Friday, October 10, 2008

Race in the Bahamas

Ward Minnis over at Mental Slavery has written an informative post about race in the Bahamas. Too often, we overlook the fact that race is not so much a biological or genetic phenomenon as it is a social construction. If you have any doubts about that, consider for a moment how race is understood in the Caribbean, in general, and the Bahamas, in particular.

Minnis writes:
This color line is tricky. It’s no where near as rigid as the “one drop” rule that governs blackness in the United States. The Bahamian black/white line is a fluid boundary that varies in different islands and even in different settlements / villages on the same island. For example on the same island of Eleuthera, I am read as black in Tarpum Bay and white in Lower Bogue.
More interesting still is how race is often closely linked with national identity. Back when I was studying TESL in Puerto Rico, I had an American classmate who had previously spent five years teaching English in Taiwan. While there, he observed that the English language schools preferred to hire Germans and Swedes rather than African Americans who were native English speakers because they assumed that "real" English could only be spoken folks who were white or, in other words, fit their preconceived notion of what Americans and Brits are supposed to look like. Likewise, Minnis points out how linking blackness with Bahamian national identity has had the reverse effect in the Bahamas.

As it stands the Bahamian identity is constructed as black, ghetto and male. This construction ignores, deliberately I believe, the 20 percent or so of the country that happen to be white. I have inadvertently asked a few white Bahamians “so, where are you from?” It’s polite conversation with a tourist but it’s the surest, most direct way to insult a native . . . To be called white in the Bahamas is another way to say that you do not belong.
You can read the rest of Minnis' post here.

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