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Culture Clash: A Twerking Schoolgirl – Where’s The Real Problem?

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on November 1, 2017

Once again a video of high school students has made its rounds on social media. As usual, many clicked the play button with the intention of getting another excuse for perpetual disdain for anyone younger than them. The general public is all-too-ready to point fingers at them, blame them for their circumstances and allow negative story lines to completely eclipse successes, progress and actions worthy of celebration. This time around the country is scandalized by a video of high school girls participating in a dance competition on an in-school fun day. Even if you haven’t seen the video, you probably have an image in mind and it’s probably no more exaggerated than the view of those who have seen it. While it is perplexing that such an event took place on public school grounds, much of the conversation about it has blown it out of proportion and conveniently oversimplified some elements while amplifying and projecting preconceived ideas and prejudices on to others. Rather than examine the content of the video and its implications, I’m interested in focusing on the way we, Bahamian people of other (older) generations, talked about it and revealed our own truths.

Objectification of Women and Girls

The bodies of women and girls have long been seen as dual-purpose — meant for the enjoyment of men during sex and repopulating the earth through its reproductive functions. Misogynoir complicates this for black girls who deal with a double whammy — the intersection of gender and race. As girls’ bodies change, they are subjected to the lustful attention of men and boys, but also to the judgment of society at large which makes absurd assumptions about them. As breasts grow, hips widen and curves form, people start to wonder about their sexual lives. Are they having sex? How? Do they have boyfriends? Do they know how they look, particularly to men and boys? Are they dressing appropriately, deflecting attention and avoiding the male gaze?

In conversations about the video, there were far too many comments about the bodies of the girls shown dancing. Most people seemed to mistake one of the students for a teacher. They decided, of course, this was her fault. How could her body be that size and shape? Why would she move it in that way? What made her wear that? Didn’t she know how she would look?

Already, before getting to the content or the context of the video, this student was at fault for something. She is deceptive. She made us think she was an adult. She is a teenager living in a body that could easily belong to an adult. She might be considered sexy by boys and men alike. Whose fault is this? Who should be punished? What could she do better, or just differently, to stop our minds from arriving at the wrong conclusions? Is it her job to fix or control our thought processes?

Girls Get the Blame

This is not unlike the recent debates in the US about girls being sent home for wearing clothes school administration considered potentially “distracting” to boys, or the trial women and girls are on when they report sexual assault. There are always people and policies insisting we must have done something wrong to attract unwanted attention, and that it is our job to regulate the behaviour of men and boys because they, by nature, have no self control.

From a young age, girls are taught to dress, sit, walk and speak in specific ways so that as girl, and later on as women, can protect ourselves. We are told to make ourselves smaller and quieter. The goal is to go unnoticed. Girls are not to laugh too loudly, speak too much, or show too much of their bodies. By doing any of these things, we become human and our existence is noticed. When our presence it noticed, the first thing people see is our bodies because it is the most visible part of ourselves. Still, our bodies are not seen like the bodies of men and boys. Our bodies are automatically reduced to orifices and incubators and some would have us believe this is the natural order of things, that men and women are wired this way, but that is far too convenient for one sex. It is far too dehumanizing for the other. It is the easy way out of a serious conversation about the outright refusal to see women and girls as human beings.

Sexualization by Adults

The girls in the video dance, and the way they dance is not unlike the way people in their 20s or 30s dance, or danced when they were in high school. It is not a great departure from the body movements of our ancestors, or their celebrations of womanhood. There has always been gyration, expressions of happiness and what we may now see as theatrics. The dances practised now are obviously inspired by more than our history, including trends in music and music videos and new takes on old moves emerging across the African diaspora. Being shamed for the ways our bodies move, for whatever reason, is an assault on ancestry, culture and body autonomy. Reducing dance to a mimicry of or motivation for sex is a gross misinterpretation at best and misogyny in the form of the objectification and dehumanization of women at worst. There is no way to look at the video and determine the sexual histories or proclivities of the people in it. The way they danced did not provoke this kind of thinking. Adults are responsible for the sexualization of children and it can start in small ways. Look at the onesies that label babies as “sexy” and the like. Note the comments on baby pictures advising parents to get a gun, or predicting which infants will be heartbreakers. Who is really the problem?

Fear of Sexuality?

We are afraid of sexuality. This fear has held us back from necessary action. It has prevented parents from talking to their children about sex. It has locked schools and teachers into teaching abstinence only, knowing it is not realistic for everyone. It has made room for men and boys to wear their sexuality proudly and boast about sexual experiences while encouraging women to either be “pure” or pretend to be pure to avoid disparaging labels men and boys do not worry about wearing. Why can’t we acknowledge we are sexual beings? How can we all have sex, but pretend no one else does? Even for those among us who are not sexually active, is it impossible to be sexual? Do we think sexuality is specific to or limited to sex? Were there not women before us who celebrated their daughters’ first periods, and their own fertility? Did they never dance, without inhibition, in whichever ways the music moved them?

We have a problem with sexuality, and we are not the only ones.

This difficulty is tied to misogyny, homophobia and historical trauma. Until we, as adults, abandon our comfort zones of suppression and false superiority, we will not be able to raise sexually aware children who can assert themselves to practice body autonomy, seek consent, care for their bodies, and make healthy decisions for themselves. They don’t have to wait for fun days or dance competitions to express themselves sexually. Perhaps we should be more concerned about what we don’t see, all because we’ve taught them to be invisible.

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Culture Clash: Sexual Harassment Is An Act Of Violence

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on October 18, 2017

‘MeToo’ — a campaign started by Tarana Burke and promoted by actor Alyssa Milano encouraging women to let people know they have experienced sexual harassment or assault has populated social media with evidence of the pervasiveness of sexual violence.

While it is empowering for some to be able to share their stories, or even say they have experienced something without naming or describing it, it is difficult for some people to see and understand.

It has sparked necessary conversations about sexual harassment and made it clear we need to clearly define the term and consider its effects.

In a 2015 survey conducted by Hollaback! Bahamas and Cornell University, 71.9 percent of respondents said they first experienced sexual harassment before the age of 15.

Seventeen percent reported their first experience of sexual harassment occurred before the age of 10.

We often think of sexual harassment as benign comments causing minimal harm if any at all, but over 50 percent of respondents were groped or fondled in 2015, and 80 percent had been followed by a man or group of men which made them feel unsafe.

Seventy-nine percent chose not to go out at night, 85 percent changed their route home, and 72 percent decided not to interact with a person as a result of street harassment.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and includes verbal and physical acts of a sexual nature which violate dignity and/or create an intimidating and hostile environment.

It often depends on and abuses an existing power dynamic, used to coerce people in order to access or maintain employment or enrolment in educational institutions.

For example, in the workplace an owner, manager or supervisor may use their position and subsequent privileges to sexually coerce employees.

Suggestive remarks and inappropriate touching often go unreported because those experiencing sexual harassment fear being ostracized, terminated or facing discrimination at work.

Not limited to the workplace or educational institutions, sexual harassment frequently occurs in public spaces.

This is known as street harassment. From whistles and “Hey, baby” to following and groping, it is a daily experience for many. It disproportionately affects women, people of colour, differently-abled people and members of the LGBT+ community.

Generally, the more people are in a public space, the higher the frequency of street harassment, so those who walk and/or use public transportation are at a higher risk.

Why does this matter?

Sexual harassment, even when taking the form of comments and suggestions, is not harmless.

It is an act of violence. It is easy to dismiss this as an exaggeration, but it does not take long for an unwanted comment to escalate to physical aggression. Sexual violence is a spectrum, and while sexual harassment is seen as the lower end, it is not far from rape.

A sexual harasser ignores the same concepts and messages as a rapist. They impose themselves on other people.

They refuse to acknowledge or respect boundaries. They do not bother to get consent.

They are okay with making people feel uncomfortable.

They prioritize themselves.

They look for ways to exert their own power.

They do not care if the person says no or shows fear or anger.

They want to do what they want to do, no matter how it makes another person feel or impacts their life.

If a person can sexually harass someone in public, or in private where their job can be at risk, what else are they capable of?

What can they do behind closed doors, with no one to see, intervene or report?

Sexual harassment and the casual manner we respond to (or ignore) it contributes to the normalization of violence. It creates a world where people are free to do as they wish without consequence.

We assume everyone has the same experiences and interpretations of events as we do, and expect them to respond in the same ways.

We are slow to consider other points of view, and recognize the problem with predatory, violent behaviour whether or not it directly affects us.

Our failure to teach and talk about consent has manifested itself in generations and generations of people who have no spatial awareness, no understanding of boundaries and a belief they have the right to other people’s bodies.

What is the difference between a compliment and sexual harassment?

In discussions about street harassment a lot of time is always spent dissecting compliments and trying to draw a line between a compliment and harassment.

This is an exercise in futility because there is no clear, solid line.

This is obvious in the definition of sexual harassment which uses “unwanted” as a descriptor of the act. By definition, an act is deemed sexual harassment when the person on the receiving end does not want to experience it.

One person may find a comment acceptable while another does not. While one person may be flattered by a comment, another may be offended, angered, or fearful.

The difference between a compliment and sexual harassment is how the message is received.

This means we need to be mindful of other people’s feelings and pay attention to social cues.

If someone walks by quickly, avoids making eye contact, or is engaging in another conversation or activity, recognize that person as uninterested in your attempts to engage.

If you decide to offer a greeting and get no response, accept the lack of interest and move on. Resist the urge to impose yourself on another person.

If you give what you believe to be a compliment and get no response or a response you do not like, move on without taking up more time and space.

If your “compliment” has another result, something has gone wrong. Remember that compliments are about making other people feel good; not about making yourself feel good or reaping a reward.

Impact vs. intent

People often find the seemingly blurred line between a compliment and sexual harassment frustrating, especially when their focus is not on ending sexual harassment, but on their own desires.

If your “compliments” make someone cross the street, leave the office, or find other ways to put distance between themselves and you, you have had a different impact.

It is not unusual to affect people in unexpected, unintended ways. Sometimes we want to make people laugh, but offend them instead. There are times when we want to lighten the mood, but our actions only make things more uncomfortable.

At these times, our focus should not be on excusing or explaining ourselves. A message was not delivered properly, and it has affected other people.

Instead of considering our own feelings and getting lost in ideas of our rightness, this is the time to recognize the impact our actions had on the other people involved. Our impact is more important and deserving of our attention than our intent.

Bystander Intervention

Most of us have witness sexual harassment. We see people pull strangers by the arm to force conversation.

We hear whistles and kissing noises.

We see people being cornered by strangers. By not doing anything, we condone this behaviour and communicate that we don’t care what may happen next.

If we understand the importance of consent and ownership of our own bodies, it is on us to condemn acts of sexual violence.

We can do this by directly addressing the harasser, distracting them with a question (like which bus to take or directions to the nearest bank), asking others to help stop an act, and checking in with people who experience harassment in our presence.

There is always something we can do to help.

For more information on ending street harassment, visit facebook.com/hollaback242.

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Culture Clash: We Need Leaders We Can Trust And Who Share What We Want

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on October 13, 2017

Everyone is talking about leadership. While people battle for top positions in households, corporations, and countries we redefine and re-conceptualize leadership in response to community needs, mindset changes and shifts in power dynamics.

Quotes on leadership are endless. They say great leaders take less credit and more blame, lead from the back and lead with the heart. Leaders have the responsibility to turn a vision into a reality by uniting people with a common purpose and empowering them to act in ways that make transformation possible. For every vision, leadership is required to have and practise a rare combination of characteristics and skills, from emotional intelligence and influence to willingness and ability to serve.

Joanne Ciulla said: “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”

There was a time when supervision was seen as leadership, but there is a distinct difference. Supervisors give orders and ensure they are followed while leaders are involved in the process, and work to ensure others are also included in decision-making. Leaders are not obsessed with concepts of seniority or hierarchy. They are focused on the realization of a vision. They primarily concern themselves with the daily work of influencing others to give the greatest amount of effort possible to achieve a shared goal.

Today, leadership is contingent upon relationships built on trust and common ground. People are not interested in being led by anyone who shares nothing with them. There must be synergy. Have we come from the same place? Do we have the same values? Do we share a vision? People do not want to work with anyone who is set apart from them. We want to be able to talk to leadership and have confidence that they understand our experiences, capability, and needs. We want to know they are prepared to lead, and for the right reasons.

During election season, we have conversations about party leadership every day. We share ideas about party decisions and how we think they were made. In many of these cases, we excuse weak leadership choices with statements like, “No one else can do it.” No one rallied behind the FNM leadership team on its own merit, but as an alternative to an option they considered relatively worse for whatever reasons.

We settle for leaders we considered seasoned, based only on the fact they held the position before, refusing to address the problems with their methods and performance because we do not want to take the risk on a new person.

In some cases, the decision is made by the wrong people, too few people or compromised people. This is the root of the upset with the PLP leadership race where the voices of the average Bahamian citizen were not heard, and did not appear to matter. In some cases, leadership is relinquished and it is, most often, too late. Only time will tell what will happen with the stagnant, silent DNA which must now adjust to the resignation of its leader.

The FNM, PLP, and DNA all had — and continue to have — leadership issues. Why? Where do these issues come from? How can they be resolved? What needs to happen for political parties in The Bahamas to have better leadership teams? How can Bahamians get the representation we deserve?

We need to take a look at the motivation of leaders and potential leaders. Do they like to compete? Do they think they have all the answers? Do they like being in charge? Do they want to be well-known? Are they trying to get rich? Are they continuing a family legacy?

Do they see a gap and how to fill it? Do they want to serve? Do they share the vision and have the ability to encourage and motivate the community? Are they influencers?

Every person interested in leadership is not interested in community. They do not always want to work with others, or develop and maintain inclusive processes. They often want to undo or undermine the work of the previous leader. They may want to make their own mark. While leadership should be an act of servitude and evidence of commitment to a common goal, it is often used as a stepping stone to something else. Some people try to use it to build reputations, gain access to resources, expand networks, and increase income. While these can be benefits of leadership, self-aggrandizement should not be a primary motivator. A leader needs to believe in the project or task at hand because the role requires enthusiastic participation that cannot be faked.

As two political parties — PLP and DNA — work toward selecting new leaders, we need to be alert and as involved in the process as possible. While most of us do not have votes, we have tremendous influence. These parties intend to seek our support in the next election, and will look to us before the next general election to help them set their new agendas.

With every public statement they make in response to the current administration’s intentions, decisions, and actions, they affirm our power and prove their need to be heard by us. We can demand they listen if they want to be heard, and it is time to demand better processes and better leadership.

If faced with a choice between two evils, with four an a half years until the next general election, now is the time to recruit new members. “Better than the next” is not good enough for the Bahamian people, so it can’t work for political parties in The Bahamas.

Who do we want to see leading the political parties in this country, and how? Who do we believe when they say they care about the same things we do? Where can we find people with both social influence and commitment to building the best version of The Bahamas for Bahamians? How can we interest them in the opportunity to lead, politically and otherwise?

We can’t wait for “them” to do it. We know the people who walk among us, speaking to the vision of a better country and actively working toward it in their own ways. We know the absence of MPs, the closed constituency offices, the unheard voices during crisis and the faces behind the people who deceive us regularly. We know the problems.

Do we know the solutions? Are they in us? We need better leadership and we need better options when we have the opportunity to definitively and directly choose. The conversation is now open. What questions should we be asking?

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Culture Clash: Violence Breeds Violence And It Begins In The Home

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on October 4, 2017

Crime is never off our minds for very long. News reports, stories from friends, social media evidence and personal experiences guarantee our awareness and vigilance. It’s difficult to manage our own fear of crime. For many years crime has been viewed as an evil affecting other people. The likelihood that we, as individuals, would become victims of crime seemed low enough to allow us a relatively carefree existence. Now, with numbers rising — particularly violent crimes like murder and rape — we all feel a bit closer to the issue. It could be our homes, businesses, cars, or bodies next.

Our fear of crime is not irrational. It is a threat we know too well and consider far too often as we perform the most mundane tasks. We do not want to lose what we’ve earned, we want to avoid pain and we want to live. Unfortunately we will not survive without sober consideration of crime and its root causes. From poverty to conflict there are a number of issues to study and remedy. One of the most pervasive issues in Bahamian society is violence and the way we perceive, perpetuate and perform it.

Violence includes physical and nonphysical acts intended to cause harm. For now, let’s focus on the former. Physical violence exists in the media and entertainment we consume including television shows, movies, music and video games. In many instances it is the selling point. We have become so accustomed to on-screen violence it hardly elicits a response. We expect it. We ignore it. We encourage. We find endless ways to excuse acts of violence, insisting the victim deserves it because of some act or failure to act. Perhaps more disturbing this attitude is not limited to the fantasy worlds we enter through screen. It accompanies us in our daily lives.

We have a communication problem. Physical violence has become our go-to form of expression. It is the quickest and easiest way, it seems, to express displeasure. Someone thinks their partner is cheating on them. They respond with violence. Someone loses their job because a former co-worker didn’t take responsibility for a mistake. They respond with violence. Someone’s personal property is accidentally damaged. They respond with violence. Where have we learned this behaviour? Why, when we feel we have been wronged, do we respond with acts of physical violence?

It’s difficult for many to talk about, but there is an issue with the way we raise children, and it is manifesting itself every day in our society. In many cases, children are not regarded as human beings. Their participation is limited, they are heavily guarded and missteps are met with violence under the guise of discipline. Parents and guardians convince themselves that beating children is the best way to control their behaviour and mould them into what they deem to be acceptable human beings. Little thought, if any, is given to the negative — largely psychological — effects of corporal punishment. It is simply known as the quick fix that “worked for me.” It is believed to deter children from doing “wrong” and serves as an immediate means of correction. As with every action, we must consider impact versus intent. Sure, parents and guardians may intend to do their best in raising law-abiding, mannerly, well-behaved people, but what else are they doing when they beat children? Might this send the message that when someone does wrong, the appropriate response is to cause them physical harm?

What if we taught children to think critically? Can we teach them to stop and think before acting? To acknowledge their emotions and recognize what they feel in any given moment may not be the most important thing? Could it be useful to teach them self-control? We could do all of this, but probably not before we learn and model them ourselves. We must first come to the realization that punishment is not the most important thing, nor is it the most effective.

Our obsession with punishment is evidenced by our rigid positions on corporal punishment for children and the death penalty. We are more concerned about exerting power and using fear as a control mechanism than we are about building character and addressing environmental and societal issues that influence behaviour. In addition to the use of fear, punishment is frequently meant to cause embarrassment and prompts children to hide their mistakes instead of talking about and learning from them. This focus on negativity leaves little room to acknowledge and encourage good behaviour. Positive reinforcement is severely lacking and, in combination with the glorification of heavy-handedness in punishment, is causing harm to the psyche.

It is critical to our wellbeing that we exercise more intentional thoughtfulness and constructive criticism of current behaviour and the long-lasting effects of the same. It is not safe to assume that our survival of our parents’ methods is indicative of their merits. In fact, being in-one-piece is not all there is to survival and many of us carry the trauma of childhood abuse with us. Some among us are fighting mental illness, diagnosed and undiagnosed, further complicating navigation of everyday life. There are apologies we may never get. Wrongs that may never be made right. Healing that may never come. Nothing could make any of these things worth the loss or grief, but admitting to ourselves that what we witnessed, survived, or mimicked has caused harm and choosing to find better, healthier ways is a start to tackling the seemingly unsurmountable issue of crime.

This, of course, is not the only reason for the rate of violent crime in The Bahamas, but that needs individual, family, and community response.

It is the beginning of a vicious cycle that teaches us, over and over again, that violence is an appropriate response. Corporal punishment has not remedied any social ills. This form of “discipline” in many Bahamian homes is a lazy, emotional response that forms the root of a larger problem. It’s one that demands our attention on a daily basis and will not go away without a shift in our thinking and behaviour. Why not start in our own homes?

Featured image by nitpix at Morguefile.com

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Culture Clash: The Intelligence Needed To Care

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on September 27, 2017

What makes you think you’re so smart? Maybe you got a few As and Bs on your national exams, maintained a decent GPA, got into your first choice university, landed a great job with a fancy title, or get a lot of likes on your lengthy Facebook posts.

Maybe your family members and friends pale in comparison with you. You’re a vessel of little-known tidbits, can recite excerpts of the classics, and play piano by ear. All of this could be true while you fail to effectively communicate because your emotional intelligence is undeveloped and, to be quite honest, you’re not even trying.

Emotional intelligence, according to Peter Salovey and John Mayer who coined the term, is “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability of monitoring your feelings and emotions and those of other people, discriminating among them, and using this information to guide your thinking and actions”.

In her book E.Q. Librium, Bahamian EQ practitioner and executive coach Yvette Bethel points out that the definition makes a distinction between feelings and emotions, and it’s an interesting one to explore. In short, Bethel explains feelings happen anywhere in the body while emotion includes reaction to a stimulus and often involves ego.

In developing and practising emotional intelligence, it is important for us to think about the ways we navigate feelings and emotions, or the way they can affect the way we navigate the world. Our responses are informed by our own lived experiences, values, and beliefs and affected by our mental and emotional states at the time.

Key to cultivating emotional intelligence is empathy — the ability to experience the emotions of another person. In order to communicate with emotional intelligence, we have to be able to relate to the audience’s conditions. This requires not only an understanding of who is in our audience, but how they feel. This knowledge has to be factored into our messaging for communication to be effective.

In a video circulating on Facebook, a child is shown trying to jump a barrier as classmates look on. Again and again, he runs up to it, and gets his hands on the top, but doesn’t quite make it over. With every attempt, his classmates cheer wildly. When he doesn’t make it, they shout words of encouragement. By the penultimate attempt, he is in tears, but his classmates’ cheers are only getting louder. Before the last try, they encircle him, building his confidence back up. When he makes it, it is a shared victory. Not only have the children in that video been taught the value of community, but to practice emotional intelligence. They know what failure feels like, and what people need to keep going, and to eventually succeed. They give that to the boy in the video without tiring, counting cost, or changing their energy. It is their job to support him.

Just weeks ago, scores of Bahamian people were evacuated from the southern islands of The Bahamas under the threat of Hurricane Irma. Some refused to leave and, upon receiving this information, many Bahamians lambasted them. They were called foolish and uneducated, and some people even wished the worst, supposedly to teach them a lesson. This kind of response is quickly recognised as unchristian, but there is no need to connect it to religion. It is a character flaw that leads to communication failure. It is evidence of the inability to manage one’s own emotions — like anger or frustration — and the failure to consider the emotions of others.

Maybe it is difficult to imagine living on a Family Island, vastly different from the capital, and content with what one has while happy to be without certain elements that come with “development”. It’s easier to think of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who are reluctant to leave their homes.

The people we offer to take on trips, host during renovations, or bring into our homes when they are not feeling well. They decline every time because they love their homes, their independence, and the little things around them that make them feel at peace.

Somehow, even if we don’t quite understand it, we’re able to respond with love to these people who will not even go a 20-minute drive away, but can’t temper our frustration with people we think are foolishly, wilfully putting their lives at risk. We don’t bother to see it their way, understanding the deep connections they have with their homes and the fierce will to protect them, come what may. We are too busy making our own point.

This week, the prime minister announced, without much detail, plans to accommodate Dominican students affected by Hurricane Maria as soon as possible. We have seen evidence of the devastation in Dominica where even accessing clean water is a challenge.

The response to this announcement, just two years after Family Island students needed to be relocated to attend school, has been severely lacking in any kind of intelligence. People immediately asked where the money would come from, where the students would fit, how many people would be coming, and how long they would be permitted to stay? These are valid questions on the surface, but the tone is clear.

Many are opposed to this move and choose to hide behind faux-intelligence, prudence, and “critical” thinking. No one batted an eye when Dominica gave $100,000 to The Bahamas following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. No one bothered to make a GDP comparison between countries. It was fine for Dominica to help us, but we are too poor and under-resourced to offer assistance now. Maybe we are rich in fear and poor in community spirit, no matter how we try to spin it.

Minnis’ announcement seemed hasty, especially without having details of the plan to share, but there are better ways to pose questions and offer recommendations. We can have critical, constructive national dialogue without rejecting a plan we have not seen along with the people it is meant to help. To do that, we would have to acknowledge our own feelings and emotions, admitting to our fear of losing what we have.

We are most concerned about job security and the national debt and subsequent increases in taxation. While these are valid concerns, in the near future we will have to turn our attention to our shrinking land mass and rising sea levels, inability to save ourselves, and the need to build relationships with other countries who can lobby for and with us.

We will be looking to other countries in this region to band together with us in the fight for “developed” nations to do their part to mitigate and respond to climate change.

At the current rate, the next generation of Bahamians will be climate refugees. If we held and understood this knowledge, perhaps it would trigger the empathy we need to respond to Dominica’s situation and our prime minister’s commitment with emotional intelligence. No one wants to need help, much less to receive a protested offer.

We all have feelings, and experience emotions in response to our environment and experiences. We do not all practice the emotional intelligence necessary for leadership, community-building, advocacy, and critical dialogue. Communication is key to all of them, and dependent on our ability to reach our audience and be understood.

If we are not considerate of others’ emotions, we risk our messages — however articulate, factual, or relevant — being completely missed or ignored. If you find yourself under fire for comments, resist the urge to defend with “what I meant was” and spend time answering “How was I perceived, and why?” Impact is more important than intent, and emotional intelligence goes a long way in bridging the gap between the two.

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Culture Clash: The Climate Change Threat

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on September 20, 2017

When we talk about climate change, it is often in limited, abstract ways. Climate change is not just about the temperature, land mass, or sea levels.

The effects of climate change include economic loss, changes in atmospheric concentration, and cultural loss.

The Bahamas, being an archipelagic nation and a small island developing state, must acknowledge climate change as a real and present threat — not one that may materialise in a century. This hurricane season has turned up the volume on conversations about climate change, though the focus has been more on adaptation than mitigation.

Most people are thinking about ways we can build differently so we better withstand hurricanes, but we also need to think about the ways we contribute to the problem as well as changes in policy and personal practices we need to make. For us to take climate change seriously, we need to know exactly what it is and how it affects us.

What is climate change?

Climate change does not refer to weather conditions. Weather changes from day to day and place to place while climate is the usual weather of a place. Climate can change according to seasons. Climate change, then, is the change in the usual weather of a place. This change could be temperature in a particular season, the amount of rainfall over a period of time, or the frequency and intensity of storms.

Global average temperature is currently around fifteen degrees celsius, and we know it has been higher and lower before. The problem is the rapid increase we are experiencing. Research shows that temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees celsius from the late 19th century to now, and seventy-five percent of that increase was only in the last 30 years. This exponential increase that can only be attributed to human activity.

What causes climate change?

Climate can change due to changes in the sun, or the ocean, but we also affect climate through our daily activities like driving and burning coal. When we burn fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide, gases are released that heat the air. The problem here is that only so much carbon dioxide can be naturally absorbed. We complicate it further when we clear land, getting rid of trees that are one of the best carbon-absorbing resources. Not only are we releasing more of this gas, but we’re depleting the earth of its natural fix.

While industrialized countries are the main producers of greenhouse gases, Caribbean countries consume the largest amounts of fossil fuels in the region for the production of electricity. Here is our reality: our countries are at the greatest risk and are least able to adapt to climate change.

How does it affect The Bahamas?

We can see the effect of climate change, from beach erosion to coral reef bleaching. In the name of development, we have given up much of our protection in the form of mangroves. We have paid little attention to food security, believing our proximity to the US will feed us forever. We have not been realistic, or thought about the impact of our decisions on our existence as a country.

Climate change means more than unbearably hot summers and higher electricity bills because air conditioning feels like a necessity. As the earth’s temperature rises, we will experience more than warmer weather (while other places may get colder or experience other weather changes), but other things happen that we do not see from here. Ice will melt, resulting in rising sea levels.

Eighty percent of The Bahamas is less than one meter above sea level. To put this in perspective, if the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, sea levels will rise by six meters.

In a 2002 report, The Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Global Climate Change Project named increases in the number and intensity of storms, heavy rainfall in the north and drought in the south, and land loss due to rising sea level as major concerns for The Bahamas.

The 2017 hurricane season has already shown us that we are not prepared for the effects. Unless we intend to be climate refugees, we need to listen to scientific facts, use technology, and build innovative systems for mitigation and adaptation in response to climate change.

What can we do?

Though it may not be our favourite thing to think about, discuss, or act on, we all know a little something about the environment and how we impact it. We need to do a better job of using what we have.

One of our greatest resources, and one we tend to think about in terms of tourism only, is the sun. We can significantly reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn by switching to solar power.

This, of course, comes with other benefits like reduced cost (over time) of power generation and less frequent interruption of power.

In his contribution to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City in September 2014, former Prime Minister Perry Christie called on “developed” nations to honour their commitments to climate finance support to assist vulnerable countries like The Bahamas.

We need to familiarise ourselves with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which The Bahamas ratified in August 2016 and consider the effect of the US withdrawing from the agreement.

In its Manifesto, the Free National Movement referenced climate change and the vulnerability of these islands. The party promised, among other things, creation of a Ministry of the Environment, implementation of a Waste-to-Energy programme, phasing out of plastic bags by 2020, and properly testing emissions.

Has there been discussion about any of these commitments since May 10, 2017? When should we expect work to begin? Are we doing our duty, as citizens of The Bahamas, to remind this administration of its commitments and demand that they are met? Are we paying attention to our representatives’ participation in global meetings and agreements, and creating an environment where consultation with the Bahamian people and reports on these meetings are the norm? What are we doing to hold our representatives to account?

In his address at the COP 22 conference, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell said, “Climate change is not an esoteric matter but an existential one”.

Indeed, climate change is a threat to our existence, and we must treat it as such. Let’s not forget our responsibility to govern our own behaviour. Let’s not relax and wait for our representatives to do what must be done.

Be mindful in use of energy and water, reduce waste by being a more conscious consumer, learn more about climate change and its effects, and call on our representatives to fulfil the commitments made in the FNM Manifesto’s section on the environment.

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Culture Clash: Nationalism And Collective Energy

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on September 13, 2017

THE past week has been hectic and panic-filled as the country prepared for Hurricane Irma which we expected to impact more islands and people than it did.

We rushed to stores to buy food, water, ice, plywood, and all of the other supplies demanded by this active hurricane season.

For as long as we had electricity and internet, we tracked the storm like meteorologists-in-training, checked on family members and friends, and monitored social media closely. It was the latter that inspired us to activate one of our most popular, prized team sports — national outrage.

We have no shortage of reasons to be angry. Our educational system has been failing for years and continues to go without critical review and transformation. Crime and the fear of crime inspire no innovation in prevention techniques or programming.

The poverty rate is over ten per cent and successive government administrations continue to play numbers games with unemployment by creating temporary jobs as opposed to developing new industries, helping people to up-skill, or encouraging entrepreneurship.

The Disabilities Act has been passed, but the able-bodied continue to park in parking spaces designated for differently-abled people. The abuse of children is so commonplace and normalised that we agree to call it “discipline”. All of this and more, but what really gets us going? People on the internet who make negative posts and comments. These inspire more nationalism than anything else.

From Nellie Day who wrote about the “small beach shacks and huts”, she claimed we live in to the people who complained about Shaunae Miller’s dive to the finish in the 400m at the Rio Olympics, Bahamians are keen to teach non-Bahamians not to mess with The Bahamas. We, as Bahamians, can complain about poverty, crime, and environmental hazards, but no one else can.

Our issues with this country, the way it is run, and the way its people behave are valid. Our responses to these issues, however inflammatory, insulting, and unproductive, are valid. It’s similar to sibling relationships. We can bully our brothers and sisters at home, but no one at school can even look at them the wrong way without having to deal with us. We don’t recognise our own behaviour as violent or counterproductive, but when others behave the same way, we read it as violence. How do we respond? With more violence, of course.

In the blink of an eye, we go from a Christian nation — a praying nation — to a band of keyboard gangsters. We forget about love, forgiveness, and divine intervention because someone callously wished ill on these blessed and highly favoured islands. We combine our powers and, for as long as the power company and internet service providers allow, hurl insults filled with vulgarity at our new enemies.

This becomes the national priority of the moment and is when we reveal our true selves. Maybe we are not the Christians we pretend to be on Sundays, during referenda, and when some — not all — of our islands are spared a hurricane. Every ounce of misogyny rises to the top as we associate our adversaries with the worst things we can think of — femininity and vaginas.

It is used against both men and women, stripping the former of their masculinity and reminding the latter that they are seen as little more than their reproductive organs. Many of us use these words and phrases with little thought, not intending to belittle or harm women and girls, but words have meanings.

Why is the wrath of the Bahamian people cloaked in misogyny? And why do we, when challenged, try to defend ourselves and our choice of words instead of recognising the issues and committing to better behaviour? What would our comeback be if our opponents called us on our misogyny, and that became the new way of seeing The Bahamas? Would we care then?

There are better uses of our time and energy as Bahamians who care about this country and impacting its trajectory. Thousands of tweets at people who think we did not deserve a gold medal we will always have do not shift it.

Bullying and doxxing people who make foolish statements about us do not improve our circumstance. We are constantly proving our creativity, but only occasionally show our dedication to our country, our people, and our future.

How can we use our time, energy, and creativity to turn our love of country into commitment to a collective vision for this nation? Can you secure a space for a reading programme? Do you have vacant property that can become a community garden? Can you teach the children in your neighbourhood to swim? Do you have access to resources a non-profit organisation can use to benefit its community?

Think about what you have — tangible and intangible — and how it can be used to benefit others. #CYC is just a term and the internet. We, as a people, have more than that, and we should be using it to improve our circumstances, across all islands and cays.

Today, many Bahamians feel like winners. We made people wish they never said anything negative about The Bahamas, and then we prayed a hurricane away (even if it was after it hit our southern islands). Still, our greatest battle has not yet been fought.

We have numerous issues to address as a nation, and one of them is the safety and comfort of those evacuated and displaced because of Hurricane Irma. They will need long-term shelter, food, clothing, toiletries, and various forms of support.

It takes more effort than angrily replying to people on social media, but we have the time, creativity, and motivation to help our fellow Bahamians.

Instead of complaining about the extra food we bought, donate it to those in need. When shopping, pick up a few extra toiletries. A number of organisations are assisting in hurricane relief efforts and will need our support.

Equality Bahamas volunteers will be at Lignum Vitae, 11 Meeting Street, on weekdays from Thursday to Tuesday, 4-7pm and at the farmer’s market at Doongalik on Village Road with Seasonal Sunshine Bahamas on Saturday, 9am to 1pm. We’re collecting toiletries (especially pads and tampons), underwear, and new clothes. Even if you’re not able to donate, you can volunteer with one of the many organisations doing this work and share posts on social media to help increase reach. We need to construct a positive narrative of the Bahamian people and our collective power. Let this be a start.

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Culture Clash: D-Average Students Aren’t The Problem

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on September 6, 2017

Every year around this time, the entire country is frustrated by the BJC and BGCSE results. The “national average” becomes a measure of our worth and indicator of success, both present and future.

For the past decade, this “national average” based on national examination results has been a D, and we have come to casually define ourselves as “D-average”. It is the first thing that comes to mind when someone runs a red light, an MP makes a nonsensical statement, a neighbour fails to sufficiently prepare for a hurricane, or people lose money in looms. We’re quick to say, “There’s the D-average again.”

We don’t consider lack of respect for law and order, or the quickness of a lie as opposed to time and energy it takes to tell the whole truth. We don’t think about the scarcity of resources necessary to complete tasks, or the desperation of people who need a way out of poverty. The D-average is the national scapegoat, and every summer we are reminded everything can be blamed on it.

Resist the urge to make sweeping generalisations about lazy students, poor parenting, and underpaid, overworked teachers. We know we will not be able to solve a problem until we define it. Is the underperformance of students in national examinations the problem? Could the problem be the exams themselves? Should we be thinking about the way we prepare students for these exams? With over fifty per cent of students sitting the national exams getting under a C, the problem cannot be the students. The existing system is not working.

For emphasis, our students are not the problem. They are not, year after year, failing us. We are failing to properly serve them.

Missing the Basics

Social promotion is still practised in our schools. Students who do not meet the minimum standard for one grade are pushed through to the next. They fall further and further behind, unable to catch up because a level of knowledge and understanding is assumed, and the students are often too embarrassed to admit they have not acquired them. This can manifest in a number ways, from the appearance of disinterest to poor behaviour. Teachers can often identify these issues, but are limited in what they can do in a class of dozens of students with limited resources, minimal involvement of parents/guardians, and an unchanging educational system.

Home Life

In pre-school and primary school, learning cannot stop in the classroom. Homework and grade level-appropriate project help to bring context to new knowledge, and give students the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned and test their understanding of material.

This, more often than not, requires parent/guarding participation. Someone in the home needs pay attention to what is being taught and how the student is progressing by assisting with homework, reviewing tests, and meeting regularly with the teacher. Some parents/guardians are willing and able to do these things, but others are either ill-equipped or unavailable for this level of involvement. Multiple jobs, shift work, and low literacy are among the barriers to greater involvement in their children’s education.

Beyond help at home, nutrition and rest are critical to student performance. In 2014, it was reported that 19.3% of five to 14-year-olds were living in poverty. We often hear stories about students going to school hungry, and not having money or anything packed for lunch. How can we expect them to learn under these conditions?

Some students work after school and on weekends to help ends meet, and some have to help in other ways like taking care of elderly relatives or children younger than themselves. With these responsibilities, and concerns about their homes and families, it is not hard to understand why students are struggling in school. Add to this the lasting effects of hurricanes like Hurricane Matthew, from missing school to untreated PTSD.

Learning and Teaching Styles

In many ways, we have not built schools and educational programmes that accommodate our students. One style of teaching does not work for every student. Learning styles are typically broken down into four categories: visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic.

Do teachers cater to all of these learning styles? Are they trained to identify students’ learning styles and adapt lesson plans to suit their needs? Do we need to start using learning styles to compose classes similar to the way we rank them by grade?

Even the best lesson plan will not produce results if it seems like it is in a foreign language. As Director of Education Lionel Sands said on a radio talk show this week, we need to prepare school for our students, not students for schools.

How can we make the shift from teaching (and learning) toward the goal of succeeding in an exam to encouraging curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, practising new skills, and exploring ideas with new-found knowledge?

Students learn in environments of dread because they anticipate exams to come. This helps to feed anxiety and forces memorisation and regurgitation rather than real engagement with and understanding of the material. Classrooms need to be student-centred, not test-centred.

Testing and Evaluation

Every student is not good at taking tests. Test-taking is a specific skill. Some students perform well on multiple choice questions while others excel in short answer and essay questions.

In many cases, results speak to a student’s ability to strategise and navigate a specific type of test rather than knowledge.

How can we evaluate students and test their understanding of material in ways that yield real results? How can we prepare students for test-taking, outside of teaching the material? These are the things we need to consider when we expect to use exam results as the ultimate measurement tool.

The national average should not be used as a collective insult. It is not a reason for us to feel bad about ourselves, or fear for the future of this nation.

The D-average is a call to action. The results are abysmal, and that a reflection of the system, not the students.

As citizens of this country, it is on us to call on the Ministry of Education, educators at all levels, parents, and students to address this national issue.

We cannot afford to forget about this until it’s a handy weapon in an argument. We need a national action plan for the improvement of our educational system, and we must be prepared to do our part — churches offering student breakfasts, civic organisations operating homework help centres, education experts providing ongoing training to teachers, and communities supporting parents.

The D-average is our problem to solve, and whether or not we get rid of BJCs and BGCSEs, our work is cut out for us.

What are you prepared to do? How can you contribute to the effort? Email me, and let’s get to work.

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Culture Clash: Raising Questions Over the Future of Democracy

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on July 26, 2017

The results of the 2017 general election left The Bahamas in good spirits. Many of us have been in celebration mode for months, and insistent that we all temper our demands with patience and manage our expectations of the new FNM-led administration.

Criticism has generally not been welcome — an odd sentiment to express during “the people’s time” and unbecoming of a democratic nation. Fortunately, the second annual Future of Democracy Conference created a “people’s space”, inviting Bahamians to presentations, conversations, and workshops at University of The Bahamas to consider, critique, and address issues of governance and democracy.

Presentations and roundtables from educators, activists, community workers, Bahamians living abroad, (former) politicians, and practitioners covered a broad range of topics. Their questions, challenges, and messages spoke to the limited understanding and exercise of democracy, the (under)use of people power, and the need for better systems. A common thread throughout the two-day conference was the importance of civic participation and careful attention to systems, especially those that do not reflect the principles espoused by the Bahamian people or meet the needs of the collective.

Public Disclosure

For the past few years, there has been an increase in attention on public disclosure as required of Members of Parliament. It has become a part of the conversation about transparency and accountability, and civil society has demanded compliance with the law.

Perhaps more importantly, focus has been on Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition who are named by Article 8 of the Public Disclosure Act as responsible for publishing communication received from the Public Disclosure Commission to the House or Senate and/or provide information to the Attorney General or Commissioner of Police for appropriate action to be taken.

Such action has not been taken, presumably because Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition have found their own Members noncompliant with the law, and are not more interested in lawfulness, transparency, and accountability than they are in the facade of the same and protection of their membership.

In his presentation at the Future of Democracy Conference, Lemarque Campbell explained the Public Disclosure Act in detail, and pointed out the deficiencies in the law and recourse for the Bahamian people. Anyone unfamiliar with the Act can access the recording of Campbell’s presentation on the Out Da Box Facebook page.

One of the expectations of the Bahamian people when they voted against the PLP, leaving us with the FNM by default, was an administration that valued and embodied the principles of transparency and accountability. We expected the FNM administration to repair the system that clearly has not worked for us thus far. Unfortunately, that has not happened, and there has been no indication that it will happen.

On July 12, it was reported that three parliamentarians missed the filing deadline, and the names had not been forwarded to the Attorney General. This came after the report that Public Disclosure Commission Chairman Myles Laroda was instructed to send the list by July 3, after the government-set deadline of June 30. What does this say about the FNM administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability? What does this mean for our democracy; in particular, the principle of the rule of law?

Can this same administration mete out punishment to PLP Members of Parliament of the last administration? Is that what democracy looks like? Is the law for some, not all? Are those in seats of power under no obligation to follow the laws of the land, and only subject to questioning and consequences when they no longer have the safety of seat in Parliament?

We must be careful not to be duped by the theatrics of politicians who act on their own time, in their own mysterious ways, and create events that appear (often in retrospect) to be designed for the gain of quick and easy points at best and mass distraction at worst. The current administration has not been convincing in its attempt to present itself as law-abiding, transparent, accountable, and for the people.

Death Penalty

National Security Minister Marvin Dames said, “We cannot have a lawless society and it is our job as the government to introduce new policies and to enforce old ones to make sure everyone is safe.”

It is unfortunate that the government does not seem up to the task. Not only is there no regard for rule of law as an equalizer among all people, regardless of position or affiliation, but complete disregard for human rights.

Yesterday, we learned of the FNM’s plan to push for the death penalty to be enforced — certainly only one part of their “zero tolerance” plan to curb crime which was not well-detailed in the party manifesto. The death penalty is a breach of two human rights protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — the right to life and the right to live free of torture. The over-referenced theory that the death penalty is crime deterrent has been disproven in several countries.

This administration seems to be under the impression that punishment is equivalent to prevention — a gross error. The death penalty is only an option after a crime has been committed and the accused convicted. The country would have already suffered a loss, spent money on court proceedings, and put victims, witnesses, and their loved ones through significant trauma. Why is this administration’s response to the climbing murder rate a punishment — not a solution to the issue, but a scare tactic that has proven ineffective?

In discussing crime and creating systems and strategies to reduce crime, there must be a conversation about the difference between prevention and punishment. Punishment only happens and has effect after a crime has been committed. This is already something we, as a country, are not doing in the most effective way, failing to incorporate rehabilitation which results in high recidivism. Prevention is the area that needs the most focus. Civil society members from social workers and psychologists to researchers and economists should be invited to contribute to a national crime prevention plan. Bigger prisons, moving prisons, and capital punishment do not help people to resolve conflict, solve financial issues, or push students to finish high school. Crime is a systemic issue, and requires a robust, dynamic plan that responds to the environmental factors that lead to crime.

These two examples — public disclosure and the death penalty — are indicative of the FNM administration’s view to systems.

Our current position is a reflection of the same kind of thinking from a different group of people. To see the change we desperately need (and voted for), we need to build better, more instructive and responsive systems and see the too-little-too-late reactions for what they truly are — unproductive distractions. We, the people, must stop showing up for their poppy shows and demand the systems, policies, and recourse we need and deserve.