Tag: black feminism

Kerlea Joseph via St. Lucia

IMG_0978As a St. Lucian who works virtually, I’m always on the look out for people who work virtually, especially if they’re St. Lucian. One of my beliefs is that building a community of people who reside in St. Lucia but work virtually anywhere in the world will be important to the future of our economy — a real future, where we don’t rely on tourism for subsistence. Kerlea’s interest in returning to St. Lucia after a long time abroad mirrors my own experiences of spending 9.5 years in the U.S. and decided to return home… Reading this interview will give you great insight into some of the considerations that can be made about returning to the Caribbean after a long absence. 

Kerlea Joseph | 21 | St. Lucia (currently residing in Canada)

Follow Kerlea on Instagram! Here you can find black and white illustrations and in the near future, photos of gorgeous calligraphy.

IG: dynamodandridge

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

I’m extremely interested in Illustration particularly Fashion Illustration as well as Calligraphy. While I’m not currently studying either at school I really hope I can make a career of it someday (at least part-time). A good chunk of my time is spent researching sources of visual inspiration to keep my drawing habit going. I’m also an avid reader so I invest a lot of time reading all kinds of books (I don’t have a particular genre or type of book I favour over another) because I am also a huge fan of storytelling.

How would you describe your ethnic/racial background?

Well racially I would describe myself simply as black. While I know there’s a high possibility of having indigenous blood from my dad’s side because of my paternal grandparents features, even if it was confirmed I probably still wouldn’t list it as part of my racial identity

You’re no longer living in Saint Lucia, do you plan to return? Why do you wish to return?

Yes to the 100th power. I’ve been living in Canada for what will be ten years as of next year, and while living in a first-world country comes with a lot of benefits and incredible amounts of access to things we’ll probably never be able to have in St. Lucia, it’s also been very hard in ways people back home will never understand and people overseas will rarely admit to.

First off, in terms of weather, no matter where you live in Canada, a full-blown Canadian winter is no joke, like that shit is relentless and overbearingly oppressive. Like as a person who has suffered from depression and general anxiety for as long as I can remember far back into my childhood and only had to deal with two seasons (both hot) before I moved here, I really could not anticipate the profound effect it would have on my mental health. Winter is ALWAYS the time I feel most close to going over the edge. I always feel trapped and suffocated, like life is trying to metaphorically and literally bury me. Even if I was sufficiently medicated, I really don’t see myself coping with weather like this for the rest of my life.

(null)Secondly, I live having the support system and sense of community that I just don’t have here. I feel like this is a big one people often take for granted back home because I know I did. Like I know for my family in particular, even though we’re not the most well off and a lot of times we have disagreements and don’t always like each other, we’re still there to support and help each other where we can. Even though I consider myself a highly independent person, not having that invisible support system has just made it 100% harder to navigate the minutiae of everyday life. Like yeah I have friends and realistically I can ask them for help with things, but with a lot of stuff I just feel more comfortable asking my family. Like if I’m hungry and totally out of food, I can’t just call up parents to drop some dasheen and green figs off for me, I’m just screwed. If I’m looking to buy a car or apartment, I have to manage it all on my own. There’s no one to say “Aye, I know somebody selling a car for this much” or “I know somebody renting an apartment for this much let’s go” which I would have back home have back home which is really hard.

Thirdly, I hate the general feeling of not belonging I have living here. I would probably feel a lot better about it if I did live in a community with a lot of black people, not even other St. Lucian/Caribbean in particular, just black people but it’s been very difficult for me to connect with or even find those types of communities. It’s incredibly tiring, always having to navigate mostly white spaces in a country that likes to pat itself on the back for “being more open minded and not as racist as America”. Canada has done a pretty good job of branding themselves as the polite, inoffensive middle power. Like racial anxiety is not a joke and I am 1000% over it. I’m looking forward to living in St. Lucia, where I won’t have to worry about how I express myself, at least racially anyway.

Lastly, I just really feel a lot of guilt at the thought of being one of those people that leaves home and never turns back but always has something shitty to say about St. Lucia. I want to be able to use what I’ve learned during my time overseas to help people at home in whatever way I can. Like building up the country so it’s a place where people feel like they have more opportunities than leaving.

How informed do you feel about last month’s election season? (If you feel informed, what were your perceptions of the election season activities?)

To be honest, I felt very disconnected from the whole thing in the sense that while I did have general news information about what was happening, I wasn’t able to listen in on radio discussions/debates which I know where a lot of the action traditionally happens. Obviously I would talk to my mom about it, but it’s very different when you’re on the ground and it’s all around you.

Flambeau, Labour or neither?

Even though my family is staunchly red all the way, personally I would say I’m not for either one.

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

This is a very interesting question because right now, I’m at a point in my life where my gender and sexuality are really in a state of flux where I’m really questioning whether I am a cishet woman or if I mostly identify this way because I’ve been forced to. But to answer your question, I definitely would not feel comfortable expressing my gender/sexuality if it deviated from the traditional cishet framework that my family is used. Even now I don’t always feel comfortable expressing even my sexuality because I think there’s too thin of a line of what counts as an acceptable display of heterosexual sexuality and what isn’t when it comes to being a woman in West Indian family and the youngest daughter at that. In that role of the good, ambitious hard-working youngest daughter, I feel like I have to present a decent interest in men but nothing overly sexual or lascivious. I can be cute but not too cute, I can wear short shorts and skirts but nothing where “my business would be hanging out for the dogs” (one of my mom’s favourites). But in the same token I can’t present asexual either because that would be equally as ostracizing.

So for me, most of the time, these subjects can be very frustrating and uncomfortable when it comes to my family because I often feel trapped by the narrow examples of sexuality presented to me.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why is feminism/womanism important to you?

I actually consider myself more of a womanist. Obviously I have a lot more researching and reading to do, but by what I’ve learned so far of womanism (feel free to correct me, I love learning more information), it sounds more focused on developing and nurturing a community wherein the focus is placed on black women outwards, as inorder to dismantle the global system of white supremacy the most oppressed individuals in society need to be cared for first.

In terms of feminism, while I do think of course agree with a lot of its ideals my biggest sticking point is seeing how it can be applicable to individuals living in third world countries like St. Lucia. I’ve also been really put off with some of the condescending attitudes of a lot feminists living in first-world western countries and the unrealistic solutions they have sometimes when trying to solve issues in third-world countries. I can’t think of any specific examples right now, but usually these “solutions” get thrown around without any real understanding of the local culture or social dynamics of our countries.

Are you fluent in creole/patois/patwa? If not, are you interested in learning?

This is such a sore spot for me because the thing is, while I can understand creole fine, my accent is horrible and I get the worse, the absolute worse anxiety when I try to speak it around my family (mainly from getting teased so badly about it as a child) that I don’t actually speak that much creole when I’m around family. I’ll toss around a few phrases but nothing too complex because I really don’t want to get roasted. If I do speak any creole, it’s usually around friends or people my age because, in that context I care a lot less about being judged and we’re on a more level field socially.

However, with all that said, I am really hopeful that one day I can overcome my creole anxiety around my family because right now, I feel like I’m not fully connecting with them. Especially with my grandparents that mostly speak creole and have a harder time speaking English, it’s hard for us to really know and connect meaningfully with each other because of the language barrier.

It’s really sad but everyday I do make an effort to practice saying some phrases out loud here and there. I’ve also find that incorporating creole into practicing calligraphy has really motivated me and gotten me to expand my vocabulary with words that I’ve found from the St. Lucian creole dictionary (which I found online) which I had never known about previously.

Is being a feminist acceptable in your community?

Within my community of friends yes because we’re young and more open-minded, but I find because my friend group in Canada is mostly white, feminism is mostly discussed from a mainstream perspective with a dash of intersectionality here and there. Most likely because that’s the most common narrative that is pushed when it comes to feminism, but fortunately when I do speak to my friends about more intersectional matters there hasn’t been any resistance to learning more information so that’s good

In terms of my family, while my mom in particular seems interested in learning more about some facets of feminism, overall I don’t think being a feminist is acceptable amongst them. I think it’s mainly because they have this stereotype of angry white lesbians with hairy armpits in their minds as being the “real” feminists and don’t really see how it connects with them or their lives as black people living in a majority black society. To my family being a feminist is being a white woman who hates men and spends the majority of her time complaining about how men have done her wrong.

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

Well in terms of everyday St. Lucian women concerned with enacting change from a feminist perspective, I think the top priority would be to stop worrying about displeasing men. Like it sounds very simple but it’s such a big part of St. Lucian society, the fear that women have of displeasing or offending the men in their lives that I think simply overcoming that , would set them on a really good path.

Did you have any brothers growing up? If so, did you notice any differences in how you were treated? What were some of those differences?

OMG, I’m so triggered right now lol. But really there were so many ways that being the only girl negatively impacted my childhood and in fact negatively impact me as person today that thinking about it a lot makes me extremely angry.

For a little background I have 3 brothers. 2 half (1 of which I only learned about as I was older and dont have a relationship with) and one by both of my parents who I mainly grew up with. As children, my brother was allowed to just do whatever while I had to stay home close to my mom. He was always allowed to climb trees and explore the neighbourhood, staying out til dark, while I had to chill around the house never out of sight. In the summers, when we would go down the coast and spend the time with our grandmother in Mon Repos my brother was the one taught how to use a cutlass, how to farm , how to take of animals while I always had to stay inside or at least out of the way and tidy.

The worst part of the whole thing was while I was not being actively taught how to do anything useful in an outdoorsy sense, every-one would tease and make fun of me for not knowing how to do those same things. I can’t tell you how many times my cousins laughed at me for knowing how to climb an ackee tree in the summer (even though no-one would teach me or even let me learn on my own). Or if my mom and grandmother were clearing some bush to farm and I would grab a cutlass to help, I’d get laughed out for not knowing how and sent back to the house.

As I got older, the differences were particularly noticeable with my parent’s double standards when it came to dating. My brothers were both allowed to pretty much “run” girls from like 13. I mean sure my mom disapproved and she would talk to my brother about it but neither she nor my dad actively tried to stop anything from happening. Meanwhile, my ass was basically under lock and key, particularly by my dad who would always freak out if any male figure even boys my age, looked in my direction. As a result, I never bothered to date in high school even when I did move to Canada because I just saw it as too much of a hassle (sneaking around always seemed like waaaaay too much effort for any high school crush).

Even now as 21, I still have never dated and I’m pretty averse to the whole thing while both my brothers had live-in girlfriends at my age.

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

Well in terms of things I’d keep, I think one major thing would be to replicate the emphasis on reading and in general, nurturing a passion for learning like my mom did for me. She always says I came out of the womb reading (she really really wanted me to be a literature professor) and I do think I came out a better, more empathetic and self-reflective person because of it. I also liked how my parents taught me the importance of always finding ways to help out family members, especially those who maybe struggling and are too proud to ask for help but at the token, to never be anybody’s doormat or “lavabo” as my mom says. I’d also take my kids to the beach ALL the time and just in general, take them around to see the different communities so they get that, just because St. Lucia is small doesn’t mean there isn’t any variety like my dad did with me (He always takes me places in St. Lucia that I’ve heard about before and I’m like how is it possible that I’ve never heard of this place before??)

However in terms of stuff that I’d change, that’s a loaded list. But mainly I’d want my kid to know that there’s no appropriate age to get mentally ill. That they don’t have to have stress from a wife and kids to be feeling terribly depressed, which was always a big sticking point I had with my parents. Like I said earlier, I’ve suffered from general anxiety and depression from as far back as I can remember but a lot of times as a kid, I remember feeling horribly guilty because I didn’t have a “reason” to feel the way I did and was just being a brat. I feel like if my parents had respected my mental illnesses as a child, I probably would’ve been farther along managing them than I am now. Secondly , especially if I had a little girl, I would do my very best to ensure that my child never for a second felt ashamed of their body because of perverted attention from older men. As a child, I grew very very quickly. I started going through puberty around 8 and I was 5″ 8ft by 10. As a result, I looked A LOT older than I actually was and disgustingly enough, I always attracted the attention of older men often times, leading me to feeling ashamed and confused about my body. I love my mom, and although she did do her very best to defend me from those types of men, I feel like if she had spoken directly to me about my body and made me understand that their negative attention had nothing to do with me, I probably wouldn’t have wasted all those years being ashamed and frightened by my body and had more of a jumpstart on accepting myself.

Thank you so much for reading through this interview! I’d like to remind you to check out Kerlea’s page on instagram: @dynamodandridge. For more interviews like this one, check out my interview with Veronique from St. Vincent & The Grenadines! 

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.

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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Black Feminism Reader: Is Soca Inherently Feminist?

Orange_Carnival_Masqueraders_in_TrinidadA 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.

White Privilege In The Caribbean

feminist meaninA 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:

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Intersectional Feminism: How We Fail Young Black Girls

intersectional feminism(Part 1 of about a million)

We ignore early symptoms of mental disorders.  

Since my parents are both educators, I hear a lot about what happens in the education system down here. I also have some of my own experiences and the experiences of close friends that I use for reference.

I would automatically distrust any statistics produced by the government of this island regarding mental health, so I’m going to address this issue without hard data because no hard data is trustworthy far less “unbiased”.

In school, there are many cases of high achieving students “going mad” either before exams or during the middle of the semester. These students sometimes let out blood curdling screams heard through out the school. Sometimes they “speak in tongues” or engage in behaviors otherwise deemed “off”. There are many other instances of acting out that get students labelled as crazy.

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everyone hates black people: hair edition.

Content Warning: strong language, racism, anti blackness, realness

it’s repulsive how much saint lucians (and probably other west indians) hate blackness. i could spend all night counting the ways but for now i’m just gonna focus on their hatred of black hair.

it starts at home of course… good hair v. bad hair. no need to rehash what’s been done a ton of other places by black bloggers who can break it down twenty thousand times better than i can. colorism… white supremacy… we know what’s preferred.

but in schools down here… HOOOLLLLYY shit… it’s bad.

basically black boys are told that their hair bad, ugly and messy! if you have any type of hair showing as a black boy you are immediately painted as a thug.

“all rastas are thugs”

“cornrows are for thugs”

both of these are VERY common ideas here about black men’s hair.

meanwhile a white boy can have hair that’s a few inches long.

what else besides white supremacy makes three inches of white hair okay but three inches of black hair messy?!

black hair is MESSIER?

black hair is DIRTIER?

that’s what they’re saying essentially (and of course no one sees it)

it’s so colonial and backwards and when these men internalize this self hatred, they bring it with them into adulthood. and of course, they don’t just hate themselves, they hate black women too. Sometimes, being so emotionally dead inside, they project ALL their self hatred onto black women who are forced to suffer….this can happen through mockery…disgust w/ afro textured hair on women… and worse.

in this case black women are also both victims and perpetrators of these white supremacist hair standards unfortunately…

in school, black girls weren’t allowed to wear their hair “dropped” but they would let it slide for white girls. pretty much “neatness” has always been contingent upon how white hair looks.

in secondary school… neat hair = complicated ass styles OR relaxer.

relaxer DESTROYS natural hair. It destroys blackness at the root. yet it’s clearly preferred amongst students, teachers and everyone.

even if you have looser curls (like i do)… your hair is still considered a “bird’s nest” or “uncombed” if you do ANYTHING with it beyond brushing down every last strand.

women enforce this HARD with other women (hence perpetrators as well as victims). you experience a lot of verbal abuse from the women in your community if you dare to wear your hair as anything but “neat” (read: white) 

i’m still getting used to my hair being aggressively political… i had forgotten in which ways it was hard to be unapologetically black here. (but no going back of course. i’d rather have healthy AFRO textured hair than be damaged and fit in)

then in adulthood… it’s a nightmare too.

when i look up around a room at any given point most “professional” women have the EXACT. SAME. STYLE. Relaxed hair. so broken that the ends are mere wisps. rolled into a high bun (or the closest thing the wisps can get to a bun) with not a strand out of place.

who taught you that your hair was inherently messy?! White women wear their hair down all the time and get to be considered professional but when black women do it with the way their hair grows out of their head, it’s a different story…

of course luckily i’ve seen a few natural women down here and a few with dreads. but we all know that this isn’t the “preference” and especially amongst middle and upper classes it’s very much looked down upon either explicitly or subtly.

amongst blogging circles regarding natural hair on the web there’s very much the idea: you can have weave and not be self hating!! you can have relaxer and not be self hating!!

but i have yet to see the collective consciousness that proves this is true in the caribbean. in fact, it’s just a plain fallacy and anyone who claims that about the caribbean is expressing willful ignorance. hair is still very much political territory.

it makes a statement against white supremacy to wear natural hair here, ESPECIALLY if you wear it “dropped”. relaxing your hair and wearing weave down here IS an expression of self hatred. and until i see that there’s been change, i’ll stand by this statement.