By NICOLE BURROWS
IF “the white man” was the majority in The Bahamas in 1967, or any time between then and now, would we still be celebrating Majority Rule Day as a national holiday in The Bahamas?
Let’s call it what it is, for our country, anyway: “majority rule” equals “black rule”.
I’m sure the rationale for the celebration of this holiday sounds really pretty in theory, but it only translates into one thing in the average Bahamian brain: “the black man” took power from “the white man” and now “the black man” is in charge, not because “he” is in fact of equal or greater intelligence, wisdom or wealth, but just because we say he has the power and so he does.
Why do we go to extremes to define and redefine “black” and “white” in The Bahamas? Is this not causing more harm than good? Are we not creating segregation all over again in a new direction?
The greatest irony: you give them Majority Rule Day to remind them that they have the “power” and every other day of the year you teach them to be subservient? Your corruption and “gangsterism” strips away their right and access to economic wealth and power every day they breathe, but you still want to convince them that being a majority was enough to change their lives once and for all? Because, let’s be real, the power of economic wealth is the only material power that matters today.
If I didn’t live here, if I wasn’t born here, if I didn’t grow up here, I would challenge my own words. But I’ve lived it and I’ve seen it with my own eyes, felt it with my own heart: race is still a huge problem for the people of this country, and Majority Rule Day is both a reminder and reinforcer of why it remains a problem. Bahamians are still dealing with skin colour issues that can’t be fixed by national holidays commemorating racial dominance. And given the things we are hung up on, this division of power which rests on colour lines being one of them, then it’s no wonder we continue to struggle.
I went to NIB (the National Insurance Board) with my mother a short while back, and a brown-skinned fella gave me the eye. As is my usual protocol for men who try to come onto me from a distance, I smiled and politely acknowledged his greeting. My mum joined in the exchange and we all made small talk about the rain and the cold. And then I started to speak to her, “Mummy ...”
The man turned around in a jolt and said “Mummy?!” As in, “how dare you?”
So I looked at him, then said to him, knowing full well where his brain was parked, “Yeah, Mummy. Why? She look too young to be my mummy, or I look too old to be her daughter?”
He had no words, just a sheepish expression, and surprisingly (since Bahamians can be very mouthy and outspoken), he had nothing else to say.
And this is just one sample of the interactions that occur more often than you’d think in our little town that are based on people’s preoccupations with skin colour.
In my NIB friend’s mind: “What this brown-skinned woman doing with this ‘white’ child?” Or, vice versa? I can only imagine the comments and stares Mum got when I was in fact a child, though, I believe, people were a bit more polite and respectful back then. You would expect time and change to have increased every Bahamian’s exposure to racial diversity, but oddly it appears not to have.
For as seemingly racially integrated and diverse as we are, many Bahamians still have major hang-ups and challenges about skin colour. And who ain’ busy bleaching away their pigments, comin’ up with ideas like Majority Rule Day. I’m sorry, but I have to say it. And I know that it will probably irritate a lot of folks (over 50, 60, 70 years of age), who belabour the stories of how real the struggle was.
But I’m not denying that it was real in every way; my own grandmother told me stories of things that happened in George Town, Exuma, when she was a “black” girl growing up in the 1930s and 1940s “white man’s world”. In fact, I would hasten to say that our ancestors of that era developed a complex where what was “white” was better (an entire conversation can be had about it).
I’m not saying that anyone who is subject to racism – in any direction – should roll over and play like it doesn’t exist, but the sourness that lingers is a blockade to growth. Harbouring anxiety and reliving every day as if it were 1930-something, “lest we forget”, is almost as destructive as the racism itself. Can we learn to teach the past, teach our history, and be passionate about what matters most, without cutting off the trunk of the tree and still expecting it to grow?
My father, I guess some would have described him as ethnic European. His cappuccino skin and Mummy’s cocoa skin meant I came out looking like tea-stained Carnation evaporated milk.
When I went away to college and my father died – a man with whom I had no relationship to speak of at the time – I took his last name to pay homage to my paternity and paternal relatives. It was a beautiful thing. It put me in contact with relatives I never even knew I had.
And then I came home and people who did not know me or my Bahamian relatives saw my foreign name, and, in association with my skin colour, they assumed I was: 1) of foreign or “white” origin, 2) wealthy, 3) needed a work permit, 4) expected an outrageously high salary, or 5) wanted to take over a workplace. Or, some combination of these things.
The resistance was so extreme, I toyed with the idea that I would revert to my Bahamian name, which I eventually did. Life has been different; but the cost of that difference is rather unfortunate – deny one to be the other.
It’s amazing the irrational fears built into our everyday lives by ignorance and judgment about skin colour. But instead of finding ways to unite in celebration of our likeness, all things that make us one, we create a holiday that believes it celebrates what should have been a positive change, but instead celebrates the negativity of that change which is rooted in our differences. And it’s not just any difference, but rather the one specific thing that remains the greatest divider of (our) people.
As a racially mixed child (now adult), I lived the pressure to choose a side, a race, to be “more black” or to be “more white”, because that’s what humans are conditioned to see and find important; you must be one or the other. And it’s not necessarily pointed, verbalised pressure, but it’s more the suggestive things like how you should wear your hair, or what your friends should look like, or why you can’t be a part of a group because you don’t look “black enough” or “white enough” to identify. It’s the most unnecessary burden ever.
At the end of the day, who really gives a crack? Black people, white people, all people in between, they all do BS. Human beings’ relentless need to categorise, typecast, squeeze into a mould or box to make themselves feel more comfortable, is the reason for this never-ending racial division. And, whether we like it or not, racial division is the theme of Majority Rule Day.
What has majority rule gotten us? There is reality and the perception of reality. We think we are in charge but we are not. We’ve been well-educated, gone off to school, returned home to lead in the highest ranks of government, but if you want to draw this thing right down to what it is, “white Bahamians” and “foreign interests” still have “black Bahamians” by the economic balls. Some wealthy black Bahamians are amongst us, but they hoard, they squander and they segregate themselves. They are self-oriented – another side effect of racial division, now within one race itself.
How has “the black man” of The Bahamas used the power “he” found in majority rule to make a better world for us today?
I and many others are waiting now for “him” to use this power for good in “his” own country.
• Send comments via Tribune242.com or nicole@politiCole.com.