Category: black feminism

Black feminism is feminist theory centered around the black experience. An intersectional theory that acknowledges women experience oppression based on the intersections of their identities which cannot be separated from one another.

Why We Need A Women’s Only Gym In Saint Lucia

Recently, I’ve been going to Mango Moon (Vigie) on and off, but I’ve also been a member of Fitness Freaks (for a time). The more time I spend in these male-dominated spaces, the more I’ve developed a case for a women’s only gym that doesn’t just have treadmills and ellipticals.

This hasn’t just been my experience; the experience of discomfort in male-dominated spaces in Saint Lucia has been echoed by other Saint Lucian women.

The issue with gyms being a non-explicit male dominated space is there may be the false assumption that men and women are both equally welcome in workout spaces when this just isn’t the case.

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Let Them Have Their Mas!

Whenever carnival season is around the corner, people pretending to be concerned citizens often levy heavy criticisms at revelers. People who choose to abstain from carnival for a variety of reasons feel comfortable launching their criticisms at revelers or would be revelers. Last year, I played mas for the first time. I was hanging out with my boyfriend and a friend of his before the carnival date. When this person found out that we were playing mas, they felt comfortable informing us that they thought it was a “waste of money” (an opinion that was given, but not sought).

Since then, I’ve been wondering for a while: Why do people feel so comfortable critiquing carnival in a way they don’t critique other aspects of our culture?

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Both Sides Of The “Should West Indians Wear Dashikis” Controversy

Dashikis made an appearance as a fashion item in St. Lucia. I don’t know much about the cultural origins of dashikis, except what I’ve read from articles about African cultural appropriation and what I’ve heard from Africans (from various different countries). Wikipedia provides a simple breakdown for those of you who are curious to know more. Dashikis were at the center of a minor social media controversy in October 2016 on Jounen Kweyol in St. Lucia. Many people argued over whether or not dashikis were appropriate attire for Jounen Kweyol festivities. The debates were… interesting (and at times uncouth) and brought to light different perspectives and anxieties about black heritage that exist in the Caribbean.

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West Indian Religious Conservatism & Pro-Fascist Leanings

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Christianity and conservatism are diametrically opposed to each other. Yet, by asserting the word “God”, conservatives and their ilk twist the language of the Bible to suit their need to brainwash the population into supporting their definitively un-Christian agenda of discrimination, domination over people and natural resources and large-scale abuse of human rights. Fundamentalism has become acceptable; with the acceptance of fundamentalism comes a normalized absence of empathy and ethics in favor of dogma. The goals of the American right have infiltrated the minds of people throughout the Caribbean. This threatens our way of life as well as our proclaimed values of integrity, compassion and love.

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Black Feminism: Menstruation Taboo

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I recently felt challenged to condense my thoughts regarding my experiences with menstruation and taboo in Caribbean society. I don’t think it’s completely necessary to frequent fliers here but I will add the disclaimer that the experience that frames my experiences and observations about menstruation in the Caribbean are the experiences of a cisgender Caribbean woman and I’m applying my knowledge of black feminism and black feminist thought to how I view the subject.

Like most things considered to be “feminine” in the Caribbean, menstruation faces heavy stigma within our culture. There is both shame and pride surrounding the first menstrual cycle. Shame is one of the first lessons that we are taught about menstruation and it’s a lesson sowed so deep that the shame becomes instinct — and therefore, goes unquestioned. This root of this shame is a socially backed feeling that during menstruation, your body is disgusting and repulsive.

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Black Feminism: Anti-Blackness And The “Diaspora Wars”

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*Note: the featured image is NOT social commentary, just the best creative commons representation of an argument that I could find…*

On Twitter on a Saturday morning for five minutes and I’m already rolling my eyes. Here we go again. For those of you who don’t use social media, the “diaspora wars” refers to a regular cycle of social media arguments where West Indians, Africans and Black Americans “war” to claim which one is the best. It’s an argument that I’m not interested in at all so this post is not going to contain any argument “for” or “against” any group of black people. (Reminder, we are all black.) What I’m interested in exploring is the anti-blackness that inevitably crops up amongst ALL groups of social media users.

No matter what region in the world they’re arguing in favor of, black participants in the diaspora wars almost always rely on racial stereotypes created by white people about black people globally. i am 100% uninterested in “calling people out” but I am interested in accusing every single person who has ever engaged in this argument to closely examine what insults they turn to when they feel defensive about their current homeland.

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Black Feminism: Sexism In Carnival Advertising

Black feminism in the Caribbean involves encountering sexism in our daily lives. As someone whose work involves a fair amount of internet marketing, I can’t help but apply feminist thought to my life in the Caribbean as well as advertising that I may encounter. As Carnival approaches in Saint Lucia (as well as my beloved vacation), I can’t help but notice the sexism that is rampant in much of the advertising surrounding carnival. I don’t necessarily mean the ads for the costumes themselves; the costumes are what they are, and that’s not what I’m going to present to you today. Rather, I’m talking about all the events that lead up to Carnival, the imagery used and what it means about our culture.

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The pictures I will examine were all screenshots taken from the Instagram accounts of popular carnival bands in Saint Lucia. The first ones I want to analyze involve the advertising for Red Rebellion’s Red Bikini Affair party. In most of these images, there are thin, women posing in sexy and “seductive” poses to advertise the party. In one of these images, the woman is posing with everything but her butt cropped next to a bottle of Campari. This imagery aligns the faceless (i.e. mindless) woman in the photograph with an object of consumption, indicating that she too is part of the consumables offered at the party.

“Sex sells!” people cry in retaliation. Is “sex” really what is being sold here or misogyny? “It’s a bikini party! What do you expect?” It may be shocking but it’s actually possible to advertise a bikini party without overly suggestive poses and photographs. No one is saying don’t wear a bikini, I’m asking you to question why a “bikini” party is suggested in the first place? Are women there to have fun or are they the bait, objects to lure men into attendance. When analyzed by a marketing expert, he said, “I can’t tell what’s going on here… I don’t see what time the party is or anything.” This suggests that suggestive posing and over sexualization of women does not make for good marketing on its own. 

Another ad that we analyzed was this ad by Just4Fun Carnival Band:

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One of the main features of this ad is a thin, white woman with long blonde hair. The first thing I noticed is that this woman doesn’t represent your average Saint Lucian woman at all. Again, it is intended to portray women as the “bait”, the product you should anticipate. Here, this woman represents the “ideal” bait — a white, visibly non-Saint Lucian, thin woman. This falls prey into anti-blackness because it does not represent the truth of our island but instead seeks to represent a white ideal.

Additionally, this photograph adds nothing to the advertisement. The name of the party is obstructed by a logo so it’s practically unreadable and the image itself tells you nothing about the party except maybe its location. (It does speak to the photoshop skills of whoever created this ad perhaps…)

This portrayal of women is objectifying and unecessary. This type of subtle reinforcement is a part of the reason misogynist thinking is so engrained in our culture. We don’t think twice when we see ads like this one, but all misogynist thinking is connected and we can’t ignore one instance of misogyny because “it’s just an ad”. Advertisements represent beliefs, they change people’s attitudes and invoke emotional responses in the viewers. They aren’t just ads, but representations of our values, our beliefs and more.

If we look at more advertisements surrounding Carnival related events we see similar motifs: women who look nothing like the average Caribbean woman objectified and naked before the camera, posing as objects for male party-goers to consume and female party-goers to negatively compare themselves to:

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Objectifying women in your ads does not make them more effective. An effective ad presents the viewer with the information they need the most about the event they’re attending. It should not just be there for shock value…

Look at this Just4Fun ad below and then I’ll contrast it to other ads that do not rely on sexism to sell their events:

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Notice that this ad is incredibly busy. There are half naked women on the front that add nothing to the ad, as well as all the relevant information pushed off to the sides.

The “busy” nature of this ad’s design takes away from the point. Relying on sexism and female nudity to sell not only reinforces a culture where degrading and objectifying women is normalized, but it can potentially take away ad space to actually get to the point of your ad. 

 

Look at these other carnival related ads that don’t rely on sexism:

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The first ad shown here by Legends Carnival Band has the effect of showing off the carnival costumes without throwing women under the bus. The women in the photograph are blurred out and the actual point of the ad is front and center. The point of an advertisement is to deliver information and this ad does a great job. The second advertisement is for a private event related to Insaniti Carnival Band. Despite the fact that the ad isn’t for a public event, it has all the features of an effective ad that doesn’t rely on sexism. You have the image of a pool and the image of a bottle of wine, but the rest of the ad is informative. You have all the information you need as well as the features of the party that will make it appealing — drinks for a good time, DJs and live performances. Women are not scapegoated as “party features” and objects you can use for a good time.

This week I challenge you to look at the advertising you come across for Carnival, or anything else. What are the subtle ideas this ad is reinforcing? Is this ad telling you that you are not the ideal woman, but rather, a white blonde woman or a thin light skinned girl with loose curls? Is that message true? (Hint: That message is false. Don’t buy it, fam!) Is the ad telling you that you have to be naked to be worth something, and then your worth will only be as an object to be desired? Is that message true?

This post is NOT intended to “shame women for their choices”. This is not about women’s individual choices on what to wear or how to behave. (This type of comment is necessary in a Puritanical place where messages are easily misconstrued to fit a different misogynist agenda…) This is not about women, but rather how women are used and how this negative objectification of women is pervasive in our culture and harms women by stripping them of their humanity.

Let’s take some time to be active consumers and consider what we are consuming and what we are endorsing in our culture. The impact of standing up to sexism can be nothing but positive.

Black Feminism: Lies About Women’s Liberation In The Caribbean

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Whenever there’s something vaguely progressive (and even then, it’s barely so) about Caribbean culture or interactions, people tend to latch onto it and then use that to mask or minimize the current evils that occur. For example, when (black and white) American media criticized “Work”, there was a popular quote that was passed around social media from Director X’s comments to FADER.

The quote began:

 In West Indian culture, a dance is a dance. You can have that dance. There could be a girl jumping on top of you and you’re wining up on one another. In the wrong state, you’d get arrested and charged for lewd conduct or something. But you can end that dance and her boyfriend can be beside her, and you’re like, “Hi,” or you just walk away. Dancing and sex are tied together in America—if you’re dancing with somebody that means you’re sleeping with somebody. But that doesn’t mean that in our culture it’s the same. In West Indian culture, you’re dancing with someone because you’re dancing with someone. You’re having fun. There’s a beauty to the dance and there’s a beauty to the battle. That’s something they’re not understanding. Within a dance, there is a competition going on. There is a battle of the sexes.

Of course every single West Indian online was in a state of celebration about this quote…

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Black Feminism Reader: Is Soca Inherently Feminist?

Orange_Carnival_Masqueraders_in_TrinidadA part of my challenge with my black feminism is figuring out what to write about. What do I think is valuable to pay attention to and what is more valuable for me to ignore. I tend to ignore pop culture as a whole, but I think I’ve found something relevant I can speak about that ties nicely into the overall goal of this blog.

Due to discussions surrounding an article on soca from FADER magazine (which I refuse to link to here) as well as the release of Rihanna’s “Work” video, a number of thoughts and ideas regarding West Indian music and culture have entered my mind. I consider the two most popular contemporary genres of Caribbean music to be Dancehall and Soca. Calypso is of course, still around, but it has become more “Classical Caribbean” if you ask me.

In valid attempts to defend soca/dancehall from the attacks of outsiders, I’m worried that there is an un-nuanced view of West Indian culture being pushed that portrays both soca and dancehall as inherently feminist spaces. Now, I actually don’t think this is the intent of the West Indian men and women defending the genre; I have also spoken about important feminist spaces being carved out in both genres at length. You can read my older post on that here. However, in light of this, I do see a lot of Caribbean men on social media using West Indian women’s affirmations as a scapegoat to ignore their own sexism and the rampant misogyny in West Indian music and by extension, West Indian culture at large.

While dancehall and soca CAN BE affirming black feminist spaces, I do want to challenge the idea that they are inherently so. West Indian culture is tainted by misogyny, like most cultures in the West are. This means that every aspect of our culture is in fact colored by the existence of patriarchy. Just like rap songs in the U.S. or indie music reflect a culture of male entitlement to women’s bodies and emotional labor/energy, soca does the same. Additionally, it is dissonant to pretend that there isn’t a vein of homophobia in soca as well. West Indians are very much preoccupied with policing gender identity and expression as well as ensuring that women do not do anything to challenge the status quo.

Yes, there are quite a few songs by women that I would consider feminist anthems. But what about the songs by men? Do these reflect a culture that is free from the fetters of Western patriarchy. I don’t think so…

 

Here’s a series of lyrics by Peter Ram’s classic soca Woman By My Side

God made Adam first,
Him was the first man
Then He found Adam was lonely
And his companion
Was Eve a woman
Why should I go against myself
Thinking this is wrong
And it was written in Leviticus
Man shouldn’t lie with man
It’s abomination.

These are reflections of some of the dangerous homophobic ideologies that are prevalent in the Caribbean. These lyrics are also not random instances of homophobia. This is a beloved song that no one balks at, yet it beholds incredible violence for no particular reason.

 

The other most recent examples that I have in mind are songs that have been more popular recently in Saint Lucia and perhaps they don’t reflect the views elsewhere (but I doubt it.)

 

Listen to these two songs:

 

“Property”

and

“My Property”

 

I don’t really need to tell you what the “property” is…

(It’s women.)

 

These songs don’t just imply that women are property, they outright say it. The more recent soca song in particular is eerie to hear sung casually by groups of people.

 

Anytime I inside of a jam
And I wining on a woman
That’s my property…

 

Considering the vast amount of entitlement that the majority of West Indian men already feel to West Indian women’s bodies as indicated by the outrageously high rape statistics, it’s undeniable that this sentiment is harmful to women and reflects a big problem in our culture.

 

Even some of the old soca songs that many of us love have misogynistic undertones to them. One of my favorite Mighty Sparrow songs Jean & Dinah. The lyrics really work best when you read all of them so I’ll just direct you to this link. Click here to read the lyrics. This is a song about how in the absence of Americans in Trinidad, now men can get away with treating women badly again and the women will have to “take what [they] get”. Inspirational if you think about it.

 

I don’t necessarily mean to discount the genre as a whole. Because despite the few songs I’ve dragged up off the top of my head for critique, I can drag up just as many that are loving and affirming. However, most of these songs are by women. Some people may point to songs like Rolly Polly as a counter-example but I disagree. I do not think a song can be loving and affirming of women lets say if the primary thing women have to offer is their ability to wine or having an appealing body. Aren’t West Indian women so so much more than that?

 

Overall, there is a lot of potential within soca for women to carve out feminist spaces for themselves and to carve out spaces that are loving and affirming. But this genre also allows for celebrations of the darker sides to West Indian culture. In the name of entertainment, we allow these celebrations to slide by unchecked and we allow them to slide by without critique. In the future, I really think that we can all examine as a culture what our music celebrates. When we do well, I think we should celebrate that. But when we do badly — when we disrespect women or when we behave violently towards the LGBT community — we need to speak out. If we keep up the difficult work of being vigilant about what we listen to and celebrate, we’ll be able to engage in a more honest appraisal of our culture and our values.

Black Feminism Reader: Confusing Anti-Blackness, Sexism and Violence With “Discipline”

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This black feminism reader will explore the relationship between “discipline” and abuse within the Caribbean.

The education system is my entire life. I grew up in a household with two teachers; my mother went to Teacher’s College in Saint Lucia and my father had four different degrees (including a law degree) before he joined her to teach at what claims to be the best secondary school in Saint Lucia. My parents care about education more than anything; I realize just how real this statement is whenever I go somewhere with my father and every. single. girl. stops and says hello to their dear former math teacher.

I am one of the lucky few (and really, there can’t be more than 12 of us) who left secondary school in Saint Lucia to attend boarding school in the United States (a school that currently ranks #7 Private School in the country). My luck doubles and I attended Middlebury College (#4 Liberal Arts College in the U.S.)

Simply showing up and sitting in classrooms regurgitating information is not all it takes for education to be important to you. When I say education is important to me, I mean the only type of education that really exists — self education. At any given moment, there are no teachers, the decision to learn rests squarely within yourself. Without anyone breathing down my neck, I have chosen learning again and again and again. (more…)