Feeds:
Posts
Comments

We see them now all the time on social media, dogs behaving in ways we understand or rather in ways that seem understandable to us. Wagging tails signalling joy, pacing and agitated when in pain; tail between the legs and ears back as anxiety, when things seem strange; angry when sensing danger.

Yet my vet brother-in-law cautions against us ‘anthropomorphising’ dogs. He keeps reminding that dogs, indeed, are not humans and we should not be projecting feelings, especially when those projected emotions get in the way of proper dog and household management. Like being worried about how the dogs will react to being left behind when you have to be away for a period.

I am not a dog person. and I have been quite judgmental about those people, like my vivacious aunt, Wavel, (‘poor thing, she’s dead now” as her father would say about those who met their maker before him). She was chained to the house and locale because she just could not leave Sukie and Winston (her tiny dogs ) on their own. Her partner and she could not travel together unless the dogs were with them. And what about those people who let dogs lick them on their face? Let them sleep in the bed. Who grieve so hard when the pet dies? Like they have lost a very close family member?

If I am to be truthful, I would confess that there have been many, many times, I have looked on and thought, ‘Geez! Give some of that care to the great many children who need some love and joy’.

It was not always so and may also not be so in the future. As children we had several cats and two dogs. Che and Castro. What else! It was the 60’s. Che, a female, was mostly a dachshund and Castro, her son, well his father came from a good neighborhood. Those dogs gave us many a happy time and we played with and fed them. That for us was enough attention, I suppose. They were house dogs and had the run of everywhere. Yet the word I associate with dogs as a child was ‘mash!’. Dominican speak for ‘go away dog’.

In my own nuclear family, we have also had dogs , a parade of bull mastiff mixes. But I did not bond. Then came Nala and Julie. Unfortunately, Nala, a moody and most beautiful rottweiler(ish) died in June. She had been sick and despite enough vet visits, was not diagnosed until it was too late for meaningful intervention. Truth is, socialised by the experience of Che and Castro who, being pothounds, thrived (or survived) no matter how they were treated or otherwise neglected, I was discombobulated by Nala’s demise. And hurt for the family and curiously, most hurt for Julie. I imagined, because how else would I know, that she missed her garden buddy. I perceived that Julie was adrift and puzzled.

With her grief (I imagine), still quite fresh, we all left the house for weeks on end, leaving Julie more or less by herself. A family member was around and taking care, but really we were all gone. Yesterday we returned. Julie stood at the fence and dog-cried. She was beside herself. How do I know? She jumped, panted, ran, licked, circled on herself, sprang up and down and then followed us from door to door, keeping us in sight. I feel badly that we left her alone. This is me anthropomorphising Julie.

There are any number of articles online which try to suss out what dogs feel. In Psychology Today, one researcher concedes that dogs have the emotional awareness of a 2 1/2 year old human. By six months, they experience the emotions of love, joy, excitement but also distress, anger, fear and shyness. Unlike humans however, dogs do not do shame, pride, guilt or contempt. Lucky dogs.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201303/which-emotions-do-dogs-actually-experience

Shame, guilt, contempt and pride are described as complex social emotions, all having elements that must be learned. In other words, we teach children, through our responses to them, or around them, all of this negativity. Several people commented on the article, describing it as ridiculous. They had examples of dogs showing jealousy, shame and contempt. One commentator thought that humans deny dogs these emotions because they imply that dogs have a sense of ‘self’ and therefore experience ‘consciousness’. Another writer considered the denial of a fuller range of emotions in dogs specious because the neurochemical system for all of mammals are nearly the same. It is just that “humans just have bigger brain to describe feelings in an abstract way.”

Who’s to know? Is this one of these essentially unknowables? An eternal mystery because, well, dogs cannot talk?

And does it matter? If you have consciousness, feel remorse and guilt about how you treat your dog, well perhaps that is enough to make sure of a good dog’s life.

Whatever dogs may or may not feel, I perceive that Julie experienced abandonment these last few weeks. Or at least, I know we left her alone! Next time, we will have to do better for taking care of poor Julie’s emotional life when we leave the house for an extended period.

I very much enjoy rites of passage, whether births, birthdays, retirements, weddings and yes, funerals when the deceased has lived a long and full life. On these occasions you get to know and perhaps understand better the people involved and their surrounding communities. Especially if in speaking to memories and future plans, there is attention to reality, honesty as well as aspirations.

Of all these rites though, I have ambivalent feelings about weddings. It is hard to get through a wedding without having to digest the ancient and modern meanings of all the symbols and traditions such as white gowns signifying purity; father giving; speech moments where the woman who is getting married stays silent; and the most cringey of all when the groom, says ‘On behalf of my wife and I”. The bride still voiceless, with all that implies for limited authority and self-determination.

Even now thinking of the word ‘groom’, there is no avoiding the symbolism of weddings to patriarchy’s maintenance. The Internet tells us that the word “Bride” derives from Proto-Indo European bru, – meaning “to cook, brew, make broth”. Yep. And groom means, the bride’s lord apparently. Well.

Many will argue that these are just meaningless remnants of an old and fading order. But since we are still living gender inequality, how can we ignore all the contributors to unequal social norms and roles. Just last week, a bank with which I have done business for over 20 years, refused to allow me to open a safety deposit box without a letter from my husband. He had to vouch for me that I could be maintained as I did not have a job. It was only when I used the D word (discrimination) that solutions were found. My sister in law tells the story of buying a car and in the registration process, the licencing office insisting that if she wanted her husband’s name on the certificate, his name would have to go first and then because of limited space (!), her name would be reflected by ‘et al’. And how many women do I know whose children, public servants determine, would carry their fathers’ names. And then of course we have all of that violence expressing power and control over women’s lives in unions. There is no place that women experience inequality more acutely than within the family. This experience also limits women’s capacities to resist inequality in the workplace and in public spaces.

So sisters and brothers, resist, always.

Back to the happy wedding story. I myself got married in City Hall in Canada. But I have to confess to looking forward to having celebrations for my young people. And so it happened for Safiya and Mohammed. It is their story to tell but what I can say is that they did put a lot of thought into the ceremony so that it would reflect their aspirations for themselves and each other and their union.

They walked in together. The wonderful woman priest, Dean Shelly Ann Tenia presented them as “partners in life’, and in their vows, one of things they said to each other is “I promise to take care of myself’. I had not heard that before, but they definitely are on to something there.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2179-copy.png

It was a happy, loving, family and friendship filled moment.

Here too is a mural painted to mark the occasion by the talented Celine Choo Woon Chee and Safiya.

 

In far away places, when I say I come from the Caribbean, (for those who know where that is) the response is ‘well, life must be wonderful in beach paradise’. I should be more appreciative but usually I just find the implied exoticism misplaced.

We who live in these beautiful Caribbean places can and should find ourselves occupied by the corruption, inequalities, meaningless political polarization, unprincipled governance, inefficiencies and did I say corruption?

But the truth is, as Maurice White urges in All about Love, ‘Feel it. I’m talking about beauty.’

We are here in the land of beaches with our Antiguan family Linda and Dawn. Lots of flora also to make you stop and stare.

Yesterday on LIAT from Barbados to Antigua, I had the totally unexpected experience of being taken care of by two children, fellow travelers, both unknown to me.

The 9 year old girl from Guyana (JJ), full of cuteness and composure, put on the overhead light when she saw that I wanted to fill out my form. And within the same moment, the teenage boy from St. Vincent and the Grenadines across the aisle, lowered my table. I suppose he assumed that I did not know that this option was available to me.

JJ made sure that I could get a drink if I wanted. As the plane made its descent, she leaned over and whispered diplomatically to me, ‘Do you have your immigration form? Is it filled out?”

I left the plane joyfully. And don’t we get that feeling when people note our presence and are concerned, just as a matter of human interdependence, in our wellbeing.

With JJ who was an ‘unaccompanied minor’, I felt, across all the unknowns, the accomplishments of those who were raising such a confident, competent and thoughtful person.

We will probably never cross paths again, these two young people. But I am marked by the small exchanges that carry a weight of hopeful meaning about the Caribbean.

Attention really is the foundation of love.

Dear Readers of this unreliable blog, the news everywhere is terrible. You know what I mean. So I am going into escapism, and yes, I do so acknowledging that escape is a privilege.

For the next few weeks, I am only posting things that make me smile. My first escapist post is about music. This morning, YouTube spontaneously (or algorithmically) offered me up Al Jarreau’s ‘Morning’. It sent me straight back to 1983. I was in Toronto, snow storm blizzarding but found my way to a little record shop at Jane and Finch to secure a cassette. I played it over and over (rewind, rewind not easy), and this song and ‘Trouble in Paradise’ especially so. It also came out in the period of the murders of Maurice Bishop, Jackie Creft and the end of the Grenadian Revolution. At the time, this album was soothing. Music is so elemental.

So today, I want to share songs that I have probably played at least 200 times, sometimes a song for an entire five hour plane ride or a whole week on loop. They are in no particular order, except the last, which I have obsessed over. If you have songs like that in your life, do share.

The first is Don’t Ask my Neighbours by the Emotions. “Play it again Ed”, I would implore when I visited him in the dark room on our way to the beach. 1977?

Then what about Your Song by Billy Paul? There is not a bad version of this Elton John song. But this one, I love the best. Although the Al Jarreau comes close. Even now, if I play it, it has to be more than once.

Don’t Disturb This Groove by the one hit wonder The System. Around 1988, I was at Hugh Wooding Law School and killed that song at full volume on Hololo Road. Good thing, few neighbours.

Cherchez La Femme. I was introduced to by one of the Miller cousins (Susan who also gave me my first afro!) Just loved it. The song. Hair cut was dreadful. Also the song does not withstand the test of time. So not at all a classic but it was different for me at the time- growing up on a diet of Motown and the Sound of Philadelphia (O’Jays, Harold Melvin, Teddy Pendergrass etc)

A song my son Aschille introduced to me when he was a teenager: Kiss Me by Sixpence. It’s not really an equivalent to the others. But was the first song introduced to me by an offspring which I really liked.

Pan In A Minor by Kitchener. A piece of music that can only make you marvel at his musicality, the melody, my gosh.

And on soca, what about Shadow’s Dingolay. I spent almost an entire Carnival Monday under a speaker at the corner of Carlos Street and Ariapita taking this fab song into my spirit. It brings to mind two lost friendships (alas) but the music infuses the memories with delight.

Sunday Morning by Maroon Five. A song which would be perfect for driving along East Coast Road in Barbados in a car with the roof top down. I have not done that yet but you get the point – a lovely breezy, open hearted song.

Beyond the Sea by George Benson. I used to warn Douglas that if George Benson ever sang that song to me, it would be a pied piper scenario… sorry Douglas.

And on George Benson, the remake of the Beatles Here, There and Everywhere. Just perfect!

What list could be complete without Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley

So Waiting In Vain. Such sweet longing. I always hoped that he was thinking about Rita when he wrote that. Don’t think so though. These men.

For Steve Wonder, I want to say Superwoman because it was my first and enduring favorite circa 1972. But Knocks Me Off My feet from what must be in the top ten albums of all time- Songs in the Key of Life

And whilst we are with a list that seems to have no end. Earth Wind and Fire, ‘All About Love’. Oh Maurice… rap to us! “Feel it. I’m talking about beauty”.

I Want You by Marvin Gaye. Could here be a MORE PERFECT song??? He recorded that song lying down on a couch. You should not look for back stories though. I found out that he wrote this whilst infatuated with a much younger woman, and he was already married. Well Marvin came to a sorry end. The song endures. Whenever I hear it, I feel like i am swimming inside and among notes, chords, lines, instruments. It is totally immersive.

The songs I repeat, they have a hold over me. They do not leave me alone. It is the best kind of haunting.

We met Andaiye at the launch of the Caribbean Association for Research and Action in 1988. Part of us, she was also apart from us. She was questioning. Would we embrace a politics that included class and race analysis? Would we have an understanding of the connections between global capitalist economic systems and Caribbean under-development? While she may not always have described herself as a CAFRA kind of feminist, we certainly claimed her and all her wisdoms. Her frame was our frame. Women’s rights could not be achieved if we did not address the legacies of race and class oppressions and the inequalities wrought by contemporary neoliberalism.

And to do this work well required having women across their diversities in all rooms.  When we were planning the regional meeting of social justice and feminist activists in March 2018, although she could not attend, Andaiye kept a close watch. “It have (she asked) any Indigenous women? How you doing for Indo Caribbean women?” “You know me”, she wrote, “I will ask the same questions even after I die”.

Although committed to inclusiveactivism, Andaiye she wasn’t about ‘wash your foot and come’ as the Triniswould say. She cautioned us to work with people with common principles. Sheunderstood, to be effective in organizing there had to be a strong foundationof shared world views on elemental matters.

Andaiye made an entrance just with that way of gliding into aroom. When she spoke, we hushed and waited expectantly. And surely it wouldcome, that piercing and succinct analysis bursting our self-satisfied bubble. Shewas fascinating and enigmatic. She was politically wise. She was alsoemotionally sensible.

Thestory of Andaiye is not complete without the story of the Guyanese sisterhood.They sustain each other, these generous, committed and unpretentious women,including those in Red Thread and Help and Shelter. These women share withAndaiye that hope which she defined as ‘solidly-based expectation (from experience,history and necessity) that we can make change’.  And to make change, Andaiye counselled wouldrequire “determination which comes from a reading of history and of the worldaround us which illuminates not just the failures, but the simple fact thatnothing ever just stays the same, that people are always resisting their ownoppression – by whatever visible or invisible, peaceful or violent or otherwiseillegal means.”

Herexpectations of traditional politicians, women or men were not high but herhopes for sustained social justice movements remained constant.

“As you know, I spend very limited time onparty and electoral politics since I believe that the overriding imperative isto build a movement that AT THE VERY LEAST can “hold politicians’ feet to thefire”.  I really do think that the job is to transform some people intoseeing ourselves as having potential power and acting on that new perception sothat the power becomes real, and we will AT THE VERY LEAST stand before thepoliticians as a force to which they must respond. For women this would meanrefusing to be the “backbone of the parties”  whose votes can be assumed,and for women and men it would mean refusing to hand over your vote to your“race” when you poor and getting poorer and they rich and getting richer.’

 In essence she demanded of herself and ofothers, a freedom of the mind, a curiosity about the realities of others and adetermination not to live in sealed pockets of privilege. And she was someonewhose solidarity was practical. For several years, Andaiye, with Hazel Brown, coordinatedmedical support in Trinidad for Guyanese women seeking treatment for cancer.

Herprincipled pragmatism shielded her from pessimism. In an email of 2017 sheadvised against disenchantment. “And it’s not our experience that we winnothing from the advocacy (which as you know means both using conventionalmeans and the street, including, where necessary, civil disobedience). We don’twin enough, but we do win what my colleague Selma would call “downpayments’.”

Andaiye was deeply interested in thepolitics of organising. Although she could not attend our March meeting, shestayed connected by skype throughout the two days. And to Joan French fromJamaica who inadvertently omitted her from an email chain, she scolded withaffection “French, you well fasty. Given my position on unwaged work, you leaveme off your list of who working on this because I elderly and sick? Is only mybody gone, not my head!”

In a world where authenticity is a debased conceit, Andaiye lived true.

For those of you who did not know her, do read her article on Audre Lorde here in CAFRA News.

Continue Reading »

10 actions that police can take to prevent murders of women arising out of domestic violence

In Trinidad and Tobago, yet again this week we witnessed more violence against women and their families by men with whom they might have had an intimate partnership.

These murders continue to be mischaracterized as ‘crimes of passion’, as if these murdering men are unable to control their behaviour. The fact is that men who abuse women do so selectively. These same men rarely assault anyone else, not their employers, their workmates, other family members or neighbors regardless of any hostile relations and strong emotions between them. Rather they harass, abuse and finally murder women as an expression of their control. These are not crimes of passion; they are violent crimes of power.

And there is plenty which the police can do to prevent these murders and to deter repeated acts of domestic violence. The first point to appreciate is that these murders are usually the culmination of a pattern of abuse- verbal, sexual, psychological and physical. Often the men who murder women signal their intention quite clearly by sharing exactly what is on their mind, what they want and intend to do. They make direct threats as in the case of massacre in La Brea, when the murderer put a knife to the neck of Abigail Chapman days before he killed her and three other people. She reported this threat to the police four days before her murder but no action was taken.

The majority of women who are victims experience this violence repeatedly, sometimes in an escalating and increasingly violent pattern. This violence is not perpetrated in dark corners and without noise. For the most part, family members and neighbors are aware or strongly suspect. Police and courts know because many women report and/or seek protection orders.

Yet still we keep getting the depressing news that too many police officers are not treating domestic violence as a crime. Rather, they seem to think that their role is to refer victims to the Magistrates Court to seek protection orders. That is good advice, but there is so much more that the police can and should do to prevent domestic violence and its escalation to murder. After all, there are no issues of detection to complicate policing. The identity of abusers is known, the level of risk of future fatal violence can be ascertained and the police and social services of this country have a number of tools which can be used to prevent foreseeable tragedy

Here are 10 actions which the police service can immediately adopt:

  1. Listen attentively

To start, when a victim comes to the police station to make a report, treat her with respect and attention. Typically, abuse would have happened many times before a victim decides to report. Reporting, make no mistake, is an act of courage. The duty of the police receiving the report is to listen non-judgmentally, to gain the trust and assess the level of risk in order to protect victims from further harm. Interviews should be done in private rooms, reports recorded and the victim should be informed in direct and clear manner what the police will do next to investigate the report.

2. Investigate

All reports of conduct which amount to an allegation of a crime should be investigated by the police and in particular, allegations of physical violence or threats of physical violence. The initial investigation must be rigorous. Understanding the emotional complexity of domestic violence and with their investigative skills, police must take the lead in building the case rather than relying on the victim to build the case for the police. In so doing, police will be sending the message that domestic violence is a serious crime and that police have an independent duty and interest in preventing it. Poor investigation decreases the likelihood of detection, charging and prosecution.

3. Safeguard

Police officers must be well trained and knowledgeable to give advice and information and to work with the victim to keep them and their family members safe. Police officers must cooperate with governmental and non-governmental agencies that assist victims and their families with safe houses, counselling and resources, if needed. Police should develop the practice of home visits and community patrol to build confidence that they are concerned about the victim’s safety and are working to ensure safety.

4. Mandatory arrest

If upon investigation, the police are satisfied that an arrestable offence has been committed, the perpetrator should be arrested immediately. Apart from increasing the chances of charging and prosecution, swift action places the perpetrator in a secure setting for a ‘cooling off’ period. Upon arrest, the perpetrator can also receive appropriate social service interventions.

5. Risk assessment

Arrests should be accompanied by a perpetrator risk assessment through which the police can make a determination about whether there are identifiable indicators that the perpetrator has the potential to and is likely to engage in further violence and cause serious harm. This risk assessment should lead to a referral of the perpetrator to social services. The risk assessment should also be an input into the determination of charging, bail applications and conditions attached to bail.  

6. Protection orders

Victims should be supported by police to get a protection order. The magistrate court should consider granting interim or ex parte non-molestation protection orders as a matter of course at the first hearing and especially where the proceedings are delayed.

7. Prosecute breaches of protection orders

A breach of a protection order is a criminal offence. Police must investigate all reports of breaches of protection order as soon as possible and institute criminal proceedings where the evidence supports this.

8. Hold each other to account

There should be weekly police station reviews of actions taken in response to domestic violence reports. This review, led by the senior police officer, will determine what steps should be taken by police to follow up on investigations.

9. Mentorship

Trained domestic violence champions at the supervisor level within the police service should be identified who can offer timely support, advice and guidance to officers dealing with domestic abuse cases.

10. Accountability

The Police Complaints Authority should establish a hotline to receive complaints of police inaction or inadequate responses so that prompt corrective action can be taken.

The solutions to domestic violence extend well beyond the work of the police. We need an education system which inculcates the values of equality and empathy and which builds emotional intelligence and self-esteem. We need psycho-educational early interventions for perpetrators based on the principles of victim safety and perpetrator accountability. We need to support non-governmental organisations that are providing a range of services to victims and their families. We need court processes that are timely and where resulting orders are predictably enforced. We need communities to be vigilant and supportive of victims so that they have pathways to safety and freedom. We need zero tolerance for all forms of domestic violence.

All of that is as true as is the fact that we need police to act. Police must not be insensitive to or cynical about victims. They must not collude with perpetrators, nor must they have defeatist attitudes about their ability to prevent domestic violence. The Police Service must be empowered with the right messages, procedures and policies so that the do their job- protect and serve victims of domestic violence.

%d bloggers like this: