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

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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:

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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

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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 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.

Intersectional Feminism: 5 Ways West Indian Women Reinforce Patriarchy

 

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.

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

Black Feminism Photo

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

The quote began:

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

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

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Intersectional Feminism: Examining Anti-Indigenous Sentiment During Carnival… Just For Fun ;)

 

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.

 

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