More on Reparations

The question raised in the last post, regarding Western Europe and reparations, engendered great discussion on Facebook, and also threw up some interesting links. Here are some excerpts from that discussion, and then also some excerpts from the links:

  • Jamaal Charlton I think that we – as a people – need to first look beyond what’s currently being sought/debated. What I mean by that is; we need to first fight to repair own people, until we all get to a point where we wouldn’t need to accept any form of slavery reparations.
  • Gilbert Morris  do not believe that Caribbean leaders, much less African ones, have the moral standing to make the case for reparations. ...  the only anchor we have against Europeans COMPARED to other and previous slaving and enslaving is that their values ought to have prevented it. ... even when faced with their own vaunted values, they made excuses and often brought their values toward their behaviour, rather than corrected their behaviour by virtue of their values. As such, they sinned against themselves and against foundational principles and failure to recognise this leaves open continued justification of atrocities, past and present. ... I do not see Caribbean leaders as credible to call for either recognition or reparations. ... Caribbean and African leaders have done more to damage their people than anything in our history ... [they] have been the greatest threats to their peoples, stealing their birthright and undermining their prosperity.  ... Our region now leads the world in murders and such is our inversion of psychological orientation that we seem to regard the mere possibility of change as a monumental impossible risk; even as every component of civilisation collapses around us.
  • Timothy Treco ... NO AMOUNT OF MONEY can bring closure. Wrongdoing, and pain cannot be measured in dollars. Further, when the reparations we speak of move into the subsequent generations, it further complicates all matters. ... As John the Baptist said, he who steals should steal no more... It is simply easier to forgive, and to rid ourselves of the atrocities happening again. In the end, God is going to level ALL THE PLAYING field... Revenge is His. WE MUST rest there, and in the mean time make sure that Justice occurs.
  • Rae Whitehouse ... 'reparations' (i hate that word--it reeks of a panacea that does not exist) need to happen and eventually will happen. what interests me more is where exactly the money will be coming from, where exactly the money will be going to, and what exactly will be done with it. highly problematic, indeed. obviously, just because something is logistically challenging does not mean it's not necessary, but i see The Clusterfuck to End All Clusterfucks in our future. i'm all 'ok go' with the ideals, but the gritty practicalities are distressing me. help.
  • Dillon F. Knowles ... financial reparations will probably have the same effect that the estate of a deceased typically has on a family - civil "war". If you think we are currently unproductive as people with an entitlement mentality, tell us there is a pot of gold to be shared out. Do you think that if we could manage to agree on how to share it, that we would put it to productive use or just enhance our quest for instant gratification. As wrong as slavery is, it cannot be undone, and we decendants of slaves must continue to overcome the hand delt us by hard work and ingenuity.
  • Ava Turnquest ... everyone points to other injustices that are threatened if this wrong is put right - or attempted. when something is broken, nowadays it seems like all efforts are focused on ensuring it stays broken, lest other broken items feel entitled to repair.

The links:

Slavery reparations: should aid money be used to pay for past misdeeds? | Jonathan Glennie

Project Overview | Legacies of British's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after

Concerning Reparations for Slavery: Part One

This past October, a tiny tempest-in-a-teacup erupted in the wake of a fairly routine report on a decision taken by CARICOM to sue the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands for reparations for slavery. Following the report, which headlined, somewhat misleadingly, as "BAHAMAS SUING UK OVER SLAVERY", was a flurry of communications on both sides of the debate, along with a quick opinion poll by the Tribune which suggested that one-third of the people who took it were in support of the lawsuit, two-thirds against. The matter has since seemed to go away, sinking into the mire of superficialities which passes for public debate in our nation. But I want to suggest that what CARICOM has initiated is something that will eventually occur, and which may, when it does happen, change the future of the region if we let it. Whatever the noise in the market, the matter of reparations for New World slavery will not go away. A great wrong was committed against millions of human beings in the name of nothing more than global domination and profit, and that is a debt that will one day be paid.Here's why I say that. It seems to me that the resistance against the idea of reparations for slavery takes one of several forms. The first is the idea expressed by the UK government representative contacted by the Tribune to respond to CARICOM's lawsuit: that "governments today cannot take responsibility for what happened 200 years ago". The second is subtly connected to the first, but it shifts the focus from the enslaving nations to the nations founded on slavery, and argues that as the ills of the present cannot be solved by placing the blame on past wrongs, the past should be buried and the future considered. There is a third: that the debt has already been paid with independence, and that the political freedom of the people who were once enslaved is all that is necessary to right the wrong. A fourth argues that instead of focussing on the slavery of the past, the continuing enslavement and exploitation of people today is more a more pressing matter to consider. And there are countless other objections to the idea.What all of these objections have in common is that they deflect the idea of reparations from the principle on which the idea rests to the practicalities of the issue. In so doing, they inadvertently make the case, at least to me, for the very thing they oppose. What not one of these objections admits is that the institution of transatlantic slavery was a crime against humanity of such magnitude that makes it nearly impossible for us to deal with even two centuries after the beginning of its abolition. What they all do, instead, is continue to perpetuate the crime that lies at the heart of the reparations movement: that the enslavement of Africans by Europeans in the process of founding the so-called "New" World depended upon the fundamental dehumanization of those enslaved, and was accompanied by the very different dehumanization of the enslavers which occurred in the process.What these objections do is focus on the people enslaved, on the practical difficulties in addressing the wrong, on the pragmatics of the issue, which affect so many things about our current existence that it is almost impossible to conceive of living any other way. What not one of them does is address the idea that the crime for which restitution is being sought is not a crime against the person; it is a crime against the very idea of humanity and the concept of human beings. And it does not address the idea that until we begin to think about reparations from this perspective, we will continue to commit that crime.In case I'm not making myself clear, let me say it this way.For me, reparations for the transatlantic exercise of slavery (which is the specific offence that is being addressed in the CARICOM lawsuit) are not being sought for some past wrong that ended two hundred years ago. They are being sought for the continued dehumanization of the people who were enslaved, the people who enslaved them, and the people (us) who have inherited the world that rose up to maintain the slave system. It is a world whose structures, certainly in The Bahamas, remain very much intact, thus giving life to, enabling, the narrative that suggests that the past can be buried. But the past is not yet dead. It lives on in the very discourse that we use to discuss--or to dismiss--the call for reparations, and it is this which needs healing.This meditation is only a beginning of an exploration of the topic, and the start of my personal attempt to make sense of the issue, and to explain why first, I support the call for reparations; why second, I am convinced that no amount of ridicule and dismissal will make the call for reparations disappear; why third, I am certain that the arguments being brought against the call will eventually dissolve and peter out, and why the call for reparations will swell until restitution is paid; and why last, I am convinced that one day reparations of some kind will be paid by European governments (or by the EU itself) for their part in the system of transatlantic slavery.If you doubt me, consider this move, initiated this past May in France, pushing Europe to do what it has already done: to declare slavery a crime against humanity. And consider the language that accompanied it:

Written declaration, under Rule 123 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, on establishing a European day in recognition of the victims of European colonisation and colonial slavery1
  1. European colonisation not only caused political submission and the economic plunder of the colonised territories and population, but also the extermination of native peoples and the deportation and reduction to slavery of millions;
  2. Under Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, enslavement is recognised as a crime against humanity;
  3. Colonisation had among its effects that of depriving the colonised territories of their lifeblood, impacting negatively on their development capacity;
  4. The political, economic, demographic and psychological consequences of European colonisation are still resonating;
  5. The Commission is hence called upon to support the establishment of a European day in recognition of the victims of European colonisation and colonial slavery;
  6. The Council is also encouraged to take ownership of the initiative by supporting it at European level;
  7. This declaration, together with the names of the signatories, is forwarded to the Council and the Commission.
It's a beginning. It is a small step, true, and principally symbolic, as it was accompanied by no restitution; but it is a turn in the direction of rightness.I'm going to return to this topic over the next month or so.You're warned.

Intellectual property, slavery & reparations

imageThis morning I spent three-plus hours in a workshop on intellectual property. I have to thank the Ministry of Financial Services for it, but the information that we received was sobering, frightening, even. The amount of traditional knowledge that is stolen from our region on a daily basis is staggering. And the legal situation is dismal; retroactive applications of legislation is difficult, almost impossible. Attempting to reclaim our knowledge on an individual basis appears futile.But there is one debt that the developed world, the former imperial world, owed our region that remains unpaid. It is a debt that may be unpayable, but that is none the less real. It is the debt for three hundred years of forced labour on which the developed world developed. And since 2007 disscussions about reparations for the enslavement of our ancestors are tentative.Perhaps, though, this is where our recourse for present situation lies. Reparations are owed. Our ancestors' sweat, their toil, their bladderwater, have yet to be paid for. The slaveowners received compensation for the loss of their "property" at emancipation, but the slaves and their ancestors have never been paid for the generations of their labour.Their labour should be paid for.Our traditional knowledge should be paid for.Is there a linkage between the two?Is it perhaps time we begin to collect everything that you owe me?

It's NaPoWriMo

and I have been writing a poem a day.For the last two days, the poems have been in commemoration of the iron lady, the Baronness Lady Thatcher, who ruled Britain during the time I lived there (and, of course, before that too). Others have given her kudos, and she has to be admired for her ability to transform her party and to transform her country and to do it all as a middle-class woman in the conservative party. These things made her great. But I remember apartheid, and I remember how she almost destroyed the British university system, and how she made Britain unwelcoming for British expatriates and overseas students alike, and I remember poll taxes and VAT and greedy millionaires and a general bleakness about the places I went in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a general unwelcomingness for people who were different, like people of different races or even, Maggie Thatcher and the Queen notwithstanding, like people who were not male. And I remember the fact that when I lived in Britain surveys of the British people revealed that the majority of them were planning to live somewhere else. And I remember the Falklands, as I remember Grenada, and I remember thinking how far the mighty empires had fallen, when greatness was sought by invading/fighting over small islands.So these are my limericks in commemoration of the Iron Lady.No, I was not a fan. But one couldn't help noticing how formidable she was.I call them Thatchericks.1.Dear Maggie detested all whiners,Hated unions, protestors, and signers.As they marched in the streetShe said "Shoot at their feet--And aim higher if any are miners!"2.An iron-boned woman named ThatcherResisted attempts to dispatch her;She glared as they triedAnd ignored those who cried;The truth was, nobody could match her.3."Like Maggie," said ex-Prez De Klerk,"We're sure global sanctions won't work."—But wait, Nelson's free,SA's gone ANC;Thatcher's stand's a historical quirk.4."Here's the thing," opined Nelson Mandela,"We all know I'm likable fella.Maggie Thatcher's just wrong:We can't all get along.And by jove, I'm the fella to tell her."=====================RIP Margaret Thatcher.

Thomas Quirk writes: The Cockburn Trial and Northern Jim Crow

In 1937 an important case involving the validity of racist deed covenants was heard at The New York State Supreme Court in White Plains. The case involved a lawsuit brought against Mrs. Pauline T. Cockburn by Mrs. Marion A. Ridgway of The Edgemont Hills neighborhood in Greenburgh, New York. According to a New York Times article 23 May 1937, Ridgway sued her neighbor Pauline T. Cockburn because she had violated a common deed covenant attached to neighborhood properties that stated “No part of said parcels shall ever be leased, sold, rented, conveyed or given to Negroes or any persons of the Negro race or blood, except that colored servants may be maintained on the premises.”

Pauline Cockburn had purchased the property on April 16th 1933. She and her husband Joshua built a $20,000 home there and moved in on December, 31st 1936. Marion Ridgway explained to the press that she thought she had purchased a home in a “very exclusive neighborhood.” Pauline Cockburn was reported by the Times to be “extremely light skinned“. She later testified in court that her mother was Italian and her father had some Negro blood.

The Cockburns had an excellent defense team. Arthur Garfield Hays of The American Civil Liberties Union was lead counsel and his assistant counsel was a young N.A.A.C.P. attorney named Thurgood Marshall. Their goal was to call into question the fact that the United States had no legal definition of what a Negro actually was.

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A little bit from the Bahamian diaspora

Bahamians in the recent past are not famous for leaving their homeland. We tend to think of ourselves as a nation who has to put up with immigrants, but which does not have to worry much about emigration.

This is certainly changing. While we are by no means able to compare ourselves with the diasporic tendencies of our Caribbean neighbours, young Bahamians are choosing more and more to emigrate to other lands. A lot of it has to do with a lack of opportunity at home, with a lack of space to be different, to be innovative, to be young. Let's admit it: our society stifles difference.

We tend to forget, though, that when we study our history, Bahamians have been migrants in the past. If we study the twentieth century alone, we will realize that Miami was built by Bahamians, Key West is the "Conch Republic" because it, too was settled by Abaconians and Eleutherians, and Bahamians travelled for work to Panama, Cuba, South Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

I was reminded forcefully of that just over two weeks ago, when I received the following email:

Dear Dr.Bethel,

My name is Tom Quirk. For the past few years I have been researching civil rights incidents in my old hometown of Scarsdale, New York. For the past few months, I have been researching the story of The Cockburn Trial, which took place in 1937.

I was wondering if there was any chance that you were related to Pauline Cockburn. Her maiden name was Bethel. Her father was named Ernest Bethel. Her husband was Joshua Cockburn, a ship's Master who was the first Captain on Marcus Garvey's Black Star Line ship The Yarmouth, which was rechristened The Frederick Douglass.

Whether you are or not related to Pauline Cockburn I have attached my most recent draft of my article in case you have time to read it. If you are too busy, sorry to bother you. I obtained your email from your blog.I am a high school teacher in Lexington, Massachusetts. I have posted three articles about civil rights incidents that occurred in or near my hometown between the years 1937-1963 on my website:


Tom Quirk

Now I've never heard of Pauline Bethel or Ernest Bethel, but I do know a little bit about Joshua Cockburn. He was, as Tom Quirk observes, one of the captains on Marcus Garvey's Black Star Line—though not, apparently, the best ally for Garvey to have. I was fascinated to know more about him (and about his wife too), so I corresponded with Tom Quirk.

It turns out that Tom has done considerable research into the Cockburns, who eventually emigrated to the USA, where they became residents of Scarsdale, New York. I offered to share that research on this blog. Watch this space.

For the Fiftieth

Just woke up.Let me backtrack. These holidays are my fiftieth: my fiftieth Christmas, my fiftieth new year's day celebrations. Not that I have much memory of the first of either (I have photographs of both, and a very fleeting series of memories of the former, which I know I spent in Delancy Street in the upstairs apartment that now belongs to my friend Leria McKenzie, and which involves the receipt of what was then a gigantic stuffed panda bear), but the numbers won't let me lie. They are my fiftieth.Christmas 1963, Delancy Street, NassauJust so people don't get confused: I was born in March 1963, which means that the Christmas season of 1963-4 was my first. Next spring I will be fifty, ten years and four months older than our nation. This, I realize, makes me an "elder" these days. I was on Clifford Park with numerous other Bahamians at midnight on July 10, 1973, which makes me part of the independence generation, part of that group who bears responsibility for building, or not building, this nation.This is a long way of saying that this New Year's Day I will be rushing, not reporting, judging, administering or studying Junkanoo. Let me be clear. I will be rushing hardcore scrap, as I have always done. This year, for the second or third time in my life, I will be rushing in newspaper. I have been told, though I do not agree, that to rush scrap is "disrespectful" to "real" groups. It's New Year's Day, however, and this is a parade that I regard as scrap's parade, that I regard as having been hijacked from ordinary people's participation for the love of Junkanoo and of music by the big groups (don't worry, I'm not going to fight about it). I am not rushing to be pretty; I hope at some point in the parade to sound good. And not, by the way, to expire before I make it back to where we started from.So happy new year all. This year will bring changes. New years always do. I wish blessings on all my friends, allies, colleagues and sparring partner. Have a good one.

Barack Obama's second term

I don't predict political results, because I don't like making mistakes, but I'm beginning to think that maybe I should. I knew in 2008 from the moment that he announced his presidency that Barack Obama would be a two-term president; I had a feeling in 2007 that the PLP was going to lose the election, and had a feeling as early as 2011 that the FNM was going to lose in 2012. I had a feeling that Obama was going to have a tighter race this time around, but had no doubt whatsoever he was going to win the election.It's not hope that makes me feel this way; it's something else. It's the sense that we live in a revolutionary time. Let me be up front here. I buy into the idea floated by Marshall McLuhan that the medium is the message, that modes of communication transform society. Reading his The Gutenberg Galaxy changed the way I thought about the world, and taught me to watch the way in which human beings communicate with one another to help to guess what kinds of decisions they are going to make.The world—not just my Bahamaland, not just the USA, but the world—is currently going through the greatest revolution in communications since the printing press. The digital revolution has changed the way in which information is shared and processed, and it has made the prediction of outcomes in any election unstable. Most political prediction machines are fundamentally anchored in the twentieth century and have not fully adjusted to the universe of social media, where conversations about politics are not limited by political party, national boundaries, or even ideological leanings. The world is talking to one another, ideas are flowing more freely than ever before, discussions are being held outside of the various centres of discussion, and individuals are making up their own minds. The expenditure of money is important, there is no doubt about it, but it is not the deciding factor in any democratic exercise. The deciding factor are the millions of conversations that are happening online, between people who may not be connected in any way beyond their phones, and these conversations are not yet being closely enough monitored to be able to make any decision on political outcomes.Beyond that, and perhaps in part because of this true spread of democracy (as opposed to the pretend spread of it as touted by the USA)—the ability, finally, for individual citizens to make their own contributions, through places like FaceBook and Twitter, to make their opinions known—the ideological temperature of the world is swinging to the left. I don't find this surprising, given the erosion of social and economic landscapes for the ordinary person around the world, and given the fact that it is pretty accepted by the global community that the current so-called recession is the culmination of years excessive right-wing economic policies.The other thing that I find notable is the demographic of the social media universe: it's younger, more diverse, and more radical than the mainstream media. It looks more to me like the faces that are appearing in the shots of the various crowds gathering at Democratic Headquarters across the USA than it resembles the faces gathered in the Republican ones. It is this situation that led, I believe, to the election of the first African-American president of the United States of American in 2008. It's this that led to his re-election this year, which, despite the noises being made by the non-conceding Republican party, is pretty well a given. And it's what's underpinned what I read as a general swinging of the world and the default of ideology to the left, from the far, far right.So I haven't been surprised at all by recent election outcomes. I haven't been looking for people to hold onto their seats, or for governments to change; I've been looking for a swing to the left in every case. And that's what I've seen; and that's what I expect to continue to see for years to come. For me, that's no bad thing.

Sidney Poitier, Independence, and respect for Bahamian artists

I have been involved in the performing arts, and specifically in theatre, in The Bahamas for over thirty years. Like many in my generation, my involvement began as I entered high school, continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s and blossomed in the 21st century. For all of that time, my mentors were great Bahamians who, sometimes at considerable personal sacrifice, had committed themselves not only to their own personal development in the arts, but to sharing their skills and training generations of Bahamians who came after them.Four names come immediately to mind:

  • Winston V. Saunders, playwright, actor, director, producer, whose leadership of the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts between 1975 and 1998 laid the foundation for what has more recently been called the “golden age” of Bahamian theatre, establishing a regular Repertory Season, and allowing for the production of some forty original Bahamian plays;
  • Philip A. Burrows, actor, director, and Artistic Director of the Dundas Repertory Season from 1981-1997, whose training and expertise not only assisted Winston Saunders’ vision for the development of Bahamian theatre, but who made international standards of production and performance synonymous with Bahamian standards, and who trained, both through workshops and through working with actors in productions, scores of Bahamian actors in the craft of theatre;
  • Cleophas Adderley, composer, singer, director, whose musical genius has inspired, challenged and strengthened all of us who have heard or performed his work, known now as the director of the National Youth Choir of The Bahamas, but perhaps most famous for being the composer of the first classical grand opera in the English-Speaking Caribbean;
  • E. Clement Bethel, pianist, composer, teacher, Director of Cultural Affairs, and my father, who gave up fame and fortune as a internationally-acclaimed concert pianist to return to the Bahamas to make his own contribution to the recognition and development of Bahamian music and arts, and who taught thousands of young Bahamians about themselves and their culture as a result.

Sidney Poitier was not one of those individuals. Nor did he, like his fellow Bahamians in Hollywood, Calvin Lockhart and Cedric Scott, come home and give of his talent, expertise and skill to help develop those of us who were working in theatre in The Bahamas. There were times when we felt that he did not respect our continuing struggles, that he had shaken the Bahamian dust off his feet, and had turned his back on us altogether. The reason I understand the betrayal being expressed by many who are now working in the performing arts at the decision to establish something in his honour is that I too felt betrayed by him.And yet I support the idea that The Bahamas should honour him in some tangible, long-lasting fashion.I've thought about this long and hard, and have argued about it long and hard, long before this most recent controversy about Sidney Poitier's worthiness to be honoured. There was a time when I was like those people who opposed the awarding of honours to Sidney Poitier; what did he do for us? I wondered. What did he give to us? In meetings of the National Cultural Development Commission, when that body existed between 2002 and 2007, the same discussions that are being had in public in social media were held as we hammered out the National Heroes and Honours Bills; these questions were raised and discussed, with some of the members of that body, Bahamian icons in their own right, coming down on one side of the issue, some coming down on the other. (Both of those Bills were, to the best of my knowledge, presented in the House of Assembly in 2007 but which, for reasons presumably connected to the change of government in May of that year, are not functionally laws today. Perhaps they were not passed. Perhaps they were not ratified. No one seems to know.)I don't remember when or how my mind was changed; I don't think that it happened all at once. I do remember a moment, though, when, sitting in one of the symposia that accompanied the first Sidney Poitier Film Festival at the College of The Bahamas, I listened to an American academic who made a set of simple and clear points that I had never thought of before. Sidney Poitier changed the world for Black people in the 1950s. And he did it because he was from Cat Island. He did it because he was Bahamian.I don't feel the need to go through all the details that were given in that presentation. I'll just say it very simply. Until Poitier appeared on screen, the image of the black man that was circumnavigating the world was that of a shuffling, forelock-touching, yes-massa, servile sort of person, or else it was that of the cannibalistic savage dancing in a grass skirt around a fire, shaking a rattle and salivating at the thought of cooking up some prime white meat. There were some exceptions, like Paul Robeson in the 1936 film of Show Boat, but they were circumscribed by things that made them safe; Robeson's character Joe was, for all his strength and gravity, softened by the fact that he burst into song. Sidney Poitier didn't sing. He didn't take roles that made him out to be anything less than a man who deserved—and demanded—respect. Few black men, if any, spoke in Standard English on the silver screen. Poitier spoke English better than most Americans did. He looked into the camera, and dared you to call him "nigger" or "boy", and did it by using the dignity Cat Island instilled in him and not by inspiring fear.If that were all that Sidney Poitier did, I'd say that it would be appropriate for the land that raised him (and the land that he would also have been born in, if he hadn't arrived prematurely on that Miami trip) to honour him in some tangible and meaningful way. But I've learned that it wasn't all that he did. We tend to judge people's contributions to the nation by their notoriety, by their fame, and those people who simply do what they know to be right without looking for recognition seem to disappear into oblivion, while people who make a big fuss about their actions are placed on pedestals. Suffice to say that I'm convinced that Poitier has contributed, generously, to our nation through his support, financial and otherwise, of individual Bahamians.That said, I want to return to where I began—with reference to those people who mentored me in the performing arts. In all the discussion about why Poitier should or shouldn't be honoured and who should be honoured instead, I have not heard much mention of any of them. I wonder why. Like Poitier, they have all dedicated themselves to their craft, and have worked to make sure that whatever they produced was the best that they could possibly deliver. They didn't limit themselves by what they thought the Bahamian public would like or understand; instead, they pushed the envelope, tried different things, and inspired Bahamians to think differently about themselves, to dream better, to go further, to be better. They inspired me to do that. They taught the people they worked with to do it. They never thought that being Bahamian meant being second-rate at anything; the standard they upheld was universal and excellent. And yet their names are not called. Neither are the names of many others who worked, and work, according to the same criteria. I wonder why.So I am left, in all our discussion of respect for Bahamian artists, with the question of what it is we are respecting, and why. Is excellence one of our criteria? Is popularity? Is our discussion informed by a real appreciation for the work of all Bahamian artists, or only of those we know, recognize and support? Are we reasoning our way to our list of proposed honourees, or are we acting out of emotion? Are we seeking to rectify omissions of the past, or paving a pathway to the future?I don't know the answer to these questions. But I do know that now we have begun the discussion with Sidney Poitier we need to hold the discussion in earnest. And we have to hold it in the way I ask my students to write their papers—by establishing criteria and goals, by doing the research, by presenting the evidence, and by making our cases. And we have to do it as a nation, collectively, as a citizenry who know and articulate who and what it is we would like to be. By now it should be clear that we cannot leave it to others; we need to do it ourselves.

Nikki Giovanni writes: Politicizing black hair -

We all still have a long way to go. I've highlighted what I think is most critical about this point; I've made it bold below.

What’s particular to me in this narrative about blackness and beauty is the rather uncomfortable admission that we are overly concerned by how the world (white people) sees us and our own internalized narrative of the meaning of kinky, curly, (nappy) hair. Our hair comes in all textures and types. The resources and community support that are available to us today were absent in my earliest journey of ‘transitioning‘. Yet, we’re still policing each other on how to be and be seen. Solange Knowles has also had her share in engaging the hair policing this summer, took to twitter to hush her critics for calling her hair ‘unkempt’ and ‘dry as heck’. Key word: ‘unkempt’. The socialization around black women and our naturally curly hair centers around a perception that I have assume stems from our tortured racial history, that our hair, wild, tightly curled, textured hair means something that is ‘bad’, ‘unruly’, ‘uncivlized’ and ‘rebellious’. The legacy of language in this context sadly echoes more race talk but within our own community. ‘Unkempt’ is this context is another way to say ‘uncivilized’.via Politicizing black hair -

Go read the whole thing.

The Aurora Movie Theatre Shooting and American Gun Culture : The New Yorker

And here, in the Bahamas, some of us discuss, seriously, that Bahamians should be allowed to carry handguns. We happen to live in that part of the world which was founded on the concept that it is some people's god-given right to sail across an ocean, map out other people's lands, eradicate those people, resettle those lands, import other people, and make fortunes out of the process.We are the broken men and women who are struggling to create civilizations out of that history. But we cannot, because we were created out of a philosophy that sees human life not as something sacred, but as something expendable—something that is less important than profit, or than massacre. The genocide and enslavement on which the "New" world was founded have left a legacy in which massacre is enacted again and again, and presented to the world as freedom.And here in The Bahamas, we believe that nonsense. We believe that true freedom consists of the right to kill other people. We believe that some people are "bad" and others are "good" and the "good" people have the right to arm themselves and eradicate the "bad" people. We ourselves are always the "good" people. Who, then, are "bad"?

Every country has, along with its core civilities and traditions, some kind of inner madness, a belief so irrational that even death and destruction cannot alter it. In Europe not long ago it was the belief that “honor” of the nation was so important that any insult to it had to be avenged by millions of lives. In America, it has been, for so long now, the belief that guns designed to kill people indifferently and in great numbers can be widely available and not have it end with people being killed, indifferently and in great numbers. The argument has gotten dully repetitive: How does one argue with someone convinced that the routine massacre of our children is the price we must pay for our freedom to have guns, or rather to have guns that make us feel free? You can only shake your head and maybe cry a little. “Gun Crazy” is the title of one the best films about the American romance with violence. And gun-crazy we remain.via The Aurora Movie Theatre Shooting and American Gun Culture : The New Yorker.

Predicting the 2012 General Election: Third parties & other things

Been following some of the predictions re the upcoming elections. (There are others too: here, here and here.) Not closely, you understand, because I just don't have that much time in my life (and I've been doing other, really exciting and constructive things), but occasionally, with some interest, because this is the most fascinating election period that has occurred in a long, long time, and because every prediction out there has to contend with a new, unfamiliar curve ball: the rise of the third party movement.Note I didn't say the DNA. That's because the Democratic National Alliance is just capitalising on something that has changed in the country, something that I believe is going to continue to grow, even if the two-party acolytes succeed in killing the DNA off. It's the fact that the split between two major parties in The Bahamas has developed almost by default. Its roots are in that most ancient and powerful division in our nation: the centuries-long categorisation of Bahamians of colour as "natives" (white Bahamians were "residents") whose purpose was to serve their betters—not to lead. The FNM-PLP split, for better or for worse, is buried in this dichotomy, and for decades one could fairly safely assume that PLP supporters tended towards the privileging of black Bahamians, while FNM supporters advocated the One Bahamas movement (by which I mean the recognition that Bahamian and black are not necessarily synonymous). As a result, anyone who has voted in two or more elections should recall that no election season till this one has been allowed to pass without the invocation of race—whether from rally platforms, in letters to the editor, or by reference to the American TV miniseries Roots.The third party movement has queered that pitch. The 2012 election is historic in any number of ways, but one of the most significant is that I have not noticed any real reference to race in the campaigns. In fact, it would appear from the images being projected by the Afrocentric PLP, in posters, the Mandate, videos and ads, that white Bahamians are embraced and included, and that it is no longer possible to assign PLP-ness to black Bahamians and FNM-ness to white. The simple fact is that race is no longer a major issue for most Bahamians. I am not saying that it is no longer relevant in our society; what I am suggesting that it is no longer a primary determinant of one's ability to succeed in The Bahamas. And because of that, the principles on which both the FNM and the PLP were founded are growing obsolete, and both parties have for some time been losing their "base".This is a trend that started to show in 2002, when no less than 4 independents sat in the House of Assembly. Some people might disagree with me, arguing that the resounding defeat of the CDR at the polls in that year, and the continuing trouncing of the BDM to boot, challenge  my position. They may well be right, but I would argue that by 2002, the transformation of the Bahamian society that was begun under the PLP and continued by the FNM had resulted in a society where the largely uncontested foundations of the FNM and the PLP were being eroded, a place where one did not necessarily need a political party to give one legitimacy, a place where ideas rather than tribe began to matter. Never mind that the independents that sat in the HOA between 2002 and 2007 were there because, for the most part, they ran unopposed by one of the other of the parties (Wells, Cartwright, & Dupuch were unopposed by the PLP; I can't remember whether Bastian won hands down despite going up against FNM and PLP or not); I suggest that the facts that they sat in the House of Assembly as men beholden to no one but their constituents, and that they were watched representing those constituents, and appeared to vote with their consciences for the most part, were not incidental to the growth of the faith in the third-party movement that we are witnessing in 2012.(I also have very little doubt that, had the CDR weathered their defeat in 2002, regrouped, continued to develop their platform, and continued to work on their base, they would be a very real contender in this election, and would have attracted far more of the mature disaffected voters than the DNA has been able to do after one short year; we might be looking at quite a different situation today. But you know what they say about hindsight, and I digress.)But there's something else that's important here, and something else that the pundits appear to have overlooked. The greatest obstacle to the ability of a third party to gain traction among Bahamian voters was its ability to get its message out. Until the by-election in Elizabeth in 2010, third parties needed considerable sums of money simply to make their voices heard. The advent of Facebook and Twitter, however, has changed the ground completely. As has been observed elsewhere, much of what has enabled the green wave to continue to gather has been the presence of third-party candidates on the internet, their activity, their accessibility, and their willingness to engage in dialogue with potential voters. This is quite different from the traditional Voice-of-God politics that the older parties continue to practise. And while the DNA has capitalized on this change in the past 12 months or so, the real success story of this shift was the short-lived NDP.Think about it. The NDP did not only use Facebook as a means to spread its message; the message it spread was also a reflection of the ethos that prevails on social media. The principal tenets of the new party included a real focus on the constituents of Elizabeth, and—remarkably—a new approach to the selection of candidates. Instead of the traditional system of delegates nominating and ratifying candidates behind closed doors without the knowledge or input of the citizens those candidates were supposed to serve, the NDP advocated a more open process, in which hopefuls would present themselves to the voters, and the voters would indicate who they wanted to represent them. Furthermore, the NDP campaign on Facebook was remarkable and ground-changing, as it addressed issues in ways that enabled citizens to review them, think about them, and become involved in them. (Read a full account of the rise and fall of the NDP here.) I would argue that much of that energy was shifted to support for the DNA. What has happened is that, although the principals of the third-party movement have melted away, amalgamated with more established parties, or otherwise disappeared, the general interest of the voters, the hunger of Bahamian citizens for something different, has not abated. Rather, it has built, and the existence of the DNA has allowed it to be fed.Because of that, I think this election is too close to call. I believe anything could happen when the results start coming in an hour from now. Anything. A landslide victory for the FNM, say with the 4 x 7 sum of 28 seats? Sure. A landslide victory for the PLP, with the same numbers? Definitely. A split house, with (say) a tie between the FNM and the PLP, with the DNA holding the balance? Possible. A minority or coalition government, with the DNA calling the shots? Even that.The point is, we just don't know. There's a lot of conventional wisdom floating around, and it's on this conventional wisdom that the political parties have all based their strategies. It's on this conventional wisdom that the big guns—from the Prime Minister and the Boundaries Commission to the invocation of the traditional Saint-FNM/Demon-PLP narratives to the outrageous claims of The Punch and Bahamas Press—have drawn to build another issueless, diss-the-citizen campaign. If I can sum it up, it goes something like this: The base needs to be fed, because you have to be sure they vote. So feed them with trash-talk, sound-bytes, snippets of carefully pruned information, and exciting political gatherings where people gather together wearing the right-coloured shirt so that some photographer can take their picture and post it on Facebook to make the other side scared. As one earnest  political candidate actually told me: the people don't want meat; what they like is gravy. Keep them entertained and fed and well-supplied with liquor, trash-talk, insult-trading and dancing you'll get their vote.It's on this conventional wisdom, too, that many of the pundits are basing their predictions. Now maybe they're right, and the election will be as predictable as they hope; maybe the careful redrawing of the boundary lines, the glad-handing of shirts and caps and wads of cash, and the Junkanoo-competition rallies will do the trick. But I have my doubts.Why ? Because the last election was the closest in modern Bahamian history, with an initial outcome of only five seats separating the government and the opposition in the House of Assembly, meaning the balance of power was three seats alone (which three, incidentally, might have been held by the former CDR if the members had so chosen). That election was won by a margin of 2%—a margin that is fundamentally affected by the so-called "swing voters", those of us who think about how and why we cast our X, who are not predictable, who consult our consciences, who watch the price of the fish. Yes, we do exist. And the third party has attracted many of us.So don't sleep on the DNA, even if they do not win one seat. The outcome of this election will depend on them. And I have no intention whatsoever of attempting to guess what that outcome will be.We'll just have to wait and see.

On the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen

One of the reasons I am unmoved by either any of the current political parties' manifesti, plans or proposals, is that I have the pleasure of teaching new groups of young Bahamians every year. This is a pleasure, because they are far more open and interested than they have any right to be, given the abysmal neglect of their generation and those immediately preceding them by the governments of our nation; but it is also a scandal. They know so very little about their country, themselves, and the world they are expected to navigate.We came into our own as a nation in 1973, almost 40 years ago. The generations that straddled that watershed were erudite, educated, aware of the world and our place in it, bent on changing the world they had grown up in, and educated to do so. The generations that they produced, by contrast, are none of those things. There are of course pockets of erudition, handfuls of individuals who can be considered "educated" in the democratic sense of the term, but these are not common. They are usually the products of families for whom The Bahamas matters, who may have earned a critical place in Bahamian history, who invest in education for themselves and their children, not because of what they perceive that education might earn them but for its own sake. More damningly, they are all too often also the graduates of private schools, hailing from the middle class or the upper middle class, children of privilege. Ironically, our self-rule and our independence, bought at some cost by people for whom education was by no means a given, to whom education was prohibited, has created a society in which the so-called "universal" education has bred a population whose ignorance is legion.As I tell my students, I don't blame them for reaching voting age without knowing anything important about themselves or their country. I can't; the fault is not theirs. But as I also tell them, I will blame them henceforth (to invoke the one-word motto of my alma mater) if they maintain that ignorance now that they know they possess it. That it should proliferate after a generation of Bahamian scholars, all of them investing their time, money, and energy into writing our stories, in penning our histories, in telling tales about us, is an indictment on every single government of The Bahamas since independence.But even that indictment cannot be evenly spread. Different administrations bear different kinds of guilt. The first Progressive Liberal Party administrations must shoulder the responsibility for skewing our history, for telling only part of it, for erasing whole chunks of Bahamian life and experience from the spoken record. Even given the fact that there is something understandable in the fact that the first decade of community building in the wake of majority rule was given over to the Black Bahamian experience, the continuation of that bias into the third decade after Majority Rule is unconscionable, given the fact that The Bahamas was the site of not one but two important republics in the New World, and a site of a very ancient, if politically skewed, democracy. The myth created out of the PLP rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s was that Black Bahamians had no vote and no voice in the pre-PLP era. The result of this half-truth is that young Black Bahamians were never made aware of the role of free African settlers in the Eleutherian Republic—the second republic in the new world—or of the Pirates' Republic of the end of the seventeenth century, which, though branded as lawless and rebellious by a Britain intent on global conquest, was also multi-racial and strangely democratic. The other result of this half-truth is that successive generations of Black Bahamians were created who had, and have, no comprehension of the actual composition of the Bahamian population, who take fair-skinned Bahamians of colour for the "whites" who controlled the nation in the past, and who take actual white Bahamians of ancient pedigree for tourists; and this serves to disenfranchise otherwise productive Bahamian citizens, to render them invisible, to remove from them a real stake in the fortunes of the nation.The first Free National Movement administrations, on the other hand, must bear a different responsibility. Perhaps coincidentally, the change of government from PLP to FNM occurred in the same year as the complete phasing-out of General Certificate of Education, the international school-leaving qualification previously earned by Bahamian students. The creation of the BGCSE was not the doing of the FNM, but the way in which it was administered must be. It is on the doorstep of the FNM that we must lay the blame for the continued miseducation of Bahamians. The miseducation of Bahamians with regard to the Bahamian citizenry and the place of whites within the Bahamas was addressed, but was done so as destructively as the miseducation of Bahamians under the PLP had been done. Instead of increasing the knowledge of young Bahamians about their nation and the world within which it existed, a choice was made to decrease that knowledge. History was not only made an optional subject, but even the origins of the Bahamian nation itself were concealed. It is impossible to recount the story of the rise of universal democracy in The Bahamas without privileging the role of the PLP; and so the history of the post-independence Bahamas was not taught at all. It is impossible to talk about slavery without acknowledging the oppression of Africans by Europeans; and so the history of Bahamian enslavement was not taught at all. By erasing critical eras of Bahamian history, by valourizing pre-1967 heroes such as Stafford Sands and Roland Symonette, or by recognizing (belatedly) other pre-independence heroes such as Cecil Wallace-Whitfield,  the first two FNM administrations effectively blotted out the story of the Bahamas that obtained between 1967/73 and 1992.I am told—I wasn't there, but have no reason to doubt the source—that during the 1990s, attempts to address living Bahamian history were actively discouraged by serving educators. I am thinking about an incident recounted by a colleague of mine, who told of a time when he stood up to make some reference to the days of Black Bahamian oppression at a school assembly where he was a guest speaker, only to be rebuked by the head teacher, who told him that teaching young Bahamians about the past would encourage racism against white people. That helps to explain the huge gaps in the knowledge of the students I teach today, some twenty years after that most recent active erasure of our selves. These are students who have heard of Martin Luther King, of Malcolm X, of Barack Obama, but who have no idea of who Lynden Pindling and Milo Butler and Cecil Wallace-Whitfield were, much less having even heard of other great Bahamians like Randol Fawkes, Etienne Dupuch, or Roland Symonette. They do not know what was suffered to give them free access to education, or what it means to be able to earn a college degree. They have barely heard of apartheid, the Holocaust, or colonialism. They do not know that the red, white and blue they associate with the Stars and Stripes were also once the colours of the Bahamian colony, not because of our American proximity, but because of our annexure to Britain. They have never heard of the Haitian Revolution, or know that Haiti was the first and the only successful ex-slave republic anywhere in the world. They do not know that, when he was released from prison and knew that victory for native South Africans was assured, Nelson Mandela came to The Bahamas to study the way in which we had achieved majority rule without bloodshed and created a successful society in its wake. They do not know who Nelson Mandela is. They do not know, and yet they are expected to become full citizens of this African-influenced, slave-shaped, postcolonial nation. The idea is absurd.And so I regard the incoherencies that pass for election rhetoric with a sense of disgust. These people who are now on their game, who are engaged in the grotesque performance that passes for "democracy" in the voting nations of the late capitalist era, are either complicit in the creation of the mass ignorance of the voters, or they are the products of the skew-eyed histories that have shaped our existence since independence. How can anyone who believes in democracy as the expression of the will of a people, support any set of politicians who have so completely seen to the erasure of the kind of knowledge that best informs that will? How can one, with good conscience, cast a vote in this climate? Why should I care about the leaders of the parties, when I know that they will all come out the same in the wash—blustery, misinformed/misinforming, irresponsible?Somebody tell me why.

On Postcolonial Wretchedness

A week ago, as those of you who follow my Twittter feed may remember, the College of The Bahamas hosted a one-day symposium in honour of Frantz Fanon, the Martinican psychiatrist whose field of study was the psyche of the colonized. Now Fanon's books were on my parents' bookshelves long before I realized their significance; I particularly remember a tattered (and ttherefore well-read) copy of Black Skin, White Masks hanging around. But I didn't read Fanon until my university days. But when I got hold of The Wretched of the Earth I didn't put it down. Its words, then 25 years after they were written, rang so true I couldn't. How much more true they seem now for me, sitting in my so-called independent postcolonial country, feeling called upon to justify the value, nearly forty years after we got the political trappings of statehood, of a single university.The justification, if, absurdly, one must make it, is something for another day. Today I am thinking about the value of democracy, of statehood, of the wretchedness of postcolonialism. I'm thinking, too, as much as Fanon's words and ideas have stayed with me, having seeped into my subconscious and shaped my worldview from my twenties until now, that it's a good time to go back and reread them. To do so will solve all mysteries. They will go some way to explain why our society has become so violent so quickly; they will help us to understand the fundamental absurdities of our public institutions -- why, for instance, the taxpayers almost never get back from their government what they put in, why the humanity and the spirit of the Bahamian citizen is never nurtured by public institutions, why to find the funding (which has been given, often by private Bahamian donors, for this very purpose) to conduct research through the College of The Bahamas into areas which could help us at least understand what is happening in our society is so extraordinarily difficult. Why it took so long, for instance, for the funding to be released for the Fanon Symposium itself, even after it had been approved and some of those funds had been independently solicited. Why institutions that have been established ostensibly to serve the Bahamian public are allowed to operate in disrepair, even though the Bahamian public pays to use them -- the joke of the so-called National Centre for the Performing Arts comes to mind, whose roof has been leaking since Frances and Jeanne but for which no line item to effect repairs explicitly on it. Why we waste 2 million dollars a year putting on Junkanoo parades but invest nothing whatsoever in the preservation of costumes, the official transfer of skills from elders to youth, the teaching of Junkanoo history, or anything else that can take root and grow. Why we think that a white skin and a northern accent are qualifications in themselves, but dredge up spurious personal experiences to block the advancement of a Bahamian whose qualifications, experience and understanding of our nation are superior. These are pathologies, and Fanon, the Martinican psychiatrist, has named them and prescribed their treatment. We would do well to (re)read his works, fifty years on.

Global Financial Crisis Highlights the Threat to Liberal Democracy’s Survival | The Jakarta Globe

A commentary well worth reading in full. I've been thinking along these lines for some time--not with regard to the democracy part so much but certainly with regard to the conflation of liberal democracy with free-market capitalism, and thinking, as these commentators are saying, that it is coming to an end.I am not so sure, though, that the linking of democracy with capitalism isn't too easy still, and that would be my critique of the whole article. I think that democracy can--and probably should--exist beyond/without capitalism (capitalism is proving to be vaguely compatible with communism at this moment, go China, who knew?) and expect it to continue to develop. But one thing's sure--we are living in an age of change.But enough from me. Go read this commentary.

Contemporary liberal democracy developed in Western Europe in tandem with industrialization. Indeed, social democrats and the trade union movement played a crucial role in agitating for universal suffrage, initially only for men, removing the earlier requirement of property ownership.But beyond the issue of voting, the economic and social transformations of the Industrial Revolution underpinned the development of the welfare state, which provided social insurance against the vagaries of capitalism and attempted to mitigate the latter’s inequalities.The welfare state’s emergence was also promoted by the communist revolution in Russia and the Great Depression that engulfed the world in the 1930s. With millions out of work, leftist ideologies gained ground — even in that bastion of individualism, the United States.In most Western states, the way out of the Great Depression involved not only countercyclical spending, but a political accommodation between labor and capital, manifested in the political arena of the two-party system — one party for labor and another for capital.Yet a strange thing happened around three decades ago, with serious challenges emerging to the capital and labor accommodation. The arrival of neoliberalism — the ideology that replaced Keynesianism with the idea that society should be organized along competitive market lines — rose up in the 1970s and early ’80s, ostensibly to counter declining rates of profit in key capitalist countries.via Global Financial Crisis Highlights the Threat to Liberal Democracy’s Survival | The Jakarta Globe.

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.

Emancipation, or What's so awful about being the way God made me?

The bondage of freedom

A group of 90 leading academics, authors, journalists and human rights activists from around the world has called on France to repay the 17 billion euros £14bn “extorted” from Haiti in the 19th Century. In 1825 France demanded 150 million gold francs in compensation after the Haitian Revolution, through which the country gained independence.via Repeating Islands.

Well now.On the surface, there is not much to argue with here. The idea is interesting, arresting even, and exciting, given the names of the signatories, who include

American linguist Noam Chomsky, French philosopher Étienne Balibar, and the Euro MPs Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Eva Joly.

Here's the question, though. To whom would this payment go, and how would it be remitted? Simply erasing the debt is not enough; there is also the long-term damage done to the core fabric of Haitian democratic society that resulted from the isolation of Haiti that occurred over the century following the revolution, not to mention the complete lack of national infrastructure in the country even today (a lack that the American occupation of the first decades of the twentieth century, an occupation that could be read as America's own imperialism, did not rectify). This is worth a whole lot more thought. Discussion and thought.But worth considering nevertheless.

Woo-hoo! I'm in the Caribbean Review of Books!

What's the big deal?Well, if you have to ask, you haven't been seen the CRB. And you really don't have any excuse; I've blogged about it, twice (or more). It's not just that I finally finished the review that Nicholas invited me to do lo these many months ago. It's also that I'm really stoked about who's in the CRB today with me: Mark Dow, who's got publication credits up the wazoo, the kind of credits that you have to don sunglasses to read.And it's a review of Sidney Mintz's work, which makes me proud. Mintz made my anthropology -- and my thought, and my national and regional pride too -- what they are today.So go on over and check it out. And while you're at it, spend some time on the site. It's worth it.

Please. Don’t Call Me White.

It's become fashionable for youngish Bahamians (people in the mid-30s range or so -- people born since Independence, that is) to call individuals whose skins are cork-brown, tawny, biscuit brown, tan, paper bag brown, teabag, beige, coconut bark, gumelemi, tamarind, mango, eggshell, café-au-lait, milky tea, carnation, condensed milk, or thereabouts "white". To be a "white" Bahamian, it seems, one has to be only slightly paler than the perceived "norm"; if your skin has sunset or sunrise tones, if your eyes are green or copper or amber or grey (or not), if your hair is curly or crimpy, or if it has a brown or gold-ish cast, or if it can get long on its own without external aids, you will be labelled "white".Well that's all very well and good, but it's not particularly accurate or helpful in the national context. Bahamian history, which is not taught in schools with any reliability or coherence, and so which the average young citizen picks up on the fly, from conversations and snippets of information only partially digested, particularly the most recent political history, is all about black and white. Race is part and parcel of our politics, our economics, and our collective psyche. But the "race" that has historical significance and the "race" that we appear to practice today are two very different animals indeed.If, for instance, young Bahamians imagine that they can take their twenty-first century notions of black and white and translate them into what they may one day read about the history of this nation, they will never fully understand their country and its rich and difficult past. If they imagine that I am a white Bahamian, or that a person with light brown skin and curly hair is a white Bahamian, or that a person with one white parent, or a person with a "white" name is a white Bahamian, they will miss the significance of Majority Rule, of Independence, of the psychic power of the Progressive Liberal Party and the origins of the great divide between FNM and PLP. They will not understand the revolutionary importance of August 19, 1992 or the magnitude of the fact that this year, National Pride seemed to be a movement that started from the street, on Facebook and all Bahamians seem pleased to identify themselves with the colours of black, aquamarine and gold at this time of year. They will not comprehend the One Bahamas experiment of the 1990s, nor will they understand that, at least on the surface, that experiment has finally succeeded in 2010. And they will not understand, fundamentally, the challenge, the strength, and the revolutionary significance that being a product of the Caribbean (which, all protestations to the contrary, we Bahamians are) can bring to this 21st century, globalized world. Their concept of "race" erases both our history and its power.Here's the reality of the situation. The Bahamas, along with Bermuda and Barbados, was one of the handful of British West Indian colonial territories to include among its population a sizeable number of settlers of European descent. We are not talking, as many younger Bahamians appear these days to believe, about of people of mixed African and European heritage who appear to be white; we are talking about European settlers of the same kind as the people who settled the Thirteen Colonies of the United States. In the "Three Bs" of the British West Indian colonies, as on the American mainland, white settlers moved to Bermuda, Barbados, and The Bahamas with a view to creating societies of their own. Change came in the end to Barbados, where sugar eventually took over as the mainstay of economic activity, and the society took on the characteristics of a full plantation society; but in The Bahamas, as in Bermuda, the plantation system never thrived.For the first 150 years of Bahamian settlement, therefore, African slaves composed a minority of the population. Young Bahamians learn about this period most fully, it would appear, in their history classes; when I grill my college students on our histories they seem only able to recall piracy and the Lucayans. It is this period of history that they are considering -- the period from the earliest European settlement, in 1647, to the wake of the American revolution in the 1780s, which proved revolutionary for the entire Caribbean basin. But it's not a period with which most of today's Bahamians will have any actual connection through descent or otherwise, as during this time the population of African-descended peoples never exceeded the population of European descent. For those of us who believe that true-true Bahamians are, or must be black, the reality of the first 150 years of Bahamian settlement may provide a subtle shock. For that period, the demographics show that in fact The Bahamas was primarily a white colony, and not a slave-holding one.Let me give you some idea. In 1670, the Eleutherian Adventurers were two-thirds European, and most of the non-white settlers were free people rather than slaves. In 1722, the population of African descent stood at 28% of the overall Bahamian total, the remaining 72% of the population being of European stock. Moreover, of the 28% of the Africans, many were free; thus the total of the enslaved population was remarkably low. By 1731, the black population had increased, thanks to the importation of slaves by Governor Phenney, to 32% of the overall population. The society and culture of The Bahamas at that time, therefore, must have resembled those of many of the Thirteen Colonies: with a sizeable European majority and a minority of people of non-white origin.In a land without major plantations, slaves were used as household servants, boat crews, skilled labourers, and manual workers on the construction of homes and the like, and large numbers were not required by the Bahamian settlers. What was most interesting about the free population, though, was that it was not all white. There were a number of black and mulatto free settlers as well, and many of them were people of social and economic substance. Several, indeed, owned their own slaves.By the 1770s, the investment of Europeans economically and culturally in the institution of slavery, and the normalizing of the idea of the right of Europeans to enslave Africans and people of other "races", had led to a shift in Bahamian demographics, so that the population was divided equally between whites and non-whites. However, this change in designation might have been the result of new laws that had been passed defining who was white and who was not as well as evidence of a real increase in the non-white population. Even at this time, the overall percentage of slaves in the population was still a minority. Many of the non-whites -- Michael Craton and Gail Saunders 1 estimate up to 20 per cent of the total population -- were free people "of colour", people of African descent who were not slaves, or free people of mixed African and European heritage.Towards the end of the century, when skin colour and origin had been transformed from aesthetic and cultural differentiators into  markers of a natural right of some people to assume dominance over others, this free coloured population were causing some confusion in the appropriate social hierarchy. Two laws were passed with particular significance to the resolving of this confusion.The first was an Act in 1756 whose purpose was to define who was a "white" Bahamian and who was a person of colour. According to this law, only those persons who were "above Three Degrees removed in a lineal descent from the Negro Ancestor" could be called white. In other words, everyone who had a single parent, grandparent or great-grandparent of African descent was classified as not white, no matter what they looked like or how much money or education they might have. Despite appearance, custom, or connection to white families (as many people of mixed descent were the cousins or "outside" family of people of white Bahamians), these free people of colour were defined by this law as second-class citizens, and prohibited from sharing in "all the Privileges and Immunities of His Majesty's White Subjects".2The second was an Act, passed in 1767 and amended in 1768, "For the governing of Negroes, Mulattoes and Indians". This Act governed not only the activities of slaves, determining what they could do and how they could be punished -- and for what -- but it also limited very specifically what "Privileges and Immunities" were available to free people of colour. Of particular interest was the fact that the punishments prescribed for slaves offering violence to white Bahamians were exactly the same for those free people who were not white. To be precise, these punishments consisted of:3

  • first offence: public whipping
  • second offence: mutilation -- the slitting of the nose, the cutting off of the ears, or the branding of the face
  • third offence: execution

The only difference between the punishments given to a slave and a free person of colour were that free coloured settlers had the right to be tried in open court, presumably with legal representation before they were sentenced (and presumably they had the right of appeal), while slaves did not have that right; slaves who were guilty of giving offence to whites were to be presented to a special tribunal of five people, two justices of the peace and three freeholders. In addition, a free person could be fined £15 instead of being whipped.4 This wasn't much consolation, though, because under the same law, the evidence and oaths of free coloured Bahamians were not considered binding or valid, thus making their ability to appear in court more of a facade than anything else. They were prohibited from gambling, selling liquor, and were restricted in what they could trade or plant. Most important, though, was the fact that they could, for certain crimes, forfeit their freedom; the punishment prescribed for any free person of colour (African, mulatto, or Amerindian) who harboured a runaway slave was slavery and deportation -- a harsher punishment than that given to whites (who would be fined) or slaves (who would be whipped).5Now although these laws were repealed in 1824 during the gradual movement of the British colonies towards freedom for all persons, their impact on the society and its definition of black and white, of coloured and non-coloured, was long-lasting. Indeed, it lasted well into the late twentieth century; even in 1967, the "majority" represented in "Majority Rule" was in fact the non-white majority, most of whom were defined as they had been defined two hundred years before by the 1756 Act -- as having a single great-grandparent, grandparent or parent who was black -- and for whom, although the laws had been changed, access to political power and equality under the government had consistently and systematically been blocked.So. To call me or any other Bahamian of partial African descent "white", then, is to deny this historical truth. Some of us who fall into this category may be in the business of denying it for ourselves; but that will not change the reality of our history, nor will it change the reality of the oppression meted out to those of us whose ancestors did not all hail from Europe for well over 350 years of Bahamian settlement. It will not change the facts on which the Independent Bahamas was founded, and it will not help to heal the wounds that linger from that difficult past.I plan to continue this discussion, going further into the subtleties and complexities of this history, but for now: Please. Don't call me white.