May 15, 2006

Claim The Power Of Your Self-Truth

A gay male colleague of mine once told me that while self-discovery at fourteen was a wonderful thing, what he hated the most was “the loneliness of self-truth”. If you are gay and must survive in a fundamentalist Christian environment, or any other that condemns you, then you know exactly how this feels. Fables like, “The Emperors New Clothes” or real history like the medieval persecution of people like Galileo, bare a special relevance to you. For now, it is you, all alone shouting your truth from the rooftops while people turn a blind eye. “I did not choose to be this way!” you scream, ‘Surely I would know if I did!” you insist. They shake their heads and insist otherwise. “Therapy, prayer and repentance does not change my sexual orientation it only makes me feel wretched and self-defeated!” you cry out and it bounces off an obstinate wall of ignorance. Like the child who can clearly see the Emperor naked while others, blinded by mob gullibility and fear choose falsehood, you are often drowned out by the noisy pretense. Your truth forces you to face the only choice a gay person has- denial of self-truth for group acceptance or acceptance of self-truth and having your human rights denied.

How ironic it is for a great many of us who were brought up in the Christian faith to be punished for living in truth. The promise of freedom the bible offers to those who seek truth eludes so many of us. “The truth shall set you free” the scripture says. “Yeah right!” we often reply. Free from respect from others perhaps. Free from family support, equal rights and often times free from what was once the comfort and brotherhood of spiritual fellowship. And what is it about our very existence and acceptance of our self-truth that unnerves those clinging to certain fundamentalist dogmas so much that they must condemn our refusal to pretend? Well quite simply, gay people who have been raised in a fundamentalist Christian tradition are in a unique position to test the validity of their religious faith and that of those closest to them. It is this test of faith that literally scares the bejeezus out of your Christian brothers and sisters. You have the privilege of seeing for yourself if all the sermons are true. Can a God who is supposed to be almighty and supportive only of traditional values like the religious throng say, really change you from gay to straight? If that God as you have come to know Him, cannot do it, then what does that mean?

Perhaps your experience is similar to mine and you were taught God is a fear inspiring kind of deity who takes special interest in what we do with our genitalia. Worse yet He sends gay men and lesbian women to a fiery hell, and wants you to be straight. No doubt in the early stages of accepting your self-truth your motivation to change your sexual orientation was very strong. You sincerely wanted to do what God wills for you and so you repented and prayed according to God’s will, confident that all you have to do is. “Ask and it will be given to you” like the bible says. So you fervently, heart wrenchingly asked to God to make you straight. The catch? Not only does it not happen but, your homosexual orientation becomes more and more defined and your sexuality more insistent on being expressed and fulfilled, as you get older. Suddenly you are faced with a decision and the biggest paradigm shift of your life. For you have encountered a self-truth that challenges your religious upbringing and the spiritual comfort zone of everyone around you. You find yourself asking, “Does God really exist? If so, why doesn’t he answer my prayer? Especially since it is in accordance with what I was taught is HIS will for me?” or perhaps, “I wonder if what I was taught about God is really true?”

Not surprisingly after deep soul searching and intense commune with their Creator, in addition to therapy, spiritual counseling to address their sexuality and inflicting emotional and mental scars upon themselves through these efforts, when gay people find they cannot change they simply arrive at an ultimatum. They can either accept, “This is God’s will for me.” and stop beating up themselves, get stronger and more flexible in their faith or they can arrive at the conclusion, ‘There is no God or the bible is bull-crap” and be happy and fulfilled as an atheist or non-Christian. It’s the true test of Christian faith and beliefs. Something most straight Christians never have to confront and are scared of doing so. They want to continue to take for granted that everything they learned can never be challenged. This is why your head on spiritual confrontation threatens their well-appointed seat on a cushy comfort zone. Your existence, your unwavering sexuality combined with all of your beautiful attributes confuses and bewilder. They are forced to ask, “Why would a God of love make my son gay only to later punish him?” and “My colleague is a lesbian but I know in my heart of hearts she is not evil, in fact she is the most wonderful person I know. Why would God send her to hell?” These questions are just as lethal to their contented bible literalist fundamentalism as, “How did Noah fit the over five million species of animals, many requiring very specific climate and space considerations into an ark smaller than the QE2?”

People who fear religious questions must take steps to demonize you because it is the only way they can rationalize your existence in the scheme of things. The truth is, to any fair-minded, good-hearted human the idea of hellfire is repulsive to their sensibilities. Envisioning you or anyone else being tormented in a place a trillion times more barbaric than a Nazi concentration camp and worshipping a God who would allow that to happen can only be accepted by the conscience if they can somehow convince themselves that you deserve it. So they ease their mind by saying, “You earned hell for being an evil sinner!” Just as the Christian fundamentalists attach sinister ulterior motives to an atheist or non-Christian’s objection, inability or lack of desire to internalize Christian dogma as absolute truth, so too they misrepresent gay people. This is done by quoting scriptures like Romans 1 out of context and attaching false attributes to your orientation that turn you into some kind of amoral, depraved, animalistic monster. Remember that unyielding wall I mentioned earlier, the one you pound and scream your self-truth at? Well this is how it starts going up. It is not just a wall against your self-truth but one to shield their hearts against compassion, empathy and love, which always undermine extremism. The religions that refuse to harden the hearts of their members and create an Us vs. Them universe always lean moderate to liberal and embrace gay people. Why? Because when it comes to choosing a religious dogma vs. choosing justice and love for humanity, fair-minded people always pick the latter without hesitation. They choose their gay children over biblical bureaucracy and church acceptance. Their faith is not a fragile thing held together with threads of fear but an evolving and all embracing force in their lives. Our self-truth makes them dig deeper into their beliefs and discover the core principles that help them include and not exclude. They fully trust that their God has it all in hand and so their only one true obligation is not the judging of human hearts but the loving of human souls, no matter their race, class, culture or sexual orientation.

Now you may ask why it is so important for you to know that your self-truth uncovers the fears and inadequacies of fundamentalists. Well they know their religious attack on us is still our Achilles heel. For many, when the haters whip out the bible in condemnation of our lives we still feel that cringe deep down in our gut. It still hurts. It still stings and for many the guilt leads them right back into the arms of the bigots. What is this power they have over us still? I want to assure you that the power is just an illusion. It stems from the zeal, dogged determination and bold convictions of people who project religious, moral and spiritual superiority. But my friends it is merely a projection and it is dependent as much on their suppression of their human kindness as it is our internalized feeling of spiritual powerlessness. Isn’t it time we shatter once and for all the so-called power of these hateful fundamentalists? Isn’t it time we take back our spiritual power?

Ever ask yourself, “If these anti-gay religious zealots are so powerful with an Almighty God on their side, why are they so threatened by us?” Of all the problems facing mankind, they preoccupy themselves with what we do, what we say, where we go, who we love. Why? One, it’s so much easier to condemn others than follow all the rules yourself. Two, if you are focused on condemning gays you don’t have to worry about working on your own problems. Think about it or even better yet, sit down and talk with one of them and you will discover their faith is a held by many weak and fearful threads. Their impression of God mirrors their own weakness. They serve a God whose feelings are easily hurt. This deity of theirs has a fragile ego and gets jealous at the drop of a hat and needs constant defending. So of course they could never trust such a God to be the final judge of anything. This is why they feel the need to help Him out with his job and met out judgment and punishment right now! Their way of doling out God’s vengeance is by directly opposing any legal recognition or public acceptance of our human rights. When I talk to religious haters of homosexuals, I often get this subtle undertone of fear emanating from them. When they call down hellfire on our heads it is more of a personal reassurance to them. They need to keep convincing themselves we will be punished because the truth is they know they cannot say for a certainty what will happen, they are just as afraid of death as anyone else. This is why they want instant gratification and triumph over their enemies in this life. Their faith is weak, their religious life span short. Indeed how can they be true to anyone when they are not even true to themselves? For when you dig deeper you always unmask their skeletons and hypocrisies that according to their own strict biblical interpretation would land them in hell as well.

This is a big deal. Why? Well it changes the landscape of our march to equality. We should not the ones motivated by fear. Let’s save that for the fundamentalist bigots. We are not the ones suppressing our humanity for the sake of an ideology, they are. We are not hiding behind a hypocritical fa├žade (something I will write more about later on) and we are morally justified in our cause. This means we have the high ground my friends. It is time we stop acting like beggars at the doors and confidently stroll in as honored guests. While our anger and screaming at the wall of intolerance is often justified, especially when injustice comes our way; we must also embody the dignity and pride of not only being RIGHT but also being TRUE. We should act less like wronged children and more like wise adults on the high road in order to use it to our advantage. Let us meet the conviction of the religious haters with the mature, patient and calmly eloquent Gandhi-like qualities of an parent who with a mixture of understanding and pity firmly stands their ground against a tantrum throwing, ignorant, homophobic brat.

This is even more imperative now because after a well-orchestrated makeover that homophobic brat has taken the form of “compassionate Christian conservative” who only wants to “help” us “misguided and disturbed” gay people. The truth is very little separates them from their former incarnation. They may no longer bear their hate-encrusted heart on their sleeve but scratch beneath the PR and professions of Christian love and you will discover the same old insulting condescension, stubborn ignorance, self-righteous indignation, suspicion, pity and scorn. When we take the moral high road we will expose the rabid gay bashers in wholesome Sunday best clothing for who they really are- hypocrites living in fear of a world and new generation that is moving towards tolerance. We will make it shameful for any political party to be affiliated with any organisation funded by such virulent haters of humanity. We will rally supporters from every faith, class and creed to our side when they see our noble cause reflected in the wise life choices we make and spiritually empowering words we use. If we let our self-truth empower us and rise above the religious abuse of the past, it can set not only ourselves but also the whole world free of the burden of hate disguised as piety.

April 10, 2006

Caribbean Christian Leaders Continue To Fail Our Women

Like many women, I was filled with disappointment and a deep sense of frustration when I read about the seminar The Dynamics Of Domestic Violence- An Assault On God’s Image, where the all-male religious leaders from the SDA and Roman Catholic church met at the Bay Gardens Hotel in Rodney Bay to discuss solutions to the problem and their role in curbing the epidemic of abuse. Instead of an enlightened 21st Century discussion it was nothing more than the same old religious avoidance, oversimplification and non-comprehension issues that block their sense of responsibility and ownership in stopping domestic violence. It was like a slap in the face of women everywhere. It gave a clearer picture of the uphill battle anti-abuse-activists in the Caribbean face. But how do we do it? These leaders hold powerful sway over their communities and perpetuate century-old mores. If we want to transform and inspire new thinking we must incisively tackle their dogma inspired excuses and ignorance head on every time it rears its ugly head. Here are some ways to start.

WEIGH UNJUST BIBLICAL TRADITION AGAINST DEEPER HUMANE TRUTHS
What many of those who are quick to whip out the bible to justify the superiority of the male prerogative fail realise is that simply because something is “traditional” or even “biblical” does not make it fair, ethical, or humane. Case in point, it was once a traditional practice in the bible to own slaves. Exodus 20: 20- 21 and Leviticus 25: 44-46 gives instructions on how to buy, sell and how to beat slaves. Paul in Ephesians 6:5, 1Timothy 6:1 and Titus 2: 9-10 urged slaves to accept their role and be obedient to their masters in all fear and trembling. Is that just? No. Are slaves wrong in running away, seeking freedom and rebelling against their masters? No. Today we know slavery is wrong. We also know that women have inalienable rights. They are not property and not designed to be subservient creatures irregardless of what any religious book says. Once you discover that not everything in scripture is humane or even ethically acceptable you can start to use a discerning mind to distinguish between dogma and the timeless truths which never become unethical or irrelevant, always help and never causes harm.

EXPOSE DOGMATIC CONTRADICTIONS AND HYPOCRISY
Concerning the role of women, many religious leaders love to quote from Paul’s letters. They conveniently leave out a far more important commandment given by Jesus in Matt 7:12, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Christ said this is the greatest commandment that fulfills the entire law. So I imagine the question religious leaders should be asked is “Would you like to be treated in the manner you are advocating or excusing, even if it comes from Paul’s letters?” Most of the same religious leaders would balk if they were to be treated in the same manner they believe to be justified for women. Most would be deeply hurt if violence against them was being excused in any manner. Christ said what you do not like for yourself do not do to another person. To do otherwise is not only contradictory but hypocritical. A second contradiction is revealed when we take a closer look at the assertion that some women “deserve” the abuse. For a Christian leader of any denomination to suggest such a thing like the pastor who did at the Bay Garden’s seminar, shows the extent of their disconnection with Jesus’ teachings which recommended we “turn the other cheek”. According to the bible, wrath and fits of rage are sins, irregardless of what triggered them. So no man has any right to abuse a woman no matter how annoying she may be. Abuse can never be “earned”. Yet another contradiction is exposed when we look at the reluctance on the part of the male religious leaders to acknowledge that men are the ones largely responsible for domestic abuse. Don’t forget, they are the ones who keep asserting that men are the stronger sex; men are the God appointed heads of the household. Great power comes with great responsibility. So how come they want to shirk main ownership in the epidemic of domestic abuse? It seems scripture is used to prove women are the weaker vessels only when it suits male convenience. When it means taking responsibility for greater capability and culpability in inflicting emotional, physical and sexual damage, suddenly they are the helpless victim in the situation and the excuses start: “But some women abuse men too.”, “But women stay in the abusive relationship”, “But women nag.” After designating such authority on themselves as men, these excuses are contradictory and cowardly. Men who understand what true “leadership” means always say, “The buck stops with me.”

STRESS THAT DOMESIC PROBLEMS REQUIRE HOLISITC SOLUTIONS.
I do not doubt the bible has timeless wisdom but I am also a realist who acknowledges that there are limitations to the issues that can be addressed by a book whose most recent authors lived over 2000 years ago in a different culture and time. Using the bible alone as a marriage counseling guide is not adequate in solving all problems. This is especially true of domestic violence. Modern psychology and counseling can identify and diagnose personality flaws, mental and emotional dysfunctions that go unchecked by religious standards.. An abusive man is not that way simply because he is not following Ephesians but because he has severe emotional problems, self worth issues, repressed rage and feelings of sexual inadequacy. A woman being abused does not need to, “obey her husband and submit to him in all things” according to Eph 5: 22-24. In fact quite the opposite is needed. She must gain independence and tackle self worth issues. The professional standard of intervention needed is something most religious leaders, who serve as the de facto therapists for the masses are unqualified to deliver. Some even lack basic gender sensitivity training and do not know how to talk empathetically to a woman let alone one who has been abused.

When we have religious leaders who are fearful of secular knowledge and refuse to deviate from the same old formula for every problem, they unwittingly cause more harm than good. I have seen it happen with my own eyes, having grown up in a staunch evangelical household. There was scriptural oversimplification of far more complex problems. Husband goes and complains to the church leaders his wife is giving him the cold shoulder in bed and the wife is reprimanded with the apostle Paul. Suppose the husband is a terrible lover and gives her no pleasure? Suppose she has sexual abuse issues in her childhood? Suppose it physically painful for her? Suppose the husband demands are unrealistic for her and it is he who needs to compromise? The solutions almost always favored the man in the relationship. The wife complains to the church leaders that her husband is harsh with her. First things first they make sure to advise her to be “longsuffering” and ensure she is submitting as per Paul. The husband is merely advocated to love his wife as he loves himself. But suppose he cannot love himself due to a host of hidden emotional issues and like most men his self-hatred is expressed as anger and violence towards others? Suppose there are deep incompatibility issues that make their relationship the combination of nitro and glycerin? When secular professional therapy is frowned upon these questions never get asked. Emotional and mental issues can be easily masked under an appearance of righteousness and religious zeal. Growing up in the church I saw women in abusive situations encouraged against leaving their husbands or pressing charges and seeking sole custody of the children. Young women I knew as bright, energetic, attractive bachelorettes would become subdued, dull and worn down after marriage, yet their husbands were as vibrant as ever, enjoying their new status as heads of household and clearly taking full advantage of it. At religious gatherings I would observe the visibly dysfunctional and unhappy couples grinning and baring it, trying desperately to meet the ideal of the “Happy Christian Family” sales pitch. Many marriages fell apart (including my own parents’ marriage) and meet with disapproval, ostracism and gossip by church members instead of support for the wronged parties, which were usually the women and the children involved.

GET REAL ABOUT DIVORCE!
It is an unflattering reality that Christian denominations must face, especially those of the evangelical/born again kind. Believe it or not but according to US National Divorce Statistics this religious grouping has the highest divorce rate of any group (even the atheists and pagans) in the United States, with conservative red state Texas (not even liberal New York or Massachusetts were close) leading the way as the state with the highest divorce rates/annum. While divorce rates are an indicator that marriage problems are not being effectively handled, at least divorce is an excising of the infected area. Compared to allowing the gangrenous situation to fester for years, it is a better option especially when there are children involved. Growing up with divorced parents is no picnic, I can tell you firsthand but growing up in an unhappy, abusive marriage is even worse. Unlike Americans, Caribbean women are not as financially and emotionally empowered to demand divorce in unhealthy relationships and the culture still frowns on it, so the toxicity drags on, poisoning the children. My grandmother stayed in an emotionally and at one time physically abusive marriage till her death, a total of over fifty years. Talk about long-suffering! Before you applaud her wifely devotion and Paulian submissiveness, you should know that today every single one of her children and some of her grandchildren in my generation now have disastrous marriages and relationships infested with emotional dysfunction. The church, they just watched it all happen while ineffectually quoting the Apostle Paul at marriage counseling sessions.

In an ideal world, our spiritual life should not only help us cultivate a sense of purpose in the universe but it should also work towards self-improvement, self-actualization and personal responsibility. It should not keep us in bondage to unhealthy situations but set us free of them. Those whom we count on as spiritual leaders are supposed to have our best interest at heart whether we are men or women. Unfortunately the male dominated religious autocracy continues to treat the fight against domestic violence with suspicion as though women are asking for “special rights” and not human rights. This is sad because it is mainly women who comprise their congregations. It is mainly women who give contributions of time and money to religious causes. It is mainly women who drag the often disinterested children and husbands to worship. Without women, these priests, pastors and ministers would not even have a profession. So when are they going to show some acknowledgement of our worth instead of taking the easy dogmatic way out?

February 08, 2006

Black On Black Racism In Paradise

Last year, two female tourists, best friends from England, decided to check out the Seafood Friday night festivities at Anse La Raye on their visit to St. Lucia. For those of you who do not know, Anse La Raye is a sleepy little fishing village on the west coast of my temporary island home. Every Friday night the village wakes up and transforms into a street fair with stalls on either side of the road displaying a cornucopia of delights from the sea. Pubs blast music out into the street encouraging visitors to come in and have a little beer and a turn on the dance floor. This is where we find our carefree female tourists, inside a popular bar along the main street.

Standing behind the two foreigners are two burly St. Lucian men dressed in ordinary liming attire and one of them is a little inebriated. He stumbles forward into one of the Englishwomen and she spins around and with a little shove tells him to, “Watch out!” Unbeknownst to her, the stumbling man is a plain clothes police officer. He flies into a rage and proceeds to shove her back. His fellow officer and drinking buddy wastes no time in also jumping into the fray and they proceed to try to restrain the tourist who is now vigorously fighting back and cussing to high heaven. After all, as far as she is concerned these are two men attacking her for no apparent reason. Finally the other Englishwoman snaps out of her state of shock and rushes to help her friend who is now being dragged outside while being kicked and punched. The second Englishwoman flies at the two plain clothes officers. She jumps on the back of one, screaming and throwing some punches of her own. For some reason, the officers refuse to fight this woman back and use non-violent resistance, suffering under her blows as they concentrate their full attention on the first woman on the ground while her companion screams, “Leave my friend alone! Why are you doing this?”

Wait did I forget to mention that the first Englishwoman being restrained, kicked and punched is black and the second one rushing to her defense is white? Sorry my bad.

The night ends with the black tourist being arrested and put in jail for assaulting the police officers leaving her white friend protesting outside the station refusing all medical aid being politely offered to her. Meanwhile her black compatriot lay in pain inside a nasty jail cell for a day and a half. Then the station officials got the shock of their lives when they finally checked their detainee’s identity and found a British passport and heard testimony from eyewitnesses. Oops! This was not another nameless black local woman but a British citizen, so badly beaten and swollen she could not talk. Making matters worse, her irate, horrified white friend was not going to keep quiet. She threatened to contact the British consulate and media. The police began trying to appease her, offering a free island tour, boat trips anything. She would not budge and in a few days the incident was all over the local and foreign news and the black Englishwoman displayed her bludgeoned face for all to see. All of St. Lucia was forced to look at itself and its ugliness, police brutality and inculcated racism against its own people.

Yes, racism. Why? For a minute I want you to imagine that those two black police officers in Anse La Ray where two white troopers in Alabama in the 1950’s and they were beating up on a black woman yet not laying a single finger on her white female friend who was also fighting with them. They arrest the black woman and charge her with the criminal offence of assaulting a police officer but not the white woman. They express concern and offer first aid to the white woman but not the black woman. I am sure you would not hesitate to call that racism if two white cops did it. Now if both women were assaulted and arrested this would be an article on police brutality and violence against women. But the officers in Anse La Raye did not dare lay a finger on the white Englishwoman even when she was jumping on them and hitting them. Do not forget that all it took to set this incident in motion was a little shove and rebuff from her black friend. They went to great lengths to appease and comfort the white Englishwoman while treating her black compatriot like a common dog because they assumed at first she was local and one of them and of lesser worth thus justifying their actions. If she indeed was a St. Lucian we probably would have never even heard of this incident. Shame! Bystanders just watched it happen, mentally powerless and anesthetized against feeling outrage. Shame! Journalists who blew the whistle and made it headline news were rebuked by the Ministry of Tourism who wanted the incident swept under the rug for fear of repercussions on the tourism industry. Shame!

That incident is repugnant on so many levels. Two burly men beating on a single woman- (and the underlying reasons behind this will be explored in a separate article) is the ultimate act of cowardice and brutality. However it is the race issue that I want to explore now. It is so clear to me that the Anse La Raye police scandal is the height of internalized self-hatred and a prime example of how people can also be racist against those of their own race. Black people are particularly guilty of this. It is the worst kind of racism there is because it keeps entire populations in a state of low self-esteem, lack of morale and solidarity. Even after so many years have passed since emancipation we still have the ingrained belief that a black person’s life is less valuable than that of any other race. It is as if we believe we are expendable and detached from all the aspects that help the human being transcend mere animal flesh and animal urges. You see it in the casual way black people take the lives of their brothers and sisters whether in the ghettoes of Lavantille, Kingston, City of God or South Central L.A. We kill and brutalise our own people at will and not even for any great philosophical cause (not that it justifies killing) but just for the most mundane of reasons. Suddenly it’s so clear why we don’t need a colonial power or Jim Crow to oppress our own people anymore. We can do it just fine on our own. Our self hatred ensures we stay mired in underdevelopment for a long, long, LONG time.

Our colonial parents’ knew exactly what they were doing. Theirs was a long term, multi-century plan when they enslaved and treated our ancestors as if we lacked any higher purpose in life, be it academic, spiritual, humane or personal. They inculcated us to fear intellectual development and individualism and be content with the basest of animal needs- food, fight for survival and sex. Sadly that became our self-perception. We grew up learning the only way to rise up and gain respect, is to brutalize and dominate, withhold valuable resources and laud any position we attain over others. The old colonial system favoured our lighter skinned brothers who rose to power under it and found opportunities to transcend and in turn inflicted the same crushing class/”high colour” grading system on their own people. And so our self hatred grew. I have lived and worked in the Caribbean all my life and it is my observation that the ill effects of our shared history has not been challenged in the Eastern Caribbean islands with the force needed to uproot much of the old thinking. Trinidad had its indigenous Afro-centric cultural revolution that birthed our carnival, calypso and innovation of our steel pan; our violent labour movements in the 1930’s and a deeply affecting black power and academic movement in the 1960s and 1970’s. All of this home grown uprising helped empower our Afro-Caribbean population. Trinidad’s early independence from Europe, oil industry, large merchant and civil class and the infusion of East Indian, Chinese and Syrian people and exceptional mixing of the races that followed all helped to disperse and divert a lot of the direct ill effects of colonialism. Wealth trickled down freely, opportunities, entrepreneurial and innovative endeavors flourished and there was upward class movement for many. Other Caribbean islands were not so fortunate. Their societies remained in Master/White/High Colouer vs. Slave/Black mode for a much longer time. In fact, St. Lucia is almost feudal compared to Trinidad. Farmers still toil on land they do not own. Everything is still pretty much owned by the very same old money white and “high coleur” French Creole and English families from way back in colonial days. The class system is very fixed with wealth barely shifting or trickling down save for the few cases where highly educated black professionals fight their way up mostly through the public sector. In fact, the country has never had a successful Prime Minister with dark skin even though dark skinned people comprise 90% of the population. That speaks volumes.

What makes healing self hatred for islands like St. Lucia even harder is that its economy is now overly-dependent on tourism. Save for a dying banana industry (which was supported on European charity but no longer) there are very little home spun industries where the people themselves invent and export a product they can take pride in. There are little natural resources and almost everything is imported from abroad. Even the majority of food is imported despite the island having one of the most fertile volcanic soils in the region and topography high enough to support even some temperate crops. Why? There is minimal land ownership by the local farmers and outmoded plantation style single crop-agricultural practices. So, selling the country is all that is left. Every day poor and working class black people must kiss mostly white visitors’ butts to eek out a living. They smile and act the happy natives, while enviously watching tourists enjoy a quality of life they can only dream about. They serve food to foreigners that they cannot afford to buy for themselves and families; I am not talking caviar and champagne but simple things like chicken and cheese. They keep hotel residences in pristine condition during the day and return to their smelly ghettos or under developed villages at night. It’s like a new kind of colonial plantation system all over again. You often sense the underlying feeling of hostility among certain people working in the tourism trade. Of course, this would not even be an issue if the government also took good care of its own people and stopped stealing and wasting revenue and foreign aid on nonsensical projects (yes we have overpriced stadiums in the middle of nowhere here in St. Lucia as well) handed out in corrupt no bid contracts to their friends. If the government ensured that everyone had access to affordable utilities, fair justice, reliable communications, healthcare, nutrition, education and a productive edifying existence, then natives’ welcome of visitors would stem from genuine love and hospitality instead of a passive-aggressive hustle to survive that diminishes their self pride. Finally our tourism board slogans like, “St. Lucia, Simply Beautiful!” would ring true. At present, St. Lucia is only “Simply Beautiful” for foreigners. Life has been so hard, dirty, cut throat, demeaning and disappointing for so long that the locals cannot even see and respect the beauty in themselves far less that of each other or that of their country.

I get lots of opportunities to observe more harmless forms of the Anse La Ray incident because my partner and a few of our friends are white. I note how St. Lucians lay on thick, the politeness, extra consideration; hassle free access to beaches by hotels we aren’t even staying in and just general respect. Lucian men even bite their tongue instead of risking sexually harassing my white friends, even when they wear the skimpiest of outfits. It’s almost pathological how predicable it is, even when my fairer coloured friends and I all speak with the same Trini accent; share the same culture and grew up right here in the Caribbean. I guess because we all work in the creative profession, we try to see the humour in it. My girlfriend and I make bets on whether the waitress will just for once assume that I am the one paying for lunch or dinner (which is often the case) and place the bill in front of me for a change. But underneath our humour, I can sense the discomfort. My friends feel uncomfortable being singled out for special treatment because in our little circle our skin colour fades into insignificance. This is what is commonly known as being “colour-blind”. Being colour-blind isn’t non-recognition of racial and cultural differences, (I love gloating to my partner about not having to constantly apply sunscreen at the beach) what it is about is not allowing racial differences to have any bearing on your valuation of the individual’s worth. When you concentrate solely on the spirit and personality of the individual, you actually do “forget” about their race. It's true, you honestly do not “see” it, until some relevant practical circumstance (like the sunscreen) brings it into focus in a purely superficial way. People who are incapable of doing this and keep racial features (and their own character assumptions and stereotypes) constantly top of mind in all their dealings with other people are racists. Racists never forget race, ever. It was far easier for my friends and I to “forget” in Trinidad (this was a few years back I know things have changed drastically since. I understand the races and classes have become more demarcated and insular). However, tourist economies like St. Lucia make it harder to be colour-blind. You are reminded of the racial and accompanying class differences all the damn time!

All my friends are sensitized to the situation and fully understand the history of slavery and culture of oppression motivating the actions of the local waitress, hotel security officer or beach bum in question and hate it as much as I do. However my white friends are not subjected to the shitty end of the stick because of it and can afford to be magnanimous in the face of ignorance. I on the other hand, cannot. It matters more to me for reasons they are aware of but can never fully understand. I get angry and disappointed with black people who still have internalized racism and misjudge or disrespect me because of it. How could they not see in my skin colour their own reflection and our shared struggle? Do they not realise they insult and do injustice to themselves more so than to me? Lately I have been trying to turn that anger into empathy and patience in order to be more positive about ending it by confronting those individuals calmly or just letting it roll off my back. But on some days, it is very hard to do. I wish black people would treat their OWN race with that same respect with which they feel they must treat others regardless of which class they assume you fall into. When will they realise we are all one human race and equally worthy? I hate to admit it, our islands may be independent of our colonial parents but we are far from being emancipated from mental slavery. I’m so sorry Bob Marley.

January 11, 2006

HAPPY NEW YEAR FELLOW ALIENS!

Ahhh, 2006!

It has a nice even feel to it and I hope my suspicions are correct and this year brings to all of you a sense of balance and return on investments both material and emotional.

Just as I did last year, I will renew my commitment to keep up my blog. I am back from a glorious, well-deserved three week vacation and ready to pounce on the issues that get me all hot and bothered. There is a lot to discuss- Crime and poverty admist staggering wealth in Trinidad and Tobago where unbridled capitalism has gone haywire; CSME; spirituality, religion and fundamentalism; women's issues with men and each other; advertising and the professional world here in the Caribbean; SEX SEX SEX and of course loads of cartoons.

I want to thank those of you who have been reading and commenting on the blog. Your comments and encouragement even criticism is encouraging. Keep up the good work and I'll try to do the same! To all my fellow bloggers, dear friends and accomplices- Nicholas, Michele A, Sue Ann, Vonetta, Michele B, Spec, Melvina, Tisha, Nazma, Jonathan and everyone else, I wish you all PEACE, FREEDOM and above all else LOVE for 2006!