Op-Ed

Just numbers!

These aren’t people.

Black lives really don’t matter.

All lives matter, especially those that aren’t Black.

The local attitude to Black lives has been revelatory. If we want to see polarisation, state in various communities in The Bahamas that Black lives matter, we see people retort that the only reason the country is in this mess now is because of all these Black lives.

Yet, the mess has been created through poor governance, male privilege and structural violence and systemic racism. Government relies on colonial structures for their power. These systems have not been decolonized.

Ironically, the government, made up almost exclusively of Blacks, be they light skinned or darker skinned, distances itself from those darker skinned Blacks, especially those in working-class neighborhoods.

We see this with the disaster in Abaco and when the minister of national security argues “let’s not fixate on numbers”.

“The numbers that were given are not Marvin Dames’ numbers,” he said.

“They are the numbers compiled and taken from the centralized [listing]. All of these numbers are now in the hands of the police. Let’s not get fixated on this and I think sometimes we get caught in a position where we say ‘oh something is amiss, what is amiss?’”

Nothing is amiss! These are people, not numbers!

We are just seeing how little regard we, in a Black country, have for Black lives.

The fact that thousands or at least hundreds of mostly working-class Blacks died in Abaco and their names were erased, their deaths were not recorded, the fact that they were overlooked by police, returns us to the same place where George Floyd is kneeled on by a police officer.

This is not good governance. It reveals disregard for Black lives.

In The Bahamas, we often avoid talking about race.

We do not discuss racism, though it pervades the social and economic interactions and structures in the country. We do not talk about inequality because we notice that the poor are disproportionately negatively impacted by environmental, social, economic and spatial injustice.

We do not talk about how poorer people in The Bahamas, who happen to be Black or who are overwhelmingly black are disproportionately impacted by government inaction, mismanagement and lack of policy and regulation.

Black Lives Matter provides a moment when we can seize on the power disparities as police overwhelmingly kill poor, black men they claim are a national threat: they were known to the police.

The police claim they themselves are the power. They use violence to ensure they are power.

Ministers, prime ministers and the like, speak down to and dismiss the people they claim to be in public service to serve. Rather, they offer all the golden eggs to non-Black bodies.

In reality, we have seen that Black lives matter less in this Black nation.

We know this from the oil spill in Grand Bahama that will be shown to destroy lives and livelihoods, not to mention environments, for decades to come. The people in that area are less wealthy than those in other areas, yet these Black lives have been silenced.

We cannot talk about Black lives mattering because there can be no racism in this Black paradise. The power rests with those who inhabit Parliament and some gated communities. All gated communities are not created equal.

In some social media groups, people who live next to Black bodies show their true colors by striking down talks about Black lives mattering. Yet, we cannot talk about this. All lives matter. White lives matter more. The irony is that you would never know it from their outward appearance.

When Dorian washed over the Mudd and lower Marsh Harbour, it wiped out many Black lives. Those Black lives are now being referred to as numbers. When their bodies were buried, nameless, it showed how little the government really cared for those black bodies, yet the government opted to dismiss the challenges to their missteps.

Power is in the hands of mostly rich, lighter skinned Blacks who distance themselves, as Fanon and other colonial theorists discuss, from those black bodies they deem to be beneath them, much like past white rulers. The distance between leadership and Blackness has increased, especially with the tone used to address the population.

We often look to the United States, Britain and other European countries for examples of structural and systemic racism, while the exact structures and the same attitudes are alive and well here.

With the murders of Black men at the hands of police, we know about George Floyd and the many others because it was caught on camera. Eight minutes and 46 seconds later, there is a dead black body. How often does this happen in Nassau and we ignore it?

How often does it happen in Pinewood, Nassau Village, Bain Town, on Step Street, Quakoo Street, Lily of the Valley Corner, Peter Street, Malcolm Road, and we understand that those black bodies are bad men, thugs, challenging the police, showing that law and order need to be imposed?

Policing doesn’t solve the problem; it only worsens it.

In a society where structural violence and systemic racism are built into the DNA of colonial structures, courts, prisons, laws, we need to see things differently.

There is as much systemic racism and power inequality here as anywhere else.

Somehow, we think that a majority Black country like South Africa can be racist, but The Bahamas cannot.

The violence we see through the language, tone, and actions used when dealing with the population by government is testament enough to how racist, like South Africa, The Bahamas is, yet, we do not talk about it.

We must decolonize the colonial systems that continue to exclude and empower a few who guard that privilege with their lives making sure the police protect them and that power remains in their hands.

White privilege, power and male hierarchy eclipse everything else, even when it is not completely white.

If those same leaders were to move to another country, a white country built on non-white bodies, not as leaders but as normal people, they would be shocked at how they would be treated.

• Ian Bethell-Bennett is a professor at the University of The Bahamas.

 

 

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