In support of this guiding principle both natural scientists and social scientists have widely documented that different environments – social, geographic, cultural, and economic – produce different societies, cultures and peoples.
Being half-Trini – first 20 years of my life in London, last 17 years here in Trinidad, I am often reminded of this idea. My expectations of rights and wrongs and of what it is to be a good human being can clash with the ideas and words of some here.
I’ve also witnessed the large role God(s) and scripture, whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim or other, plays in how persons here view the world. In the UK – one of the world’s most secular nations – the social and cultural brainwashers are in the main not religiously guided. As such a healthy critique of religion and the dangers of its oppressive doctrines is something many Brits are brought up in.
Here I’ve learned that simply pointing out evidence the bible is inaccurate can make friends treat you differently. While in my introduction to biological anthropology module each year at UWI, on the first day of class, of 125 students, less than ten say they accept evolution as true.
Even accepting that an overreliance on religion is the culturally-relative baggage most persons in T&T carry, it has always been confusing why any persons and groups who were and are still often the recipients of oppression themselves say by race and gender are so obliging in the oppression of others.
Now a daughter of the Caribbean, Audre Lorde, who died in 1992, witnessed the same thing in her life and wrote about it as something she lived everyday. In her famous essay “There is no Hierarchy of Oppressions,” she points out that as a women she was oppressed. As a mother she was oppressed. As black she was oppressed. As a poet she was oppressed. As poor she was oppressed. As a feminist she was oppressed. And as a member of an interracial couple she was oppressed.
She noted of this intersecting downpression: “I usually find myself part of some group in which the majority defines me as deviant, difficult, inferior or just plain ‘wrong’.”
From her membership of these many different groups she came to see that, “oppression and the intolerance of difference come in all shapes and sizes and colours and sexualities”. And that amongst all who share the goal of human liberation – yes that means all you artists, religious leaders/believers, and persons who claim to be “good” people working for social justice and change – there can be no hierarchy of oppression.
Her answer was simple. All beliefs in the inherent superiority of one value system over other value systems involve a system of human dominance. Whether it is sexism, racism, classism, shadism, heterosexism, ableism or any other prejudice, the belief in the inherent superiority of one group of humans over another is always a failure of humanity.
To ask for human and constitutional rights in order to be legally protected against discrimination is not just something the LGBTQ community must be given; they are the same rights and protections that women and non-whites were once denied.
And this is where the guiding principal of cultural relativism stumbles. The morals and practices of societies and cultures change. Often that is painful. In our own society groups historically oppressed now oppress others. That isn’t cultural relativism it’s ignorance.
Just as many white men once spoke disrespectfully about women and all black and brown people – humans they chose not to see – many homophobic Trinis speak disrespectfully about other humans they pretend to know. Just as those white men spoke from ignorance and their interpretations of science and the bible, so too do these new oppressors today. Once again religion and ignorance combine to oppress people.
What is needed, as Father Godfrey so eloquently articulated in his comments and columns is tolerance. The argument from the LGBT community and their allies has never been about forcing same-sex marriage on people. That is simply misinformation. It was never a request.
Instead what the community and all authentic social justice activists are asking for are the same legal protections and rights afforded to other human beings in T&T. As Audre Lorde put it so well: “We diminish ourselves by denying to others what we have shed blood to obtain for our children.”