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

Will Western Europe Pay Out to Slave Descendants? | VICE

The answer is yes. Perhaps not in my lifetime. But if we are all human beings (and we are) the arguments against reparations will fade in the light of the brokenness of the world the slavery built. It's a brokenness that 50 years cannot begin to fix (answer to the "independence" argument) without some global restructuring of wealth. And it's not something that can be relegated to the past. The acts may be past but the violence of those acts lives on. If reparations are never paid, Western Europe will be enshrining the fiction it created to justify the enslavement and indentureship of people whose skins were not white & particularly of Africans, and demonstrating that, unlike the Jews, the Maori, and, critically, the white slaveowners, the Africans who were enslaved and their children who were enslaved by their accident of birth are not as human as everyone else. To resist this symbolic action is to perpetuate an institution of hate.

When I spoke to Esther Stanford of PARCOE UK, she argued that “reparations is as much about the battle of ideas and ideologies” as it is about money—and she faults the governments involved for not working with civil society groups to raise “reparations consciousness.” Stanford “It’s not an African name; it’s an enslaved person’s name that I carry to this day” is a lawyer and reparations activist who is currently completing a PhD in the history of the reparations movement. She has called CARICOM’s effort “far too limited, far too myopic.”via Will Western Europe Pay Out to Slave Descendants? | VICE.

I thought I was liberal and open minded about race … until I realised what was going on in my New York building | Chloe Angyal | Comment is free |

The additional suspicion with which my black guests are treated is not a form of obvious violence. Compared to the actions of the Klan, being asked to wait a few minutes in the lobby is, some will point out, not a big deal. But these are microaggressions, small and common instances of discrimination, and "their slow accumulation over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience… social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly." The violence this time is psychic.via I thought I was liberal and open minded about race … until I realised what was going on in my New York building | Chloe Angyal | Comment is free |

Worth the read.

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.

Sonny Singh on the Zimmerman Verdict

This deal with race is not easily solved. Simply declaring that people are equal does not make us all so. At best there are wounds and scars that will not heal because they have been opened again and again; at worst there remain institutions and attitudes that continue to reify racism. The idea that skin colour and cultural identification makes people worth different things will not die, in part because we will not face it fully and with a view to healing it.On the Huffington Post, one commentator, a Sikh himself, writes about the nuances of racism, showing how it's not simply black vs white. I recommend the read, which I discovered via Craig Smith's facebook status. Something to think about.From the Huffington Post:

Racism is messy. While some want to characterize everything as black and white, others, as I mentioned previously, mystify the brutal realities of white supremacy through post-racial rhetoric. This is even more dangerous. In post-racial America, we easily come to the conclusion that if Zimmerman is Latino, then this case has nothing to do with racism. Perhaps this is why many progressive activists and commentators have characterized Zimmerman as a white man. Because it's easier. It seems more simple. The general public will more readily see the injustice of anti-black racism in the killing of Trayvon Martin if George Zimmerman is white. But it's not the reality of the situation. Racism has infected all of us, not just white folks.To really understand racism in the United States, we have to understand power. Racism is not just about attitudes; it is a system of oppression. What this means is that white people receive unearned privileges and advantaged simply because of the color of skin, while people of color are systematically disadvantaged and marginalized. That does not make the experiences of all people of color alike, nor does it mean that people of color cannot perpetuate racism, as in the case of George Zimmerman. In fact, we are often rewarded for doing so.

--Sonny Singh, Zimmerman's Racial Realities, Beyond Black and White


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.

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.

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.

Gilbert Morris on Blackness & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power

This is an interesting thesis, to say the least. I want to reject it outright, but I am not sure I can. I can certainly see evidence of what Morris is talking about in the case of our own turn-of-the-century leaders; there is a core lack of confidence in the ability—or is it the right?—of Bahamians to take control of our own destiny. It's something I run up against in my students again and again—as one young man told me, "white man always on top". It's a myth, sure, but it's a myth whose psychic power, especially, apparently, among men, hinders us from taking advantage of the authority that independence and nationhood confers.I had a conversation last night with someone who compared the confidence (might we call it the arrogance) of someone like Stafford Sands, the architect and mover of the Bahamian economy to this day, who pretty well invented, or refined the invention of, the successful service economy in the immediate post-war era, when the majority of nations were seeking to develop along the Euroamerican "proper" path, which meant building agriculture, developing industry, and becoming a player on the global market through exports. Thanks to Sands, The Bahamas ignored that trajectory and built up tourism and financial services, starting in the 1950s, several decades before this was acceptable on the global economic scene, and we were unable to explain the success of that model until the whole world had adopted it. Now, we find ourselves unable to imagine something equally brilliant and equally radical to maintain what we have achieved.I'm really concerned to reject Morris's argument in the case of Obama, who as a truly African-American man seemed to have a fairly rounded concept of the world and of the need for power. For me the jury may still be out here. But as a general rule, I have long felt something along the lines of what Morris writes about. It lies at the core of what I have already termed the insufficient consideration given to the meaning and structure of democracy in the Bahamian setting; it explains why our leaders are so anxious to sell the country they are supposed to be managing for future generations, and why roads that take tourists to the harbour and Paradise Island, or the selling of crown land for a temporary handful of house-slave jobs seem to be the best ideas that our leaders can offer to us.Morris's article is worth the read, believe me. It's not the most cheerful thesis to engage with, and it's certainly not wholly politically correct, but I'm not sure it is entirely wrong. My only criticism is that Morris presents it as a fait accompli rather than as a malaise that can be cured.Read it, and let me know what you think. A taste:

Blacks have never had a "concept of the world" sufficient to drive foreign policy. This has been the prerogative of the 'dominant culture'.... given the legacy of slavery, “white supremacy” and racial discrimination in the United States, when a moment [of] racial fairness or ethnic equality (say in Iraq) collides with a moment of racial tension or Machiavellian exploitation of ethnic differences that advances American policy objectives, how can a person whose very being and cultural primacy is structured to protest unfairness and inequality opt for the Machiavellian strategy?via Gyroscopia: Blacks & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power - Caribbean Basin Review.

And more importantly, consider Morris's conclusions -- which I, for one, question on certain fundamental grounds, not least of which is that leaders who are women, and therefore similarly disenfranchised, have demonstrated that they are not affected by these "rules", but which hold enough water to warrant some deep thought:

  • it is inconceivable that a Black or minority person can exercise power with an instinct of belongingness, since, nothing will have prepared him or her to deal with the interstices and immediacy of superpower politics.
  • Social protest movements ... do not prepare their beneficiaries for and they move “against the grain” of superpower imperatives, which aim at serving its power first, and principles second, if at all.
  • In the foreign policy superstructure, there are few Blacks, working on technical questions aimed at securing power for and maintaining the dominance of the United States beyond being part of the apparatus. Yet, this is the heart of American influence, and its perch from which, beyond imposing its will, it can be a force for good in the world.

via Gyroscopia: Blacks & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power - Caribbean Basin Review.

Real Life from

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:

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.

What White Privilege is All About: "Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black" - Tim Wise

Just a little wake-up post, to say that yes, I am indeed Back from Belfast, and that yes, I'll be writing about that after I am finished with the marking that I still have, despite working solidly at it over the past week or so. (It does help when students observe deadlines.) Got to this post via Fiona Talbot-Strong -- thanks, Fi. For your reading pleasure. Have fun.

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose....In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.via Ephphatha Poetry: "Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black" - Tim Wise.

The Gaulin Wife: Making Connections

This is not the crux of Helen's post, but I chose it to inspire people to want to read the whole thing. It's crucial reading.

I have to remind myself to continue making connections, and to look for the triumphant in the stories of disaster, to look for the survivance in them, for the ways people continue to refuse to be victims. I have to remind myself, because on the screen the stories being told are told with such potent images, of the dead and the dying, of the grieving, of those who have lost, and they are almost always brown skin people. And the people with microphones in front of their faces, telling the stories, and the people behind the camera lenses, making the pictures, are almost always beige, pale skin people. Beige, pale skin people who appear magically in these places of such pain, while they themselves appear untouched, able to leave when they want to, to smile even, in the midst of it all.I have to remind myself because I am also beige, pale. And though my socialization is a complex thing – I was raised in a Caribbean country; my way of being in the world, my physical sense of relationship to others is both Africanized and Anglicized and both are rooted in my ancestral Greekness, Greeks from islands, Greeks who were peasants from villages and not aristocrats from the cities – I am still a beige person in a racially polarized society and my imagination is at stake. And what I know is our potential for human transformation depends on our ability to imagine.via The Gaulin Wife: Making Connections.

Womanish Words: Teach the Children Well

Hear, hear, Lynn.

It upsets me when I hear the little children I know and love speaking in the the racist/religious/hateful language of the local Bahamian press/the moneyed elite/the generally ignorant. There are probably more than a million orphan children struggling to get through the day today in Haiti. It is natural for children to want to help. That natural inclination in our children is at risk. It is hard to hear a child you love speaking about Haiti with no compassion, no natural wanting to help. We Bahamians who enjoy wealth and privilege (and that means anyone not in Port au Prince right now with time and ways enough to read this blog) must wake up and face the fact that we were mis-educated when it comes to Haiti, stop defending the ignorance and selfishness and get on with doing some reading, some learning, some changing and transforming, and some GIVING. Because our innocent children are watching. Teach the children well.via Womanish Words: Teach the Children Well.

Black British Theatre - Britain gets a Black Theatre Archive

Sixty years of forgotten treasures

Britain is to get a Black Theatre Archive. Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah relives his role in its creationIn Britain, my work is almost exclusively compared to that of Roy Williams. This has always enraged me. Roy is a fine, prolific writer; but even if we were to be compared on the most obvious grounds – race – we still write out of two very different black traditions. I am terribly influenced by the African-American canon and stand on the shoulders of playwrights such as Edgar White, whereas Roy's work has echoes of Caryl Phillips. And Roy, I would argue, takes inspiration from sources closer to home. What amazed me was that US critics seemed to get that. Although they weren't always complimentary, to me that was secondary: what was important was that here was intelligent, detailed analysis and context.

Sixty years of forgotten treasures | Kwame Kwei-Armah | Stage | The Guardian

Better late than never

Catching up on my RSS feeds (issues with Safari have put a serious crimp in my blog-reading habits) I came across this from Long Bench, and I want to say "hear, hear".

To suggest that a light-skinned woman is not authentically Jamaican – ie. is a foreigner – and therefore should not even be in competition with or selected over a dark-skinned (more authentic?) Jamaican woman makes absolutely no sense.   While I agree with the basic critique concerning the everlasting lightness (with a few dark ones sprinkled in between) of the beauty queens, and agree that the judges’ choice reflects a pervasive racist notion that is rubbed in our face in an expensive and public way each year ie. that the closer one is to European-ness, the more beautiful one is considered.  However, I want to deal with the “authentic vs. foreigner” issue which keeps coming up – “she look like a foreigner” – because I think this way of framing a legitimate issue is historically and socially inaccurate, really disrespectful and utterly divisive.

On The Outcome of this Year’s Skin Parade « LONG BENCH

One day I will say more. But in the meantime, ponder this: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of the single story about anything.

The arrest of, and dropping of charges against, Henry Louis Gates

If I had been able to, if this blog were not still acting up, I'd've been on time posting this story, which caught like wildfire and spread across the web; I'd've posted it yesterday.As it is, I'm tempted to raise it in the seminars that I'm attending as part of this faculty meeting at the Aspen Institute's Wye Faculty Seminar. I'm not sure how it'll slip in, though I am sure it's relevant, as the subject is "Citizenship in the American and Global Polity". But nevertheless. Here's the story as it began:

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation's pre-eminent African-American scholars, was arrested Thursday afternoon at his home by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in. The incident raised concerns among some Harvard faculty that Gates was a victim of racial profiling.Police arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had "no idea who he was messing with,'' the report said.Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because "I'm a black man in America.''

Friends of Gates said he was already in his home when police arrived. He showed his driver’s license and Harvard identification card, but was handcuffed and taken into police custody for several hours last Thursday, they said.

--Harvard professor Gates arrested at Cambridge home

And here it is as it ended, one day and a burning internet later:

(CNN) -- A prosecutor is dropping a charge against prominent Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. after Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the city's police department recommended that the matter not be pursued.Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested last week on a charge of disorderly conduct.In a joint statement, Cambridge and the police department said they made the recommendation to the Middlesex County district attorney and the district attorney's office "has agreed to enter a nolle prosequi in this matter," meaning that it will not be pursued.Gates was arrested last week on a charge of disorderly conduct after a confrontation with an officer at his home, according to a Cambridge police report.

--Charge against Harvard professor dropped

On Recreating the Plantation (in a "Free" Society)

The story I'm about to share is nothing new. It just happened, but the complaint is an old one round here. I'm going to put it side by side with another one, a different one from a different Caribbean nation. The problem isn't just with the fact that the incidents happened. The real problem lies in the fact that we not only let them happen, we appear to invite them. And the real problem also lies in the fact that I can guess how the issue will be received by some Bahamians, and what discussion will follow; over the past several months we have appeared to be more than happy to twist history to fit the prejudices of a few white people. Why not twist the future to fit a few more?It's the story of a qualified young woman who went for an interview at the biggest plantation of them all, the one that calls itself Atlantis and invents for itself its own history, a history which is not ours, and from which Bahamians are excluded fairly routinely unless we agree to pay for access to it, or unless we can pass for tourists.Now this young woman had the qualifications to get the job. She went on an interview with the Human Resources Department, and sat before two Bahamians, and impressed them; she was offered the position right there and then. But before she could take up the position, she was contacted by the HR manager -- who was not Bahamian, but from the UK, to say that the job was hers -- if she would cut her hair.The young woman, you see, has locks. And locks, apparently, are not respectable enough to be worn by Bahamians who will be in positions where they can be seen by the tourists.Now I have a feeling that there are some people who will rise to the defence of this position -- many, presumably, since this policy has been in place since 2000 and no one has spoken out against it in a strong enough voice to have it reviewed or changed by the resort.  (This includes, clearly, five years of government by a political party that purports to champion the welfare of the Bahamian of African descent, as well as by a political party that does not purport to do so.) The fact that we accept, and have accepted, this policy, without much of a murmur, tells us more about ourselves as a people and as a nation than it does about the resort or our governments.It shouldn't surprise us that this happened at Atlantis, which has invented for itself its own space that functions, ironically perhaps, or predictably perhaps, rather like the so-called South African "homeland" in which the brand was developed -- Bophuthatswana.[youtube=](For more on Sun City, go here. Or go here.)OK, so you may be thinking, what's the relevance of that twenty-year-old video to The Bahamas today? Well, nothing really, except that the brand that is Atlantis was invented there and transplanted, with some adjustments, here nine years or so after the above video was made. And because of that transplantation, Kerzner was able to remake its image and to whitewash (pun intended) its name.And I wouldn't be so concerned about things that go on over there if the resort weren't still functioning in many subtle and economic ways the way it did in the place it was invented. Like if, say, the black people that it hired were permitted to express their blackness in ways that they -- and not the South Africans who run the resort -- deemed appropriate and acceptable.  As for the young woman who's faced with choosing between the way she has decided to express her identity and a middle-management job: this is a young Bahamian who was fortunate enough to travel widely while she was being raised and who came into contact with intellectuals and other successful individuals who were not afraid to embrace their culture by dreading their hair. She is questioning the so-called "dress code" because she's arguing that the way she wears her hair should really have nothing much to do with the job she is called to perform.And the situation is as subtle as it is destructive. Her hairstyle didn't stop her from being offered the position, but is enough to stop her from being permitted to take it. The choice has become hers, not the resort's. (This is only true, by the way, because she is not a Rastafarian; if she were, she would not have to make the "choice"; the "choice" only comes into play in the case of aesthetics, not in the case of religion.)  And in forcing her to make it, the job is forcing her to regard as equal two issues that are not. In a free country, identity and employment should not be linked. One should not be dependent on the other.But are we really free?Ian Strachan, like many other intellectuals, regards tourism -- or the practice of tourism as it takes place in the Caribbean -- as a revival of the plantation system in contemporary times. And indeed, the resort business as practised here shares many similarities with the plantation.You don't believe me? I'm going to share another story. This one's from elsewhere in the Caribbean, and it's told by a Caribbean woman. This time, I'll use her own words:

Things that pissed me off recently1/ the hotel guest who screamed at me three times, each time increasingly louder and slower “More coffee. MORE COFFEE! COULD I HAVE MORE COFFEE!!!” while pointing at cup.That’s the way it happened… despite the fact that i was sitting at the table waiting for coffee myself as a guest of the hotel just like she was.When I told her, “I don’t work here,” she said…nothing, no apology nothing. And her husband kept looking back at me as though he was afraid I was going to draw a razor blade from under my tongue.

And if this were not enough, it's spreading. Here's what BBC Caribbean has to report about The Bahamas Department of Customs:

in the Bahamas, two customs employees are facing the threat of dismissal because of their hairstyle.

Their dreadlocks have been deemed "unacceptable" by Customs authorities, who insist that the rules and regulations as they apply back that position.

Welcome (back) to the plantation, my friends.