We Take Pride in Our Liberty

         “When America sneezes the entire world catches the cold”, or at least that is what most folks have been using as the result of worldwide protests. The United States of America is a superpower. They contribute to several aspects of our lives in a way that is impactful. Over the past two weeks, during this pandemic period, several deaths have been recorded as a result of their police service. Deneen L. Brown, of National Geographic, described these recent deaths as a ‘modern-day lynching.’ Countries all over the world have been engaging in protests in solidarity to the United States but also as a means to address their own inequalities in their homes. Whilst these recent killings are a catalyst, these protests are responses to decades of oppression and injustices; it isn’t just about George Floyd.

           In Trinidad and Tobago, there have been two protests thus far with a third on June 8th, they serve as solidarity and a movement that is demanding better from our own leaders. In the Caribbean, racism has many faces. It shapeshifts and finds home in institutions, developing byproducts such as colorism and classism; ‘the darker the berry, the harder the squeeze’, a little twist to give you greater insight. Business owners throughout the country have released statements condemning the act of protesting in a way that has blatantly revealed how racist they are. In response, Trinbagonians have begun petitions to rightfully boycott these businesses that have voiced their clear opinions on how they see color. Brilliant! But I can’t help but think of our reaction to other forms of oppression.

        June is Pride Month, and unlike every other year, organizations responsible for curating these events in Trinidad and Tobago haven’t announced the celebration of Pride and of course, the reason being the nationwide lockdown and inability to host large gatherings. Since I’ve known myself, Trinidad and Tobago has been defined as a somewhat religious state where the opinions of religious leaders are primary. Side by side to Pride marches and gatherings are members of various religious institutions gathering to heckle the procession, with signs and scripture. In 2018, the High Court ruled the nation’s buggery laws as unconstitutional. Throughout the process of the ruling, religious bodies gathered simultaneously with members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies to condemn the act. Facebook posts were riddled with damnation, fire, and brimstone towards those in support of the decriminalization. Where was the support of human rights then?

        Our laws are archaic. The Domestic Violence Act, currently being amended doesn’t acknowledge same-sex relations. Same-Sex marriages are not allowed nor acknowledged, as in, if you get married abroad as a same-sex couple and return to Trinidad and Tobago, it will not be seen as valid. This form of oppression trickles down into the inability to access certain services and resources.

        To stand up against oppression means to be impartial in every way that oppression exists. No life is worth more than the other and human rights are for all. How can we as a people see the pain that Black folks experience and stand up against it but burn at the stake Black Queer folks? Where does humanity and solidarity end or begin?

         Attending and standing in solidarity for me is an act of self-care and standing up against a system that is entirely oppressive. Systems that are bent on crucifying the various aspects of my identity, mainly to be Black, Queer, and a Woman. Often I reflect on our National Anthem, a song of equality and pride that motivates us to ensure that freedom is something we have earned and should abide in. But even in our actions, we contradict what we vow to live by. I believe all is not lost and the possibility for freedom for all is not a dream or something that sits quietly in our chests but it is rather something that can be achieved. Protests are a magical way to speak out. There is strength and numbers and your presence. Riots and revolutions have all brought us where we are today. Looking back at various rebellions in the Caribbean, the Black Power Movement in Trinidad and Tobago in 1970, Guyana’s Race Riots in the 1960s, Rodney Riots in Jamaica in 1968, The Haitian Revolution in 1804, the rising up of a people is what made a change and did away with certain injustices. Although all is not well, the work has started and will continue.

            In time, we will be able to stand as a collective to denounce all forms of oppression against each other. Till then, we can only fight, burn down, and pray hard that the rebuilding is transformative.


WhatsApp Image 2020-06-08 at 4.08.25 PMAbout the author

Ashlee Burnett (she/her) is queering, querying, and carrying the Caribbean forward. The Trinbagonian-born writer and arts educator currently functions as the Assistant Slam Coordinator of the Youth Speaks International Poetry Slam Festival at Brave New Voices, a dynamic buzz of youth art and advocacy in the United States. Ashlee has toured over 80 secondary schools in her native island, applying the performing arts to issues of gender-based violence, global feminism, sexual health, and reproductive rights. Ashlee has performed at several TedxPortofSpain events annually, while her literary works have appeared in Moko Magazine and Culturego Magazine. She has also been featured in a number of web-based global poetry initiatives during the quarantine season of COVID-19.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s