Migrating Home: Reflections on Privilege in the Caribbean
As I enter the second half of my last semester at Middlebury College, I’ve started to reflect on my life in the United States, and how quickly it’s coming to an end. I wish I could say that I was sad, or had any sense of nostalgia about my undergraduate experiences. I already experienced my saddest graduation goodbye when I graduated from Groton, my high school alma mater. I feel nothing but absolute bliss when I think about a life after Middlebury. Of course, I have personal reasons for this but what else is at play here? Why do some people relish the idea of never returning to the Caribbean, and why are some unable to truly imagine a life outside here?
I’ll go into my personal reasons first in an attempt to give you a little more insight into the woman behind the words.
- I love warm weather. This is a more shallow reason but I’ve spent ~ 9 years in New England and I’m absolutely sick of the annual influenza guarantee and having to go out in layers and layers of clothing.
- I find it easier to mind my health (exercise and eating) when I’m in a place with little access to processed food and junk food. Also, it’s much easier to exercise when it’s 80 degrees out compared to when it’s below 0.
- Being black is much easier here. Although my body is marked for being a woman, I find it a lot safer to navigate spaces here as a black woman. Yes, despite the catcalls, leers and manner of other experiences I have.
- I just love being around Saint Lucians, despite some of the more ‘ignorant’ behaviors. I love the humor, the food, the culture and the generosity of people down here.
These are just a few of the reasons that I feel more excited about moving down here than I’ve felt about anything in a while. It’s worth examining why I feel this way. This involves deconstructing the notion of “privilege”. Here are some of the privileges that permit me to feel a greater degree of comfort in Saint Lucia.
- Racial privilege for being a light skinned biracial (black/white) woman.
- Gender privilege for being a gender conforming cisgender woman.
- Class privilege for having the ability to afford returning home and having the ability to use my skills to live a comfortable life.
- Heterosexual privilege. While it is still a risk to be a heterosexual woman in Saint Lucia, it is far more dangerous to exist outside of the spectrum of heterosexuality.
- Privilege because of my physical and mental ability. My physical and mental health permit me to feel mobile, comfortable and sane in Saint Lucia. This aspect of privilege often goes unexamined but can be very important.
Society here affords me the safety to exist as I want to, mostly without fear. Structurally, a part of this is because of the dominant positions that I occupy that place me out of harm’s way. It’s important to examine what it means to occupy a position insulated from oppression. Do we feel safe here because we have created an unwelcome environment for non-conformers?
This problem of exclusion is not unique to the Caribbean, but it’s one that we can find the capacity to solve. Some of these solutions may need to occur on the structural level, such as elimination of anti-buggery laws. Yet some changes can be made on an individual level; a series of individual changes must occur for us to see structural change.
The majority of the people in this region practice Christianity, a major tenet of which is “Love thy neighbor, as thyselves”. Perhaps we find this so difficult to practice because of the ways we don’t love ourselves. Whatever the reason, I would compel everyone to work individually towards making home safe for everyone and consider the ways in which we contribute to a society that endangers those who don’t fit in. What kind of changes can you make?