Empowerment is one of those subjects for feminists that sounds like a good idea in theory and of course since the entire focus is on feeling good/strong, it can be a compelling “focus” for feminists. Caribbean feminists, however, should be focused on anything but empowerment. Empowerment is a feeling, an idea, a notion. Empowerment is nothing concrete and tends not to have any real long-term measurable impact.
Category posts: feminist meaning
A feminist is someone who practices feminism in their daily lives. An activist to end oppression.
A collection of thoughts about white West Indians…
In honor of our alleged liberation from Britain’s imperial rule.
These may appear random and out of context, partly because I don’t really believe that everything has to have a coherent flow for the individual points to make sense and also because these are merely excerpts from a longer conversation I had with a black WI woman this morning. Trust that they’re all interconnected and perhaps allow yourself to tease out even more connections that I was unable to see…
Whiteness is a funny thing in the Caribbean. Some pretend that it’s nonexistent, but really it is invisible, similar to whiteness in the United States but not quite the same. While our lives are different from those of Black Americans, we suffer oppression along the same lines. Here are a few examples of how whiteness “functions” in the Caribbean:
This longer post is a more serious and rigorous analysis around 3,000 words in length. As it is longer than the usual blog post, it will take considerable time to read. Approach with caution!
Change, activism and social justice are important buzzwords for the twenty-something feminist blogger. These words take on an emptiness when talking about the Caribbean. We have few popular civil rights movements and little culture of social unrest based on political dissatisfaction. In St. Lucia, our independence was gained rather than fought for. A huge part of our culture relies on the notion that there is little need for change. Bad political or economic situations exist. Although many can identify these problems, there is no continuation of this thought to include further action. The skill of identifying a problem, while a useful first step is meaningless if it is not backed up with a solution. We have a commitment to mediocrity and stagnation in St. Lucia that prevents us from actualizing change, activism or social justice.
Mediocrity will permit poverty, racism, classism, sexism and homophobia to thrive in St. Lucia long after I am gone. We destroy our society from within by our own blasé attitudes towards these issues. While we remain passive, we ignore our potential to change and the importance of change as a way in which we can heal individually and as a society from the damages of social injustice that continue to harm us.
Colonization, enslavement and genocide birthed our country. Forget the sugar-coated tales of benevolent mother country and a legacy of prior economic prowess due to our cash crops — cane or bananas. England and France were rapists and murderers who left gaping sociological, psychological and economic wounds in St. Lucia. Independence wrapped these wounds in gauze but we still bleed, marring the white bandage with the memory that we were birthed in blood. Most people in St. Lucia descended from blacks, Indians, and indigenous people. The white people in St. Lucia consist of expatriates and locals whose family tree is blacker than they would like to acknowledge. We are all a part of an oppressed demographic. Without the colonial master’s watchful eye we have continued to uphold an oppressive status quo. Everything about our current demographic — racial and economic — results from our colonial beginnings. This shapes our attitudes towards our country and society.
We behave like the historic victims of abuse. Victims possess a complex psychology; ours is marked by shame. St. Lucians are afraid and ashamed of acknowledging the truth of our colonial history. This is why schools teach the watered down version of our origin story. The truth of the indigenous genocide is obfuscated and you would swear slavery were a minor blip with no cultural aftershocks. I am met with hesitation and visible discomfort when I proclaim that we are a nation born out of slavery and genocide. Speaking the truth about our past is viewed as complaining because slavery is over. We feel guilty if we haven’t “moved on”.
I’m not sure when moving on from slavery meant doing nothing about the legacy left behind while pretending we aren’t affected by it, but this is the lie St. Lucians have bought into. We are ashamed that we are descended from slaves. We deny that we could have indigenous heritage. We are ashamed of our blackness and what it means in the aftermath of colonization. Like abuse victims we project blame inward and continue to self-abuse by ignoring our history. We blame ourselves for not healing when we do not even know where healing begins.
This denial, self-harm and self-blame causes us to remain stagnant. An incapacitating mental illness afflicts everyone in our country. Individual and societal work will free us from the hold of our abuser in a way independence has yet to do. These faces of healing complicate our task because they require everyone to be complicit in our progress.
The victim psychology of our country forces us into stagnation. To move away from mediocrity and achieve at our full potential we need to begin the work of healing. This starts with acknowledging our history and decoupling it from feelings of humiliation and shame. In order to acknowledge and understand our history, we need to first look at our current context and understand that. This is the world in which we currently live and we are better equipped to understand it first.
Mediocrity is beneath our potential; it is a contentedness with existing beneath our best. It is a self-harming notion that keeps us stagnant in a world where change defines you. The mindset we have will lead to a wider gap between our country and developed ones. St. Lucia will plummet further to the bottom despite our capacity to do better. Everyone in our country and everyone who emigrates, including myself, is complicit in our nation’s mediocrity which is a generous term to describe our failure to compete on a global market.
Accusing everyone in the nation of buying into a culture of mediocrity is bold, but true. St. Lucians react to problems by assuming there is no practical solution. We are characters in a novel praying for a Deus Ex Machina that will never be written into the plot. Some people believe we must look to God for solutions. If we pray, God will solve our problems. Some people say, “There’s simply nothing that can be done.” Others believe that solutions could be found, if only their political party were in power. They say this even if the last time their party was in power, everything remained the same. Everyone in St. Lucia has heard some variation of these responses to “our nation’s ills”. In speaking these dismissive words or hearing them without objection, we become complicit in mediocrity. We become members of the complacent populace. We accept and agree that things shouldn’t change.
St. Lucians choose to thrive in mediocrity though repelling and rejecting anyone who has the intellectual capability and motivation to enact change. There isn’t the money to keep forward thinkers in St. Lucia. We give our brightest citizens no incentives otherwise to return. Our sociologists, historians, writers, many of our doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs are all sent to the US/UK/Canada to study with the hope they will give back to St. Lucia. Hope is not tangible. Why would they give back? Motivated people are rejected by the St. Lucian population. Bullies mocked their motivation in primary school. In Secondary School peers tortured intellectuals for their differences, for receiving good grades and for being favored by teachers. Some teachers even discourage achievement, only encouraging their students to do “enough” as opposed to challenging them to expand their horizons.
When students leave St. Lucia for tertiary education, it is difficult to encourage them to return. Those who do return possess traits which may mark them — to themselves and to others — as failures. People return because they are homesick for food, company and family. People return because they have no money. At home, the jobs might pay less but they won’t have to starve the way they would overseas. Not acclimating to the foreign environment and failing to escape poverty through leaving places citizens who return to work and live in a damaged psychological headspace.
They feel incompetent and useless because they didn’t hack it abroad. Seeing themselves as failures maims them and allows them to accept being average due to discouragement. These people should have the tools to change St. Lucia but they don’t because negative self-perception leads them to believe they are not capable. They failed to prove they could exceed expectations and in their mind, their chance to make a difference for themselves or for their families has ended.
If you return to St. Lucia to avoid the stigma of being “the one who couldn’t make it” you had damn well make a name for yourself on the island. This alternative to returning in shame neglects society. Making a name for yourself becomes a hedonistic process. People who leave the Caribbean for tertiary education and later return are tools of stagnation and mediocrity. They view themselves as failures and play into a culture that encourages viewing life overseas as the ultimate marker of St. Lucian success.
St. Lucians who see other Caribbean islands as the furthest acceptable places to travel also add to our nation’s stagnation. St. Lucians who believe UWI is enough, regional medical schools are “just as good” as American ones, and the furthest we should aspire to is Cuba limit our country’s students. Their intent is not illogical. Regional schools are less expensive and more practical if students wish to return to work in St. Lucia. This should be a way to prevent our nation’s motivated students from leaving without return while saving them money and the psychological duress of adjusting to the harsh racial and financial climates of the US/UK/Canada.
Yes, we may see a few competent persons from these schools return, but a startling number of graduates are not competent. Many students would be able to reach their full potential at foreign schools, but regional schools are enough unless they plan never to return. This well meaning attempt to plug the outward flow of our potential intellectuals sells us short.
People who have never left St. Lucia are bound to mediocrity more than anyone else. I’m not referring to people who simply grew up too poor to leave, but to a subset of St. Lucians who have never left but envy those who have and are bitter about the opportunities they never had. They project envy and self-loathing outward in a destructive way. They down foreign educations of all kinds. They prevent students from wanting more for themselves. They seek problems in every movement towards change. They cling to ignorance as a comfort. They hold grudges against those with a foreign education. At work or otherwise they find a way to undermine these people. They are the last bastion of colonialism, foot-soldiers of an imperialist agenda to keep us standing still as the world develops around us. They may not be conscious of what they are doing but this does not undo the ramifications.
Three layers of our demographic work to maintain our status quo; although I wasn’t explicit, these groups are loosely interconnected to each other through socioeconomic class. The status quo is all we know. We believe that the status quo and its further preservation is the key to our success. This is why we have a trend of St. Lucians believing foreign investment is the key to solving our country’s ills. We look outward to imperial powers to invest and this maintains the status quo by keeping Western powers in control and St. Lucians at the bottom as laborers or workers. By calling for greater foreign involvement in our economy we contract ourselves as modern slaves to the same powers that controlled us before. How is this progress?
Part of our mediocrity results from religious dogma. This too is a legacy of colonialism. Europeans introduced Christianity to the Caribbean; it did not originate with the Africans or indigenous peoples. St. Lucian culture encompasses Christianity. This culture incorporates the ideal that prayer is the answer to everything. I protest the notion that answers and solutions are the same. While “I can’t help you” may be an answer to someone seeking assistance, a solution would be helping them. St. Lucians treat prayer as a solution to poverty, sexual depravity and more. Prayer is a method of escapism. Prayer is a tool of social stagnation. St. Lucians have bought into prayer as a solution for our nation’s ills, with not enough prayer being the primary reason these ills have not been solved. But answers are not solutions and prayers without actions are whispers into the wind. Prayer is a cop out disguised as spiritual consciousness. The inherent inaction involved in prayer is a tool in preserving a status quo that keeps us subservient and keeps us in the same place.
We keep up the status quo by inactivity and searching outward for answers rather than solutions. St. Lucians need to begin crafting a culture of social change that incorporates values different from those left behind by colonialism and imperialism. We need to look at what colonizing countries wanted for St. Lucia and pursue the opposite; they did not have our best interests at heart and they never will. St. Lucian social change should prioritize the needs of the most marginalized first. Abolishing poverty, homophobia and child abuse along with seeking women’s equality socially and economically should be at the forefront of social change.
Economic change and social change are inextricable. The bare minimum amount of economic change we should work towards would be socialization of health care and education. We need social services that permit the nation’s poorest access to food, shelter, water and access to health and education.
We can begin to break out of mediocrity by developing cultural values that reflect pride in our heritage rather than shame. We need to develop a self-perception where we are survivors rather than victims. Exploitation birthed St. Lucia. Colonial motherlands raped, pillaged and poisoned our national self-perception. They made us slaves, servants and damned us to poverty. To them, our value was what we contributed to imperial wealth. We were bodies, not valuable human beings. Our task cannot be as simple as “putting this all behind us.” We need to confront this history and admit that colonial perceptions do not define us. Are we weak because we were enslaved and abused or are we strong because we still stand? Are we victims or survivors?
Coming to terms with history means telling the truth about our experiences, not sugar coating it with lies. Our history is painful; England and France damaged us. But we stand today and in telling the stories of our ancestors we take a major step towards healing. After speaking our truth and acknowledging the depth of our hurt, we need to determine what it means and how to honor this history. Colonizers said we were lazy, but we built their fortunes on plantations. Can we really be that lazy if their pockets got fat off of our labor? Why then should we believe ourselves to be lazy and worthless and act in accordance with what oppressors have told us is true? We can apply action to “speaking our truth” here by behaving in accordance with what we know to be true of ourselves. We know we are not lazy, so we will not act as if we are. If our truth is that we are not victims but survivors of oppressive circumstances, our outlook on the world and our nation will take on a different character.
These changes occur on a personal level and I’m only scratching the surface of what it really takes to develop deep pride for your heritage. On a community level, the population needs to stop accepting and trusting politicians who stopped learning when they received PhDs. We can argue whether ten years of regurgitating academia even counts as learning. The same ideas are not working. We are a poor country. We need people who can impose forethought onto the vague concepts of “progress” and “economic reform”. St. Lucia needs competent community organizers who have not been made so arrogant by their degrees that they cannot listen to the needs of her people.
Listening to the needs of the people sometimes does not involve asking directly. Look at crime statistics, CSEC scores or common causes of death. Take data as sociological markers representing symptoms of what is making our nation sick. Don’t let politicians discuss solutions, let civil servants and medical professionals who have embodied pride in their heritage and eagerness for change explore new solutions. Looking at sociological markers are only the beginning of what we need to do to rid ourselves of complacency and move toward social change. We need to give a voice to people who want more so they can speak their truth regarding St. Lucia’s future and the steps we need to take to acquiesce to the needs of the marginalized.
Recognize that the impetus for change does not lie in the hearts or minds of politicians or priests. Change can come from a group of average individuals who desire better and can organize themselves effectively. You have the power to change the culture if you desire change and have ideas that will benefit the community. Abandoning mediocrity means internalizing this belief in personal power. Believe that you and your country are important. Don’t seek answers from priests and politicians who are invested in things staying the same.
Only those who do not benefit from the status quo have the real power to change it because they are faced with the reality of their marginalization daily and in greater touch with their needs. They know what should be changed and how it should be changed in a way that others don’t.
Every problem we have as a nation can be solved by St. Lucians. Why should nations that once colonized us have our best interests at heart? Why should other nations? Even in animals genuine altruism is rare. I doubt altruism can be found in capitalism’s biggest junkies. (Profit over human life!) In order to create social change or in order to be activists we need to renounce our faith in inferiority. We have no Malcolm X or Angela Davis to look to for guidance on how this works in a Caribbean context. We must create our own leaders, but we cannot cultivate powerful leadership if those with leading potential, education and desire are chased to the UK/US/Canada.
We can’t do this if our UWI graduates are encouraged in mediocrity. We can’t do this if the people who remain in St. Lucia for life are disempowered because they lack access to degree programs. The inferiority complex is what keeps them from promoting change; we must not treat these people as inferiors. Everyone on our island is important. For change, everyone is necessary. Let’s work on changing ourselves and then changing our country. It is easiest to change our individual mindsets towards our self-worth. After, we must change the community mindset and finally, destroy every structure that keeps anyone on our nation marginalized.
“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.”
– bell hooks.
This definition is important because of the author and the context in which she is writing this. Mainstream “feminism” such as the type you may read about on Jezebel or other web sources tends to focus on the experience of the white American or British woman. Their definition of feminism tends to be exclusionary and ignores the different racial, class or cultural contexts that exist in other places around the world and even around the United States.
In the Caribbean, we operate differently. Our relationship to “patriarchy” is different, and we need to conceive of feminism and our feminist movement as something that is not reliant on ideals from white American culture. We must carve out our own space within the movement, however, in the beginning it will be helpful for us to educate ourselves on the work of our predecessors who may share our racial, class or cultural background.
How can we find feminist meaning or significance in our lives as Caribbean women? What would need to change for feminism to be not just a concept, but something that influences our culture as a whole. In the Caribbean, we are accomplished in some of our philosophies towards family, women, work and sexual agency. Unfortunately, our problems do outweigh our accomplishments and it is our responsibility as Caribbean women to recognize these problems and work to the best of our abilities and within our range of these abilities to create change within our region. Of course our issues and problems are probably far more expansive than the ones that I shall list but the list below will encompass what I see as our most glaring and pressing problems.
- Homophobia and Transphobia; denial of rights and equal treatment of non-cis and non-hetereosexual individuals.
- Economic disadvantages that women suffer across the Caribbean
- Poor access to educational resources (which really boils down to education reform)
- Rape, incest, sexual assault and all forms of sexual violence
- High levels of domestic violence and improper support groups
- Problems with alcoholism and addiction (can affect women in a number of ways!)