,

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.

,

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.

,

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.

,

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.

,

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.

, ,

Culture Clash: Tackling The Abuse Of Online Harassment

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on July 12, 2017

“Talkin’ to people bad” is the Bahamian way. That’s what they want us to believe. We play into the narrative that to be Bahamian is to be abrasive, rude, and condescending without second thought, apology, or recompense. We imagine that adulthood gives us the right to say and do as we wish with no consideration to the impact we have on other people. A “Christian nation,” we spin, bend, and reshape scripture until it tells us what we want to hear. We convince ourselves that it is our job to give people what they deserve. We cut their skin, we hit their car, we vote them out, we embarrass them on Facebook. In our minds, there is justification for this. There is righteousness in this. Vengeance is ours. We are doing The Lord’s work. Right?

Online harassment is seldom discussed as it is generally viewed as a minor issue, its impact ignored and trivialised by most. Taking various forms, online harassment is a growing beast, used to disempower, embarrass, and defame people. When discussed, whether it affects a celebrity or a community member, too much attention is put on the personality, politeness, and profession of the victim. Many are quick to search for reasons to justify the attack and blame the victim for the harassment they experience and its subsequent effects.

Most recently, Blac Chyna and Rob Kardashian have entered the headlines, dominating online conversations for days after Rob posted nude photos of her on Instagram. Public dialogue centred around Blac Chyna’s career as a stripper, perceptions about her reason for being in a relationship with Rob, and the amount of money Rob spent on her. It is telling that people are more interested in excusing Rob’s behaviour, using Blac Chyna’s behaviour to somehow cancel out Rob’s, or painting Blac Chyna as the villain in this situation than seeing online harassment for what it is — abuse.

As a human being, Blac Chyna — like all women and all adults — has bodily autonomy. This means she can strip. This means she can be a sex worker. This means she can take photos and videos of herself in all states of dress. This means she can share those photos and videos with people of her own choosing. These are her rights. You, too, can do all of these things. Maybe you do. You may even do one or more of these things without realising it. None of these things makes Blac Chyna (or you) deserving of online harassment.

Rob’s Instagram post was revenge porn — the nonconsensual sharing of sexually explicit images by a former sexual partner for the purpose of embarrassment. It was the distribution of images Blac Chyna did not intend for public consumption. Using her work history as justification of Rob’s actions is both ridiculous and counterintuitive. If Blac Chyna’s body and the ways she provides access to it is a means of income-generation, why are Rob’s actions not recognised as theft? Why would he not be sued for loss of potential income? This happens in cases of copyright infringement and intellectual property disputes, so why not with the body? In any case, the act is classified as revenge porn.

Revenge porn — a form of abuse — is illegal in California, and Blac Chyna has since been granted a restraining order. Instagram responded by suspending his account. These two consequences are a validation of the real impact of revenge porn and other forms of online harassment.

We need to understand online harassment as abuse, a crime, and the cause of emotional distress and, potentially, professional ruin, for those experiencing it. We have to be able to separate personality from the details of criminal acts.

When we start to respect people’s bodily autonomy, we may finally be able to talk to our children about consent. We may be able to help young people recognise early signs of abusive relationships, and create an environment where they can report incidents without fear of being blamed or ridiculed. When we are able to see sexual violence as a spectrum, from harassment to rape, we may be able to address it at multiple levels — not just enforcing punishment, but implementing effective preventative measures.

Online harassment has many faces. It is not always sexual in nature. It can seem innocuous at the start, and build to become a scary, damaging, embarrassing experience. At a time when so much of our national dialogue lives on social media, it is important that we are considerate in our communication with others, especially those we do not know personally.

Divergent points of view should not lead us to participate in hate speech, threaten, or defame others. There are ways to disagree respectfully without losing “stripes” or the argument. Even more, there is a responsibility to intervene when we witness online harassment. The intervention may not be of the Sermon on the Mount variety, but should be a visible form of support for the person being attacked, and a clear message to the attacker that their behaviour is being monitored and is condoned or welcomed in the space.

If you see someone sharing sexually explicit images or videos without consent of the people depicted, report it to the platform and to the Royal Bahamas Police Force Cyber Crime Unit. If you know the person, take the opportunity to tell them to delete the post because it is a form of abuse and a crime, and there is no excuse for it. If you see other forms of online harassment, say something to the harasser.

The experience of online harassment is compounded when people standby in silence, failing to rebuke the asinine behaviour of the harassers. There are many ways to intervene. You can be direct and speak to the harassers on the post, in their inbox, or in person. You could also ask someone with a better relationship to the harassers to address the issue. If you are not comfortable with any of these options, check in with the person experiencing harassment. Knowing someone sees it, knows it’s wrong, and supports you makes a big difference.

, ,

Culture Clash: The Flexibility of Activism

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on June 28, 2017

As social justice issues become more mainstream, the number of activists, advocates, and allies is steadily increasing. People are more involved in conversations about gender, race, class, migration, and a variety of other issues with social media as a go-to resource for a broad range of news and commentary.

Access to information, opinions, and public action is at our fingertips; we can immediately respond to and participate in them. By becoming vocal, visible, and active, people feel more connected to existing movements, and see themselves as activists. Recently, there has been debate about who can call themselves an activist, and how the title is earned. Activism is more than social media posts and profile picture ribbons, but is it productive to discount the efforts of people trying to make a difference in whatever ways, however small, they can?

The work of activists is not trite, easy, or passive. Risks are assumed, positions are clear, and actions are taken. We all know activists are often demonised and ostracised because of their methods of participation and the challenge we bring to old ways of thinking and being. We are often painted as extremists — dangerous and unreasonable people.

In recent years, we’ve seen changes in this dynamic with people taking centre stage, refusing to be sidelined. In many cases, activists have created the agenda and an environment where the option to ignore or refuse to participate does not exist. Leading dialogues and taking control of both narratives and outcomes have always been critical, and the possibilities have increased along with appreciation for the work, and more people want to be a part of it.

Measuring and Validating Activism

While some take offence when others use “activist” to describe themselves, having a narrow view of what it means to embody the term, activism today takes many different shapes, and can be performed in a variety of ways. As people of marginalised communities fighting against oppression and actively disputing ideas of the monolith, it is unreasonable to expect activists to fit a mold. It is also far from productive to alienate, rebuke, or silence people who are, at the very least, allies.

There is no official list of qualifiers to determine whether or not a person is an activist. Even if creating one, it is important that our own values and abilities are not imposed on entire communities, expecting them to measure up to attain activism status. In fact, dictionary definitions of activism prioritise political causes, giving social issues a backseat. Clearly, activism has grown beyond the definition, and as we continue to be creative and provocative in our work, activism will continue to be dynamic, ever-changing.

Before taking action, most people assess their qualifications, skills, and living situation. Do they have the knowledge to write an informative article? Do they have the charisma to deliver a speech? Can they afford to leave work to protest? With such varied points of assessment, no one can use their own activities and choices to define activism for all. It is as diverse as the people who practice it and, perhaps more importantly, the people it is meant to reach.

Traditional and Social Media Activism

In years gone by, activists were known by their public deeds, from impassioned speeches to protests and petitioning. Today, it is difficult to differentiate activists from non-activists when they claim the term in thought, word, and deed. Do all activists protest? How many times does one have to protest before becoming an activist? How can a participant in (or beneficiary of) an oppressive system be an activist?

How can we give room to people who may not protest, but are active on social media, and have conversations in groups others among us may not be able to access? Their efforts may not be public-facing, but they can answer questions in our stead. We have to be able to value work that may not look like our own, but helps to lessen the burden we carry, saving us from the emotional burnout that can come from engaging both peers and the general public.

What is the value of people on social media sharing articles, giving different perspectives, posting pictures from public events, and directing people to more information? An active social media presence is not always as easy as it may seem. Online harassment continues to be a deterrent from using platforms like Facebook. It is often the less visible and less politicised figures who are able to engage in heated debates and escape relatively unscathed. How do account for the danger activists face just by the nature of the work, and avoid discounting their efforts because of the precautions they must take?

Diversity of Movements

Movement membership and participation are important, regardless of the shape they take. Some people march while others write think pieces. Some people start petitions while others send the link to their friends lists. Some are talk show guests while others wrestle with detractors on Facebook. In movements — large and small — fighting to end injustice and restore peace, there is room for everyone. A variety of personalities, skill sets, qualifications, knowledge, and experience make for a more robust, multifaceted movement.

To reach people in other spaces, movements need people with different experiences, and members of the dominant culture are needed as allies. While people on the frontlines take the brunt of the criticism and abuse, supporters need to be ready to defend fellow activists, dispel myths, and drive conversations forward, using more traditional actions as a springboard. The truth is there is always room for more in social and political movements, the need for people power and passion never diminishing. The differences in audience and approach are strengths, only increasing reach and impact. Recognising the value in our varied approaches will enable us to better work across disciplines and areas of focus, propelling us toward the version of The Bahamas we are all working to build.

, , ,

Culture Clash: Our Votes Are Not The Only Way We Can Use Our Voices

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on June 14, 2017

THE past few years in The Bahamas have given us many things to think about. Our dissatisfaction mounting, too many of us found ourselves unable to act.

Members of Parliament did not disclose, and we were outraged. We made the time and effort to vote in the gambling opinion poll — which was framed as a referendum — only to be ignored and disrespected. There was resolve to get rid of the PLP administration and desire for more participatory governance.

There was anger and disappointment. We must figure out how to move beyond it to make progress and demand better of our representatives. It is critical that we activate and assert our citizenship outside of election season, and recognise its power on any given day.

We are underutilising our citizenship. Our conversations about citizenship are often limited to passports and work visas, seldom delving into the properties of citizenship and its direct link to government and governance.

Citizenship, at its best, is not passive. It is not wearing the title “Bahamian” and having a passport declaring our relationship with the country. It is not even at its peak when we cast our ballots every five years to elect representatives and, subsequently, the leader of the country. Citizens have the right to live, receive an education, work, and vote here. Those things come along with citizenship, but they are not the beginning and the end.

What are the responsibilities of a citizen? What are the things we should be doing to both honour and fully exercise our citizenship?

It is our duty to participate in Bahamian democracy, to monitor the work (or lack thereof) of our elected (and paid) officials, to engage one another on issues of national concern, and to agitate for the changes we need.

Regardless of how our representatives would like to posture and feign unmitigated authority, it is our duty to question. We have to challenge the systems that do not work for us, and those that are being abused to such an extent that any supposed benefit is lost on us or pales in comparison to the perks they afford to the privileged. We have to pay attention. We need to be prepared to speak openly about what we see and hear, and to make recommendations for Bahamian citizens as a collective to respond.

What can citizens do, from the ground, to effect change?

Politicians benefit from the popular idea that they are in charge. They have led us to believe that we elect them to lead and make decisions for us. They depend on our laziness and willingness to pass off our duties as citizens, allowing them to do as they wish. In truth, we are their employers, and their job is to represent us. Our issues should be at the front of their minds, and potential solutions should be rolling off their tongues.

Unfortunately, too many of us cast our votes and almost immediately disengage, content that someone else will deal with the running of the country. Some of us are busy, some of us are tired, and some of us are just not interested enough. For those of us who care about our country and its future, it is imperative that we remain alert, communicative, and ready to act.

There is a broad range of actions any citizen can take to protest, change, and create. We know our challenges, and we hold the solutions. In recent years, we have become more willing to share needs, experiences, and ideas. We communicate in a variety of ways, from the sometimes incisive, sometimes enlightening letter to the editor to the hilariously relatable and catchy song. We are creative people, constantly finding new ways to raise issues, share knowledge, and invite people to the conversation.

Talk radio has given us space to think aloud, hear from fellow Bahamians, and form opinions that need not depend solely on our individual experiences. We now have access to the realities of people we do not know, and may not even know of if we did not hear them on the radio, telling their own stories.

We have spent years honing and exercising theses skills, and desperately need to get to the next step. Some of the easiest things we think to do are writing letters to newspaper editors, calling in to radio talk shows, and share our thoughts on social media.

How do we move from conversation to collective action?

Social media — specifically Facebook — has taken us beyond one-way communication. It allows us to organise ourselves into groups and discuss issues relevant to our shared values. What do we do with the perspective we gain from this? How do our positions change based on new information?

One of the road blocks to effective collective action is lack of buy-in. This issue exists for a number of reasons including lack of trust. We ask ourselves about ulterior motives and question the methods of people we do not know. True activism and advocacy require time, energy, and other resources in limited supply, especially for nonprofit initiatives. We ask ourselves why anyone would give freely of these resources, and how long it will take for them to be bought (as we may have seen recently).

Another major roadblock is the divisiveness that inevitably comes from difference in identity or opinion, completely detracting from the shared vision.

Theoretically, many of us want the same things, but are prepared to forgo rights to ensure that someone else does not gain access to those (or other) rights (as we saw in the June 2016 referendum).

There is tremendous value in the conversations we have on a daily basis on radio talk shows, Facebook, and themed panels and fora.

We head-nod, clap, and like each other’s comments, and sometimes dive right into actions like petitions and protests. Collective action must come, but all participating citizens need to understand why we are there, together, despite difference. This requires a shared vision. There must be something we can all agree on, commit to working toward, and recognise as more importance than differences in identity and personality. We must shift the way we engage one another.

Social media can be a tool for organising, but it’s up to us to drive the conversation toward indisputable consensus that can serve as a foundation and driver for citizen-led action.

Let’s keep the conversation going, but more meaningfully and constructively toward action. At some point, we have to put our citizenship to work, and that means doing something — not just voting.

, ,

Culture Clash: A Time To Believe In Our Fellow Bahamians

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on May 17, 2017

It’s the people’s time. Believe in Bahamians. Forward, upward, onward, together.

According to the Parliamentary Registration Department, 87 per cent of registered voters – not all Bahamians eligible to vote – exercised their right to vote.

Following the general election, the Bahamian people are represented by 35 Free National Movement (FNM) and four Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) MPs. Few could have predicted the composition of our new government. Many celebrate it, seeing it as a victory not only for the FNM, but for the people who wanted, more than anything else, to vote the PLP out and unseat former Prime Minister Perry Christie.

Some of us are concerned, recognising that the opposition is small and its strength unknown. Yes, our voices were heard and the FNM was rewarded with a landslide victory, whether earned or not. We now have a different party in control of Parliament, but that was the case in 2012 too. Our attention should be on the role we, as citizens, play in our own governance, and how we can – and must – hold our representatives accountable. It would be remiss of us to ignore the obvious flaws in the government we now have.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the FNM’s composition and campaign was the dearth of women candidates and this is now glaringly obvious given its overwhelming win. Is it possible to laugh at the absurdity of four seats going to the PLP while ignoring the fact that women hold the same number of seats on the FNM’s side? Glenys Hanna Martin brings the final count of women in the lower chamber to five. This is a slight decrease in representation from the 2012-2017 term.

It’s rather troubling that the FNM claims to champion women’s rights but did not give attention to women’s representation on its slate. In appointing Cabinet Ministers, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis gave no attention to this issue, appointing only one woman – Lanisha Rolle – and assigning her to the soft portfolio of Social Services and Urban Development. As a result, we are saddled with a government that does not come close to representing our population in terms of gender.

Additionally, the FNM manifesto – like the PLP Charter and Democratic National Alliance’s Vision – does not speak specifically to issues of gender, nor does it intentionally include gender in other sections like education, healthcare, or crime. This is a clear indication that the road ahead will be no easier for women and girls, or for the people who advocate for them. Issues like this are not yet being discussed, but we have no time to wait.

Most will agree that this election and the aftermath feels markedly different from those before it. The nation is enjoying a deep sense of satisfaction. We disagreed on ways to move forward, but largely agreed that the PLP was not to be victorious. For many Bahamians, it felt necessary to bite the bullet and vote for the non-PLP party most likely to win, even if they would have liked to support a different candidate and/or party.

This is the sacrifice of voting within the confines of our electoral system and its rules. While some wistfulness may remain, there is a general sense of ease and content across the country. We may not love our new leader, or think the manifesto is good enough, or be happy with the gender split, or have any idea who half the MPs are, or feel inspired by the flip-flopping between two major parties, but we voted the PLP out. It feels good. It feels like a win. It feels like we can breathe again.

What will happen when the dump starts burning again? How will we respond if the murder rate continues to rise? What will we do if all the talk about anti-corruption doesn’t move beyond conversation? What is the acceptable grace period for new governments?

I’ve been less than ecstatic about the results of the election. I’ve been indifferent about the outcome in terms of the party in leadership, convinced that no one party is better than the others, hence my role in Out Da Box. I remain concerned about our electoral system and dedicated to working toward the reform we desperately need.

When I saw the results, my first thought was, “We have no opposition.” I recalled the last five years and the lackluster performance of the FNM opposition twice the size of the PLP opposition we now have. Other people noted and raised this issue, much to the chagrin of indignant voters who thought it much too soon for anyone to dare offer any critique.

I’ve seen scores of Facebook posts by dedicated FNMs and swing voters who voted FNM, all sending a disturbing message. They say we should give it a rest. We should give Minnis and the FNM some time. We should wait and see what they do. They say if the FNM doesn’t perform, we’ll vote them out in 2022 – quite a long wait. They want us to be quiet, and let them enjoy their win. They also say we, the people, are the opposition now. It reminded me of a statement made my Out Da Box co-organiser Dr Nicolette Bethel.

“I do not need to be a candidate to be a part of the government. I already am the government. Democracy is government of the people by the people, and in our system it is effected by representation.”

We are the government, and we have elected people to represent us. The government includes the opposition. For this reason, I wonder if the Bahamian people are now realising that we have a role to play in our governance, and that we have not elected leaders, but representatives. Whatever the ratio of FNM to PLP Members of Parliament, it is their job to represent us, and to do that, they need to hear our voices.

Less than 160,000 votes were cast last week. Approximately 24,000 registered voters were disenfranchised or chose not to vote, and thousands of people didn’t even register to vote. Our system is flawed, and this has been proven over the past six months. Fortunately, exercising the right to vote in free and fair elections is only one part of democracy and citizenship. Whether we vote or not, we all have a voice – and many ways to use it.

If we believe we are the government, or that we are (or can be) the opposition, we have work to do. If we are to move forward, upward, onward, together, we must be able to find our shared vision, disagree respectfully and find ways to action the goals we agree on. We are at a time in our democracy where it is imperative that we not only believe in ourselves, but in each other. I challenge you to do what it seems the PLP could not, or did not. Believe in fellow Bahamians.

Let us focus more on the things we have in common and commit to active participation in governance. We have, in one day, withdrawn consent from a party and its candidates because we did not deem them worthy. Know that we do not have to wait five years to do the same if the representatives we have today refuse to hear our collective voice. It is, indeed, the people’s time. They said it and, now, we must own it.