Category posts: 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.

Black Feminism Reader: Is Soca Inherently Feminist?

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A 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.

everyone hates black people: hair edition.

Posted on - in black feminism

Content Warning: strong language, racism, anti blackness, realness

it’s repulsive how much saint lucians (and probably other west indians) hate blackness. i could spend all night counting the ways but for now i’m just gonna focus on their hatred of black hair.

it starts at home of course… good hair v. bad hair. no need to rehash what’s been done a ton of other places by black bloggers who can break it down twenty thousand times better than i can. colorism… white supremacy… we know what’s preferred.

but in schools down here… HOOOLLLLYY shit… it’s bad.

basically black boys are told that their hair bad, ugly and messy! if you have any type of hair showing as a black boy you are immediately painted as a thug.

“all rastas are thugs”

“cornrows are for thugs”

both of these are VERY common ideas here about black men’s hair.

meanwhile a white boy can have hair that’s a few inches long.

what else besides white supremacy makes three inches of white hair okay but three inches of black hair messy?!

black hair is MESSIER?

black hair is DIRTIER?

that’s what they’re saying essentially (and of course no one sees it)

it’s so colonial and backwards and when these men internalize this self hatred, they bring it with them into adulthood. and of course, they don’t just hate themselves, they hate black women too. Sometimes, being so emotionally dead inside, they project ALL their self hatred onto black women who are forced to suffer….this can happen through mockery…disgust w/ afro textured hair on women… and worse.

in this case black women are also both victims and perpetrators of these white supremacist hair standards unfortunately…

in school, black girls weren’t allowed to wear their hair “dropped” but they would let it slide for white girls. pretty much “neatness” has always been contingent upon how white hair looks.

in secondary school… neat hair = complicated ass styles OR relaxer.

relaxer DESTROYS natural hair. It destroys blackness at the root. yet it’s clearly preferred amongst students, teachers and everyone.

even if you have looser curls (like i do)… your hair is still considered a “bird’s nest” or “uncombed” if you do ANYTHING with it beyond brushing down every last strand.

women enforce this HARD with other women (hence perpetrators as well as victims). you experience a lot of verbal abuse from the women in your community if you dare to wear your hair as anything but “neat” (read: white) 

i’m still getting used to my hair being aggressively political… i had forgotten in which ways it was hard to be unapologetically black here. (but no going back of course. i’d rather have healthy AFRO textured hair than be damaged and fit in)

then in adulthood… it’s a nightmare too.

when i look up around a room at any given point most “professional” women have the EXACT. SAME. STYLE. Relaxed hair. so broken that the ends are mere wisps. rolled into a high bun (or the closest thing the wisps can get to a bun) with not a strand out of place.

who taught you that your hair was inherently messy?! White women wear their hair down all the time and get to be considered professional but when black women do it with the way their hair grows out of their head, it’s a different story…

of course luckily i’ve seen a few natural women down here and a few with dreads. but we all know that this isn’t the “preference” and especially amongst middle and upper classes it’s very much looked down upon either explicitly or subtly.

amongst blogging circles regarding natural hair on the web there’s very much the idea: you can have weave and not be self hating!! you can have relaxer and not be self hating!!

but i have yet to see the collective consciousness that proves this is true in the caribbean. in fact, it’s just a plain fallacy and anyone who claims that about the caribbean is expressing willful ignorance. hair is still very much political territory.

it makes a statement against white supremacy to wear natural hair here, ESPECIALLY if you wear it “dropped”. relaxing your hair and wearing weave down here IS an expression of self hatred. and until i see that there’s been change, i’ll stand by this statement.

Black Feminism Reader: Education About Contraception & STD Prevention

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One of the things I’ve learned through exploring black feminism is that taking care of my health and my body is a priority. It can’t just be ignored into wellness. I’m really alarmed by the massive amounts of misinformation out there about birth control or any form of contraception in the Caribbean.

When I hear certain things a part of me wants to scream, “Who did you learn this from? A manicou?!”

For example…
•    Birth control makes you fat
•    A vasectomy inhibits a man’s ability to orgasm properly (do you even know what’s down there?)
•    other ridiculous things, too numerous to mention…

A part of me understands that it’s just ignorance and the education system completely fails its students when it comes to sexual education.

We rely on “abstinence only” or “no sex until marriage” education when…

•    Saint Lucia’s marriage rate is THE THIRD LOWEST in the world [x]
•    One of the highest teenage pregnancy rates (43.9 out of a 1000 live births according to U.N. reports.

So obviously, not only is abstinence only education not working but we have deluded ourselves into actually thinking people wait until marriage to have sex. I mean… Even if you do believe that people should wait for sex until marriage the fact of the matter is they don’t. We need to be teaching based on reality not just wishful thinking.

Not to mention, it’s laughable when you think about it since 99% of the people who teach abstinence had plenty of sex and plenty of children out of wedlock. Maybe it’s not that laughable, but I’m laughing at it anyways…

So here are the ways that you can prevent yourself from getting an STD or having babies before your time. I’ll give you a few bullets for each one, but really you should check these out yourself and KNOW THE FACTS before you spread uninformed nonsense.

(i.e. unless your priest/pastor/mother/auntie/obeah man is a physician, i don’t want to hear it)

  • IUD – Intrauterine Device [x]
    • t-shaped tube  inserted by a physician into your uterus. there are two kinds copper (lasts ten years) and plastic (lasts five years)
    • You can get them removed at any time
    • Prevent pregnancy but not STDs
  • Diaphragm (used with spermicide) [x]
    • shallow dome shaped cup that covers the cervix
    •  need to get fitted by a physician and you can use it for up to two years
    •  prevents pregnancy but not STDs
  • Hormonal Birth Control (the pill) [x]
    • Take every day, ensures that you don’t ovulate
    • prevents pregnancy and not STDS
    • myth busting: the pill does not inherently make you fat… some people experience weight gain with some kinds of birth control but not all people with not all pills. Different medications have different effects.
  • Depo-Provera (The Shot) [x]
    • injection of hormones (natural hormones that are already found in your body in case you’re panicking) that prevents pregnancy for around three months
    •  given to you by a physician
    • prevents pregnancy but doesn’t protect from STDs
  •  Nuvaring[x]
    • insertable hormonal ring that prevents pregnancy but not STDs
    • you put it in for 3-4 weeks and then remove it to have a menstrual period. Painless as putting in a tampon
  •  Female Condoms [x]
    • polyurethane condom that you insert into the vagina to prevent pregnancy/some STDs
    • inserted prior to sex
    • sort of difficult to come by, but you can use them up to six hours before intercourse (#BePrepared)
  •  Dental Dams [x]
    • use during oral sex and prevents STDs from spreading
    • doesn’t protect from pregnancy (obviously…
  • Condoms [x]
    • I think you know the deal with these. With proper use they are 99% effective so don’t listen to people who say they “don’t always work” as an excuse!
    • Easiest to come by and cheapest. If you have a latex allergy they are available in other kinds of materials.
    • Prevents some STDs and pregnancy. Don’t prevent herpes/pubic lice
    • there are many different sizes of condoms so “it doesn’t fit” doesn’t mean no condom, it means try a different sized one.
  •  Vasectomy [x]
    • somewhat reversible surgical procedure that prevents sperm from leaving the penis
    • less popular form of male birth control, but does not prevent STDs
    • myth busting: yes you can have a vasectomy and still release semen because semen and sperm are not produced in the same place.
  • Historectomy [x]
    • removal of the uterus (or partial removal of the female reproductive organs
    • prevents pregnancy but does not prevent STDs

If you want to know more, follow the links that I so helpfully included for you. While most of these are for preventing pregnancy… STD prevention can be attained by getting regularly tested and having your partner get regularly tested as well. (#HospitalDate)

THIS is the information that should be COMMON knowledge in schools. Not fear mongering. Not lies and misinformation. Abstinence only education prevents people from making INFORMED choices and is typically inherently misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic.

I guess the other thing to tackle in terms of sexual education would be the obsession with the biologically false concept of virginity… but I’ll leave that for another day.

Black Feminism: Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

Posted on - in black feminism
intersectional feminism health
Fat Chance by Robert Lustig

I’m a twenty one year old woman in the land of plenty eating like a diabetic and I FEEL AMAZING! Recently, I read the book Fat Chance by Robert Lustig and through this book, I was convinced by a friend to give up sugar and most complex carbs (like bread and potatoes). I was seeing the results happen to this friend before my eyes. With each Skype conversation he seemed to look healthier and seemed to feel better so I figured I would give it a try.  I had the evidence, theoretical and practical. Nothing was stopping me. Eating “well” leads to having a healthy body, and since the mind and the body are one and the same, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. All of this is crucial to self care, one of my biggest personal priorities.

Sugar is a major addiction that most of us have in the United States; this addiction is growing world wide. Cutting that addiction out has been difficult and I haven’t been perfect. One cheat day and six days of “clean” eating per week has opened my eyes to the possibilities for my physical health and overall well being. It’s been three weeks since I started this new lifestyle and my diligence has increased over time. I don’t have the cravings and I don’t sneak bites of dessert anymore. I’m well on my way to cutting sugar completely out of my life, as well as these extra pounds.

Cutting sugar out of my life has been difficult mostly because of my environment. Since I’m on my school’s meal plan, I’m forced to eat what’s in the dining hall and often, the options are not pretty. For example, today as a part of my breakfast I shaved off apple peels to dip in natural peanut butter just to avoid the available food that was jam packed with high fructose corn syrup and sugar.

I’ve always found eating healthy so much easier in the Caribbean. We complain that our grocery stores don’t have options. We fantasize and dream of a world where we can access all the McDonalds, Cocoa Puffs and Cadbury chocolate that we could ever possibly need. Maybe our lack of access to these unhealthy options isn’t such a bad thing. Healthy food is relatively affordable in the Caribbean compared to fast food (even with VAT). The cost of burger doesn’t beat out the cost of lentils and chicken. You can’t say the same for many regions of the United States. 

 

This is the choice I want to make… yum.

As I’ve traveled from home to the United States a number of times over the past nine years, I’ve noticed changes in the health of the population. Metabolic syndrome, hypertension and diabetes seem to be on the rise and I can’t help but wonder if a part of it is an increase in unhealthy eating. If healthy eating is easier in the Caribbean than it is in the United States, why do we still make the unhealthy choices? Perhaps, we associate these unhealthy foods with the sought after American lifestyle. We associate the American lifestyle with wealth. So in our quest for wealth or perceived wealth, we forget something much more important: our health.

In the coming years, what we need more than anything isn’t to give West Indians more access to fast food chains or cheap sugary foods. These glorified American foods are not necessary! We need to work on ensuring that the population is encouraged and enabled to make the right choices when it comes to health and eating. This doesn’t mean increasing education about health. That relies on the faulty assumption that people want  to and choose to be unhealthy. They don’t always. We need to make sure there’s access to the healthy foods so that making the right choices is easy and automatic. Rather than fighting heart disease or diabetes as it comes, it would be wise to focus on prevention to make sure our population is spared these harmful effects of unhealthy eating.

Black Feminism: Acknowledging Colorism

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As my exploration of black feminism continues, I am interested in discussing how colorism impacts our ability to analyze and critique different situations. A popular subject I’ve seen on various forms of social media is the subject of ending “girl hate”. While the subject is discussed within American feminist contexts in different ways, I think as young Caribbean women we have a responsibility to ourselves to find a way to end girl hate within our own social sphere. This means not speaking about girl hate in a way that circumvents the issues of race and class that are so entrenched in women hating other women. We have such specific and subtle ways we interact down here and there are racial hierarchies at work that influence “girl hate” and how much power it holds on an individual level.

In St. Lucia we have a racial hierarchy that determines the value of women within our society. This racial hierarchy is a leftover of colonialism, and yes, the legacy of colonialism is still alive today. Within our society, and ultimately within our culture, women with greater proximity to whiteness are valued more than those who are darker, with greater proximity to blackness. Keep in mind, this isn’t unique to Saint Lucia or to the Caribbean. Outside of the black-white dichotomy, women of Indian or East Asian descent fall along a median spectrum, where women who are darker are devalued similarly to darker skinned black women.

This means that some forms of “girl hate” while possibly still harmful on a personal level do not carry the weight of other forms of girl hate which are backed by generations of damaging racist hierarchies. Insults or hatred towards women who are lighter skinned or have features that are closer to the European standard might be hurtful but they do not have the power that insults towards darker skinned women have. I think in considering our own actions, this is crucial to acknowledge and understand. For example, if you as a lighter skinned woman are finding that a large number of your negative attitudes towards women are towards darker skinned women, perhaps you need to deconstruct the implicit colorism or racism embedded in your “girl hate”.

In our quest to end our hatred of each other, we need to take race into account, even in a multiethnic heterogenous society like the West Indies. Keeping this in mind, along with my suggestions for how we can work to end damaging social practices, I think we all can make significant headway in stopping this hatred for each other, and this toxic negativity within the public sphere. When women are pitted versus women, no one ever wins.

Black Feminism In The Caribbean: Examining The Mulatto Effect

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One of my favorite mythologies about the Caribbean that seems to be perpetuated amongst emigrant communities and foreigners alike is that we have transcended race due to our highly multiracial and integrated society. Due to my interst in black feminism, this lie has been exposed as entirely false. Even without the academic language of feminism, I knew this intuitively. While there is indeed a high degree of multiracialism, the notion of transcending race is mythical because the Caribbean still suffers from crippling anti-blackness. Nearly every person, regardless of race, is complicit in this anti-blackness on some level or another.

At this point, some of you may already think I’m crazy. How can there be anti-blackness in a place where the population is mostly black? How can I, a black person, uphold anti-blackness? In the Caribbean, despite the lack of a large class of wealthy whites, we still have racial stratification; everyone in our society is complicit in upholding it. Parents of all shades of black wish for their children to come out lighter skinned. Women are pressured to destroy their natural hair textures to conform to what is “proper” (as dictated by European standards). History is taught in school in such a way that we are ashamed of slavery but proud of the accomplishments of the British/French.

The experience of “whiteness” can be approximated by being biracial which I’ll use interchangeably with “half-white” for clarification of which biracial identity I’m referring to. I call this the mulatto effect, putting a name to the nuanced Caribbean experience of “white privilege” that creates an insulated world where lighter skinned black people do not experience the full extent of anti-blackness.

In the Caribbean, blackness is the dominating framework through which race should be discussed, but blackness in the Caribbean is heavily influenced by East Asian (mainly Chinese) and South Asian (mainly Indian) cultures and racial mixing with white people both local and foreign. Different islands have different racial compositions that add additional nuance to a discussion. While Trinidad and Guyana are known for their large populations of Indians for example, similar proportions of Indian populations do not exist in Saint Lucia.

The mulatto effect is how we can perceive the organization of the Caribbean’s racial hierarchy. The top is not necessarily white, due to an excessively small population of  white people with NO black relatives. White adjacent people who come from either historically white families or who have visible proximity to whiteness occupy the highest racial class. We may not have a significant white ruling class, but a biracial/multiracial class that receives distinctly better treatment than the majority of the “100% black” population.

Without a distinct and large white upper class we see anti-black dynamics play out in a way that misleads people to believe we have transcended race. We’ve merely transplanted a racial hierarchy in a way that suits our population. The closest to white occupy the top, whereas the furthest away from whiteness occupy the bottom of the hierarchy. Every aspect of this hierarchy was constructed during colonialism and has not disappeared, even today.

Racial hierarchies aren’t just theories. Reflecting on my time in primary school for example, there were a number of occasions where half-white students — myself included— were spared punishment because they came from “good” families. While many black students in the class came from similar or higher economic classes, they were not spared punishment. They lacked the visible “goodness”, that was in this case, applied to visible whiteness. In customer service, visibly half-white people, especially those who don’t look local, receive better treatment than dark skinned locals. There are a number of other ways in which half-whiteness/whiteness is privileged with regards to beauty standards, assumptions of intelligence and more. I could go on forever pointing out the ways in which half-whiteness is privileged.

So what is the point of all of this? Why draw your attention to a racial hierarchy that I myself benefit from due to my white father, and my specific biracial phenotype (light skinned, loose curls, thin, able-bodied)? As a feminist and an anti-racist, with a commitment to social justice and equality, I recognize that this hierarchy is oppressive to everyone. Racial hierarchies like this one uphold destructive colonial mindsets that were created with the goal of maintaining black subjugation. The first step we can take in decolonizing (in this regard) is by recognizing where we see “the mulatto effect”. Where do we see our privilege or our oppression?

Most non-white people in the West Indies can intuit that they are treated differently for being darker, for having “bad” hair etc. These feelings and notions are patently invalidated as bitterness or jealousy. There is no vocabulary to speak about the injustice of having half-white citizens prioritized and treated significantly better than non-white citizens. The vocabulary doesn’t matter as much as our ability to recognize the injustice. I invite you to consider moments when you felt like your blackness was a mark, when you were dehumanized or privileged because of your skin tone. Both reflections are important since without biracial recognition of our privilege, we cannot possibly hope to remove the colonial stain on our region. Through recognition and self-reflection, you will have taken the first individual steps towards radical politics and regional black liberation. Of course, as activists and as individuals, we still have a lot of work to do.

Black Feminism And How Women Interact

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I’m going to be 2015’s biggest cheese ball and start this post off with a quote from Chimamanda Adichie. This quotation explains one of the challenges you may experience when learning about black feminism and trying to live more positively.

“We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.”

You may recognize it from the popular Beyonce song we’ve all had on repeat since December 13th 2013. This quote has been in the forefront of my mind since I’ve come down here and as I’ve started to notice interactions and body language between women in public spaces. I can’t help but have this quote at the forefront of my mind as I listen and observe the women around me. Maybe it’s strange, but whenever I’m out, I feel highly in tune to the people around me. I notice body language, the way they say certain things, the way their eyes move and pretty much everything else. My intuition and my sensitivity to body language are heightened when I’m not alone.

The insights I’ve gained through observation have led me to believe that there is a crisis in women’s interactions here. There is nearly tangible tension amongst women who are not close friends. It feels hostile and unwelcoming. This tension creates a social environment where instead of helping, loving and supporting each other, women are constantly in competition. And for what? I haven’t been able to pinpoint that quite yet, but I think Ms Adichie might be onto something. When women are constantly challenging each other in the social realm instead of being supportive and loving, we cannot be liberated from a dominant male culture.

Challenge: Trying not to side eye negative people.

In public, women try to test you. They may size you up, looking you from head to toe with a judgmental face. Occasionally, some may flirt with your romantic partner in front of you. A lot of times, there is just a general sense in casual conversation that your weaknesses are being assessed and judged, that you are being categorized. The categories that exist here are unfriendly. There is a strong perception that you can only be two things: the “good girl” or the “bad girl”. (Think Madonna vs. Jezebel and the connotations of both of those things.) The thing is, we are all guilty of judging and trying to compete with other women, women who we may not even know. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In situations like this, where making external changes is nearly impossible without changing your own attitude, I prefer tactics of passive resistance, or resistance through changing my own behavior. When someone is sizing me up, a bright smile throws them off and surprises them. When someone is flirting with someone who I’m on a date with or sizing me up in that situation, I show how little I am bothered by it instead of making a face or any other response. Acting jealous and competitive shows an insecurity that I do not have (or perhaps a confidence that I DO have!). When people try to categorize me, I let them try, but I happen live in such a way that makes putting me in a box difficult. I’m smart and soft-spoken enough that I could easily be a “good girl” but I know my “wild” hair and “too short” dresses could easily catapult me into the category of a “bad girl”. It makes life difficult for the average judgmental person. Yet, not everyone lives like I do, and they don’t deserve to be subjected to judgment for their choices either.

Where I live in the United States, the cult of womanhood amongst black women is different. We do have a culture of supporting each other, regardless of how close we are. There is a positive environment amongst women of color that I would love to see replicated here. Living in a nearly homogenous white student population, we only have each other. This has forced us to stick together for survival purposes; so I don’t think this difference is a cultural difference between the U.S. and St. Lucia entirely. The difference still exists however, and it has opened my eyes as to ways that you can change your own behavior and dismantle this unspoken hatred between women.

1. Try to compliment at least one female friend a day. Tell her you like her hair-do, her nails, something. Make it genuine. Don’t just compliment for the sake of it. Training yourself to see things that you actually like about the women around you will get you started eliminating a lot of implicit negativity you may have towards other women. This is the easiest one, so if you find the others more difficult, try to do only this for at least a week before moving on to the others. The results will be worth it.

Challenge: Keep being a carefree black girl!

2. Catch your negative thoughts about other women. It’s hard to police your own thoughts, but the positive feelings you get from doing this far outweigh the inconvenience of having to self-monitor. When you see a woman and feel the need to judge her clothes, hair, body or man, take note of the negative thought you had. Don’t eliminate it! Form the thought in your head, go so far as to say “Wow, I thought she was wearing really terrible clothing.” Acknowledge the negative thought and then assess.

Where did this judgment come from? It may come from jealousy or anger or it may come from nowhere at all. It doesn’t matter if there is a rational reason. Once you have understood the source of your thought or comment, force yourself to find one nice thing to say about the woman you have just judged. It doesn’t even have to be something real! You can think to yourself, “But I bet she is a really good cook.” You just need something to replace the negativity in your mind and practice mindfully choosing positivity.

3. Do not engage with negative looks, comments or behaviors. We are tempted to respond when we feel threatened. If another woman gives you a dirty look, sizes you up or flirts with your partner, her behavior does not reflect on you, it reflects on her. She may have her own insecurities or other factors that lead to that behavior. While you aren’t in control of her actions, you are in control of how you respond to her actions.

I do not advocate accepting abuse lying down, but if a situation is not dangerous, there is no need to engage with negativity, for your own sake. Respond with a smile, or neutrality if you can’t manage that. This tends to jar people, and while it may not change their minds, it will give you some peace and perhaps an upper hand. Responding to hate with love is not always the solution, but in this case it can serve as an effective way to break down barriers between women.

Black Feminism & Sexist Dating Expectations

Posted on - in black feminism

Although the subject can become repetitive, one of the ways I try to practice black feminism in my life is in my romantic life. I’ve been in St. Lucia for my ten day vacation between J-term and spring semester. During that time I’ve been going out to eat with a male friend of mine nearly every night. I’ve started to really notice a quirk in St. Lucian culture with regards to customer service. We all know about the stereotype of the West Indian shop owner or restaurant owner with a bad attitude. I’m a bit too comfortable here to be surprised or bothered by the abrasive attitudes of workers. I’ve grown to love having to work to give up my own money. What has bothered me is the way financial transactions are handled by people who work in customer service.

Now, I’m not a big believer in either the man or the woman paying every single time. Sometimes the bill is split, sometimes he pays, sometimes I pay. It may not be split evenly, I’m certainly not keeping tabs, but it’s split in a way that both of us are comfortable and satisfied with the occasional free meal and the occasional expense. Servers, waitresses and bartenders seem to have a more sexist idea about these financial transactions. Workers have a clear expectation that paying for meals is the responsibility of the man. I am not necessarily offended to the point of reaction, but it is tangibly sexist. Here are a few different situations this has happened in that I can recall, just from the past four to five days:

1. Ordering drinks and the bill is placed in front of my friend immediately.

2. I handed a fifty dollar bill to a server and she returned the change to my friend. (This has happened twice.)

3. I took my credit card out of my wallet and handed it to a server and she returned it to my male friend for a signature, despite the fact that I took the card out of my wallet in front of her.

These experiences have only occurred with female servers. This shows that sexism is not exclusively practiced by men. Women can play an equal role in enforcing patriarchal expectations. These experiences are negative for a few reasons:

1. (This is the obvious reason!) It’s offensive for people to assume that I cannot or should not pay my way. Why not place the bill in the center of the table? Or return my change and credit card to me?

2. It places external pressure on men to fulfill specific gender roles. This is not a gender role expectation that I placed on him; it’s an external pressure on our dynamic that neither of us agreed to, and as a result, I view it as an inappropriate invasion.

3. It makes it acceptable for women to enforce patriarchal ideas about gender roles. The cult of womanhood in St. Lucia is very powerful. Women here are very susceptible to the example and societal demands of women around us.

I don’t expect this to change when I go out in the future. I do have my own ideas about passively resisting this sexist intrusion. While most people may just “avoid the trouble” and give the man the money to pay at every occasion, I refuse to do so. I don’t make a lot of money — I’m still a student — but I’m proud of the fact that I am relatively independent. Instead of submitting to these expectations, I will force those working in customer service to acknowledge the fact that women can and do pay their way in this world. I will continue to hand money to waitresses as they look expectantly towards the man to pay. I will continue to use my own credit card, and proudly print my John Hancock on the line as they look shocked that a man would dare let me pay for dinner.

Until this becomes normalized, there can be no change. There’s nothing unfeminine about paying for a date. There’s nothing unfeminine about a woman handling her own money. Of course, undoing a sexist culture is not this simple. So, I’m not claiming to be some sort of hero or massive activist, but individual changes and convictions are important. When it comes to dining out, this is my contribution.