Front Porch | Exorcising and demystifying racist and colonial ghosts
On Tuesday, in celebration of our 45th anniversary of independence, a throng of Bahamians and residents flocked to the convention center at Baha Mar for the opening of the first phase of the Fairwind exhibition, a chronicle of Bahamian history through the visual arts.
One participant described the event as a vibrant expression of Bahamian talent and imagination.
Another noted that in the midst of our national challenges and problems, the exhibit was a reminder that The Bahamas still has much to celebrate in our relative youthfulness as a sovereign nation.
As noted in literature from The Current, the creative arts enterprise at the resort: “The Fairwind exhibition encompasses a survey of 100-years of Bahamian art, beginning in the late 1800s up to the contemporary practices of today… The exhibition communicates both a visual and auditory narrative to viewers, exhibiting paintings, photography, sculpture, artifacts and multimedia.”
Bahamians and residents, including the staff of Baha Mar, marvelled at the exhibit, showcasing the talent of generations of artists who employed their gifts to express the struggle and transcendence of the Bahamian people through slavery and colonialism and in nation building as a sovereign country.
At a pre-opening event on independence eve, Baha Mar President Graeme Davis, an approximately 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry, noted, that to his knowledge, there was no such permanent exhibit in any hotel lodging in the region or perhaps, the world.
At the pre-opening event for the exhibition on the eve of the 45th anniversary, creative writer Yasmin Glinton recited a poem celebrating the opening of Fairwind, a nautical term meaning a favorable wind.
In “Of Us”, Glinton invited Bahamians to feast on the artistry at Fairwind so that it might nourish our spirits and imaginations, the nutrients and flavors fortifying us for the continued work of nation building.
Here you will see
tellings of our history
A gathering of artistic voices
Running through us like
A single breath.
“Let this art
Create a space to feel
Settle in your chest.
“It is no easy thing
Building a country.”
“It is no easy thing building a country!” We have at times faltered and failed. There is the need for tremendous improvement in various areas of national life. We have become too slack and uncivil, the latter a phenomenon resident in many Western societies.
But we have assimilated enduring democratic institutions and created a solidly middle-class country. Many thousands of Bahamians have tertiary degrees, which is not to deny our educational challenges, which are not unique to us.
Many advanced nations are struggling to improve public education, with the United States of America as a prime example.
We have lifted more people out of poverty than most countries in the Caribbean, Central America and various parts of South America, not to mention many other countries in other regions.
We are in significant ways doing better as a country by various economic and social metrics than Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados, the latter of which is in economic meltdown and the hands of the International Monetary Fund.
Bahamians at home and in the diaspora have excelled in many fields of endeavor from the arts to medicine to business and the sciences.
And the success of our visual artists and musicians like the great Joseph Spence and Randolph Symonette are part of a broader narrative of Bahamian success.
An obituary in the Independent in the U.K. noted of Symonette: “Randolph Symonette, the Bahamian-born bass-baritone, was in his middle thirties before he turned to singing as a profession, but for over 20 years he pursued a successful career, mainly in Europe but also in the United States. Progressing from Broadway to the Metropolitan Opera House, he acquired a reputation as a strong singer and a powerful actor.
“His repertory also progressed from Kurt Weill and Menotti to Verdi, Puccini, Richard Strauss and Wagner, culminating in the roles of Wotan, the Wanderer and Gunther in Der Ring des Nibelungen.
“Symonette was born at Mathews Town (sic) in The Bahamas. His first choice of career was at sea, and he rose to command his own ship. In the mid-forties he studied singing in New York with Paul Althouse, a former tenor who became one of America’s finest singing teachers.”
Today, with their poetry, iconography, wood, oils, watercolors, cameras and other creative instruments and material, flowing from their fecund Bahamian imaginations and longings, personal and communal, our artists play a pivotal role in nation building.
Many of these priests and priestesses of the arts and culture are like exorcists, helping us to confront, banish and exorcise the ghosts and demons of racism and colonialism, which inhabit the minds and attitudes of many, who depreciate still our accomplishments as a country inhabited by a black majority.
Cesspool of bigotry
One of those sputtering ghosts concocted from a cesspool of bigotry and prejudice a febrile letter to this journal some weeks ago, spewing all manner of racism while longing for a colonial past, one, presumably, in which the natives are still subdued by their former colonial masters.
The racist writer of that letter is not alone in his or her contempt for our sovereignty and the dignity of all Bahamians.
Some people who would object to being labelled racist are nevertheless capable of saying racially insensitive things, like describing Topsy as delightfully amusing.
Topsy is, of course, the much-abused little slave girl in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Topsy knows not God nor parents and suspects that she just “growed”.
She is an utterly tragic and broken product of a vicious racist system, disconnected from her roots and personhood, an amnesiac unaware of her innate human dignity, of which she has been disrobed and raped by those who denuded her and generations of African descendants, including black women.
Yet, Topsy was described in a piece written in one of our journals as amusing. Really? What is amusing about such a victim of violent racism? Who would find such a tragic figure humorous?
The letter written by the Ghost of Junkanoo Future, with its pejorative references to “African mini-buses” and other allusions to Africa is a well-known tactic in which the references to Africa, which also implies “black”, are meant as derogatory.
The Ghost claims: “The mandarins in Whitehall were right. We were not ready for independence and still won’t be for a long time. These islands are too young, too disparate and too, frankly, African, to entertain the idea.”
Notice “too, frankly, African”, meaning too black! So, why did this racist Ghost come to The Bahamas in the first place? Clearly he is upset that the black natives did not bow down and worship him as inherently superior.
To complete the racist screed, the Ghost is clearly mocking Junkanoo, which, in the mind of this racist provocateur is too African, black and ethnic.
The Ghost’s disdain for Africa overlooks the historic developments taking place on that continent today, as well as its broader history.
Sweep of history
This is another typical tactic: beginning a narrative at a place or era convenient for the racist, rather than the richer sweep of history.
Today, Africa is struggling to emerge from “the heart of darkness” imposed by the savagery of European exploitation, which is not to deny the self-imposed problems of various countries.
Still, for centuries the Europeans have devastated that continent with their greed and brutality. They destroyed whole societies in Africa.
They have raped and stolen everything they could lay their hands on including the vast natural resources of that rich continent: gold, diamonds and other precious gems, copper and other metals.
European savagery did not respect human life. They slaughtered by the millions. Greedy King Leopold’s Belgian savages killed over 10 million in the Congo alone.
Curiously and nauseatingly, the Ghost made an unthinking and asinine analogy between The Bahamas government and the Congo, which will be addressed in a subsequent column.
Many millions more were taken into slavery as the Europeans rampaged across the New World, wiping out most of the native peoples of the Americas.
Africa is now emerging from a darkness worse than the darkness that once covered Europe, a darkness from which it took the Europeans centuries to emerge.
Yet the Ghost wants The Bahamas to be recolonized by those who viewed the majority of Bahamians as inferior, and who still see black people as inherently inferior.
It is good for such vicious racism to be exposed, especially for those who claim that we should move on.
The racist bile and puss from the Ghost and others must be lanced because such poison remains in the minds of many, who still internalize such bile, the paralyzing effects of which are amnesia and insufficient self-worth for a number of black Bahamians, and an entrenched sense of privilege and entitlement for a number of white Bahamians.