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Can You Whine? My Experience with Fetishization as a Caribbean Woman

Written by: Nievana Judisthir

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I, as an Indo-Caribbean woman, have some experiences to share. 

From the age of three, my mother had a particular way of raising me. Looking back now as an adult, I understand why. I was never allowed to wear certain clothes (especially in front of men), I was not allowed to draw unnecessary attention to myself (meaning not to speak or laugh loudly), and I especially was banned from having many male friends and a boyfriend. I used to think that these “demands” of hers were insane. That she was too overbearing and that she was trying to stifle my creative and outgoing spirit. But I came to realize that she was only trying to protect me from the horrors that would follow me as a woman living in an unforgiving world. 

Throughout my time as an adolescent, I would always wonder why people, mainly men, used to be fascinated by the fact that I come from Guyanese heritage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly proud of where I come from and I love to share it with the world, but 14-year-old me wondered why it was such a big deal when a girl said she was from the West Indies. I later realized that there is a disgusting stereotype that follows our women, one that men both in and out of our community use to their sickening advantage.

I remember the first time I was asked out. It was when I was in grade 9, about two months into the school year. He asked me out one morning, casually eating a bagel and staring intently at me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was looking at me with a weird smirk on his face. The kind of smirk you have when you are judging or objectifying someone. I remember being shocked at first, but then that stare made me feel uneasy. Not only had I never been asked out before, but I also never had someone look at me the way he was looking at me that day. I was able to stammer out a lie to him to let him down easily. The weeks that followed became a little bit of a nightmare. He was telling people at our school that we were, in fact, together, probably to boost his reputation somehow. According to people who told me what he was saying behind my back, he thought he was some kind of “big shot” for bagging a Guyanese girl, especially because he is not from the Caribbean himself. Throughout high school, I noticed that it had become a trend for non-Caribbean people to deliberately get with Caribbean people. That was my first instance of being fetishized and seeing people in the community go through the same thing. 

In my late teen years, I worked as a camp counsellor one summer. I adored that job, except for one incident that soured my summer. At the camp, we had offsite activities that the campers could sign up to be part of for an additional fee. One of these offsite activities was horseback riding at a nearby farm/range. One week, I was tasked with supervising the campers offsite with another counsellor. He was about two or three years younger than I, taller, and of a different race and ethnicity. Throughout the summer, he and I got along well so I was comfortable being with him for this offsite activity. That was until one day when we were with the campers.

We were waiting with the children who were next to ride the horses. He picked up a riding crop, the whip that is used to control the horses, and pointed it at me. He then said, in front of our campers, “I’m going to do some serious damage to you.” Trying to do some damage control, I laughed it off and said, “Yeah right,” continuing to talk to the kids. He then came up to me and choked me. I remember the kids gasping, one of them even saying “Don’t do that, I have a dirty mind.” Never in my life was I so embarrassed. I immediately told my supervisors when we returned and was met with the response of him getting just a warning because “We can’t fire him. We’re short-staffed”. Did I mention my supervisors were of the same race and ethnicity as him? Apparently, I wasn’t the only female counsellor at the camp that was being harassed. But the common denominator of all of us was that we were from the Caribbean. I later heard of some of the vile things the boys were saying about us - I started wearing my long-sleeved uniform more and a bra in the pool when we would swim with the campers. 

Becoming a young adult did not make the fetishization any better. In fact, I argue it became a lot worse – especially when it came to dating. Before meeting my partner, I used to scour through different dating sites, trying to broaden my horizons in meeting someone. But the journey to finding my soulmate became fruitless and disappointing because a lot of the messages I was getting resembled these:

None of the men who sent me the above messages were from the Caribbean community, but had a deep fascination with the fact that I am. If I had a dollar for every time a man asked me, both in person and online, if I knew how to whine, I would be dripping in wealth.

Furthermore, these men shamelessly detailed the explicit fantasies and scenarios that they conjured up in their heads involving Guyanese girls. I became quite sick of dating after experiencing these atrocities and often did not last very long on dating apps. 

Now, at 24 years old, and in a healthy, committed relationship, I look back at these no-so-fond memories and wonder why the fetishization of Caribbean women is so normalized. Who allowed our women to be viewed so disgustingly through both the male and female lens? Why has nobody ever put a stop to it? And, unfortunately, many Caribbean women I know have stories like these, too. Going forward, as I talk to family and friends, and even my students, about the sexualization and derogatory behaviour surrounding certain cultural groups, I always mention that it’s important to treat everybody with dignity and respect. That way, we can hope that this mindset of socializing— which then bleeds into dating— becomes eradicated. These conversations become important, especially with young boys so that they grow up to be the best and the most approachable versions of themselves.

Because let’s be real: who is going to give a man any kind of chance if he asks, “Can you whine?” 

The answer can be “yes”— but he isn’t entitled to know that.

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