Whose Culture is it Anyway?

I don’t remember why I wrote this, but I am saddened that it still speaks to the current moment. Much has changed – in both directions – so I remain hopeful.

It has become quite commonplace to hear someone from the Caribbean will say “it’s against [name an island nation ] culture to be gay” or “that’s a foreign thing, we don’t have that here.”

And it is also very difficult to come up with a response to that kind of argument.  Where do you start?  How do you begin to sift through the values that you have taken for granted as “Caribbean” or “West Indian”, to find the one thing that may be affirm your sexuality?  How do you say that I am Caribbean and Lesbian without being considered a strange cookie? If it is illegal in the Caribbean to be gay, how can you [willingly] be both at the same time? Strange cookie indeed…

Within the past year, Jamaica, along with several Caribbean and African countries have taken public stances against homosexuality as a “contamination” of the local culture.  Indeed, the idea that a gay identity is a “foreign import” strikes a bitter chord, because indeed, where has much of the organizing been happening around sexual identity? Certainly NOT in our backyards.  These sentiments have long laid dormant, or have been cemented into laws and social policies of these countries so that it is taken for granted that “we are illegal.”

It is quite a shock – a bitter pill to swallow – as we have stood by and watched these arguments take on new life and take center stage in the backlash against lesbians and gays in the Third World organizing against the conditions that oppress us daily.   Much of that organizing has been both a protest against the ways “culture” is used to malign and misrepresent us, as well as the violence – physical, economic  and political – that is waged against us to deprive us of basic social rights, including the right to speak out against the conditions which make it unsafe for us to be fully human.

Why should we organize? Because, in Audre Lorde’s words, we were never meant to survive.   Because to make change, only “we” can do that. When we organize, we use our collective voices to make positive change.  We are responsible for what we believe.  And if some members of our society are being unjustly victimized, then we have the responsibility to address that.  Not to say, well that’s just how it is, or always has been.  Can we see another way that is more fair, that is more just? I think we can. I think we must.

March 10, 1999


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