On June 7 chocolate producer and owner of Sun Eaters Organics Gillian Goddard posted on Instagram that she would be withdrawing her chocolates from Starlite Pharmacy.
She did so after the owner of the pharmacy chain, Gerald Aboud, posted on social media what she and many other people considered unacceptable comments on race.
Aboud made the statements (for which he later apologised) shortly after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25, which sparked the global movement to share the message of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Goddard was uncertain what impact withdrawing her products might have on her business. But she did it anyway.
She did it, she said because Aboud “went public with his insulting belief of who we are as black people and with his belief that our challenges are our fault….It is fairly simple. I don’t tend to stick around in abusive relationships.”
Her organic chocolate brand includes orange, espresso, cinnamon, and dark chocolate flavours. Sun Eaters Organics was formed in 2006, based in Brasso Seco, and is sold at about 30 outlets in TT and two in the US.
Goddard has worked for over 30 years in TT and the US in organic farming. (Organic products don’t use genetic modification, chemical fertilisers or pesticides, and their production process has minimal negative impact on its environment.)
After she said publicly that she was withdrawing her products, Goddard said she tried to contact the management of the pharmacy to buy back her unsold stock but could not reach her regular contact.
“After thinking about it some more, I decided not to call again. They’ve already paid for those bars. No need for me to do anything more.”
Any worries she might have had about a negative impact on her sales were misguided.
“I’ve received massive support from thousands of locals and customers based overseas: e-mails, calls, social media messages, purchases.
“I was taken by surprise.
“I got enthusiastic support from quite a few stores – local and abroad. I’m still responding to comments and messages daily. I’ve received invitations to give presentations, be a guest on progressive podcasts, join special interest groups.”
She believes her decision to withdraw her products, coupled with a subsequent post on social media, struck a chord with many people who feel too vulnerable to speak out themselves against things that are of great concern to the well-being of a society and everyone making it up – including what she refers to as the ugliness of racism.
“This goes beyond a chocolate bar and a store.
“We’re in the midst of a global movement where all across the planet people are questioning the status quo. Systemic bullying is becoming increasingly visible through Black Lives Matter movement and all of us are practising increased courage.”
Goddard hopes to see a movement evolve where consumers will purchase with a development agenda. Before picking up a product from a shelf, she challenges consumers to consider whether putting their money in the pockets of the business owners will help their communities thrive in any way.
“People should ask themselves how products are produced and where. They should consider the principles of the organisation and its management and whether the product supports the diverse populations of TT and the long-term repercussions on the future of the planet from the waste of these goods.”
Speaking on racism and “colourism” in the Caribbean, Goddard said as a black woman of mixed heritage, she believes the Caribbean is somewhat defined by a history of cultural and racial admixtures.
Fair-skinned and freckled, she says, “I have the skin colour and hair texture privilege that exists in TT. That means the consequences of my actions creates a softer fall. Speaking out for social justice cannot be the same for everyone. The consequences are different.
“That’s why folks with privilege need to get in gear and take the actions that have higher risk in the direction of justice.”
She does not see herself having much cultural proximity to whiteness.
“Much of this mixture often began under non-consensual conditions. This has led to black people having an extensive range of features in hair colours and textures, and of course, skin tones.
“Many of us, therefore, barely resemble our African ancestors. We in the Caribbean have lived within Afro-Caribbean culture and identify clearly with the global black population. I’m pretty typical.”
Nevertheless, asked to cite an experience when she possibly had an advantage, Goddard said, “Across the Caribbean I have observed that almost every second of every day I am treated in particular ways which confer relative advantage, because of the colour of my skin and because of my hair texture and my facial features.
“I am the face on the billboards, the colour in Carnival photos, the child that gets called cute.
“There is an inherent violence in the privilege conferred by proximity to whiteness. Since the era of colonialism, we have classified (ourselves) by the varying proportions of African and European blood.”
Goddard believes she can never completely grasp the level of privilege she receives in all the groups with which she interacts.
“I just know it’s unacceptable, violent and causes suffering and psychological and other forms of damage to others.
“I don’t wallow in guilt. That would be centring my importance. But I feel a deep sense of responsibility to take action.”
Because of privilege, Goddard said it is impossible for her truly to understand the balance between doing a job well and being rewarded on the basis of the remnants of a pathological colonial system.
“In sum? My life is a waterfall of unearned privilege and opportunity hoarding – and a somewhat half-hearted effort to refuse it.
“I could do better. I plan to.”
Asked to share an experience when she was treated badly, she said, “My mother, who appeared white, used to tell me that any mistreatment I got from people who were more mistreated than me was so tiny that it was barely worth mentioning.
“I agree. No mistreatment in TT (for fair-skinned people) is worth discussing, because the comparative extent of my unearned privilege is so massive.”
Asked if there were people close to her who didn’t support her decision to withdraw her chocolates, Goddard responded, “Would I have people close to me who are anti-black? Please.”
She said she surrounds herself with like-minded people who believe race is a social construct enshrined in culture. She believes “race” has been used and manipulated to mistreat people and to create the unfair division of goods and services.
“I believe many lives should be dedicated to righting those racist wrongs. We all can have rich lives and cultures despite the violence of the social construct and the work needed to dismantle it. It’s not a sacrifice to dismantle racism and privilege.”
She’s hopeful for the future.
“I feel the younger generation is uncomfortable with maintaining this covert and overt violence. I will support them as much as I can to refuse it as we seek to create an alternative world and redistribute privileges and wealth to everyone.
“It’s 400-plus years overdue.”