Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani recently ignited a firestorm with incendiary claims, sending sparks and charges flying as the jockeying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination heats up:
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
Giuliani’s sentiments are not new to the Republican Party. One recent poll among Republicans showed that only 11 per cent of those polled believe that Barack Obama loves America.
The dirty big and obvious non-secret is that most of those who question Obama’s love for his country really don’t love the diversity that is America. They love their tunnel vision and selective narrative of what they believe America to be, often excluding Latinos, African-Americans, non-Christians and others from the firmament of the Star-Spangled Banner.
The stranglehold of white supremacy on the self-serving nationalism of many Republicans, conservatives and others will never permit a celebration of the broader, richer and powerful narrative of the American experience, of which Obama’s story is a shining example.
Many will never accept this black man with his supposedly un-American name as president and as authentically American as those who made their passage to America on the Mayflower seeking political and religious freedom or Irish and Italian economic refugees who fled to America.
For the racist nativists, that the name Obama will stand in the pantheon of presidents with European surnames is an apostasy at the heart of the American civic religion.
It is laughably ironic that someone with the name Giuliani would question the patriotism of someone surnamed Obama. One’s love of country is not qualified by one’s surname and one’s qualifications to lead a nation should not be denied because of one’s surname, whether Pinder, Pindling -- or Pierre.
So strong is the demonization and the contempt for difference and the other that some immigrants debase themselves in order to fit in in their adopted land.
Over the course of several decades the Indian-American political commentator and author Dinesh D’Souza has adopted a brand of conservatism that is racist. He has gained notoriety with the Obama haters, among them a confederacy of xenophobes, white supremacists and many Republicans leaders.
This brown-skin naturalized citizen placates such nativist contempt for non-white and foreign-born people by demonstrating that he can be just as vilely racist as a white supremacist, as he did in a tweet this February.
Commenting on a selfie Obama took in the White House to promote the enrolment of young people in Obamacare, D’Souza tweeted:
“YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO...Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment.”
With vicious racial language reminiscent of Jim Crow, D’Souza called the President of the United States of America a “boy”, effectively labelling black as ghetto and vulgar.
D’Souza and his ilk are embarrassed that a black man is president. He seems to have no sense of the ugly irony that most of this ilk would be embarrassed to have an Indian-American as president much less to marry one of their children.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, also Indian-American, refused to condemn Giuliani’s remarks, going so far to call him in a show of support. Jindal, whose first name is Piyush, goes by the nickname “Bobby”, a telling decision.
Born to immigrant parents six months after their arrival in the US, Jindal, like D’Souza, has adopted much of the narrative of America espoused by the xenophobic nationalists and Obama haters, rather than the broader narrative exemplified and espoused by Obama.
A national story is woven together by multiple narrative threads. Such threads bear the names and personal narratives of peoples spanning the globe. Here at home the Caribbean Diaspora, including immigrants from Haiti, is at the heart of the Bahamian story, especially that of the modern Bahamas.
One of the most pivotal events in our history was the achievement of majority rule, our Second Emancipation, a watershed moment in our nationalist struggle and consciousness. The leaders of that revolution include many who were first generation Bahamians or who enjoyed Caribbean parentage, including Sir Lynden Pindling.
The name Pindling has become thoroughly identified with The Bahamas even though it is not a common name in the country. Surnames more commonplace include, Deveaux, Moncur, Bonamy, Dillet and other names of Haitian derivation, as well as names from many other countries.
The Bahamian family and experience are constituted by an alphabet soup of nationalities and family names and now include surnames such as Paul, Georges and Joseph, as well as Duvalier and Meris.
When the famed dancer Maureen Duvalier, a close cousin of the Duvalier ruling family of Haiti, passed away some weeks ago she was celebrated as quintessentially Bahamian, her surname no barrier to her inclusion as a national and cultural icon.
Then there is the brilliant Jeffrey Meris, still in his early twenties, one of the country’s most popular emerging artists who promises to be a leading artist of his generation, and perhaps one of the more notable artists of the modern Bahamas.
The 2012 recipient of the Harry Moore Scholarship in the Arts from the Lyford Cay Foundation and a student of artist John Cox, he is first generation Bahamian.
Meris, of Haitian descent, celebrates his Haitian ancestry and Bahamian identity, a part of which is his ancestry. But he is foremost a Bahamian, like Maureen Duvalier and generations of those with Haitian ancestry, whose life journeys and stories make for a richer Bahamian national journey and tapestry.
His involvement with the One Family Junkanoo group and mentoring by the artists Stan and Jackson Burnside and John Beadle speak to the ever expanding idea and narrative of who and what constitutes the Bahamian imagination. Note the name: One Family.
His Junkanoo costume creations cum sculptures are brilliant and are a part of the evolution of one of our premier cultural expressions. Meris is enraptured with Junkanoo, both as an art form and as a form of national celebration, bringing together Bahamians and residents in a common shared experience.
It is these shared experiences which bind and assimilate new generations of Bahamians into a shared identity, be they Bahamian-born or naturalized, of Haitian ancestry or otherwise.
In addition to Bahamian cultural expressions and the arts there are other institutions and practices of assimilation critical to the formation of a sense of national identity, such as the institutions and practices of politics, including the general election, which Bahamians love.
Bahamian general election political mass rallies are wonders of democratic involvement and enthusiasm. An academic at COB once wrote dismissively of the political rally deeming it as unserious and as entertainment.
She appears not to appreciate the rally as a form of cultural and democratic expression, a thrilling experience attended by the vast majority of Bahamians in an extraordinary exercise assimilating new generations into our democratic life. Rallies are celebratory peaceful events, occasions for fellowship.
It is entertainment of sorts. But it is decidedly much more. The mass rally is grand political theatre bringing together tens of thousands in a celebration of freedom. It is a festival of democracy. There is live music, much of which is locally produced, campaign paraphernalia, food and drink.
Despite the theatrics and sometimes antics there is serious policy announced and national issues discussed. There is the call and response between speakers and the crowd. Neither in the US or the UK would thousands attend for hours political rallies as they do in The Bahamas.
Rallies cut across every socio-economic group and include many Bahamians of Haitian ancestry. Scores of work permit holders and residents of Haitian descent share the infectious enthusiasm of Bahamian general elections, adopting the political consciousness of our democratic culture. The common shared experience of a general election has a powerful assimilative effect.
Similarly, education helps to assimilate, and bind citizens and residents together, which is why unhindered access to schooling in government-operated schools is essential. Such access speaks to our values as a democratic country committed to humanitarian values and social justice.
From these and other schools emerge the children of immigrants who contribute their gifts and personal narratives to our national story. There is also an ethos of assimilation, where immigrants feel welcome.
Much of the discourse on immigration by certain senior government officials has been disheartening especially given the prior rhetorical commitment of such individuals to human rights and to the needs and dignity of illegal migrants.
We cannot sustain unlimited immigration, and ongoing immigration reform is necessary. But an underlying goal must be to ensure access to the institutions and practices of assimilation in The Bahamas.
We should be eager to share our culture and heritage with immigrants and in turn learn from the positive attributes of their culture. It is curious that we are often more comfortable with the worst excesses of North American culture and less open to the better attributes of Caribbean neighbors including Haiti.
Attorney Fred Smith sees nothing wrong with citizens of Haitian ancestry launching their own political party. But launching a party based on national origin is a dangerous idea and will balkanize the country and potentially marginalize various groups.
To foster the ideal and necessity of One Bahamas requires common shared experiences in which all feel welcome, adding their family names and stories to the ever unfolding narrative of the broader Bahamian story, which has never been static, as some would have us believe.
If and when one day we have a prime minister whose last name is Pierre or Paul, will there be Bahamians who will react similarly as those in the US who still cannot come to terms with Barack Hussein Obama? It will say more about such narrow nativists than it will about the occupant of such high office.