Gilbert Morris on the Referendum

In a well organized society, equality cuts both ways, and must include for instance changes to family law so that good fathers, can gain custody or have proper access to their children. Overall, I do not believe this referendum contributed to the good of The Bahamas. Governments of the Bahamas are too political and so undermine their credibility as constitutional arbiters. We cannot make the first change to our constitution some rule change on a narrow basis. Bahamians need to learn the basic meaning of having a constitution, and feel kinship with its principles.

Source: On Referendum 2016 by Gilbert MorrisI appreciated this analysis. Go read the whole thing. 

Why public transport works better in Barbados | Bad Drive — news on transportation, traffic, and transit in Trinidad and Tobago.

Here’s something you’ll hardly ever see in Trinidad: A group of well-dressed European women jumping off a maxi taxi at 9 p.m., laughing as they walk the last couple blocks to their hote…

Source: Why public transport works better in Barbados | Bad Drive — news on transportation, traffic, and transit in Trinidad and Tobago.•••There's always stuff we can learn from our neighbours. We desperately need to reform the transportation system in New Providence. Barbados can give us an example of how to do that: it employs a three-tier system incorporating true public transportation (like what you'll find in North American and European cities), a private bus system (like what we have here) and ZR vans (a variation on our taxi plate system, but using vans like many taxi drivers use). Read more from Fulbright fellow Martine Powers.

On Revolution

Ladies and gentlemen, I am working for the revolution.I have disengaged from many of the channels that purport to give news or share ideas. I maintain a presence on Facebook, but more often than not I check my newsfeed only after someone I know and trust has told me of some intervention that has happened in that space that piques my interest. I have stopped listening to radio talk shows often and I do not watch the news. I skim newspaper headlines but do not take them seriously enough to do so every day. I check my Twitter feed because the people I follow in Tweetville are pretty sensible and are still able to inspire original thought or honest reaction from me, but even so. I correspond on an irregular basis with groups of activists whose approach to politics and social issues does not focus on personalities or on partisan mythology but attempts to rest on principle and fact. This is not something that is limited to here in The Bahamas; I am not following the American campaign for the same reasons. Personality and partisan mythologies guide public discussion, and both slather reality with a toxic frosting of lies.I live my life in college classrooms and theatre spaces and tiny crowded meeting rooms because I have a need to engage with constructive, original thinking. I'm working for a revolution that is not happening in the world of current affairs. My best conversations are with those people who are struggling to identify and comprehend root problems and then seek to solve them with ideas and action. I have worked for two and a half years now with a group of researchers about whom I was initially sceptical, but whose perseverance, openness to change and willingness to engage with people on the ground, to listen to their challenges, observe their lives and recognize their needs (some of which those people did not know they had) has transformed the way I think about my country and its problems, and I no longer have patience for the run-of-the-mill approach to social ills.So I'm working for the revolution.***The revolution? you ask. What revolution?Well, here's the thing. We have created a society in which young Bahamians do not want to remain. I have had and overheard more conversations about emigration than I ever could have imagined I would. Once upon a time the thing that distinguished The Bahamas was the fact that ours was a society into which people immigrated, not from which they emigrated; but in the second decade of the twenty-first century the tables have changed. More and more, Bahamians, young and old, are considering leaving the country of their birth to find another permanent home.The reason? We have systematically and proudly created a society in which all are welcome to flourish except our own children. We have created an open economy which invites expatriates to make investments in our society but which does not allow much room at all for citizens to compete on any level field; which offers concessions to foreigners but does not give breaks or incentives for locals; which encourages education and offers scholarships to virtually anyone who wants a higher education, but does not provide any opportunity within our country for those people who have attained that education to pursue the careers of which they dream.We live in a society that ignores, splendidly and in the full assumption of correctness, the painfully obvious: that our refusal to deal with the question of waste has affected the quality of the air we breathe, contaminates our groundwater, and poisons our land; that our neglect of the many islands that constitute The Bahamas has resulted in severe overcrowding in the capital and an exacerbation of social ills; that the islands on which we live, low-lying and porous, are dangerously vulnerable to rising sea levels; that the structures and institutions to which we have clung ever since we inherited them from the British are inadequate to meet our current needs; that our collective bigotry blinds us to the realities of our population and our labour force; that our addiction to fundamentalist ideologies has blocked us from considering different ways of being in this world.Our children can see very well what we refuse to, and those who can move are choosing to live their lives elsewhere.  We live in a nation which once flourished, but we are smothering it by our collective actions.And so: I'm working for the revolution.The revolution will truly put Bahamians first.  I will not argue here with those people who insist that without foreign investment the Bahamas will sink and die; but I will say that no society that does not make room for its own citizens can hope to survive.The revolution will reward merit, not longevity.The revolution will reward innovation. The revolution will call for it.The revolution will imagine greatness and seek to achieve it. I have been to places in this world where stunning achievements were made by madmen/dreamers: Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro is one of them, the Taj Mahal is another; the pyramids a third. Our society currently smothers such dreamers, laughing them down, and rewards pragmatists who make our country smaller and less remarkable because we make no room for risk. The revolution will take risks.The revolution will make room for young people. Their ideas can save the world.The revolution will break the stranglehold the single tier of government has placed on our whole nation. It will free the islands from the clutches of Nassau, and will encourage development across our whole archipelago all at the same time.The revolution will privilege the rule of law over the rule of expediency.The revolution will try wild ideas and when they fail try more of them until it finds the idea that's so wild it makes sense.And that's just the beginning.So: I'm working for the revolution. I'm sowing seeds in 2016. Let's see what trees they grow, and when.

#100things I want from government 1-10

This week I began to write a series of tweets which, I hope, will break this pattern of silence that has fallen upon me since Boston. I find I can't engage with any public discussion happening in Nassau right now, largely because the disussions are without result. They are unproductive because they tread old ground incessantly so that they begin to resemble the path of white rats in lab mazes. I don't like feeling like lab rats or hamsters on wheels, so I have unplugged for some time.But one can't stay unplugged forever. So I'm trying to get at least some of the concepts that are crowding my mind down in 140 characters or fewer, hoping the discipline will be constructive. Here's how the series  began:

Been blocked/silent on big issues since I went to Boston. Maybe because the gap between life there & life here was so wide ...... not in experience but in possibility. And this is the opposite of what I felt when I lived abroad 20 years ago ...Living in the UK in the 1990s was like living in a coffin: rules everywhere & few rewards. Innovation? impossible. You emigrated to breatheToday Nassau feels the same, only without rules. So as we move towards elections the silly season has graduated to full stupidityAm going to start tweeting what I want to see from my next government. Prospective politicians, you want my attention? Bring it.

And so? The first 10 of the #100things I want from government:

  1. #100things I want from government: Gender equality. Don't mind the noise in the man-ket. Women vote.
  2. #100things I want from government: A citizenship policy in a constitution that makes sense. l'd like to be sure my grandkids are Bahamian.
  3. #100things I want from government: An energy plan that makes sense. An energy plan that puts the power in my hands not some outsider's.
  4.  #100things I want from government: Ideas and ideals for the good of the nation, not new letters and faces for the good of themselves.
  5. #100things I want from government: Research that unveils the causes of crime PLUS programmes to address them not reaction to the symptoms
  6. #100things I want from government: Some real democracy. No more vote once every five years & done. Want my MP to represent me not a party.
  7. #100things I want from government: Protection of the humanity of all within our borders: justice for all regardless of age, sex, origin.
  8. #100things I want from government: Facilitation of fresh ways of being/seeing, not frustration of everything different or new
  9. #100things I want from government: Honour & a place at the table for youth. Elders deserve respect, not deification.
  10. #100things I want from government: Devolution of power. Break up the rule of the 1% over the 400k.

Telling the difference: Junkanoo vs Carnival

One of the most infuriating and insidious ideas that I have heard bandied about in the wake of this weekend's mega-party aka Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival is the idea that carnival is the natural evolution of Junkanoo. It's the kind of statement that leaves me (momentarily) speechless, and leads me to wonder how on earth any red-blooded Bahamian could even form his or her mouth to make it. But it reveals the depth of the ignorance about ourselves that we as a society have cultivated; and the general (could it be stunned?) silence on the part of the Junkanoo community suggests to me that even the junkanoo participants themselves don't know the difference. Gus Cooper is dead, after all, and Vola Francis is complicit in the introduction of Carnival to our shores, so those people who knew and who underlined the difference all my lifetime are silent now. People are happily burbling on about carnival being Junkanoo's next incarnation, about us "all being Africans, right?", about how carnival is the next stage in the development of Bahamian culture.

So gather round, children. I'm going to tell you a story. If you don't want to accept it, that's fine by me; but I assure you that the story I am going to tell is supported by the kinds of facts you can, if you want, check for yourselves. You can check them if you like by visiting the Bahamas Archives and digging through the newspapers on an annual basis around Christmastime (as I have done); you can follow up with visits to the American Library of Congress that documents these things, or by going to the Trinidad National Museum and examining the Carnival display there; or by going to New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro to read what they have to say; or you could do a little digging on the web to find out what Carnival is (but don't trust a thing that the internet has to say about Junkanoo). Just don't take for granted that what someone told you in primary school or on the radio has a modicum of truth. It's probably fiction of the highest order.

First, a little history. We all know the story of Columbus. But we may not all still be so aware of consequences of the engine he set in motion: the expansion of Europe into all of the spaces of the world, the depopulation of the islands of the  Caribbean, the repopulation of them with a motley crew of Europeans in the first instance, Africans in the second, and after the enslavement of those Africans, East Indians and people of Chinese descent. The age of European empires changed the population and the cultures of our region in ways we need to understand if we want to talk about Junkanoo and Carnival in the same breath.

Just about one hundred and fifty years after Columbus came to the Bahamas and introduced slavery and diseases that reduced the population of the Lucayans he met here to a fragment of their original size, the islands were settled by a different set of Europeans. These people called themselves the Eleutheran Adventurers, and unlike Columbus, who represented the Mediterranean, Catholic world, the settlers of The Bahamas were from the very inception Protestant and British. There are few other Caribbean islands which have this distinction. Bermuda is one; Barbados another; but most of the other islands had a Catholic presence in their histories, and many English speaking Caribbean countries (including Trinidad) changed hands from the Catholic French or Spanish to the British. This part of our imperial history is critical to understanding where the differences between Junkanoo and Carnival lie.

Now, a word about empires. We live in a postcolonial world, and so we may no longer be aware of the critical impressions made on our territories by the European powers of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries; but those impressions, established over four hundred years, resonate today and cannot be overlooked. There were three major imperial powers that held control over the Caribbean region, and their influence continues even today in the languages we speak, the social structures we inherit, and—importantly—in the cultural practices we celebrate. The major ones were Spain, France, and Great Britain.

Now. Spain and France both held indigenous celebrations that they identified as carnivals. These celebrations had pagan roots, and they were linked with the spring and with Easter or Lent, and they were all practised in a similar way: they celebrated fertility, sexuality and the disruption of the regular social order by dancing in the streets for several days at a time, by putting on masks and costumes, and by turning society upside down. These were European celebrations, and the French, Spanish and Dutch settlers took them with them to their Caribbean colonies.For those who are interested, this is where the Catholic carnivals got their names. Most of these festivals are linked with the weekend directly preceding Lent (the forty days of fasting that leads up to Easter). The Catholic method of preparing for Lent, during which meat was not eaten, sex was shunned, and parties were cancelled in preparation for the death and resurrection of Christ, was to indulge in all of those sins and vices they would not be having for the next six weeks. The word "carnival" comes from the Latin carne (meat) and vale (farewell); and the other name given to this time, Mardi Gras, is the French for "Fat Tuesday", indicating that on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the tradition was to indulge in as many sweet things as one could.

The British, on the other hand, having broken with the Catholic church some time before they began to assemble their empire, had done away with this habit. Perhaps in an effort to set themselves apart from the Europeans and to ensure that they were no longer governed by the Catholic Popes, the British were beginning to focus their attention on Christmas as the main holiday in their Christian calendar. Easter was celebrated, and Lent observed, but the revelry associated with the pre-Lenten season was not part of the British customs by the time they moved into the Caribbean. The settlers' great feast took place at Christmas.

As the European empires grew—as they began to build them, let us be frank, on the backs of the forced labour of millions of kidnapped and enslaved Africans—these differences became entrenched. What was more, they were passed onto the people they enslaved. And here is the critical point. The Africans, too, had festivals and rituals that did similar things with costumes and role reversals that the Europeans did; but because the Africans came from many different places and because they were stripped of their languages and most of their cultural heritage by the systematic cruelties of the new slave societies, it is not as easy for us to identify what those rituals were as it is for us to name the practices of the Europeans. Still; even the enslaved Africans were given one or two days off a year. But with a difference.

In the Catholic empire, the masters celebrated their carnivals as they had done in their homes in Europe. The Africans were given the same holidays as the masters took, and because the carnival traditions, especially those in France and Spain, involved servants playing masters and masters playing servants, those Africans may have even been encouraged to take part in the carnivals. Whatever. Carnival as we know it today grew out of these cross-participations, out of this joining together of the Africans and the Europeans for these few days. Throughout the period of slavery, Carnival was celebrated by both. In the Americas, the carnivals that grew and flourished—those that took place in New Orleans, in Rio de Janeiro, and in Port of Spain, Trinidad—were influenced in music, dance and costuming by the Africans, but were not African in origin. Rather, they became what anthropologists and folklorists refer to as syncretistic celebrations. Syncretism is the word we give to an activity that combines African and European elements in such a way that the African is sometimes hidden, but still influential. The languages we speak in the Caribbean are products of this syncretism; many of the Caribbean religions—shango, santeria, vodoun—are similarly syncretistic with Roman Catholicism; and carnival/carnaval/Mardi Gras are syncretic festivals.

In the British empire, however, things were different. The enslaved people were given three days' holiday at Christmas. Rather than joining the masters in a big fete (the word is French, and it means festival or party), the enslaved celebrated in their own, African-based way. For whatever reason (we do not know the origin of the word, but the myth of the slave who started the festival is almost certainly a fabrication) these celebrations, which appeared across the British Americas, were called jankunuor, to use the British spelling which was used until the end of the twentieth century, John Canoe. They were also called masqueraders and gombeys. They came out at Christmas; they had very particular characters and dances; and they were performed almost exclusively to percussive instruments—drums, bells, and scrapers. Whistles and shells added different levels to the rhythms, but the masquerades are almost always percussive.

The jankunu festivals of the New World, then, are not syncretic festivals, as Carnival. They are African in character; they are linked with Christmas, not with Lent, and they are products of the British presence in the Caribbean. They also tend to be far more serious, even frightening, events than Carnival tends to be. There are definite similarities between the jankunu festivals and the carnivals: the masks, the costumes and the dancing are among them, but there the similarity stops. In almost every case, Carnival took place in conjunction with the European masters, and jankunu took place in isolation from them.

The one exception during slavery was Jamaica, the richest sugar colony, where the Europeans splurged at Christmas and mounted a series of events as part of their jonkonnu festivals that suggested that the Jamaican planters were familiar with the Mardi Gras balls of New Orleans. It is partly because of Jamaica's centrality as a sugar island that jonkonnu was first described there; but the fact that it was first recorded in writing in Jamaica should not be assumed to mean that what we called Junkanoo began there and travelled to the rest of the Caribbean. It makes more sense to see Junkanoo as a simultaneous resurrection of West African kono (harvest) festivals across the Americas, and this would help to explain the occurrence throughout the jankunu new world of figures of animals, cowbells, and the like, while in Carnival many of the carnival characters have connections with European figures.What is also important to recognize is that in almost every territory where jankunu was celebrated—except The Bahamas and Belize—jankunu has all but disappeared. The John Kuners of the Carolinas are gone altogether. The Gombeys of Bermuda are struggling to survive. In Jamaica, the jonkonnu figures appear at Christmas but they do not attract a whole lot of attention. In the southern Caribbean, the Christmas masqueraders appear, but they do not get the same focus or merit the same admiration as the carnivals that take place in those same territories. Only in Belize, where what we call jankunu is practised as a central part of being Garifuna (or Black Carib), is it flourishing. And in The Bahamas, of course—where its evolution into a major street festival that can rival and even defeat Carnival has yet to be wholly explained.

And so: our Junkanoo may not be indigenous, but it is certainly unique. It alone of all the jankunu festivals has not only survived, but grown, and moreover has become a fundamental marker of Bahamian identity. (People from the Turks and Caicos might claim that their Junkanoo has also survived, but I would argue that their Junkanoo and our Junkanoo are part and parcel of the same phenomenon.) For some scholars, like Ken Bilby who gave what we used to call John Canoe the name that I've been using throughout, what we have done to Junkanoo is to move it from its core roots in African spiritual ancestral connections by engaging in a conscious hybridization of our own. But the fact remains that our Junkanoo is the one of all the John Canoes in the Americas to have grown stronger and to flourish.

Until now, perhaps.

So where do we get the idea that there is no difference between Junkanoo and Carnival, that Carnival is an "evolution" of Junkanoo? The late twentieth century, which is the period of independence, has been a time in which Junkanoo artists and practitioners sought eagerly to make connections with others who were doing similar things throughout the Americas. Because of the African contributions to all these festivals, the visual  aspects of Mardi Gras, Trinidad Carnival and Junkanoo have many connections, and during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Junkanoo leaders and participants travelled throughout the Catholic world learning and borrowing and adopting and fuelling innovation in the Junkanoo parade. But until now, we never mixed up the two festivals. Until now we understood that we could borrow aesthetic and structural elements, we could learn from one another, but we did not have to think that one was the junior of the other.

Until now, we have understood what Vola Francis himself has always observed, that Junkanoo is a spirit. There is more truth in that statement than he understood; for the John Canoe festivals, unlike Carnival, are almost certainly derived from the African practices of connecting with the ancestors. This is why our festival is linked with the nighttime, and why severing that link may also be dangerous. Rather than coming from the European habit of saying goodbye to the flesh, there is something transformative and spiritual in the Junkanoo that we practice. (People will argue with me that there is something transformative about Carnival too, and they will be right, but bear with me here.) As Gus Cooper was always fond of saying, there were two fundamental and critical elements that separated Carnival and Junkanoo. The first was that Junkanoo participants make their own costumes. They do not buy them. The process of making them is a critical one, and one that is linked deeply and ancestrally with this invocation of a spirit. It is an African spirit, and it is something that has nourished us from our beginnings. It cannot be replaced by the purchasing of a feathered costume, a commodity. That is play-acting; what Junkanoo does is akin to worship.

And the second one is that Junkanoo performers play their own music, live, on their feet, and dance while they do so. They do not have canned music played for them; they make their own. This custom, that of making one's own costume and playing one's own music, is fundamental to the Junkanoo world; it is part, too, of what links Junkanoo to its African, rather than its European, roots. And Junkanoo music is a serious thing. Traditional Junkanoo instruments (which do NOT include horns, sorry) have always been both musical instruments and weapons of war. Before there was a competition there were physical confrontations on the street. That these confrontations were ritualized, often musicalized, is immaterial. Carnival has always privileged its elements of play. Junkanoo has always privileged the rhetoric of war.

Now we may not like these differences. We may want to ignore them, or to downplay them, or to wish them away. Nevertheless, they are there. Junkanoo and Carnival are not the same thing. One is not an evolution of the other. They come from different roots, although they look similar on the surface, and they convey different meanings. Our society may well have room for both of them. But let us have no more discussions that try to pretend that they are one and the same. They are, most emphatically, not.

Einstein: The Negro Question (1946) | On Being

Einstein: The Negro Question (1946) | On Being.In 1946, Einstein wrote the following with regard to white Americans' prejudice against Blacks. I believe we need to challenge ourselves today to consider the way in which we think about and treat people who migrate to our society from Haiti -- and their children and grandchildren as well.

It would be foolish to despise tradition. But with our growing self-consciousness and increasing intelligence we must begin to control tradition and assume a critical attitude toward it, if human relations are ever to change for the better. We must try to recognize what in our accepted tradition is damaging to our fate and dignity—and shape our lives accordingly.

I believe that whoever tries to think things through honestly will soon recognize how unworthy and even fatal is the traditional bias against Negroes.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.

Much of the discussion I hear about "illegal immigrants", which clothes itself in trappings of patriotism and concern for Bahamian sovereignty, has plenty in common with the racist rhetoric directed by whites against blacks. I long for the day when we can discuss the issue of immigration without using the rhetoric of racism to do so.

In the beginning (or something like that)

This one's for Joey. It's for Joey, and for Fe, and Tada, and Chauntez, and Alicia. Terence, it's also for you too, but you were set the same task.We were at MOJO's the other night (last Thursday, to be exact). We'd all attended the first of a series of Diners' Debates, which Joey is hosting at MOJO's for us. It was a deadly serious event. The topic was  "Economic Inequality: a breeding ground for crime?" and the consensus was pretty well "Yes" (Thanks Michael Stevenson and Chris Curry). You can listen to it here. The presentations and the discussions were solid, even though we were half-joined by a man at the bar who was a tourist maybe or a resident maybe, who was white, American, and emphatically capitalist and who made it a point to join in our discussion in a vaguely corrective manner* ... but I digress.The formal part of the evening took an hour, and then Chris left and Michael left a little after that, and the rest of us continued the conversation along various lines. We turned to politics, as one always does, but I did not gag and stand up and leave as I tend to do, because the political discussion was about principle, and about issues, and not about political parties. I did not get any sense of most people's political affiliations in the discussion (well, there was one person who admitted membership in a political party), but we discussed the present and the future and we talked about what WE could do to affect them. We didn't talk (much) about leaders of political parties. We didn't talk at all about ministers of government (OK, so one was mentioned, but in passing). We talked about issues: about poverty, and about the effects of VAT, and about taxation in general, and about what we thought of the way in which government works (or doesn't), and about the need for more government rather than less (more levels of government, with expanded local government to provide for a devolution of responsibility and also for a differential tax structure according to one's geography as well as one's income level). And we didn't seem to want to go home.The evening ended like this, though. Someone asked Terence and me why we never ran for office, why our generation, the independence generation, the generation that stood out there on Clifford Park to watch one flag being lowered and the other flag being hoisted and heard the National Anthem played for real, in public, with meaning, for the very first time, is so absent from the corridors of power. The first answer is that we're not really: people who fall into our exact generation (people who graduated from high school within one or two years of Terence and me) include Carl Bethel, Michael Pintard, Shane Gibson, Picewell Forbes, Duane Sands, and Danny Johnson, and people like Jerome Fitzgerald, Fred Mitchell, Glenys Hanna-Martin, Melanie Griffith, Damien Gomez, Darren Cash—too many to name—are part of the wider group with whom we would be identified on surveys or other such documents (pick one: 18-25/26-35 etc). Long story short, it's our generation who's currently running the country, by and large. OK, so it's true that it's the generation before ours which still holds the high positions of power, but if you look beyond the leaders of the political parties (because, really, who has the time ...) you'll see us there.But Terence and I tried to explain for ourselves. "Didn't you ever think about going into politics?" was the question. My answer last night was, emphatically, "No!" but that wouldn't be strictly true; when I was in my late teens and my early twenties, when I was being radicalized at Pearson College and at the University of Toronto, when I was reading Marxist thought and admiring it, I thought about it. But it was brief, and it was fantasy. I thought mostly about revolution, in part because I couldn't imagine a time, not then in the 1980s, when the opposition could get itself together for long enough and believably enough to unseat the mighty PLP in any democratic fashion.Now this is an aside that will mean something. I grew up in a time when most Bahamians (Freeporters, Abaconians and Long Islanders maybe excluded) were PLP. To vote for the PLP was, as it were, a default setting. In the first place, there was not much choice. The Free National Movement had some things going for it, but for many of us it had two major strikes against it: it had been vehemently anti-independence when the rest of the country was not (to this day its colours proclaim its loyalty to the British Union Jack), and its former PLP members had made an unholy alliance with the UBP. Now I knew many people who did not and would not vote for the PLP, but they tended to have three things in common: they were older, they were white or wanted to be, or they didn't think black people could run a country (even if they were also black). Most of them were as British as the British, or more so. And almost all of them were offended by the upstart men of dark complexion who were audacious enough to occupy the corridors of power and make laws.When I was growing up, if you were Bahamian and not White (I use the capital letter there because at that time your skin shade was not an automatic passport for Whiteness; what qualified you was something much mysterious: a cocktail that included family ties, association, bank balance, place of origin, and the willingness to repudiate all blood connections if and when necessary, and some other secret ingredient that most of us didn't, and couldn't, possess)—if you were not White, and if you were even vaguely honest about life, then every morning you got up and went to your car to go to work you knew, somewhere in the back of your mind, that you could do it because of the PLP.  You didn't have to like it. You didn't have to have stuck with the PLP post-1971 when Cecil Wallace-Whitfield and his eight dissidents left it. You could be wearing some other political party's intials above your head but you would still know that the school you or your brothers and sisters or children attended was because of the PLP, the job you went to was because of the PLP, the road you drove on was because of the PLP, the electricity you turned on at night when you got home and the fans you could (usually) leave running while you slept were because of the PLP, the water that (sometimes) came out of your tap was because of the PLP, the toilet that flushed, the concrete home you had built on your very own one-family lot, the fact that you didn't have to pay for a doctor when you got sick, that you could get secondary schooling without paying a dime for it, that you could go to college for $19 a credit—were all because of the PLP.So. Back in the mid-1980s, when I was younger than most of the people at MOJO's last night, thinking about politics and thinking about changing the direction of the country, which was not the direction we really wanted to see it heading, I seriously assumed it would take a revolution to change the Bahamas from the one-party state it had become to something that approached a democratic nation with a choice of parties to vote for. (Has it happened yet? --Oh, wait...)And I was also a woman.And I was also very light-skinned, and light-skinned people didn't really have so much of a place in the Bahamas of the 1980s. Actual Bahamians of European heritage were pretty well invisible at that time, and most of them were assumed to be hostile to the government, the people and the nation itself; one's skin colour required one to prove loyalty in ways that could be both absurd and bizarre.And there was a whole lot else to do besides go into politics. There was a country to build, for one thing. I came of age when the professions were still wide open for people who were willing to go off to school and get a degree (most Bahamians were becoming high school graduates for the first time, so a BA was like gold in the country). I came of age when government was still expanding because it was running into issues and problems that needed addressing with more ministries.  The country was just over five years old when I left high school. It was not yet ten years old when I got my first full-time job as a front desk cashier in the old Nassau Beach Hotel; and it was not yet fifteen years old when I entered the civil service for the first time. Possibility shone in the air, and we could be, and do, almost anything.So politics and changing things were not really on the agenda for us. It was on the agenda for those people who came right after us—the people who were coming out of high school as we were coming home with our BAs. If you want to read what that time was like for them, you need only to pick up a copy of Ian Strachan's God's Angry Babies and you can see the passion that fuelled their politicization and you can understand the shift that was coming in 1992. The big difference between the people who graduated from high school as we came out of college was that they were not old enough in 1973 to remember what happened on Clifford Park on July 9th, and we were. I was 10 and my brother was 8 and we were possibly the youngest people who could get some appreciation of what was happening. It was mundane and it was life-changing, but when you are 10 you believe what big people told you, and we were told we were citizens, and this was our country, and there was much land to be possessed.So people like Terence and me set about possessing it. It wasn't so much about going into politics for me. As I say, I wasn't the kind of person who thought that political life would be possible anyway, being female and fair-skinned. But many of my generation went—or tried to go—into other nation-building fields. I started my life as a civil servant; my first real long-term job was as a Youth Officer for the Youth Division of the then Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Affairs. The whole division then was young. The oldest officers were not quite forty; the youngest were in their twenties. We had a mission, and we set about doing it.But politics and bureaucracy interfered. My contemporaries were eager to work for government, but we were also quick to leave as well (was that because we all believed, as I did, the promise of citizenship and possibility made on July 9th 1973?). The seeds of rot were showing themselves as early as 1986, and they were not all because of drugs, as people would have us believe today. They have other sources for their existence, sources which we may not have completely grasped at the time but which are clearer now. One of them was that we were trying, though we didn't really realize it, to run a nation along the models of a colony. The tools we were using were rigid and fossilized, and not in any way flexible enough to meet our nation's needs. The other was that we were all greedy, all of us, and that we were all in a hurry to get places which would, if we proceeded honestly, would take us a lifetime. The drugs and the corruption that they brought with them were everywhere in the 1980s, not just in the PLP and their supporters, just as corruption and violence and crime are everywhere today. We had not laid a foundation for our citizens which provided rewards for doing the right thing, or even which provided a template for making decisions based on conscience; the templates we thought we had were, again, colonial, and were, rightly, rejected by the most fiercely independent among us. But we designed no templates for ourselves.So to get back to the debate that started the discussion, rather than the discussion itself. We had the opportunity to see where we are and were given a picture of how we got here. One of the jobs of sociology and other social sciences is to help diagnose social ills as a prelude to fixing them. I'm not claiming anything so loft for the evening, but the discussion was uplifting. The discussion gave us hope.And left me (and Terence) with a task, and a promise.We are to write our memories. We are to write down the history we have lived. We have to share those things that we take for granted because we lived them—like the fact that for many of us of our generation Hubert Alexander Ingraham will always be a PLP, and he will also always be a partner, and not an opponent, of Perry Christie. Things have changed, of course, in many cases radically; but people of my generation cannot forget when they were young Turks who mattered, who challenged the status quo, who suffered because of it, and who made history by defeating as independents the mighty PLP in the wake of it. We cannot forget the decisions they made at the end of the 1990s, momentous decisions they turned out to be, one returning to the party that fired him, the other joining the opposition (and leading it to victory). We cannot forget the fissures that plagued the FNM throughout its rise to power and some of us are not at all sure the party has dealt with them (because being ignorant of them, as young members may be, is not the same as repairing them). We cannot also forget that third parties DO make a difference, and that independent thinkers, even when they live in un-democratic times (as we did in the 1980s), can change the future. And so, Joey, I agree: it's our duty now to share these experiences. Take this post as the first of many that attempts to do that.---*His first interjection came when Michael talked about absolute and perceived economic deprivation, and the level of Bahamian inequaliy; our kindly interrupter told us that "all" democratic nations have a high inequality. I wasn't sure about that. He mentioned the USA and he mentioned Germany, but he left out all of the rest of Europe, not to mention the bulk of the democratic world. He seemed to intimate that inequality was the price one paid for democracy (which, as I write it, looks more and more peculiar, as democracy is founded on the principle that all people are equal, but anyway). I concluded privately, not publicly, that his concept of democracy (as is most Americans') was conflated with the concept of capitalism. But while they arose together, they are quite separate things. One can be democratic and socialist and flourish (remember that, Canada?). Democracy need not manifest itself in high turn-of-the-nineteenth-century-liberal-economy fashion, and sometimes it works best when it doesn't. [Back

Landscapes of Inequality: reforming the Bahamian Constitution

First published on Global Voices' The Bridge 10 October 2014The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is amending its 41-year-old constitution. I’m using the present continuous tense, because the amendment is a process, one that began some twelve years ago in 2002. Back then, a constitutional referendum was held and failed—the proposed amendments to the Constitution were rejected by the general public. But the need for amendment has persisted, and ever since 2012 a constitutional referendum has been imminent.The main issue at hand is the question of equality between the sexes under the constitution. The most striking instance of inequality in our constitution is that between men and women in relation to their ability to pass on Bahamian citizenship, but, as the most recent Constitutional Commission has noted, the inequalities in the current constitution are manifold. This Commission has narrowed them down to the following categories: inequality between men and women, between children and between married and single people. To this we can add inequality based on place of birth.The last item on that list notwithstanding, the Constitutional Commission has drafted four bills which, if passed by the two Houses of Parliament and agreed to by the general public, will make Bahamian citizens more equal than non-Bahamians by seeking to address the first three inequalities.Put simply, the main inequalities are as follows:

  • Married Bahamian men and unmarried Bahamian women automatically pass their citizenship on to their children at birth.
  • Bahamian women cannot pass their citizenship on to their overseas-born children at birth, if they are married to a non-Bahamian.
  • Single fathers may not pass their citizenship on to their children, as the constitution defines children born out of wedlock as not having a father.
  • The non-Bahamian wives of Bahamian men are afforded the right to be granted citizenship upon application.
  • The non-Bahamian husbands of Bahamian women are afforded no such right.

The issue, however, is complicated by several other requirements that make the passing on of citizenship from parent to child less straightforward. Primary among these is a clause which addresses the institution of marriage. Under this clause, unmarried Bahamian mothers are defined as “fathers” for the purpose of passing on their national status to their babies. This particular clause also nullifies single Bahamian fathers’ ability to pass on their citizenship.The four bills* drafted to amend the constitution seek to rectify the situation. They are designed to promote equality for children, among men and women, and to enshrine the principle of equality throughout the constitution. The first of these seeks to award the children of both Bahamian men and women citizenship at birth. The second entitles all non-Bahamian spouses of Bahamian citizens to Bahamian citizenship. The third allows single Bahamian fathers to pass their citizenship on to their offspring. And the fourth bill seeks to enshrine the principle of equality between the sexes in the constitution by adding the word “sex” to the list of categories under which discrimination is prohibited.On the surface, this seems a simple enough task. It is complicated, however, by a public discussion which has focused mainly on the fourth amendment—the one which is, in its own way, the simplest of the proposed changes: the adding of “sex” to the categories prohibiting discrimination.The current categories include race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, and creed, but currently exclude sex. The opponents of this amendment have construed the word “sex” as relating to sexual orientation, and have gained much traction in the eyes of the public by claiming the constitutional amendments are designed to permit same-sex marriage. If this Article is amended, their story goes, Bahamians will be giving the government permission to allow same-sex marriages to take place. These arguments obscure the principle of equality between the sexes and make this clause appear the most controversial—which also makes it the most threatened as the time for the referendum draws near.And there are other questions of inequality that have not been addressed. Most notable among them is the question of birthplace and its effect on the awarding of citizenship to Bahamian children. There are two elements at work here. The first is the fact that birth on Bahamian territory is no avenue to citizenship if neither of one’s parents is Bahamian. The most that a person born in the Bahamas is entitled to is the right to be registered as a citizen upon making application at the age of 18.The second, more difficult challenge, is the kind of citizenship one is granted if one is born abroad to Bahamian parents. One peculiarity of the current constitution which has not been put forward for amendment, is that children born to Bahamians abroad, even if they are classified as citizens, have no automatic right to pass their citizenship on to their own offspring. In other words, children born to Bahamians studying or working abroad, or giving birth in another country for reasons of health, may be classified as Bahamian citizens. However, if they themselves have children outside of The Bahamas, those children are not Bahamians at birth, and have no right to claim Bahamian citizenship whatsoever.The issue is complicated, and most Bahamians are not aware of this stipulation. Most of the discussion relating to citizenship and our constitution has focused on the next generation—on our children. We have not yet thought about our grandchildren. What the current situation does ensure, though, is that not one of us, whatever the outcome of the referendum and whatever amendments are made to the constitution, can be confident that our grandchildren will be Bahamians at birth.Let me bring this home. In my family, I have cousins who were born abroad because their Bahamian father was studying in the UK at the time of their birth. They are Bahamian. Their children, though, unless they are born in The Bahamas, are not.Similarly, I have a nephew who, once again, was born in Canada when his Bahamian father was studying. He is a Bahamian, but his children, unless they are born in The Bahamas, will not be.Finally, I have another young cousin who was born in Miami while his parents were there getting medical treatment for their older son. That cousin, even though both his parents are citizens, will not be able to pass on his citizenship unless his children are born in The Bahamas.And none of these issues even begins to address the question of statehood for the many children of undocumented immigrants (most of them of Haitian origin) in The Bahamas. Most of those children currently have no national status at all. It is a situation which must be addressed, but which has not been touched upon in the present referendum.So critical is this question of citizenship that a 2013 Report on the constitution recommended appointing a second commission altogether to focus exclusively on the issue of statelessness in The Bahamas, as the commissioners did not feel they could give it the necessary attention. No such move has yet been made.The constitutional amendments are long overdue. They will go some way to equalizing the granting of Bahamian citizenship to children, and to even out the distinction between male and female, married and unmarried, that currently exists. But they are only a beginning. Serious issues of inequality remain, and the climate in which the discussions regarding the referendum is taking place has grown fraught with misdirection. The popular interpretation that the addition of “sex” to the categories where discrimination is prohibited is an endorsement of same-sex marriage plays into a deep-seated homophobia in Bahamian society. But it’s also worrying for another reason: it is entirely possible that this relates to homophobia only tangentially, and is in fact a strategic move to campaign for constitutionally-sanctioned misogyny without openly admitting that fact.---

*At the time this article was written (last week), the four constitutional bills were readily available online. However, a search of the Bahamas Government Draft Laws Online website indicates that this is the case no longer. The links remain, but they lead nowhere. I trust that this will soon be rectified.  [Back]