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

In the Absence of Critical Thought (Dispatches from Exuma Part 1)
By Joseph Gaskins
Oct 6, 2011 - 11:00:17 PM

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For the last month I’ve not written anything aside from a questionable Master’s dissertation. With a little less that 10,000 words on the page, I quickly left London for a much need trip home. Today, I’m writing from Exuma, my first trip to an “out island”. My mother has moved here from Freeport and I’ve been looking forward to this trip forever. So there it is, I’m writing from beneath a clear, star-speckled cosmic canopy and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the skies so vivid at night. That’s the thing about living in big cities; the stars are almost always obscured by the city's lights.

I’m sure most of you are aware that this summer London has been plagued by riots. Young and old, black, white and brown, took to the streets to show their “anti-social” colors. Molotov cocktails and shattered windows were the lighting and soundtrack that set the backdrop of August in parts London. Truthfully, I’ve been doing a bit of rioting myself, haven’t I?

Since I’ve been home people have expressed their surprise at some of the things I’ve written, often referring to it as sharp and irreverent. I conceive of them as my own literary Molotov cocktails, my addition to London’s violent summer. However, since I’ve been home I’ve also seen that the themes of what I’ve written have been somewhat lost in the commotion. The stars aren’t the only things that become clear when you leave the city for the islands. With this in mind, I thought it would be productive to draw these themes out before I continue, and paint a clear picture of what I’ve been attempting to do with this column.

When I began to write for The Bahamas Weekly, I thought this column should have two purposes. First, I wanted to propose that our country was home to a new kind of citizen, a “new Bahamian”. Second, this new citizen—I wanted to suggest—necessarily demands, by their very existence, a new kind of politics that can support radical governance. I conceive of this “new politics” as having three specific dimensions: critical thought, inclusion and a particular concern for life. Over the next few weeks I hope to expand on these themes, referencing articles I’ve written previously in the hopes of better articulating these arguments.

What are we to understand by the term, “critical politics”? How is this radical politics different from the politics to which we’ve become accustomed? In my second piece for The Bahamas Weekly , I examined the reading of the Wikileaks by The Nassau Guardian. This was not an attempt to criticize the journalists and opinion writers in the Bahamian media. Instead, I hoped to illustrate that there are some things that are deeply wrong with the way we conduct our electoral politics and that this conversation seemed only to materialize in a real way after a “massive breach” in U.S. security.

It is true that the Bahamian body politic has often been reflexively critical of the political process and the government, but has also been too impotent to meaningfully address those critiques. Beyond the occasional protest, motorcade or rally, significant social action in the face of significant social and political problems is damn-near non-existent. Furthermore, governance beyond shortsighted decisions based on neo-liberal economic agendas in line with global demands or the cosmetic political decision made conveniently during an election year is near impossible to find.

The Bahamas suffers from a uniquely post-colonial dilemma, just like many other countries with a similar colonial history. We are at once plagued by reactionary (as in blocking progress and change) governments pandering to traditionalists and religious leaders for votes at home, while simultaneously being tossed about in the extra-national winds of global economic shifts and the demands of the so called developed world and their various instruments of control (the World Bank, International Monetary Fund etc.).

The result is a stagnant socio-political pool full of empty moral platitudes, fantasies of “the way things were,” and policies that do nothing to create progress in a valuable way. Meanwhile, we are quickly losing the opportunity for advancement—forward movement fostered by radical policies that get to the heart of our real issues beyond the superficiality of party politics. Truly critical deliberation acknowledges and addresses our colonial past, attends to our post-colonial present, and speaks to a greater, radical vision more than just keep our collective heads above water.

Spending time driving through the streets of New Providence was an eye opening experience—it is not the Bahamas with which I am familiar. I can openly acknowledge that this is a product of my own privilege, something I will not hesitate to note and that I find difficult to escape. People are suffering in very real and startling ways beyond the vibrant economic strongholds of Bay Street, Paradise Island and “out West”. These are the places that the lucky few who have jobs commute into only to return to communities often plagued by excessive violence, drug use and joblessness. And, while some might find it productive to blame these conditions on the Free National Movement’s government, thinking critically about our current condition moves one to look beyond partisan politics.

Bahamians, for example, are still beholden to the plantation’s division of labor. Daily, many Bahamians arrive at the banks, hotels and other businesses owned and erected by foreign entities, pick our cotton (or make beds, answer phones, and count the money) and then after a day’s work, return to communities that are barely enriched by our own earnings, much less by the sum of our industry. Radical governance underpinned by a critical political agenda instead recognizes the pattern which we’ve been locked into pre-independence and seeks to address this at its very root. It does not simply ignore the historicity of our present condition, accepting it as just the way things are.  What I am arguing for is a reorganizing of our industry, a retraining of our job forces and a reworking of the way we educate our people. That is how we address our current situation critically and how we radicalize the way we govern.

Obviously, none of this is easy and it certainly isn’t cheap. In the same way I acknowledge my own privilege, I readily acknowledge the difficulty of this task. But, before you categorize this as the musing of an idealist with unrealistic dreams for his country, consider the alternative. We are tasting the first soured fruits our present trajectory will yield in the current global climate.  Remember that when you go to the polls to vote. And, instead of casting your ballet for the same ole familiar candidate, who’s been feeding you the same ole familiar political rhetoric, backed by the same ole familiar faces from all the same ole familiar places, perhaps it’s time to require something different. Not something that passes for new, but a more critical politics and a necessarily more radical mode of governance.

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 hopes to attain his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and go on to pursue a Doctoral Degree. 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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