IS SAINT LUCIA GAY FRIENDLY?

 I get this question often. Most commonly, I get this question on YouTube, since I've recently started a channel about life and travel here. It's a question that's difficult to answer in a YouTube comment when you have a limited amount of time and space, and the additional difficulty of not being able to "read" the person you're talking to in order to determine if they're really hearing you. The more I get this question, the more I do want to address it somewhere because the answer is both simple and complicated."Is Saint Lucia gay-friendly?" The short answer is no.This answer should be a national embarrassment, yet it's one that many of our residents who rely on tourism as their bread and butter hold proudly and dear to their hearts.I've heard all the excuses and justifications of homophobia stemming from slavery (true) and also from Christianity being used as a tool of violence to keep enslaved people obedient to European rule (also true). While these historical facts paint the picture of why the Caribbean is homophobic, they don't excuse it.The violence Christians enact today in the name of misreading an excessively butchered translation of the Bible, is 100% their fault. And I'm going to come right out and make a controversial claim:

We deserve every dollar lost due to our violent intolerance and discrimination. 

I'm not sorry to make that claim because discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. End of story. There is no "religious" justification that can take away the ultimate alleged message of Christianity: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR.Love is not conditional and if you believe it is, you need to hit that Bible once more and correct the hell out of your poisoned definition of love. The religious justifications for homophobia in this country are no longer an excuse. The legacy of slavery is no longer an excuse. While it may explain why our country is homophobic, this doesn't excuse it.

What are we doing right now to change the oppressive system enacted into law by slave masters? Answer: The majority of us are doing nothing.So yes, I'm tired of coming up with excuses and yes, Saint Lucia is very much a homophobic country. You know you're starting off on the wrong foot when you refer to sex as "sodomy" on the books. "Sodomy" is forbidden under Saint Lucian law.Now, let's get to where things get a little more complicated.While legally, two men are not permitted to have sex and as you can imagine, getting married is out of the question, the law is difficult to enforce. Also, I've asked and there's no word on whether two women having sex is forbidden. Loopholes on loopholes, I suppose.I know a number of people in the LGBT community in Saint Lucia who get by here. I'm not sure how happy they are so I really don't want to portray a message that I have no evidence of. Happy or not, LGBT Saint Lucians consider this place their home and have hope that the country will move forward in the future. Some people live with their partners in Saint Lucia as well and as far as I know, have not been arrested for doing such.I will not promise that existence is without fear, threat or discrimination. However, it is a reality that we have an LGBT community in Saint Lucia and some people live openly.

To act as if gay people do not exist here is an act of violence itself, and I don't wish to perpetuate that. (If you want me to expand more on this, comment down below.)Now, the question at hand that often accompanies "IS SAINT LUCIA GAY-FRIENDLY?" is, would I recommend that a tourist visit Saint Lucia?Let me put it to you this way. I would not put my money in the hands of a government that had "banned" black people or interracial relationships, lets say.If the question isn't a matter of where you're putting your money, I would say that if you come to Saint Lucia as an LGBT person you can remain unbothered if you conform to the standards of dress acceptable for men and women in our culture. Also, I would not recommend public displays of affection towards your significant other or anyone of the same sex. (Usually, I find it's more acceptable for women to dress "like men" than the other way around down here but I'm open to correction from women who have lived this experience.)

Would I recommend you traveling here? Hell no! That's messy! I don't like taking responsibility for people's decisions like that. I would not feel comfortable assuring a tourist 100% of their safety in any homophobic country. My recommendation is to assess the situation and determine what you're comfortable with.If more tourists vote with their dollars and take a stance against homophobia here, I am certain the profit mongers in our tourism industry would inch slowly towards progress. However, that's going to take a lot of dollars considering homophobia is not just a Caribbean issue, but a global one. If it's your dream to see the Caribbean before then, I don't think you should deny yourself the opportunity.It's possible to be safe. It's possible to be unbothered by anyone. If you've survived anywhere else in the world where homophobia exists, you can certainly do it down here. Sadly, none of this prejudice is new.

Be warned that while the country's laws may be lax, some of the rules of the resorts here are not and the white foreign resort owners are the ones most likely to enforce the rules that LGBT couples cannot stay there. Be mindful of this and do your research beforehand.We have a lot of work to do in the field of human rights. Homophobia isn't the only rampant discrimination that exists here, as with most other places in the world. I won't sugar coat it and pretend it's all a fat mug of cocoa tea. We have a lot of work to do as a country, let's get to making a change rather than jumping through hoops to avoid accountability for the reprehensible.If you hope to visit Saint Lucia and you have any more questions, I recommend that you check out my YouTube channel. My latest vlog is right here: https://youtu.be/7-SZQ5Sv_oc  

37 COMMUNITY BUILDING EXERCISES FOR MILLENNIALS

Online activism is a hot mess to me these days, and I've largely lost interest in 99% of the activities that I was once interested in. This is just a reality of increasing responsibilities and a shifting of my energy to activities I believe serve me better.

If it isn’t local feminist groups sharing videos suggesting that “I am Chris Brown” is a “movement” for black men to join, it’s homophobia, classism, or something else. Frankly, it’s exhausting and I no longer have the energy or proclivity to have “discussions” with people who are unwilling to educate themselves on the basics before assuming they’re correct.

There are a number of contemporary resources for educating yourself about feminism in the Caribbean, my blog included, and of course, scores of books, many of which I’ve already listed previously on my blog, or I’ve linked throughout my previous posts.

(Quick aside: When it comes to reading and educating myself about history, my most recent read has been “An Indigenous People’s History of the United States” by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz. This is a great read if you’re interested in learning more about the real history of the United States from the perspective of those who are indigenous to the country. I made it a point in the past to learn about the land I was occupying during university when I took a class called “Native People’s of Northern New England”. I learned about the different Algonquian ethnic groups, specifically the Abenaki, whose land we occupied up in cold Vermont.)

Still, in 2018, I don’t think it’s unfair to give this blog the ax. I toyed with the idea, but I think there’s still room for the occasional reflection on West Indian Critic. If you want to see more of me online, there are plenty of other places to do so which will have little explicit to do with politics.

If you too are seeing disillusionment with social media activism and you’re curious about what you can fill your time with, let me suggest offline community building, which has been my current focus.

For me, this means dedicating time to my immediate and extended family, dedicating time to the land via National Trust membership, and more. Here are 3 of the ways I’ve redirected my focus in ways that directly impact poor black women in Saint Lucia:

1. Attending National Trust Meetings, paying dues & educating friends/family about the trust’s activities

This is as straightforward as it sounds. I’ve paid my dues to the Trust and I spend time on many of their sites, most popular for me are Pigeon Island, the women’s battery in Vigie, as well as Sandy Beach. In a country where the media is constantly battling against the welfare of our citizens, you will find politicians spreading negative propaganda about the National Trust.

It helps when trusted members of the community cut through the noise and explain the truth in a clear manner. To cut through political propaganda, you have to make the person listening feel heard. This is difficult and to do this I practice a method called Non-Violent Communication, created by psychologist Marshall Rosenburg.

During this method of discussion you can empathize effectively and it is both harder to dismiss others than to be dismissed. Offline, it can be easier to explain what you mean and to reach a respectful understanding of the truth. The National Trust’s protection of natural sites around Saint Lucia and their interest in the people of Saint Lucia make them a wonderful group to stand behind and support. Their goals and views are consistent, if not amongst individual members, at least among the organization.

They do good work for the larger community and are active in protecting the land which is a cause I 100% support.

2. Shopping from the Castries Market

The majority of the vendors are poor black women who rely on agriculture to make a living. Many women I shop from have explicitly told me that without the French Caribbean tourists who come through the market, they wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

I care about who I am enriching and I prefer to make a big impact in one person’s life than to be complicit in someone’s excessive accumulation of wealth. This doesn't mean I no longer shop at the grocery store or that I judge people who do, but I am making the conscious choice here about who I support.

I also believe that having a personal connection to my food has enabled me to appreciate it more, to eat healthier without buying into “diet culture” or even more consumerism.

Additionally, I have transitioned to partial-veganism and shopping at the Castries market makes this more sustainable as there is a wider variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from as well as other specialty ingredients I love like homegrown coffee, extra virgin coconut oil, and locally produced honey.

3. Building positive online spaces with better boundaries

I am focusing on spaces that are focused more on positivity than anything else. While there can be positive communities of activists, I have not found this to be true online for me. People might be nice enough to each other, but it’s telling that overall the tone of many groups of people is largely negative. There is a lot of competition, distrust, excessive disagreement and too much focus on garnering an audience. I find a lot of it performative and narcissistic, which may have been appealing when I was a bit younger, but it's not interesting to me now.

I believe I myself have fallen into this trap online, of focusing on all the wrong ideas, and it’s no longer serving me. At all. It took me a long time to realize that, but I need to be working towards something positive and to have a positive mindset towards my community.

Let’s not act as well like multiple people who seek social media popularity for social issues have quite narcissistic reasons for doing so. I don’t enjoy the uncertainty in who I'm approaching or talking to. There are a few specific incidents that have led to this that I don't want to discuss but let's just say that most are not out there walking the walk.

If spaces are built in such a way that they attract more positive discussions, I think that is psychologically better for me as a black woman in the long run.

Despite some negativity I get on my YouTube channel, which doesn’t bother me much, it’s a largely positive space where I enjoy sharing bits and pieces of my life in Saint Lucia and highlighting the realities of living here… whether you like what I have to say or not. I find Instagram to be the best platform I use outside of my regular job, so I’m really working on building that online community.

I love visual platforms and while I struggle with imposter syndrome sometimes, I largely enjoy using them. Maybe that shift has to do with writing becoming my full-time job. Regardless of the reasons, I welcome the shift.

Here are 37 other community building ideas to inspire you to take action:

- Consider a small monthly donation to someone in your family who lives in poverty (obviously this assumes you have money to spare)

- Enjoy a yoga/meditation/prayer practice that nourishes you spiritually

- Mentor someone in your community

- Teach someone in your community to swim (this assumes that you can swim and have the skills to teach someone to swim. Don’t drown your neighbor.)

- Learn CPR/First Aid

- Pay for a child’s meals/schoolbooks in your community

- Work with your friends to meet savings goals together. If they’re trusted friends, consider sous sous to save money.

- Work on something cultural: mas camp, putting on one of Derek Walcott’s plays, creating a YouTube channel of local herbal remedies, creating a blog documenting your family’s oral history, sew national dress, make farine etc.

- Encourage your friends to get their annual STD blood tests (and get yours too…)

- Educate older relatives about homophobia, sexism, transphobia and ableism in a respectful manner if the situation presents itself

- Support your favorite online creator on Patreon

- Listen to someone whose opinions you disagree with and try to find some common ground (***USE WITH CAUTION. Don’t go arguing with people who will just get you vex. Pick people you can have civil discussions with. Be the civil one in the discussion.)

- Share your favorite “social justice” book with someone

- Share your favorite underrepresented rapper/singer without guilt-tripping people into listening to them. Write a passionate reason why we should get into their music rather than "you don't like her because of [x identity]". (NOTE: Yes, a lot of people are prejudiced but I'm aiming here to promote reaching out to people who WON'T be attracted to negativity.)

- Look into organizing a community dinner/soup kitchen for the homeless with your church. (Or on your own.)

- If you’re in a Christian community, have discussions with people who espouse oppressive beliefs in the name of the church. Research ways you can use scripture to back up why empathy is more important than dogma.

- Research the beliefs/traditions of an underrepresented religious minority in your area. Educating yourself about someone different can do a world of difference for your ability to empathize.

- Consider starting a community garden in your area. If this isn’t feasible, consider starting an herbal garden or an “urban garden” for yourself.

- Educate someone younger than you about our island/environment and why nature is so important. (Don’t make this a boring or scary lecture.)

- Ask your vegan friends for good recipes. Even if you aren’t vegan, it’s kind to take an interest in other people’s interests. You may learn something too.

- Buy something from a local farmer or artisan. Even better, buy something for your mom from a local artisan.

- Learn how to make something cultural: farine, coconut oil, cassava, Jamaican patties, oxtail, pemi, tamarind balls

- Work on your mental health/sleep hygiene. You are an important part of the community. Take care of your mind and your body. Make sure you’re resting. If you can’t afford to do anything else, at least you should rest.

- Learn Creole. If you know Creole, speak it or teach someone younger than you who wants to learn.

- Go visit your grandmother or a lonely elderly person in the community. Ask about their lives and see if there’s something you can help them out with. At least bring them a “raise” if nothing else.

- Attend a national trust meeting or an analogous meeting in your area. If you can’t do that? Go for a hike. Can’t do that? A walk. Can’t do that? See if your local national trust (or any environmental org) needs help with managing their social media. Offer a couple hours a week if possible.

- Donate food/clothes/toys to someone in need.

- Donate to someones “gofundme” who needs help with medical expenses.

- Offer explicit support to someone you know who is going through a difficult time. Let them know that they can rely on you. That being said, if you are in need of support, ask someone trusted for a little extra support.

- Learn about “non violent communication” and “positive discipline” so we can be kinder to the children in our community

- Learn about your island/country’s history. Share what you’ve learned in a neutral way with the people around you. Allow them to draw their own conclusions.

- Support a local artist (emotionally). Let them know how meaningful their work is to you and/or how much you respect them. This can be casually. Or by carrier pigeon. The choice is yours.

- Know someone in government? Pen a letter/email to them about an issue where they have the power to make a change. This works best if there’s a personal connection and the letter is respectful and informative rather than pushy.

- Stop using plastic bags at the grocery store — try reusable bags. This isn't going to save the entire planet, but on an island, less plastic usage has a big impact on our surrounding oceans. (Look into the Castries Harbor if you think individuals can't make an impact here...)

- Visit the beach. Better yet make it a BBQ and invite people.

- Relax. Seriously, take a break. Delete all your social media if you have to. It’s okay not to be hooked to your phone’s buzz all day long. (I say this as someone who works online. I’m a responsible entrepreneur, what can I say.)

- Do you have a special skill? See if you can arrange to teach a free class on your skill once a week. Yes, this includes artists, coders, cooks, seamstresses.

I hope some of these ideas inspired you to get out into your community today and make a difference. Of course, feel free to tweet about it too, or connect with friends online over what you’re doing out there to make a difference.

See ya on February 28th. COMMENT your own community building ideas down below and check me out on social media once you’re done reading this post.

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.

Women's Wednesdays: We Need More Than 'Empowerment'

Empowerment is one of those subjects for feminists that sounds like a good idea in theory and of course since the entire focus is on feeling good/strong, it can be a compelling "focus" for feminists. Caribbean feminists, however, should be focused on anything but empowerment. Empowerment is a feeling, an idea, a notion. Empowerment is nothing concrete and tends not to have any real long-term measurable impact.

"Empowerment" is about a feeling but feminist political action should be focused entirely on the concrete. We live in a country where rape and incest have been normalized. We live in countries where street harassment is so normalized that some women even believe that they "like it". (What they really like is the validation which is another tragedy to unpack on another day). We live in countries where there are anti-buggery laws and where teachers tell their classrooms that we "are not ready for a female prime minister*)

This focus on "empowerment" seems to be a part of the popular feminism espoused by the upper-middle and upper-class women in this region. Feminist praxis fails to extend beyond their scope which is truly rooted in a desire for the same economic power that men have. They do not desire liberation for working class women or poor women because their self-image still hinges upon their superiority.Without examining class as it relates to empowerment and as it relates to feminism, any Caribbean feminist movement will seem half-baked. The praxis will be weak and when a movement is supported by weak praxis, it will easily be destroyed as the foundation is built on sand. A feminist movement that doesn't center the most marginalized communities in the Caribbean will be doomed to fail.

Upper-middle and upper-class feminists that feel a drive towards feminism that focuses on "empowerment" need to ask themselves tough questions about their priorities and work on empathizing with women who come from less privileged circumstances. Who are you empowering? What is the long-term and tangible impact of empowerment? What motivates you to be a feminist?All of these questions form a good starting off point for building a feminist movement in this country that will be built to last.

*This happened in my younger cousin's classroom in primary school in Saint Lucia