Tag: west indies

Race, Class & Caribbean 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).

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Socioeconomic Class And Climate Change

As sea levels continue to rise in the Caribbean, our region will require long-term planning (ha) and forethought about how certain areas are affected and what the government will do to mitigate these effects. In Saint Lucia, particularly vulnerable areas include fishing villages like Dennery and Anse La Raye. The “village center” of nearly every district, including the capital city, Castries sits right at sea level. This means in the future, these areas will be disproportionately affected by the rising sea levels.

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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.

Black Feminism Reader: Confusing Anti-Blackness, Sexism and Violence With “Discipline”

black feminism equality non violence

This black feminism reader will explore the relationship between “discipline” and abuse within the Caribbean.

The education system is my entire life. I grew up in a household with two teachers; my mother went to Teacher’s College in Saint Lucia and my father had four different degrees (including a law degree) before he joined her to teach at what claims to be the best secondary school in Saint Lucia. My parents care about education more than anything; I realize just how real this statement is whenever I go somewhere with my father and every. single. girl. stops and says hello to their dear former math teacher.

I am one of the lucky few (and really, there can’t be more than 12 of us) who left secondary school in Saint Lucia to attend boarding school in the United States (a school that currently ranks #7 Private School in the country). My luck doubles and I attended Middlebury College (#4 Liberal Arts College in the U.S.)

Simply showing up and sitting in classrooms regurgitating information is not all it takes for education to be important to you. When I say education is important to me, I mean the only type of education that really exists — self education. At any given moment, there are no teachers, the decision to learn rests squarely within yourself. Without anyone breathing down my neck, I have chosen learning again and again and again. (more…)

Black Feminism In The Caribbean: Examining The Mulatto Effect

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.