Discrimination in our independence

Independence celebrations at Clifford Park in July.

Independence celebrations at Clifford Park in July.

By Alicia Wallace

We are one week away from celebrating 51 years of independence in The Bahamas. Last year, the celebration seemed to last forever with many events and designated thematic days in the lead-up to July 10. This year is much less busy and promotion of Independence events seemed to start quite late. Nonetheless, much of the same old same old is taking place. The Beat Retreat has already taken place and the usual Clifford Park event will begin on July 9, ending with fireworks at midnight to bring in Independence Day. Even fifty plus one years later, the program is the same. There is little, if any, innovation in the celebrations.

Many of us have attended the Clifford Park event year after year after year, especially as young people. It may be because it was one of the few late night events that parents would allow their children to attend. Maybe because there was excitement about who and what would be seen there. Maybe there was tradition in the opportunity to dress up, be with cousins and friends, and do something predictable. Maybe it came with some freedom, especially as we got older, to venture a little further away from the adult supervision each year. One year it could be sitting in the row in front of the adults. Another year it could be going to buy sodas and “come right back!” Eventually, the younger cousins become the older cousins who are taking the preteens and teens to the event. When we are no longer so young that the incremental increase in freedom in over and no longer have younger people to chaperone, there is no need to keep going. It is the same show every single year.

We need something different a long time ago. One year, people were excited by the focus on different islands in The Bahamas, giving residents information about islands most have never visited and would not learn about firsthand. This was proof that we are, indeed, interested in learning more about The Bahamas. We want information. We want to hear from our elders. We want to see what young people are doing in the Family Islands. We want to hear the different words and phrases used in specific islands, and we want to make connections between practices of our older family members and their islands of birth. We are interested in the history of The Bahamas. We want it to be accessible, presented in an entertaining way. We want to have space to discuss, dissect, and debate.

Far too much time during the Clifford Park event is dedicated to the “ecumenical service” that is, year after year, boring, far too long, and clearly ego-driven as “religious leaders” compete in their long addresses and prayers.

The Bahamas is not a Christian nation, and the focus on and centring of Christianity is inexcusable. It is discriminatory and it is incorrectly taken as validation of the frequently repeated idea that The Bahamas is a Christian nation. The Bahamas is, in fact, a secular state. The constitution does not make this country a theocracy. On the contrary, only the preamble makes reference to “respect for Christian values.” The same preamble states that The Bahamas is a “Democratic Sovereign Nation founded on Spiritual Values” and it is important to note that “Spiritual Values” is not synonymous with Christianity, nor is it the same as Christian values.

The constitution itself has an entire chapter on protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. Article 15 states that everyone in The Bahamas is “entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual” regardless of identity markers including race, creed, and sex, and these include the right to life, liberty, security of the person, and the protection of the law. It also guarantees freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and protection for the privacy of homes. These rights are further elaborated in the following Articles. Article 22 states:

“No person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this Article the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion of belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”

In a country with freedom of religion, with a constitution that has a preamble that references its founding on “Spiritual Values,” why do publicly-funded events center Christians and Christianity? What does this communicate to the people who are not Christians? What does this communicate to the people of other faiths? Why are leaders of other religions not invited to participate in national events? Why are all of the prayers Christian prayers? Why aren’t interfaith prayers used? Why not do away with prayers entirely, have a moment of silence for people to quietly engage in their own religious or spiritual practice, or invite prayers from different faiths? Why does the government of The Bahamas validate the ignorance of the people who do not understand that The Bahamas is secular state? Why does the anti-rights group that the government consistently platforms fail to acknowledge that there are other religions and do the Christlike act of sharing space with them?

These are important questions to consider during independence conversations and celebrations. The constitution is a product of its time, the coloniser, and the people who participated in framing or editing it. It is, in many ways, colonial, and we know that it is in need of amendments. We also know that the Christianity that so many cling to—and did not make it into the constitution itself—is a relic of slavery and colonialism. It is unreasonable that this religion, which was used to support kidnapping, slavery, and genocide, and is still used today to inflict harm on people, is intertwined in independence celebrations every year.

There is not enough critical thinking about independence, what is means, and what it does not mean. We continue to go through the motions, follow the same old program, and ask no questions. We are stuck in a dull, inequitable, discriminatory, violent way of “celebrating” and we need to care enough to change it. Independence is more than sitting on a park, waiting for the dogs to come out and the fireworks to start. It must be more than one religions dominating hours of programming. It is more than the same people making decisions about what the programming on July 9 will entail. We have more people with deep knowledge and great ideas. Some of them even practice religions that are not Christianity. We need to make space. In our (Christian?) hearts, in our brilliant minds, in our annual programming. We need to make space.


1. The Resilience Myth with Soraya Chemaly. Terrible, Thanks for Asking, a podcast about grief hosted by Nora McInerny, has been on hiatus for a few months, but a special episode was released on June 18. This episode of Terrible Thanks for Asking is a conversation between host Nora McInerny and author Soraya Chemaly about her book, The Myth of Resilience: New Thinking on Grit, Strength, and Growth After Trauma. The first thing Chemaly says is, “I think the core resilience myth is that we should be looking inside of ourselves to develop resilience. That it’s a personality trait, a characteristic, a skill we can develop. And some of that is true, but in fact, the real of our resilience isn’t our independence and our self sufficiency. It’s our interdependence and our mutual care and our collective.” Listen to the episode on the podcast platform of your choice, or read the transcript on the Terrible, Thanks for Asking website. The Myth of Resilience is the book that Feminist Book Club, hosted by Equality Bahamas and Poinciana Paper Press is discussing on November 20. Sign up for updates: tiny.cc/fbc2024.

2. They Called Us Exceptional: And Other Lies That Raised Us by Parch Gupta. Feminist Book Club is currently reading this book and will discuss it on Wednesday, July 17 at 6pm. Giving his impression of the book, Damon Young said, “What happens when a person discovers that the American Dream is a virus? Gupta’s stunning and devastating debut contorts genre—existing as a disquisition on Asian American assimilation into the West, a bird’s-eye view of how patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy congealed to destroy a family, and a coming-of-age tale about a woman who had to fight to make space for her voice.”

3. Girl, It’s Still Hot. Check out the Equality Bahamas summer mix, created by DJ Ampero. It includes Tyla, Flyana Boss, Jorja Smith, Nailah Blackman, Shenseea, and Moyann. Play it on Spotify at tiny.cc/summermix24 or find it on MixCloud.


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