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?


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.

Intersectional Feminism: 5 Ways Class Changes Your Experience of Womanhood

Socioeconomic class influences all of our daily routines in the Caribbean. What we do on a morning (full, balanced breakfast vs. bread and tea), how we commute from place to place (bus vs. sedan vs. luxury four wheel drive), where and how we work (cashier vs. civil servant). Socioeconomic class is not "taboo" in a country where people flaunt even the most meaningless status symbols -- from Jansport backpacks to Audi's on the verge of getting repossessed. But when it comes to women's liberation as well as LGBT liberation, the majority of people are silent. All of a sudden, class becomes invisible when it might force you to look at a situation from a nuanced perspective.In reality, your socioeconomic class affects everything. You can't avoid discussing it when discussing women's liberation or you will never succeed in true equality. Additionally, you cannot (as a wealthy person, let's say) take a condescending role of "leadership" over the needs of all women. Being patronizing doesn't mean you've all of a sudden developed a nuanced understanding of what women in poverty need. Try again.

Here are five ways that class is likely to affect your experience as a woman in the Caribbean.

1.Access To Education

Opportunities for women who live in poverty are stymied from the time they're in primary school. In Secondary School and beyond, your level of education, as well as the quality of your education is still very much linked to your socioeconomic class. Can you afford to do get a degree? The ability to travel for a university education, to continue school beyond A-levels and more is all highly dependent on your family's ability to either afford school or take out a loan. This leaves a large portion of women in poverty who simply have no access to education -- the same education people claim will free them.Scholarships for a few individuals DO NOT change the entire landscape for women living in poverty whose lives were predetermined from the time they attended primary school in a specific region.

The socioeconomic class you were born into therefore has an effect on how you experience the world. To someone whose parents could afford to send them to Canada/US/UK for continuing education, achieving a bachelor's degree will seem "easy". But for a woman who grew up living in extreme poverty, achieving a bachelor's degree will not be the same.These discrepancies don't just apply to the tuition required to further your education. This affects young girls from the time they're in primary school: Can their parents afford to send them to school every day of the week? Can their parents afford bus money or school books or food? Achieving an education is tilted in favor of the middle class and upper middle class. It is not simply a function of "working hard", contrary to a belief held by much of the sheltered classes of our region.

2.Perception Of Womens' Immediate Needs

Wealthy women in this region have a very different perception of what women's immediate needs are. This typically leads to a feminism that looks very bourgeois at best and violently exclusionary at worst. Considering the immediate needs of women in our countries should not focus on the immediate needs of wealthy women -- which tend to be largely around acquiring more social capital and power than necessary.The needs of women in poverty tend to be more about survival than about simply feeling good. There are very real issues in our countries that would be better solved by wealthy women donating money and labor rather than holding exclusive roundtables. Continuous community action doesn't have the same luxe feel as an exclusive charitable event, plus it requires continuous long-term planning. When we choose how to help women based on the immediate needs and desires of the wealthy, we will find it impossible to achieve social equity.

3.Access To High-Quality Health Care

Women living in poverty receive very different treatment from health care professionals than women who don't live in poverty. From doctors to nurses, women are judged based on their perceived socioeconomic class and the treatment they're given is dependent on this as well. Disparities in health and health care exist outside of the Caribbean too and we can look to previous research to understand how the effect play out in our own countries.The discrepancies in the quality between our private and public hospitals also point to a glaring example of how much worse the quality of care is for poor women than it is for wealthier women who can afford (or manage) the hefty price tags associated with private hospitals. This doesn't even touch on the affordability of health insurance for women living in extreme poverty, where you're certain to see this same discrepancy.

Poor women get far worse health care than wealthier women and this affects their experience in the world, their approach to illness as well as the long-term prognosis for serious illness.

4. Impact Of Rape, Abuse And Domestic Violence

Poor women are less sheltered from abuse and domestic violence and they're less sheltered from the long-term impact of sexual assault as well as abuse. Poor women are more likely to suffer from the aftermath of domestic violence and are also more likely to suffer from domestic abuse.  The link between poverty and surviving domestic abuse goes beyond the increased likeliness of being a victim. Approximately 50% of domestic violence and assault survivors lose their jobs as a direct result (see source linked above). In homes headed by women, where women are the sole income earners, this can have devastating effects.

Women who are not poor still face issues of being vulnerable to rape, abuse, and domestic violence, but they tend to be more sheltered from the events. It might not be as life-changing to lose your job if you have months of money saved up for example, or tons of assets and a well-connected family to help you through the difficult times. However, for women who are living hand-to-mouth, the impact of rape, abuse, and domestic violence differs.

Child maltreatment via neglect is more common for people who grew up with poor mothers; this isn't for moral reasons or due to "education", but rather due to the economic realities of living in poverty. Being a poor woman means less time to dedicate towards child rearing and can lead to abuse. This can have two effects. Women could be on the receiving end of this while they are children and they can also perpetuate this abuse when they become mothers. Considering both poverty and abuse are cyclical, it's not hard to see how childhood maltreatment can perpetuate from one generation onto another giving poor women a markedly different experience of childhood and abuse from those in wealthier economic situations.Poverty and sexual violence share an analogous link. People who commit sexual violence often target poor women due to their vulnerable positions in society; perpetrators intentionally target women who will be in socially weak positions to seek justice or to retaliate. And again, as with domestic abuse, experiencing sexual violence puts women who are already vulnerable at greater risk of losing their jobs or suffering other financial consequences.

5. How Other Women Treat YouI added this last point not necessarily because it has been studied at length but because it's true and it's especially true amongst women who consider themselves to be educated. And women who consider themselves to be feminists.Feminist circles are rife with classism. There is a moralistic stance taken against women who don't have fancy educations regarding feminism and against women who don't express themselves in certain ways deemed acceptable and appropriate. It shouldn't be hard to guess therefore that what's considered "acceptable" is behaving in a way that is posh, fancy or more upper class. Women who express themselves in ways that are deemed too "declassé" and "unrefined" are ignored, dismissed and discounted constantly. If you're a frequent flier on my blog, you should be able to guess which racial demographic these women tend to fall into... Even in the Caribbean.

Especially in upper-class circles, there's also a negative, condescending attitude towards younger women and their views on feminism. As there is a great degree of younger women who do not believe that women's rights should be exclusive to the bourgeois class, many older women take this opportunity to discount the valid work of younger feminists and younger women in general. They do this via tone policing or flat out dismissal of younger feminists opinions. Basically, they latch onto any excuse for things to remain the same as in truth, they are not interested in women's liberation but getting a cushier spot within their already secure position at the top of the status quo. Again, this is rife with respectability politics that actually have a negative impact in the long-term quest for women's liberation.You don't have to dress like a nun to be a feminist, although, to many middle and upper-class feminists, especially in the Caribbean, you do. Maintaining your image and acquiescing to the rules of patriarchy becomes more important to the wealthy than change. To them, feminism is simply a tool to acquire the power that men have and it isn't a genuine movement to dismantle systems of oppression like the cis hetero patriarchy.

(Just a full disclaimer here this term is NOT my own. I hope I've cited it well enough so just click the link and give credit where it's due.) This is because, in order to dismantle systems of oppression, you do have to take a hard look at socioeconomic class and bringing liberation to the poor, something that most middle and upper-class people possess a deep fear of doing.This is all to say that due to this fear of poor women and what their liberation would mean, as well as an allegiance to patriarchy on some level, wealthier women treat poor women as their lessers. And they might have fancy excuses for why they're doing so but the reality is something different and it's largely based on unexamined prejudices, personal philosophies as well as flat out bias.I am not going to add any disclaimer here about not wanting to "hurt feelings" or whatever you want to call it. The fact of the matter is that middle and upper-class women should feel uncomfortable, especially if they have never thought about ANY of these points before.I especially want to direct this to young feminists who are eager to label themselves feminist while pursuing patriarchal approval with equal fervor. Their desperation to inhabit to worlds that are totally incongruent leads to many contradictions and flaws within Caribbean feminist groups whether official organizations or simply groups of Caribbean feminists in general. Ask yourself: Could your actions and your personal philosophies require greater scrutiny? Is there more fine tuning and education for you to accomplish? How can you be a better person without relying on the smoke and mirrors of a label unfettered to genuine action?

Additionally, I want to ensure that women who read this take the time to really check themselves for the condescension that is typical of the "educated" classes in the Caribbean. I want to personally remind you that your degree is just a piece of paper, but how you treat the women in your community is very very real. How you live in the world is where all your significance lies. Your identity need not rely on putting other women down. Rather, we need to open our hearts to all of the women on our islands and allow our women to speak the truth of their oppression, even if we don't like what they have to say or how they have to say it.

Intersectional Feminism: Abuse & Feminism

Abuse and feminism are incompatible, yet many people who call themselves feminists are also abusers. It sounds like a drastic or incorrect statement, but we know it's true either from experience or through reading. That's why there are articles like this one on Everyday Feminism, warning you about the types of feminist men who abuse their status as feminist allies. That's why in activist circles, there are high status individuals who get away with bullying, coercion and other forms of abuse. We intuitively know that simply stating that you're a feminist doesn't change your ability to abuse people, yet many of us call ourselves feminists without reading literature on abuse, checking ourselves for these "toxic" behaviors or by practicing non-abusive forms of communication with our loved ones.  We know that this is true, but we still don't believe victims or survivors who come forward about their experiences.

But still, abuse and feminism are incompatible, so what can we do to ensure we stop normalizing abuse in our communities and our relationships? For our feminist work to be meaningful, it has to be void of all manner of exploitation, so learning about abuse and ending abuse is critical! With abuse, we cannot have liberation for women. We cannot have liberation for any group of oppressed people when we accept oppressive power dynamics in relationships. After all, social norms are built off of our every day relationships and how they function.

I have five suggestions for what we can do to change the way we relate to each other and work on expunging abuse from our lives. Note well!! I do not mean this as a guide for how victims should respond to abuse, but rather what we can do to ensure that we are not abusing others and showing compassion to people in our community who have experienced abuse (whether emotional, physical, financial etc.)

Learn To Empathize With Victims Of Abuse (Including Yourself!)This means believing people who come forward about abuse. This means speaking out against abusers in your community and not covering up their abuse for the sake of social status. This means educating yourself about the reality that victims of abuse live in. When you learn the truth and learn to never blame victims of abuse, you'll have finished the first step in extending empathy to victims. Do your research! Some great resources about abuse can be found on the Center of Disease Control website or in the book Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft.If you are a victim or a survivor or some kind of abuse, be sure you extend this empathy to yourself too.

Study Non-Violent Communication And Boundary SettingTo do what you can in your own life, you can practice non-violent communication. This blog shows some "rules" for fair-fighting that do not include yelling or belittling your partner. Yes, everyone is allowed to be angry, but no one is allowed to degrade another person out of anger. Studying ways to communicate with people in our lives without violence even when we're angry ensures that we have relationships where we promote healthy communication instead of verbal abuse and intimidation to manipulate the other person into our point of view.Setting boundaries is an aspect of fighting abuse that will allow us to clearly delineate what behavior we will and will not accept from others before we start friendships or relationships with people. Having a clear idea of our boundaries is not a fool-proof way to prevent abuse. However, it has the potential to help us weed out people who test boundaries instead of respecting them implicitly.

Recognize Your Toxic Habits And Practice Changing ThemThis is in line with studying non-violent communication but includes other ways you might be using abusive or manipulative tactics to get your way with the people in your life. Do you use the silent treatment to get a partner to acquiesce to your wishes? Do you yell until your partner agrees? Are you dishonest about your intentions in a relationship to get what you want?These are only a few toxic habits, but looking at your behavior for toxic habits and then learning alternative ways to get your needs met can improve all of your relationships. When you work towards healthy communication, respect for others' boundaries and setting healthy boundaries of your own, you can only see positive results! Relationships based on positivity and respect are far more fulfilling than those built on abuse and manipulation. It almost goes without saying, yet some people equate abuse/manipulation with love when really, the two can never coexist.

Learn "Red Flags" That Will Help You Identify (And Avoid) Abusers. Abuse is 100% the responsibility of the abuser. I reluctantly put this point on because I know there is a lot of room for it to be invalidated as well as a lot of room for it to be misinterpreted. I decided to add it because even if abuse is not the responsibility of the victim, it can't hurt to become aware of some red flags. If abuse is normal in your life/relationship dynamics, without learning red flags you may never learn to recognize some critical signs that may point to someone having ill intent with you.I don't want to list all the red flags here, but I will point you to some good resources. How To Spot A Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved by Sandra L. Brown is a great read (although it is heteronormative, so warning for that). For a quick summary of red flags, you can visit this website.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Show Compassion To Abuse Victims/Survivors

Donate to (good) charities that deal with domestic violence! Or show compassion to abuse victims/survivors in your own life. If you can't help financially, reach out to charities or individuals who may need your time. This does not mean being invasive because you suspect someone is being abused, rather, try to get involved in community or individual initiatives.If you don't have time or money at least take the time to educate yourself and stand up for victims of abuse in conversations with your friends. Educate them when they make ignorant statements and correct misconceptions. Do what you can to extend compassion to your community!

Ending abuse is critical to an effective feminist movement in the Caribbean. We all need to do this together. 

What We Work To Hide: Abuse In The Caribbean

For the past month, I’ve been in the United States and since coming here, I’ve spent my free time continuing my self-education about abuse of all forms including emotional and physical abuse.Before January/February of 2016, here are examples of some of the books I’ve read (including Amazon links)Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: How Manipulators Take Control In Personal RelationshipsHow to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get InvolvedWhy is he so mean to me?

Throughout all of these books, there are some pretty interesting conclusions to be drawn about abuse…What type of cultural environments make people prone to becoming abusers?How can you tell when abuse is happening (in your own life and in others)?Most people reading this will probably be in some form of denial about abuse as it plays out in their lives. Especially if they’re West Indian…But of course, abuse and denial are our drugs of choice (besides alcohol of course.)The realities of abuse in our society are often very difficult for me to narrow down. There are so many facets to abuse and all of these facets of abuse are woven through every aspect of our society to the point where nearly every social interaction is tainted by either the specter of abuse or abuse in the flesh…

Even the definition of abuse seems to vary from person to person. Among abusers especially, the definition seems to require only extreme behavior for it to “really count”. Something to think about….The biggest takeaway I’ve managed to gain from all of this reading is that emotional/physical abuse are such a part of Caribbean culture that healing will be a large task that will span across multiple generations. There's no band-aid. No quick fix. No viral video or cutesy slogan that will put an end to this.It will take work. Real hard work on the individual and community level.It’s difficult for me to take marches against abuse seriously in this case especially when imagining how many who march against abuse hit their children or verbally abuse them… Or use emotional manipulation to meet their own ends.

To me, it all feels overwhelming… From defining abuse to figuring out how and why it happens.A few things are clear though so I’ll try to tease them out and add a little bit of linear fashion to this circular blog post.1. Abuse affects every West Indian person every day of their lives whether they are victims or abusers2. Only you can decide how not to be an abuser but doing so will take a lot of unlearning — destroying old patterns of thinking and replacing them with new ones3. Eliminating abuse from your life might be impossible, but it’s worth a shot. The journey begins with yourself. (Corny, I know.)4. The way West Indian culture functions opens you up to abuse…Expanding on that point for the knee-jerk reactions:

The way you’re expected to hug family members even if you don’t want to… Even if they might be dangerous to you…The way you’re expected to do things to appease “what people will think” despite the potential damage it may cause…The way support for abusers is normalized in our culture when people blame women for not leaving their partners…The way women are blamed for men’s abusive/violent behavior when other women blame men’s behavior on the way women dress…(Now it’s time for you to add to the list on your own.)

This February, I knew I had to bite the bullet and write SOMETHING about abuse when I read the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for YourselfThis book opened my eyes to ALL the ways that codependency (for every abuser, there is a codependent) and by that count abuse has affected my own life. From my behaviors, to EVERY other person in my life. I knew I had to say something! It’s hard to distill all the great lessons from Melody Beattie’s book but let’s just say it was a game changer. There ARE ways that you can end the abuse in your life. There ARE ways you can exist in a world free from manipulation and abuse.

This is a touchy subject. The word abuse instantly turns people into shrinking violets. No one wants to admit that any one in their life has been abusive. (How would it LOOK to PEOPLE?! Gasp!) But it’s important to do so. It’s important to call a spade a spade or you will never have healing. If you keep calling your broken leg “a small injury” how will you ever get a doctor to set your damn bone so you can walk again?

I think that every West Indian (especially WI women) should take a look at this list of books. Pick up one or two. Split the cost with friends if you have to. If that’s not accessible, at least take the time to think long and hard about abuse and how it might be impacting your life. I’ll include a few links below that you will find very helpful — free resources that will at least get to some of the issues you may be facing.This is just a brief post to start off what will surely be a long list of posts about abuse in Caribbean culture. I encourage you to think about your experiences and your life…. How is abuse normalized in your life… In your behavior or in your family? What can you do TODAY to end a cycle of abuse or to break an abusive pattern? Comment below if you’d like! I’d love to open this blog up to a bit more conversation…