Harvard, sustainability, Exuma, and COB

Yesterday morning, Facebook posts notwithstanding, I was in Long Island waiting to board a plane to Georgetown, Exuma, as part of a ten-day long ethnographic study of Exuma, Long Island and Cat Island.

The study is part of a longer-term project whose ultimate goal is to create a plan for the sustainable development of Exuma and its cays, a plan which, it's hoped, can provide a blueprint for the development of other islands. This year, as part of the project, seven Bahamian students doing Field Experience at the College of The Bahamas have teamed up with 16 students from the Harvard Department of Anthropology and the Graduate School of Design to carry out ethnographic field studies. There are several teams of students, most of them in Great Exuma and the Cays, but also in Cat Island and Long Island.

Since Friday, I've been travelling with the professor of the Harvard course to the different locations where the students are deployed, meeting with them and talking to them about their personal projects, helping to troubleshoot (where possible or necessary). On Friday and Saturday we were in Long Island, helping the students there settle in. Yesterday we moved on to Georgetown, where several events intertwine: for me, the main one is working with my students, but there are workshops and meetings between the people in Georgetown and the people from Harvard. What's exciting about it is that we're working together on a piece of ethnography that is put together like a mosaic. Ethnography, the in-depth study of a single community at a single point in time, is traditionally done by a single anthropologist who goes to a different society from her own and lives there for an extended period—at least fifteen months—they used to specify in Cambridge, which allowed the researcher to observe a full year of activity and also gave a three-month cushion to permit a working level of acclimatisation.

What's happening in this case is something a little different. Researchers from Harvard have been working since 2012 on different elements, and the project will continue through 2015—a five-year span that will incorporate perspectives from a wide range of researchers. Some are student researchers, and some are working on doctorates and post-doctorates. Some are established researchers as well. Some are students of design, some are anthropologists. It's the mosaic approach to ethnography, and now, in 2014, the voices of Bahamian students of the College of The Bahamas have been added.The project has murky connections, to be sure. In 2010-2011, the Bahamas National Trust and the Free National Movement government came under heavy fire after the revelation that the Aga Khan had been given permission to create a marina for Bell Island, his private island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. The process required dredging of the sea bed and the conversion of an inland pond, and there was strong opposition to the development. (That opposition, according to more recent reports, has abated somewhat, as the PLP is now the government in power; the current narrative seems to be that far less damage was done to the environment than those in opposition feared. Be that as it may. The permissions were given, the development has taken place, and we must all, especially those of us who are the citizens and stewards of this remarkable country, move on.It's probably no coincidence at all that the Aga Khan has established a gift and grants to research and plan for the sustainable development of Exuma and the Cays. Cynics like me will have the tendency to regard this largesse as a payoff for being allowed to do in the Exuma Land and Sea Park far more than Bahamians who have been living on the communities within that park for over two hundred years. There is certainly more than a whiff of inequity about the permissions given to the über-rich to develop private islands in the Exuma Cays, even within the Park, while locals are prevented from using the resources which have provided them with subsistence for generations. But the reality is that the permissions have been given, the inequities are being enforced, and all that we are left with is the prospect of amelioration.

And here's where we come in,  the students of the College of The Bahamas and myself. The gift and grants are being administered by Harvard University, the Aga Khan's alma mater, and since 2012 students and faculty from Harvard University have been visiting Exuma, conducting research to contribute to the island's development. In 2013, the College of The Bahamas was approached in various capacities to join the project. One of those capacities involved linking up with the fieldwork that would be carried out this spring in Exuma. I happen to teach a Field Experience course this spring, and the students in that course are required to conduct field research somewhere, at some time. The project's challenges notwithstanding, this element offers potential for that amelioration. Here's where the potential lies. One of the most fundamental flaws we have in our governmental system is the fatal disconnect between the Family Islands (I refuse to call them "Out") and New Providence, where officials sit in air-conditioned offices, meet with high-faluting investors, and carve up our archipelago for finite, quickly-spent pocketsful of cash. The way in which we administer our nation is akin to the Europeans dividing up Africa with a table, maps and a ruler during the nineteenth century, or  the Allied generals of the First World War deploying their troops to die among the barbed wire and trenches of the European front. The decisions made by our leaders are cavalier, ill-informed, greedy, and destructive. Bahamian patrimony is being disposed of for sums that spin the heads of politicians and civil servants but that carry with them heavy doses of nothingness: they mean almost nothing to the investors who offer them, and they mean less than nothing to the people who are most directly affected—the Family Islands, our fellow citizens, who are daily being deprived of their traditions, their communal means of survival, their ways of life, and their sustainability. My students, the students who attend COB, are potentially the politicians and civil servants of the future. The experience they are being offered by their involvement in the project is my hope of contributing to long-term and future change—of creating a sense of respect and understanding for the different ways of life of our archipelago, for the wealth and beauty of our environment. There's another far more pragmatic, element as well. The studies being led by Harvard are generating data about our islands, data that can and may be crucial to the future well-being of our nation. This project will end in 2015, and that end will be accompanied by a set of reports and plans which will be touted and bound and, if past experience is anything to go by, shelved. But the data itself, the raw material that is being generated in the process, will be the property of Harvard University, not of The Bahamas—unless the College of The Bahamas is involved at the base level of the research. We have missed a year of this already, but the fact that Bahamian students are now involved in the ethnographic process is one way of ensuring some access to the intellectual riches that are now being generated. And that is my ultimate goal here.

Long blog post. Big, big deal. From here on in I will be blogging, as internet permits, about the things we are discovering on our journey. Watch this space. And, my fellow Bahamians, prepare for action if needed. This is the only Bahamas we've got.

Evangelicals Looking Beyond a Literal Interpretation of Genesis?

According to the Bible (Genesis 2:7), this is how humanity began: "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." God then called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam's rib.Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It's a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account.via Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve : NPR.

First of all: wow.Second of all: welcome to the Christianity of the post-industrial world, guys.Third of all: time to start teaching literature so that the reading of sacred texts can be approached in such a way that meaning can be gained without having to believe that every word written is literally and completely true on the human, physical plane. Time to start understanding some symbolism.The article is interesting but doesn't go nearly far enough. First, it assumes that evangelical Christian theology is the core of Christian thinking. Second, it takes the position taken by many evangelicals that the literal story of a man, a woman and a snake in a garden whose existence has a geographical place and a historical time is crucial to Christian belief, but is it? And third, it misses a point that has rarely been discussed in all the heat generated by "creationism", the only Christian philosophy that really requires the existence of a literal Adam and Eve for its existence—that the moving away by certain evangelical intellectuals from their indefensible scientific position that rests on the creation of the earth and of humanity in seven 24-hour days also implicitly allows for the rise of a neo-Darwinism among those same intellectuals. The danger inherent in the American evangelical movement's acceptance of the symbology of Genesis (rather than its literal truth) lies in the fundamentally political (and economic) expression that American evangelical Christianity has always had. I have never been convinced of the theological soundness of that strain of Christianity, as its manifestations have been peculiarly political. This change can also express itself politically; and I would not be surprised if it took an even more fascist turn than it currently has.Just sayin'.

Riot, Uprising, Protest? Reaping the Sown in London 2011

(started on FB but truncated -- thanks, BookFace)

Historian David Starkey has told BBC's Newsnight ''the whites have become black'' in a discussion on the England riots with author and broadcaster Dreda Say Mitchell and the author of Chavs, Owen Jones.He also hit out at what he called the ''destructive, nihilistic gangster culture'' which he said ''has become the fashion.''

For an education of how a tiny island took over the entire world and managed to subdue whole nations, watch this. The concepts being expressed by Starkey are the residue of a construct that *justified* the conquest of entire peoples by any means necessary -- force, coercion, enslavement, genocide, eradication, cultural domination, you name it -- in the name of "civilization". It's a lie, but the lie was necessary in order to allow good people to sleep at night.When you are in the process of building an entire economy/civilisation/empire through the enslavement and mass transshipment of people while at the same time building a nation/civilisation/tradition that enshrines the principles of democracy and enfranchisement, there is a fundamental gulf that has to be crossed. What we are not taught about the history of the modern world (the world in which we find ourselves, where western = normal/civilised/modern and everything else = exotic/savage/primitive) is that it is the product of a struggle for political power and economic domination that occurred basically within Europe, but using the rest of the world as its battleground. We continue to buy into the ideas that were spawned at the same time, that were connected but not connected to this struggle, but which had to make sense of the struggle. For while the western European governments were engaged in their battles of one-upmanship, their mapping of "the world", their determination to claim every inch of the globe as Spanish, English (later British), French, or Dutch, their intellectuals were engaged in defining and imagining the human being. As the writers and philosophers of the Enlightenment were advancing ideas of democracy, equality and brotherhood, laying the foundations of a universal charter of human rights, merchants and mercenaries were making economic alliances along the coast of Africa, trading guns and rum for human beings, invading India and South-East Asia and those parts of China they could penetrate, and colonising the rich lands of the so-called "New" world.Thinkers and bureaucrats alike had to reconcile these two radically different impulses. How could Europe advocate the universal rights of man at the same time as they were enslaving Africans or making entire peoples the servants of a small group of privileged rulers in whole nations? How to make sense of this disjuncture? The problem was especially difficult for those people who had principles, who bought into the notion of human rights, who believed in the rights of man, who fought for democracy, for liberté, égalité, fraternité.The answer: to define different groups of humans as fundamentally different kinds of people, to separate the human tribe into distinct species (called "races") who were intrinsically suited for different kinds of behaviour and different kinds of life. Thus democracy and human rights also gave birth to the ladder of humanity, which placed different groups of people in a hierarchy of development or evolution, which posited an inherent difference in the ability of "races" to attain certain kinds of order. This was expressed in the concept of the savage and the civilised, the primitive and the modern, and gave rise to the concept of the "white man's burden" -- i.e. the responsibility of the "fully evolved" European to civilise, educate, save, or elevate the lesser "races", to speed up their evolution, to teach them the benefits of civilisation. Always a top-down beneficence. Always a sense of inherent entitlement coming from inherent superiority. Always (and most evilly) the sense that some human beings are more naturally suited to living in harmony, prosperity and social order than others—that these virtues must be taught to other humans as they are not inherent in them. All humans are equal, yes; but some are more equal than others.The ideas that are being expressed by people like Starkey as "white" and "black" culture, therefore, are rooted in this concept. The idea persists that "black" is savage and "white" is civilised—that "black" culture is intrinsically disposed to erupt in violence and disorder, and that when "white" people do the same they have been contaminated by that inherent savagery. This is what lies at the bottom of every expression of outrage at the growing prominence of the non-white and non-European: the sense, often unexamined, that the whole natural order of things has been upset. That to have people of non-western traditions or non-white skins attain positions of power is to fly in the face of nature, or of God. The colonisation of the entire world was so complete (as it had to be in order for European empires to attain the power that they did) that it is virtually unthinkable to really believe that all humans are fundamentally alike, are really, intrinsically equal, no matter what their appearance or their wealth or their culture might suggest.The irony is, that much of so-called gangsta culture buys into the same imperialistic lie. The images of the "gangsta" and the "thug" do not challenge this hierarchy. Instead, they simply overturn the hierarchy and place value on the very things that European imperialistic thinking assigned to the "lesser races". So-called gangsta culture does not question the idea that these activities must be assigned to specific groups of people, or that they are somehow inherited through genetics; it does not challenge the view that "black"=savage/violent/physical and "white"=refined/peaceful/intellectual. It does not attempt to break down these categories and recognize that behaviour is often the result of environment and of choice, not of "race", and that these groups of traits do not necessarily have to be linked to one another at all. Rather, it accepts it, and simply redistributes its value. In this way, the "gangstas" and "thugs" speak the same language as Starkey, albeit using very different tones, vowels, and consonants.You know what they say. You reap what you sow. What was sown in the 19th century is being harvested in the 21st. It's time for us to raze the fields and plant a whole new crop.

Jackets: made in Jamaica - Lead Stories - Jamaica Gleaner - Wednesday | May 25, 2011

Thing is, this says as much about the ethnocentrism and patriarchal nature of the US Embassy as it does about Jamaican (read Caribbean) family structure.

The embarrassing information on the number of jackets was contained in a diplomatic cable captioned 'fraud summary' and covered the period March 2009 to August 2009.According to the leaked diplomatic cable, the US Embassy in Kingston "often requests applicants to undergo DNA testing because their fathers' name is either not on the birth certificate at all, or was added many years after their birth".In the summary on the "use of DNA testing", the Americans also noted, "In many cases, these fathers have never lived with their children or played a role in their lives until they go to immigrate."The diplomatic cable also stated that the embassy's fraud-prevention unit was working with the Immigrant Visa Unit to update its DNA procedures as a result of the processing change.The pervasiveness of misattributed fatherhood in Jamaica is not new.Data from a study conducted in early 2002 by Dr Sonia King in the Pathology Department at the University of the West Indies revealed a rate of one in three.

via Jackets: made in Jamaica - Lead Stories - Jamaica Gleaner - Wednesday | May 25, 2011.

Real Life from Blackfood.org

I had the honour to be invited to appear on the Monday programme from Blackfood.Org, Real Life. The topic was slavery. The conversation was streamed live from 7:30 till around 9 tonight, and I'm guessing the recorded version will be uploaded soon. Props to Alex Morley, Charo Walker, and Chico and Rebel Tony - keep up the great work.Check it out:http://www.justin.tv/blackfoodtv

People who live in glass offices

So last night I was watching TV—a British show called Hustle which is a very well-made, complex-charactered, witty cousin of the TNT show LeverageHustle came first, and I can see no acknowledgement in the official record of the connection between the two, but come on now—and at one point (not for the first time) the characters disappear into an office somewhere. I turned to Philip and said: "What is it with these glass offices that you see on TV these days? When did people start working in fishbowls?" (I don't think fishbowls was actually what I said—in fact, I know it wasn't—but it was in my head, so I'll put it out there.) He turned back to me and asked: "Why are you obsessed with offices? This is the fifth time you've asked me that question."And you know, he's right. I am obsessed with offices. And I have asked the question often. I ask it every time I see a new TV show with a new set of offices.People in the USA in particular seem to have taken to working in, yes, fishbowls.OK. My husband might be perplexed by my "obsession", but savvy anthropologists will know just where I'm going with this. Or at least where I'm coming from. Other people may not be familiar with Edward T. Hall and his studies on the cultural use of space (otherwise known as proxemics), but Hall theorized that different cultures approach space in different ways. He illustrated by conducting a study of the organization of offices and office space in three cultures—Japan, Germany and the USA—and demonstrated that different office practices—office layouts, office conduct, office habits—obtained in each nation.This becomes relevant when we begin to realize that as Bahamians we are in the business of serving the world. From tourism to banking, we interact on a regular basis with people from all over, and without understanding that there are fundamental cultural differences which are often subconsciously/unconsciously held, we will judge one another based on cultural variations that a little understanding of basic things such as the use of space would eliminate.For instance. Five years ago when I started working in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, when my ship had finally come in and the government had finally actually hired me (16 months after the initial interview), I moved into a corner office at the new Ministry of Education Building on Thompson Boulevard. Mine was an unusual office. Because it was in the corner, it had windows on two sides, floor-to-ceiling panels set in the two outside walls. The interior partitions, though, were walls.I was privileged. I was, after all, a Director, which explained the privilege. In some ways, by my personal standards, I was even more privileged than administrative officers who were more senior than me—than the Finance Officer, the Deputy Permanent Secretaries, and one of the Under Secretaries. In that office, only Directors, the Permanent Secretary, and the Minister himself were honoured with offices that others couldn't see into.What was interesting was that the officers listed above—the Senior Officers in the Ministry, as determined by their salary grouping (not their salaries)—were given blinds for their offices. If they wanted to, they could create a barrier between themselves and the world beyond by closing their blinds and creating walls from the glass that was provided for them. The one Director who could not get a corner office (the building was clearly not designed for a Ministry with three of them, as it only provided two corner offices of the kind that could accommodate Directors (for those of you who are not following me, the Department of Public Personnel has a list of the sizes of offices that should be provided for senior officers, and I can tell you, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture posed a problem for the HR department in that regard)) was also equipped with blinds. Not one other technical officer was given such a luxury.So what follows next begins to explain my obsession, as Philip calls it, with the glass offices I see on TV today. As I recall it, a whole lot of my tenure at the Ministry in my new capacity was filled with meetings. Tuesday mornings at 11 AM was the time we held Senior Officers' Meetings, which was convened by the Permanent Secretary and which required the Ministry's senior officers—the two Under Secretaries, the two Deputy Permanent Secretaries (Under Secretary trumps DPS, in case you were wondering), the First Assistant Secretaries (right under DPSs), the Senior Assistant Secretaries (next step down from FASs), the Finance Officer, the Directors (of which there were several, and of various kinds), and the Directors' seconds-in-command (for Youth and Sports, the Deputy Directors, for Culture the two Assistant Directors). (pace Rick, I can feel you spinning in your non-grave!). Sixteen people most of the time, sometimes more, all squeezed into the second-best conference room (called, for reasons those of us in Youth and Culture didn't quite get, the Sports Conference Room). These were meetings in which the PS briefed the senior staff on matters pertinent to the running of the Ministry—on the status of papers to go to Cabinet for example, on programmes that the Minister wanted to see implemented, on programmes that were already under way, especially those that involved the whole Ministry (such as Junkanoo, or National Youth Month, or some such event), and where heads of different sections (Directors, mainly) gave updates on the progress of their programmes (like JA activities for Youth, national sporting events for Sports, and national cultural events for Culture). We might be updated on the progress of our installation in these new quarters; we might be briefed on general staff matters, like how we were expected to implement General orders; we might be advised what was left in the budget for the half-year, and how we were to (not) spend it; we might be asked to seek solutions for various issues that had hit the press, like an increase in gang violence, trouble in a sporting association, or the complaints of musicians about the lack of jobs in the marketplace for them.My first months in office dealt with the status of the move. We were a newly reconstituted Ministry, having been reinstated by the PLP in 2002 after the FNM had dissolved the previous Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture in its second term, and that in itself brought a number of issues. We were also a Ministry that had very recently moved into new quarters. And these quarters were significantly different from the old ones. We were occupying a building that had been purpose-built for government activity at the turn of the millennium, while previous offices had occupied the seventh floor of the Post Office Building, an office from the turn of the third quarter of the 20th century, and reflecting office culture of a previous era. The largest difference was the open floor plan of the office, and this was causing considerable consternation among the officers and staff. Three things were causing this. The first was the fact that the new Minister had ordered that all of the Divisions of the Ministry—and all of the staff—were to be relocated to the new office, which meant bringing them in from the various field offices—from the Sports Centre, from the Youth Centre, and from Morro Castle (Culture's field office). The second was that there were only enough offices for Senior Officers and up; the rest of the staff and officers were to be housed in the large open office that constituted most of the south-western wing of the Ministry. And the third was that those offices that did exist were fronted with glass. In other words, if you stood in the open office and looked around, you could see into every office, except those that (as I have said) were assigned to the Director of Culture and the Director of Sports.And the Ministry was beginning by refusing to buy us blinds.I can't say why that was the case. We were never given a good reason why; we were simply told it was not the Ministry's policy to provide blinds for non-senior officers. Needless to say, this caused much discussion; as I have already noted, no one liked the idea of working in a fishbowl. There were many good reasons put forward as to why. For our regular officers, the idea that they were being expected to do their work from desks in the open office plans, when they would be moving with files of potentially sensitive information, and perhaps, for Youth Officers, might be expected to counsel young people in the open, was scandalous. For the senior officers who qualified for offices, the idea of working from glassed-in offices was a major breach of trust.The long and the short of it was the Permanent Secretary was faced with a mini-revolution. Work was not going to get done until all the offices received their blinds. We were not alone in the problem; the Ministry of Education was going through the same difficulties. The solution? To order blinds for every glassed-in office. Today, if you walk around those Ministries, you will notice that every glass wall is opaque; there is not one office in which the inhabitants work with the blinds up or open at all.I knew that something cultural was at work there. I knew that the problem wasn't going to be simply solved. But it wasn't until I reread Hall's proxemics in full that it clicked. We'd come to a point where the importation of someone else's office culture was not going to work for us; the floor plan that was designed for an American office was not translating to The Bahamas. Because we don't practice anthropology here in any wide format, we often miss the point; we think that Bahamians are unproductive for all kinds of reasons (some of them quite valid), among them the idea that we are genetically ill-prepared to work. But perhaps we miss the complete point, because we don't imagine that The Bahamas is worth studying for itself. The place where we work best, the place where phenomenal work gets done, is the Junkanoo shack—a supremely private, secretive place. We work best in secret. I know myself I don't perform well if I think people are looking over my shoulder, and I don't think that the answer should lie in our trying to fit into someone else's mould.So yes, I am obsessed with offices. I am obsessed with the question of glass. I don't think it's a frivolous obsession. I think it's an opportunity. We need to know who we are before we can begin to function at our best.

Reading: Mintz, Three Ancient Colonies

First of all, thanks to Nicholas Laughlin and the Caribbean Review of Books for asking me to review this book.I've long been a fan of Sidney Mintz. His study of the impact of sugar on the creation of modernity, which I read first in the 1979 article “Time, sugar and sweetness,” (Marxist Perspectives 2 (4): 56-73) and then more fully in his book Sweetness and Power, shifted the way in which I thought about the Caribbean, the world, and my place in it. I've fallen out of touch with his work. Our research interests diverge somewhat. But this new book of his, which grew out of three W. E. B. Du Bois lectures (2003), has brought me back.Won't say much here. After all, I'm supposed to do that for CRB, and I will. Let me jsut say that thanks to Mintz, I'm remembering the excitement of rediscovering our region (even though he repeats the not-so-wise wisdom of excluding the Bahamas from the historical Caribbean), and, most importantly, of the place of history in our realities.For those of you who think that colonialism is dead, that there is no point in "resurrecting" the past (I put the word in quotes because that past has not yet died within us), understand this: without colonialism there would be no us. The Americas in general as we know them, populated and shaped largely by an extension of a Europe  that conquered, subordinated and coerced other groups of people in the process are the specific creation of colonialism. As long as we exist, it can never be dead; we are our past, as the past created us. Until we get that through our heads, until we understand that process, until we know who we are and give up the myths and wishes that fool us into thinking we are "free", we will never inhabit complete societies. For, as Mintz observes:

The history of the Caribbean region ... embodies the real beginnings of European overseas imperial rule ... the modern world's first colonies are to be found mainly in the Caribbean region. ... Not only did most of the islands become colonial early, most of them also stayed colonial late. ... People in erstwhile colonial areas besides North America may be slow to grasp how anciently colonial the Caribbean region is. The Indian subcontinent is usually thought to have become a colonial possession, mostly of Great Britain, when Clive defeated the nawab of Bengal at the battle of Plassey in 1757. Yet by 1757 the Antilles had been colonial for more than 250 years ... Once it can be acknowledged that Caribbean colonialism is truly ancient, its history can help to give additional nuance to the term "postcolonial".

In other words, globally, we cannot understand colonialism or independence or postcolonialism without first understanding the Caribbean -- without understanding ourselves. Mintz and others (Eric Williams, for one, C. L. R. James for another) have argued that we cannot truly understand modern western civilization without understanding the Caribbean either, and each time I reread the argument I'm reconvinced. But more on this later. For now, I'm reminded. The significance of our region is far more than we comprehend ourselves. We must know our history, and the history of the world, to understand this. "The world in a basin" is not simply a romantic term; it's more real than we can understand ourselves.

ASA 10: The Interview

All right, I know that many of you have no idea what the title means. And it doesn't matter terribly. I'll decode: ASA stands for Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth. I'm currently attending a conference in Belfast and am struck by the centrality of one recurrent theme: the theme of peace, of terror, of reconciliation.

Of course it's no accident that these themes recur in Northern Ireland, where the peace settlement is gaining history of its own. What is striking me, though, is that Europeans (and others) are deeply engaged in the process of peace and reconciliation, so much so that they have provided fertile ground for study at the anthropological level. Again, I realize that that doesn't mean a whole lot for many of us, but I'll do my best to explain.

Maybe, first, I'll try and explain why this concerns me. part of it is the sense -- which I'm finding remarkable -- that groups of people who perpetrate mass injustices, violence, terror, oppression on other groups of people are now for some reason taking responsibility for those actions, are now working out a course of reconciliation, attempting healing so that their states, their societies, can move on. For example: the Australian government officially apologized to the Aboriginal people for their oppression during the early colonial period; the South African government carried out Truth and Reconciliation Tribunals in the post-apartheid period; the British government recently apologized to Africa and the Caribbean for their involvement in the transAtlantic slave trade.

What was very interesting for me, though, was a paper on the effects of injustice and abuse of power given by Vincent Crapanzano on the plight of the Harkis of Algeria in the post-independence era. What interested me was that his study actually uncovered the process of hurt as well as the potentiality for healing, and in this way it helped to illuminate concretely for me what is questioned by so many on this side of the world -- why, since slavery was abolished so long ago, and since colonialism has been eradicated, we still talk about the legacy of both. Answers to that question were provided in these papers, which showed fairly coherently what happens to a group of people in the aftermath of brutality and oppression, and how healing does not occur as soon as the offense has come to an end. It showed how healing must be a conscious, engaged, moral and difficult endeavour. And it showed it in anthropological terms -- that is, by pondering the possibility of cultural universals, untying the question from the too-easy myth of "race", and talking about human processes.

And this is important to our part of the world exactly why? Well, while I'd hope that it was pretty obvious to people reading, I'll spell it out. Two reasons.

First: as a people, as a "nation", we have not dealt with our own hurt and victimhood, our own history of brutality and oppression. We have not talked about what it meant to be enslaved or marginalized in our own country, about what it meant to be separated into "natives" and "residents" and although the generation of people who were faced with the concrete reality that their skin colour or cultural heritage limited what they could achieve, what they could do, is aging, the psychological residue of that lingers on in every doubt that we raise, collectively or as individuals, about what Bahamians deserve, or can do.

And second, as a people, as a "nation", we are actively engaged in oppressing another group of people, in some ways as radically and as blatantly as we ourselves were oppressed in the past. And ignoring that fact will not make it go away. We must learn that oppression is not only a product of "race"; being here in Northern Ireland, I recognize forcefully that whiteness is not a barrier to oppression, and I am reminded -- as though I'd ever forgotten -- that denying that people of the same race can oppress one another (black Bahamians vs black Haitians for instance) does not mean that oppression does not occur. What it means is that we lie about it, that's all. And if we are not careful, if we do not learn from others, we are running the risk of perpetrating, over time, the kind of victimhood that divides nations.

I will write more about this, but first I want to get hold of the papers that were presented at this conference and read them to internalize their observations. I just know this. We need to gain a sense of consciousness as a nation about oppression and victimhood. We need it to walk into the future with clear eyes.


A tiny ethnography of the earthquake

I want you to know that, before the earthquake, things in Haiti were normal. Outside Haiti, people only hear the worst -- tales that are cherry-picked, tales that are exaggerated, tales that are lies. I want you to understand that there was poverty and oppression and injustice in Port-au-Prince, but there was also banality.via Salon.com Mobile.

The writer of the above is Laura Wagner, an American PhD candidate in anthropology who was studying in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. She was injured in the quake, which killed at least one of her friends, and she still does not know what happened to the rest of them. Read the article. It gives a far more balanced account of what happened -- and what still is happening -- than most other writing, which focusses on the sensational, the (mostly foreign) heroics (because of course poor black people are incapable of their own heroism) and the predictable -- "looting" and "social breakdown".This is what anthropology is good for, which is something that I keep reminding myself as I teach it, and as I situate myself in this hybrid, postcolonial, complex society on the edge of the written world. It's good for getting inside places and people, for jettisoning the expected and the prejudiced, and for telling the story of individuals, the kinds of people who don't generally get stories told about them on any global level. That isn't to say that anthropologists and ethnographers are the "voices" of these people. They're (we're) not. But they/we do stand sometimes as interlocutors, challenging prejudice with actuality, and provide pieces of the puzzle of reality that are often overlooked, often missing.So go read the piece. And let it add just a little to whatever idea of "Haiti" and the "earthquake" you have in your minds. Let it make those ideas just a little more complicated. A little more real.

Now that the first journalistic burst has ended, now that the celebrity telethons have wrapped, the stories you hear are of “looters” and “criminals” set loose on a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This is the same story that has always been told about Haiti, for more than 200 years, since the slaves had the temerity to not want to be slaves anymore. This is the same trope of savagery that has been used to strip Haiti and Haitians of legitimacy since the Revolution. But at the moment of the quake, even as the city and, for all we knew, the government collapsed, Haitian society did not fall into Hobbesian anarchy. This stands in contradiction both to what is being shown on the news right now, and everything we assume about societies in moments of breakdown....Social scientists who study catastrophes say there are no natural disasters. In every calamity, it is inevitably the poor who suffer more, die more, and will continue to suffer and die after the cameras turn their gaze elsewhere. Do not be deceived by claims that everyone was affected equally -- fault lines are social as well as geological. After all, I am here, with my white skin and my U.S. citizenship, listening to birds outside the window in the gray-brown of a North Carolina winter, while the people who welcomed me into their lives are still in Port-au-Prince, within the wreckage, several of them still not accounted for.via Salon.com Mobile.

On Stilton Cheese & Culture Change (a little anthropology for Christmas)

I want you to check this out.

The history of Stilton can be traced back to the early 18th century and although it is clear that the recipe used has changed quite dramatically over the years it remains one of the world's best known and much loved cheeses.Quintessentially English, Stilton has its own Certification Trade Mark and is an EU Protected Food Name.This means that:- it can only be produced in the three Counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire- it must be made from locally produced milk that has been pasteurised before use- it can only be made in a cylindrical shape- it must be allowed to form its own coat or crust- it must never be pressed and- it must have the magical blue veins radiating from the centre of the cheese

Stilton Cheese - Welcome to the home of Stilton Cheese - Britain's historic blue cheese and Britain's favourite blue cheese

Now you don't have to be a fan of Stilton cheese to get where I'm going with this. Stilton cheese is one of the things that the British use to mark their Britishness, and the way it's made is very carefully monitored. What this means is that

a) someone had to study how Stilton was made and decide what was unique about the process;

b) someone had to regulate that uniqueness;

c) someone had to enforce that regulation.

There are three steps to the process: research and analysis, standardization, and enforcement.

Now I'm going to argue here (as I've done before) that culture does not just happen. Well, it does, but when people who (like the British) are really mongrels, hybrid groups of people living in geographical spaces where the original cultures and inhabitants have been effectively destroyed and/or replaced, it needs a little help to keep reproducing itself. Culture changes, and can change really rapidly, in the blink of an eye -- like what is happening I write to the indigenous Junkanoo beat (which is being swallowed up by a hip-hop rhythm that is being played by too many drummers who have no real grounding or training in authentic Bahamian rhythms, owing in large part to the fact that we mistakenly believe that our culture is genetically encoded and will always reproduce itself). Europeans, who have been self-conscious for centuries, know this better than most people (the Chinese know it best), and so don't worry about the sort of nonsense that suggests that culture will take care of itself; they know quite well that it won't -- that Anglo-Saxon culture will be swallowed up by Norman culture and disappear before you now it, or that languages will die if they're not carefully watched and preserved.

So for all of those of you who believe, as too damn many of our government officials and politicians believe, that culture is a luxury that we don't need, that it is something that big people grow out of and that is really only good for keeping children from getting restless (of course we believe this, otherwise we wouldn't keep linking our cultural administration with Youth, Sports or Education), thanks very much. Because of you, because of your stubborn refusal to recognize what is important about us and define who we are, you can be sure that what plenty of what we believe to be "Bahamian" is very soon going to disappear, going to change beyond all recognition.

And no, not all change is evolution; and not all change is good. Sometimes change is colonization, assimilation, ethnocide.

Think about it when you're watching your Junkanoo this year and ask yourself whether there is anything in it that someone from 50 years ago will even recognize about our parades. Then go back and check out the definition of Stilton.

Cheers.

Annie Paul on Michael Jackson

I wouldn't have expected to post more than once on this issue, but I came across this post by Annie Paul meditating on the life and death of Michael Jackson, and I thought I'd share.Anthropologically speaking, there's a study in this somewhere. Haven't worked out quite where yet, but I'm thinking.Anyway, over to Annie:

PROVE YOU'RE HUMAN demand the spambot busters when you try to leave a comment on blogposts or Facebook discussions. You then have to correctly type two distorted-looking words into a box, an action that apparently would instantly expose a spambot (which pretend to be users but actually want to harvest your email and other useful info about you) incapable of deciphering the letters.Could MJ possibly have realized just how many fans and well-wishers he has all over the world? Michael Jackson dies and nearly takes internet with him said one headline referring to the volume of cybertraffic googling to verify his death and the resulting overload which nearly crashed the Net the day he died. The media, snarling and vicious only a few years ago now obsessively adulated him in death.looklikemoney09 crazy how this nigga #michaeljackson got respect when he died an aint have none when he was alive was how one tweep roughly and eloquently summed it up. A commenter (sharon p) on a blog called Can't Stop Won't Stop poignantly asked: "how will i remember him? as the person who bought the elephant man’s bones just so he could bury them. who will he remind me of? Zora Neale Hurston, who was also accused of child molestation in 1948 — an accusation that caused her to leave the “community” she had dedicated her life to."

via Active Voice: PROVE YOU'RE HUMAN: The Post-Michael Jackson Post

Swedish parents keep 2-year-old's gender secret - The Local

Just in case you might be thinking that male/female was a god-given thing—

A couple of Swedish parents have stirred up debate in the country by refusing to reveal whether their two-and-a-half-year-old child is a boy or a girl.Pop’s parents, both 24, made a decision when their baby was born to keep Pop’s sex a secret. Aside from a select few – those who have changed the child’s diaper – nobody knows Pop’s gender; if anyone enquires, Pop’s parents simply say they don’t disclose this information.In an interview with newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in March, the parents were quoted saying their decision was rooted in the feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction.“We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset,” Pop’s mother said. “It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”The child's parents said so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female.

-- Swedish parents keep 2-year-old's gender secret - The Local

No longer Director

For those of you who have not heard and are not aware, I ceased to be Director of Culture on 31st December, 2008.It's a move that has been a long time in coming. For those people who wish to speculate that my return to the College has to do with politics or changes in government or any mundane reason like that, let me attempt to set the record straight right now.I took up the position, initially in an acting capacity, on 20th October 2003, on the understanding then that it was a secondment from my position at the College of The Bahamas. In July 2004, however, I was transferred from the College to the Civil Service, and given a letter signed by the Governor of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, as is customary for civil service appointees. I queried the move, and indicated that I had no intention of making a full-time move to the Public Service, and requested that the arrangement be rectified. However, the wheels of government turn slowly when they turn at all, and nothing came of that request.At that time, things were looking vaguely bright for culture in The Bahamas. The National Commission on Cultural Development had been established, and was meeting on a regular basis to craft a new way forward for Bahamian cultural life. The period was revolutionary, in that for the first time in decades cultural experts from every different field sat in a room together, hashed out policy and made recommendations directly to government, and fashioned real visions for the way forward for a country that has been impoverished intellectually, socially and emotionally by too-rapid, uneven material development and a lack of reflection. During that period, the Commission drafted three pieces of legislation for the government, travelled throughout the Islands of The Bahamas, touched base with Bahamians everywhere, and highlighted the extent of what we do not know about ourselves.Out of the Commission also came a draft National Cultural Policy for The Bahamas, the beginning of a way forward for us as a people and a nation that goes beyond the surface and beyond the material.As time passed, however, it became evident that the Commission was more revolutionary in title and composition than in any other manner. Its role was treated as instrumental only in so far as it met the specific goals of the politicians. Two of the three pieces of legislation were adopted, and in a watered-down fashion; the specific recommendations contained in those two -- recommendations that reflected the will of the Bahamian people, as determined through nation-wide surveys, in town meetings, and from radio discussions -- were ignored. The Heroes and Honours Bills were pushed through the House of Assembly in a hurry, and ignored their most fundamental elements -- that the successful implementation of Bahamian honours would require the abolition of the British ones, and that the recognition of National Heroes would have to acknowledge, depoliticize and recognize and celebrate the milestone that was Majority Rule. The change of government affected Bahamian cultural development in a very basic fashion -- by ignoring the vision developed for the country by the NCDC (not because it was a bad vision, but simply because the Commission was instituted by the previous administration, and most things so establlished were dismantled, as had happened five years before), leaving culture in the position it had been in 2003, when I first took the position.Here's why I'm returning to COB, then.

  1. I always planned to do so, the fact that my secondment/temporary appointment was botched notwithstanding.
  2. After five years, culture is right back where it was in 2003 -- entirely dependent on the personalities who head it, and on the goodwill of those politicians and civil servants who might look upon it favourably. If those people exist, as they have done over the past five years, good things will happen in culture. If not, then culture will continue to die, as it has done for the vast majority of our independence. I am temperamentally unsuited to walking in circles. I have a pretty good sense of direction, and I know futile wandering when I see it. 
  3. Conflict of interest. I was a cultural worker before I became Director, specifically in the fields of theatre and writing, and my husband is a theatre director who has worked for all of his career in various capacities on various contracts for the government of The Bahamas. His first government job came in 1983, when he was contracted to mount the folk opera Sammie Swain for the Tenth Anniversary of Independence, and he has been involved in the production of national events on a fairly regular basis ever since. However, my position as Director compromised the extent to which he was able to work with the government, and certainly for the Department of Culture (more accurately, the Cultural Affairs Division), even in situations when he was the most experienced/best qualified/most available director. Further, as a playwright and member of a theatre production company, my work was curtailed by the fact that I was a government official.
  4. The strictures of the civil service are at fundamental odds with my calling as a writer and with the democratic principles on which our country is founded. General Orders prohibits any civil servant from speaking about his or her job without permission. As a civil servant, very simply, I could not say what I thought outside the confines of boardrooms and the offices of Under Secretaries, Permanent Secretaries and Ministers.
  5. I see more potential for change among people under forty than among those over it, and the vast majority of the people in the civil service are over forty. There is far more potential for national development outside the service than in it, and the soon-to-be University of The Bahamas is poised to be a catalyzing force in that development.
  6. And last, but not least: so my career has some room to grow. I'm forty-five, with a statutory 20 more years of service ahead of me. In two or three years, though, I will have reached the top of my particular Directorial scale, and will be stuck at the same salary, with the same perks, with no hope of advancement, for the remaining 18 years, unless I choose to leave the technical field and move into exclusive paper-pushing. That is the situation that has afflicted most of the people who work in the Cultural Affairs Division, and there is no good reason why it will not happen to me. COB offers far more scope for career advancement and potential earning. (And, not incidentally, I have come to equate salary scale with respect for one's field and position. The dead-endedness of every long-term position in the Cultural Affairs Division, in which no senior officer has received a promotion of note in a good twenty years, and the concurrent impossibility of hiring new blood, are the best indicators that I have ever had of the complete non-importance of culture and its development to the politicians and civil servants that have run the country for that period of time. But more on that later.)

So I'm leaving government and going back to the College because, ladies and gentlemen, it's the twenty-first century. We've almost closed the first decade of that century, and we're still running our country with a late eighteenth century institution, developed exclusively for colonization and for the subjugation of hostile populations. I'd rather work for a late twentieth-century institution, thanks. At least the College was established in my lifetime, and has changed more in its short thirty years than the Public Service has changed in 230.It's a no-brainer, really. But more on that to come.Cheers.

Friendship Around the World Award (Part I)

Geoffrey Philp linked me in this some time ago, and I'm going to try indulge in it now. 

Friendship Around the World AwardJack Mandora, whose blog I admire, has passed this award along to me with the mandate of sharing it with friends whom I’ve met through blogging. I will add that they became my friends because of the remarkable content of their blogs.

I have to say my blogging practices have changed lately, and I haven't done as much reading as I should, but let me start. So here are mine - part I.Geoffrey Philp's Blog Spot - Geoffrey PhilpThere are lots of Caribbean blogs out there, but not so many that deal with literature. Geoffrey's one that I read, partly because I know him in person, but also because I like his observations.Heraclitean Fire - Harry RutherfordOK, I'm a poet in my spare time, and I read lots and lots of poetry blogs, many of which I visit on a very regular basis. But Harry writes about more than poetry, and his links are always interesting. Unless he's talking about some sport or another, I find every post of his fascinating, probably because he's able to synthesize material really well. It's a skill that I admire and to which I aspire. Bahama Pundit - Larry Smith, et al.The idea behind this blog is to bring Bahamian columnists together in one online spot and give us a platform that reaches beyond the newspaper circulation. I like and admire Larry as a reporter. He does his homework and makes observations that hold up after some scrutiny, and his fellow columnists are also pretty interesting. (I was one of them for a while, and hope to be again, but that's not the reason I picked this blog!) Maybe it's a little to localized for most people, but it's worth a look in my books.Weblog Bahamas - Rick Lowe et al.I read Rick's blog because he and I hold opposite views of the world in just about everything except the potential and the need of human beings to make their own realities. It's good to see what libertarians, and especially white Bahamian libertarians, are thinking, even if I disagree from the pit of my stomach with 99.999999999% of what they think. But Rick doesn't only talk about politics and economics. He also reads some pretty interesting stuff, he has eclectic taste in music, he takes some cool photos, and he doesn't let you go away without having been provoked in some way or another. And some of his co-authors are almost as good.Signifyin' Guyana - Charmaine D. Valere's blogI read this blog because Charmaine doesn't just write about Caribbean issues, she also reads and reviews work by Caribbean (primarily Guyanese) writers, and her perspective is an interesting one. She's part of the diaspora, lives outside the region, but she's part of the global Caribbean that is going to transform our nations in years to come. Go Charmaine.Carter's Little Pill - Julie Carter's blogAs I said, I read lots of poetry blogs. Julie's, like Harry's, isn't all about poetry, though it could be because her poems are kick-ass. But there's a lot about Julie in it too, and I like what I see of Julie online. It's because of her and what she wrote that made me suspect Ohio was going to vote for Obama. Well worth a read.Savage Minds - Group blog about anthropologyYes, I'm a poet and a Caribbean woman, but don't forget I'm an anthropologist as well. There are other anthro blogs out there, but this one strikes closest to me and my particular training -- social anthropology with a distinct UK/European bias and a deep admiration and love for (though not always acceptance of) the theories of Claude Levi-Strauss.I'll stop there for now, but I'll be back. There are some people I missed. But you have to excuse me -- Obama and the world's changing are taking up some of my time.If I've called your name, go spread the meme!