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.

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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.

 

 

Caribbean Voices: Candice via Guyana/Hispaniola

FullSizeRenderCandice runs a food blog on tumblr where she’s vocal about trying to connect with West Indian culture via food. She also shares other aspects of Guyanese culture like common idioms. Like many Caribbean women with an online social media presence, she has insightful opinions about feminism and the Caribbean. Candice isn’t just a blogger, she’s also a henna artist who will be offering her services later in the year. In this interview, you’ll learn a lot about Caribbean food and how you can get started even if you don’t know how to prepare a single dish!

Visit her blog today at the-gt-food-traveler.tumblr.com for delicious photos of food and her art.

Candice Jones | 22 | Guyana/Hispaniola | currently living in Queens

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Caribbean Voices: Veronique Bailey via St. Vincent & The Grenadines

veronique-headshotVeronique’s blog first caught my attention when she discussed her experiences as a half-Black/half-Indian West Indian woman. Finding out she was from a neighboring island, I had to get her take on feminism in the Caribbean and ask her more about her life. I found her perspective very interesting especially when juxtaposed to last week’s interview with Lana. Keep reading to find out more… 

Veronique Bailey | 27 | St. Vincent & The Grenadines

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

Programming, museum visiting, people watching, and cognitive psychology

I wanted to talk to you about your ethnic/racial identity growing up in the Caribbean. How would you describe your ethnic/racial background?

I’m dougla

[Editor Note: For people who don’t understand, click this link to find out more about what this means [x]. Additionally note that dougla is not considered to be a slur in the Caribbean although it might be elsewhere.]

What’s one thing you wish people knew about your racial identity?

Within the Caribbean: I’m not from Trinidad. Outside of the Caribbean: It’s a racial identity, I don’t have to ‘choose a side’.

Are there any assumptions people make about you due to your race/ethnicity?

That I can cook the most bomb curry while whyning/ doing d tic toc.

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

To a certain extent, while I enjoy being female I don’t enjoy feeling like my body is up for consumption. Even though I’m straight, I don’t agree with the idea that being gay is a ‘white people thing’ or that it’s a sin. I definitely don’t agree with the idea that lesbian love is somehow less of a love than heterosexual love. Gender binaries are weird and in general binaries only make sense for computers.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why is your answer (yes or no) important to you?

Yes, but I consider myself an intersectional feminist. I’m still doing more research into womanist philosophy but until I feel completely comfortable within that theory, I feel most comfortable describing myself as intersectional. Identifying myself as an intersectional feminist is important to me as a UX designer/programmer as well as a member of society.

As a UX designer/programmer, one of things that studying design will teach you is that there is no such thing as one design that will fit for everyone; we should aim for inclusive design or design that takes into account the needs of various groups. If I as a designer am unaware of how my designs might contribute to the exclusion of a group of people, or if I am only designing with only one group in mind….am I truly a designer? Do I truly understand the needs of various user bases?

Are you fluent in creole?

hahahaha cho’, yo dunn ‘no! All ah we does talk in dialect (english creole)

Is being a feminist acceptable in your community?

Not particularly, it’s more often than not perceived as man hating. Feminism is also seen as only really being white feminism, where the feminist W.O.C. and their work is not given as much exposure.

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

Increase dialogue of west indian feminists, name the work already being done by women within the community as feminism.

What kind of misconceptions do people have about your racial/ethnic background?

I’m not sure. For the most part within the Caribbean it gets positive feedback, as in I have nice, mixed hair down to me back, and I’m a brownin’. The two things that people look for when racial miscegenation happens.

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

Things I would change:

1. The idea that ‘nothing black nah good’

2. Getting darker is not a sin

3. Your hair doesn’t have to be straight. Let it take up it’s natural born space, feel free to cut it, dye it, and experiment with it. The length and texture of your hair are not all there is to your beauty.

4. Your ankle bracelets, toe rings and bracelets don’t make you a prostitute.

5. Indian food is not dirty, it’s ok to eat with your hands.

Things I would keep:

1. Anansi stories

2. The idea that knowing your community is part of knowing who you are

3. Always share

4. Nah bother watch people fu them things.

5. Take care of old people

6. Know all the old people sayings, because it connects you to something bigger than yourself.

7. Is there a word or phrase that can capture the smells, sights, and colours of the Caribbean?

I absolutely loved everything about this interview with Veronique, especially her final response which really resonated with me as a person who has often struggled to pinpoint the answer to the question, “What is culture?” Growing up as biracial or multiracial in the Caribbean, you can get a lot of different messages about where you fit within our culture. To me, Veronique isolated a lot of what’s important for everyone in the Caribbean to understand. If you’re interested in checking out another interview like this one, check back for my very first Caribbean Voices piece featuring Lana C. Marilyn.

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.

Caribbean Voices: Lana C. Marilyn | Brooklyn via St. Vincent And The Grenadines

tumblr_o5py750y9t1qzcnzqo5_1280My very first Caribbean Voices interview features Afro-Caribbean writer and artist Lana C. Marilyn. I came to know Lana through the writing and poetry on her blog, always finding her insights on her own life both fascinating and well written. Lana was born to West Indian expats in the United States and I interviewed her to learn more about her perspective on feminism and Caribbean identity given her experiences as a member of the Caribbean diaspora. Lana recently published a book “Wet Sand In An Hourglass” which you can buy here: 

https://books.pronoun.com/wet-sand-in-an-hourglass

Lana C. Marilyn | 21 yrs old | St. Vincent

I asked Lana to tell me a little bit more about her interests and what she does in her spare time: 

Well, my biggest thing is that I’m a writer. I just published my first book, Wet Sand in An Hourglass, which touches on growing into my identity, embracing my culture (in a less superficial sense) and exploring other facets of early womanhood. I currently study screenwriting and linguistics in school, and enjoy supplementing my free time with cardmaking and stationery crafts, attending art shows and parties, reading articles online and analyzing the writing in films and television.

I wanted to talk to you today about sexuality and identity as it pertains to your Caribbean heritage. In your community/family, how do you think your sexuality is perceived?

I’m not “in the closet” but I’m not overly out to my immediate or extended family. I think (some of) my siblings know, and a few of my cousins know, but for aunts and uncles, I present as ‘straight’. I’m a femme bisexual cis woman, which means that there’s nothing flamboyant about my appearance that triggers direct and targeted bigotry towards me.

Because of this, I have to deal with the discomfort of heteronormativity a lot. Many of my relatives are religious Christians, and make comments and assumptions about my “future husband” and what I should or shouldn’t do if I want to have or keep one. That gets exhausting.

My parents do often openly exhibit homophobia around me, though I see it more towards gay men than women. I try not to really engage them in conversation about it. I also get the sense that there are some relatives I could “safely” come out to, and there are others who I would worry about sharing that with. Because I am not currently (and have not before been) in a same sex relationship, I get to avoid the subject. I’m not sure yet what would happen if that changed.

If you could change anything about how Caribbean communities view sexuality, what would it be?

There’s so much to start with, but I think the idea that there’s a right and “wrong” when it comes to sexuality would be a start. Or that it’s a punchline to a joke. I have a fourteen year old brother who likes to use “batty man” as an insult with his friends, and when I hear him say that around me, I check him for it, but he doesn’t “see the big deal”. What’s more disheartening is that I know if I tried to actively combat his homophobia in front of say, my mother, she would probably just enforce it and then scold ME for giving him the wrong idea.

We need to break away from the standard of marriage and family as an aspiration. i think this is the biggest stigma. the idea of being “gay” is seen as a direct affront to that Goal. Every deviation from heterosexuality is immediately countered with, “Don’t you want kids? Don’t you want to get married?”

And then there’s the whole thing of how we even stigmatize woman’s sexuality alone. In addition to identifying as bisexual, I also kind of consider myself to be asexual in certain aspects, and credit that to the very destructive way I was raised to understand my own sexuality. There’s a chapter in my book where I describe how when I was thirteen, and decided that it would be fun to hang out with friends after school, I was being called a slut and a whore for coming home late. I was having my body policed in certain ways according to what I wore and being taught that I didn’t even have the right to ownership of my own body because I wasn’t “allowed” to dye my hair, or have piercings, or tattoos. Whether I wanted them or not, it was instilled in me many times that my mother had more right to my body than I did. And it’s little things like that which created a sort of terror within me towards men and their advances, and complicated the relationship that I have with my body, men, and sex. Asexuality is easily left out of the conversations that focus on the LGBTQ community but it’s an important thing to highlight in a world that both demonizes sex while making it a huge expectation.

So these ideas of marriage vs “right and wrong” sexuality, both orientation-wise and in terms of when it’s acceptable, influence how people go on to feel about themselves and how they develop healthy relationships.

As a Caribbean person who grew up abroad, what’s your favorite part of your heritage?

I think I like the stories. It’s hard to choose a favorite when I feel like I’m only growing up with the bare minimum as it is — a lot of what we’re given to hold on to is music, food, and (unfortunately) …some of the dysfunctional habits that our families bring over. But I think what I love the most are the stories I get from relatives and strangers alike of what their experiences were actually like. I value that the most because I feel like it helps me to not romanticize the Caribbean but still be able to appreciate it. Stories about struggle, stories about my grandmother’s memory of fresh hot cross buns on Easter Sunday while she makes some for us from scratch, stories about old friends and neighbors, those are the things that stick to me the most and help me feel most connected to my heritage and culture.

In line with the previous question, do you feel like you missed out on anything? If so, what would that be?

I wish I had been able to visit St. Vincent more often growing up. I went once, as an infant, and I haven’t been again since. Most of my father’s family all live in America now, and my mother is estranged from the siblings who are still back home. Her not having a stable unit of people to rely on either here or in her home country meant we didn’t have aunts or uncles we could have spent summers with, and that she didn’t have anyone to trust in America with her children if she wanted to go back for an occasion that wasn’t a funeral. That disconnect has really made me sad even though I understand it. It simply just makes me want to go back and make that a regular thing for myself and possibly my future family.

Is English the only language you speak? Are you interested in learning Creole?

I do only speak English for now (though I’ve learned a great deal of Spanish in school). And I would love to learn Vincentian Creole, especially since I’m a linguist! For fun, I try to keep track of little phrases we use that aren’t quite “creole” but wouldn’t be very common in “standard American English”. It’s hard to recognize those kinds of things because some are so ingrained to me as normal until someone points it out. I find that very often the history of colonization is embedded in the language, from the development of the accents, to the words we use and the way we pronounce them.

Is being a feminist acceptable in your community?

The word “community” is kind of throwing me off here. Among other women in my generation, yes, being a feminist is acceptable. But we never really call ourselves feminists out loud, instead I think we just recognize the things that we need to unlearn and combat that we can’t rely on our parents and their generation to change or understand. I meet other Caribbean-American women all the time and these are things we discuss often among ourselves: “Hey, XYZ is NOT okay.” But I don’t know if I have a stable network of Caribbean feminists. It’s hard for me to speak for West Indians outside of my circle because I don’t know for sure if feminism acceptable to, important to, or even properly executed within a broader community.

As a Caribbean feminist, is there something specific you would care to change about the Caribbean community?

Open-mindedness is a big thing for me. And I know that sounds vague, but it applies to so many things. If people could just be more accepting, we wouldn’t laugh at or ridicule different body types, we wouldn’t police a woman’s expression of her sexuality, we wouldn’t spew hatred at the LGBTQ community. I think just an ability to reason all perspectives and to humble yourself to alternatives that work for other people…that would go a long way.

Do you think that your Caribbean identity impacts your writing and art? If so, how?

I’m sure it does, though if you asked me how, I’m not sure I would be able to pinpoint in what ways. Prior to publishing my book, I really just wrote fiction and things about young girls in magical worlds, and so I didn’t really write about or pull much from the experiences of my own reality. Until recently, there was a point where I feel I didn’t have a sure sense of myself that was rooted in relation to a Caribbean identity.

But there are little things — I think for example, the ways I characterize women stem from growing up seeing the women in my family being the real Head of Household. For example, even though my parents are married to each other and raised us together, my mother was the one who we spent our time with the most. I see my uncles take a laidback approach to how involved they get raising their kids, too. I was raised to be self-sufficient and I don’t write about about women who are “weak” or idle but who are confident, complex and creative. And sometimes stubborn or self-sacrificial.

When it comes down to it, the influences are subtle, but the things that I carry forward are more like the values, customs and relationship models I’ve grown up around and internalized. I’ve never consciously sought to represent my culture in my writing, nor do I want to oversimplify it in any attempt to do so. But moving forward, I would like to look for ways to do so without feeling like I’m overstepping, you know?

Is there any other aspect of being a Caribbean woman you ponder often? If so, what would that be?

I know it might be counterintuitive or ironic but I think a lot about our relationship to men, and the ways that they disappoint us whether as fathers or partners. We’re always performing so much emotional labor. I think a lot about how that harms us, and so on. I think a lot about what it means to be a Caribbean woman who grew up in America and how the things that we (other women who grow up abroad) take up as emblems of our culture – alcoholism, being “crazy” as a badge of honor, abuse on a number of systemic levels – are actually destructive and harmful. There’s a lot of our livelihood that is unfair and harmful. It’s hard. I think a lot about how that weighs on a person, how it affects choosing better partners and holding ourselves accountable. I ponder a lot about the role of ‘sacrifice’ in our lives and our communities.

I was really grateful to find such a thoughtful and interesting person to interview for my first installment of Caribbean Voices! As a part of this project, I also want to take the time to highlight artists/authors etc. work. So I hope you get a chance to check out Lana’s book and her website. See the links below for more information:

Purchase her book here: https://books.pronoun.com/wet-sand-in-an-hourglass

Visit her website here: lanalbxe.com

Intersectional Feminism: Alcohol Addiction, Our Silent Public Health Emergency

alcohol-1198642_960_720

West Indians seem to think that binge drinking and massive amounts of alcohol consumption are a hilarious joke and signify the “free spirited” nature of the region. Just look at songs like Kabawé by DYP or Rum & Redbull by Beenie Man. Although both songs are good songs, they do glorify a culture of irresponsible behavior with one of the most dangerous drugs anyone with a twenty dollar bill can buy over the counter with absolutely no interference. Today, I’m not going to go into the root causes of alcohol addiction, but hopefully I will highlight why this public health emergency presents a far graver danger than marijuana, our governments’ current scapegoat for every social ill under the sun.

I’ve written briefly about alcohol before, comparing it to marijuana but today I’m mostly going to shy away from comparisons and delve into the social/physical implications of alcohol addiction. I say that alcohol addiction presents a far more serious problem for a couple primary reasons:

  1. Alcohol is ridiculously easy to buy in the Caribbean. At least in Saint Lucia, you can’t drive 100 ft without passing a bar. You can buy alcohol in the grocery stores and there is no enforced drinking age. (You can act like a drinking age is enforced but I have hard evidence that suggests otherwise…)
  2. Alcohol is linked to social issues that disproportionately impact women such as intimate partner violence and sexual assault. (To any cretins reading… No, I don’t mean women’s alcohol consumption causes sexual assault. Rather, men seem to commit sexual assault when binge drinking.)

But what impact does alcohol have? Why can’t it just be fun and games?

Here is how easy it is to get hooked on alcohol according to two different scales averaged together:

comparecht
Source: drugwarfacts.org

 

 

 

On this chart, you can see that some aspects of alcohol addiction are more potent than nicotine and cocaine. Alcohol is certainly more addictive than caffeine or marijuana. Additionally, the biggest “advantage” alcohol has over all these drugs is that it’s incredibly easy for anyone to purchase at any time, for any reason, in any quantity. Addictions are most easily formed in younger people, so this accessibility of alcohol means the public health burden of alcohol will certainly be greater as more people are permitted (and encouraged through media/family influence) to start drinking early.

Drinking too much over time (whether you can be diagnosed with alcoholism or not) has negative impacts on many parts of your body for example:

Sources: [x][x]

  • Heart problems: stroke, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy
  • Liver: alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, fatty liver (which is unhealthy)
  • Pancreatic issues
  • Increase your risk of developing certain cancers: mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast
  • Weakening your immune system so you’re more likely to develop illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis than non-drinkers or moderate drinkers
  • alcohol poisoning
  • nerve damage and/or permanent brain damage
  • sexual problems
  • ulcers / gastritis
  • increased risk of unintentional injuries (such as car accidents, falls, misuse of dangerous weapons)

Don’t forget that alcoholism is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. In a region with far fewer restrictions on alcohol, and higher rates of alcoholism, you can safely speculate that the numbers are at least equal, if not worse.

Alcohol abuse additionally has big social implications for example:

Source: [x]

  • Pregnant women who drink are at risk of having their children develop fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Drinking impairs anyone’s ability to contribute to the household function (this may include earning capacity, or capacity to engage in general maintenance of the household)
  • If one party spends a lot of money to feed their addiction, this can negatively impact a poor family, draining them of most of their resources. Taking these resources away can lead to poor health outcomes for everyone, not just the alcoholic as money is diverted from other health care or child care needs
  • Drinking can lead to home accidents and domestic violence
  • Alcoholism can lead to loss of family income due to inability to work OR due to premature death of a provider
  • There are substantial mental health problems that accompany alcoholism (some examples include depression & anxiety)

The effects of mens’ heavy drinking in the household have strong negative impacts on the women in the household in these regards: 

  • Increased instances of domestic violence
  • Increased risk of HIV infection
  • increased economic burden on their partners

This is just examining the social effects of alcohol in one specific lens. Of course, there are other aspects of social functioning to consider like the ability to function in the workplace. If these social problems don’t resonate with you, visit this reddit thread of “adult children” of alcoholics filled with heart wrenching personal stories that just begin to highlight the negative impact alcoholism has on families.

Overall, this isn’t to shame alcoholics or to suggest that there is something inherently wrong with them. In this culture, getting caught in a dangerous cycle is beyond easy. Breaking a habit of heavy drinking and/or alcoholism however is — in contrast — far more difficult. Here, we don’t have Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. We don’t have the facilities for medical detoxification when necessary. Our society encourages one thing, but when it gets out of hand, drinkers are blamed and vilified rather than helped to heal. And of course, this post will never be able to cure someone’s alcoholism or heavy drinking. Education and knowing the facts isn’t enough to stop addiction; this is a moralistic (and incorrect) myth about addiction that leads to placing the blame on addicts. We need a public health intervention that includes education but doesn’t stop there.

And no matter what needs to be done on an institutional level, we also need to change our culture surrounding alcohol. Binge drinking isn’t fun or funny. Our “carefree” culture isn’t actually carefree at all. It’s flat out irresponsible and dangerous. Alcoholism and calling rum “therapy” isn’t a joke. When you take alcoholism lightly, you diminish one of the most serious health issues our nations face.

This is a serious public health issue that has damaged our countries and will continue to damage them until something changes.

If you suspect that you or someone close to you may be heading down a dangerous path with alcohol, please view some of these resources linked here:

Am I an alcoholic self test[x]

I drink, but how can I tell if I’m an alcoholic?[x]

Am I alcoholic dependent?[x]

 

Intersectional Feminism: The Spectre of White Supremacy in the Caribbean

intersectional feminism white supremacy in the caribbean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Caribbean is a melting pot where race doesn’t matter!” Every time I hear that, I grit my teeth and wonder when omitting the history of the Caribbean became a trend to hop on. It’s natural to want to defend the Caribbean against the harsh criticisms first world people heap upon us, but saying that race doesn’t matter in the Caribbean is an ahistorical lie that denies the lived experience of millions of people in the region.

Black people came to the Caribbean on slave ships and from that moment, everything in the Caribbean has been about race. Of course, race and class then became intimately intertwined. Today, having the name of a former slave master (the slave masters were all white) is a point of pride. White people make up the wealthiest populations in our islands. Many of my Caribbean friends from various islands have said, “I don’t know anyone poor and white here.” That coupled with whiteness is known to help in school, with employment and with other situations one may experience throughout your life.

Our countries all have a massive hatred of black features… White hair is seen as clean, tidy, neat and professional whereas black hair is automatically wild/unruly or something that needs to be “fixed”. For those who think it’s about “curls” and not whiteness… White people with curly hair are NOT subjected to the same treatment as black people. Throughout the Caribbean, black hair styles are often seen as “untidy” and “unprofessional”. Another belief about blackness being inherently bad is the idea that if you go into the sun you will get “too black” — the same belief doesn’t apply to getting “too white” however. People are applauded for their physical proximity to whiteness and punished for being black. Darker skinned people experience worse treatment and excessive teasing for their skin color. These damaging beliefs about their physical appearance and identity have long lasting effects in people’s life, causing them to perpetuate race based abuse on others as well as themselves. Any woman who has transitioned from relaxed to natural hair in the Caribbean can tell you that they faced significant pushback, indicating that the issue is widespread.

Some of the more subtle cultural preferences towards white people is the tendency for black people to refer to any white man as “boss”. I’ve seen this with my father as well as my boyfriend (who is biracial but that often gets coded as white down here) where people who have no reason to, refer to them as “boss”. It’s a subtle, yet powerful way of indicating status and frankly, black people often believe themselves to be lower status than white people. There is no reason for black people to speak to white people differently from how they speak to black people, yet in the Caribbean this is all too common.

Another common experience of black people in the Caribbean is poor treatment by customer service staff. White people (thought to be tourists especially) are treated with politeness, respect and the gamut of perfect customer service. Black locals on the other hand are often treated poorly by those serving them for no reason other than their skin color. This poor treatment could be slowness, blatant rudeness or asking black people to leave certain areas for “being loud” even if they were not in fact being loud. (Yes! All of these experiences are real and have happened to various WI people I have spoken to on these issues.)

We pretend that whiteness is non-existent here, yet it is clear that being white in the Caribbean leads to better treatment overall. The occasional instance of bullying or someone charging you a higher price is NOT indicative of the larger experience of racism which occurs at an institutional level. Receiving less respect just because you’re black can have a big impact. This can impact your job search for example or can have even more dire results when you’re dealing with medical professionals who judge you simply based on your appearance. (Example: Do you look poor? Do you look rich? Guess which people look rich and which look poor. If you can guess, congrats, you just identified white supremacy in action.)

Wealth being concentrated in the same white population that owned our ancestors is also a clear cut case of institutionalized white supremacy. We make the mistake of thinking you need a white cloak to be a white supremacist, but really white supremacy is a system that ensures white people have total dominance over every aspect of our society from economics to social interactions. It is something that clearly exists and affects the Caribbean today and something that we cannot ignore if we ever want equality of any kind whether it is for women, for the poor or any other marginalized group. If white people always have it better, we will never have liberation from oppression.

Intersectional Feminism: Caribbean Sexual Education Is State-Sanctioned Violence Towards Women

Intersectional feminism in the Caribbean cannot ignore the violence perpetuated by the lack of a comprehensive sexual education. The current model of sexual “education” promoted is fear based education following the “abstinence until marriage only” model. Not only is this ironic due to the fact that Saint Lucia has one of the world’s lowest marriage rates, recent studies like college professors show that abstinence only education has around the same impact as receiving no sexual education at all. [x] In the Caribbean, where abortion is illegal and there are still laws banning “buggery”, the culture surrounding sex and sexuality is one where Puritanical mythology around sex is touted as “normal” and contemporary knowledge about sexual education and healthy sexual practices is all but absent.

Sex education is limited to scare tactics about “pre marital sex” and STDs but actual information about how to engage in physically and emotionally healthy sexual relationships is considered taboo. This is a women’s issue because women in the Caribbean face violence at the hands of the institutions that deny them reproductive rights. Without sexual education and with illegal abortion, the decision to have a child is not only placed solely in the hands of men, on another level it’s placed at the hands of the state which arguably doesn’t have women’s interests in mind especially if you look at the rape statistics across the Caribbean which are higher than the global average.

The alternative to abstinence-until-marriage sexual education is simple: comprehensive sexual education based on factual scientific information rather than outdated mythology. Unlike many white feminists that I’ve encountered in the U.S. I do not advocate for blind sex positivity; I do not encourage people to just do “whatever they want” without regard for the consequences. Rather, I envision a region where sexual education gives women accurate information about their physiology and their emotional health so that they can make informed decisions for themselves.

Our current sexual education system perpetuates violence not only towards cisgender, heterosexual women but towards the LGBT community as well. Comprehensive sexual education should include education about all kinds of safe sexual practices not just penis-in-vagina sex. Simple ideas like how to turn a condom into a dental dam for safe oral sex or using latex gloves for safe manual stimulation are just two examples of non-heteronormative parts to a comprehensive sexual education. A part of comprehensive sexual education is also allowing safe spaces for students to come to terms with their gender identities and sexual expressions which might not fit into a heteronormative framework.

Contrary to popular belief in the Caribbean, teaching children about sex does not “encourage” them to have sex. What it does encourage is safe practices when they do decide to have sex. It teaches them not only about physical safety but emotional safety as well. In a country where many women are pressured to have sex either as a transaction or due to manipulation, the emotional consequences of sexual interactions cannot be ignored. Just because you know the stone cold facts does not mean that you are informed on how to make good decisions, set up emotional boundaries and figure out what interactions you are most comfortable with.
Setting society up so that women do not have the resources to make informed decisions and then punishing them for the results is a nearly invisible type of violence in our society. It’s invisible because the truth behind it is concealed behind religious rhetoric and notions of personal responsibility. A proper look at sexual education would address the reality of the Caribbean and not the illusion of what exists; the reality is that “premarital sex” is more common than not and women who engage in sexual activity do not deserve bad things to happen to them.

The reality is that we have a greater collective responsibility to serve those at the margins of society: young women, gay women, transwomen, disabled women and ensure that their identities do not make them victims of institutional violence.

Source: wikipedia.org
Source: wikipedia.org

While the lack of sexual education is often touted as the more ethical option, upon further examination, it shouldn’t be difficult to see that forcing rape victims to carry babies to term, exposing women to unhealthy sexual options and lying about the reality of sexual activity is far more dangerous and unethical than meting our proper education.

We need to start telling the truth instead of fear mongering, educate out of love and not out of desire to control. We need to update what we teach according to the truth instead of relying on easily disproven mythology. Comprehensive sexual education is the only form of sexual education that positively impacts behavioral outcomes and every moment we go without it, we are damaging our country’s population.