LAST week, in response to questions about shantytowns in Abaco, Member of Parliament for Central and South Abaco John Pinder said: “We’re gonna lose our father’s place. Our ancestors settled there[…]”
This is very odd phrasing for anyone, but especially bothersome coming from a white man, talking about an island in a majority black country with a history of slavery.
Which “fathers” was he talking about? Which ancestors actually made the decision to “settle” in The Bahamas? Who actually did the growing? Was he speaking out of ignorance, or was he sending a message to people, encouraging them to do something before “the boiling point” is reached?
The immigration issue never seems to be out of the news. There is always a story about immigration, and too many of them dehumanise the people involved, specifically because they are – or are assumed to be – Haitian people.
People complain about irregular immigration with sweeping generalisations. They are loud and consistent in their vague, poorly articulated arguments.
From there being too many to there being too many gaining entry at a time. From migrant people taking all of the jobs to their supposed contributions to rises in crime. From alleged disinterest in assimilating here to being too much competition, especially with an additional language.
Haitian migrants are an easy target, always there for the convenience of a mediocre person who needs to assign blame for their latest failure.
The question, especially for those who quickly jump onto bandwagons like the anti-Haitian one, is who will be the new scapegoat when Haitian migrants are no longer available for the role and the problems are not solved? Who will the angry mob turn to next? Will they double down on women? Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people? People with disabilities? Children? Who will they decide has taken too much and contributed too little?
This kind of hunt, this kind of hatred, this kind of exclusion never ends with one group of people. There will always be another group to turn on.
In many cases, when one set of people rages about immigration issues, speaking only of Haitian migrants, another set calls it “xenophobia”. This is a term for the hatred of people from other countries or of anything foreign.
This is not the best way to describe the specific hostility toward Haitian people. A more precise term is “anti-Haitian.”
The Bahamian people who complain about the immigration of Haitian people do not generally dislike people who are not Bahamian. They are fine with European immigrants. They are fine with American immigrants. They are fine with Canadian immigrants. Those people are called “expats”.
Haitians? They are referred to as “immigrants”. They are called “illegals”, completely stripping them of their humanity by making them synonymous with the way they may have entered the country.
Haitian people, in particular, are treated with this disdain. No one else.
This is beyond xenophobia. This is anti-Haitian. It is hostility toward this group of people because of their place of origin. This is inextricably linked to race and class.
Take any argument that is used against Haitian migrants, and explore the way it is discussed or ignored in relation to other migrants.
A popular complaint is that Haitian people will take all of the jobs. Can this be true? What kind of work do the Haitian migrants who enter the country through irregular channels do? Do they become executives at large resorts? Do they become managing directors of utility companies? Do they get jobs that Bahamians are interested and qualified to do? The white migrants from North America certainly do.
When they run out of economic nonsense, the handwringing about loss of culture begins. How would immigrants rob The Bahamas of its culture? How could they take Bahamian people’s culture. We have done very little to rid ourselves and this place of bad culture that was forced upon us, and that many of us now actively and willing participate in every day.
Look at the political culture. Look at corporate culture. Look at the fundamentalist culture of many Christians and their churches. Look at the culture of every institution in this country, from schools and banks to media. Where did the rules and regulations originate? Who makes the decisions? Who does the work, and who gets the credit?
What if we expanded our thinking about culture? What if we were less of afraid of losing it, and more committed to preserving it, not by putting expressions of it in glass cases in museums, but participating in it every day, and being open to the ways it could grow, transform, replicate itself, and fuse with others?
Anti-Haitian ideology and behaviors are functions of white supremacy which is the belief that white people are superior and should dominate all other people. It is entirely possible to be Black and an active participant in white supremacy.
Racism is so poisonous that it encourages us – the people it oppress – to accept stereotypes about each other.
A consequence of not talking about racism or admitting that it exists everywhere, including this majority black country, is that we fail to recognise the ways we internalise the idea that we are subordinate in the system that racism produces.
In order to gain favor or access opportunities, we learn to differentiate ourselves from one another. Lighter skin, straightened hair or looser curls, “proper” English, crossing the line from politeness to deference, and anything else that would suggest or allow proximity to whiteness. Respectability politics becomes a practice that is second nature as black people attempt to be – or at least appear – less black.
This – respectability and aspiring to whiteness – is one of the ways many Bahamians have made a distinction between themselves and Haitian people. How many have been scolded, as children, told to stay out of the sun, lest they get “too black?” How many are punished for speaking Bahamian Creole, the first language for most of us?
Internalised racism is a disaster. It is the continuation of violence endured by our ancestors – who did not “settle” here so much as they were kidnapped and nearly killed in the transatlantic trip after which they were forced to work – that we have the power to end.
We, frankly, cannot afford to wield it as a weapon against the people whose ancestors led the revolution that brought our ancestors freedom. What are we doing with our freedom now?
It is foolish to resent the will to survive. That is all most Haitian migrants bring with them to The Bahamas. Not plans to outnumber Bahamians, not a manifesto to take all of the jobs, and not a blueprint to erasing Bahamian culture.
We do not need protection from people who are seeking safety and security. The threat against us is not people who need our help. It is scarcity thinking.
The threat is the idea that we must hoard our resources. It is the encouragement from absolute idiots with large followings to refuse to protect and stand in solidarity with the people who still believe in freedom and are unafraid to seek the tools to create it.
What if France were held responsible for its tyranny, and paid reparations to Haiti? What if Britain finally paid reparations as set out in the CARICOM ten-point plan? Would we still be scrapping for resources? What if we turned our rage toward colonisers and people upholding racist systems? What if we worked together, across the region, to demand and to succeed in getting reparations? What if we created a culture of solidarity and resource-sharing? What if we could see ourselves in one another?
When we separate ourselves from Haitian people, regarding ourselves as deserving of everything and referring to them as subhuman and worthless, we embolden people like the MP for Central and South Abaco to talk about “[their] fathers place” as though black Bahamians do not exist.
Do not miss the way people speak past us. Do not ignore the order of events. It matters who speaks first, who shows up later, and how they make their comments. Always place yourself in the trajectory of events. Again, the group people target today will expand or change entirely, and it could include you. This is a terrible reason to care, but it is a reason, nonetheless.
We are not so different from Haitian migrants. Black, robbed, lied to, regarded as means of production, scapegoated when it is convenient. We would benefit greatly from the recognition that we are black. That our shared history is relevant. That our collective voice is powerful. That we do not need to attack each other. That we have been duped into thinking we have to be in a competition with another. That we cannot divide and conquer each other to win.
1 Record your small wins.
Everyone needs a confidence boost from time to time. Many of us were trained to ignore our success, regarding every good grade, award, or other achievement as what we ought to earn, our singular purpose being to produce in ways that are gratifying and bring pride to our parents and guardians.
Many of us had a hard time learning that we are not and will never be great at everything, and still struggle to understand that it is okay to try new things for fun, and not have to win or be especially good at them all. You can be a slow runner and celebrate your fastest run. You can be terrible at drawing and like the self portrait you created on your phone. The application you sent five minutes before the deadline, the best comeback you have ever landed, and the most appetizing dinner you have ever plated can be noted in your planner or tucked into a folder in your phone.
Looking at these things at the end of the week or on a particularly hard day can bring some joy into your life.
2 Create a system for regular tasks.
If you have to do it often, there is probably a way to do it faster or more efficiently. Out of office auto-replies, email templates, recurring alarms and notifications, and timers can all be helpful tools. Make them work for you.