What We Work To Hide: Abuse In The Caribbean

For the past month, I’ve been in the United States and since coming here, I’ve spent my free time continuing my self-education about abuse of all forms including emotional and physical abuse.Before January/February of 2016, here are examples of some of the books I’ve read (including Amazon links)Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: How Manipulators Take Control In Personal RelationshipsHow to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get InvolvedWhy is he so mean to me?

Throughout all of these books, there are some pretty interesting conclusions to be drawn about abuse…What type of cultural environments make people prone to becoming abusers?How can you tell when abuse is happening (in your own life and in others)?Most people reading this will probably be in some form of denial about abuse as it plays out in their lives. Especially if they’re West Indian…But of course, abuse and denial are our drugs of choice (besides alcohol of course.)The realities of abuse in our society are often very difficult for me to narrow down. There are so many facets to abuse and all of these facets of abuse are woven through every aspect of our society to the point where nearly every social interaction is tainted by either the specter of abuse or abuse in the flesh…

Even the definition of abuse seems to vary from person to person. Among abusers especially, the definition seems to require only extreme behavior for it to “really count”. Something to think about….The biggest takeaway I’ve managed to gain from all of this reading is that emotional/physical abuse are such a part of Caribbean culture that healing will be a large task that will span across multiple generations. There's no band-aid. No quick fix. No viral video or cutesy slogan that will put an end to this.It will take work. Real hard work on the individual and community level.It’s difficult for me to take marches against abuse seriously in this case especially when imagining how many who march against abuse hit their children or verbally abuse them… Or use emotional manipulation to meet their own ends.

To me, it all feels overwhelming… From defining abuse to figuring out how and why it happens.A few things are clear though so I’ll try to tease them out and add a little bit of linear fashion to this circular blog post.1. Abuse affects every West Indian person every day of their lives whether they are victims or abusers2. Only you can decide how not to be an abuser but doing so will take a lot of unlearning — destroying old patterns of thinking and replacing them with new ones3. Eliminating abuse from your life might be impossible, but it’s worth a shot. The journey begins with yourself. (Corny, I know.)4. The way West Indian culture functions opens you up to abuse…Expanding on that point for the knee-jerk reactions:

The way you’re expected to hug family members even if you don’t want to… Even if they might be dangerous to you…The way you’re expected to do things to appease “what people will think” despite the potential damage it may cause…The way support for abusers is normalized in our culture when people blame women for not leaving their partners…The way women are blamed for men’s abusive/violent behavior when other women blame men’s behavior on the way women dress…(Now it’s time for you to add to the list on your own.)

This February, I knew I had to bite the bullet and write SOMETHING about abuse when I read the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for YourselfThis book opened my eyes to ALL the ways that codependency (for every abuser, there is a codependent) and by that count abuse has affected my own life. From my behaviors, to EVERY other person in my life. I knew I had to say something! It’s hard to distill all the great lessons from Melody Beattie’s book but let’s just say it was a game changer. There ARE ways that you can end the abuse in your life. There ARE ways you can exist in a world free from manipulation and abuse.

This is a touchy subject. The word abuse instantly turns people into shrinking violets. No one wants to admit that any one in their life has been abusive. (How would it LOOK to PEOPLE?! Gasp!) But it’s important to do so. It’s important to call a spade a spade or you will never have healing. If you keep calling your broken leg “a small injury” how will you ever get a doctor to set your damn bone so you can walk again?

I think that every West Indian (especially WI women) should take a look at this list of books. Pick up one or two. Split the cost with friends if you have to. If that’s not accessible, at least take the time to think long and hard about abuse and how it might be impacting your life. I’ll include a few links below that you will find very helpful — free resources that will at least get to some of the issues you may be facing.This is just a brief post to start off what will surely be a long list of posts about abuse in Caribbean culture. I encourage you to think about your experiences and your life…. How is abuse normalized in your life… In your behavior or in your family? What can you do TODAY to end a cycle of abuse or to break an abusive pattern? Comment below if you’d like! I’d love to open this blog up to a bit more conversation…

LINKS REGARDING ABUSE TO START YOU OFF:

http://bit.ly/1LszZid

http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/definitions.html

Black Feminism & Sexist Dating Expectations

Although the subject can become repetitive, one of the ways I try to practice black feminism in my life is in my romantic life. I’ve been in St. Lucia for my ten day vacation between J-term and spring semester. During that time I’ve been going out to eat with a male friend of mine nearly every night. I’ve started to really notice a quirk in St. Lucian culture with regards to customer service. We all know about the stereotype of the West Indian shop owner or restaurant owner with a bad attitude. I’m a bit too comfortable here to be surprised or bothered by the abrasive attitudes of workers. I've grown to love having to work to give up my own money. What has bothered me is the way financial transactions are handled by people who work in customer service.

Now, I’m not a big believer in either the man or the woman paying every single time. Sometimes the bill is split, sometimes he pays, sometimes I pay. It may not be split evenly, I'm certainly not keeping tabs, but it’s split in a way that both of us are comfortable and satisfied with the occasional free meal and the occasional expense. Servers, waitresses and bartenders seem to have a more sexist idea about these financial transactions. Workers have a clear expectation that paying for meals is the responsibility of the man. I am not necessarily offended to the point of reaction, but it is tangibly sexist. Here are a few different situations this has happened in that I can recall, just from the past four to five days:

1. Ordering drinks and the bill is placed in front of my friend immediately.

2. I handed a fifty dollar bill to a server and she returned the change to my friend. (This has happened twice.)

3. I took my credit card out of my wallet and handed it to a server and she returned it to my male friend for a signature, despite the fact that I took the card out of my wallet in front of her.

These experiences have only occurred with female servers. This shows that sexism is not exclusively practiced by men. Women can play an equal role in enforcing patriarchal expectations. These experiences are negative for a few reasons:

1. (This is the obvious reason!) It’s offensive for people to assume that I cannot or should not pay my way. Why not place the bill in the center of the table? Or return my change and credit card to me?

2. It places external pressure on men to fulfill specific gender roles. This is not a gender role expectation that I placed on him; it’s an external pressure on our dynamic that neither of us agreed to, and as a result, I view it as an inappropriate invasion.

3. It makes it acceptable for women to enforce patriarchal ideas about gender roles. The cult of womanhood in St. Lucia is very powerful. Women here are very susceptible to the example and societal demands of women around us.

I don’t expect this to change when I go out in the future. I do have my own ideas about passively resisting this sexist intrusion. While most people may just “avoid the trouble” and give the man the money to pay at every occasion, I refuse to do so. I don’t make a lot of money -- I'm still a student -- but I’m proud of the fact that I am relatively independent. Instead of submitting to these expectations, I will force those working in customer service to acknowledge the fact that women can and do pay their way in this world. I will continue to hand money to waitresses as they look expectantly towards the man to pay. I will continue to use my own credit card, and proudly print my John Hancock on the line as they look shocked that a man would dare let me pay for dinner.

Until this becomes normalized, there can be no change. There's nothing unfeminine about paying for a date. There's nothing unfeminine about a woman handling her own money. Of course, undoing a sexist culture is not this simple. So, I’m not claiming to be some sort of hero or massive activist, but individual changes and convictions are important. When it comes to dining out, this is my contribution.