EDITOR, The Tribune
Last week, during the PLP’s rally, Patricia Deveaux introduced Senator the Hon Dr Michael Darville with specific language. Her words used described and amplified her colleague’s intellect and skill set based on his skin tone as opposed to other dark people who she suggests only bring heat. She expressed unequivocally that Dr Darville was a “real” doctor because he is not only, as she stated, “light skin” but also because he is “handsome (and) curly hair”—a statement which suggested that Darville holds a monopoly on knowledge because of his assumed proximity to whiteness. While Deveaux’s comments are both ignorant and incorrect—because neither matter when physicians are conferred their credentials—her comments not only bring to the fore a type of arrogant and unfettered mediocrity which pervades Bahamian politics, but it also demonstrates how vestiges of the colonial project continue to permeate and manifest itself in the Bahamian reality. It is most necessary and almost imperative that we focus on how her comments reveal a type of colonial continuity that whiteness is more desirable.
While it is easy to write Deveaux in the books of history as a colourist and self-hating Black woman who may praise eurocentrism and desire white recognition, Deveaux and her comments are part of a much larger structure of white western imperialism and colonialism that should be addressed. As a former colony, white supremacy continues to infiltrate our political structures and most of all the political imagination of Bahamians. We see this trope of white superiority manifest itself in the Bahamas daily as whiteness receives unlimited access to Bahamian resources while “darkies” are kept on the outside with unimaginable forms of bureaucracy which limit progress. Similarly, we see white supremacy through the mass accrual of concentrated wealth among whiteness while “darkies” live below the poverty line. It is important, however, to note that these oppressive circumstances are not pathological and should not be seen as a form of inherent inferiority among “darkies.” Instead, it should be seen as what it is, an anti-black and systemic, institutional phenomenon of colourism born of racism and the entire legacy of the colonial project. In this same way colourism, or the extent to which people of a lighter skin hue receive more degrees of freedom and privilege, cannot be separated from forms of misogynoir, homophobia, ableism, and ageism which are inherent to the Bahamian culture and are part of a long-complicated colonial history.
To understand colourism then, there is no need to look far. All that is needed is an honest and introspective look into ourselves and the ways in which we desire to be more like whiteness; in our actions and appearance. We make Black men cut and comb their hair to be more “respectable”—as if respectability has ever gotten us anything. We make our women straighten their hair, bleach their skin and practically starve their bodies to achieve a sort of whiteness that does not exist. Then, when those around us do not meet our criteria of whiteness, we victimise them, discredit their knowledge, disrespect their work and remind them of their place as “darkies” like Patricia Deveaux did.
Though sometimes nuanced, white supremacy and our internalised oppression and beliefs of inferiority make discussing colourism and its reality so hard to talk about and identify. I am, however, aware that we did not arrive at this place overnight and we will not get free overnight either. Therefore, if we are going to build communities that are authentic, we must do the work and engage in explicit discussions surrounding the denial of beauty in blackness and the desire for whiteness and white recognition.
SHELBY A E McPHEE
February 12, 2020.