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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: 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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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Culture Clash: On Cyber Crime in The Bahamas

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on April 19, 2017

Everyone wants to be entertained.

We pay for cable television, go to political rallies and engage in Facebook banter on hot topics for days.

Sometimes our jokes are on other people, but nothing is as disturbing as the pleasure many get from recording, watching and sharing explicit content without consent of the people involved.

Too many people prefer to make assumptions, stating them as facts, to looking critically at common behaviours and the related social ills.

There is no shortage of topics we would prefer to leave undiscussed. We are not interested in feeling uncomfortable, challenging norms or risking existing perceptions of ourselves to have necessary conversations.

No one wants to talk about sexual violence. It is not pleasant. Rape is not a safe table topic, but women are not safe from predators either. Why not? Who is to blame? How have we contributed to rape culture, ensuring that victims are blamed for violence enacted against them and made to feel shame and guilt?

Every few months, a new story makes the rounds on social media. Videos are quickly shared, exposing traumatic, humiliating moments for the entertainment of the general public. We have become voyeurs, cultivating an insatiable desire for violent content. When people are excited by images of car accidents, footage of people taking their last breaths, children being abused and women being raped, it should be an alarm. This growing obsession is a definite indicator of desensitisation to acts of violence and loss of humanity. Unfortunately, it seems this has been normalised, and few are willing to challenge it.

For the past few days, video of a rape has been circulating on social media. Not only has evidence of a crime been widely shared, but people have requested the video. They are asking contacts to share a video of a woman being raped for their entertainment and to enable them to join the troubling conversation, complete with graphic details.

Why was this video recorded? Who recorded it? Why has it been shared with anyone other than the police? Why do people want to watch it? What does it mean when people are excited by the thought of such a video?

In conversations about violence against women, the issue of relationship to the survivor is almost always raised. When men and boys fail to see the problem with various forms of sexual violence, we quickly point them in the direction of their family trees. What if this happened to your mother, sister, or daughter? What if this woman was related to you in any way? Would she be a human then? Would she deserve to be protected then? Would it still be her fault?

The same distance exists between viewers and individuals in the videos. Something keeps us from seeing people we do not know as human beings. The same deficiency renders us incapable of empathy. Entirely separate from this is the sense of moral superiority that comes with viewing such content. People like to see and position themselves as better than others. It is a pleasure to point out all the things we would have done differently to ensure a different outcome.

What did she drink? Who did she get it from? Did she ever let it out of her sight? Why did she drink it? Didn’t she notice it tasted different? Did she know these people? Couldn’t she fight back?

I wouldn’t have drunk anything. I don’t know anyone who would do that to me. I’m a better judge of character. No matter how drunk I am, I can fight back. I’m smarter. Stronger. Better.

These questions are easy to ask. These actions are easy to premeditate. Judgments are easy to make. In all of this, we centre ourselves and forget about the people who are impacted by the content shared without their consent and the unfiltered public commentary. We give no thought to the impact of our self-aggrandisement on victims of cyber crime. We rarely even think about our perception of rape.

It is easy to think of rape in narrow terms – dark alley, stranger, screams. In reality, rape is not limited to specific circumstances. It can happen day or night, inside or outside, with or without an audience. For the perpetrator, it is an exercise of power and control. When consent is not given, it is rape. Consent must be voluntary, explicit and continuous, and can only be given in sobriety and adulthood. It is never implied and is always necessary. When lack of consent or the end of consent is ignored, the act is a violation. In this most recent video, the young woman was incapable of giving consent. She was sexually violated and that has been multiplied by the cyber crime of recording and sharing the video.

Certain assumptions can be made about people who send and receive videos like the one being discussed. Sending such a video suggests the sender has reason to believe the recipient is like-minded. It implies there is nothing wrong with sharing this kind of material, and no consequences are expected. If you are in receipt of the video, it may be time to ask yourself a few questions. Who sent it to you? What is your relationship to the sender? Why would anyone feel comfortable sharing the video with you? How do you respond to people sharing this kind of content with you? Have you shared the video, or content like it? Are you a cyber criminal?

If we are not prepared to consider the impact of our actions and speech on others, to refrain from criminal activity or to correct family and friends when they commit harmful acts, are we ready for the revolution we say we want to see?

If we cannot govern ourselves or see the humanity in one another, we are not prepared for fight for democracy. Are we ready to study, debate, and decision-making on the road to May 10, 2017? Until we respect and protect the least among us, we cannot rise together for effective leadership and civic participation in our country.

We must think beyond ourselves and our personal relationships, working to understand and promote human rights for all, if we are to build a better Bahamas for Bahamians.