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. 

Black Feminism: Menstruation Taboo

I recently felt challenged to condense my thoughts regarding my experiences with menstruation and taboo in Caribbean society. I don't think it's completely necessary to frequent fliers here but I will add the disclaimer that the experience that frames my experiences and observations about menstruation in the Caribbean are the experiences of a cisgender Caribbean woman and I'm applying my knowledge of black feminism and black feminist thought to how I view the subject.

Like most things considered to be "feminine" in the Caribbean, menstruation faces heavy stigma within our culture. There is both shame and pride surrounding the first menstrual cycle. Shame is one of the first lessons that we are taught about menstruation and it's a lesson sowed so deep that the shame becomes instinct -- and therefore, goes unquestioned. This root of this shame is a socially backed feeling that during menstruation, your body is disgusting and repulsive.

There is also shame surrounding your choices for handling menstruation, perpetuated by parents, peers, and educators. For the majority of Caribbean people who menstruate, it's far more common to use menstrual pads than tampons due to this shame. Menstrual pads are considered to be "appropriate" for people who have not had sex whereas tampons are seen as "inappropriate". This has the effect of sexualizing children considering the average age of the onset of menstruation is 12. There is nothing "inappropriate" (in reality) about a 12-year-old using a tampon; their vagina is not a vessel for sexual activity and treating it as such leads to shame surrounding the entire menstrual process.

Even as a child, I was cognizant of this, although my awareness might not have been conscious. I was aware however that tampons were all but forbidden and it would have been deviating from expectations to wear them.This can actually carry damage to a child's psyche as they approach adulthood. For people who menstruate who are nonbinary or transgender, I can image the damage is even deeper due to the unexamined transphobia embedded in our post-colonial society. For cisgender people who menstruate, the damage might include feeling anxiety about deviating from using pads or carrying other beliefs of humiliation surrounding their bodies that are unshakeable despite technical knowledge of the "facts" about menstruation.What informs this seemingly harmless cultural preference of pads vs. tampons is nothing positive and the stigma against tampons is steeped in patriarchal assumptions about virginity and sexuality. To be blunt: people believe that tampons damage your sexual purity. Some people might deny it and claim that it's preposterous but it's the truth of the majority of our society.

Largely, the discomfort around tampons has to do with how "improper" it is to insert anything into your vagina. Now this is ridiculous on a number of levels but namely, there is nothing sexual about menstruation regardless of your age and there is certainly nothing sexual about a two-inch tampon.

A "lack of education" doesn't explain it all away because it isn't simply education. The expected shame surrounded menstruation is rooted in misogyny. And the lack of education simply feeds into this misogyny. However, they are separate entities that feed off of one another to inform our culture's attitudes on the human body.

Shame about menstruation doesn't just apply to your choice between menstrual pads and tampons. (Note: There are other options for menstrual management but I'll get to this at the end.) Through each menstrual cycle, a healthy amount of shame is required to ensure you keep your menstruation a "secret".There is a high value placed on keeping menstruation hidden from people. Just keeping periods from cis-men isn't the limit to the stigma. For the two years I attended secondary school here, teachers and administrators placed great emphasis on being "discreet". Even in an all girls school, there was still supposed to be a significant shame attached to menstruation and it had to be kept a secret. This isn't about menstruation being disgusting in that example... There's nothing disgusting about going to the bathroom with an unused pad to change your own. This is about how our culture perpetuates patriarchal beliefs about our bodies; even educators are in full agreement that patriarchy is correct and doesn't deserve questioning. It is a way of forcing us to stay "in our place". Now, there's an argument (albeit a weak and unnuanced one) to be made about this "shame" surrounding menstruation being related to the fact that menstruation is "dirty" or "private". I do believe that certain amount of privacy makes practical sense when it comes to menstruation but the level of shame expected and propagated goes beyond privacy and protecting young people who are experiencing their first menstrual cycles as well as the uncertainty that goes along with it. Menstrual blood is not actually dirty and much of the stigma surrounding menstruation is not based on scientific fact but patriarchal mythology intended to shroud a body's natural process in humiliation and discomfort.

A big part of the culture surrounding menstruation revolves around keeping menstruation a "secret" from cis men as I mentioned before. Tampons and menstrual pads must be obscured. The realities of menstruation are hidden (and often times, not even really understood) and menstruation becomes something "disgusting" and something deserving of mockery. This comes from the fact that schools and families are both unaware of the scientific truth behind menstruation and our patriarchal culture requires cis men remain protected from the realities of "the feminine" as it is repulsive and to be avoided at best, despised at worst.My first academic encounter with menstruation in primary school in St. Lucia involved the girls in the class being separated from the boys to learn the truth because the boys would laugh? Because they didn't want to make the girls ashamed? But the only reason for either of those things to occur in reality would be because of the teachers.

Teachers and educators set the tone for what is acceptable in a school environment -- not nine-year-olds. Education surrounding menstruation should not be gender specific. For this to be the case is transphobic and it's sexist. Every person alive should know how the human body functions. Othering bodies of those who menstruate serves no practical purpose in our society.Another facet to the poor education surrounding menstruation includes poor education about complications surrounding menstruation which are actually quite common. Conditions like endometriosis (affects in 1 in 10 people who menstruate), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (affects 1 in 10-15 people who menstruate) as well as PMDD (3-8% of people who menstruate) affect many people yet these common disorders are not included in a comprehensive education regarding menstruation. Combatting stigma comes first with a comprehensive education based in reality, not myth or pseudoscience.

The ways mainstream feminism chooses to combat this stigma is incongruent with Caribbean culture. Largely, the stigma surrounding menstruation is discussed from a first world white American ciswoman's perspective. Combating the stigma doesn't take into account the specific ways misogyny is enacted in the Caribbean. It doesn't take into account the religious fundamentalism that's widespread in the Caribbean and how that might affect attempts to eliminate the stigma surrounding menstruation. It doesn't take into account that the shame surrounding menstruation runs so deep that transitioning to complete comfort with the subject of menstruation will not happen overnight and might make the target audience (people who menstruate) less accommodated by a movement to de-stigmatize.When people are not properly educated about menstruation from an early age, there is room for patriarchal culture's myths and pseudoscience to take the place of scientific facts. Removing stigma is not about shocking the population into blindly accepting "okay periods are fine now, I guess".

We can remove uneducated beliefs with factual evidence and ensure that we talk about menstruation casually (not necessarily crassly) like we do any other facet of life.The Caribbean does have an advantage here where we understand that women should be able to breastfeed publicly (and this has never been up for debate). We do tend to have open conversations amongst our family members regarding the sometimes unpleasant truths surrounding our own menstrual cycles. However, this is not culturally widespread enough for there to be no room for positive change.

Going forward, I think what the average person can do is:

- Educate themselves about menstruation from reliable sources (Google it.)

- Speak candidly to their children or the children they're responsible for regarding menstruation.

- Educators and those involved in education can work towards changing their classroom environments to be more accommodating towards people who are menstruating, setting the example that menstruation is not shameful or disgusting, but a natural process.

- Communities can work together towards providing free tampons, pads or menstrual cups to people in need.My mention of menstrual cups here brings me to my final point.

In a previous post, I wrote about my foray into using menstrual cups and all the benefits associated with them. Now, menstrual cups are not for everybody but they do provide an option for managing menstruation that is simple, sanitary and doesn't require multiple changes throughout the day. A push to increase the usage of menstrual cups in the Caribbean and provide free menstrual cups -- especially in communities where buying tampons and pads might be too costly -- would be positive for the people of our region. You can check out my previous post for a more in-depth explanation why.

We have a lot of work to do with removing the stigma surrounding menstruation. We do not have to do this the way mainstream feminism dictates; rather we can fit our solution to our culture. Honest conversations, practical discussions and individual changes in our mindset are a good place to start followed promptly by organized community action.

Black Feminism: Anti-Blackness And The "Diaspora Wars"

On Twitter on a Saturday morning for five minutes and I’m already rolling my eyes. Here we go again. For those of you who don’t use social media, the “diaspora wars” refers to a regular cycle of social media arguments where West Indians, Africans and Black Americans “war” to claim which one is the best. It’s an argument that I’m not interested in at all so this post is not going to contain any argument “for” or “against” any group of black people. (Reminder, we are all black.) What I’m interested in exploring is the anti-blackness that inevitably crops up amongst ALL groups of social media users.

No matter what region in the world they’re arguing in favor of, black participants in the diaspora wars almost always rely on racial stereotypes created by white people about black people globally. i am 100% uninterested in “calling people out” but I am interested in accusing every single person who has ever engaged in this argument to closely examine what insults they turn to when they feel defensive about their current homeland.

So this is less about the “diaspora wars” and more about what they bring out of us.

Some insults rely on classism:

- Caribbean people are poor

- Black Americans live in ghettos

- Africans live in huts

Some insults rely on general anti-black stereotypes:

- Black Americans have no culture outside of “ebonics”

- Caribbean people only have reggae

- Africans have no culture

- Each group accuses the other of not being as intelligent due to school success, neglecting the different factors that account for the different statistics reported by white media publications.

Some insults rely on homophobia or sexism:

- Slurs are targeted at different groups of people

- Misogynistic comments are made about women from each region

Needless to say, this is wrong. While it is natural to become defensive when someone attacks your homeland, there are other ways to respond to abusive behavior that doesn't involve invoking anti-blackness or homophobia or misogyny. Degrading the traits of other black people that have been used historically by Europeans to justify slavery and colonization is harmful to our entire community.

Personally, I’m a fan of the block button. (Really, a big fan of the block button. We’re getting married in June.) You can also do your own research and figure out more effective strategies that will keep you safe from the effects of these harmful comments without causing you to feel passive. Check out this link for more information on dealing with social media trolls.

Whatever way you decide to handle the diaspora wars, I urge you not to put forth more anti-blackness into the world. When you attack the humanity, culture or the identity of another black person I believe you are doing nothing more than attacking your own identity. This isn’t saying that we should all just “love” each other and hold hands. There are bound to be abusive people everywhere who incite these social media wars for the purpose of boosting their own self-esteem and hurting others.

Find strength in your racial identity somewhere else. I promise you, building up a more positive sense of your own blackness without trashing Africans, Caribbean people or Black Americans will only benefit you in the long run. Let those who want to fight the useless battle do so without ruining your peace of mind or compromising your self-esteem by building it off another person's pain.