Browsing Tag: racism in the caribbean

Race, Class & Caribbean Feminism

Posted on - in intersectional feminism

Discussing race and class with regards to Caribbean feminism can be tricky. The mythology of our islands being a racial “melting pot” has led to many people wrongly believing that we have no issues of race and class or that these issues are irrelevant to feminism. The fact that there are many wealthy black people in the Caribbean has confused people.

Despite the fact that there are wealthy black people and despite the fact that there are many black women, issues of race and class are still of utmost importance to women’s issues. When thinking about race and class, we need to focus on systems of oppression, not our individual, anecdotal beliefs (many of which are informed by misinformation by international mainstream media).

LGBT Tuesday: Caribbean Feminism & LGBT Liberation Must Be Unified

Posted on - in define feminist

In the Caribbean, there’s a strong sense that feminism and LGBT liberation are two separate issues. However, I worry that this separation is less for practical reasons such as different needs from society and the community. I suspect a large portion of the separation between Caribbean feminists and the LGBT community is flat out homophobia.

Think I’m wrong?

Hear me out…

Why We Need A Women’s Only Gym In Saint Lucia

Posted on - in black feminism

Recently, I’ve been going to Mango Moon (Vigie) on and off, but I’ve also been a member of Fitness Freaks (for a time). The more time I spend in these male-dominated spaces, the more I’ve developed a case for a women’s only gym that doesn’t just have treadmills and ellipticals.

This hasn’t just been my experience; the experience of discomfort in male-dominated spaces in Saint Lucia has been echoed by other Saint Lucian women.

The issue with gyms being a non-explicit male dominated space is there may be the false assumption that men and women are both equally welcome in workout spaces when this just isn’t the case.

Why I Hate Resort Tourism | NEW VIDEO!

Posted on - in Caribbean YouTube Videos

This week for this blog, instead of writing about resort tourism, I’ve decided to create a video about the subject. Sometimes I can organize my thoughts better on camera, so I hope you find this video both informative and succinct.

Thank you very much for watching and be sure to leave your comments on this blog post or on the video.

 

Both Sides Of The “Should West Indians Wear Dashikis” Controversy

Posted on - in black feminism

Dashikis made an appearance as a fashion item in St. Lucia. I don’t know much about the cultural origins of dashikis, except what I’ve read from articles about African cultural appropriation and what I’ve heard from Africans (from various different countries). Wikipedia provides a simple breakdown for those of you who are curious to know more. Dashikis were at the center of a minor social media controversy in October 2016 on Jounen Kweyol in St. Lucia. Many people argued over whether or not dashikis were appropriate attire for Jounen Kweyol festivities. The debates were… interesting (and at times uncouth) and brought to light different perspectives and anxieties about black heritage that exist in the Caribbean.

Well, What About The Men?

Posted on - in define feminist

Content Warning: suicide, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, abuse, mental health issues

Yesterday was International Men’s Day and I wanted to write a post addressing men’s issues but not in the way that you think. As someone who has called herself a feminist for years and been in many “arguments” about feminist issues, one of the common derailments to women discussing the social issues that affect them is, “What about the men?!”

So what about men?

Why are women responsible for solving all the social issues that affect their lives as well as the social issues that impact men as well? The truth of the matter is, men who derail with this kind of statement don’t actually care about the social issues affecting men. It’s simply an affront to them that women would dare question the status quo or would dare defy the existing social hierarchy in any way. It’s the weak attack of a threatened animal but luckily for you, there are ways to disarm this…

[[Before you read onwards… I encourage you to read ALL the posts linked in this blog post. Most of them I link for a reason and I want you to check them out to further your learning. — MGMT]]

Intersectional Feminism: The Spectre of White Supremacy in the Caribbean

Posted on - in intersectional feminism

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on - in intersectional feminism

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Black Feminism In The Caribbean: Examining The Mulatto Effect

Posted on - in black feminism

One of my favorite mythologies about the Caribbean that seems to be perpetuated amongst emigrant communities and foreigners alike is that we have transcended race due to our highly multiracial and integrated society. Due to my interst in black feminism, this lie has been exposed as entirely false. Even without the academic language of feminism, I knew this intuitively. While there is indeed a high degree of multiracialism, the notion of transcending race is mythical because the Caribbean still suffers from crippling anti-blackness. Nearly every person, regardless of race, is complicit in this anti-blackness on some level or another.

At this point, some of you may already think I’m crazy. How can there be anti-blackness in a place where the population is mostly black? How can I, a black person, uphold anti-blackness? In the Caribbean, despite the lack of a large class of wealthy whites, we still have racial stratification; everyone in our society is complicit in upholding it. Parents of all shades of black wish for their children to come out lighter skinned. Women are pressured to destroy their natural hair textures to conform to what is “proper” (as dictated by European standards). History is taught in school in such a way that we are ashamed of slavery but proud of the accomplishments of the British/French.

The experience of “whiteness” can be approximated by being biracial which I’ll use interchangeably with “half-white” for clarification of which biracial identity I’m referring to. I call this the mulatto effect, putting a name to the nuanced Caribbean experience of “white privilege” that creates an insulated world where lighter skinned black people do not experience the full extent of anti-blackness.

In the Caribbean, blackness is the dominating framework through which race should be discussed, but blackness in the Caribbean is heavily influenced by East Asian (mainly Chinese) and South Asian (mainly Indian) cultures and racial mixing with white people both local and foreign. Different islands have different racial compositions that add additional nuance to a discussion. While Trinidad and Guyana are known for their large populations of Indians for example, similar proportions of Indian populations do not exist in Saint Lucia.

The mulatto effect is how we can perceive the organization of the Caribbean’s racial hierarchy. The top is not necessarily white, due to an excessively small population of  white people with NO black relatives. White adjacent people who come from either historically white families or who have visible proximity to whiteness occupy the highest racial class. We may not have a significant white ruling class, but a biracial/multiracial class that receives distinctly better treatment than the majority of the “100% black” population.

Without a distinct and large white upper class we see anti-black dynamics play out in a way that misleads people to believe we have transcended race. We’ve merely transplanted a racial hierarchy in a way that suits our population. The closest to white occupy the top, whereas the furthest away from whiteness occupy the bottom of the hierarchy. Every aspect of this hierarchy was constructed during colonialism and has not disappeared, even today.

Racial hierarchies aren’t just theories. Reflecting on my time in primary school for example, there were a number of occasions where half-white students — myself included— were spared punishment because they came from “good” families. While many black students in the class came from similar or higher economic classes, they were not spared punishment. They lacked the visible “goodness”, that was in this case, applied to visible whiteness. In customer service, visibly half-white people, especially those who don’t look local, receive better treatment than dark skinned locals. There are a number of other ways in which half-whiteness/whiteness is privileged with regards to beauty standards, assumptions of intelligence and more. I could go on forever pointing out the ways in which half-whiteness is privileged.

So what is the point of all of this? Why draw your attention to a racial hierarchy that I myself benefit from due to my white father, and my specific biracial phenotype (light skinned, loose curls, thin, able-bodied)? As a feminist and an anti-racist, with a commitment to social justice and equality, I recognize that this hierarchy is oppressive to everyone. Racial hierarchies like this one uphold destructive colonial mindsets that were created with the goal of maintaining black subjugation. The first step we can take in decolonizing (in this regard) is by recognizing where we see “the mulatto effect”. Where do we see our privilege or our oppression?

Most non-white people in the West Indies can intuit that they are treated differently for being darker, for having “bad” hair etc. These feelings and notions are patently invalidated as bitterness or jealousy. There is no vocabulary to speak about the injustice of having half-white citizens prioritized and treated significantly better than non-white citizens. The vocabulary doesn’t matter as much as our ability to recognize the injustice. I invite you to consider moments when you felt like your blackness was a mark, when you were dehumanized or privileged because of your skin tone. Both reflections are important since without biracial recognition of our privilege, we cannot possibly hope to remove the colonial stain on our region. Through recognition and self-reflection, you will have taken the first individual steps towards radical politics and regional black liberation. Of course, as activists and as individuals, we still have a lot of work to do.