Independence Day Reflections 2018

 

This month in Saint Lucia, we celebrated 39 years of Independence. This year, Independence Day celebrations differed from many years that I’ve experienced. This year, I noticed many people waving our flag from their cars and in general, the expression with national colors seemed to be at an all-time high. We love symbols and symbolism here — from the crucifixes we wear around our necks, to carrying Jansport backpacks at school.

What do we find when we observe these symbols? What’s there and what does Independence mean?

How often do we ask that question? How often do we ask whether or not we’ve truly “made it” out of colonial oppression?

We take to symbols because symbols are easy. Attend church instead of doing good. Buy an Audi instead of saving your money for the future. Cover up a priest’s inappropriate actions rather than standing up against pedophilia and misogyny. The symbol of good being done in our community is better to us than the good itself.

Don’t let symbols be a scapegoat for lack of depth.

Power continues to be consolidated in the upper class. The wealthiest are more often than not, of the lightest hue. Our people are hungrier than ever and more desperate. Women, children and the elderly face social, psychological, political and physical violence at the hands of people in our country. Human trafficking and drug trafficking both thrive amongst us, free citizens.

As new hotels further our ecological destruction, our people are forced to work there for little pay due to a lack of choice. Our “independent” government actively supports the destruction of our National Landmarks and continues to childishly lash out against organizations like the National Trust who have the best interests of the country in mind.

But we choose the symbol of independence. We choose the outward symbols of "development" while the reality is a crumbling infrastructure and a foundation of sand.

We also choose to be “apolitical”. We cannot make this choice however as our very existence as formerly enslaved people is political. When you move through the world as a black man, or a black woman, or a biracial person, your existence is political. Politics affects everything in your life, whether you are aware of it or not.

Denying the importance of politics is a cop-out. We choose to bury our heads in the sands, denying our own capabilities as the survivors of enslaved people who led multiple successful revolts against the wealthy European colonizers. Our ancestors razed plantations to the ground — they didn’t celebrate their grand opening with a selfie.

We buy flags instead of engaging in political protest when we should be doing the two in tandem. We wear our national colors instead of changing how we interact with our communities. We can do both! We deny responsibility for the “political” because we’d rather watch someone else get the job done. But the job never gets done. The very politicians we rely on are the upper class that abandoned us for their creature comforts and fat pockets.

We are all culpable. We are all guilty of choosing symbolism over action. Perhaps it was bred into us, but now we all have the choice to change.

Will we approach our 40th Independence Day with even more excitement, but even less substance?

We can’t allow this to be the case.

~

I’d like to write a small note here to thank everyone this year (2017-2018) who supported the Saint Lucia National Trust, Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia, United & Strong and other organizations doing grassroots work in Saint Lucia. Your contributions are recognized and acknowledged. Thank you for working towards making our country a better and more equal place.

Mobility Issues Reduce Women's Accessibility To A Secure Future

When I went with my boyfriend to renew his Saint Lucian passport in downtown Castries, we climbed five flights of stairs to get to the top. Taking the elevator would have still left us with one or two flights of stairs to get to the office where passports are issued. Public buildings in Saint Lucia still leave a lot to be desired when it comes to accessibility. If it isn't ramps positioned at 75 degree angles, it's a lack of elevators or proper accommodations for physically disabled people.If you suffer from mobility issues in the Caribbean, expect to be excluded from many aspects of functioning independently. While community and family support does exist in the Caribbean, the dependence on others created by the inaccessibility of many public services (as well as proper health care) means that those who have issues with mobility are left in a vulnerable position.

We know that many disabled women face abuse because of their disabilities. Men prey on women they believe to be weaker, more vulnerable and less likely to fight back. When our society refuses to accommodate women with mobility issues, they may be forced to depend on abusers in order to make ends meet. Younger women may be unable to attend school, especially with illnesses like fibromyalgia. Our society puts women with mobility issues at a disadvantage, while scapegoating responsibility by half-assing ramps and elevators around the country.

(Note: Some elevators are hardly big enough for two people, far less wheelchairs)The cost of medical care for women with decreased mobility is another factor that oppresses the disabled in our society by denying them equal access to services that would improve the quality of life. Those who do not share the same needs as able-bodied folks are left behind. If we aim to create an equal society, we need to examine the impact that ableism has on a structural level. In this case, I mean this literally. The way we build our communities and the way we construct physical structures should not be done in such a way that excludes disabled people from our communities.

We need to break free from the capitalist notion that people's "utilitarianism" is what determines their value. We need to value everyone in our society equally and work on a structural change that increases accessibility for all.

LGBT Tuesdays: Anti-buggery laws

Striking anti-buggery laws are not a big priority for West Indian politicians, despite the fact that these homophobic laws are relics of a hateful past. We are willing to hang onto harmful colonial ideology as long as it's homophobic. Politicians do not even see it as a priority to protect LGBT citizens from violence.Government officials use their "Christianity" as an excuse for this, apparently missing the hundreds of passages in the Bible about being loving, just and non-violent. Their egos and their addiction to hatred impact policy that affects hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

We will never have a society that is committed to any kind of positive ideals as long as we have anti-buggery laws. We should not take any moral high ground or presume ourselves to be "good people" as long as these laws are still on the record. West Indians should feel ashamed of the fact that in 2017, we are barely committed to providing equal rights to life for all of our citizens. Of course, there are many other areas where we fall disturbingly short.

Our culture should not be wholly dependent on our laws -- and it isn't. Here, it's clear we need a legal shift as well as a cultural shift. But let's be real. We know West Indian politicians don't give a rat's...behind... about equality for all. Our laws and their behavior reflect this. So what can communities do? In Saint Lucia, we can work towards supporting United & Strong, an LGBT activist group that works for LGBT rights within our country. (Supporting = give money, in case that wasn't clear.) We can support individual LGBT citizens and campaign against homophobia in our families and groups of friends.

If we ever want an equal society, we won't let this slide. LGBT issues are not "minor" issues to be dismissed. We're talking about people's lives here. If your beliefs exclude viewing these people as human, you need to toss out the whole belief system and start again.

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).

Race and class have an impact on women's lives and I've discussed this before on this blog. When thinking about race and class, we need to avoid the belief that whiteness and multi-racial identities are "neutral" and therefore not worth examining. Blackness isn't the only identity that requires dissection as white people, non-black people and multiracial individuals all have different identities that affect their experience in the Caribbean.I happen to live in Saint Lucia, a country that has never had a social class of poor white people unlike islands like Barbados or Jamaica. This has affected the current socio-economic landscape of Saint Lucia and presents Saint Lucians with differing topics for discussion when it comes to race and class.

However, the existence of poor white people in other islands doesn't negate their racism. When reading the History of St Lucia (Devaux), there was a discussion about the virulent racism amongst poor white populations in other islands. Clearly, a lack of wealth amongst white people in the Caribbean does nothing to negate racism.Of course, there is far more depth to this subject, but this introduction is to highlight some of the complexity behind discussing race and class in the Caribbean. We should approach the subject with caution and we should not assume that the same dynamics of race and class in the United States exist here. However, this doesn't mean that the dynamics of race and class in the U.S. are irrelevant to the Caribbean, merely different. Or expressed in a different way.

A Proper understanding of race and class is especially important for those of us who believe that such matters do not affect our experiences or who do not see how these issues affect the experiences of others. When oppression is allowed to become invisible, it doesn't lose power -- it gains power.

West Indian Educational Trauma

 [Content Warning: abuse, violence]In primary and secondary schools in the Caribbean, students are often subjected to vast amounts of psychological and physical abuse. Yet, if you say this and look back on your education with less than adulation, you are chastised. It's as if you broke some unspoken code, to sweep the abuse under the rug and as is the typical course in our society, protect the abusers from criticism and ultimately, accountability.I've written in the past about how violent disciplinary methods disproportionately target blacker students from poor backgrounds. And I've written about how physical violence disproportionately targets male students in our schools. I've also taken the time to identify the definitions of both psychological and emotional abuse in previous posts. If you need a refresher, please take one before you continue reading.

Children in primary schools are there with their first priority being to learn. Other priorities may include schools being the one place students can secure a full meal for the day. Additionally, teachers are supposed to provide a temporary replacement for care and love students should be receiving from their parents while the parents are away working.

One of our earliest lessons in school is unfortunately, trauma bonding with the abusive people who are supposed to care for us. In this post, I'll mostly be writing about my own experiences regarding what I've witnessed in St. Lucian schools, but I can guarantee you that every other person schooled in this country that I've spoken to shares these experiences. While many of them have so thoroughly trauma bonded to their abusers that they look back on those violent times of their lives fondly, many of them have stepped out of the cycle of abuse and realized that their experiences reflected inappropriate behavior on the part of the adults who were supposed to care for them.

The thing about "abuse" is that it will justify itself continuously to prove that it exists. The teachers that inflicted sadistic violence upon school children -- specifically targeting those living in poverty in many cases -- often justified their behavior by saying that they would only beat for a "good reason". The catch here is that the abuser sets the goal posts, and moves them continuously based on their behavior. Every reason for brutal lashings with belts, thick sticks or branches suddenly becomes a "good reason". Children may know right from wrong but the power dynamic enables them incapable of responding to abuse with anything but deference. The impact of this in the long term has been clear in our culture today...Because people deny abuse within the school system, that doesn't mean that abuse hasn't happened. People will be shocked if you tell them that people controlling your literal bodily functions is abuse -- but it is. It is the same type of abuse common in prisons and concentration camps. Trauma bonding involves the very act of minimizing what has happened to you. You don't have to believe it for it to be an incontrovertible fact. The deluge of flat earth truthers doesn't mean that the Earth has suddenly stopped being round.

Acquiescing  to abusive power structures then becomes a measure of your worth in society. You are "good" if you obey nonsensical rules and you are "bad" if you are curious. You are "bad" if you question what you're told. This is another harmful lesson that's engrained early within our abusive school system.

Media, teachers and legislators collude to ensure we have a society that is continually abusive to children. Newspapers will publish blurbs about faulty studies with poor methodologies to claim that "beating is good" despite the fact that decades of real research has definitively determined for actual decades that the effects of beating children are deleterious in the long term. There are more effective disciplinary methods that do not involve the use of physical or emotional violence.

People who rally behind abuse within our school system supportively are then shocked to hear that students undergo abuses within the home. When our society has legalized abuse on such a wide-reaching scale, it should not then be surprising that the Caribbean has high rates of incest, sexual assault and/or murder. Violence begets violence and when the earliest lessons you learn are that violence is a way to accomplish your goals and "get people to behave", that sets the framework for your behavior in the future.The very abusers who see themselves as staunch disciplinarians will in many instances, have children arrested for drug crimes and they exhibit other anti-social behaviors. The abusers who see themselves as "good" for all of society miss the very fact that you cannot enjoy brutalizing small children without being a sadist. Justify it all you want, the abuse children face in school is nothing more than normalized sadism.

Throughout primary school, I remember many instances of sticks as thick as my forearm being broken on the backs of young black boys. I remember withholding your tears being seen as a sign of "manliness" -- one of the first instances of toxic patriarchal masculinity being forced on actual children. I remember teachers picking on students (like me) whose parents did not want them to be violently brutalized with weapons during the school day. Those of us whose parents did not endorse abuse were derided by the teachers entrusted to care for us. Obviously, we were spoiled if we did not receive violent beatings from strangers daily. That was really and truly the environment that I grew up in!In Secondary School, the abuse takes a different turn for girls and boys in some cases. At St. Mary's College, young boys are indoctrinated into a strict social hierarchy to "teach them how to be men" with the main focus of teaching them how to 1. avoid being gay and 2. endure abuse without complaint, even "laughing at it". (BTW, laughing at your abuse? Still doesn't mean it didn't happen. Still didn't mean that it wasn't abuse.) I cannot yet figure out a reason why anyone, especially a small teenager needs to "be a man" or do anything other than their homework and wholesome extra-curricular activities.

At St. Joseph's Convent, girls are subjected more often to psychological abuse than physical abuse. Of course, this is all good preparation to being a submissive wife to your violent future husband. The rest of the secondary schools in St. Lucia are co-ed -- and I can't speak confidently on the types of abuse that go on there but I can be reasonably assured there is a mix of emotional and physical violence.Abuse is how we learn our status in society and it is how we learn our worth. If that is the method of delivering the lesson, what is the  lesson that students in our society learn?

YOU ARE WORTHLESS.

That's it. That's the impact of all this schooling. You learn that you are worthless. When boys cannot cry, they learn that their emotions are worthless. When gay boys become the poster child for the "most horrendous thing any man could be", they learn the lesson that they are worthless. When "suspected lesbians" are gossiped about by their teachers, they learn the lesson that they are worthless. When children face daily insinuations that posture and skirt length indicate how "slutty" they are, they learn the lesson that they are worthless.

When disabled (ADHD, depression, fibromyalgia etc.) students are verbally abused for their "laziness", they learn that they are worthless. When dissent is criminalized, you learn that your feelings are not just worthless, but markers of inherent evil.I don't want to change anything today with this post. I just want you to open your eyes to your own experience. I want you to think back to instances in your childhood that you thought were unfair.

Consider the idea that you were right. Consider the idea that your moral compass was well-developed without physical brutality and that the unfair behavior of your teacher really was unfair. Reflect on those memories and reflect on whether or not violence was necessary. If you believe violence was/is necessary, I now want you to consider why. If you believe in Christian messages (for example) or if you hold any other belief that PEACE is what should be exalted above all things, why do you believe that violence is necessary?In the school system, the answer to that question is never "yes". If we want to raise a future generation without violence, we'll need to put an end to teaching them that violence is acceptable.