Intersectional Feminism: The Spectre of White Supremacy in the Caribbean

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“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 hairstyles 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 lives, 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

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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.

Intersectional Feminism: 5 Ways West Indian Women Reinforce Patriarchy

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intersectional feminism in the caribbeanOne of the aspects of weaving intersectional feminism into your life as a Caribbean woman involves a lengthy process of unlearning the damaging ideas and beliefs thrust upon you by Caribbean society. Even if I once had a West Indian teacher wrongfully assert that the Caribbean is a “matriarchy” because “mothers tell their sons what to do”, the reality is we are in a culture that’s patriarchal and even our mothers, aunties and grandmothers buy into the mindset.

Here’s to the West Indian mothers who raised us to be strong and defiant, but today I’m going to call out the women in our lives that didn’t raise us to be prone to accepting women’s liberation. I’m going to call out the ones who raised us to only speak when spoken to, who victim blamed, who abused and belittled the boys and girls in their stead…

So today, here are five ways that older West Indian women reinforce patriarchy:

1. “Boys Will Be Boys”

This is the mentality than informs the way many West Indian women raise children differently. Girls are kept under lock and key, taught that the world is too dangerous for them or that they are “temptations” to men. Boys on the other hand are allowed free reign to do whatever they please. Girls aren’t permitted to go out, interact as they normally would but boys are permitted (if not expected) to run amok, with very little control. This attitude that “boys will be boys” removes accountability for the inappropriate behavior male children exhibit. It’s a way of policing women to the extreme while allowing for bar behavior from male children.

Not only is this lazy parenting, it’s patriarchal to assume that expectations for male children should be lower than expectations for female children. This lays the groundwork for men’s poor behavior later in life. “Boys will be boys” paves the way for both men and women to learn that men deserve more respect, they deserve to dominate over everyone and women’s role is to remain subservient no matter what.

2. Men’s behavior is young girl’s responsibility

This particular belief is brought up in many contexts, but one of the most recent ones I’ve noticed is in discussions about girls’ school uniforms. Most school uniforms are long — past the knees — and extremely hot and stuffy considering tropical climates. Yet debates about making uniforms shorter, including physical education uniforms, is often stifled because short uniforms “lead to” men being attracted to young girls (between the ages of 5-17).

A majority of West Indian women do in fact believe that men’s attraction to young girls is “natural” and to curb this natural attraction, school uniforms should be longer. The assumption that young girls are responsible for pedophilia and not the grown, entitled men who prey upon them is another way that West Indian women reinforce ideas that are harmful to women. This is not just a belief that West Indian men hold; West Indian women hold it too. They teach their young daughters that they are responsible for the way adult men behave around them while never holding adult men responsible for their own entitlement or disgusting behavior towards children.

3. Blaming victims of rape/incest

It’s not difficult to see how the second point here leads to this one. In a world where girls are responsible for the behavior of adult men, when terrible acts of violence like rape/incest occur, these young girls are again blamed. When a thirteen or sixteen year old is pregnant, she is the one blamed, not the adult man who likely impregnated her. The concept of girls being “fast” (while not prevalent in Saint Lucia specifically) is used as justification for victim blaming.

Girls are not protected from violence; in fact, they are blamed even by those who label themselves as “progressive” or “thinkers” in our countries. Instead of understanding the sick culture that contributes to male violence against women, girls are blamed for anything from not enough church attendance to inappropriate clothing. Of course, it’s fair to say that these are widespread beliefs amongst all people in our culture but they are particularly insidious coming from West Indian women who (in theory) should understand the way male violence is leveraged against them.

However, the same people who were victimized perpetuate the same oppressive ideas. The cycle of abuse continues unless West Indian women today choose not to believe that every message from their mothers is a reflection of the way things should be.

4. Homophobia

While many West Indian women actually laud their closeted gay sons and nephews for being “good boys” (normally because they defy the expected entitled, brutish behavior of WI men), they are the same ones who sit in church and pray for fire and brimstone to be rained down upon gay people in our countries. Many West Indian women hold onto homophobic beliefs (Leviticus 20:13 informs their worldview) and enact physical and/or emotional violence upon gay or suspected gay people.

Cis, straight West Indian women are just as homophobic as men, using the same slurs and calling upon similar types of violence. West Indian women are just as homophobic to their daughters as to their sons. And of course, along with this homophobia, you will find transphobia as well. These beliefs are so prevalent that even West Indian feminists don’t realize how their groups are exclusionary to the LGBT community. Even women interested in women’s liberation do not notice how their ideas of liberation never even considered transwomen, bisexual women or lesbians.

5. Encouraging Abuse/Violence In Relationships

Harsh and abusive disciplinary tactics are one of the ways abuse and violence is normalized. There’s a reason abusive behavior is often described as “cyclical”. The behavior we experience growing up is what is imitated later on in life. When emotionally or physically abusive behavior is the primary mode of “discipline” in a child’s life, it is difficult for them to function any other way as adults…

This relates to patriarchy because often times, abusive tactics are employed against boys in specific ways that numb them to emotional experiences, encourage a lack of empathy and foster abusive behavior later on. I have a number of examples to back this up but the most recent one happened just last week. I was shopping for new apartment decor and a woman was walking with her son (no older than five years old) and hitting him as they walked. Of course, as he was getting hit (hard) in public, he began to cry. As her son wailed at the top of his lungs, this woman shouted, “Stop being a wuss!”

Is it really “being a wuss” when a five year old starts to cry? Or are you holding him to a patriarchal male standard where he learns his own emotions (and therefore, the emotions of those around him) are unimportant? Another lesson this child could learn is that mocking/belittling someone’s emotions is a way to manipulate them into doing what you want. The lessons learned from this are not simple and neither are they short lived. This is not coming out of thin air either — this is backed by psychological research into child psychology as well as research into effects of upbringing on adult behavior.

Before writing this post, I considered why focus on how women contribute to patriarchy. After all, patriarchy primarily benefits men in our society. I thought it was important to write a post about women however to combat the idea I mentioned in my previous post that the mere existence of women in a particular space makes it feminist. I also wrote this post to inspire accountability in women interested in identifying as feminists or learning more about women’s liberation. One of my personal/political beliefs is that before we can educate others, we must educate ourselves and more importantly do the difficult work of unlearning what we have internalized.

So this post wasn’t written for men to get off scot-free and it wasn’t written to “attack” women for no reason. I want Caribbean women to take a long hard look at what we believe and what we may not even realize that we believe and ask ourselves: how are we teaching our daughters, sisters and nieces to uphold patriarchy’s status quo? And finally, how can we break down these cycles in our communities and push for women’s liberation in our spheres.

Intersectional Feminism: Anti-Indigenous Racism & Capitalism During Carnival Season

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intersectional feminism carnivalIf we are interested in intersectional feminism, we can’t allow any intersection of identity to go unexamined. Race plays an important role in our lives as West Indian women. Race can even be important during Carnival season, believe it or not. Saint Lucia’s carnival season is approaching at a faster rate than I’m willing to admit. ’Tis the season for carnival bands to release their designs and costume theme in the hopes of attracting hordes of revelers to  purchase costumes with them and play mas. I often wonder quite how divorced carnival has come from what it was originally intended to be about…

 

I don’t have a clear idea of how divorced it has become, but for once I try to reserve judgment. As I scrolled through instagram, ogling costumes that I will talk myself out of buying, the title of one of the themes stuck out to me: SAVAGE.

 

I instantly recoiled. From my time in the United States and my education, I’ve learned that the word savage is not one thrown around lightly. It’s not just “offensive”, it’s a slur that has been hurled at native peoples across the U.S. (AND the Caribbean) that solidifies the white supremacist notion that white is good and anything not white is bad.

 

“Ok… Don’t start typing your blog post yet bitch,” I muttered to myself.

 

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.

White Privilege In The Caribbean

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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:

What We Work To Hide: Abuse In The Caribbean

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For the past month, I’ve been in the United States and since coming here, I’ve spent my free time continuing my self-education about abuse of all forms including emotional and physical abuse.

Before January/February of 2016, here are examples of some of the books I’ve read (including Amazon links)

Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: How Manipulators Take Control In Personal Relationships

How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved

Why is he so mean to me?

Throughout all of these books, there are some pretty interesting conclusions to be drawn about abuse…

What type of cultural environments make people prone to becoming abusers?

How can you tell when abuse is happening (in your own life and in others)?

Most people reading this will probably be in some form of denial about abuse as it plays out in their lives. Especially if they’re West Indian…

But of course, abuse and denial are our drugs of choice (besides alcohol of course.)

The realities of abuse in our society are often very difficult for me to narrow down. There are so many facets to abuse and all of these facets of abuse are woven through every aspect of our society to the point where nearly every social interaction is tainted by either the specter of abuse or abuse in the flesh…

4 Lessons I’ve Learned In 2015

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As the year comes to an end, my boyfriend and I have spent a fair amount of time assessing the changes we’ve made this year to ourselves and to our education as well as what we hope to accomplish in 2016. Maybe it’s early… but when a visionary and an idealist get together, the future is more often than not a topic of conversation. I don’t know how qualified I am to give advice, but I can certainly write a few points on some important things I’ve learned so far this year. Of course, there are two more months to go, so hopefully, I’ll be able to learn much much more.

  • Living a lifestyle you want is possible. Before writing, the idea of not working a 9-5 job had never occurred to me. I dreaded the idea of working a regular job and the idea of having to work 10+ hours a day to make ends meet in the U.S. What I really wanted was to make enough money to live comfortably, be close to my parents and have plenty of free time to pursue other interests. It was difficult and it took planning but in 2015, I’ve made that happen. I think the key here is not just saying what you want, but answering this question: “What do I have to do to make the lifestyle I want attainable”.