EDITOR, The Tribune
Within our current reality in The Bahamas, we’re noticing that Bahamians, mostly females, are beginning to embrace their Afrocentric (natural) beauty/appearance. However, there are still many who suffer from the social phenomenon that has plagued the black population since enslavement of Africans, colourism. For those who may be wondering, colourism is a term first coined by Alice Walker, where she notes that it is a form of discrimination, based on skin tone, which generally privileges lighter-skinned Blacks and penalises darker-skinned Blacks. The formation of skin colour hierarchies for Blacks traces back to the British system of slavery. Colonisers utilised a system that used skin colour as a basis to divide enslaved Africans for work chores and to create distrust and hatred among them, minimising chances for rebellion.
In today’s society, Bahamians are still affected by colourism because it occurs at a systemic level; therefore, many are not aware of it. It’s almost safe to say that many Bahamians are still mentally subjected and under the influence of their former European rulers. They are being forced to conform to an image that is of Euro-American standard, reinforced by societal messages and the media.
An example of the above-mentioned within The Bahamas is specific work-place policies for Bahamian citizens. According to a jewellery retailer in The Bahamas, their employee’s handbook stated that they would not permit any employee to wear dreadlocks, buds (beginning stage of locks), and braids. Also, within this section of the handbook, they forewarned females that they will not be allowed to work if their hair is viewed as unprofessional (natural hair). Why are we subjecting Black females to embrace an appearance (Eurocentric) which is not naturally theirs? Dr Ian Bethel-Bennett once said, beauty operates as a tool of social capital for women and much of the beauty ideal in this nation has been entered on Eurocentric appeal. To go even deeper within The Bahamian reality, let’s not forget the young ladies who were suspended from a well-known high school allegedly because their natural hair was viewed as ungroomed.
Also within The Bahamas, the notion of associating Black with living in poverty and lightness with supremacy can be found in our very own Angelique Nixon’s article What is Racial Hybridity? Sexual Politics of Mixed-Race Identities in the Caribbean and the Performance of Blackness.
Nixon mentioned that growing up her grandmother insisted she should never wed a Black man. Furthermore, she stated her skin colour and good hair is her way out of the ghetto. Sadly this is the belief still held by some Bahamians where they believe, in order to have a better life, one must emulate Eurocentric appearance. Blacks are often seen as barbaric, confrontational, half-witted, unattractive, and sometimes even destitute. However, Whites are often associated as being civilised, having greater socio-economic status, attractive, and so on. There are still Bahamians who believe females wearing their natural, kinky hair imply poverty or that one is old-fashioned.
Another example of colourism still existing in The Bahamas is the desire for dark-skinned individuals to become lighter. It appears that many of our citizens are engaging in the phenomenon of using skin lightening products. However, skin bleachers are misinformed about their Blackness in that they hold Eurocentric notions of beauty, which equate beauty with light skin. In The Bahamian State of Affairs lightening of one’s skin is an activity that is now socially accepted. The writer can recall many times as a child if one chose to lighten their skin, negative connotations were applied. Some of these statements were “Yuh need to be happy how God makes you,” “Yuh gone look like raw chicken if yuh don’t stop.” However, times have changed as females are now saying, “Girl I can’t come outside cream expensive yuh kno.”
To capture the view of colourism from other Bahamian realities, I gain perspective from Dr Niambi Hall-Campbell, assistant professor at The University of The Bahamas and Simone Bridgewater, Gender-Based Violence Coordinator in the Ministry of Social Services. From our discussion, they both agreed that colourism is still heavily prevalent in The Bahamas. Hall and Bridgewater further agreed that this is primarily due to The Bahamas once being a slave colony and therefore, all the entrapments of the colonial model have been sustained.
Black Bahamians should embrace their ethnic identity. There is nothing wrong with a person choosing to enhance their beauty. However, if this enhancement is derived from negative thoughts held in regards to their Blackness, then as Black people we have failed from being free from mental slavery post-emancipation. It’s time for Bahamians to free themselves from colonial thoughts that have been passed down to destroy Black people. Forty-three years post-independence there should not be such great value held on Eurocentric beauty. Young ladies in school should never fret disciplinary actions for wearing their natural hair…that is simply ludicrous. Black women should never be ridiculed for wanting to transition to their natural hair and express their uniqueness. Black men should never feel belittled in comparison to a Caucasian or lighter skinned Black male.
November 12, 2018