A major part of black feminism is ensuring that the violence many of us grew up with can be undone within our communities. When we speak about intersectional feminism, many of us fail to acknowledge a major intersecting identity for black West Indian people — being victims of emotional or physical violence. Violence is normal and accepted in our culture. I’m not saying that this is something we should be proud of, but it’s true. From the time we are children we experience violence in the school system when we are beaten for wrong answers or misbehavior. We experience violence at the hands of our parents when we are hit for stepping out of line or delivering back chat. Violence starts young and occurs throughout our life. What solutions can we come up with to eliminate violence from our culture?
The sickness seems to be everywhere: fights on the streets of the capital, murders and attacks at fêtes. An even darker violence happens behind closed doors. Domestic violence, incest and sexual violence are all prevalent throughout the Caribbean. These untold stories have a giant impact, whether or not we admit it. (Speaking out about violence, especially regarding the specifics is taboo.)
What steps can be taken to end violence then? Talking about ending violence seems to be a major priority, but what about action? Going to church more seems to be the working solution that many have come up with, but I don’t buy that it’s effective. Many domestic abusers attend church and many violent people come from devout families. The solution of simply attending more church services is not realistic, because with or without the church, violence remains a problem.
We need to identify and root out the source of violence in our culture. Violence still exists because it is normal. Acting violently is not in opposition to the culture. We accept it, so it still exists. In eliminating violence, I believe we need to start early in life.
We need to invent ways to discipline children that do not rely on violence. What message does it send when angry parents respond to their anger through violence? We don’t need to demonize the caretakers who came before us, we just need to choose a new way to exist. “It happened to me,” doesn’t justify inaction.
We need to work on eliminating the social inequalities between men and women. Patriarchal cultures that rely on strict gender roles are at risk of higher rates of domestic violence according to the CDC. By eliminating inequality, we have hope of deconstructing stringent patriarchal culture and lowering the rates of domestic violence.
We need to stop blaming the victims of sexual violence, rape and incest. Girls who are under the age of legal consent or who are significantly less emotionally mature than their male counterparts are not to blame for inappropriate sexual behavior. We need better sexual education and conversations on consent across all genders so that sexual violence, rape and incest are better understood. This will allow us to stop blaming the wrong people as the source of these violent acts. Focusing on perpetrators is a more effective way to stem this kind of violence.
We need educators, teachers, health professionals and politicians who are truly committed to a violence free Caribbean. We need people in positions of political, social or financial power who are committed to learning about these injustices and cutting them at the root. While it may be difficult to change the opinions of those already in power, young people are especially capable of becoming the change that we wish to see.
Before we remove violence from our culture we need to acknowledge that not only is it there, but all of us accept it by not actively working to fight it in one way or another. The occasional anti-domestic violence program is not enough. We need a cultural overhaul that will begin on an individual level.
You can take action now to eliminate this normalized violence.
Individuals who are able should seek to educate themselves more. We can change our actions and reactions to reflect lives free from violence. (This does not apply to responding to oppression with violence, which sometimes can be our only choice.) If we change ourselves, and our immediate community, we will have taken valuable steps towards a collective consciousness that does not accept violence from those who have institutional power and eventually does not accept the perpetration of violence at all.