Considering Race/Ethnicity And Gender Today


Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett


IN THE wake of the recent church shootings in South Carolina, race is certainly on the radar. The apparent thinking is that the world has moved beyond racism and the inequality that race is used to reinforce.

In the Bahamas, we seem to take racism for granted, meaning we tend to ignore it as something that does not concern us, yet we live in a transnational world that is informed by the attitudes of the groups in power or who wish to sway the power.

Last week’s piece also discussed inequality, especially as it related to tourism and the population’s reliance on this industry for their daily bread.

Instead of being entrepreneurs and leaders, we are becoming waged workers who must rely on the industry for survival.

Much like the incident in South Carolina, tourism is very much at the whim of someone else; if they decide to close up shop and leave, they do so without a care or a worry.

Much like the disaster with CLICO, where people are left holding a bag of debt because they were told to keep paying already dead policies, not to mention all the other pension schemes that have recently been consumed by the owners of companies, these usually affect more women than men, and usually have a massive impact on the lower classes, because they are unable to access the kind of justice that requires capital and knowledge.

Why are women more impacted?

Black women are often viewed as easily exploited. Form slavery, as was pointed out last week, they were sexually and physically exploited and then blamed for their exploitation. They are depicted as animals, and their needs and desires were/are represented as animalistic. This meant that men could insult them without fearing any kind of retribution.

A 21st century example of this is the tennis player Serena Williams who suffers constant insults from fans and officials alike. Yet, they get off with apologies.

She is portrayed as animalistic and people have no fear about shouting their thoughts about this in public. Footballers encounter this kind of treatment regularly. Bananas are tossed onto fields to say, go home ape, gorilla, monkey. All of these are unflattering terms that are regularly used for blacks, but Bahamians seem to ignore these realities.

What is interesting in all of this is that there are many incidents of exploitation here. Tourists feel that they can insult blacks here as they would in other places. Many are the tales of black women being approached when they are at work in the industry because they must be prostitutes.

They are expected to want to have encounters with tourists because they cannot control their sexual desires and they are inferior and so the fact that a tourist would express interest in someone who is ‘less than him or her’ means that the local should be flattered and be bound to accept the unwanted advances. We must be thankful for the unwanted attention.

Tourism really does allow this exploitative relationship to grow, especially when the customer is always right. By creating the dream of paradise islands as the place where everyone is king or queen, the idea remains that those who work there can be and are happy to be exploited. The concept has changed little from when we were plantation workers. Inequalities remain high and they seem to be increasing.

Women are more often employed in lower paying jobs such as cashiers, and their employment would be tied to that employer. Sadly, all these companies have been allowed to exploit the workers. Tourism is slightly different because it is international, and the idea is that large transnational companies will come in and rescue the country from poverty. However, they seem to leave the country worse off when they leave than it was before their arrival, and perhaps this has something to do with the laws and regulations, and also how these companies are allowed to operate. It is not their fault, we let them exploit, and anyone who is allowed to exploit does so happily, for the most part.

Because black people are seen as less than white people in the global economy, especially in the United States, which is where many of the offending companies are based, but because of international and company law, they are not linked to those big companies, except through name. Laws mean that parent companies are independent and so not responsible for the sins of their offshore affiliates. How many of us pay attention to these facts? So, when they close up shop and leave here, they no longer exist, and Bahamians have no recourse, especially when their own government does not work on their behalf.

Gender and racial inequality

Gender and sex are serious considerations especially when they are coupled with race and/or ethnicity. Being of the non-dominant race is a serious ‘crime’ in some countries, this simple fact opens one to violence and often it is legal.

The other day, there were videos on the Facebook of Haitians being exploited in the Dominican Republic. In fact, many of them were Dominicans born in the Dominican Republic and having never known any other life or home. Yet the Dominican High Court saw fit to retroactively strip anyone descended from Haitians or blacks, the right to and their actual citizenship.

They suddenly became less than human. They had always been open to exploitation ever since Trujillo’s war on blackness, because he hated his own blackness.

However, the court decision condoned and indeed encouraged worse treatment. At the moment the court decision came down, blacks in the DR became less than animals. The decision opened blacks to all forms of vigilantism, that is apparently justified, as it was under the Trujillo regime.

It must be remembered that black is reserved for Haitians; Dominicans are indios and all the different shades in that ethnic grouping.

As the world advances, animals are endowed with more frights than many human beings. This is certainly being witnessed today in the Dominican Republic and the United States, where nonwhites can be shot for listening to the wrong music, and the court not convict. Police can take the lives of black men and women without fear of prosecution. It seems worse than during the civil rights era. Why? Because at least then people were aware of the blatant hatred of blacks and the inequality that was heaped on them. Today, conversely, we are told that we are now all equal, political correct equality is more dangerous than upfront racial segregation. It is not only about race but also about gender as non-white women will more likely be victims of violence than white women.

While blacks become poorer in the Bahamas (expect for small group that see themselves as beyond reproach or racism by their wealth), we argue that there is no racism.

Yet we have chosen to bulldoze ‘Haitian villages’ and shanty towns where both Bahamians and Haitians live because they can no longer afford to live in what people assume is the ‘normal’ world. As we are faced with ever increasing cost of living, VAT on every dollar we earn, when it goes into the bank, when it sits in the bank and when we try to take it out of the bank, with each step in the process, government charges VAT. So, at the end of the day government charges us somewhere around 24 cents on every banked dollar, we become poorer. There is no racism in the Bahamas. This column is about gender, but it is about the abuse that is heaped on young men and women who can be shot, raped, beaten, killed because they are not deemed human by the dominant racial group.

The Bahamas is no paradise for anyone who is not of the dominant group. We treat Haitians like dogs in the Bahamas. They treat Haitians worse than dogs in the Dominican Republic. In the United States, blacks can be shot by policemen and women, they can be shot down by vigilantes while praying and they can be raped, violated and exploited without fear of retribution. We seem to be moving in this direction.

The more unequal we render our population, the more likely it is that this kind of horror will be lived here, only in different ways.

In fact, we are living this nightmare as people are shot dead simply because they are from a gang that should not be walking in an area, or because some man thinks that a woman should not be able to leave him because he is man.

There is no difference between a man killing a woman because she is going to leave him and a man shooting another man because he is black. It is fundamentally dehumanised and dehumanising violence and inequality. We also seem to think that we become less easily exploited or dehumanised when we are rich or have relatively more money.

Poor people may be more exploited than richer people, but again the Williams sisters and many millionaire footballers are more exposed to racialised violence because they are in the public eye. They are insulted regularly because of their sex and their race. Their money does not make them immune to racism or gender discrimination. The racially charged stereotypes have not been dispelled.

The community in South Carolina may have spoken out against the violence aimed at that black community, but it has already happened. The fact that it happened speaks louder than the reaction against it. Moreover, the fact the US has the first black president also shows how entrenched and easily inflamed these passion are. The US is no different from the Dominican Republic, but then the Bahamas races to condone shooting Haitians because they may have landed here illegally, and all efforts will be made to get them repatriated faster so that they cannot have access to rights locally.

Yes, we are a tourist destination, a paradise of islands, but not everyone lives in this paradise the same way. That we choose to allow and encourage inequalities and violence based on power differentials and that government celebrates its exploitation of young black males because they are violent, shows us that we are in trouble. There is no way to sugarcoat what we are living today. Racial/ethnic and gender discrimination are serious problems in our lives.


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