Traveling To Poor Countries Doesn't Make You A Better Person

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”

— Marcel Proust

In 2018, I’ve traveled more than I have any other year of my life that I can remember. I traveled to Barbados twice, visited different cities and towns all across the East Coast of the United States from New York to Washington, DC. My travels were to both rural destinations, fully gentrified cities and cities enduring the destructive transformation of gentrification street by street.

Traveling has opened my eyes. I don’t mean this in the corny way white girls do when they take a picture with an exuberant (or more hilariously, totally uninterested) mahogany colored child. Opening my eyes to my internal journey throughout my 2018 travels has cracked open a major myth about traveling that is all too easy to believe when you’re fantasizing about Santorini from a bed.

Travel is not inherently transformative. Travel doesn’t break down the barriers between visitors and tourists. Traveling doesn’t make you a better person.

Can traveling have a positive impact? Absolutely. But the myth that change, transformation and a better understanding of social inequalities erupt inherently from travel serves only to perpetuate the capitalistic myth that our consumption is equivalent to activism.

The relation between a tourist and a travel destination is, through the inherent nature of our economy, a consumptive exchange. The tourist is the consumer and the travel destination is the product. For this relationship to exist, every aspect of the travel destination must be dehumanized, distilled and objectified into a product. This is a part of the reason why hotel workers in the Caribbean experience such high rates of harassment and sexual exploitation.* As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this relationship between tourist and destination is why we have the term “vacation packages”. Experiences and services are represented by physical, grounding terms which influence the visitor's expectations surrounding the interaction.

Most people who travel throughout the Caribbean (although not all) come from positions of significantly greater privilege than the people they are visiting. Most American citizens and English citizens can travel to Saint Lucia without visas, yet Saint Lucians cannot set foot in the United States without enduring the lengthy, expensive and unpredictable process of visa application. Wages in the United States are higher, and the greater opportunities in the country lead to most people from first world countries who visit being wealthier than the average Saint Lucian they will interact with. I’m not arguing “why” this is the case here, merely observing the power imbalance.

People from wealthier countries also arrive in Saint Lucia with a currency that has an increased value when they arrive. Combining this with the greater earnings, and the difference in economic power is probably one of the most unequal dynamics that a tourist could experiences first hard. Most tourists are insulated from ever having to regard the people that inhabit the place they're visiting as people due to a combination of segregation and the nature of the resort design. 

Such power imbalances don’t only occur in the Caribbean. Many of the currently popular travel destinations like Bali or Malaysia are hailed for how “cheap” they are. The fact that someone’s income is “good for where they are” doesn’t mean that it’s fair, nor does it eliminate the massive power differential between a first world and third world resident. For example, people who visit Bali tout the low cost and are quick to assert that they are all but saving the economy because ‘it’s good money there’. I wonder how many people who claim that their pithy offerings are “good money” would leave their first world lives behind to live and work for the same wages of the workers they are helping with their gracious acts of consumption.

The expectation that tourist destinations cater to your personal growth and exploration indulges in this dynamic of exploitation that is very nearly inherent in the relationship between a tourist and a travel destination. This dynamic of exploitation exists between the tourist and the local as well as the tourist and the physical land itself. When the same relationship is phrased differently, sometimes the exploitation becomes easier for people to see. The white married woman who travels to the Caribbean for the purpose of having a sexual relationship with an underage (or near underage) black child can be clearly identified as exploitative and fetishistic. Strip the dynamic of the overtly sexual aspects and the exploitation remains, but there is plausible deniability that allows the powerful to pretend their power doesn’t exist. Sexual abuse and verbal abuse are not the only ways to exploit people and interpersonal exploitation is not always overt. Objectification can exist in another common situation where a tourist snaps a picture with a black child after visiting Africa, or Haiti, for example. In this instance, the child is dehumanized as their presence isn't about who they are as a person but rather the purpose they serve in providing the tourist with the appearance of worldliness, open-mindedness, and adventure -- perspectives that are also associated with both "goodness" and wealth.

The physical representation (photograph) of a tourist's foray into the heart of darkness, represents a tremendous amount of social capital in a world where acts of consumption are marked with the same value as activism. In these situations and similar exploitative yet non-sexual situations, locals are objectified and dehumanized to become a part of the “vacation package”.  Their struggles are made invisible to exalt the appearance of "goodness" that the tourist desires to feel as if they are "helping" or making a change somewhere. Within a few months, if I’m generous, the local is forgotten and memorialized as a part of that “crazy” vacation that the tourist will “always remember”. 

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Resort owners, colluding governments and policymakers — elite members of the upper class — collude to manufacture the “package” that tourists expect. Foreign expectations don’t exist in a vacuum away from social issues. Racist people (whether consciously racist or not) will bring their prejudices with them when they travel and the experience of visiting is not enough to undo implicit racism. Since implicit racism can exist beneath the surface of awareness, it's nearly impossible for it to be "cured" on its own. And certainly, the cure would not be sitting at a resort while under-paid black workers clean up after you and serve you. 

The myth that traveling (and being near black Caribbean people) is enough to instigate an internal paradigm shift invokes a negative (and false) belief regarding diversity that black people’s mere existence is enough to subvert decades of anti-black programming from schools, family and media, not to mention the legacy of imperialism and entitlement that tourists from most first world countries feel with regards to the Commonwealth nations and other formerly colonized countries. This simply isn't the case and prejudice cannot be wished away. The consumptive nature of the tropical vacation devoids the interaction between tourist and local of any real chance at empathy, meaning, and understanding. For the vacation package to maintain its integrity it must "entertain" and thusly render the local's struggles invisible. 

Tourism provides an avenue for practitioners of modern manifest destiny to enact their fantasies of domination and control under the guise of moral superiority for their dedication to being “free spirits” or “explorers”.The globe is seen as virtually uninhabited. The “locals” exist merely as tools for their personal enjoyment — as part of the package and experience of travel. Locals are not perceived with the same depth and dimension as visitors due to the transactional nature of tourism, every local becomes a pseudo-customer service provider.

Claims that our society “needs to do better” after a tourist is robbed in the Castries market, for example, indicate that we see it as the responsibility of individual citizens to act as customer service providers who do nothing to tarnish the experience of the hallowed tourists who have deigned to visit us and consume.

This exploitation need not be an intentional act of individuals, but those individuals exploit dynamics established from the days of colonialism and slavery in the Caribbean. The current relationship between the major first world countries where tourists hail from and the Caribbean are relationships fraught with abuse, where Caribbean nations are forced or encouraged on an international stage to make concessions for these first world countries, without receiving any benefits in return aside from the mythological “wealth” we gain from hotels — yet to be seen in the form of filled roads or high-quality public services.

Our tax code favors large breaks and tax incentives for foreign developers that may enable them to pay either nothing at all or a fraction of what they truly owe. These hotels and resorts hire black locals for the lowest paying jobs and prefer to keep the highest ranking members of their staff foreign. Even if locals do attain these jobs, the number of high paying jobs provided by these hotels is significantly lower than what their tax breaks might suggest. Many of the hotels exist as parts of multi-billion dollar conglomerates, yet we are supposed to believe that a contribution of a few jobs well under $100,000 USD a year is considered a generous boost to the economy and accept that this gives foreigners and hotel owners the rights to do whatever they please.

Our nations become playgrounds for the rich and we are supposed to be grateful that we get the chance to clean up after them once they’re through playing.

Tourists do not think about this. If they did, I doubt they would feel comfortable in their segregated first world enclaves in a country with crumbling public works. Their perspective insulates them from the larger issues and implications of the tourism industry’s grip on our economy and the exploitative dynamic is purposefully invisible to them, allowing their consciences to remain unencumbered as they traipse freely through whichever nations they please.

A tourist’s experience exists largely in fantasy. Popular travel blogs will often make claims of there being a difference between a tourist and a ‘traveler’, a claim intended to imbue moral superiority amongst the various shades of exploitation — both the oblivious and self-righteous. Yet, the act of visiting a place or even in a rare case, extending empathy (gasp!) to the people that live there, doesn’t remove the dynamic of exploitation. Travel in itself is not enough to remove prejudice and even extensive travel does not either.

Christopher Columbus was a traveler and that didn’t stop him from being a rapist and a murderer.

I’m not entirely cynical, and I do think that travel can have the potential to change an individual’s perspective. Often times, that “change” is a lot shallower and more temporary than tourists and the travel-obsessed are willing to admit. Yet, it’s possible. This change cannot come however from wishful thinking, nor from pretending that tourism and travel exist in a vacuum unencumbered by the forces of white supremacist hetero-patriarchy (to quote bell hooks). It will take more than messy buns, luxurious resorts and $1,000 plane tickets for significant internal change to occur… But I’ll leave that discussion for another month.

*Regardless of individuals opinions, the unequal power dynamic of guest vs. Hotel worker renders all sexual encounters inherently exploitative. Add racial fetishism and elitist entitlement to the mix and this sexual exploitation becomes more clear.

Why "Stop The Violence" Campaigns Are Ineffective

Today, I want to write about something that has been bothering me for a long time. Once in a while there will be a period of seemingly nonstop violence in St. Lucia, as I’m sure is the case in other Caribbean countries. For example, during last year's Christmas season and early January, I could hear multiple gunshots from downtown Castries almost daily. Nearly every day in the news I read about some murder or group of murders that had occurred in the north of the island. Many of these murders happened disturbingly close to my home.

In the wake of such violence, it's common for the ministers and other government officials to release statements calling for an end to violence. From as early as I can remember, I recall hearing minister, teachers, and other officials calling for violence to come to an end. However, violence still continues today in St. Lucia. All of these calls for prayers and short-term solutions failed to stop the gun and gang violence in St. Lucia.

Why is that? Well, the first thing we need to realize here is that short-term solutions for violence are never going to work simply because they are short-term. In order to have an effective campaign to stop violence, we need to think in the long-term— something that many in charge seem to be incapable of doing.

Perhaps it is time for us to start looking outside of bureaucracy to stop the violence in our communities. But again, this presents a unique set of challenges for most citizens. We fear violence. Nobody wants to be killed by a stray bullet or to become involved in some criminal activity that they previously weren't involved in. However, for us to stop violence, will need to go into the belly of the beast and see what is really going on. (This mostly applies to middle-class and wealthier St. Lucians who have the privilege of not existing in communities with heavy amounts of violence.)

We also need to conceive of a long-term plan for St. Lucian society, one that eliminates violence as a whole. We cannot eliminate gun violence or gang violence uniquely. This is like suggesting that we should just remove a piece of a cancerous tumor instead of the entire thing. It simply doesn't make sense.

Violence and abuse are actually seen as fundamental to most people’s upbringing in the Caribbean. Violence starts from the time we are children and many St. Lucians actually use biblical justification to prove that violence is necessary for raising a child. (Side note: This biblical justification ignores the multitude of passages where Jesus calls for kindness and love.)

The lessons we learn as children carry on into adulthood. When we learned that violence and abuse were fundamental to our existence, we learned to use violence and abuse to solve all of our problems. Violence became easy to us because that was what we learned as children.

This is not saying let all children run amok. (Yes, I do have to clarify this.) Actually, many psychologists have developed ways to raise children that instill discipline without resorting to abuse or violence. This is not new--this research has been around for more than 30 years. Still, we rely on abuse and violence to build the foundation of our nation's psyche. This is one of the biggest issues at the root of gang violence and gun violence in St. Lucia. We see violence and abuse as normal and refuse to do anything to fight against it until it becomes unacceptable to us.

One of the issues with building the foundation of our society on violence and abuse is that we learn a very black-and-white way of viewing the world. Since our childhood experiences inform our experiences in adulthood, we grow up seeing problem-solving in a way that valorizes punitive methods. We think that punishment is the only way to accomplish our goals to the point where we are blind to alternative solutions and will fight to the death for the belief that punishment is the only way to get anything done. However, violence begets more violence and this ends up being a very ineffective way of viewing our society's current issues, especially with gang violence and gun violence.

Once you add in social factors on top of this foundation of violence, we begin to see that we're in quite a predicament as Caribbean people. The prime minister of St. Lucia recently claimed that poverty and violence are unrelated. I find that this claim has little substance in a country where the majority of people exist in poverty — and have little access to education, health care and social services that send the societal message that their lives have significance. Additionally, multiple studies have linked poverty and crime across the globe. These studies should not be interpreted in a manner that allows for discriminatory practices against the poor. Again, we need to think non-punitively and use this information to weave a stronger social fabric. Poverty does beget violence. Desperation does beget violence. And ultimately, a society that is based on violently of bringing children begets more violence in adulthood.

The campaigns do nothing to address these underlying issues and in fact, acknowledging the truth of these issues is almost taboo. From as early as I can remember campaigns to stop violence in St. Lucia have done nothing in the long-term. They pay lip service to the public and weakly satiate our desire for our government to take action on our behalf.

Government officials and those in charge of leading the country completely ignore the root cause of violence in our communities and they aren't interested in seeking out alternative solutions to ending violence in St. Lucia (or throughout the Caribbean, as I’m sure this is a regional problem). This would mean doing critical analysis of our society and educating themselves about the vast array of research that currently exists regarding community violence. And again, these officials would then have to acknowledge that violence in childhood is correlated to violence in adulthood. This is clearly something they are unwilling to do as bills to ban something as simple and ubiquitous as corporal punishment in schools have not yet been passed.

Additionally, prayer is not a valid solution to ending violence in our communities. This is another way that government officials quickly placate the public. Calling for prayer taps into our religious population’s sensitivity towards their beliefs. Using St. Lucians’ religious beliefs is a very easy way to manipulate them— something missionaries have been doing in our country for years.

While I do believe that there is something to be said for the power of prayer for some, prayer doesn't stop people from being abusive, it doesn't stop people from experiencing poverty, and it also doesn't stop violence in our region. Living in San Souci, I hear prayers on a loud speaker every day of the week for hours at a time. Sometimes within the very same evening, I will hear gunshots in Conway which have never once ceased due to the fervent prayers that I hear in the background as I work. And trust me, they’re praying loudly enough.

To stop violence in the Caribbean we need to do something radically different. Repeating the same things that have never worked is a hallmark of foolishness and shines a light on the lack of caring on the part of people who are in charge of governing our country. Community violence should be approached not just with short-term solutions but with effective long-term solutions.

The answers lie in a nonviolent approach and approaching community violence from a place that is largely non-punitive. Having recently read “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg, I believe that there are multiple solutions to end community violence just within the pages of his book. This proves to us that others have found solutions to community violence. Somewhere out there out the answers we seek are waiting to be found. All we need is a group of government officials as well as a group of citizens who are willing to search and find these answers.

Until then, I suspect I will be sitting at my desk listening to gunshots in the city below for a very long time.

Both Sides Of The "Should West Indians Wear Dashikis" Controversy

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.One side of the debate defending West Indians wearing dashikis by mentioning that "we are all Africans". Since we are all originally from West Africa, they saw dashikis as being a celebration of our African heritage. Some defended dashikis by saying they were just a style, and imbuing them with any meaning was going too far. Others defended it by saying that dashikis were no less West Indian than madras, which originates from India and is a part of many islands' national dress.

The other side of the argument -- the side that believed West Indians shouldn't wear madras -- came from a different perspective. They believed that we are West Indians, not Africans, therefore, we shouldn't wear African clothing. They said that madras was different as it came to the West Indies and became a part of West Indian culture when the first Indians migrated to the Caribbean. They cite our multiracialism for why madras can still be a part of Jounen Kwéyòl, as it is a celebration of our creole heritage. They were also against St. Lucians wearing dashikis because they didn't believe we had a proper understanding of the culture dashikis came from.When reading through the debates, slews of insults, and arguments, and whilst talking to people, I really came to empathize with both sides and to understand their general perspective. The side that supported wearing dashikis represents a perspective of people who are both desperate to connect to their lost (or somewhat lost) African heritage. There is an underlying desire to be "pro-black" and proudly display their blackness. The side that disagreed with wearing dashikis represents a perspective of people who want to support who we are now. 

They don't disavow our African heritage -- at least not necessarily -- but they do acknowledge that we are different people. They acknowledge West Indian culture's contemporary disconnect from Africa and they do not see this as a problem.It's difficult for me to look at both sides and see either side as being wrong. One side might be misguided and both may certainly be misguided in their methodology. But it's in my nature to empathize with people who have been stripped of their homeland and identity who struggle with their current place in the world. This is especially tricky in a country like St. Lucia, where we do not learn history specific to our country in school.

While I empathize with both sides of the discussion, I also see a place for both sides to be critiqued. There's a possibility that the new interest in dashikis could be interpreted as a disrespectful attempt to connect as it doesn't require any real education about West African history. Thus, it may appear disingenuous, especially if it's not paired with other attempts to connect to West African history, politics or social issues. Also, we do not necessarily hail from the regions in Africa where dashikis are popular. It simply might not be our culture to claim -- and there are many arguments that suggest it isn't.

Those who are against West Indian folk wearing dashikis are not above reproach. Some of them shun the dashiki for racist reasons, a deep-seated shame about our African heritage and desperation to cover it up under the guise of caring about the dashiki's cultural significance in West Africa. The desire to acknowledge multi-racialism usually reads as being quite suspicious to me. The West Indies contains a black majority and there is a big push by some to paint the region as being multi-racial in an attempt to distance us from blackness. Additionally, the side against wearing dashikis doesn't seem to be as vociferous about other trends in St. Lucia. What is bothersome about the dashiki, except the fact that it is African?

So, should West Indians wear dashikis? Personally, I have no stake in the matter. I won't be wearing a dashiki, but I feel neither enraged nor impressed when others do. I acknowledge that there's potential for it to be perceived as disrespectful by West African people, and I see that as valid. Yet, I question the real impact of West Indian cultural appropriation. We are a small group of people with an even smaller scope of influence on the globe. I see this issue as representative of a larger issue regarding heritage and belonging. Many feel content to be West Indian, while others yearn for a connection severed hundreds of years ago. I question how our culture will change in the future. I question what we will consider worth protecting, and what we will consider worth fighting for. I wonder what we will see as important to preserve. 

5 Ways Caribbean Journalism Disrespects ALL Caribbean Citizens

On the rare occasion when I actually want a migraine, I'll open up my web browser or my email and see what's new in Caribbean regional news. Sometimes on Facebook, against my will, I'll also be exposed to various local news sources. Often, what I encounter stimulates deep feelings of embarrassment and disappointment. I've finally put my finger on why that is.

Journalism should abide by a code of ethics. In fact, in other parts of the world, journalists codes of ethics tend to be agreed upon. Here's a summary that was taken from the preamble of U.S. Journalistic Standards And Ethics (written by the Society of Professional Journalists):"...public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility." 

Fairness is one of the primary values of journalists. This means that reporting should not embody a bigoted perspective or seek to further a bigoted agenda. Truth and honesty mean portraying situations with their full historical context. Journalistic integrity means that publications should seek to publish accurate information and take into account all the facts that comprise of a particular situation or news story. This journalistic integrity is totally lacking in regional news sources and some of the prime offenders are local, St. Lucian news sources themselves. Here are five ways that Caribbean journalism is unethical, with examples to illustrate my point.

1 Bigoted bias against marginalized communities like women and the LGBT community

In Barbados, the Nation newspaper came under fire for this headline, "‘Gentleman’ gets taste of male medicine" written to cover a story about a lesbian who was raped by a straight man. The fact that this headline was published (even in a gossip column), shows how easily casual homophobia, as well as misogyny, slips past editors. Even in the report of the "scandal", the authors include the fact that the rape victim was under the influence of alcohol -- a detail that is not relevant to the story and serves to further scapegoat the victim.

Another story published in the St. Lucia Times entitled, "Antigua: Gay men urged to get tested", reassures readers that gay men are urged to come forward about their sexuality "not to put their lifestyle on display". Small statements like this cement bigoted biases against the LGBT community in the Caribbean. LGBT identity is not a "lifestyle" and the language used here suggests that not only is LGBT identity something to be ashamed of, but it's something that the Caribbean community should be policing by ensuring that it isn't put on display.Another St. Lucia Times story reports, "Barbados: Gays Reported Happy This Crop Over". Using the phrase "Gays" instead of "gay people" or the "LGBT community" is another example of this seemingly small-scale denial of personhood that contributes to the Caribbean's overall bigoted and violent treatment of such a marginalized community. I can't go on ad nauseum with my news sources, butI can't go on ad nauseum with my news sources, but these three display a lack of journalistic ethics when it comes to serving the public -- especially the marginalized public, which is in need of fair media more than the majority.

2 Classist Bias In Reporting Crimes Against Foreigners vs. Crimes Against Locals 

Most local newspapers also send the message that crimes against foreigners are a greater travesty than crimes against locals. While news reports of sexual assault, brutal violence and the like against Caribbean nationals is written in quickly, foreigners receive lengthy diatribes describing all of their contributions to society.We can all (hopefully) agree that all murder is wrong. But the death of foreigners is not more significant than the death of locals. Compare this article on the murder of Colin Peter or the hotel electrocution of a 20-year-old tourist to these articles reporting local murders [x] [x]. While the deaths of foreigners beg many questions, the worthless lives of St. Lucian citizens are diminished. Here's your gossip bulletin. There is no cause for concern, no call to end bigotry. There is no call for public consideration about the worthiness of the lives lost. There is no mandate for public action.The death of tourists calls for philosophy, but the death of black locals calls for a footnote alone. There is outrage for white deaths, but shoulder shrugging for black deaths. This is a blatantly unethical bias in reporting, and it would be disingenuous for anyone to claim that local lives are valued as much as foreign lives here. This belief in our own lack of significance permeates the St. Lucian (and Caribbean) psyche so heavily that it is almost invisible. However, it is present and it's furthered by media that refuses to give black, local lives the same value as foreign lives

.3 Publishing Pseudoscience to Back A Personal Agenda

One of the main examples of this occurs regularly in a popular, regional media source, Caribbean News 360. One of the articles they publish -- they publish many about the evils of marijuana -- says that "Long Term Marijuana Use Can Make Your Teeth Drop Out". They make these claims, only loosely referencing the "scientific study" that they refer to. But I did my research and got right to the source, a single study published in JAMA Psychiatry by an Arizona State University professor.The truth is that the news published by Caribbean 360 is totally false. Not only does the study not make this claim, but the researcher's most surprising findings (in her own words) were, "In the second surprising instance, we found no association between cannabis use and cardiovascular risks, (e.g., high blood pressure and worse cholesterol levels)". There were signs of a slightly increased risk of gum disease, but this is hardly the biased fear-mongering statement that marijuana use "makes your teeth drop out". Publishing such a claim is highly unethical. Not only is choosing a SINGLE study to make a global claim not scientifically sound, the claim that Caribbean News 360 published was not the claim of the researcher and they neglected to include other information contained in her article about chronic marijuana usage that portrayed marijuana usage in a different light.This is an example of many such claims published by Caribbean News 360 as well as other media sources throughout the Caribbean. By not linking or citing the precise study where their clickbait headlines are drawn from, they deny readers the right to make informed decisions for themselves and publish false propaganda to further what I can only assume is a personal agenda.

4 Uncritical Support Of Tourist Industry Expansion 

Media with integrity owes it to the public to report critically of unmitigated expansion of the tourist industry. No, we don't need to hear more about resorts "saving our economy" (we already have so many and we haven't been saved yet). We need to hear the truth about the economic impact of resorts. What about real investigation and research? (We don't have this. Op-Eds here are uninformed opinions, not well-researched pieces.)When you read reports on the tourism industry, you would think it's all sunshine and roses. There is no critique of the large-scale environmental destruction that occurs when a resort is built. There is no word on the true economic benefit of resorts for locals. The truth is, most of the highest paying jobs as well as the profits go towards exploitative (and often foreign) landowners. The scraps of the hotel industry are left for locals.Failing to report the truth of the tourist industry, failing to highlight the largescale environmental destruction as well as interpersonal exploitation that goes into these neo-plantations, does not serve the needs of the public and represents this continuing lack of integrity.

5. Inflammatory Headlines And Tabloid Newspaper Structure

All you have to do is look at the links included in this blog post to see what I am referring to by "inflammatory headlines" and "tabloid structure". The news is not for disseminating information or informing the public, but for attention. It is entertainment in its purest form and all it takes to be a journalist is to have an opinion, whether or not that opinion is ill-informed or utterly ahistorical.This need to have news be "entertaining" as opposed to "informative" lies at the center of the unethical nature of Caribbean journalism. Entertainment doesn't require integrity. Entertainment doesn't require critical thinking. All entertainment is supposed to do is stimulate your emotional hot buttons and get you to respond. This is a part of the reason why we see bigotry published so uncritically.

This is a part of the reason reports on the tourist industry are unchecked by factual information. The media sees its role as entertainment.As Caribbean citizens, our first order of business should be declining to engage with media that does not respect our history, our intelligence and our fellow citizen's right to be informed about the condition and events of our country. We need to publicly demand better reporting and lambaste the blowhards who think they have successfully constructed a media that is above reprieve. Finally, we need to work on supporting media that does communicate with integrity and respects the rights of all Caribbean citizens for fair and accurate reporting.

Guest Post: LGBTQiA & Mental Health in the West Indies

Guest Post Authored By: Kira Ann Buchanan

Co-authors: Jennelle Ramdeen and C.R.W

Being a bisexual counselor-in-training, I feel like I need to utilize my education and privilege to advocate for the LGBTQiA community.  Mental health has become a passion of mine that has provided me with an exciting career path.  Though I do not live in the West Indies, I’ve spent a lot of time between Trinidad and Jamaica.  I have been discriminated against and I’ve also witnessed anti-gay scenarios mostly while in Trinidad.  Being a bisexual women, I’ve felt more accepted than many because I have straight passing privilege. I grew up with a heavy West Indian culture, which was also a bit homophobic. I will always identify as West Indian before American.  Mental health and lack of resources for the LGBTQiA community within the West Indies is an issue I plan to combat.

I didn’t want to speak for individuals actually living in the West Indies so I did an interview with a friend of mine that lives in Trinidad.  She identifies as lesbian and has a wide variety of queer friends.  She participates in several advocacy campaigns as well as safe space groups at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.  Queer women in Trinidad seem to be the most prominent group that advocate for the community.  My friend noticed gay men are not too active in advocacy.  She said, “they seem to be too preoccupied partying and liming,” which added some humor to this serious topic.  She believes men should use their privilege to help make a change and I couldn’t agree more.  It seems like the queer women that do advocate in Trinidad have had the privilege to go abroad and study. They are lucky enough to go back home and live within the upper class of the society. I was encouraged to “take activism in Trinidad with a grain of salt.”  There is a generational and gender divide within the community. There is no solidarity.

I am simply here to shed light on some of the issues LGBTQiA people experience and suggest changes that people in the community have identified and what I myself have experienced as resources.

So what are some things that can be done?

There needs to be several safe spaces for the LGBTQiA community.  Counseling, rehabilitation and resources need to be made available. My friend explained there is a lack of mental health resources all together.  She explains she knows a lot of her peers suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse and self-harm practices.  Also, many are kicked out of their homes due to disapproval. Shameful.

Studies done in the United States and Europe has shown higher rates of anxiety, depression and other stress related mental illnesses amongst the LGBTQiA community.

A psychologist at U.W.I noticed many of the students coming to her were within the community.  Several have developed issues, probably triggered by the discrimination they’ve received.  She and another student saw it necessary to create a safe space initiative for these students.  High stress and difficult living arrangements have caused many students to discontinue their education or not pursue a Master's or Ph.D.

Much of this is college student specific, but we can all take away what some issues may arise for others.  Things like homelessness when telling your parents or family, the talking behind your back, street harassment and even violence.  One step we can all take is if someone tells you about their preferences, do not tell others as you may not know what danger that may put them in.  Also treat people with the kindness and respect.  We all want to be treated with respect no matter how we identify ourselves.

As Trinidadian people we must see these individuals as people. Trinidad cannot develop and continue to compete in a global world when we can’t get over ideologies that for some are reinforced by religious views.  Although one's spiritual health and development is personal and important, it should not impede on human rights and it does not justify hate and discrimination.

As every country looks to the future in their journeys for a more tolerant society, we see many objectives to fulfill.  The LGTBQiA advocacy in these early stages tend to focus on lesbian and gay folks but with resources and education we can better address issues faced by those who identify as genderqueer and the full range of sexual and romantic preferences.  There are many online resources to understand other identities within the community and as allies and comrades we should be making that effort.

It may seem as though an American has no place in this discussion or I shouldn't even care, but these issues are real and invasive.  If I had a same-sex partner how would I peacefully visit my family? What about the LGBTQiA members in my family that live in Trinidad or Jamaica? I care enough to speak up on issues even though I am not advocating side-by-side with my West Indian peers.  There are other issues that may come into play such as why do women, especially women of color, always have to try and “save the day”? That’s a conversation for another day, but I hope to start these conversations and amplify the voices that we don’t usually hear.

There are some resources my friend gave me that I would like to mention.  Those in Trinidad that do not have access to tertiary education are usually referred to the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO).  They are said to offer counseling and STD testing, but again, not sure what they are up to these days.  The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, all-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), is another resource located in Jamaica.  It’s the first human rights organization in Jamaica to cater to the LGBTQiA community. BlahTherapy.com is a website that offers anonymous “therapy”.  I like to promote this site because I’ve gotten a lot from it.  I’ve played the role of “venter” and “listener” and I’ve grown from my interactions.  You’re generally talking to other individuals that want to help.  If you have monetary privilege, you can chat with a licensed counselor.

To facilitate conversations with religious communities you may find this guide helpful www.hrc.org/resources/a-christian-conversation-guide.   A great start to being more inclusive is learning the vocabualry used in the community.  Check out the LGBT Community Center of New Orleans for some vocabulary: lgbtccneworleans.org/useful-vocabulary/.

I hope we can start working towards a more harmonious community and those who identify as LGBTQiA get the support they need to live without retribution.

I just want to say a special thanks to the West Indian Critic for giving me this cool opportunity! Also, I want to thank C.R.W & my best friend and fellow social-justice warrior Jennelle Ramdeen for helping me write, I love you all!

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Editor's Note: I really appreciate Kira, C.R.W & Jennelle for their contribution to my blog on such an important subject. -Eriche