How Environmental Racism Applies To The Caribbean Region

Environmental racism refers to marginalized communities being disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards compared to communities that are not marginalized (Source: Wikipedia Search). First world countries subject the Caribbean region to environmental racism through environmental destruction and notably in St. Lucia via resort tourism and cruise ships. Foreign news sources confirm the environmental impact of cruise ships as being largely negative; the negative outweighs the benefit that cruise ships can bring to the economy. Despite the fact that resorts and cruise ships are known to cause unchecked environmental destruction (including the destruction of coral reefs) we find foreign investors and government officials all too willing to sell our land under the guise of "development".

But who does this development really benefit?The tourism industry and those who sit at the top -- hoteliers and government officials responsible for giving them permission to destroy our lands -- exploit the Caribbean region in a way few other regions of the world are exploited. The global south receives none of the alleged economic benefits of resorts. In Saint Lucia, hotels receive massive tax breaks and white-collar jobs are typically reserved for foreigners while blue collar jobs (and sometimes "unpaid internships" also known as slave labor) are reserved for our locals. We see no "benefits" but we pretend these small-time temporary positions will save our economy, all the while destroying the natural habitat we need to survive.

The Caribbean region -- being a series of islands -- is also disproportionately affected by global climate change. While we may not be viewing the full effects of climate change yet, climate experts have predicted an increase in hurricanes in our region throughout the next few years. Do many of you remember Hurricane Ivan and the impact in Grenada? What about the earthquake in Haiti? Our region's economy and population simply cannot sustain repeated destruction at the hands of natural disasters. The way we are disproportionately affected by climate change is hardly an accident. Regions heavily populated by people of non-white descent are the main victims of climate destruction due to climate change. But those who cause this large scale ecological destruction remain unscathed (for now) by the impact of their actions. They pollute the globe; we face the consequences.

As I've shown above, this happens on large scales and small. On the large scale, we have the shifting climate which will lead to more natural disasters ravaging our region. On a smaller scale, we have individual investors seeking to destroy coral reefs in exchange for large resorts that have high chances of going out of business and minuscule chances of overhauling our economies.

Discussing environmental racism can be depressing. But really, this just paints a further case for reparations from the nations that built themselves on the backs of our ancestors. We were enslaved (which was not just hard labor but also large scale social and sexual violence) and Europe became rich. When they were through with us, we were granted "independence" where we conveniently pledge allegiance to the Queen while receiving absolutely none of the benefits of citizenship to the U.K. They have a global playground while we struggle to receive adequate health care and education.

In the future, we need to truly become conscious of what it means to rely on "tourism" for our bread and butter when it's clear that it has very little positive impact for the majority of the population of our country. Being subjected to highly abusive conditions in temporary jobs is not going to save us. We need to start thinking about strategies that will and put an end to this exploitation of our soil.

Intersectional Feminism: The Spectre of White Supremacy in the Caribbean

 "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.

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.