individuals living in third world countries like St. Lucia. I’ve also been really put off with some of the condescending attitudes of a lot feminists living in first-world western countries and the unrealistic solutions they have sometimes when trying to solve issues in third-world countries. I can’t think of any specific examples right now, but usually these “solutions” get thrown around without any real understanding of the local culture or social dynamics of our countries.

Are you fluent in creole/patois/patwa? If not, are you interested in learning?

This is such a sore spot for me because the thing is, while I can understand creole fine, my accent is horrible and I get the worse, the absolute worse anxiety when I try to speak it around my family (mainly from getting teased so badly about it as a child) that I don’t actually speak that much creole when I’m around family. I’ll toss around a few phrases but nothing too complex because I really don’t want to get roasted. If I do speak any creole, it’s usually around friends or people my age because, in that context I care a lot less about being judged and we’re on a more level field socially.

However, with all that said, I am really hopeful that one day I can overcome my creole anxiety around my family because right now, I feel like I’m not fully connecting with them. Especially with my grandparents that mostly speak creole and have a harder time speaking English, it’s hard for us to really know and connect meaningfully with each other because of the language barrier.

It’s really sad but everyday I do make an effort to practice saying some phrases out loud here and there. I’ve also find that incorporating creole into practicing calligraphy has really motivated me and gotten me to expand my vocabulary with words that I’ve found from the St. Lucian creole dictionary (which I found online) which I had never known about previously.

Is being a feminist acceptable in your community?

Within my community of friends yes because we’re young and more open-minded, but I find because my friend group in Canada is mostly white, feminism is mostly discussed from a mainstream perspective with a dash of intersectionality here and there. Most likely because that’s the most common narrative that is pushed when it comes to feminism, but fortunately when I do speak to my friends about more intersectional matters there hasn’t been any resistance to learning more information so that’s good

In terms of my family, while my mom in particular seems interested in learning more about some facets of feminism, overall I don’t think being a feminist is acceptable amongst them. I think it’s mainly because they have this stereotype of angry white lesbians with hairy armpits in their minds as being the “real” feminists and don’t really see how it connects with them or their lives as black people living in a majority black society. To my family being a feminist is being a white woman who hates men and spends the majority of her time complaining about how men have done her wrong.

What are the biggest priorities feminists in your country should have if they’re looking to change things?

Well in terms of everyday St. Lucian women concerned with enacting change from a feminist perspective, I think the top priority would be to stop worrying about displeasing men. Like it sounds very simple but it’s such a big part of St. Lucian society, the fear that women have of displeasing or offending the men in their lives that I think simply overcoming that , would set them on a really good path.

Did you have any brothers growing up? If so, did you notice any differences in how you were treated? What were some of those differences?

OMG, I’m so triggered right now lol. But really there were so many ways that being the only girl negatively impacted my childhood and in fact negatively impact me as person today that thinking about it a lot makes me extremely angry.

For a little background I have 3 brothers. 2 half (1 of which I only learned about as I was older and dont have a relationship with) and one by both of my parents who I mainly grew up with. As children, my brother was allowed to just do whatever while I had to stay home close to my mom. He was always allowed to climb trees and explore the neighbourhood, staying out til dark, while I had to chill around the house never out of sight. In the summers, when we would go down the coast and spend the time with our grandmother in Mon Repos my brother was the one taught how to use a cutlass, how to farm , how to take of animals while I always had to stay inside or at least out of the way and tidy.

The worst part of the whole thing was while I was not being actively taught how to do anything useful in an outdoorsy sense, every-one would tease and make fun of me for not knowing how to do those same things. I can’t tell you how many times my cousins laughed at me for knowing how to climb an ackee tree in the summer (even though no-one would teach me or even let me learn on my own). Or if my mom and grandmother were clearing some bush to farm and I would grab a cutlass to help, I’d get laughed out for not knowing how and sent back to the house.

As I got older, the differences were particularly noticeable with my parent’s double standards when it came to dating. My brothers were both allowed to pretty much “run” girls from like 13. I mean sure my mom disapproved and she would talk to my brother about it but neither she nor my dad actively tried to stop anything from happening. Meanwhile, my ass was basically under lock and key, particularly by my dad who would always freak out if any male figure even boys my age, looked in my direction. As a result, I never bothered to date in high school even when I did move to Canada because I just saw it as too much of a hassle (sneaking around always seemed like waaaaay too much effort for any high school crush).

Even now as 21, I still have never dated and I’m pretty averse to the whole thing while both my brothers had live-in girlfriends at my age.

If you had to raise a child in Saint Lucia, what would you keep from your own upbringing and what would you change?

Well in terms of things I’d keep, I think one major thing would be to replicate the emphasis on reading and in general, nurturing a passion for learning like my mom did for me. She always says I came out of the womb reading (she really really wanted me to be a literature professor) and I do think I came out a better, more empathetic and self-reflective person because of it. I also liked how my parents taught me the importance of always finding ways to help out family members, especially those who maybe struggling and are too proud to ask for help but at the token, to never be anybody’s doormat or “lavabo” as my mom says. I’d also take my kids to the beach ALL the time and just in general, take them around to see the different communities so they get that, just because St. Lucia is small doesn’t mean there isn’t any variety like my dad did with me (He always takes me places in St. Lucia that I’ve heard about before and I’m like how is it possible that I’ve never heard of this place before??)

However in terms of stuff that I’d change, that’s a loaded list. But mainly I’d want my kid to know that there’s no appropriate age to get mentally ill. That they don’t have to have stress from a wife and kids to be feeling terribly depressed, which was always a big sticking point I had with my parents. Like I said earlier, I’ve suffered from general anxiety and depression from as far back as I can remember but a lot of times as a kid, I remember feeling horribly guilty because I didn’t have a “reason” to feel the way I did and was just being a brat. I feel like if my parents had respected my mental illnesses as a child, I probably would’ve been farther along managing them than I am now. Secondly , especially if I had a little girl, I would do my very best to ensure that my child never for a second felt ashamed of their body because of perverted attention from older men. As a child, I grew very very quickly. I started going through puberty around 8 and I was 5″ 8ft by 10. As a result, I looked A LOT older than I actually was and disgustingly enough, I always attracted the attention of older men often times, leading me to feeling ashamed and confused about my body. I love my mom, and although she did do her very best to defend me from those types of men, I feel like if she had spoken directly to me about my body and made me understand that their negative attention had nothing to do with me, I probably wouldn’t have wasted all those years being ashamed and frightened by my body and had more of a jumpstart on accepting myself.

Thank you so much for reading through this interview! I’d like to remind you to check out Kerlea’s page on instagram: @dynamodandridge. For more interviews like this one, check out my interview with Veronique from St. Vincent & The Grenadines! 

Intersectional Feminism: Abuse & Feminism

Abuse and feminism are incompatible, yet many people who call themselves feminists are also abusers. It sounds like a drastic or incorrect statement, but we know it’s true either from experience or through reading. That’s why there are articles like this one on Everyday Feminism, warning you about the types of feminist men who abuse their status as feminist allies. That’s why in activist circles, there are high status individuals who get away with bullying, coercion and other forms of abuse. We intuitively know that simply stating that you’re a feminist doesn’t change your ability to abuse people, yet many of us call ourselves feminists without reading literature on abuse, checking ourselves for these “toxic” behaviors or by practicing non-abusive forms of communication with our loved ones.  We know that this is true, but we still don’t believe victims or survivors who come forward about their experiences.

(more…)

Caribbean Voices: Jervis via Trinidad & Tobago

IMG_0164Jervis is a teacher in Trinidad and Tobago who I interviewed due to her experience in the education system. For privacy reasons, she asked me to refer to her by her last name so I’ll be referring to her as such! Here, I asked her to talk to me about her experience being a feminist & educator in TnT…

Jervis | 25 | Trinidad

Tell me a little more about yourself? What do you currently “do” in your spare time? What are your interests?

Hello I am a newly minted teacher (meaning I started officially teaching September of last year. ) I graduated from the University of Trinidad and Tobago with my B. Ed. in 2014.

My parents emigrated to the US when I was about eleven. Because of that I grew up with my maternal grandparents and still live with them.

I am an avid reader and I watch too many shows on Netflix. I did voice training as kid and I still sing a lot with some of my musical frineds and my churches youth’s choir as well.

In my spare time I have recently have been working on ideas for a Caribbean or really Trinbagonian children’s book series.

How would you describe your ethnic/racial background?

I am Afro Trinidadian. I also descend from the Merikins on my mothers side.

I understand through teaching, you’re involved in the education system. Tell me more about that.

Since i’ve started studying to become an educator I’ve been very conscious of how much the Trinidadian education system isn’t really made for us. At all level a lot of the books, programs and resources are made specifically for other countries; more often than not England.

This is coupled with the personal knowledge that my education system as well as the society I live in is extremely stifling. Most Trinidadians view education as means of gathering status. With most hoping to become doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers . Not that anything is wrong with these professions but they are placed above all others. A lot of the time people are chasing after a status symbol rather than a career. Most other jobs unless its running a business aren’t even considered except as a last resort. However this outlook is changing albeit very slowly.

These observations made me want to do two things in the near future. The first is to create content for Trinidad, from a Trinidadian perspective. My second goal is to try to help in the change Trinidadians views on Eduction. How? I’m not sure yet but I’m getting there.

Do you feel comfortable expressing yourself and your gender/sexuality in your family and/or your community?

I honestly identify as cis and straight so I honestly have no problems. However I KNOW for a fact that most communities in Trinidad and Tobago are homophobic and transphobic. Most Trinidadians’ views on LGBTA community are to pretend it doesn’t exist on the the island.

With my family its split down the middle there are some members who believe in LGBTA rights. And others who transphobic and homophobic to there core. So its a mixed bag.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why is being a feminist important to you?

I am a feminist. The role of feminist is important to me because there are so many things that women have to suffer, both internationally and specifically in my country that need to be addressed.

How does your identity regarding feminism impact your teaching?

My identity as a feminist definitely affects the way I teach. Right now I teach Infant I . So my students are just beginning primary school. Basically I try to get rid of negative behaviours such gendering the simplest games and activities. And I make sure that my girls and boys know that they can do anything and that being a fireman isn’t a “boy job” or a nurse a “girl job”. All the avenues of the world are open to all of them.

Are you fluent in creole/patois/patwa? If not, are you interested in learning?

My first language was Trinidadian Standard English because my grandmother was a teacher and she insisted my brother and I speak that way. But I do speak the most basic Trinidad creole. I know because of my upbringing that I am missing a lot of vocabulary though. I’ve been trying to improve it though . I even bought a “Cote Ci Cote La” Trinidad Dictionary recently.

Is being a feminist acceptable in your community?

To a point. Most people in Trinidad will laud you if you talk about the obvious and “easy” things. Like girls going to school or getting equal pay. But when you bring up things that take more effort and introspection in changing you get a different response.

These range from things like the catcalling that require people to think about why unsolicited interaction or commentary is hurtful to women. All the way to child marriages where people are forced to confront the fact that all traditional and/or religious beliefs are morally sound. People need to be more critical.

What are the biggest priorities feminists in your country should have if they’re looking to change things?

Safety. So many women and girls are falling prey to violence. Whether it be physical emotional or sexual. Most of these women are trapped by poverty, lack of education, social convention or religion.

We need to look after wellbeing of women and girls. Though there are several organizations hoping to better the lives of women in general our laws and judicial system need to be updated. And our police force needs to be able to offer more protection to women in these situations.

Until this happens many of the women in my country will really never be safe.

What do you think should change in the education system in your country?

The main thing I would change its rigidity. Trinidad and Tobago’s curriculum has very little space for flexibility . It doesn’t give much choice to students when it comes to subjects they can choose and the ways they are allowed to learn.

Besides that especially recently our system of education has gone through many changes. Many of them temporary, in the hopes of updating it the syllabus to be more effective in modern time. Many of these changes were short lived. Most of these changes being made by high up administrators and foreign sourced specialists. Hopefully we will be able to make effective improvement on what and how we get our children to learn.

If you had to raise a child in the Caribbean, what would you keep from your own upbringing and what would you change?

Its a lot. I wouldn’t keep:

The constant and grating high expectations and criticisms.

The idea that any and all mistakes you make will send you into a spiralling pit of failure.

My family’s idea that any pain , sorrow, frustration or negative feelings should be dealt with quietly and on your own.

A long list of phobias and isms. Generally, a toxic perfectionist outlook.

What I would keep:

The strong belief that helping others is always worthwhile.

That honesty at home, school and at the workplace is necessary.

That you should find something anything that you want to strive for and then do it.

 

Saying The Caribbean Has No Culture Exposes Your Anti-Blackness

6272207699_267b6efacf_oRecently, there have been many discussions surrounding art and culture in the Caribbean circulating on social media as well as in my personal life. I’ve heard a number of opinions about Caribbean culture that are believed to be based on facts. Those opinions are centered around two core ideas that the opinionated person will never put as bluntly as I will:

  1. Culture in the Caribbean is “dying”. (It’s implied that we cannot resuscitate it.)
  2. The Caribbean has no culture (but it did in the old days).

Interestingly enough, the old days when we “had a culture”, according to those people, were the years spent underneath colonial rule. Ah, the good old days where only wealthy landowners could vote! I guess without the presence and control of the British/French, a huge swathe of our population feels our existence cannot be meaningful. We cannot have a culture. Nothing we do can be worthy. We must feel ashamed. At least that’s how they behave…

I’m sure you’ve encountered one or two people like this yourself…

The idea that without European or American approval our culture is invalid is an ultimately racist idea. We cannot continue to seek validation from people who have consistently denied us our humanity since we were brought to the Caribbean as chattel. Or indentured servants. Our ideas about the value of our culture need to be centered within our nations, within our majority black populations. Our mere existence is enough of a testament to our ability to overcome oppression and genocide. Our rich culture is the icing on the cake.

Another idea that we would be wise to challenge is the idea that the parts of our culture that are not consumable are also not valuable to our existence. For example, I have heard a number of people suggest that carnival is “all” we have to offer that could possibly be worthwhile. According to them, our music or art is nothing worth speaking of because it hasn’t “gone global”. The West Indians who assume that carnival is “the only thing” we have to offer are looking at culture as something that is a good to be consumed. The underlying idea supporting their statements is that if black people are not producing something that “the world” (but really, only the white part of the world) is not interesting in buying, we are unworthy. It’s a belief as old as colonization itself and it denies our people the right to define their own value and to define their self-esteem outside of the colonizer’s view.

Of course our culture is more than carnival. And that’s because culture is not only music and food. Culture is not static either; it’s dynamic and the changes we see in culture over time are not representative of cultural death. Our culture includes our customs surrounding humor and laughter. Our culture includes our bilingual capabilities and unique slang. Our culture includes our traditions surrounding birth and death. It encompasses herbal medicine and spiritual knowledge that exists outside of religion. Denying ourselves this definition of culture only sets us up to accept the way foreign countries define us as inherently true and they will never define us as equal or worthy of respect.

We need to start making changes to the colonial lens through which our peers view our culture now. We need to acknowledge that what we were taught about our supposed lack of a culture is only a lie that serves the powers that wish us to devalue ourselves and our home countries. If we feel there is nothing worthwhile, we will not be motivated to protect and conserve our natural resources or our people. We need to start telling other young people that describing the Caribbean as a place void of culture is an act of verbal violence against our people that does not serve us. We may critique the aspects of our culture that we wish to change. We may even dislike certain aspects of our culture entirely.

But despite that, it is unfair to condemn all the people who have fought for us to be independent and free to our opinion that we are too vapid to be worth fighting for. Caribbean people from every island are filled with a cultural richness that personally I have been able to find few other places. We need to find ways to acknowledge this richness in our daily lives. Our survival and our self-esteem as a region relies on how we value ourselves and we need to change our perceptions now.