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.

Environmental Damage Is Not The Sole Responsibility Of The Poor

 Unconsciously, most of us associate environmental destruction as being the responsibility of the poor. Big statement. But it's true. When we think of ways to cut back on the ways we (West Indians) damage our environment, our focus is nearly always on "education". Poverty and a lack of education are commonly linked in our collective consciousness. Therefore, when we link "education" as a solution to a problem, we are inadvertently linking that problem to poverty. While this might be helpful for STI reduction or something of that nature, in the case of climate change, it allows our people and our government to turn a blind eye to other problems that have an environmental impact yet fly under the radar.

While littering and polluting beaches is a serious issue worthy of educating the public on, our primary focus when addressing ecological destruction in the Caribbean should be examining the hotel industry. While the hotel industry is lauded for "fixing" our still-broken economy and providing slave wage jobs to our locals, unchecked ecological destruction often occurs on lands and waters that should be protected. They fling us their scraps and we cheer them on. While we cheer for this subtle re-introductory of forced labor, foreign capitalists purchase the most desirable land and destroy it.Bird sanctuaries are destroyed for hotels that go bankrupt before they open. Foreign capitalists rub their hands together with glee as they look upon our coral reefs and mangroves, more sites they hope to destroy for business projects with a high chance of going bankrupt before they get started. And we cheer them on. We celebrate their minimal (and often short-term) positive impact on our country while allowing our nation to be destroyed.

Once hotels are built and entire ecosystems are destroyed, we do very little to mitigate the pollution they produce. Our country also do nothing to mitigate the pollution caused by cruise ships that sail into our harbor. The message is clear: ecological destruction is alright once the people doing it are wealthy.When we move to "educate" people about environmentalism, will we be heading to foreign boardrooms to educate the greedy on the value of land? Or will we be telling impoverished people in Castries not to throw a single Icy bottle into the harbor?

When we discuss the ecological impact and environmental damage, we need to be conscious of the scale of environmental damage and focus our attentions there. Luckily, we have an organization that does this -- Saint Lucia's National Trust. However, the National Trust is just one entity and requires the support and participation of far more Saint Lucians for their actions to have an even greater impact. If you can't participate in direct action, visit the website and find ways to donate. Spread the word of valuable programs.

Saint Lucians have always been in a battle to keep our natural resources safe from the exploitation of foreigners. This struggle began with indigenous Kalinago peoples and continues today. Protection of our natural lands should always be of greater significance than profits. This is the conviction we need to carry with us into the future.