White Privilege In The Caribbean

A collection of thoughts about white West Indians...In honor of our alleged liberation from Britain's imperial rule.These may appear random and out of context, partly because I don't really believe that everything has to have a coherent flow for the individual points to make sense and also because these are merely excerpts from a longer conversation I had with a black WI woman this morning. Trust that they're all interconnected and perhaps allow yourself to tease out even more connections that I was unable to see...Whiteness is a funny thing in the Caribbean. Some pretend that it's nonexistent, but really it is invisible, similar to whiteness in the United States but not quite the same. While our lives are different from those of Black Americans, we suffer oppression along the same lines. Here are a few examples of how whiteness "functions" in the Caribbean:

  • Pretending that racism doesn't exist amongst white locals is completely fallacious considering many of them go to Canada to find a white spouse as directed by whatever patriarch/matriarch exists at the time and the only reason they even leave their palatial garrisons to travel to foreign countries is for the purpose of marrying someone white. They would never ~dare~ marry a local BW/BM. Of course if you look you can find exceptions. Every one knows that the true #slavemoney families won't allow their children to "mix" with black locals.


  • On other islands (namely, Montserrat in this case), when white locals try to build gated communities to segregate themselves from the black population, the people actually protest and threaten to ensure that this post-modern acts of racism don't exist. In Saint Lucia? It seems we do the opposite. As each year passes, a new fancy villa is erected and real estate is sold off to the highest bidder regardless of whether or not they're local. Funny how easily we let foreigners buy up all we have while the people on our island have nothing and the middle class will barely be able to afford land in the next 10-20 years... We live in a culture that gets drunk on screaming "Nothing can be done!" but on other islands it turns out they can figure out how to organize and shout people down...


  • Why are white West Indians always complaining about how they aren't accepted [by Black West Indians] abroad? But in their own countries, they won't hang around people they deem too nèg. Hm. It's like going abroad traumatizes them because for once, they aren't special and white people are a dime a dozen. Now it's time for them to claw at their island culture in hope of some of the special treatment they're afforded at home. When black West Indians refuse to give it to them, they whip out the sob story.


  • People act like there's no white privilege in the Caribbean... But there is... There are places white young women go on this island that I would *never* go but nothing happens to 'em. The same areas where black women would be harassed, threatened and followed are completely safe for women of a certain hue. Because when people know who your white father is, it offers a certain degree of protection. There's still protection in your slave master's last name. Is that not white privilege -- total safety where black people face danger?

Who Can Tell You How To Be A Man?

When I was reading The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity & Love by bell hooks, I was approaching the book from two angles. First, I was inspired by my social breaching experiment to explore the concepts of healthy black masculinity. Second, I looked towards the book to reaffirm my faith in the goodness of men and to seek ways I could apply the lessons to my life. For example, where was I falling short in my feminism, and were there ways I was reinforcing patriarchy in the way I treated men? I find that kind of self-assessment not only helpful but necessary to my belief system. A commitment to change should represent an internal and external change. To remain stagnant in my feminism means accepting a life without change.Some notes: I am a cisgender, heterosexual woman so this post is written through that lens and speaks to my personal experience alone.There are a few ideas within hooks that apply to all genders that appealed to me:

1. Defining love as the will to nurture one's own and another's spiritual and emotional growth. In defining love like this, hooks calls on us to think about how the way we tend to talk about love is possessive. We rarely see her definition of love represented in mainstream discourse. The language of belonging, he is hers or she is his, tends to be used most often. Seeing love as less transactional, that is ceasing to see love between men and women as a platform for "what can he provide for me", is a healthier and more anti-patriarchal way to conceive of love.

2. Rejecting "dominator models" in loving relationships This idea applies to all kinds of relationships. Here, she called for rejecting power dynamics in relationships based on gender roles. hooks doesn't think feminism means an inversion of a patriarchal power dynamic, where women suddenly become dominant in a relationship. Instead, this "dominator model" should be eliminated with both parties working towards mutual growth and love as she defines it.

3. Defining masculinity "divorced from the dominator model". This is best explained in hooks own words:

"... one of the first revolutionary acts of visionary feminism must be to restore maleness and masculinity as an ethical biological category divorced from the dominator model."

We need to define what it means to be a man as something unrelated to holding power over others, especially when maintaining power relies on violence and disenfranchisement.While reading this book, I wondered what could be done. (I'm a woman committed to action.) Were there solutions to the crisis of masculinity that's not only touted by the media but addressed by hooks herself? While I've never had the chance to be in any sort of relationship with a man who has rejected patriarchal masculinity completely, I do think there are men who come close to it.In fact, I know these men are out there. Perhaps their abstinence from self-identifying as feminists is what pushes them away from being completely anti-patriarchal or easily identified as such. However, these men exist and I think they are crucial to solving the "masculinity crisis" we hear about nearly every day. We need the men on the fringe who decide for themselves what makes them a man. We need the men who have discovered healthy manhood in the absence of fathers are pioneers and have the potential to lead other men down similar journeys.It's not up to me or any woman to tell men how to "be men".

The solution to this crisis is out of my hands. Women can support, assist and step back from projecting expectations of patriarchal masculinity, but we cannot tell men how to be. They need to find the rare beings who have solved their own masculinity crises. Men need new leaders and role models. Your daddy's 1950's masculinity just won't work anymore. I think these leaders are among us; they are the men who are struggling daily against the entrapments of patriarchal masculinity and forging a way for themselves, challenging society's expectations without compromising their essence.

The Caribbean Feminist Legacy

We may not realize quite how many feminists we are surrounded by in our daily lives. A part of that is probably because of how we define feminist. The word "feminist" makes us think of someone unusual in our communities; this ignores some of the feminist traditions alive in our culture and in a sense is a method in which mainstream feminism can exclude us, viewing us as the poor third-world country women who need to be saved. In the Caribbean, can't we see feminism all around us? Although there is much work to be done, let's first acknowledge our accomplishments and the ways "feminism" is naturally ingrained in our culture. Soca artists and Calypsonians have been incorporating feminist messages into their music for ages. Calypso Rose, famous Trinidadian calypsonian, was the one to change the title Calypso King to Calypso Monarch to accommodate her prowess in the musical field. We have singers like Patra, Alison Hinds, Denise Belfon and Destra who sing powerful messages that give agency to women in


way. The song

"Roll it Gal" by Alison Hinds

is one of my favorite examples of how feminism is intertwined with some of our ways of thinking; the verse quoted below shows this.

Go to school gal, and get ya degree

Nurture and tek care of ya pickney

Gal ya work hard to mek ya money

Roll it gal, roll it gal

If ya know ya smart and ya sexy

Neva let dem abuse ya body

Show it off gal and let di world see

Roll it gal, roll it gal

This segment of the song shows a world devoid of the male gaze, one that exemplifies a mindset that has been present in the Caribbean. You can go to school, raise your child, work hard, but when it's time to party, it's okay to roll and shake and dance. Our bodies are not either sexual objects or asexual workhorses. The concept that women can be multifaceted has existed for a while in our culture.In St. Lucia specifically, feminism has been happening on various scales since the slaves were first freed. In Dennery, when the black female wage workers made less than their freed male counterparts, they protested and demanded an equal wage. Caribbean women have been at the top of their educational and career paths for a while. The top secondary school in St. Lucia right now in terms of CXC scores is an all-girls Catholic school. In government, there are numerous women, from permanent secretaries to ministers to District Education Officers. Jamaica and Saint Lucia are two of the top three countries where you are most likely to have a female boss. Families many times are led by women. Even if mothers may be unable to raise a child, groups of aunties, grandmothers and female relatives are often very involved in the child rearing process. The family unit, while still maintaining some patriarchal aspects (something I could make an entirely new post about) also has an aspect of female empowerment. Women are instrumental to the function of our region.There are so many avenues where women recognize our own importance and demand our liberation. It's about time we start demanding more. What are we missing? Where are we headed? In what ways can we dismantle patriarchal thought, action, and structure within our societies? These are some of the questions we need to be asking ourselves and each other.

Author's Note (July 2018):

Since this post, I'd like to think that my views on this subject have developed a bit more, but I'm leaving the post intact and I won't change anything. I just wanted to add that I have developed more and my future posts will hopefully include more nuance.

West Indian Patriarchy Defined

... And putting a name to West Indian patriarchy.

Content Warning:

mention of rape, homophobia, violence, harassment

Black feminism allows us to acknowledge that patriarchy extends into all parts of our lives in the Caribbean. We may not even realize it is there for it is so deeply embedded in our thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs. This does not make us culturally impoverished as first-world nations would like us all to believe. Patriarchy exists everywhere but its manifestation in the Caribbean is unique due to the scale on which it presents itself and the way it manifests.

Patriarchy here refers to a heterosexual male-dominated power structure, for those of you who may not know the ins and outs of feminist theory but may still care to read this and perhaps learn something.I'll identify some examples of patriarchy that we probably see in our everyday lives as Caribbean women and hopefully explain why each of these things is problematic. Of course, this cannot possibly be a comprehensive list without becoming a small novel.

Homophobia/Transphobia: Homophobia is consistently justified by the excuse that homosexuality "not a part of our culture". Sexuality and gender are not caused by culture. Homophobia is not Christian. Hate is not Christian either, so the excuses used to lay the blame on God do not apply. If you follow the book of Leviticus when it comes to homophobia, you should also see what Leviticus says on eating shellfish and on wearing two different kinds of fabrics. Homophobia exists and is perpetuated only to uphold the current power structure within our society.Heterosexual, cisgender (those who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) people feel like their identity is threatened when gay people exist freely and even more threatened at the existence of transgender men and women. Identities that oppose the status quo are discriminated against; this is a result of a patriarchal culture that only allows for one kind of masculinity.

Street harassment: From a young age, girls/women walking down the streets have been subjected to street harassment in the form of whistles, catcalls, kissing noises or a "pssst" sound. This is an exercise of patriarchal power not only because it is objectifying, but because it causes women to feel unsafe. That kind of attention is not flattering, although some perceive it as such. People who are not gender conforming or who are openly gay also experience street harassment, even if it is not sexual attention. This conveys the simple message: You are not safe.

Rape/Rape Culture: We think of rape as a situation when a man jumps out of the bushes and forces himself on a woman. Patriarchal oppression relies on this definition when we think of rape as something that occurs between strangers we don't hold male perpetrators accountable. Rapists are more often people who the victim knows. Rape can occur between a husband and a wife. It sounds abstract, but the system of male domination needs us to believe that rape is normal, not a problem or the fault of the victim. This allows the domination to continue because we can never identify the problem.Of course, there are male victims of rape too (with female perpetrators); patriarchy ensures their stories to go unheard as well.  The system of patriarchy causes male silence due to the fear of being labeled as gay (something that is only a fear due to homophobia).  There is also a stigma against men/boys who face rape or sexual assault at the hands of other men. The survival of patriarchal rape culture relies on their fear about coming forward too. Male victims' fear is born from patriarchal notions of masculinity and sexuality.

Strict Gender Roles:  Strict gender roles ensure a system of patriarchal domination by preventing women and LGBTQ individuals from having as much political, economic and social power as heterosexual cisgender men. A system with no room for flexibility where men "must" pay for the dates (for example) or where a "woman's role" is housework ensures that we have a culture of inequality.For more information on patriarchy and the damage it can have to our culture, I'll point you to a few resources at the bottom of this blog post.

Also, click on my Feminist FAQ page for more information (Feminist FAQ page currently under construction 7/2018). Resources:Questions on feminism and patriarchy? Check out this great blog: finallyfeminism101

"Define Feminist" for the Caribbean

When asked to define feminist, it can be tricky to figure out what exactly I'm supposed to say. After all, the word feminist has different meanings depending on your audience. Famous black American author bell hooks offers a definition for feminism that I think applies wonderfully in a Caribbean context and will open the floor for more dialogue and acknowledgement of our successes and failures with regards to feminism and its place in our every day lives.

“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.”- bell hooks.

This definition is important because of the author and the context in which she is writing this. Mainstream "feminism" such as the type you may read about on Jezebel or other web sources tends to focus on the experience of the white American or British woman. Their definition of feminism tends to be exclusionary and ignores the different racial, class or cultural contexts that exist in other places around the world and even around the United States.In the Caribbean, we operate differently. Our relationship to "patriarchy" is different, and we need to conceive of feminism and our feminist movement as something that is not reliant on ideals from white American culture. We must carve out our own space within the movement, however, in the beginning it will be helpful for us to educate ourselves on the work of our predecessors who may share our racial, class or cultural background.