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Columns : The New Bahamian - Joseph Gaskins Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

All of We is One Family ... Except for Dem (Dispatches from Exuma Part 2)
By Joseph Gaskins
Oct 28, 2011 - 10:36:27 AM

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I’m back in London now, so whether I can continue to call this series “Dispatches from Exuma” is debatable. Suffice it to say, the series will continue to reflect some of the things that became clearer while I was home. If you recall in my last piece, I realized that I should perhaps re-situate the column.

I want to be a bit clearer about what I’m attempting to do here. I suggested that we are in need of a new kind of politics at home with three specific dimensions. In the previous article I wrote about the need for a new critical politics, a politics that can provide “ forward movement fostered by radical policies that get to the heart of our real issues beyond the superficiality of party politics”. This is something I attempted to advocate for while PLP delegates spoke to students here in London . In this second installment of the series I would like to address yet another dimension that might define a new Bahamian politics: a politics of inclusion.

What do I mean by a “politics of inclusion”? If the Bahamas is in need of a “politics of inclusion,”  what kind of politics do we have now? Without this so called “politics of inclusion” what is at stake? These are big questions and so instead of attempting to answer them out right, I want to build my argument from a popular and deceptively political phrase.

A few years ago, around Independence Day, our country celebrated national freedom under that banner of “All of We is One Family”. Perhaps more than any other, this theme captured the spirit of the Bahamian people during that time. It stuck, and even today it's seen on t-shirts, heard on radio shows, and seen and heard on ZNS TV. You can hear and see this mantra of Bahamian unity everywhere. Is there any truth to the saying? Realistically, are all Bahamians treated like we are a part of the big Bahamian family? And, when we say “ All of we” who exactly are we talking about? How do we decide who gets to be a part of the Bahamian family? Is it a question of where one is born? Or is it more about your values, your religious persuasion or your political orientation?

The fact is that as far as the Bahamian majority is concerned, indeed Bahamian law concerned, all of we ain’t family. All of we don’t get equal treatment. All of we ain’t included in the conversation. And, all of we don’t get a seat at the table. I suppose one can argue that in a family not everyone gets speak, but then again, the Bahamas, unlike a family, is suppose to be a democracy. Thinking about our nation as family then becomes problematic in and of itself. That, however, is a lesser point. One can assume that when people say “All of We Is One Family” it means that as Bahamians we must look out for each other, care for each other and support one another. But, if we are going to be honest about the Bahamian family, what we should really be saying is, “All of we is one family…except for dem”.

Who is “dem”? Well, “dem” are at the margins of Bahamian society, those who challenge the illusion of national unity. “Dem” pose a question to empty  Independence Day rhetoric that shields what has traditionally been a politics of exclusion: “If all of we is one family den why am I not welcomed? Why am I silenced?”

Apparently, for some Bahamians it is not enough that you were born on Bahamian soil, that you may consider yourself Bahamian or that all you know is the Bahamas. If you are Haitian-Bahamian your membership in the “one family” is tenuous at best. Bahamians have for years happily employed Haitian cheap labor to cut their grass and clean their homes, even to take care of their children. It becomes a problem however when children born to Haitian parents begin sitting next to our Bahamian kids in schools and competing for jobs beyond menial labor. I imagine someone is saying, “But they don’t want to integrate, they don’t want to be a part of the Bahamian family.” In a culture where calling something “Haitian” is one of the dirtiest insults, is it any wonder why the “all of we” doesn’t seem to include those of Haitian heritage?

Immigration aside, after the Free National Movement government voted in support of the UN Resolution to affirm the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people across the world, I wrote to support this bold move by our government . Bahamian religious leader’s, on the other hand, asked for whom was the government speaking ? It didn’t seem to occur to them that “all of we” included Bahamians who could support such a move or who may desperately need the kind of protection that such a resolution encouraged. They, in a single broad stroke, made the Bahamian family into their own image, not only conservative but completely heterosexual. We family don’t want it and we family don’t tolerate it. Again I ask, “all of we” who exactly?

In the case of gay and lesbian Bahamians, where do politicians believe they fit into the Bahamian family tree? During the debate on the Domestic Violence and Protection Orders Bill , FNM Sen. Carl Bethel suggested that an amendment should be made to provide protection for homosexuals, or those who “jointly own a dwelling house or have an equitable interest in a dwelling house, that you’re entitled to go and apply, and obtain a property adjustment order”. However, as far as PLP Sen. Paulette Zonicle was concerned, no such protections should be granted because the Bahamian Constitution does not recognize these Bahamians or their relationships. And, as the government worked to update the Maritime Marriage Ac t, Minister of Finance, Zhivargo Laing, wanted to make it “abundantly clear” that  marriage will remain between a man and a woman in keeping with “community standards,” or as I like to call them, rules for membership in “we family”.  No protection, no privileges for “dem”.

A politics of inclusion looks to the differences in our community and does not see chaos, destruction and fear, as some traditionalists and conservatives might. Instead (and I’m channeling the high priest of cultural studies, Stuart Hall), I want to argue that there is strength in our diversity, in the multitude of perspectives and experiences that define who we are as Bahamians. If we are serious about improving our condition, about surviving a world of porous borders, constant immigration, international flows of capital and information at the speed of light, cultures once worlds apart beamed into our very living rooms, and Bahamians spread across the globe, we had better get our house in order. This does not mean becoming cultural fascists, drawing stark lines defining “real” Bahamian culture and defending the honor of Bahamian tradition, an already hybrid cultural formation from its outset.

Every time we silence, exclude, alienate or fail to protect a fellow Bahamian we simultaneously lose their gifts, their talents and, in turn, a part of our community’s strength. It is from a politics of inclusion we must legislate, organize and educate for this is how we breathe new life into our culture, our government and our society as a whole. Bahamians of Haitian heritage and Bahamians who happen to be LGBT are just two examples of “dem”—those who find themselves on the outside of what we like to believe is a big Bahamian family. They struggle against a politics of exclusion, one that defines being Bahamian homogeneously instead of in its many powerful manifestations. At the heart of this is the question of difference and Bahamians’ inability to cope with change and diversity in the face of growing socio-political and cultural stagnation. Instead of being inclusive of those who do not fit the script we’ve opted to shut them out, for there is not enough room for those Bahamians. We’ve failed to realize that their very existence is a challenge to the idea of who we are as Bahamians, a critical appeal to our motto, “Forward, upward, onward, together”. In the end, this is what is at stake. There is no forward, no upward or no onward, without together.

Joey Gaskins is a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was born in Grand Bahama Island and is currently studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he has attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and has begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology. Joey also writes for  the Nassau  Liberal   www. nassauliberal. webs.com  . You can reach him at  j.gaskins@lse.ac.uk

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