By Bethany Bair
Posted on September 24, 2021
Throughout generations, Caribbean and Caribbean Canadian women faced and still face multiple obstacles like emotional abuse. However, the thought of receiving help does not often come to mind, because of the ideology of always having to be “strong.” Caribbean women have each other to support one another because they can relate to their shared experiences of gender-based violence, but in their minds adding professional help would be “crossing that line” or simply “weak.” Therefore, coming to a foreign country like Canada, Caribbean women experience emotional abuse publicly and privately.
History Caribbean women immigrating to Canada
Like many other marginalized groups, the Caribbean community helped build Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia mentions that in the late 18th century, people from the Caribbean started settling into Canada. Aside from the racially discriminatory laws created to prohibit non-whites from entering Canada, in 1955 they started recruiting Black women from the Caribbean for work. On their way to Canada, Caribbean women were only aware of the cold, but not underlying issues like racism, isolation, and poor employment measures that they would experience after their arrival. As The West Indian Domestic Scheme had numerous rules on eligibility, these women all arrived in Canada alone, without their families. Already being underpaid for their hard work, their treatment continued to be strenuous. The newly arrived had to do a year of domestic work before even being granted land immigrant status, which would then permit them to search for educational and employment opportunities. After five years, they would be able to register for citizenship. Through all the hardships they experienced, they kept ongoing. Adapting to a new environment, these women worked hard to build and provide for families, and care for the children who were born and living in Canada today.
Emotional abuse publicly
Today, from work to school, Caribbean women experience emotional abuse in social settings. Many times, people interacting with others that aren’t from their host country can be quite impatient. Even though many of these islanders from the Caribbean speak and understand English, their dialect of English differs which may cause some tension. In Cross-Cultural Investigation of Emotional Abuse in Caribbean Women and Caribbean-Canadian Women by Alisha Ali and Brenda B. Toner, studies show that Caribbean women experienced being publicly humiliated by their employer but, they have to refrain from speaking up due to the risk of losing their job. Another study shows that due to the Jezebel stereotype, Black women experience harassment and inappropriate requests. Either from financially helping their family back home or trying to find better opportunities in education, countless Caribbean women experience the intersection of racism and sexism in the workforce. These women experiencing repeated abuse in the workplace and/or school signifies a racist and discriminatory ideology, one that is ingrained into the host country, rather than simply a personal attitude of the abuser.
Emotional abuse privately
Studies show that Caribbean Canadian women face higher levels of self-silencing and depressive symptoms. Yet, the internalized stigma of receiving therapy stops them from receiving help. As someone from the Caribbean community, I always thought I’d be too “dramatic” or I’m “stronger than that” to talk to someone. Caribbean women grow up thinking that trying to improve their mental health with a professional indicates weakness. They are always told to “be strong” and “let go” of the distress, which results in them bottling up emotions and bad experiences. Often, the only help the community permits you to seek for your mental health is from a religious leader. Religion can be effective, but may not be for everyone. This has gotten worse during the pandemic as women who seek help face more difficulty finding it due to the lockdowns occurring in the past year. Additionally, the emotional abuse women face in intimate and familial relationships is amplified by staying indoors. In intimate relationships, many of these women experience threats of physical harm to themselves and their children and even endure insults in front of other family members. They may not have anyone else to go to, so they stay with their abuser. Caribbean Canadian women may grow up with family members that have misogynistic mindsets that bring these women down. Living in an environment that constantly belittles women can greatly impact them.
Caribbean women are just one of the many minorities that experience emotional abuse socially and privately. Many cultures exacerbate the stigma around receiving professional help for mental wellbeing, and this mindset is passed down from generation to generation. However, throughout the years, some are starting to hold the baton a different way and progressively move forward. Many Black women, including those of Caribbean descent, are starting to break out of the stigma and seek help for themselves. Emotional abuse has been tolerated for too long, and it’s time for that to change. You are still able to reach your goals while seeking help.