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.

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.

Why Obama matters to all of us, everywhere

Four Fingers and a ThumbOn a hot day in a school in Laventille, I am reasoning with a student. This beautiful young woman of 17 years or so. I say to her, what do you want to be? She laughs and says a stripper.Her classmates laugh too, because to them it is a joke, as funny as their lives being lived out in predictable boxes.On a hot day in a school in Laventille painted in colours disturbingly similar to the wall around the Royal Gaol, this beautiful young woman sums up the totality of her potential in saying that she wants to be a stripper.I am not amused. I am also not surprised that she doesn’t hesitate to respond in the negative. I fight the urge to run from the room screaming and crying because she is living proof that you can build buildings but if you don’t build the people, your social fabric will crumble and then what is the point of phallic concrete edifices in you city?I suggest to her that she creates her own reality. I suggest to her that words have power and if you call yourself a whore enough, the ease of the words on your tongue will numb you to the dread reality of your actions.I ask her again what she wants to be. She says that what she wants for herself is not what other people want for her.She says she wants to be a hairdresser and a singer. And I wonder who has told her that she can’t be anything she puts her mind to.

This is from a blog by Trinidadian writer Attilah Springer, who wrote it on Saturday while engaging in the "escapist fantasy" that Barack Hussein Obama might win the US election. I posted it because it is so fundamentally true in so many places that are growing young people of colour.The "No You Can't" mentality is pervasive throughout the world, not just in the USA, and it's in part because our leaders swallowed wholesale and without critical examination the concept that there are first and second and third class citizens in this world, and people of colour never break into the first group, and it's also in part because the popular media really only promote images of non-white people engaging in sex, drugs, violence and angry, nihilistic music. It's also in part because our leaders see no value in supporting an economy or a culture that enables us to create alternative images for our own young people.Until now.The fact that Obama has been elected President of the United States of America means something. It means something to all of us, and it's far more than just the fact that he's African-American (and when we apply that to him, it means something real, it's not just another synonym for black/negro/nigger/ex-slave). It means that the people who elected him, who are overwhelmingly under 30, of all backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, beliefs and class are the people who are creating new realities for us. And maybe it also means that something of that hope, of that new reality, will trickle down to the rest of us in the African diasporic world.  It isn't going to come easily, and it isn't going to come automatically. But what it does mean is that we can no longer fool ourselves that our destinies are out of our hands. And it means too that throughout the Caribbean we must make our own futures. We have to confront those politicians who have nothing but old ideas, stuff fed to them by imperialists and racists and people who didn't even realize that they were imperialistic and racist but who were force-feeding those worldviews anyway, and tell them it ain't like that anymore.And we have to kill the "No We Can't" attitude stone dead.Dare to dream. America just has had its dream come true. Time for us to dream big too.

Obama, Elections, History

I'm in New York City this week. I'm in New York today. It's part of a regular pilgrimage we make to the city every year if we can make it; above all, my husband's a theatre director, and this is part of his investment in his career, this is part of his own research. Since we've been married it's been part of mine, which has been good for the playwriting side of me.But being in the US on election day, especially this election day, is historic.This election is historic. It's already been so -- the fact that two major contenders for president were visible minorities, albeit in the same party. Whoever wins will make history -- the first black president, the first female vice-president, the oldest president. But history has already been made.What's historic for me in my adult life is the participation of the American people in the vote. Since Reagan, which was the last time that I remember an election generating as much discussion as this one, there's been a distancing between the average citizen on the streets from their leadership. Perhaps it was the result of the contempt shown for good sense by the nomination of a B movie actor as Republican Presidential candidate back in 1980, I don't know; it certainly seemed like that to me. So it's true I was seventeen at the time, and frightened for the world. So it's true that it was a terrifying time for those of us who didn't have any say, for those of us who weren't moved by the smooth delivery of the man who would be president (and why wouldn't he have a smooth delivery? He was an actor, after all, not that there's anything wrong with that, but he made his living all his life by being able to deliver lines.) But the election of Reagan marked, it seemed to me, watching from the outside, an abdication on the part of the majority of the American people of their right to participate in the democratic process.As Gil Scott-Heron observed in his commentary on that election:

Well, the first thing I want to say is:Mandate my ass! Because it seems as though we've been convinced that 26% of the registered voters, not even 26% of the American people, but 26% of the registered voters form a mandate or a landslide. 21% voted for Skippy and 3, 4% voted for somebody else who might have been running. 


Being on the outside in American elections, watching a fraction of the American people go to the polls and elect leaders whose impact resonated far beyond the borders of the USA, and suffering the consequences of those choices, has not been easy. As a result I've distanced myself from all of the elections. Why work myself up about something I can do nothing about? Why worry about how "they" stole the election in Florida (twice) when I could have never made a difference anyway? And more recently, why get worked up about this presidential race when I could never do anything to affect its outcome?

I know the answer to the last question. It's been answered again and again around the world, and yes, I voted in the if-the-world-could-vote poll, and yes, I voted for Obama. But I'm above all a Bahamian, and Bahamians above all are pragmatic people, and fundamentally what matters is what have we learned from this process? What have we learned from the involvement of ordinary Bahamians in the Obama campaign? What have we learned from the real chance of real change, and how will that affect us at home?

Because our last election was a joke. I've said what I can say about it; we voted based on hype, rather like we go to see movies at Galleria, more than on anything of substance. We never questioned our candidates about anything likely to affect us and our nation in the long run. We never demanded from them what we have seen from the American candidates. We never dissected the spin, if spin it was; we never educated ourselves in any general sense on issues, on anything that might actually matter. No. We preferred to go along with what the newspapers said, with what the talk shows said, voting from emotion rather than reason, allowing both parties to get away with sheer idiocy that has very little to do with the world in which we find ourselves. 

And how much do we really, even now, understand about the world in which we find ourselves? In our Bahama-for-Obama frenzy (which, understand me, I share), how much do we understand what that means for us? How much do we really appreciate about the implications of a victory for Barack, which is (at the risk of jinxing a sure thing) the likely outcome of this vote today? It goes beyond the glib Democrats-are-bad-for-our-economy platitudes (which are pretty shallowly-based it seems to me, and have not really considered the idea from the point of view of history; was Truman bad for our economy? Kennedy? Was Roosevelt throughout his career, or was it only at the beginning when he repealed the idiotic Volstead Act?) 

Here's the thing. How can we, after this election, which has already been historic no matter what the outcome, in that it's likely to be one of the few American election in half a century or so where far more than 26% of the registered voters turned out, go back to thinking of ourselves in the same way? How can we maintain the sense of victimhood that allows us to get away with the systemic mediocrity, institutional cowardice and bullying that have marked our preferred way of doing things for well over twenty years? How can we continue to allow ourselves to doubt ourselves after this?

You tell me.

Tim Wise: Your Whiteness is Showing

Tim Wise: Your Whiteness is ShowingI'm sure that others have linked to this before me, and I'm coming late to the party, but --it's fun.And rings true.See for yourself.

This is an open letter to those white women who, despite their proclamations of progressivism, and supposedly because of their commitment to feminism, are threatening to withhold support from Barack Obama in November. You know who you are.***First, for those of you threatening to actually vote for John McCain and to oppose Senator Obama, or to stay home in November and thereby increase the likelihood of McCain winning and Obama losing (despite the fact that the latter's policy platform is virtually identical to Clinton's while the former's clearly is not), all the while claiming to be standing up for women...For those threatening to vote for John McCain or to stay home and increase the odds of his winning (despite the fact that he once called his wife the c-word in public and is a staunch opponent of reproductive freedom and gender equity initiatives, such as comparable worth legislation), all the while claiming to be standing up for women...For those threatening to vote for John McCain or to stay home and help ensure Barack Obama's defeat, as a way to protest what you call Obama's sexism (examples of which you seem to have difficulty coming up with), all the while claiming to be standing up for women...Your whiteness is showing.

Go.  Read.  Laugh.  Think.

A Post about America

Now.Let me say that, unlike many of my countrymen, I'm not addicted to the American election. Put very simply, I am not American. The Obama/Hilary competition is more important to my mind for its symbolic value than for anything that it means to me as a Bahamian.For one thing, I don't think for one moment that a Barak Obama presidency is going to mean to us what it will mean to Americans. Not in practical terms. In fact, Obama's worldview is quite likely to do us in The Bahamas less good than we might think -- he's accepted the realities of the 21st century global economy, and we still have no idea what those are. We're not even engaging in the discussion -- we're still talking in ways that are fundamentally obsolete. Our leaders (political, religious, what-have-you) have not demonstrated the consciousness that will enable them to meet Obama on his terms. Strangely enough, if Obama becomes President, our best route to the Americans will be through the much-despised Caribbean.But that's by the way.The race for the Democratic nomination is symbolic because from the beginning it ensured that the next Democratic contender for the American presidency will not be a white man.Tonight is symbolic because the black man won.In America.Let us all take off our hats and stand in awe.But it's also symbolic because the election was a truly democratic one. Forget the spin and the punditry and the experts; nobody has a real clue which way this election is going to go, because nobody has figured out how to translate the discussions that are going on in cyberspace -- and that have driven Obama to his victory -- into votes. The people, for the first time in what seems forever, are driving the candidates and the spinners and not the other way round.What saddens me, though, is that we Bahamians have yet to invest our hearts and minds and interests in our own political campaigns and drive those people who imagine they have the right to lead us. While I admire Obama and know I am watching history unfold, I am still angry that the quality of the discussion,  analysis,  thought, of simple plain sense that we Bahamians are demonstrating in our support of Barak Obama was nowhere in evidence last year this time, when we were voting for the people who would actually make the difference in our lives. And it's still nowhere in evidence as we move forward, negotiating waters of free trade and trading blocs (can we truly remain isolated in a "free-trade" world? I wonder). Every viewpoint I hear expressed is dated.Come on, fellow Bahamians. Let's the minds we've honed this past year watching Obama become the Democratic presidential nominee and turn them on ourselves.Please.