December 2013

Post 130.

It’s good to know who most matters to you in the world, and to let this determine your ethics and your actions. 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.

You’ll know those who want to matter because they will want to be tried and true, they will make you feel safe with them and they will inspire you to be your best self. These are the people who help you to survive and to grow, to push limiting boundaries and to know when you should say no. Those who want to matter will not leave you wondering if you are loved. Keep them close to you during the challenges ahead and let others go. There is too much to accomplish to move forward with vulnerabilities that undermine your peace of mind.

What exactly is to be achieved?

There is the heart list consisting of releasing attachments with generosity of spirit, receiving acceptance with grace and deepening a daily practice of gratitude.

There is a life list consisting of finding that right combination of relentlessly pursing dreams regardless of the sacrifice, contributing to changes the world desperately needs, and finding commitment and meaning beyond public life, in family, friendship, healthy living, forests and quiet time.

There is the fantasy list consisting of fine-tuning those super powers that should be yours. I don’t mean powers to be invisible or speak to animals or move through time or fly – though your alter ego should have at least some of these. I mean the list of those powers that would make you awesome to yourself, such as greater capacities for patience and focus, quicker recovery when you need to get back up and dust off, trust that struggle to be better at something will bring returns, greater humility, honesty and far, far more kindness in word and deed. These may not sound like superpowers, but that’s only because you are not rocking them with a cape.

Finally, there is the balance list. I asked someone if all was well the other day and they said ‘no, things are not well’. They didn’t mean with themselves, they meant with Trinidad and Tobago and they were right. Once we have health, money to live and our family nearby, all is well, but the ‘all’ we are a part of is wider than that. Balance means knowing when we have nothing to complain about and knowing when complacency will cost a future generation. Some of us are out there volunteering with children or washing oil of our coastline’s wildlife or teaching adult men how to read. The rest of us should be out there too. There’s balance to be found. All is not well with one of us when it is not well with all.

It’s powerful to know what most matters and to trust that mistakes are part of finding out, so good intention and forgiveness are necessary ingredients in the mix. Given how little is under our entire control, all that’s left after all this is a fearless openness to chance encounters and unlikely opportunities.

Finally, when you lose your lists, fail or focus on what doesn’t matter, always remember that each day in the new year also brings a second chance.

Post 129.

The jump in consciousness from two to three years old is significant. Last year, thankfully, Zi didn’t even register an event called Christmas. Presents, tree and lights were all non-issues. In the way of two year olds, all she wanted was your attention, just as she did every other day. I loved that she was not yet plugged into the matrix, that she was happy no matter what, that expectations had not yet been embedded on her little brain. I felt she was more free and therefore so was I.

Not this year. Between school and her grandmothers, she’s learned all about Christmas trees, decorations, baby Jesus and presents. She’s become one of those kids that points out every house where they ‘light up’, ready to leap into the magic of blinking verandahs were it not for the straps of her carseat. I love her little Trini talk though, how she says ‘light up’ in the way that we also say ‘hug up’, ‘love up’, ‘rumfle up’ and so on.

I’ll admit to being an apathetic bah humbug about the whole thing (except sorrel!). I think consumerism is in overdrive, but haven’t become one of those families I admire who feed homeless on Christmas Day. We secured a tree, but it’s only two feet tall and her dad organized the whole thing with her while I made impressed noises, suppressing the me who thinks lights just waste electricity. She rightfully complained that there were not enough decorations, and now that it apparently and annoyingly matters, her dad had to go get more. I got her presents, but less because it’s Christmas and more because I want to give her well chosen alternatives to the usual sexism that is offered up in kids’ toy aisles every December.

Today, as we wrapped gifts for her cousins, she looked at her tree, with its one gift (from her school) underneath, and wanted to know where her other gifts were. I wanted to know where she got the idea that kids get more than one gift. She looked at me like I was stupid. She wasn’t born yesterday, or for that matter two years ago, and now clearly remembered something about presents in the plural. As the adult, I got to swing the conversation into a parent-wins moment, emphasizing that there would only be more presents if there was no fussing, no tantrums and no saying ‘no’ between now and Christmas Day. The usefulness of perpetrating the Santa fantasy I had avoided thus far suddenly clicked. Pure bribery, greasing the good behaviour wheels for a few weeks, backing up precious negotiating power against potential toddler guerrilla tactics.

Bring on Christmas I cheered, all spirit, no irony. Today, we also worked on hand-eye coordination (hers and mine) as I tried to wrap gifts shaped, I swear, like whole frozen chicken and she learned how to put scotch tape, not just any or everywhere, but in neat lines that actually cover two ends of paper. Feeling all present in the moment (pun not initially intended), and given that serious socialization is being established, I took the time to talk about how Christmas is not just for getting, but for giving.  I know this is important because when I asked her what gift she got for mummy, she looked not so much at me as through me. The idea had never occurred to her and, now that it did, had no priority.

As the three year old brings in old traditions and establishes new family rituals, fun times and togetherness are undoubtedly ahead.

Post 128.

You are a teenager. Your dad tells you he wants to look at your body. He touches your genitals. After, he says he’s sorry. He doesn’t want you to tell anyone. You do tell, your mother, your aunts and the police. He says you are lying. Your mother believes you. Who will others believe?

You’ve now lost a dad and must mourn a man still walking around town, one who was supposed to protect you but who now casts you as the threat. You have no idea what rules actually matter anymore, given that the ones you thought most mattered have now been violated. Why not self-harm? Why obey anyone when adults have failed to obey the rules that they should?

Maybe you act out because it’s a way to let others know you are going to do whatever you want because, regardless of the support you have, this hell is and will be your own. Maybe you act out because you are angry, maybe to forget, maybe to test those around you to see if they really are on your side, maybe to push back at the boundaries of their love.

Maybe when you know what it means to be vulnerable, you reach in many directions for safety, even directions not right for you. Hurt, betrayal and loss are confusing. You live them emotionally, understanding your rationales and reactions only long after.

You don’t know it yet, but you will deal with this for decades. It may affect your future relationships with others, even with yourself. It may crush your ability to trust. It may lead you to take risks. It may leave you less able to negotiate control over your body and sexuality than you need to be. It may lead you to search out future abusers in one form or another. You don’t wake up one morning and find the whole experience was a dream.  You wake up on mornings carrying the experience, sometimes awake, sometimes sleeping, inside of you.

You also don’t yet know how many other girls this happens to. The women who come to hear about your abuse, who remember their own, also begin to discover how many of them were affected. They revisit their pain. If only there were less silence and less shame. If only women didn’t carry feelings of blame or hadn’t decided to forget, the stories of survivors of child sexual abuse and incest could fill every newspaper page.

These women and their stories can reduce girls’ vulnerability. Maybe, hopefully, women survivors will find a way to heal and protect where others have failed. Maybe, men who have also survived sexual abuse will also come together, not just to support each other, not just to run perpetrators, but to dismantle the kind of masculine power that makes men more likely to be sexually and physically violent to those they love.

National statistics suggest that child sexual abuse happens everyday. This teenager is real. She isn’t me, but that doesn’t matter. She is ours. So are all the others.

There is action to be taken everywhere. Like my sistren, Nadella Oya, you can make a statement on the walls of communities, you can teach children about their rights. NGOs across the country need volunteers and ideas. There is the regional Break the Silence Campaign, started by the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, whose blue teddy symbol is becoming more visible. Find out what you can do.

We need to end hushed family conversations, cycles of violence and tolerance of perpetrators. Tomorrow should not add another story.

Post 127.

On Saturday, at Central Bank, I gave a talk on why we should end sexism and homophobia. The talk explains why ending them would improve life for everyone, and is aimed at those in power. It’s pitched to all the people who think that they are not hurt by sexism and homophobia, and to those people who don’t want to be treated unequally. The talk includes statistics, legislative review, stories, quotes, cool pics and performance poetry.

Shout outs to my students are the sub-text of the entire presentation. The slide background was the awesome logo for the student feminist group, ‘Consciousness Raising’, which was active from 2007-2009 and was the first group to come out of my women’s studies class.  They held campus marches for two years for International Women’s Day and International Day Against Violence for Women. The words in their logo are ‘solidarity’, ‘freedom’, ‘take action’ and ‘change’.

The students I quoted in my talk also formed groups such as ‘Support for Change’, in 2011, to advocate for the national gender policy. They run Facebook discussion safe spaces like ‘Womantra’.  They start campaigns of all kinds such as a Port of Spain and UWI slutwalk action to show that women’s sexuality in no way justifies rape. They initiated the CARICOM-targeted campaign to end homophobia and transphobia. These students are also active in the gender studies-led Break the Silence campaign to end child sexual abuse and incest. When people ask for feminism, these are its young leaders in their actively expanding numbers. Women and men working in a wide range of movements. Rock on, radical university youth!

Among the coolest things I showed was the picture of my Introduction to Women’s Studies class of 2013. This is the seventh year that my students have done popular actions on women’s rights at UWI, in a course first taught in 1982. These are the people doing movement engaging and building, and I got to put their faces in her/history. My students this year were open-minded, thoughtful, ethical and courageous. It’s wonderful to see a politically conscious, Caribbean feminist generation coming out of UWI.

I hope the PNM, in its upcoming Parliamentary critique, doesn’t miss this kind of national contribution, particularly in light of the party’s anti-choice and homophobic prejudice, simply so they can score political points. We will see.

I struggled a lot with the words in my talk. In Caribbean feminist academia and activism, there is lively debate about whether to use words like ‘equality’ or words like ‘equity’, or even ‘transformation’, also whether to use ‘homophobia’, which actually misrepresents the issue but is at least commonly known, or whether to use ‘heterosexism’. I also wrestled a lot with my talk’s absence of direct reference to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered persons and women, though it is hard-core anti-sexism activism.

There is a lot of talk in the country, not all of it constructive. The TEDx Port of Spain 2013 event featured an inspiring line up of speakers, including Etienne Charles, Attillah Springer, Wayne Kublalsingh, Rondel Benjamin and Keegan Taylor, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Father Clyde Harvey, Erle Rahaman-Noronha, Debrah Lewis and Dominique Le Gendre. In about a week, Google TEDx POS 2013, sit back and check them out.

There are also past talks by Sunity Maharaj, Verna St. Rose Greaves, Christopher Laird of Gayelle and others. My talk included Episode 4 of my ‘If I was Prime Minister’ series, started in 2009. For Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet, it’s a must-see.

It’s also for those with homophobic religious beliefs, or who care about children, the economy and creating safe communities. Watch it with an eye to the leadership we will need beyond 2015.


Feminist Conversations on Caribbean Life

not promoting in anyways the killing of women but if some of wunna hot pussy whores keep wunna foot shut might b living now

A former schoolmate of mine has posted his wisdom on how women in Barbados can avoid being murdered by former or current intimate partners.

Another woman has been killed.  A 22 year-old who loved her family, her two year-old daughter, whose baby sister just became a mom.  A mothering worker like so many other Caribbean women who supported her family while furthering her education. And who loved make-up.  A complex woman like all women.  A woman with a right to be. A right to a good life. Her name is Krystal.  A name chosen with much love and care.

We continue to fail women.  We continue to offer excuses and justifications for their murders.

She had a new man.

She mussee tek de man money.


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