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May 30, 2007

Comments

dadon589

Glad to see this dicussion continue. My previous comment on this was in a way related to what you said above. These issues are are still a reality today and are the driving force for many of the perceptions that black/mixed Bahamians have of white Bahamians. How do we move forward? How do we shed the these negative perceptions both white and black? How do we get white Bahamains to become full participants (visibly) in the development of our country? There are two groups of people that don't feel they need each other but they do. I'm a child of the 60's and all the stories you talk about were passed down to me also. When I mentioned to my parents that I responded to Ms Bethel's article, I got her entire family history. No kidding. Though I reside in the US, Bahamians are closely related black, white, whatever. If there are any young(er) readers, it is very important to learn as much about our social history as you can by talking to elders in your family. It allows you to understand the issues of today.

larry smith

I too have been classified as black and/or coloured, although most would say I am lily white.

As explained by Nicolette, those racial tags are (ironically) applied as insults by African Bahamians who believe they are the heaviest weapons in their arsenal.

It is the same phenomenon experienced by Brent Symonette during the recent election campaign. Is he white or black or what? Which 'epithet' is more effective in which context?

Ostensibly, I am descended from Irish-American loyalists, Bermudian dissidents who formed the Company of Eleutherian Adventurers, Italian shopkeepers and anglo-saxon peasants. But - like Nico - who knows what happened along the way...perhaps a traveling Cambodian salesman?

My Bahamian roots derive from two of what used to be the more segregated out island settlements - Hope Town and Spanish Wells. And before my teetotal grandfather became a district commissioner he worked as a rum taster for Brent's father - the late Pop Symonette (who made his fortune from bootlegging).

After spending my primary school years in England, I returned to Nassau in 1961 to enrol at Queen's College. The principal who interviewed me was none other than the Rev Geoffrey Litherland, who had been sent from England to force the school's desegregation.

That process was accelerated by his successor, Neville Stewart, but through most of my high school years, black Bahamians remained a minority of the student body. It probably had more to do with economics than race, but in earlier years it was race that generally determined economic status.

As kids, we naturally absorbed and reflected the opinions and attitudes of our families. I don't recall any hard core racism, but in the early 60s we lived in an almost exclusively white world: "PLP all the way, 'cause UBP is here to stay" was the slogan of the day, although it didn't mean much to me at the time. The PLP were, of course, universally denounced as pesky schemers and troublemakers trying to upset the benign natural order.

I do recall the ecstasy of black classmates (like Edith McPhee) on January 11, 1967, and although I didn't quite understand the significance of the election back then, I remember being disappointed at the result. I was 16 at the time.

Our political views began to evolve in sixth form, due mainly to the civil rights movement and the rise of the counterculture in the US. In 1968 I was a junior reporter at the Nassau Guardian (hired by Eric Wilmott) but was inevitably branded as a Tribune employee when covering PLP rallies at the Southern Recreation Ground.

By the time I went to university in January 1970 I was a socialist and immediately joined Students for a Democratic Society, a hard-left (but white) anti-war group.

During my college years and beyond I enthusiastically took part in campus demonstrations, attended early meetings of the Vanguard Party in Nassau and bemoaned the fact that UBP leaders had not been prosecuted by the first PLP government - which would have set a precedent to prosecute PLP leaders later on.

Continued in next comment...

larry smith

Independence was a no-brainer for me and I was fortunate to act as a press marshall at the Clifford Park celebrations (Corporal Paul Farquarson - who is now commissioner - was my police liaison).

I was employed by the Ministry of Tourism's News Bureau, working out my government scholarship bond under Bill Kalis, the prime minister's (white) American press secretary. Clement Maynard was tourism minister then.

The 1973 Independence celebration was unique in our history in terms of peacefully bringing together Bahamians of all races, classes and backgrounds in a unified outpouring of emotion. I have certainly not experienced anything like it since.

But that was also when many older whites left the country (just as some blacks had felt compelled to do in earlier years). They were unable to reconcile with the new order, or to deal with simmering black resentment. And you can believe me when I say that my views back then did not make me very popular amongst my extended white family and their friends.

Perhaps one small incident from those days is worth recounting. I recall being assigned to cover a visit by the prime minister to his constituency in South Andros. Pindling was at the peak of his power and accompanied by a bevy of photographers and sycophants - all of them black.

I skirted the fringe of the official party for hours - finally getting up the nerve to introduce myself to the Great Man and explain what this little white guy was doing following him around. He smirked at me and walked away, making me feel even smaller.

The point is that I could never be a part of that club. Just as L O's admirers could never have been a part of 'my' club pre-1967. I don't feel quite the same way today. The demise of the UBP, the splintering of the PLP, the growth of a black middle and upper class, and the passage of time have made the country seem more normal most of the time (although I could tell you some stories about the Guardian in 2003).

It took more than a generation for Bahamians of both races to begin to reconcile their differences, but there is still a ways to go. Being safer to expose, black prejudice is more obvious these days (as we can tell from the comments of people like Fred Mitchell). White prejudice is expressed mostly at meetings of the club.

This is not a very intellectual response and it is already too long. Maybe I'll return to the conversation later.


drew Roberts

"If you white, you all right; if you brown, stick around; if you black, stay back."

Nico,

I was born in 59 and I can honestly say that I don't remember ever being exposed to that saying until I saw it posted here. That is not to say that I never saw such attitudes expressed, just never heard that expression.

I hope to contribute more later.

all the best,

drew

nicob

Larry, thanks for the comments, and for joining the sharing. Drew, the saying was pretty common back then, only it was probably more relevant to people in the in-between group, which is why you never heard it. Some people still remind us of it today.

The other saying, which isn't a chant, but a truism: "Money whitens". It was often used of Sir Roland Symonette and others of his ilk.

nicob

I was thinking.

This history of race and difference is part of what drives many fundamental rivalries today, and are part of what fuels the differences between (for example) the PLP and the FNM, or even the Saxons and the Valley Boys. Although, as Drew has observed elsewhere, a lot of our current ills are related to what might be categorized as class, our psyches, shaped by this race-based history, filter class difference through the prism of race. As a society, we still tend to link poverty with backwardness, primitiveness, uncleanness and (subtly) blackness, and wealth with advancement, civilization, sanitation and (not so subtly) whiteness. Even though many wealthy black Bahamians make it a point to express their pride in what would have been called a generation or so ago their Negritude, that pride is often a cloak or layer consciously chosen and worn, and deep down, at the sub-conscious or conscious level, we are all fighting the conditioning that built this country -- that white is better than black, that white people hold civilization in their hands and that black people's nature is fundamentally savage. We hear it in the casual comments we all make, and unfortunately, when we choose to emphasize one or the other, the codes we use to express our emphasis are racist, whether we realize it or not.

This is why racism and racist comments are pervasive. What's more, there's at least one generation of us people of colour who believe, almost as fundamentally as we have internalized the colour hierarchy, that black-white racism is justified. What black politicians (and preschers) say on the platform is far more widely believed than we like to admit, just as what is said in the clubs is also widely believed -- and by more than just white Bahamians. Much of what we think about ourselves, white and black, is shocking when it's said out loud, but we can hear it on a daily basis when we hear people talking about "illegal immigrants" (by whom we mean anybody who has any obvious Haitian connection, despite the absurdity of that idea). If we want to know what Bahamians think about race, we need to pay attention to the discusions about Haiti and people of Haitian descent. From the patronizing to the ugly, those are the attitudes we hold. We don't apply them consciously to one another, but they are in us, and they are real.

drew Roberts

Our inner beliefs.

We do need inner cleansing. We need inner honesty, even though this can be very difficult.

Somewhere along the line growing up I got an idea in my head that I wanted to be 6'4" and 240lbs. (Naturally, a fit and muscular 240.)

I think somewhere inside me I had the idea that tall was better. (If I did, why I should set my sights as low as 6'4" remains a mystery to me...) I think this might have been more of a vague inner feeling rather than a full blown belief.

Sometime later, I had to deal with the fact that I did not consider myself inferiour to people taller than me. Well, to be logically consistent, which I liked to try and be, that meant I could not be better than people shorter than me. Well, certainly not because I was taller then they were.

You can apply this same thinking to those with more or less money, education, brain power, athletic ability, skin tone, beauty, or whatever you like.

Don't you think that it is a sad state to be in to consider that you are better than people with less wealth than you? At least unless you are the most wealthy person ever... (not fully serious on the last bit.)

Nico, as to my not hearing the saying...

Who customarily said it to whom?

I can see the reason you gave being a reason for it not being said to me, but why would that be a reason for me not hearing it. (I am not trying to make any real point here anyway, rather I was just providing a data point.)

all the best,

drew
http://pc.celtx.com/project/PzgvZiYlZvx3/view/http://celtx.com/res/jLMr6m7L4SG4
Bahamian Idle - Script Frenzy Screenplay
CC BY-SA license

nicob

Who said it to whom:

Parents or grandparents to children sometimes (in a warning or explanatory way), darker relatives to lighter ones, people who count/counted as "black" to people who count/counted as "brown".

Among those who have said it to me:

relatives (both in a sarcastic way, and to explain certain situations they experienced growing up, or that they were preparing me to face)

colleagues and co-students when I was in university, most of them "blacker" than me, some of the Bahamians, some of them other West Indians;

teachers (when I was an adult; colleagues or mentors at COB)

even a priest or two (in social, not theological, discussion)
friends who have entered the political arena

It's not the most common saying in the world, but I suspect that many people of colour over the age of 35 or 40 have heard it or something like it.

I am not surprised that a white Bahamian may not have heard it; it's one of those things that people of colour rarely say in front of white people, no matter how well we know them or now much we like them.

We Bahamians are culturally raised not to make people we consider to be our superiors feel uncomfortable. That leads to a lot of lying and covering up, IMO, and to a lot of what other people might term "two facedness". There is also a difference between people we believe to be White and people who we think "tink dey white", and while we are unlikely to share that saying with people we believe to be White (and, these days, these are people we also assume to be not-Bahamian) we are not so reticent with people who "tink dey white".

But you are absolutely right when you say that we need to try and reconcile our innermost feelings, which we grew up with and which were put into us by all sorts of means, not all of them conscious, with our conscious beliefs, which are often more tolerant. It's not easy, and it usually depends on one's own personal history. And yes, most Bahamians of colour feel more comfortable denouncing white-black prejudice than we do even with naming the reverse, or with recognizing our own racism towards Haitians, Jamaicans and other so-called "foreigners". There's a kind of tit-for-tat element in it; this is one area where we don't mind making people feel uncomfortable, in payback for the generations of discomfort our ancestors suffered. But it doesn't make it any more right than that history was.

Attaining consistency within is a difficult task, though, and one which we are historically not good at, none of us. The society in which I grew up was a schizophrenic one. As a person of colour, I met people who suffered a vague sort of madness every day. Many of them were my relatives. It was a madness that derived from their hating part or all of themselves, and it's a pathology that was recognized as being particular to colonized people by Frantz Fanon sixty years or so ago. It was a madness that made them deny the obvious reality of their ancestry, and made them ignore or spurn those family members who were proof of those hated connections. Nowadays this pathology is not so evident, as being black is not the barrier to advancement that it was; but it's only changed, grown more subtle, less articulated. It hasn't gone away.

Rick

I have certainly reconciled my past Nicolette, but how would you propose making this all go away?
Let me explain.
I was walking back to the office the otehr day and came across an accident involving someone I know, so I proceeded to take a couple pictures in case they were needed by the insurers/police etc.
The driver of the vehicle that was in the wrong immediately came up asking why I would be taking pictures.
I explained that I enjoyed taking pictures but I knew the lady in teh car.
He again asked why I was taking the pictures as the Police were there and he had not left the scene.
I asked if he had a problem with me taking the pictures (which he obviously did) and we couldgo to the police and ask him if it was within my rights to do so.
He then became angry and souting racial epithets at me.
I smiled and told him to "have a blest day".
So because I'm white I can't take a picture for my white friend?
Incidentally, if it were one of my black friends I would have taken the picture as well.
There's enough blame to go around. So let's move on to solutions.
Again, how do you propose "making this all go away"?
I think those of us that know we cannot change the past should lead by example.
If we keep picking the scab with the bad stories, will the sore ever heal.

nicob

"There's enough blame to go around. So let's move on to solutions.
Again, how do you propose "making this all go away"?
I think those of us that know we cannot change the past should lead by example.
If we keep picking the scab with the bad stories, will the sore ever heal."

True, if we keep picking the same scab.

The point is, there's no dialogue. There's just one story, and it's the same one: Bad Whitey, Poor Darky, and nothing else in between. Without broadening the discourse and sharing stories like the one above, we can't ever move forward, because we have locked ourselves into a tale of oppression and victimhood that is too simplistic to be true or entirely relevant. We have to make the story richer. That's all.

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