We need to make solidarity communities with the sources of our power, not our victimisation. M. Jacqui Alexander, Barbados, 2013.
#dearCaribbean contributor, Gabrielle Hosein, wrote that being an Indian and a feminist in the region is a “risky location” i.e a site of multiple negotiations with “Indianness”, “feminism”, Caribbean belonging and Caribbean feminisms. One member of a thriving Caribbean online feminist community appeared to question just how risky a location this could possibly be given the growing perception that Indo-Caribbean women’s voices were dominating Caribbean feminism. Dominance. A weighty word, especially for a feminist to throw around.
One brief comment that served to question the legitimacy of Indo-Caribbean feminisms. I am writing this to understand why some black Caribbean feminists feel threatened by and resentful of Indo-Caribbean women’s exploration of “Indianness” and their claims to both “Caribbean” and “feminism”. I am not alone in perceiving a need to meditate on these questions. Another black feminist friend messaged me privately to express surprise at the responses to Gabrielle’s article, especially in a space where she expected that we should know better.* These issues, of course, go beyond a facebook comment. I have also had a student ask, in response to a discussion on the CRGS Special Issue on Indo-Caribbean feminisms why I was not hosting one on black Caribbean feminisms as well. I attended a graduate seminar where a student questioned the equation of Caribbeanness with blackness and as I resisted going on the defensive I understood exactly what she meant when she challenged us to avoid thinking ourselves into tiny boxes.
African-American feminist scholar Jennifer C. Nash questions the construction of black women as the prototypical intersectional subject even as she recognises that intersectionality is a key contribution of Black Feminist Thought developed out of an analysis of black women’s lives:
In painting black women, for example, as wholly oppressed and marginalized, intersectional theory can not attend to variations within black women’s experiences that afford some black women greater privilege, autonomy, and freedom. In troubling the monolithism of ‘black womanhood’, intersectionality could be strategically disloyal to dominant conceptions of black women as ‘the mules of the world’, exploding the tendency of radical projects to elide critical differences within ostensibly marginalized subject positions.
Her analysis resonated with me as I questioned what I saw, in the conversation that unfolded, as an invocation of black womanhood as an always already the-most-oppressed-status deployed in this instance to dismiss the experiences of others and retreat from accountability for such a dismissal. Black women emerge as innocent.
Both Rosanne Kanhai and Rhoda Reddock have very accessible pieces in the Caribbean Review of Gender Studies which historicize and contextualize Caribbean feminist attempts to work across difference in Trinidad. Andaiye of Red Thread talks extensively about their work across race/ethnicity in Guyana in an engaging interview with Kamala Kempadoo. As Gabrielle Hosein noted in the facebook exchange, there are parallels between the male marginalisation discourse which claims that women are illegitimately taking over spaces that rightfully belong to men and the framing of Indo-Caribbean feminism as “dominant”, hypervisible and ultimately usurping both Caribbeanness and feminism.
Beverley Bain argues that Indo-Caribbean feminisms open up spaces for black women too:
A challenge to discourses that have historically positioned Indo-Caribbean women as passive thereby juxtaposing black woman as its aggressive opposite. I think it opens up a space for us as black Caribbean feminists to begin a dialogue around slavery and indentureship and how women in these processes experienced particular forms of violence but resisted, exercised autonomy and how that was usurped under patriarchy, religion and heteronormativity.
Shona Jackson’s Creole Indigeneity demonstrates the ways in which the claims to belonging in the Caribbean of both persons of African and Indian descent are often complicit with Indigenous erasure in the region. For me, Shona’s observations here provide an opening for black Caribbean feminists to disabuse ourselves of claims to innocence. It is an invitation to move beyond historically sedimented racialized polarizations. There are lessons there for all Caribbean feminists. Shona’s work indicates another area where consciousness-raising is necessary, another opportunity to think ourselves out of the tiny boxes that not only stifle us but also oppress others.
Another contributor to what became a rather heated online discussion mentioned, “the dishonest way that we have often dealt with underlying feelings.” This post is an invitation to deal with those underlying feelings in an honest manner.
An opportunity to acknowledge missed understandings.
An invitation to listen again.
As Jacqui Alexander notes, crossings are not undertaken all at once and once and for all. There are multiple crossings we make as feminists away from and back to defensiveness, across intersecting lines of race, ethnicity, class, privilege, dis/ability, sexuality. It is important that we commit to make those crossings as many times as we need to and that our communities are there to make those crossings with us. Time and time again.
Giving thanks for the sisters who were willing to engage with me even as they disagreed with what i said, how i said it and feared their own words were misunderstood. Thank for making that crossing.
* There were also others who felt the way the post was framed was neutral, represented a matter-of-fact stating that other people perceived Indo-Caribbean feminist voices to be dominant and that the way the post was framed had no bearing on the way in which the discussion unfolded.