Crossings

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.  

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Best of the 2013 Caribbean Feminist Blogosphere

Travel across the islands and territories of the Caribbean and its diaspora and sample some of the best feminist blogging out there. 

What have Caribbean feminist women and men written about in 2013? Love, fashion, motherhood, being mixed-race, surviving child sexual abuse, healing from sexual assault, racist anti-Haitian citizenship policies in the Dominican Republic and so much more… Have a look!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Elmer, 22 year old Belizean youth that comes from a humble yet hard working family. Today it is important for me to share my story with you.

Young Caribbean man breaks the silence on sexual abuse of boys in the region. (Belize)

So, when a man sets his girlfriend on fire, rapes his niece, or gouges out his ex-wife genitals, it is not simply because he cannot control his emotions or resolve conflict well. There are deeply embedded ideas about who owns and who is to be owned, who is in control and who is to be controlled, what makes a ‘real man’, and a woman’s rightful role to shape these encounters. To ignore this is to miss the mark.

Patrice Daniel is back again with more fyah! This time she writes about why the Caribbean is getting it wrong on violence against women. (Barbados)

“Can you live with knowing that you will never have answers about what happened? Is that something you can manage?”

Healing through words: Part one in a series on surviving sexual assault. (Diaspora)

So like my feminism, my politics of adornment are a critical part of how my race, class, gender and sexuality intersect. My feminism is about having the personal freedom to choose how I represent myself. My ability to express myself on my own terms is my attempt to return ‘the gaze,’ to push back, to style myself for myself. As I seek to own and affirmatively claim my identity, my body, my creativity… and ultimately my ‘self’, I feel incredibly powerful and beautiful and free.

Feminism, Fashion and the Politics of Adornment by Amina Doherty. (Nigeria/Antigua & Barbuda)

It’s possible to let your energy, love and time be wasted by those who are not clear what they want for you or those who are trapped in their own games. Such lost investment will only distract you from giving all to what you can most achieve in your path, your heart and your life’s work. Focus on those who most matter and know well why they do.

Forget new year’s resolutions.  What’s on your heart list, life list, fantasy list & balance list? (Trinidad & Tobago)

But it is also true that Caribbean women are not at equal risk of being made to strip, squat, bend over, finger-raped and humiliated at regional border points. We have seen little critical examination of the class and gender dimensions of this case. We might well ask whether there is an unspoken investment in gendered respectability in our rush to celebrate Shanique Myrie as a Caribbean Rosa Parks. As a not insignificant aside, consider the difference between the dominant idea of Rosa Parks we are familiar with, as the diminutive mother of the Civil Rights movement, and the Rosa Parks who was a highly active member of the NAACP and attended meetings of the Communist Party. And fewer of us have heard of Claudette Colvin, told to give up her seat on a bus nine months before Rosa Parks. We should pause to consider whether the fact that Colvin was an unmarried pregnant teenager has anything to do with her story not being widely told.

Alissa Trotz’s Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement delivered at the 20th anniversary conference of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. (Guyana)

In her pain, she was not allowed to belong anywhere. How could she belong when the halves of her were at war? When she was attacked by both sides? It is one thing to be condemned to a particular side because of your skin colour, but it is an entirely different thing to be a refugee in your own country because you do not truly belong to any side.

Sarah Bharrat of Guyana writes about what she calls “The Dougla Defect“, being mixed race in a racially polarised society. (Guyana)

“You said I remind you of the best parts of home. Like a lot of guys, you want to be nurtured but can’t nurture anyone because you barely know how.”

Writing about love from Creative Commess (Trinidad & Tobago)

“Growing up in Barbados, getting pregnant was the worst thing you could do. Not just as a teenager, but anytime before you had secured your place as a DoctorLawyerBankmanager. I’m serious. The Worst Thing.”

Mar the Mongoose blogs about the politics of motherhood. (Barbados)

Similar to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas also deports Haitian migrants regularly and grants very few work permits and rarely (if ever) asylum status, while depending upon the everyday labour of Haitian undocumented migrants. The Bahamas — somewhat like the DR’s new ruling — also denies rights to the children of migrants, the difference being that children of migrants do have access to birth citizenship rights, which they have to apply for at 18. However, this process can take years, especially if one does not have access to legal assistance.

Angelique Nixon, writing for Groundation Grenada, looks at human rights, migration and the future of Dominican@s of Haitian descent. (The Bahamas)

Happy New Year!

Leave us a comment with your fav feminist blogs! Let’s grow this list!

See also “Top 10 Must-read Caribbean Feminist Blog posts“, “Caribbean Digital Feminist Activism in a Post-Feminist Age“, “Social Media Strategies for Caribbean Activists“,  and “We’re excited about Online Caribbean Feminist Media.”

Darkies & Brownins: Commodifying & Consuming Women

darkies

The photo above is for an upcoming fete in Barbados.  It invites attendees to bring either a pack of chocolate teatimes or a pack of vanilla teatime cookies to indicate one’s preference for either dark-skinned black women or light-skinned black women.  Except that we know from Buju Banton and from Patricia Mohammed that there is much more going on here than mere individual preference: (hetero)sexualising, commodifying and consuming women, equating them with food, reducing a woman’s value to her attractiveness to men, producing norms around beauty, hair, attractiveness and body size that are racialised and gendered; and of course, our history as plantation societies and its attendant anti-black racism and sexism which excludes some black women  and includes others insofar as their bodies can be consumed through sexual labour, service and desire. In short, the colonization of our very desires. The very intimate reach of power.

In Patricia Mohammed’s article she makes the point that in Buju’s apologetic “Love Black Woman” the black woman gets respect, not desire.  Desire is reserved for the brownin. The ad above clearly shows both the “darkie” and “brownin” both as objects of desire. And that’s not progress, that’s the problem. Women remain as objects of male desire. In our recent #catchafyah tweet chat women shared their dislike for being disrespected, objectified and harassed on the street. Some, however, admitted to wanting “a sweet word” when they walk by and to feeling disappointed when no such sweet word was forthcoming. One shared that as a teenager with low self-esteem not feeling desired by men left her feeling bad about herself.

Edited to add: Creative Commess argues that the term darkie (at least in the context of Trinidad and Tobago) is used for both men and women and

functions as an important reaffirmation of Afro-descendant beauty, by calling attention to a certain skin tone in all its chocolate splendor. Its contemporary usage in Trinbagonian society is also markedly different from the American term “darky” (or other cultural uses, with or without a “y”) which is an old termed racial slur, rooted in the era of blackface, epitomizing the negative stereotypes of all dark-skinned people.

At CODE RED for gender justice we have an ongoing project which examines race and gender in Caribbean advertising.  (See also Rum and Rape Culture, our most popular post to date.) Please email us your submissions at redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com.

Caribbean bloggers take on race, class, gender, nation… and Nicki Minaj

Three very popular Caribbean bloggers have written recently about gender, race, class and nation in the region. These are must-read articles, check them out:

Annie Paul writes about the Caribbean Court of Justice Case currently being heard.  The case concerns the infringement of the rights (and sexual assault) of CARICOM citizen and Jamaican national, Shanique Myrie.  She examines notions of gendered respectability and class and how they are at the heart of this case:

This landmark case is not only about nationality, it’s also about ‘class’, the ungainly elephant in the room no one wants to explicitly mention. It is important to portray Myrie as ‘decent’ ‘respectable’ and ‘sober’ because the image of Jamaicans in the region is overwhelmingly influenced by the higglers, DJs and hustlers who often represent the face of Jamaica,  visiting, even migrating to other countries, where they are not always welcome.

Why? because these enterprising but capitally-challenged individuals (ie owning  little capital, whether financial or social) often violate all the dearly held norms of ‘decency’ ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ with their choice of garments, raw speech and boisterous behaviour. They regularly transgress the zealously guarded borders of civility and decorum as much as the borders of nation states which under the new Chaguaramas Treaty they now have a right to breach.

Perhaps this was why Myrie was given the finger when she arrived in prim and proper Barbados, regionally glossed as ‘Little England’. Not just because she was Jamaican but because she was perceived to be a particular kind of Jamaican. So @Emilynationwide was right to emphasize the outfit and demeanour of Ms Myrie. It may be extremely germane in the instant case.

The Eternal Pantomime examined  how race and class intersect to render some Trinbagonians as “sub-humans” or “niggas” who should be shot according to one journalist and his facebook friends:

Yesterday a man lost his entire family in seconds. Seconds. We can’t return them to him. Yesterday and this morning that man is firm in the knowledge that he may never receive justice…ever. Because in this corrupt narco state of a country the cliques protect their own. In the midst of wrenching grief, this man knows that the person responsible for killing his family may never be brought to justice. The community of Sea Lots responded angrily, impulsively and violently. The police and armed services responded back.

Meanwhile, on a computer somewhere, a citizen, who happens to be a freelance journalist posts up a rant. It is both classist and racist. He sincerely believes that poor(economically) black people who protest should be shot and killed and cabbages planted on them. He is unapologetic. Within seconds, other people who have little to no clear details of the tragedy, but who also have a deep and abiding disgust for poor black people because they believe them to be a burden on society, click like on his status and add comments. Of the five people who clicked like, one is a police officer. Another one is a friend of mine; and yet another is an online persona I know who is quite comfortable with using the word Negro to describe and define Afro- descended people.

Tillah Willah took umbrage with Nicki Minaj’s description of Trinidad & Tobago as “nothing” demonstrating the extent to which this characterization relies on a homogenised understanding of blackness as outside of humanity.   It is a critique worth noting especially as some feminist scholars think of Minaj as queer, subversive and transgressive.

Maybe it’s all that peroxide that’s eaten through Nicki Minaj’s scalp and started affecting her brain.
Or maybe it’s just the contempt that all Trinbagonians have for their own. You know, the place that gives you so much, that all you can manage to do is bad talk it at every opportunity.
I’m not, as you might have guessed, a fan of Ms. Minaj. There is a lot of really good hip hop out there and she is not it.
In a moment of empathy, Ms. Minaj reached out to an American Idol competitor – a refugee from Liberia – to say that she was so happy that the two of them had made it alive out of their horrible countries and come to the earthly paradise known as the United States of America to have a shot at being human.
In one fell swoop she perpetuates the myth of the savage Third World and also the streets paved with gold that exist outside of these Third World hell holes.
You really have to wonder if Ms. Minaj has some sort of post traumatic stress disorder. But if she does, if she is yet to deal with the traumas of her childhood, she should see a specialist about it, instead of going on American television and describing her country, my country as ‘nothing’.
Also I am curious about the something that she says that she is now. I suppose having millions of dollars is success. It doesn’t matter if you get this money by acting like Oversexed Barbie. It doesn’t matter if you are part of a media machine that sexualises girlhood, that preaches bamsie shaking as the sure fire way to get attention. And if you’re a black woman of any kind of popularity you start to get progressively whiter the more famous you get.
It fits the mainstream world media agenda for us to continue to think that anywhere in the so-called Third World is backward and savage. Trinidad and Liberia are one and the same, although Trinidad has not had decades of civil war. Far from being an expression of solidarity with a fellow person of colour, she is spewing the same ignorance that lumps us all into one amorphous bunch of black savages who can’t help but kill each other.
Oh and by the way? Violence and poverty do not exist in Queens. Racism is a long past dream and we’re all just getting along and having a big old party.

From local journalists, to the Caribbean court of justice to Nicki Minaj, there’s lots to unpack about our understanding of blackness as outside of the human and how this is mediated by gender, class and nation.

Join the discussion…

Edited to add

Negril Stories also wrote about the Shanique Myrie case in an aptly named post “I am Shanique Myrie or Jamaicans and Women are also Human”. Check it out.

Caribbean Community Shamefully Silent on Linden Violence

On July 18, 2012 “three men were shot dead by the police during a day of community protest” in Linden Guyana.

Guyanese activists used the Stabroek News In The Diaspora column, edited by Guyanese feminist scholar-activist, Alissa Trotz, to ask of the Caribbean community to “all stand with Linden.” They had this to say about the violence:

It is now five days since the deadly events in Linden, in which three men were shot dead by the police during a day of community protest. The last time protestors were shot at and killed by police was sixty-four years ago, when sugar workers were cut down by colonial officers acting on behalf of the sugar planters who ruled Guyana in those days.

Stabroek News also reported that:

46-year old Allan Lewis; 18 year old Ron Somerset; and 18 year old Shemroy Bouyea [were killed]. Another 20 women and men were sent to hospital nursing blunt trauma wounds and shooting injuries to the back, face, legs and chest: 34 year old Alice Shaw Barker; 47 year old Michael Roberts; 23 year old Hector Solomon; 33 year old Ulric Michael ; 56 year old Reuben Bowen; 38 year old Dexter Scotland; 52 year old Janice Burgan; 35 year old Yolanda Hinds; 45 year old Brian Charles; 26 year old Collis Duke; 35 year old Cleveland Barker; 25 year old Dwight Yaw; 39 year old Marlon Hartman; 24 year old Troy Nestor; 35 year old Jermaine Allicock; 39 year old Malim Spencer; 29 year old Shandra Lyte; 34 year old Andy Bobb Semple ; 24 year old Collin Adams; 21 year old Trelon Piggot. Two people are in critical condition. One woman was shot as she tried to rush young children to safety.

Across the Guyanese (and Caribbean) diaspora in Toronto, New York and the UK there has been a strong showing of international solidarity. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also condemned the violence.* In the region itself, the Caribbean community has been shamefully silent.

Barbadian social activist, David Comissiong, wrote to local newspapers to appeal for regional solidarity and action. He has called on Caribbean civil society and governments to intervene in order to prevent an escalation of the violence and “racial strife,” arguing that, ” it was not surprising that the police killings were immediately interpreted in terms of race!”:

historically, Linden was the scene of the two most infamous incidents of racial violence in Guyana — the 1964 Indian bombing of the African populated “Sun Chapman” launch on the Demerara river, and the ugly and brutal retaliatory violence that members of the “African” population of Linden inflicted on their “Indian” fellow residents.

Today, media reports indicate that unrest in Linden has escalated. Five buildings have been destroyed by fire.  Reports state that “security forces have cleared Linden roads”. Residents reported that police fired teargas to disperse large numbers of persons who turned out to resist the police. Guyana Defence Force air-dropped by helicopter more than 1,000 leaflets urging residents to support the Joint Services.

For three weeks “Lindeners have used huge logs, bricks, broken bottles, burning tyres and other objects to block access to key bridges and roads. At first they had been protesting the increase in electricity tariffs from July 1 following government’s decision to cut the subsidy by GUY$1 billion.” The protests continued after three men were killed by police.

* The Guyana Government has rejected the statement made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calling it “biased, misconceived and premature.” Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon insisted that, “The government of Guyana respects the rights of its citizens, including the right to march and demonstrate peacefully.”

Edited to add: reports that Joint Services denies it launched morning operation at Linden (source: Gordon Moseley on facebook).

Sherlina Nageer of Red Thread contextualises the protests in terms of Linden’s 70% unemployment rate and explains why Linden (the protests & police violence) is definitely a women’s issue.  

We will be updating and editing this post as more information comes in.

The Caribbean Community must not turn its back on Linden. Time to take notice and speak out!

Please share with us any information or updates you may have in the comments.

Carnival is woman…but not just any woman

Women’s public performance is always political, the fat black woman’s even more so.  There mere fact that this video* is circulating so widely is because people view the fat black woman’s performing body as disruptive and “unruly” (to draw on the work of Jamaican literary scholar Andrea Shaw.)

Some people argued that images of this woman would deter tourists from visiting Trinidad and Tobago for carnival.   This calls up how women’s bodies are used to signify the nation, in ways that are ultimately harmful for women.  Despite this nation being one where “every creed and race find an equal place” the fat black woman’s unruly political body is out of place, especially at carnival which itself has become a more commodified, commercially driven enterprise which re-inscribes class divisions rather than turning them on their heads as carnival has been expected to do.

Not just any body can represent the nation.  (Think of how he Caribbean’s beauty queens have traditionally been light-skinned, middle-class and slim.)

Trinidadian comedian Rachel Price had this to say:

That have to be CONFIDENCE to leave yuh house with nothing but red lace. When de holes in yuh arse that bigger than the holes on de road to Lopinot and of ALL words SEXY THING on the drapes posing as a panty ???

Yup, a fat joke! A cheap ridiculing of one woman out to have a good time.  What strikes me as most disturbing is the assumption that a fat woman couldn’t and shouldn’t be confident.

You would think that generations of fat, black Caribbean women who have refused to know their place would have put an end to such ignorance and prejudice.

Andrea Shaw’s The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies is available at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Embodiment-Disobedience-Womens-Unruly-Political/dp/0739114875/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1301155101&sr=8-2

This post was originally posted to our facebook page and tumblr.  Read a response to our post from the roots and rights blog.

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CODE RED is leaving wordpress but we’re still the baddest Caribbean feminist bloggers around!  Visit our brand new SEEING RED blog and show us some love! You can stay in touch with us on facebook, twitter and tumblr where we continue to bring  feminist commentary on politics, economics and life in general.  CODE RED is a collective which depends on the contributions of women and men from across the region. With so many ways to join the conversation why are you still silent?