By ALICIA WALLACE
What is the value of a human life? How do we decide who deserves what? This is often a part of national conversations, though not explicitly stated.
Many of our ideas about how limited resources should be controlled, distributed and consumed are directly influenced by our perceptions of the value of other people. Education level, income, social status, family names, nationality and immigration status are, in the eyes of many, markers of success, potential and value which are all positively correlated to what people to deserve. A college education, at least mid-range or income, recognisable family name and Bahamian citizenship or expat (rather than “immigrant”) status make a person more deserving of resources and respect than a person with a lower income.
Not only are we are preoccupied with status, but our measurement of status are leftovers from slavery and colonisation. It is about ownership, kinship and perceived power and dominance.
We have been operating with a scarcity mentality for a long time. We have allowed flawed systems to convince us there is not enough to go around. In order to look out for ourselves, we have fallen into the practice of limiting other people’s access to resources. The more people gain access, the less we have for ourselves and the higher the probability they can surpass us in status. The more accessible a resource is, the less value we understand it to have. If it’s “a dime a dozen,” is it worth having? If it is worth its weight in gold, do others deserve to have it?
Education is a useful example of a system we know is far from perfect, yet not on the road to improvement because our attention is at the wrong end. Many believe that undocumented children should not be in school. This holds their attention more than the flaws in the system itself. The reason behind this is deeper than the myopic view that access to publicly funded education encourages people to break the law. It is rooted in fear that our resources will be drained (for example, no room for Bahamian children) and our children will have greater competition in the years to come (because they are being educated alongside children who already speak another language and, as underdogs, have more drive).
Rather than demanding the expansion and improvement of the education system, making better use of physical space, technology and expertise and ensuring educators are well-equipped and supported so everyone has access to quality education, the focus is on reducing the number of people who can access it. Somehow, people believe keeping undocumented people underground and making it impossible for them to access basic services is in our best interest.
Even today, with Bahamians and migrant people alike seriously impacted by Hurricane Dorian, people are asking questions and making comments that illuminate their prejudices, making it clear they believe only a particular set of people are worthy of assistance in the most basic form. Procedures are being developed to prevent migrant people from getting food, water, clothing and shelter. Because we typically understand Haitian migrants to be low-income, undocumented and unconnected to people of status, they are seen as immigrants before human. They are of little value, according the measurement system currently in use, so why should they access life-sustaining resources?
“Round them up.”
“Send them home.”
As we relegate this group of people to the subhuman category, we distract ourselves with fantasies of a different kind of country where migrant labour exists without the migrant and leave ourselves with little time or energy to focus on the real problem. What we really need to expel are the failing systems keep us from progressing, but we convince ourselves we could be better, if we could just get rid of the people we insist are underlings, but we truly see them as competition in a world that has too little to go around.
In trying to reduce the beneficiaries rather than improving the system, we are looking at the wrong end of the chain. The problem is not that too many people are trying to access education, but that the existing system does not meet the need, and it would not even if it excluded people who are not Bahamian.
The system is failing and we are reminded of this every time we see national examination results and get riled up about the notorious and unrelenting D-average.
We see the Bahamas Union of Teachers fighting to have safe, healthy work environments. We see school supply lists that include office supplies and cleaning products. We see Social Services giving only one or two uniforms per child depending on the number of children in the household.
The burden of this broken system falls on teachers and the families of students when the onus is on the Ministry of Education and Technology to make the necessary adjustments to ensure access to education and the quality of education are not compromised for any reason. Teaching methods need to match learning styles, more classrooms need to be built, teachers need to be properly compensated, families need to have the ability to participate in children’s learning, methods of assessment need to be revised and we need to understand the importance of education to a nation which includes people of various immigration statuses.
It may be easier to shift our thinking to “What do we, as a country, deserve?” instead of looking at individual human lives. Even if you believe an undocumented person is less deserving of an education, do you believe it would be better for the country to lock them out, even as they continue to live, age and work here? Education is a human right and human rights are inalienable and indivisible. The Bahamas has signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Child, both of which mandate that the state is responsible for providing access to education for all resident children.
Gaslighting needs to be called out and shut down
Violence comes in various forms, not always presenting itself in physical ways. Financial and psychological violence are often glossed over or completely missed when violence and abuse are discussed.
One of the most damaging and difficult to recognise forms of psychological violence is gaslighting. This is a tactic used by perpetrators of violence to convince the person on the receiving end that they have invented the conflict by drawing attention to a behaviour they did not exhibit.
For example, two sisters - Shanae and Dionne - go to Shanae’s work function together and Shanae consistently talks over Dionne when other people are around. Dionne tells Shanae she does not feel like she can participate in conversations because she is always cut off or drowned out. Shanae says that is not true. Dionne says it is true and gives two examples. Shanae tells her it is all in her head, she is always making herself a victim and she would never do anything like that to Dionne.
Rather than admitting that she did something that hurt the other person, a gaslighter not only denies the behaviour, but tries to make the person think something is wrong with them for seeing it that way. Gaslighters lie, cast blame and try to make the other person feel uncertain about their own reality.
Gaslighting is, unfortunately, quite common. It is important to recognise it, name it and shut it down when we experience it. We have to be firm and resolute in our response, but refuse to be pulled into an unending argument. This can be done by telling the gaslighter that we have different memories of what occurred, we are unwilling to debate it and we will not continue the conversation if they refuse to acknowledge what they said or did.
Gaslighting is not limited to romantic relationships. Parents, children, friends, teachers and employers sometimes use this tactic to manipulate, belittle, or weaken. Wherever it comes from, we need to know it when we see it and make it clear it will not be tolerated. Our wellbeing depends on us setting and maintaining boundaries and holding others accountable.