Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Writing Institute in the Bahamas Ready for Its Second Summer!

Greetings Readers!

Below is an announcement from the Bahamas Writers Summer Institute regarding our upcoming summer program; take a look and if you are interested in applying, please do email us at bahawsi@yahoo.com. We would love to hear from you!


What are the stories you need to tell? Who are the characters that people your stories? Do you see visions you wish you could write down? Have you always wanted to be a writer, but didn’t know where to start?

At the Bahamas Writers Summer Institute, from July 12th through July 29th, you can explore what it means to be a writer with five published Bahamian writers. Through five different craft workshops, from screenplay writing with Travolta Cooper, to writing for the stage with Ian Strachan, to poetry with Marion Bethel and fiction with Lelawatee Manoo Rahming, as well as the writing of memoir with Helen Klonaris, you can delve into the writing genre of your choice and give yourself the gift of tools that will give your imagination wings strong enough to fly.

At BWSI we teach the craft of writing in conjunction with theories about how and why we write, from a Caribbean centered perspective. This year we will explore these theories and the literature they impact with Bahamian scholars Krista Walkes and Angelique V. Nixon. We’ll also discuss the ways writers can publish their work, bringing their stories and visions to a wider audience.

We believe in the enormous talent of Bahamians to imagine, to story, to write, and our goal is to bring together beginning and established writers each year, all the better to cultivate a flourishing Bahamian literary tradition.

In community with each other, beginning and established writers thrive. In community with each other they recognize the value of their words, and in the role of the writer as a co-creator of our communities and our world. As Bahamian writer Keith Russell has said, writers “imaginatively examine the world that is, and story a world that can be.”

Don’t miss the opportunity to attend the only program of its kind in the Bahamas!

Workshops take place from 4pm to 9pm Tuesdays through Fridays, between July 12th and July 29th, with public readings and discussions taking place on Monday and Saturday evenings for the duration of the program. The cost of the program is $400, which includes 36 hours of study in addition to faculty readings and discussions, a master class in fiction by renowned Jamaican writer Olive Senior, and all reading materials. Limited scholarships are available.

For more information or to receive an application, please write BWSI at bahawsi@yahoo.com, or call BWSI at (242) 325-0341.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Making Connections

It’s taken me a while to get back here. To continue to make connections between the stories I’m telling, the stories I’m reading and watching on the screen, and the actuality of disasters taking their toll on human beings, from the continued oppression of Palestine and Gaza, to US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the earthquake in Haiti that has deepened Haiti’s pain exponentially, and sent shudders of grief across the skin of our planet, so that with every breath I take I am aware of how connected we are, even when we aren’t intellectually aware of such a connection. Even if we are adamantly opposed to the idea of one. Or intentionally blind to it.

I have to remind myself to continue making connections, and to look for the triumphant in the stories of disaster, to look for the survivance in them, for the ways people continue to refuse to be victims. I have to remind myself, because on the screen the stories being told are told with such potent images, of the dead and the dying, of the grieving, of those who have lost, and they are almost always brown skin people. And the people with microphones in front of their faces, telling the stories, and the people behind the camera lenses, making the pictures, are almost always beige, pale skin people. Beige, pale skin people who appear magically in these places of such pain, while they themselves appear untouched, able to leave when they want to, to smile even, in the midst of it all.

I have to remind myself because I am also beige, pale. And though my socialization is a complex thing – I was raised in a Caribbean country; my way of being in the world, my physical sense of relationship to others is both Africanized and Anglicized and both are rooted in my ancestral Greekness, Greeks from islands, Greeks who were peasants from villages and not aristocrats from the cities – I am still a beige person in a racially polarized society and my imagination is at stake. And what I know is our potential for human transformation depends on our ability to imagine.

I started the year off talking about Avatar, about this story that was an old story, and a dangerous one. A reader, Dwayne A. Bryan, wrote back to me holding me to account to the confusing nature of my own language, while carrying forward the dialogue in a critical way. He writes:

Dear Helen,

Thank you for your commentary in the Tribune on the movie Avatar. The colonial (neo-colonial) parallels in the story were impossible to miss and you explored them beautifully. But in your commentary you also said, “The idea of white people being so essentially divided from the “other” is problematic.” I would argue that the idea is not at all problematic, in fact any other conclusion is impossible, by definition.

To come to my conclusion we must first ask what is whiteness; and why have those who identify themselves as white chosen to do so? A very brief sojourn into the period that began this historical era shows that prior to contact with “non-white” (note the referent) people, whites had chosen fundamentally different identities. They were Scottish or Bavarian or Huguenot or Catholic, but never before were they simply white. Only upon extensive contact with Africa and the America’s did the former and current inhabitants or Europe, and their progeny, become White. Even more, the process took on an especial intensity when it became clear that there were vast riches located in the ground and in the bodies of the non-white people and that no single imperial power, Portugal, Spain, Britain or France would be able to subdue the whole of the “non-white” world. After that, every bedraggled “white” person leaving behind his lowly status in the “mother country” in search of riches in the new world, was anointed with the halo of whiteness and immediately owed an undying loyalty to his former betters who had financed his opportunity for a new life.

But why the change? What benefits were there in throwing off a French identity or a Portuguese one, to don a cloak of whiteness? The obvious reason is found in examining exactly who left Europe. The Lords and Ladies, the monarchy and the aristocracy of European society did not leave in search of a new start; their position was secure. It was only the poor, the persecuted, those precariously perched between life and death. It was they, who took up their belongings and mortgaged themselves for the promise of a new world and a new white identity. In so doing, the dregs of European society, its human excrement, (sic) were transformed.

Noel Ignatiev in his book, “How the Irish became White” explained the process, but not the rationale, in adopting a white identity. Further, he never explored one simple question; what is the difference between being Irish and being white?

Most people would agree that whiteness, and its yang blackness, are sociological categories not “racial” ones. As a scientific attempt to categorize human beings, the language of race is gibberish. However, in service of a social system, “white” and “black” become powerful identifiers. The names themselves evince certain characteristics and values that are meant to typify the individuals who fall within their ambit. Thus the ease at which the image of any black can be manipulated to the familiar as lazy ignorant and criminal; the ubiquitous “welfare queens” of the Reagan era immediately come to mind. Whites, on the other hand are hard working, long suffering and heroic, unless in alliance with “the other”, then they become ungrateful manipulators, agitating the natives to want more than they deserve.

These values, and others, were attached to whiteness and blackness as a shorthand way of herding whites into agreement, or at least complicity, with the colonial and financial project, offering opportunities that they never had in their homeland and in the process distancing themselves from blacks, Indians, Mexicans, or any other “non-white” group. Whiteness was a bribe, a trick to convince white people to bury their conscience, and ignore their humanity.

With this then as context, whiteness is, by definition, an identity molded in opposition to a shared humanity; an acceptance of unearned privilege. You spoke, persuasively, of the limitations of a white identity; its abortive powers of the possibility of change. But the comment is confused in that it accepts the idea of whiteness as a legitimate human identity. It is not. It is, in the words of Marimba Ani (formerly Dr. Donna Richards) Yurugu, an incomplete human consciousness which can only be defeated by “so-called” whites (rejection of this) identity in favour of full humanity. As humans, we can change and become but as “whites” you are fossilized, locked into a “make believe” identity that denies your inherent potential.

Russell Means once said Columbus had to die, so that humanity might live…. So too the Columbus of whiteness must die so that “whites” can re-claim the full measure their humanity.”

Dwayne Bryan’s words speak to the ways human experience is storied, and how our imaginations can be co-opted in the service of maintaining certain stories, all the better to continue to feed the machine of colonialism. While US religious leader Pat Robertson maintained that Haiti’s tragedies have been the result of a “pact with the devil” Caribbean scholar Sir Hilary Beckles showed us that the successful revolution of 500,000 Africans against French colonial oppression in 1804 was an act of life affirming courage. What would it look like if the world had honored that act, instead of first isolating then forcing Haitians to literally pay for it for almost 100 years? What would happen to the collective imagination if Danny Glover was permitted to raise the kind of money James Cameron did for Avatar to produce the film that could portray that life affirming act of courage, the film called Toussaint?

I think it is interesting and disturbing to note that in the wake of Avatar, thousands of American movie goers suffered from “post Avatar blues”. According to a CNN news article, an online support group was created specifically for those who felt overwhelmingly depressed that Pandora was not real, and who were so dismayed by their actual lives they felt they could not go on; one viewer claimed he wanted to kill himself. Which, of course, is exactly what Avatar’s Jake Sully did when he ‘left’ his human body to become Omaticaya. That viewer writes:

"Ever since I went to see 'Avatar' I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na'vi made me want to be one of them. I can't stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it. I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and (that) everything is the same as in 'Avatar.' " –‘Mike’ on the website “Naviblue”

What this speaks to is a crisis of imagination, and while I do not know the identity of the viewer, his words do reflect the all too common inability on the part of 'white' folks to use our imaginations in the service of our own transformation and the despair that takes over when our imaginations become “fossilized, locked into a “make believe” identity that denies (y)our inherent potential. (Bryan)”

To the extent that I desire a way through despair and sovereignty over my imagination (and to transform the old stories that show up again and again on the screen, in news bulletins, between the pages of newspapers and novels, and yes, my own stories) I have to refuse to accept racism’s claims over me. I have to keep on making the connections that I was not meant to make. I have to continue digging backwards and sideways to seek out other stories, those I was not meant to hear. And, not for the last time, I have to kill the Columbus of my own psyche who repeatedly plants his flag in San Salvador’s sand, freeing myself from the places where I have stood, frozen, transfixed in the gaze of his discovery.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Avatar: Another Neocolonial Story

I am here on the second day of 2010, in this Greek Bahamian womanish body, at this worn kitchen table in a studio in Oakland, pieces of 2009 still nudging at my awareness: a Christmas tree I will have to dispose of soon, stacks of books and papers and unopened letters from fall semester in need of sorting, loose ends of a season of teaching online and writing that caused me to fall in love with storying in a way I have never experienced before.

Inhabiting the story more fully than I have since my childhood (when finding the story and witnessing to characters' lives came easily, was not a cerebral task but an embodied one on the fuchsia carpeted floor of a room of my own) I began to see story from the inside. Story as choices. Story as vision and talking back and asking again and again, what if? Story as medicine. Story as transformation. The power of story to create again and again our lives. The framework of our awareness. Of how we get to see ourselves and the beings with whom we share this planet, this universe. I think again of Leslie Marmon Silko saying “Don’t be fooled. Stories aren’t just entertainment. They are all we have to fight against illness and death.” And although she may not have been speaking specifically to me, I know she is right.

So, when my girlfriend and I sat down in a darkened theatre for three hours to watch James Cameron’s story Avatar in downtown Oakland yesterday, I wasn’t fooled. Yes, the visual effects were beautiful, stunning. All 350 million dollars’ worth of them. But the story is clich├ęd, dangerously so, because while it appears to call into question colonialism’s devastating effects on the colonized, it ultimately reinforces a colonial worldview: the colonizer’s transformation into enlightened savior depends fundamentally upon the initial devastation of the colonized.

Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) story begins with the ‘Sky People’s’ invasion of Pandora. There are sufficient references to a US social system (the military, Sully’s mention of “these economic times”) to connect the ‘Sky People’ with America and an American owned landscape, one in which natural resources have been so completely used up that corporations seeking new wealth have had to expand their reach beyond planet earth. On the planet Pandora is the hope of mineral wealth and the only thing standing in the way of getting it are the indigenous Na’vi.

Sully is a physically challenged white marine who will be used to infiltrate the Na’vi. He is also, we are led to believe, the intellectual inferior to his dead brother, whose place he must now take on a mission into Pandora by way of his Avatar. (The mission is at once military and scientific: the two arms of a colonial enterprise in space. In futuristic models, science takes the place of the church). Perhaps Cameron meant these qualities to create a sympathetic character, however I can’t help but observe the similarity here to historical colonial projects in which men of inferior standing in their own European countries could become ‘lords’ of small empires in the countries they colonized.

Sully’s story proceeds in a familiar way. His brutish arrogance and curiosity get him into trouble quickly in a forest he has no understanding of or connection to. He escapes near death in that forest and is spied by a ‘native’ of Pandora, Neytiri, (Zoe Saldana) who saves him from yet another close encounter with the forest’s four footed inhabitants. Why save me? He asks. Because you have a strong heart, she replies. And so we begin to see signs of his chosenness. (Because at least if he is ‘chosen’, we can argue that he isn’t like the other invaders, and if he is chosen, all this was meant to happen, it was destined to take place – the invasion and destruction of the Na’vis’ Hometree, and Sully’s avatar’s rise to ‘savior’ of Pandora.)

Once introduced to Neytiri’s clan, the Omaticaya, Sully’s avatar is allowed to live with the Omaticaya and ‘learn our ways’, and predictably falls in love with Neytiri, and she with him. He also falls in love with the forest and the Omaticaya way of life and commits himself to fighting on their behalf. But he doesn’t just fight on their behalf. Instead, remembering the story of Neytiri’s grandfather who brought the clans together by riding a large flying creature, the Toruk, and using that story to gain trust and, importantly, power, in the Omaticaya’s imagination, Sully’s avatar mounts the Toruk, bonds with it and flies down into the gathering of the Omaticaya by their sacred tree, the Tree of Souls. In a scene that was starkly unselfconscious in its imperialistic arrogance, Sully’s avatar becomes the Omaticaya’s new leader, as they kneel and make a pathway for him, awed by his newfound status.

Once located on their stage beneath the Tree of Souls, in a position to speak to the Omaticaya as their new leader, Sully’s avatar directs them as to how they must call on all Na’vi clans of Pandora to fight together to resist the Sky People, an idea that any of the Omaticaya could have articulated as well or better. Claiming an understanding of how colonialism works, (people come in and just take what they want) he then refers to Pandora as “our land”, and the Na’vi ‘masses’ are roused to fight with him in determined resistance. To Cameron’s credit, Sully’s avatar does ask Eyra (the ‘All Mother’ – the Omaticaya’s source and lifeline to their ancestors) to search through Grace Augustine’s (the now dead leader of the science arm of the colonial mission) memory of the Sky People’s world in order to use that information to fight them. But the point is that once again, the colonization of the indigenous population is the background story to a colonizer’s story of transformation. Of course the Na’vi fight back and win. Of course Neytiri helps kill Colonel Quaritch, and saves Jake Sully from dying so that Sully’s avatar will live. And, in the climactic last scene of the film, Sully lets go of his human body to become fully Omaticayan.

I am certain that many viewers saw in this final act of relinquishing his human self a triumph. In fact, when I was there last night, the audience applauded as the credits began to roll. After all, here is a white American marine whose job was to infiltrate, gather information and persuade the Na’vis to relocate so that the corporation could mine the mineral wealth underneath their Hometree, who instead becomes “a traitor to his race” and colludes with those whom he set out to trick and colonize. But he doesn’t just collude with the Na’vis, he claims leadership of them and we are led to believe that without him the Na’vis would have perished: a regurgitation of the neocolonial narrative of the ‘Great White Hope’.

Far from symbolizing hope, when Jake Sully relinquishes his human body, Cameron symbolically gives up on the possibility of transformation for human beings, and, I would argue, white people within a racially polarized society. In Avatar Cameron creates a world view that is fundamentally dualistic: a white dominated military force invading an indigenous population of blue people (people of color). He shows us that one is essentially monstrous and the other is essentially good. And that ultimately, in order to become what is good, the monstrous (a veteran marine, in a damaged body - a metaphor for the ways human beings have damaged themselves and the earth, are crippled by their own values) must be transformed by giving up himself. The suggestion then is that white people are not capable of transforming ourselves as white people, and instead we must take on the identity of the ‘native other’ to heal ourselves of ourselves.

The idea of white people as being so essentially divided from the ‘other’ is problematic. The idea of white people as being so implicitly alienated from what is ‘indigenous’, aligned with nature and an earth-based spirituality is also problematic, to say the least. ‘White’ Americans were indigenous people of somewhere before they became ‘white’ in a land where they were not indigenous. In the places where Europeans were indigenous, we also had earth-based spiritual world views which we relinquished, (many of us, but not all) as the religion of the ‘sky God’ took over. In our collective colonizing projects, we erased our own memories of these spiritual world views, then looked for them in the people we colonized. And though it may morph here and there, we are still telling (and living) that story.

For Cameron to end his movie with the human beings (the majority of whom are white) being called ‘alien’ by the now transformed Jake Sully is not triumphant. It is a sad commentary on the possibilities of the imagination in these times. It gives white people permission to a. imagine that people of color are responsible for teaching us to be more ‘humane’, and to b. opt out of imagining transformations of our own communities and the inheritance of a colonial and imperialistic and racist world view that keeps us trapped in stories like this one (and, dare I say, binaries like 'white' and 'people of color'). And, it feeds into the seductive idea that if white people ‘disappear’ (or at least all the bad ones) balance will be restored.

As a white woman, specifically as a Greek Bahamian woman who grew up on more than one story, I am not reconciled to any of these options. As a storyteller I know it’s in my power to imagine new stories; to ask myself questions like "What would a white American man’s story look like if the predictable plot were interrupted? What if the journey to Pandora was interrupted and Jake Sully’s story rose and fell and rose again on different soil, on the soil the Sky People left behind? What if white people’s enlightenment and transformation did not depend upon the devastation of people of color? What would that story look like?"

Leslie Marmon Silko’s words resonate in the walls of my kitchen, in the aloe plant and yellow hibiscus blooming on the linoleum floor beside me. Stories are medicine, and they can be poison too. As a storyteller - as a white woman who crafts stories - I am aware of the large responsibility of storying, of the risks involved in the work of imagining - the need to discern medicine from poison, and how, perhaps, to make use of both.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I am here on Friday, September 11th, at my kitchen table in Oakland, thinking about how political imagining is. I am thinking about how political telling stories is, first to tell them at all, then, to tell the ones that could break us out into ways of seeing we were not meant to discover. I am thinking about what it takes to claim the imagination as a site of resistance. To own one's own imagination. To believe in the right to imagine as necessary as the right to food and shelter. Audre Lorde told us "...poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence." But even before the words, even before the feelings that stir in pre-cognition of themselves, there is a place, something like mangrove swamps, where what could be born is not there yet: the place of imagination. I am thinking about how I knew how to get there in the beginning, and then how it dried up, slowly, till there was no water left, only caked mud, hard, cracks running through it, estuary like. How there was no narrative there, no story, only a haunting of story, the rumor of story, the yearning. And then, trying to find my way back, to story, to the place of water and mud and roots growing up out of that watery place. How everything was connected, in the roots of that place: sex, God, bodies, love, fear, memory. How the watery place was impacted by the realities of patriarchy, colonialism, racism, capitalism; goliath structures that sucked the water out of the place and the roots that connected my body to everything else, the connections that generated seeds of story, struggled to grow, wasting. I am here thinking about what it means to re-water the swamp, feel the mangrove enlivening again, roots wetted swelling and growing new shoots. How this is resistance. How stories come from my body and without them I cannot survive.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Into the Cracks: A Review of Anya Antonovych Metcalf's "There is a Crack in Everything"

There is a crack in everything. I read the words first and then saw the paintings. I came from San Francisco, California to see them, really. From the street murals of the Bay Area all the way to The Hub on East Bay Street, Nassau, Bahamas, last Friday night. It’s a long way to travel to see cracks. Not everyone thinks there is something to be seen in the hairline fractures that cross tired walls and stained cement sidewalks like dry riverbeds. But Anya Antonovych Metcalf photographed, then painted them, made art from their portraits, hung them on walls so that we could look at them, into them, into the cracks.

I’m a writer, not a painter. I looked at them, paintings of jagged black lines crossing and circling and framing coloured spaces, and didn’t know what I was supposed to see. Abstraction scares me. For a moment. Till I begin to see things. Till I decide to see what I want to see. Till I decide to take charge of what I’m looking at. Why I’m drawn to this one that looks like fire, like a cave of fire and cracks all around. And this one over here, blue water blue, blue hole blue, pregnant belly blue, cracks circling the belly, the swollen space center of the cracks. In another a black chasm drips pale pink wetness across a smooth mustard landscape, and in another still, the gashes are smudged with greenness, something living trying to get out. Or in.

And then something clicked. These paintings, which had begun as portraits of concrete surfaces, became instead landscapes of the psyche. They were inner spaces as visceral as lung tissue and as necessary as dreams. They breathed. They expressed heat and cool, clean openings and rough surfaces and the tension between their differences was generative. What at first appeared broken and despairing now seemed swollen, full, pregnant. Sutures and awkward, ugly scars gave way to mossy filaments. The dripping of pink wetness against a dry wall of old facades seemed to suggest the possibility of rejuvenation. A halleluiah moment. Leonard Cohen crooned out of a black box or inside my own head.

If you want to know the truth, I have been one to stare at cracks. They call to me. They are insistent. They stare back. Cracks in walls suggest a way through them, suggest what might live behind them, unseen till the crack; a shift in the solidity of all that we know. That’s how the light gets in. What if these are cracks in our own psyches, and what might the light getting in illuminate? Cause to grow and swell and open to give birth? There is no definitive answer, but one can imagine. This is what the work of Anya Antonovych Metcalf accomplishes: faced with the distressed and neglected and weathered landscapes of the psyche, of course our own, we are compelled to imagine the possibility of renewal; the kind of renewal which is a transformation of the old into something not imagined before – before the crack, and the light getting in.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

In Honour of A Day Of Absence

This is written in response to the idea proposed by Nicolette Bethel -A Day Of Absence, February 11th- to raise awareness in the Bahamas of the devaluing of its artists and culture workers and the need for solidarity, all the better to create a society in which artists and culture workers can thrive. Thank you to Nicolette Bethel for her vision and the fire to get up and doing something.

I am here in my apartment in Oakland, California thinking about my people there in Nassau, Bahamas, in Grand Bahama, in Eleuthera and Andros and Cat Island, and on and on across the archipelago, and I am thinking of the artists, the culture workers, the creators of the new symbols, the creators of the new songs and poems and plays and films, the tellers of the stories, the old stories, the new stories, the stories we have to write if we are going to live them and I am thinking about this planned day of ABSENCE and how you are all coming together, to rally around the desire for not only work but for the kind of society that values you/us, that values the life of the artist, the role of the artist, (the artist who knows how to make life out of her body, his body, life that the community needs and most of the time doesn't know it, can't appreciate it, and can't live, really live, without) and I am thinking that I am with you ...if only in spirit... in solidarity with all my co-creating artist sistren and brethren... more power, more creativity, more valuing and honouring to all of you; more love, more celebration, more hopefulness, more bigitteyness, more soulfulness, more inspiredness, more getting paid-ness, more community and solidarity-ness to you there, in my beloved community... I am with you, if only in the vibration of these words, in the vibration of my heart sending you these words, believing in a new day... Let absence make the heart grow stronger; out of absence let the new day be born.

Helen Klonaris

Sunday, January 25, 2009

No Human Being Is Alien

It is five days since the inauguration of a Black man to the United States presidency and I can feel the tremors of a new era as they ripple across air and land and my own body. I am in Oakland, California, but my eyes and heart are resting uneasily on an article written for the daily Tribune, in Nassau, Bahamas, almost two weeks ago. I’ve read it several times, even written a letter in response, but the thought that comes to me now is that ideas are perhaps the single greatest threat to the future of the Bahamas. Not people. Not guns. Not fists. Ideas. The presence of some ideas; the absence of others. By the same token, ideas are also our greatest hope. And ideas, of course, belong to all of us.

The following is my response, then, to John Marquis’ column “Insight”, published in the Tribune on January 12, 2009:

Dear Editor,

Just because a man studies the history of a people, this does not mean he is able (or willing) to interpret it in a way that does justice to the people he has studied. John Marquis has made this clear in his gross attack on Haitian people in his weekly column “Insight” (sic) that appeared last week in the Tribune. In fact, if indeed Marquis is a scholar of Haitian history, as he claims he is, what is most apparent is that his own privilege, as a white English man, has prevented him from seeing this complex history clearly; he sees instead through the thick and warped lens of the imperialist, making judgments rooted in white imperialist values that do not fundamentally care for the people he has ‘studied’.

Marquis writes that it is “mass illegal immigration” by Haitians to Bahamian shores that poses the “single greatest threat” to the future of the Bahamas. He defends his position by promoting two basic ideas: the supposed inherent differences between Bahamians and Haitians and the claim that Haitians are intrinsically a violent people: “(Haiti’s) people are from a different tribal background than most Bahamians and they are notoriously volatile in settling their political and domestic differences.” Marquis goes on to compare Haitians to “pit bulls” and Bahamians to “potcakes” and hopes that this metaphor will show the reader the potentially devastating effects of becoming “a creolized extension of that unruly nation to the south.”

Marquis further laments the creolization of the once “greatest country on Earth” (England) whose transformation (post colonization of the Caribbean, India, Africa, the Middle East?) has turned the suburbs of many major towns and cities into immigrant ghettoes.” It must be this tragedy (I wonder what Africans thought of their own great nations prior to the invasion of the English, Dutch, French and Portuguese who cut and carved these nations into colonialist ghettoes and mass graves?) that forced Marquis to get on a plane (or boat?) and travel far from home to this small place, only to be confronted again by the ills of postcolonial unrest – Haitian women and men seeking a dry, safe place to make a way for themselves and their families. When will it all end?

In Marquis’ world view, one which sees Haitians and Bahamians as dogs, and racial and ethnic monotony as superior and preferable to ‘creolization’, the solution to the “Haitian problem” is understandably black and white: Haitians are “aliens” who must not be allowed in. At least, this is what this reader infers from Marquis’ final assessment: “To counter the dangers, Bahamians need to display the will to force firm action.”

Regardless of his final assessment, Marquis’ primary objective (he spends 99% of his column doing this) is to cultivate fear of Haitians and Haitian Bahamians to manipulate non-Haitian Bahamians to use their “will”… to do what? To send Haitian Bahamians back to Haiti? To create and enforce stricter anti-immigration policies? To fear and hate our Caribbean sisters and brothers, so many of whom have been living in this country for generations now and are an integral part of the complex fabric of Bahamian community and culture? To stir non-Haitian Bahamians to violence against Haitian Bahamians? Doesn’t this sound disturbingly familiar?

I am not a scholar of Haitian history. But I understand enough about the Caribbean’s colonial past, racism, the brutality of poverty in the wake of colonial oppression, and the struggle to survive in an adopted country that refuses to grant statehood to children born on its shores, to know that life for Haitians in this country is its own kind of hell. Haitians leave their country to escape to places like the Bahamas because they want to survive. (My own grandparents left their homelands for a similar purpose after World War II.) They are not “invaders”. If they are angry, it is because we have treated them with the kind of fundamental disrespect that has been so crassly articulated by John Marquis. If they are angry, it is because we continue to ignore the history of Haiti, and act like we are not their sisters and brothers. If they are angry, it is because they understand more than we do that regardless of national borders, the struggle to survive as Caribbean people (with all our tribal and ethnic backgrounds) belongs to all of us.

In Marquis’ world (and his own words) it does not take much imagination to predict what colonizers have always feared: oppressed people will surely rise up. It takes a little more imagination, however, to see that oppression and division will always create more of the same. It takes more imagination still, coupled with radical love for one another, to see that Haiti’s problems are our problems, not simply because there are generations of Haitian Bahamians living alongside Chinese and Greek and Indian and English and African Bahamians, but because our survival as human beings depends on each other’s survival; we are still none of us free until we are all free.

Marquis’ words –his ideas- are dangerous, and, for any human being wanting peace and a compassionate country in which to live, his words should not be taken lightly and they should not be accepted glibly as ‘insight’; they should be questioned and held up to the light of our best imaginations, all the better to shape a society in which all our best interests are recognized and cared for. Haitian Bahamians are Bahamians. Haitians are our Caribbean family. Bahamian immigration policies must be firmly rooted in a plan to assist in bringing justice to the lives of Haitian people and should be part of an overall plan to make life better for all Bahamians, not regardless of, but in celebration of our respective differences.

And, if indeed we are in the early moments of a new era, I suggest it is time we let go of the use of the word ‘alien’. No human being is alien. It is a word that prevents us from seeing the ways in which we are connected to each other as human beings, and prevents us from seeing the possibilities of how we can make a way together, instead of engendering new kinds of apartheid, in the name of nationhood.

Helen Klonaris
January 25th, 2009
Oakland, California