Post 387.

There’s much to say about debates over race and ethnicity in Trinidad. What’s clear is the extent to which ideas circulating in our society take on a life of their own. They speak not only to the power of old, pervasive stereotypes, but the bed of trauma on which such views land, making their harm even more painful, and making conversations difficult unless there is mutual acknowledgement of such pain. 

For example, in her racist response to the UNC’s loss, Naila Ramsaran said “I hope Rowley starts putting contraceptives in their water supply”. Her comments echoed eugenist ideas of population control of the poor, primarily because of additional stereotypes of their burden on the state. These have been racialized in terms of Afro-Caribbean family systems and sexual practices since British colonial response to labour resistances of the 1930s, and the emergence of an idea of a state welfare. 

Contraceptives are not poison, and she didn’t threaten to put any in company products, but public condemnation justifiably moved from disgust at her demeaning of PNM supporters to fears regarding public health and the risk of genocide that deliberately poisoned products could pose to Afro-Trinidadian people’s lives. 

The problem isn’t only the racism of individuals on social media today, it’s the ease with which these racist logics circulate, appearing as accessible truths to understand others, but also to undermine them, and it’s their power to take on a life of their own.  

I don’t think the UNC intended its ad, for example, with a poor African child to be racist. I think the UNC was targeting poor Afro-Trinidadian voters who have been abandoned by the PNM, those willing to kick floodwater at Fitzgerald Hinds, those living in the marginalized communities of Chaguaramas and Sea Lots, and those who are the targets of the PM’s committee established after the protests in July.

They were not wrong to target these voters, in fact it’s necessary, but their targeting took up widely available narratives that are reductionist and misleading, and become racist representations. The same emphasis on poor Afro-Trinidadians at the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy comes from some local Black Lives Matter voices, and from those calling for an end to the Concordat because schooling disparities leave young Afro-Trinidadians poor and excluded. 

The idea of Africans at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder is an Afro-Trinidadian discourse that non-Africans hear, and may also believe, and it combusts into a life of its own as it moves across ethnicity and when it is then taken up in simplistic or opportunistic ways or should not be taken up at all.

So, the conversation isn’t whether the UNC or PNM, or Indians or Africans or anyone else, is totally racist. It’s not about a contest to list offensive political advertisements or statements, or post social media screenshots. 

Both parties have played on racial logics for decades, and swathes of the population heard and felt echoes of these logics as, at best, race-baiting and, at worst, as deliberate racism. These perceptions are the reality we have to unpack and confront, for it is here that layers of historical narratives, stereotypes, fictions and exclusions step in, creating disagreement over both history and the present, and a sense that the other does not prioritize our hurt or healing. 

What is critical is that different groups may hear these logics differently, sometimes may not hear them at all, sometimes may not consider them valid perceptions, or may see them as inconvenient but historically-accurate truths. 

Ideas we hold and convey about ourselves and each other are filled with dangerous myths, which at some times are expediently wielded and at others deeply wounding, bringing many to conversations about race with deep sense of pain. Political parties will play all this as long as it exists. We will have solid bases for accusing each other of racism, and blindness to it, as long as such logics live and breathe in our shared terrain.

There are continuous examples of victimhood because racial, gendered and classed ideas determine our grasp of history, validate shortcuts for explaining distrust and inequities, create both platforms and silences, and establish group identities and boundaries that can be conveniently exploited for political power.   

Where these discourses come from, when they can be drawn upon, why they remain effective, what truths they capture and hide, and what harms they continue to enact are necessary conversations to have as people making one nation out of the challenges of such complexity and contradiction.  

Post 383.

The school term finally ended, one like no other in our living memory. The experience our children had will connect them as a generation for the rest of their lives.

Ziya’s school taught classes every day, covering some math, English, Spanish, social studies, music and PE. The children learned a lot, both about distance and connectivity.

As a working mother, I was grateful. It’s challenging to work and parent simultaneously, and school provided a few well-organised hours of focus. I’d listen with one ear while the teacher chided the class for not knowing all the words to the anthem, reminded them not to eat at the computer, repeated the importance of learning to listen, and tried to instill all kinds of manners. With their voice present daily inside my home, I grew grateful for how much teachers contribute, freshly appreciating their daily commitment to filling gaps in our parenting. Teachers, like nurses, should be better paid than CEOs.

Meanwhile, soon after knocking water over her laptop and frying its electronics, Zi became computer-proficient. She could type, upload her assignments and check her own e-mail. Suddenly, she understood e-mail. I loved seeing her upskill even as I noted our own entanglement in the expanding digital divide.

There’s no doubt about it, computer and internet access are a privilege, and will deepen systemic class distinctions in exam results and school places. They will exacerbate unequal opportunity for children globally, which is why access to the internet is increasingly considered a human right. Our children are in a world so different from our own childhood.

One evening, when she was resisting a rule I had insisted on, Zi even threatened to put me out of the “Zoom meeting.” It was like a newspaper headline marking a historical moment. We were lying on her bed, not actually in a Zoom meeting, and I could only shake my head at post-covid19 lingo for punishment for giving trouble. Imagining the new vocabulary that will define school chatter and news-carrying in September makes me smile.

Zi loved dressing up in clothes she chose, attending class in shorts, eating breakfast leisurely, having lunches together, and being near to us all day. She missed her friends and wandering the hall in her school terribly, but when term opens, it will be clear that there was much we gained during this time.

Prior to schools closing, she was racing from school to extracurricular activities to her grandmother’s or her dad’s, and then home. It seemed we were always arriving back late from my work hours and hustling to bed, or getting home and spending the evening doing homework. The whole week felt like a rush. It was a joy and labour of love, but pace.

Being freed of traffic, experiencing school without stressful demands and the anxiety of tests, inventing ways to occupy herself on evenings, and simply staying in one place seemed to enable her to mature and mend. We cooked, gardened, took walks, and it genuinely felt like she exhaled. She just needed to come off the treadmill and its breakneck haste.

I began to think about the costs of our emphasis on achievement. Seeing her now, more loving, independent, settled and calm, I know her heart would not have grown as much at the speed she was functioning, with the rotation of activities she was doing, or with even the number of people she was interacting with on a weekly basis.

You have to know your child. Some need greater stillness and quiet, time between transitions from one place to the next, less pressure and fewer personalities, and the room they are given becomes filled with emotional growth.

I wonder how many children are like her, keeping up and even thriving, but with inner needs that our world undervalues or speeds past. I think about the children whose aggression would subside, whose silences would break open, and whose capacity to navigate difficult feelings would improve if they had to manage a little less for enough time, could fit into themselves, and, without fear of failure, slow down and breathe.

I’m in awe at how little I understood this, perhaps because there seemed simply no chance to stop until everything ground to a halt. I’m alarmed by the fact that I would have pressed her through, which at the same time would have held her back. What she lost in schoolwork, she found in her heart. After a term like no other, it’s the lesson I’ll remember.

Post 379.

When a woman experiences partner violence, her neighbours, friends and family can report even if she does not. Often, neighbours and families witness or experience violence or its threat because of their relationship or proximity to a victim. The more we all report is the more we empower police to respond and can hold them accountable for doing so.  

Reports of domestic violence do not require women to seek a protection order to ensure their safety. Threats and violence by partners and relatives are also criminal offenses, and police can immediately investigate and charge perpetrators.  

As the Coalition Against Domestic Violence has stated, “It is time that the police develop and implement a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence. If a serious offense has been committed or is threatened, the police must act independently, whether the victim cooperates or not”. 

Proposed amendments to the Domestic Violence Act include provisions for undertaking risk assessments. Upon reports being made, a risk assessment should be undertaken so that police can predict whether lethal harm is likely. A protocol should then be in place which connects with the courts, psychiatric intervention, and social services.  Police should also check perpetrators’ history of violence.

As Conflict Women’s recent press release reminded, Michael Maynard was charged with rape and released on bail in 2018. In February this year, after a history of violence, he killed his 8-year old daughter, Makeisha.  In response to a report by her mother, police were willing to go with Tricia Ramsaran-Ramdass to remove her belongings from the house. The TTPS press release states, “She never did, but instead, moved back into the same home with her spouse until her death on June 9th”. 

Perpetrators, not victims, should be removed from a home. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that leaving a home does not guarantee that violence will end. Women are at greater risk when they begin to leave or have left, and threats and intimidation continue long after they attempt to end relationships. 

In the case of Tricia Ramsaran-Ramdass, she was fearful of a partner who killed one woman already. It had been years of torture. Her family was also vulnerable. Such terror can lead women to return to abusive partners repeatedly. 

Love, hope, forgiveness, guilt, loss of self and self-blame are always enmeshed in such decisions, but such complexity should never distract from the fact that responsibility for violence always lies with the perpetrator and, in many cases, his controlling practices, his beliefs in traditional gender roles and male dominance, his history of witnessing, experiencing or expressing violence, and triggers such as substance abuse.  

The proposed amendments also allow police to seek emergency protection orders electronically through judicial officers, enabling them to be granted quickly. They allow Interim Orders to be granted after the second hearing where adjournments are being sought by the court and/or respondent.  In 2017-2018, over one-third of more than 9000 applications were dismissed, 72% of adjournments were related to the unavailability of the magistrate, and only 29% resulted in a protection order. 

The amendments address the needs of victims who appear repeatedly at court and leave without even protection on paper. Expanded beyond cohabitation and marriage, the amended legislation will enable some persons in visiting and dating relationships to seek protection orders.

There are expanded protections for children, including those who are witnesses to domestic violence. Mandatory reporting to police is now required if domestic violence is being perpetrated against vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or persons with disabilities. Such reports should also be able to be made to the Division of Family Services and Children’s Authority. 

The Alliance for State Action to End Gender-based Violence, comprising over 20 civil society organisations, including The UWI, continues to call for the amendments to protect all persons who experience violence in a domestic context, regardless of family status or gender. To continue to exclude some from protection is to define who can share domestic space or have relationships. That is not the point of the DV Act. It should provide protection without discrimination. 

My condolences to the family of Tricia Ramsaran-Ramdass, 37 years old and mother of one. We should all commit to preventing such violence in whatever way we can. These amendments will be debated in Parliament next week.

The GBV Unit and Special Victims Department are important, but as yet underfunded, steps in the right direction. Where police and judiciary can improve, the only headlines should be about how much is possible and how soon.

Post 378.

Neither elder nor younger Abu Bakr is a card-carrying member of the PNM, but both sought and say they were promised a chance at a seat under the party banner.  Party leader, Keith Rowley, would have had to convince constituency party groups and the whole PNM to include another political entity (the New National Vision) for the first time in history. 

This, from a go-it-alone party that finds coalition offensive and demeaning. This, from a party that only accepts cross-overs if they come from marginal constituencies and effectively combine insult with injury to the Opposition, or are voters. This, from a party that believes its inheritance is post-independence, patriarchal authority. It would certainly not invite in a contender to strengthen itself on PNM resources in order to aggrandize a cabal.

The party is aware that disaffection at its poor handling of the economy abounds, and every vote matters. It is inconceivable that it would risk inclusion of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an organization which a vast population born before 1990 still associates with violent state take-over, death and destruction, and collective willingness to hold a terrorized nation to ransom.  It is unlikely it would be threatened by the Jamaat’s control over votes in Port of Spain South. 

Even if they feel abandoned by the PNM, are all those “young Africans” (Abu Bakr’s term) going to vote for Mrs. Persad-Bissessar? The UNC is a Trojan horse for Indian men, aspiring for greater status, power and wealth than their fathers, to secure their influence over the political-economy. In the competition among patriarchies, they would be perceived as now ruling over African men with less status, power and wealth. 

Surely, the People’s Partnership State of Emergency and its criminalizing (and eventual releasing without charge) of such young Africans is hardly forgotten. African youth might find ways to rebel as a more politically-educated generation did in 1970. They might not vote, but it will be a grim day in fairy tale land for them to vote UNC.  Whether they will vote for Fuad, now re-throned as political leader of the NNV, we will see.

I’m fascinated by the Abu Bakrs’ audacity in publicly playing garrison politics with the nation. Garrison politics is best understood from Jamaica’s experience of politicians making alliances with dons, or male civilians who ‘control’ gangs, communities and organized violence, in order to secure the votes of urban, poor communities. As Rivke Jaffe writes, dons became power brokers as contracts, housing, jobs and money (and weapons) were distributed through them. Later, as the Jamaican state hit recession, dons “came to replace members of parliament (MPs) as community patrons who distributed largesse” and provided health services, schooling and policing. Empowered to secure urban order, dons became effective and accepted co-rulers (with politicians), in turn demanding “a steady flow of state funds and a measure of protection”. Demanding a seat inside government is the next, logical step. 

While not a don in the Jamaican sense, the Jamaat al Muslimeen is governed by a strongman leader who cares, invites loyalty, builds comraderie, promises ethical/religious certainty, establishes justice, and provides for basic necessities where the state has failed on all counts. Gangs perform the same function of creating a sense of value and belonging to a familial order, particularly for young Afro-Trinidadian men who feel alienated, abandoned and under threat. 

In Anna Ramdass’ Express story from May 31, 2020, Abu Bakr described the Jamaat as “responsible for the decrease in gang warfare, especially in the Enterprise, Chaguanas area”. He continued, “they ain’t kill no women because we make a law in the community”. Having locked off “gun warfare”, Abu Bakr boasted that only he holds the combination to the lock. Regarding Fuad, he promised, “Anywhere he go he will win, I is he father, I does rule the streets”. And, because manhood and sexual command over women is social capital in politics, elder Abu Bakr cast Fuad as “a sweet boy, he’s them girls sugar”. 

Elder Abu Bakr is, however, threatening as much as he is promising. If he can decrease crime, including domestic violence, he can allow its return. If he can bring in votes, he can bring down the government. This is the modus operandi of the don: to offer protection to politicians, but only if formal state institutions and representatives recognize and secure his rank and power.   

Fuad may want to represent grassroots youth, but what we witnessed was his play for power however his father brokers, knowing that he inherits patriarchal right over the Jamaat and the vote bank it can lock down from among genuinely disaffected communities. Rowley agitated such garrison politics by refusing to agree to the Abu Bakrs’ high-stakes game in king-making using “young Africans” as pawns or collateral and using a general election to secure a dynasty.

Post 375.

Once again, so many voters looking for sanity and trustworthiness find themselves wanting. A PNM win was secured by the government’s deeply cautious, but extremely successful health response. It was also secured by the vast distribution of social and economic support to tens of thousands of citizens, and the millions given carte blanche to religious groups which constitute major voting blocs. Don’t expect these monies to be properly and publicly accounted for, of course. The PMN found the best way to use a disaster to secure gratitude in the voting booth. That’s just reality in an election year.

Fascinatingly, the Prime Minister made a lengthy speech about campaign finance reform. This sounded like a brilliant plan to spend billions as a party (in government) without the constraints of procurement regulation while cleverly limiting other parties’ (out of government) ability to spend on their campaign without oversight. Campaign finance reform, if passed, will be a double win for the PNM and cause some belly pain for the UNC as they are well aware that parties in government spend millions (and this year more than a billion) in state funds as part of their campaign and parties out of government straggle on what they fundraise.

All this cleverness now seems wasted, however. It’s clear that the PM and Minister of National Security Minister lied to the nation or maybe are lying to themselves or maybe they just open borders and meet sanctioned foreign elites on the fly. I don’t understand calls for Stuart Young to resign when the anancy story goes straight to the top. What does a voter do when the party in government is caught in a lie? Go back into a relationship without trust?

On the other hand, the UNC’s strategy has won no love. Moonilal’s ill-fated run to the US Embassy was simply to send the message that an election is coming and a change of regime would be in US interest. Threat of sanctions, which it almost seemed that the UNC was begging for, would help send that message to a population already hungry and fearful, and provide nice sound and fury to secure desperate votes on the campaign trail. Moonilal didn’t anticipate that the press would pick up the story, but kick dust in his face and it’s now clear that new bacchanal must be quickly found.   

The UNC strategy was despicable, though I disagreed with the PM that it was traitorous and I disagreed with Cudjoe that it was racist. Actually, I thought Cudjoe’s commentary on Moonilal, and Indians, was itself despicable and racist, or maybe he hasn’t read anything on Indians in the Caribbean published after 1980.

I understand why we have to remain under US policy rule as our major trading partner and neighbourhood bully, but to champion that position was to reduce us to colonial status and playing policeman of our own subordination, like little boys in khaki short pants.

There has been a global call to lift sanctions, particularly at this time, when they impose an immoral cost on the shoulders of innocents and the poorest and most vulnerable in Venezuela. Sanctions against Venezuela are also not CARICOM policy. As citizens of the world, we have a right to our own views on global affairs. We have a right to think for ourselves beyond US politics. We have to abide, or bears costs of doing otherwise, but we do not have to agree.

So, where does the last weeks’ political chaos leave us?

Over the last decades, the incumbent has had trouble getting back into government though a month ago the PNM could have called an election and, without even a campaign speech, immediately won. Today, if we vote the PNM back in, we will be showing that we accept degrees of dishonesty yet again.

The AG has the Commission of Enquiry into the Point Fortin Highway, which is racking up tens of millions and again constitutes campaign spending using state resources, in his back pocket to pull out whenever the UNC bawls corruption. If we vote the UNC back in, he will make sure it shows we are prepared to accept much the same.

As Iran bravely ships oil to Venezuela, and Caribbean waters heat up, an election season fight for credibility has begun. We will have to choose between two parties with questionable decision-making, many smart men and too little trust. As with hurricanes, we can only hope to weather the wrath of oncoming storms in our tiny teacup.  

Post 372.

Our societies were already defined by exclusion, inequality, and lack of sustainability prior to COVID-19.  Now, Trinidad and Tobago can no longer rely on oil and gas revenues to distribute the basic welfare provisions that kept so many from homelessness, crime, illness and starvation. We simply will not be earning what we spend.

Increased insecurity means that we will not be able to buffer ourselves against the next crisis, whether epidemiological or ecological, unless we plan our recovery as if we are already protecting ourselves from such an inevitability.

To be honest, I’ve struggled with what those options are, and their realism, and will explore them over the next weeks in this column.

On the one hand, as the Guardian Weekly noted last month, “whenever a crisis visits a given community, the fundamental reality of that community is laid bare. Who has more and who has less. Where the power lies. What people treasure and what they fear”.

On this basis, I’ve wanted to argue that we commit to economic and social justice, which is more than welfare provision to women and the poor, as the goal around which we plan national growth. How will our economic recovery also renew the possibilities for women to carry less unequal burden for care; how will it prevent increasing distance between rich and poor; how will it include an education transformation that doesn’t leave so many alienated from learning, how will it create greater inclusion for those on the margins?

Even as we emerge from this period, we also have to keep in mind that the biggest threat to all future generations remains climate-related destruction and death. Around the world, both governments and corporations are rolling back environmental protections in the wake of a focus on the economic recovery.

I’ve wanted to call for us to not lose momentum. Climate change, like COVID-19, is a global disaster which does not respect borders or identities, and requires the very global collaboration, respect for science, speed of response and individual investment in preventing unnecessary deaths that have shaped our lives these past weeks. If we understood the climate crisis as far more lethal, we would find the funds to invest in renewable energy and low-carbon alternatives on every front, so many of which are our endless resources in the Caribbean. “We would see these kinds of emergency packages that would get people off of the fossil fuel grid and onto a clean grid right away” says May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy group 350.org.   

These are the big issues of social, economic and climate justice which require not just big ideas, but much bigger political will. I’ve been drawn to them, knowing as we now do that everything we consider harmful can be stopped, regardless of the impact on international travel or school exams, if we decide an emergency response is required. If we think of the injustices we were living with all along as a disaster, we could decide this was a time like no other.

On the other hand, I’ve been drawn down from thinking that every big idea is one we should be allowed to consider to focusing on the nitty-gritty of immediate protections. Corruption and mismanagement has been the major harm to our financial wealth since independence. This is why our national savings are so small – they have been stolen and wasted by our very own, leaving us less able to protect our most vulnerable or turn our economies around on our own. Enact procurement legislation so that it no longer occurs from today.

Negative growth across the region and increasing indebtedness – both individual and national –  means harder times for most, increasing hunger and hardening anger. We need hope that comes from alternatives, imagined with our broadest, most inclusive ideas of justice at their heart, quieting the cynicism we have all felt that nothing changes, at the very moment when everything absolutely can.  

Frankly, the whole society – every cook, cleaner, caterer, cashier and child carer –  should have a say in how we will survive, including on the basis of cooperative-based and solidarity economy models, such as bartering and sharing. So many development solutions can come from listening.   

From the midst of economic and emotional despair, we must therefore find on a future defined by each other’s resilience and renewal, and do so collectively and transparently. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to move beyond recovery of an older order and, instead, birth long dreamed and long overdue possibilities.    

Post 371.

“I’m feeling suicidal,” he said, as I inched down the window. Ziya and I looked at him, and I began to wonder about what I was exposing her to. It wasn’t just that he wasn’t wearing a mask, it was that I didn’t expect the social and economic costs of this time to appear so close so soon.

We were locked in the car on Easter Monday, waiting for my shattered phone to be fixed – the day before, I was talking with the Coalition Against Domestic Violence while hastily sweeping the house in an ill-fated example of tired working mother multi-tasking – and he now stood on the pavement signalling to me.

He had been employed in construction. There was an accident. He raised his shirt to show us, but I looked away for it was intrusive and degrading. He found out his employer had not been making his national insurance payments, and this affected his compensation.

He had come to Port of Spain, but had not been able to access any help. The police treated him like a vagrant as he walked the streets, but he wasn’t one (and, here, his voice broke by oncoming tears). He lived in Cumuto, and had no money for his four girls, all under 12 years old, and not enough money to get home. The school-feeding programme used to help, but now he didn’t know what to do. He was hungry.

He insisted he was not a vagrant, he just was unemployed. He thanked me for listening to him and for not looking down on him. He accepted money and promised to buy me a doubles when “this is all over,” when we meet again and share a meal. I thanked him for his offer, told him to speak to his local church for help to access a food card.

As he walked away, I said to Zi that his story could be true or not, but what was clear is that we should all give from whatever extra we have, especially in these weeks and months when widespread insecurity peaks. He could be an addict, but his hunger was real. We didn’t know his story, but what should stay with her is that every person has dignity, and wants that recognised as equally as everyone else.

I had been reading much about the economic and social impact of covid19 over the next year, including the effects on depression and suicide ideation, but this brief encounter made it immediate and human, and showed the inequality at its heart, to us both.

Inequality marks the boundary between those mainly worried about their health and those worried most about hunger, who think they will begin to starve before they get sick. Such inequality similarly sets apart those able to transition to online schooling and those children who will be left behind next term even more than they already are.

Inequality now divides those secure workers who retain benefits from those still fighting for them, despite being essential. Think of domestic workers still caring for the elderly despite the lockdown, and who have been struggling for decades for state commitment to ILO Convention 189, on decent work for domestic workers, even while labour leaders in Cabinet from each governing party ignored them completely.

Sanitation workers, who are among the lockdown’s heroes, have been waiting for backpay and wage increases, are managing higher risks of respiratory problems, remain exposed to hazardous waste, and over 2019 repeatedly protested decades of total disrespect. Rather than simply clapping, valuing their contribution requires our public support of their demands for workers’ rights.

We should refuse to return to business as usual when we have been given the opportunity to reset, to see each other as essential, to stop the waste of our time and money. If the machine that was running our lives can be reimagined, our society can choose solidarity and compassion, rather than insecurity, fear and inequality.

We know now that anything is possible. We can work from home and decrease traffic. We can do state business online. We can increase our investment in agriculture. We can celebrate workers. We can pivot governance around preventing unnecessary loss of even one life.

The long-term crisis is a social and economic one to be fought just as much as we are fighting for our collective health. Those who were already just making ends meet may now be on the verge of vagrancy, and are deathly afraid of the fall.

Post 369.

Forgiveness is a beautiful and powerful act of showing the capacity and strength to free oneself from an old hurt. This must be why Archbishop Jason Gordon was quoted as recommending forgiving your family “because the house is too small to hold unforgiveness on top of everything else”.

As many come to terms with being locked indoors with people who have hurt us in the past or may still in the future, figuring out how to survive psychologically requires emotional power, flexibility and insight – and good advice.

We could be home with sexually abusive adults or with homophobic parents. We could be home with partners quick to insult and anger or with cousins prone to lack of consideration. We could have been on the verge of divorce, but are now in each other’s face with our hate daily. We could be holding on to the date when we are all released to the outdoors by the state, but also living with uncertainty about the risks that then increase.

Now that we are in a prolonged period of psychological stress, perhaps from the sheer unfamiliarity of this time or from our disconnection with those closest to us or from depression that has fewer distractions, many may not know how best to cope.

Given the vast rates of everyday neglect, child sexual abuse and partner violence, affecting thousands of households and tens of thousands of lives, there’s a lot to forgive filling all the spaces in houses too small to hold unforgiveness.

Naïve pontification undermines deeply-held dreams of confronting harm and being heard such that the house includes trust and safety, sometimes for the first time in decades, and can expand beyond the meanness of hardened disappointment and cynicism

Our messaging, from pulpit to politician needs to be better. Forgiveness is an outcome, not a beginning. It is impossible where fear and hurt create the experience of both a desire for justice and its denial. It requires a process which can be painful and difficult, and simply espousing the value of forgiving can deepen self-blame among survivors for their inability to act normally and as if nothing ever occurred. Indeed, in complex ways, survivors often blame even themselves and forgiveness is a knotty process of disentangling from so much that creates fear, shame and silence in our relationships with ourselves as well as each other.

So, there’s an opportunity for pastoral care, psychologists and state press conferences. Be real with the population, recognising deep trauma that resides within the places where we are now confined. Respond with messages beyond updates on infection and calls for physical distancing, as crucial to life and death as an epidemiological approach may be.

Those daily press conferences can expand their communication with the nation and help many people who have never disclosed their abuse, who will now see their abuser daily, who are descending into dissonance about how to be themselves among those who don’t understand or accept them.

By guidance, I don’t mean a day of prayer nor do I mean telling people to forgive without also affirming their right to acknowledgement of harm, apology and consent to a new foundation for relationship.

It’s a good time to bring in our best psychologists – not pastors or priests or pundits or imams – to every press conference to provide focused coping strategies for individuals struggling in all these destructive households, in order to not assume some ideal (and fictive) loving and conflict-free nuclear family model as the target of COVID-19 emergency policy.

Now that we have been told to stay at home, families are caught in a public policy decision for which they may not have the guidance, process, tools, words or safety to cope. We need to be helped to do so for our old ways of walking away or not being at home until late or escaping to work or school or a bar or for exercise will no longer do.

All state press conferences should offer such coping strategies, assuming that homes are the very places where we may least want to be.

We shouldn’t start with the house being too small to hold unforgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift just as much as unforgiveness is a defence, and it takes communication, courage, love and truth to exchange them. As much as it is a beautiful ideal, we must now take seriously how to manage weeks, maybe months, in homes that have long had little room for so much of what we feel.

Post 368.

Name any number of stresses and you would find most of us are now dodging several of them daily. What are the implications of such higher stress when we are locked inside together? On the other hand, what are the implications for so many people who are living alone, and now without options for human contact?

Having rightly closed down bars and other public recreation spaces, mostly frequented by men, how will they cope? Men dominate public spaces, whether playfields, streets or rum shops, which are also spaces for establishing masculine identity and camraderie, and setting boundaries on the spheres of men’s lives within women’s control.

What happens to men, women and families when such spatial distinctions collapse and men are locked indoors? What new conflicts over time, power and decision-making are emerging, which we should publicly talk about and protect ourselves from inside our homes?

In a region where men, particularly older men, may also be among the higher numbers of those living alone, do we understand the realities of our different needs, coping strategies and levels of risk?

Behind our closed doors has become more complex than ever in a world where home may already have been lonely or unsafe, or a rest stop between places where one would rather be. Some may have already begun to lose income and are tense, with nowhere to turn.

Some are beginning to feel trapped or out of control. In response, they may turn to threatening and controlling behaviours as part of expressing frustration. Cases of abuse and the severity of violence in families might increase while options for running to family or friends are closed. For those victims, physical distancing can occur even while those around them help prevent the greater dangers of social isolation.

As with any crisis, women remain particularly vulnerable, whether because they dominate the service and retail industry as workers, and are at risk of losing those jobs, or because they predominate as nurses, and are taking risks that leave them distanced from their families, or because there is deepening isolation for those already being separated from friends and family by abusive partners, or who have been isolating themselves because of shame.

Girls’ risk of sexual abuse is especially high now that uncles, step-fathers, cousins and other men are more present and difficult to escape. The vulnerability we are all feeling right now can make victims feel even less able to report or leave, particularly if they are also women and girls with mental or physical disabilities. Many women in the Caribbean are also primary breadwinners and single parents, and the impossibility of balancing parenting and their profession will fall on them unequally.

Ziya’s school has shown a model response this past week – ‘live’ online sessions every day, three a day over the next two weeks on both mornings and afternoons, and assignments every day, but there’s no chance that, as a working mother and primary breadwinner, I could match their expectations and also accomplish my job.

It’s felt like going insane. The assignments come through a non-child friendly system where they must be downloaded, completed as word files or printed as PDFs, and then photos taken and uploaded. All week, I’ve wondered why primary schools don’t adopt a more empathic approach to learning, think about the child friendliness of the software, consider the realities of the learning environment children are in, send a package of material that could simply be done in the afternoons when office work is completed and two hours can be found to do assignments, and encourage home schooling approaches that don’t require a stay-at-home parent attentive to curriculum throughout the day.

While my mother is concerned about surviving, my friends reach out across their feelings of disconnection and my family panics about declining income, I worry about the implications of opting out of Zi’s school’s zealous teaching strategy or the implications of barely doing my job, when the days seem to demand one or the other.

Many people are protecting their health, but are deeply affected by the psychological and familial challenges of this time. Addressing them is as important as the health and financial responses.

Schools should remain closed after April 20th or we risk an infection spike that could particularly put the elderly at risk, for many of us can only work because grandparents provide after-school care. In the meantime, we need to rethink our assumptions about parents and homes, and our educational philosophy. We need to emerge, not only alive, but intact emotionally.

Post 367.

I’m intrigued by efforts to keep life going as normal. Recognizing the real limitations that people are facing, what’s wrong with slowing down?

Ziya’s school, like many, has done an amazing job of leaping into on-line teaching so that there are due dates for assignments and live stream sessions. It’s a twenty-first century tech-saavy response that should draw big respect.

However, while observing assignments and live streams targeted to students within typical school hours, I couldn’t help thinking of parents already struggling to work from home, inefficiently, and who now have to simultaneously manage on-line primary education.

I thought of the single parents with only one laptop or computer who would have to juggle their on-line meetings and deliverables, and those of their children. I thought of the parents who were still required at their workplaces or were beginning to worry about making ends meet, and wondered at the additional strain of such demands.

In striving to do our best to maintain content, are we working in silos without realizing? How might it be different if we understood our assumptions, as employers and educators, and targeted our efforts and expectations less toward the ideal and more toward the realistic circumstances of those we engage? If students can’t meet those expectations, are these failures theirs or even their parents, or a result of expectations that create more stress in order to be met?

I thought too of how economic inequality sifts our opportunities at this time. For there are parents and schools, from Toco to Cedros to Chagaramas, where children don’t have access to the connectivity, data or computers that could meet the standards of wealthier school communities. For those children already depending on school-feeding programmes, is this a moment that will deepen the class and educational divide?

As a university educator, I thought about my own students. Some are parents who wouldn’t be able to produce school assignments with the same efficiency. Some have moved back home and are left with poor internet capability. Some are anxious about their own health or their family. Some have a partner worried about a cliff-drop in income or one who is at risk for increased alcohol and substance abuse.

Being isolated at home, possibly losing income, caring for sick relatives, disagreement over roles and resources, and having fewer outlets for relieving boredom and anger will increase family conflict. Our social services and call lines are incapable of meeting public need. Some, and their children, are at far greater risk of violence.

There are also students who may not be ready for a fast move to a new on-line normal nor students for whom my classes are their highest priority. Organising group presentations on-line is far more stress and effort than doing so in person on campus. All these things are possible in this day and age, but to expect immediate adjustment is an option, not a necessity.

So, why don’t we opt out of trying to achieve as normal? What if we used this time instead to achieve, but a little less, observing that the world will not end, but that there may be some improvements.

Maybe, we spend less time rushing through the day, without traffic and exhaustion. Maybe, we do more talking now that we are home together. Maybe, children run about in the backyard, and get time without everyday extra lessons for SEA. Maybe, we spent more time with elders, who might be scared and feeling alone. Maybe, we call each other more, across the country and the world. Maybe, we question our old normal and ask if it was really our best. Could we be better about how we use our time, knowing why and how we pursue knowledge, in this moment?

I cut some lectures which didn’t risk my learning objectives. I cut down exam content. I reduced the number of final assignments. Maintaining last month’s rules would simply test survival under increased pressure and show lack of empathy.

I’m not only asking us to consider the balance between keeping up and slowing down. I’m saying that it is possible to enable new opportunities and give breathing space to better priorities. These weeks, and likely months, should be planned as if families, homes and economies are feeling, and soon experiencing, crisis.

Our educational institutions have an opportunity to respond to that in our approach to teaching and learning, in the interest of students, parents and teachers, as if inequalities and their implications persist amidst these weeks’ new realities.