31 December 2009

Sister Poems

our labor has become more important than our silence
-Audre Lorde

cutting and clearing, cooking and cleaning,
serving and selling our souls away
in dis Bahamaland we nameless and stateless,
in dis country who want we labour, but not we children

dey call us "my Haitian," as if we property
dey say we blood make us violent, as if Bahamian blood different
forgetting and burying, bodies and hands
uprooted like the forests around Port-au-Prince

dey say we takin' over
as if we run tings here
dey say we makin one next Haiti
as if we ain't runnin from her now.

back in Haiti, land of empty mountains,
never catchin a break, no matter we blood
covering the streets, trapped under mudslides
hiding we struggle, to live beyond

a Revolution that never was, sent tremors across ocean currents
creating revelations and rebellions, a Revolution that was, never complete
punished for doing the unthinkable, waging battles, demanding equality,
declaring Independence from French bondage, the first Black Republic

destroyed through pillage of gold, land and people
invaded, occupied, held hostage, denied status
migrations and movements, hiding and blending
name changes and marriages, children and saviors.

some of us come by boat, but we are not boat people
we seek refuge politically, we want peace spiritually
from civil wars, coups, unrest, no-rest, disease, poverty's ruthless clutch,
and so called peace-keeping troops and life-sucking foreign aid.

some of us born here, being both Haitian and Bahamian
feeling both love and shame about who we be,
and still we hear "go home"
as if we ain't built home right here wit' you.

Sip an' Talk
it is better to speak, remembering we were never meant to survive
-Audre Lorde

so many silences about the ocean
connecting Haitians and Bahamians

so many silences to the cutting of life water
who gets to stay and who gets t'row away

so many silences rising upon salty weathered bodies
we want your labor, but yunna chirrin' no

so many silences to teeth-sucking moans
“da Bahamas too small, cyan help erryone”

but we is dem, dem is us
t'rough blood, ancestors, many stories

so many silences to sip sip and talk
sinking Haitian sloops, shark infested seas, missing bodies

so many silences about all dese tings, holes in we history,  
the middle passage, 60 million or more, nefarious thoughts,
oceans mixed in spirit and sweat, the weight of resistance

so easily forgotten under colonial eyes and books
dis-remembering roots, language and culture,
long time, water crossings in love and faith

so we must fill the silences with real talk, honest and dirty,
uncovering secrets, from Inagua to Grand Bahama
"all a we is one family, all a we is one"

so we must fill the silences with songs, stitching holes,
filling gaps, replacing fractures, no more blows
"you muh brother, you muh sister, all a we is one"

between us and them
between you and me
"all a we is one"

Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day - 10th Dec 2009

I had a beautiful plan to write a post on this day responding to this article, but alas I didn't have the time - or I didn't make the time.  But I'm playing catch up on this new year's eve - posting all of my december musings at one time - on this last day of 2009.  I had a fantastic poetry reading on Dec 10th at the Tongues Afire Reading Series in Brooklyn at the Audre Lorde Project.  I shared a number of poems that I worked on and improved through the Tongues Afire Workshop in Fall 08 - so it was such a rewarding and rich experience to share my work a year later.  And I shared the "stage" with other Tongues Afire writers and with the amazing & brilliant Cheryl Clark who was our featured poet!  She made my entire year by telling me she thought my work and performance was powerful :-)   I shared a few poems in honor of human rights day - one titled "all i want is my body" which I shared here on conscious vibration a while back, but I've changed it since...  and also two sister poems about migration and Haitians/Haitian Bahamians.  I will share them here as well in the next post - part three of my three postings catch up on new year's eve.

Meanwhile, here is the link I wanted to share:

Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Human Rights Day, 10 Dec 2009

World AIDS Day, Re/Memory, & Activism

Thoughts & Reflections from 1st December 2009

On World AIDS Day - I sit remembering those who have passed (my mother especially) and those who survive. My red ribbon is always on my bag because everyday - I remember.  There's so much silence in our communities about HIV/AIDS - it baffles me how little we talk about it. I wish I talked about it more, but it is so difficult. It's been 13 years since my mother passed away from complications due to HIV/AIDS. And its only been in the past three years that I've really talked about it in any kind of public setting.  A few years ago I was asked to discuss HIV/AIDS and the stigma in the Caribbean at a Caribbean Students Association at UF - where I was a grad student at the time. So I decided to break my own silence and talk to fellow students about my story and my mother's story. At first it was really hard, but then other students opened up too. I had for many years done lots of research/reading on HIV/AIDS, and I also did a number of community service activities in college,  But talking about my personal connection to the disease was something I did not do very often. Grad school became a space for me to continue this work and also connect to the personal more. So I've been way more active in HIV/AIDS work since I finished grad school, and I've used my community work as a space to discuss larger issues of gender and sexuality in Black communities as well. I think we also have to expand the discourse - not just fight the stigma of the disease, but also fight the stigmas we have about our sexuality and sexualities.

We also have to be break the silences, push through our fears, and embrace our loved ones who are living with HIV/AIDS. We must do this. And we must fight for equal and fair access to treatment and medicine. Not just on World AIDS Day or National Black HIV/AIDS Day - but everyday. This makes me think about how we do activism - how do we live our politics? how do we stay in the struggle? how do we remember our histories?  

During the thanks-taking week, Democracy Now aired this beautiful show about the Native American singer/songwriter and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie - someone I had heard of only through her music. I didn't realize how much of an activist she was till I watched the show. I meant to share this clip in November, but time escaped me and so I'm finally doing it now. And so in honor of both World AIDS Day and what should be considered a National Day of Mourning in North America - remembering Amer-Indians and Indigenous' Peoples whose lands were stolen, whose histories have yet to be acknowledged by the dominant culture - I wanted to share this piece on Democracy Now.  Buffy Sainte Marie reminds us all that no matter our cause, we can use our minds, hearts, voices, spirits to fight in the struggle... and that we must continue to be present and move forward while remembering the past. I think of this work as - Re/memory - it is the embrace and acceptance of what has happened - the stories that have not been told - and it is the re-collection of those stories and bringing them to consciousness. 

Democracy Now! Special: An Hour of Music and Conversation with Legendary Native American Singer-Songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie

18 October 2009

Poverty, Class, Gender & Human Rights

Amnesty International Head Irene Khan on "The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights"

Shared via AddThis

Yesterday (October 17th) was the 'International Day for the Eradication of Poverty'. Democracy Now covered this on Friday - and their guest was Amnesty International's Irene Khan, who talked about her book on poverty and human rights. As I watched this segment and reflected on some of the startling numbers - like 1/3 of the world's population are living in poverty and that 1 billion people go hungry everyday - it made me think about the violence of poverty and how it breeds hopelessness. I also think about studies that say 70% of people living in poverty are women. And how women around the world are fighting and organizing and articulating economic and social rights as human rights [check out these sites: IPS News Reports on Gender Equality & Economica: Women and the Global Economy.]

I am talking about these issues in all of my classes, and so they are on my mind constantly. And I grew up in poor working-class communities in the Bahamas, and so I know intimately what we can call the violence of poverty. But I climbed the socio-economic ladder and "made it out" - in spite of great odds and because of hard work. Yet I must acknowledge the opportunities afforded me because of my light skin, scholarships I received, and hence access to higher education. I often feel guilty for making it out and an overwhelming responsibility to live up to something I can't even name. I know my story is not so unusual, yet at the same time, I know that I am an exception to the rule rather than an example of the meritocracy myth - "if you just work hard and believe, you will make it" - cause we all know it ain't that simple. I could easily have ended up on a very different path.

Khan discusses the challenges people face around the world because of unequal access to resources, especially education - which then makes it almost impossible to get out of poverty. She draws a comparison between herself and her family's housekeeper's son - they grew up together but because of class differences and social status, they have ended up in very different places - she had the opportunity to get an education and leave Bangladesh and he didn't. Her story illustrates the clear connection between poverty and class. And yet there are so many stories - complicated by race, colonialism, gender, sexuality, and location - the experiences of many people around the world. Khan highlights some of the struggles and movements in different places, and she insists (similar to Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed) that people who are poor must be empowered to create change -- in other words, they must be the center of their own movements and decision making or what Freire explains as coming to consciousness. This is one of the reasons I wanted to be an educator and teacher- because I experienced empowerment through education - both formal and community.

So today - reflecting on these days set aside to "Stand Against Poverty" Oct 16-18- I wanted to share these sites and sources. And think about how we can make EVERY DAY a stand against poverty. This is too much to talk about here, but we've gotta start somewhere. And the work has begun. So we can support the movements that are in progress. We can make sure that debates/struggles over human rights include eradicating poverty and fighting for social and economic justice. We can spread awareness about the movement to eradicate the IMF/WorldBank/foreign debt of the "Third World/Global South" - the countries who make "First World/Global North" wealth possible. We can develop more strategies to support organizations/groups who focus on empowerment at the local level. We should continue the work of challenging how we define human rights. We must talk about class issues in the places in which we live - and how these are complicated by race, gender, and sexuality. And we must change the way we talk about poverty - as if it is only the problem of those who endure it - because it should matter to everyone.

22 September 2009

the state of public discourse

As an educator, I am constantly overwhelmed by how little my students (in college courses) know about history and how much they want to believe we live in a colorblind world. These two are related - the lack of knowledge about history, or the watered-down version of history they learn in high school and college, feeds the belief in colorblindness and the idea that everyone is equal now. Many of them seem to believe there is no such thing as racism or sexism - and even when I provide examples and talk about these as systems of oppression, they are still unable to discuss these issues in any critical way. I am mystified at how much they don't know and how resistant they are to new or progressive ways of thinking. But then I read mainstream news headlines and reports, and I think about the state of public discourse. There is such a lack of critical engagement in most public discourse, especially mainstream news. Thankfully, there are alternatives, like Democracy Now, Left Turn Magazine, Inter Press Service, and others. But often we have to seek out alternative news media, whose perspectives are deemed by the mainstream as "too radical" which keeps certain voices on the margin. Mainstream has become really conservative, so much so it now the norm. 

Most mainstream news outlets, and by extension much of public discourse, lack the language and tools to discuss issues around race, gender, class, and sexuality. It is amazing the gap that exists between academic discourse and public discourse. The language/embrace of multiculturalism, diversity, and colorblindness seems to trump so much of the work done in the humanities, social sciences, and alternative news media that exposes various systems of oppression and reveals how they operate. The moment of political correctness and belief in post-race, post-feminism, just-work-hard-and-you-will-make-it, everyone is equal has completely disrupted our abilities to talk about identity politics and social justice. It is no wonder my students can't talk about race, much less gender, class, and sexuality, and forget global and sexual politics or feminism and feminisms.

If we do talk about race, especially if one is a person of color, we are "playing the race card"; if we talk about gender and sexism, its because women are being overly sensitive; and when white people are asked to think about white privilege, they look confused. This leads to the ridiculous notion of equal opportunity racism and how anyone/everyone can be "a racist" -- this undermines real discussions about racism as systematic and prevents conversations about class and gender dynamics that complicate race. There is no public language to discuss racism and sexism as systematic, but rather people obsess over individual prejudices; there is no public language to really dialogue about racial, class, and gender oppression or privilege; there is no public language to expose interlocking systems of oppression. This is why people of color have been assaulted lately, from attacks on Sonia Sotomayor and President Obama to outright smear campaigns on community organizations like ACORN. This is why we are fearful of the "R" word.

We live in a moment of intense belief in "my opinion"; a moment where dichotomous logic in terms of politics reigns supreme in most news media, in which debate means representing two opposing points with no clear analysis of either side; a moment where there are just two sides (yes/no, for/against) to any & every debate. How did we come to this? When did we loose a grasp of multiple sides, critical analysis, support for one's point of view, evidence to support one's argument that is biased? What happened to the U.S. news media and mainstream journalists who called upon/relied on scholars, researchers, and organizers to clarify and complicate issues of concern from multiple perspectives -- not just two very biased and polar opposite sides that seem to only incite further controversy as opposed to real integrity-driven debate?

The state of public discourse is scary, and speaks to how difficult it is to have real public dialogue and critical reflection. It doesn't help that the first African American President of the United States refuses to really talk about race or admit the extent to which his race affects how people in this country see him. In fact, it makes our jobs as educators, community and intellectual workers, writers, artists, activists, and so on even harder. His presidency is continuously held up as the sign of a "post-racial" america. Thankfully, there are still some journalists who are willing to take the risk and talk critically about race. Recently, Democracy Now covered the issue of President Obama and race when talking with journalist Naomi Klein. Amy Goodman and Naomi Klein discuss Klein's article in Harper's Magazine where she talks about the various ways in which President Obama has avoided dealing with race during his presidency. She connects the Obama Administration's decision to not attend the UN Durban Review Conference on Racism this past April with other big silences concerning race. A shorter version of Klein's article is available online through The Guardian.

The show and article reminded me of how many disappointments we've seen these past few months with President Obama: from not attending the UN Conference on racism to his troubling response to Former President Carter's assertion that racism remains an issue and concern in this country. Carter astutely and clearly stated the obvious -- that the health care "debates" and attacks on President Obama are rooted in racism. This could have been a perfect opportunity for Obama to engage in a conversation about race; it could have been a beautiful moment of critical reflection, and what better person to do it with than someone who is well-respected, a former U.S. President, and active in human rights issues! But alas, no... instead Obama "disagrees" with Carter - in what I see as a very dangerous move. He could have simply said that Carter was entitled to his opinion (which would have been fine, since we live in "opinion happy" moment). He could have said nothing. I suppose I would rather have silence than a response that simply panders to the right wing and the notion of colorblindbess.

I wrote here on conscious vibration back in November that I did have hope in President Obama; that I believed this could be a time of change. I wrote how in spite of my hope I still had fears and concerns. But now my hope is lost...  what belief I did have during the first days and months of his presidency have been dimmed through the continued wars, the bank bailouts, and the no-public-option health care plan. And even though on some level, I knew he wouldn't be able to rock the boat that much - after all he is part of the system, particularly one that perpetuates U.S. hegemony and imperialism - still I hoped he would do some of the things he promised.

I know change must begin on the ground, and that we must all take responsibility for creating and sustaining movements. But we also need to hold leaders and governments accountable. And we must also hold those who do work in the name of "public service" accountable. We need to expect something better from those who engage in public discourse, especially the mainstream news. We need to break down the divides among what is deemed "intellectual" and "academic" and what is deemed "public" and "community" -- these divisions only reinforce the hierarchies that already exist. We need public language and new voices to talk about issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality. We need honesty and real dirty talk. We need folks to be able to express their anger in useful ways and channel these energies into change.

Audre Lorde talks about the issue of anger and racism in her 1981 essay titled "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism" - her keynote address to the National Women's Studies Association Conference. Her theories about the uses of anger in an early 1980s moment in which Black feminist scholars and organizers were calling out white women about their racism can be useful for us now - given the lack of public discourse on race, class, and gender. Lorde explains why her response to racism is anger, how it should make us all angry, and how we can use this anger:

My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also. Women responding to racism means women responding to anger; the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and co-optation. ... Anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences, and who are our genuine enemies. Anger is loaded with information and energy.

So many of us are angry, and yes people of color are angry, women of color are especially angry, and as a Black queer migrant women, I'm hella angry... we have a right to be angry - there has been so much backlash and so much regression...  we are livin in scary times... so let's continue to fight and use our anger, express it, and transform it into action.

24 August 2009

criminality in "post-race" america

I've been under a rock these past weeks - packing, moving, unpacking, getting settled in my new place, and preparing for my new job. It's been a hectic month... and I am missing New York terribly. But now that I am finally hitting my groove again :) it's time to write, reflect, and keep sendin' out into the universe conscious vibration...

I started a piece a while back about the arrest of Professor Gates, but didn't get a chance to finish it till now. I don't want to re-hash any of the debates already out there about his arrest. But rather I want to use this situation as an opportunity to discuss criminality in what many are calling a "post-race" moment. The most disturbing part of this entire issue was (and still is) the lack of critical discourse about "justice" and the prison system (or the prison industrial complex); AND the accusations hurled at Professor Gates - that he played the race card.

U.S. racial politics and the long history of serious injustice in “the law” and criminal system must be considered. The law and police as institutions are mired in this sordid history. Racial profiling is an everyday experience for people of color. So it is a fallacy to say that Professor Gates “played the race card” – because race was/is already an issue within the daily social, political, and legal fabric of this country. Black, Latino, and Native American men are incarcerated at higher levels than white men NOT because they commit more crimes, but rather because their bodies are criminalized and policed more than white bodies. Black and Latina women face the same harsh reality. (I hate statistics, and I know they can be manipulated to serve different agendas, but these stats have been used by a number of different sources: The 2006 U.S. Dept of Justice Reports "While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, the figure is one in nine for black males in that age group. Men are still roughly 13 times more likely to be incarcerated, but the female population is expanding at a far brisker pace. For black women in their mid- to late-30s, the incarceration rate also has hit the one-in-100 mark").

Unfortunately, these stats are often used to sustain the fear of the Black male in america, and it also perpetuates the racial stereotype of inherent criminality onto Black and Brown bodies. But these numbers/reports should make us want to understand why so many people of color are locked up in prison, and ask ourselves who profits from this system. The drug sentencing laws alone reveal injustice in the system - from the disparities in crack/cocaine laws to the fact that more than HALF of the people locked up are in there for NON-VIOLENT drug offenses.

(Do your own research; read the latest Pew Report on the prison system; check out Law Professor Ian Haney Lopez’s book titled White By Law for a detailed study of the law and race; AND read Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete? -- she traces the connection between the end of slavery, the rise of the chain gang and the prison industrial complex, which fed/feeds the country's & corporations' need for cheap/free labor.)

NUMEROUS studies show that racial profiling, longer/harsher sentencing, unjust/racist laws, privatization of prisons, and the intense policing of poor communities is what in fact contributes to the high numbers of people of color being locked up in U.S. Jails and Prisons. Again, there are more people of color in prison NOT because crime is on the rise OR that we commit more crimes, its because of the system itself -- longer sentences, ridiculous probation laws that basically guarantee return to prison, lack of resources to help people coming out of prison, and the grim reality of poor communities with few resources exacerbated by state/federal monies going to build prisons instead of schools, spending money on war instead of community.

The prison system in its present state DOES NOT WORK and it certainly doesn't make our communities any safer. But we are suppose to believe in the law and the police without question. And so when Professor Gates gets arrested, it is easier for us to believe that it was an accident, that he "acted out" and therefore deserved it, that the police are just doing their job, that the system and law are colorblind, that he should have just "behaved" properly. It is much harder to question the system itself or consider that the police may lie - they have a code (all police) and they abide by it. And it is much harder to ask why Professor Gates' Black body is seen as threatening in so called "post-race" america -- especially with a Black president. It is even harder to admit that our belief and dependency in/on the prison system makes it work even more.

Ironically, Professor Gates has really never been one to talk about these difficult issues (in terms of the law, prison system, and injustice). In one of his PBS specials "America Beyond the Color Line," he briefly addressed the issue of Black men in prison, but he only touched upon racial profiling. And so now, Professor Gates is faced with the toughest of questions and challenges in an “america” that so wants to believe it is colorblind. He's already lined up to do a special on racial profiling. Is it too much too hope for that he offers a deep analysis of the system? All I can do is dream at this point.

We need alternatives. We need critique. We need to be armed with information/history/herstory to fight against racial stereotypes and misuse of statistics. We need to admit that race (gender, class, sexuality, religion, nationality, & ability) affect how we are treated within a given society and within institutions. We need to develop ways of building communities instead of destroying them. I am anti-prison and I think prison abolition is what we must fight for/towards -- a lot of people think this is ridiculous and some people think the system is too far entrenched to be changed. But I believe we have to start somewhere - and we should aim and struggle for RADICAL change at the root. Research and organizations already exist that offer maps/studies/visions for change. Places to start: - Instead of Prisons; Real Cost of Prisons; and Critical Resistance.

Critical Resistance (a national organization that works to dismantle the prison industrial complex) offers an important resource and space for us re-think, question, and challenge the prison system. Here is how CR defines the problem and their vision of change:

The U.S. uses prisons and policing as a failed “solution” to social problems. As a result, our communities are being destroyed.
• In the past two decades, the number of people in prison in the U.S. increased 400%.
• Prisons are filled with 68% people of color.
• 4 million people who have been in prison face barriers to jobs, parental rights, public assistance, and housing.
• In neighborhoods where people are most affected by mass imprisonment and policing, we see the direct impact of our annual $50 billion investment in prisons and policing: closed schools, homelessness, basic health care is out of reach, and poverty remains a reality in the richest country on earth.

Critical Resistance’s vision is the creation of genuinely safe, healthy communities that do not rely on prisons and policing to respond to harm. We call our vision “abolition.” We take the name “abolitionists” purposefully from those who called for the abolition of slavery in the 1800’s. Abolitionists believed that slavery could not be fixed or reformed – it needed to be abolished.

We must challenge the systems that keep us all locked up - physically, mentally, and spiritually. We must start thinking outside the box. We do not live in a "post-race" or colorblind world. But rather, we live in a world of difference - and we need to keep building across & through our differences to create the world we want to live in, the world we want for future generations.

26 July 2009

what about july?

My friend and I have this running joke about the perils of July as graduate students and then newly-minted PhD's starting first jobs and such - especially if we get no summer teaching. If you are in the education profession, then you too might know about the dreaded nine-month contract. Yes, we are supposed to save enough for the summer months, but that rarely happens... and maybe we can make it through June, but what about July?

So July is a rough patch - even for those of us who plan plan plan... I thought with my first job and all, I would be okay, but living in NYC is hella expensive and then there was re-paying money I borrowed to live through summers in grad school & relocating after graduation... right... and so I ended up scraping by & wondering once again, what about July? (and let's not even talk about August) But no matter these trials, I still love my job and I love the work :) And this July brought me new opportunities & many blessings - I completed my postdoc year at NYU and so I was back on the job hunt - and I got a visiting gig at University of Connecticut in Women's Studies (Assistant Professor in Residence), which starts late August! (Sadly, this means I'm moving to CT, but I will still be close to NYC :)

And I had the fantastic opportunity to go home (Nassau, Bahamas) and teach for the first Bahamas Writer's Summer Institute (BWSI)(which took place from June 29th to July 31st 2009) - organized by fellow Bahamian writers Marion Bethel and Helen Klonaris. It was a five-week institute that included weekly writing workshops, as well as seminars in critical theory and the Caribbean literary imagination. BWSI also hosted several events - a reading series called "Witness" and panel conversations about craft. I couldn't be at home for the entire time, but I was able to teach three seminars on the Caribbean literary imagination. I also participated in two of the panel conversations, as a panelist on blogging and I moderated a discussion about influences beyond the word; and I read poetry for "Witness" with Marion Bethel and Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming.

I was honored to share "a stage" with Marion & Lelawattee (daring & brilliant writers who inspire me so much). I read poems about Bahamian language, my grandmother, queer sexuality, healing from sexual abuse, and silences about Haitians & Haitian Bahamians. This was the hardest part - putting myself out there at home because I fear my people will not fully accept me - my queer Black light-skinned migrant self. But I put myself out there anyway. And I am happy I did. I felt such support in the room - especially from the BWSI participants. I was humbled by the responses. A number of people said that I was brave... but I often don't feel brave, I do what I do because I have to. For me, writing is literally an act of survival - as the great Audre Lorde says, poetry is not a luxury and it is better to speak. I feel that in my bones. And I work to put my body where my politics are - sometimes this means discomfort and pain. It's all worth it though.

The most exciting part for me was the teaching/lecture time and sharing community with the participants and faculty. I organized my seminars by theme: 1) race and class, 2) gender and sexuality; 3) postcolonial identity and mobility. It was my first time being able to talk about these issues in a classroom/community environment at home. We read Caribbean writers such as Michelle Cliff, Edwidge Danticat, David Dabydeen, Dionne Brand, Jamaica Kincaid, Kevin Quashee, Achy Obejas, Marion Bethel, & Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming. We talked about racial mixing and the complexity of class and color in the region. We discussed the social construction of gender and possible roots of sexism and homophobia. We had debates about Bahamian postcolonial identity and culture. We talked about migration issues and human rights in the region. And through all of our conversations, we talked about the Bahamas in relationship to the rest of the region. I made sure that each class included a queer writer so that sexuality was always part of our discussion. The discussions were lively and thought provoking. The experience was incredibly inspiring yet challenging - we always ran out of time and I left each class feeling like there was so much more to say. I sensed great urgency in our classroom to talk about these issues. I felt a part of something very important and very needed. And so I thank the students and fellow faculty - especially Helen and Marion for putting BWSI together. I feel blessed to have been a part of this. It was truly historic. And I hope to be part of many more.

I had to leave BWSI early -- rushed back to New York so that I could get myself together for the big move to Connecticut and preparing for Fall teaching. So there was my July! More than I could have wished for - a beautiful end to my year in NYC. And as I prepare to move and re-locate, I am spending my last few weeks in New York enjoying the place and thinking only of conscious vibration.

03 July 2009

work in progress - remembering MJ

A couple years ago, a group of my friends and I had a Michael video marathon. We watched all his greatest videos from "Rock with You" to "Thriller" and "Smooth Criminal" - we danced and sang along with Michael...and talked about how much we all loved MJ. We also watched the new stuff - from "Don't care about us" to "You are not alone." Seeing the physical transformation of MJ through his videos all in one sitting was quite astonishing and sad really. I saw him as a product of american racism, a troubled family, and a victim of child star obsession. I found myself haunted by his face, his eyes, and words he wrote about his childhood. And I started a poem then, but it remained unfinished in one of my journals until recently. It was (and is) hard to write about him -- I was so disturbed by the abuse accusations, I couldn't face the poem... but when he passed away, I decided to return to it. Like many people, I couldn't stop reading about MJ after he passed away - I listened to his music, watched videos online, and read news reports and blogs. I enjoyed reading different memories from writers who shared their love for MJ and why they thought he was so important. This was a kind of "recuperation" of MJ - he is suddenly responsible for making so much possible for Black people - i.e. he broke racial boundaries in the music industry and the world. MJ has been elevated to a new kind of Pop Icon Hero status. I was amused at the media's attempt to critique itself over "too much coverage" - the hypocrisy of it all - they continue to make money off of MJ, perhaps even more so in death. I watched the memorial service and cried. It was beautiful to hear positive things about this man who was so often berated. It was refreshing to hear about his humanity.

I also watched Democracy Now's report on Michael Jackson and they highlighted something James Baldwin said about him back in 1985, in his essay titled “Here Be Dragons”:
“The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael.” … “Freaks are called freaks and they are treated – in the main, abominably – because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.”

This made me think more about MJ's treatment as a freak and how we can talk about him as a cultural icon. He certainly broke all kinds of norms, especially with gender performance, but he was also punished for it. I plan to write about this more... But in the meantime, I went back to the unfinished poem.

On Michael Jackson's Passing

I think often about your music, its genius,
but mostly about your sad eyes

I want to find you in your music
I want people to stop making fun of you
I want you to love yourself

I want the world to remember your smile
in spite of the circus and frenzy
your freakish glory and charm

morphing into white-washed
picture perfect view
living american royalty dreams

I want to scream that you were a human being,
not property to be consumed, nor an amusement
park ride, not a thing to rip at, pull & tear a part

they did it to you
we did it to you
you did it to yourself

I see your face, I think about the pain
you must have been carrying for so long

I think about the tears we never saw
the long days and nights of childhood
eroded, stolen, mutilated, burned

I think about this child star being
the object of sexual gaze

I think about the stars dancing around you
in awe of your power to make
people cry and fall out

I think about how you never got to grow
and discover yourself

I think more about your face
your beautiful face, troubling sadness
your eyes, in every picture

30 June 2009

june reflections

I turned 33 this month - 33 in 06 of 09 - its gotta be magical, I hope :) June was a productive and incredibly busy month. It started for me in Kingston, Jamaica - for the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) Conference, June 1-5. I organised a roundtable panel titled "Contending Forces: Politics of Respectability and the Caribbean Sexual Imaginary" - and I presented some of my new work/ideas on issues relating to sexuality, sexual labor, and tourism in the Caribbean. This work will definitely be part of my current academic book project (based on my dissertation); and will more than likely be the starting point for a future project.

I also helped organise the first Caribbean Sexualities Gathering of the Caribbean IRN (International Resource Network) during the same week in Kingston. I'm on the Caribbean regional board of the IRN, which is a web-based project to bring researchers (from around the world) together who do work on diverse genders and sexualities. It took months to plan our gathering, and it was not only successful :) but also powerful. We brought together over 30 scholars, artists, writers, and activists from around the region (with over 10 Caribbean countries being represented). We had a panel discussion at the CSA conference; a five hour workshop; and a closing reception. During this three-part gathering, we communed, networked, and collaborated. Some of the highlights: We talked about the many issues affecting sexual minorities in the region, and shared specifics in different countries. We talked about LGBT communities in the region and how do deal with homophobia and the struggle for sexual and gender equality. We discussed the need to theorize about different forms of homophobia; and the need to recognize and discuss how vibrant LGBT communities can exist right along side intense homophobia. We talked about different kinds of closets, safety, and the privilege of visibility. We discussed allies and families. We talked about trans issues. We brainstormed about how to create safe spaces for sexual minorities and gender non-conforming people. We formulated ideas about how to use academic and creative work as forms of activism. We discussed possible collaborations among researchers, community organisers, and creative producers -- and how some of us blur the lines among these distinctions. We talked some more, shared, and made exciting plans. And this was just the beginning. So now the real work begins - those of us on the board have much to do, and we now have a fantastic group of people inside and outside the region who want to do this work with us - to develop and utilize the Caribbean IRN. (Check out the website - link above - if you are interested. You can register on the website and see what IRN is about and what all the regions are doing.)

It was surreal having our meeting in Jamaica - a place where such a meeting is thought to be impossible, yet it happened and we hosted it among & with the support of LGBT Jamaicans. It was incredible. This was the second time I had visited Jamaica - the first time was about two years ago and I spent 10 days in the country, Woodside, an hour or so outside of Kingston. This time I was in Kingston for a week - attending the conference and hosting our Caribbean Sexualities Gathering. It was very intense and busy, but I was still able to enjoy and experience the city. I found it to be full of contradictions and beauty much like where I am from in The Bahamas. I saw and felt "queerness" all around me - people out, people in closets, people expressing different ways of being men and women, people who were excited to be around fellow Caribbean lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people. There is so much to say, and I hope to share more soon. But for now, I feel blessed and honoured to have had this experience... and to meet and work with such brilliant people. I made new friends and comrades in the struggle. I will be processing for a while. More to come... as the work continues...

wit' conscious wibes,

09 June 2009

"Hibiscus Opening at Day Break"

June has been flying by and rushing me into transitions. I started this posting in early June and it was supposed to be about something else... seems to be how life works (for me, perhaps for others too) - I start somewhere - with a plan, destination even, and I end up somewhere else, and it's often right where I need to be. That's how this poem began - I had an idea, a place where I wanted to go, but the poem had a different agenda :) I've been wanting to share it on conscious vibration for a while. It has gone through a number of transformations; and thanks to excellent feedback from writer-friends, I am happy with what it has become. This was a very difficult poem for me to write. I laboured over it for many hours and many days. It haunted me to be complete, and yet I still feel there is more to say. I've also shared this piece at two readings, and a few people wanted me to post it on my blog. So here it is! I would love your comments.

Hibiscus Opening at Day Break
by Angelique V. Nixon

I woke up today
breathing in her golden red light
for the first time, pulling myself
through memories that break skin

they melt like glass this time
sun showers across my collar bones
they unravel me, no longer
I remember & exhale hard stories

hands and mouths, not suppose to touch or lick me
slow movements, nine year-old thighs, not suppose to enjoy
feel stirring below my belly, each time
tight eyes spill shame, not suppose to tell
I mimic my button on pillows at midnight, to forget
pray forgiveness, our father in heaven, my test?

waking with purpose, I know better now
my broken limbs of dusted pollen
cleansed with rain over petals
telling stories, hard to pass on.

I spoke up today
tethered by Oshun’s tongue
for the first time, patching up
pot holes inside me with warm words

her waters rise up, bursting with leaves
they know me, each pore, each curve
they dance calypso & chant against fear
they carry me to moon’s full embrace

she holds my belly, healing me with honey
her rivers bring vision, eye lids flutter orange
Oshun baths me in her sweet water, letting blood go
my stories seep into oceans of stories, hard to pass on.

They pass through my lips
speaking tongues of revolution
Oshun teaches me to love pleasure
for the first time, trusting female desire
beauty in touch & night’s end
waking to her dark red flame.

22 May 2009

Review of Four Electric Ghosts

Remix, Storytelling, and Soul Flare in Four Electric Ghosts
by Angelique V. Nixon

The new multimedia opera Four Electric Ghosts by Mendi + Keith Obadike recently premiered at The Kitchen in New York, May 14-16, 2009. This breathtaking performance combines dance, theater, folklore, digital media, pop culture, and live music to create a dynamic narrative journey. The journey is told through stories and songs that weave a magical world. Influenced by the landscape of Amos Tutuola’s novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and the arcade game Pac-Man®, Mendi + Keith Obadike were intrigued by the world of ghosts portrayed in both the novel and game. They wanted to imagine this world from a new perspective using both Igbo and American folklore; rather than tell the story of mortals caught in such a world, Four Electric Ghosts shares unique stories of four sisters and their travels in the afterlife. This journey and world is hauntingly beautiful and progressive, reflecting African Diasporic cultures and possibilities for a transgressive future. A world and future where Black peoples stories and cultures are not tokens or last minute additions, but rather, they are necessarily present in complicated ways that explode rigid notions of Blackness and Black identity.

To develop this world, Mendi + Keith Obadike joined forces with Angela’s Pulse Performance Projects: choreographer Paloma McGregor, stage director Patricia McGregor, and dancers Maria Bauman, Catherine Denecy, Marjani Forte and Keisha Turner; with design by Kate Cusack (costume), Yuki Nakajima (animation / projection), Alexandre Delaunay (scenic), and S. Ryan Schmidt (lighting). The music was created by Mendi + Keith Obadike in collaboration with bassist/producer Melvin Gibbs and musician Guillermo E. Brown—performed live by Brown, pianist Shoko Naga, and bassist Keith Witty. The characters include four female dancers as the sisters (the four electric ghosts), and three female singer-sayers who narrated and sang the stories, Latasha Nevada Diggs, Karma Johnson, and Mendi Obadike. The multi-layered world of Four Electric Ghosts was led not only by music, dance, and songs, but also live animation and projection by Yuki Nakajima. The world created was visually stunning from start to finish—-the digital effects added futuristic elements, the live music, and the characters’ vibrant costumes added to the narrative dimension of the stage and performance. The four dancers in black body suits distinguished with strips of bright color (red, pink, cyan, and orange), captured the audience immediately as they portray the electric ghosts. The singer-sayers can be thought of as a remix of the Griot (traditional African storyteller); with an Afro-futurism vibe, their costumes and makeup evoked a mix of silver and metallic and a 1960’s soul flare with an edge of punk.

The result of this seemingly odd mixture of game culture, literature, digital technology, live music, and storytelling is in fact pure genius. It is one of the most innovative and refreshing productions I have ever seen. Four Electric Ghosts most certainly challenges contemporary Black cultural production by centering the voices of Black women through stories that cross cultures and time in a diverse multimedia opera. Yet it defies what some like to call a “post-Black” moment (the notion that we have moved beyond race) because frankly Four Electric Ghosts is so very Black. I say this not only because its characters are Black and female, but also because of its music and dance and use of folklore. While some may categorize this multimedia opera as “post-Black” because of its use of multiple art forms and digital technology, this engagement is rooted in and in dialogue with the complexities of Black culture(s). From the eclectic mix of different musical forms (funk, jazz, soul, rock, electronic, and gospel) to dance performance that drive the stories, Four Electric Ghosts successfully weaves together and remixes elements of contemporary dance and music with African-centered art forms.

The stories in Four Electric Ghosts are grounded in the West African (Igbo) tradition of storytelling and basic truths passed along though song, dance, and proverb. The narrative layers include storytelling narration, songs, digital story boards, and dance to tell each sister’s journey. The four sisters receive gifts and protective chalk from their mother, a wise farmer woman, who splits a kola nut among her daughters, and they each reap a special item from their part of the kola nut. But the sisters die in an electric storm and end up in “The Land of the Dead,” where each sister embarks on a journey from their Electric Town to different towns within the land—first sister in Floating Feather Town, second sister in Flavorville, third sister in Weather Town, and fourth sister in the town of Fish-Headed Junk Ghosts. Their stories are textured with mythic adventures: first sister angers a wizard by cutting down a special tree; second sister learns the sacred secrets of flavor; third sister falls in love with a mortal woman; and fourth sister becomes a gospel star and breaks a sacred rule. Luckily, they still have their protective chalk and special gifts from their mother, which help them during encounters with different ghosts and trouble with mortals. The sisters each learn and grow during their travels, and in the end, they return just in time to save Electric Town from an evil mortal. The stories are seamlessly woven together through the singer-sayers and songs with clever and proverbial titles, like “Dark needs Sunlight,” Death Begins with An Appetite,” “No Hands Can Hide the Moon,” and “Everyday Medicine.” Meanwhile, the music and striking digital media enhance the stories and give depth to the world of Four Electric Ghosts.

The multi-layered narrative makes the performance energetic, soulful, and interactive. As the story ends, the sisters and the singer-sayers glide through the audience and bring people to the stage for the last dance and song. At this moment, we the audience became part of the story and part of the future—an imagined (possible) future that values African Diasporic cultures and Black women’s stories and celebrates the diversity of Blackness. This is just a taste of what is a remarkable and beautiful journey in Four Electric Ghosts. I can hardly do it justice here, but what I hope to do is spark conversation among those who experienced it and incite more buzz for another run of this magically executed work of art.

(photos courtesy of Mendi + Keith Obadike)

28 April 2009


My reading was beautiful :) fantastic turn out, shared four poems, and received much love & support, especially from my peeps who made it out and also from people I just met that night :) So I got requests to put these poems online. One is already here on my blog (previous post "I am, we are, speak"), which I closed my reading with; quite a few people came up to me after and said they really appreciated that piece. I felt so humbled and inspired to have queer Caribbean women come up to me to talk about my poem. Very cool.

The big hit though was my poem "minkisi" published in Journal of Caribbean Literatures Summer 2008, Volume 5, Number 3. I wrote this about my gramma who passed away when I was 18 - she raised me and took care of me for most of my childhood. This poem came from a dream I had of her and my desire to hold onto to precious memories. I also struggle with having very few pictures of her, and so certain objects have been very important in sustaining memories. A number of people asked about this poem and said they really liked it :) and that it spoke to them. My gramma's spirit comes through in so much of my poetry, and I'm happy that different people connect with the piece. I'll post other poems soon.

for Mabel Sistella Charles

I open the box of memories where I keep your voice.
I hold onto the fan made of blue feathers, the colour of ocean’s play.

You kept it in a special place on your bureau, that fluffy fan
still in its plastic box. I would go to it, playing dress up,
wearing your church dress with goldish yellow flowers,
pretending to be you with careful fanning strokes.

When I unfurl the fan, your essence fills the space
I occupy, as I breathe in that cloudy picture, holding onto it,
with your song to guide me in this reverie.

I always heard you coming,
the dangling silver gliding on your delicate dark brown wrists,
emitting a relentless power, hands curled from sweeping and scrubbing.
I wear those bracelets, the sound of you, a faint noise in my ears.

The silver bracelets speak of you,
they whisper in harmony of your determination
to perform in a world that could not see you.

I gaze at withered photographs, searching in the shadows
to discover you, flashes caught by chance, holes in time,
haunting with long days of cooking for white families,
still bringing fervor home.

You stare back with defiant eyes, reminding me of your stern
cold love, always assured through stories, songs, and
tasty meals made from grits, rice, and sardines.

I keep the tarnished silver key to your bedroom, as if it will unlock
some mysterious black hole transporting me to the time I need back,
time we didn’t have. Those nights creeping into forever
dangling on despair became easy in your arms as we slept,

and I dreamt of the bookie and b’rabbie tales,
stories you sang to keep my imagination spirited,
I want them again.

your fan’s breeze, your silver’s melody, and your key’s magic, gramma,
are what I have left of you in my box of memories.

*In the Kongo tradition, minkisi are objects that contain medicines and a soul that are spirit-embodying and spirit-directing, thought to effect healing and other phenomena* ~ Flash of the Spirit

15 April 2009

"I am, we are, speak"

I want to share on conscious vibration
one of my poems that has just been published in Black Renaissance Noire (Volume 9 Issue 1)!!!

I am very excited and feel honored & humbled to be in this outstanding publication, and in this issue, which includes amazing writers and poets I greatly admire like Joy Harjo and Elizabeth Alexander! I still can't believe it... I am also reading at the "Winter 2009 Issue Release" on Friday, April 17th, along with Anthony Barboza, Tara Betts, and Monica A. Hand. I'll be sharing this piece and a few others :) Will report on the reading after Friday...

I am, we are, speak
by Angelique V. Nixon

we are home
we are migrants
we are born on islands and lands
touching the Caribbean Sea, mixing Atlantic & Pacific oceans
we are born away, in foreign, we are hyphenated abroad
crying from London to Toronto and Miami to Brooklyn

some of us can leave, some of us can’t
some of us don’t want to leave
some of us have to leave
some of us return home, some of us don’t
some of us can’t return
though we dream

we come from different backgrounds and places
we are spiritually religious, but some of us are spiritually driven
we have built bridges over/seas with cardboard and duct tape
we have invented languages out of clashes and drums
we have culled families out of many races and mixtures in/between
we are many cultures, many languages, many people

we accept each other (do we?)
we celebrate and love deep
we cry and laugh loud
we are oceans of highs and lows
we are people, rippling beyond/inside home
but we are not all the same

so when you cut your eye at me, turn your back,
or raise your fists in hate, rejecting my body
when you see my female hands touching her shoulders
my fingers lingering, along her back, a second too long,
you have already heard stories about me
my “lifestyle,” you suck teeth and shout “sissy”

remember I told you
that I love you anyway
I hold open your eyes with my pen’s light
I embrace your fists with my third eye’s alliance
I do not threaten you
I do not hate you

some of us are not straight
some of us are queer
some of us are gay and lesbian
some of us are bisexual
some of us are same-sex loving
some of us are transgender and gender defying

we can be silent no longer about all that we are
we can be silent no longer about all that we are not
and the in/betweens trouble boundaries
these must be spoken

22 March 2009

Black Women and Violence

The theme of this year's International Women's Day (March 8th) was focused on domestic violence and sexual abuse against women and children. So I wanted to take some time to reflect on how different forms of violence are connected - domestic violence, hate crimes, sexual abuse, and homophobic violence. It is disturbing to think about how much violence is enacted by men because of what they perceive as a threat to their masculinity, sexuality, or authority. I remember growing up and seeing MOST of the men in my family hit their wives and girlfriends. I remember watching my mother deal with abusive men till she passed. I remember how much we accept violence as normal, and how some can sit with a straight face and ask "what did she do" in cases of domestic violence.

These thoughts ran through my head as I read about Chris Brown and Rihanna, and when I heard about young teen girls creating a website and saying in online forums that they support Chris Brown no matter what. On Bossip, the writers painted Rihanna as "the problem" - she gave him something, she was too needy, and other such nonsense. What was striking to me in all the news reports and the gossip sites is that people were looking for "the reason" why this particular event happened, as opposed to any real discussion of domestic violence (and for instance how it crosses class lines). People seemed to sympathize more with Chris Brown and his loss of endorsements, while obsessing over the pictures of Rihanna and whether or not she would take him back (invasion of privacy). Granted they are both public figures and celebrities, so one could argue that they have no privacy. But I have to wonder how much of this invasion has to do with her being a Black female. Certainly, she has much more protection than others because of her celebrity status and her money. Still I have to wonder how the reporting would have gone down if she was white or if she were not extremely popular. If she had no status or money, it would not have received the same kind of media attention, of course, or it may have been painted differently.

Let's think about other public cases of Black women experiencing violence at the hands of Black and non-Black men. R. Kelly's acquittal and how the young Black female (on "the tape") was discussed in the media. Her body was so easily dismissed and rendered "whore," beyond rescue, a non-victim of sexual violence. The Duke Lacrosse case - while the "actual" events remain unclear and contaminated within an inept legal system, what is clear is that the accuser was demonized from the beginning as "stripper" and "whore" - Black woman's word against a bunch of white men - who then became the victims while she got death threats. Obviously these cases are very different, but they are all rooted in sexism, racism, and violence.

Audre Lorde argues this very point in her essay "Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface," and she supports an open dialogue between Black men and Black women about sexism, one that confronts sexism and racism in order to abolish violence in our communities. Published in 1979, this essay by Lorde is still very relevant, particularly in her analysis of the connections between different forms of violence:
"But the Black male consciousness must be raised to the realization that sexism and woman-hating are critically dysfunctional to his liberation as a Black man because they arise out of the same constellation that engenders racism and homophobia. Until that consciousness is developed, Black men will view sexism and the destruction of Black women as tangential to Black liberation rather than as central to that struggle. So long as this occurs, we will never be able to embark upon that dialogue between Black women and Black men that is so essential to our survival as a people. The continued blindness between us can only serve the oppressive system within which we live." (64)
While her context for the essay is the United States, her analysis is useful for other communities of color and post-colonial societies. In other words, her words ring true for me as I think of the Caribbean context and the Bahamas in particular. While things have changed since I was growing up, we still have a huge problem with domestic violence and sexual abuse in our communities. Certainly, this is not only a problem in communities of color; in fact, we know that domestic violence crosses racial and class lines. But what I am pointing out here is exactly what Lorde argued almost 30 years ago – to discuss violence and the abuses that Black women experience must include a dialogue about racism, sexism, and homophobia within the larger context of white capitalist patriarchy. We still experience what Lorde describes as “the systematic devaluation of Black women within this society” (65); and I would include other societies and communities as well, in which Black women and other women of color remain marginalized (economically, politically, and socially).

Lorde suggest that in order to stop the abuse, we must begin the dialogue. And we cannot accept some forms of violence and condemn others. In other words, we can’t fight against domestic violence and sexual abuse and do nothing about homophobia. So now that the media attention on Chris Brown and Rihanna has “renewed” the issue and perhaps reminded the public that domestic violence crosses class lines, let’s use this moment as another spark. Let us push the dialogue forward, change the conversation, break the silence, and hold the media accountable for what it chooses to focus on. Let us search for and promote organizations that hold men accountable for violence (Kevin Powell was recently on Oprah talking about his work on this very issue and his new organization for men). Let us spread the word about the important documentary NO! by Aishah Shahidah Simmons. Let us talk in our own families and communities about violence. Let's make everyday International Women's Day.

winter blues & spring dreams

So I've been under a rock - February flew past me and now we are deep into March ("where in the world is all the time") and I'm so ready for winter to be over... dreaming of spring... tired of the cold. I've been terribly busy with teaching and writing and everything in between. I have some exciting projects and events coming up (will post more on those later). Meanwhile, I've been hard at work on my writing, and I had a great reading on March 6th. I performed at Rivers of Honey (a cabaret featuring women, two spirit and trans artists of color the first Friday of every month at WOW Cafe in NYC). It is such a supportive and affirming space - I wanted to be present in the moment and bring my energy, spirit, & passion through in my reading. And I think I was successful :) The evening reminded me of why its good to work in multiple mediums and venues in our art; that we must find balance and be in spaces that nurture growth.

I went home for a short visit last week - for warmth and of course to visit with my peeps/friends/fam. Had a wonderful time - I enjoy home so much, but every time I visit I am reminded of all that keeps me away from home. I leave sad with this longing to move back, but then fear sets in and I wonder if I can ever really move back home. Reasons dash through my head - the pros and cons, the stuff I can't share, the stuff that is hard to talk about... hard to fully explain - it's not just one thing - it's religion, it's christian fundamentalism, it's family shit, it's hyper male dominance, it's sexuality, and it's about how do I do the work I want to do - in the space of home - a space that can be so constricting, suffocating, narrow, and yet so amazing.

The amazing things are easy to list and remember and love... it's the other stuff that is hard to hear and hard to take. Stuff like - young men getting acquitted from murder charges using the "gay defense"; stuff like - The Bahamas is now the highest per capita in the world for sexual crimes and domestic violence, but somehow (some) people (Bahamian men) feel as if Bahamian women don't need any more rights; stuff like - "gayness" is a disease that you can catch; stuff like - (some) people are so threatened by sexuality and feminism and women who speak intelligently, that our words are dismissed before they are spoken.

I write these winter blues of home, winter blues of a desire for change, winter blues of a snapshot of my experience hearing/watching the filming of a Bahamian tv show with two young Bahamian men "debating" sexuality and homosexuality. I wanted to scream, but they could not hear me. They would not hear my female voice, my queer voice, my Bahamian voice; and so I did not speak, I was silent - for the first time in a REALLY long time, I held my tongue. I sat and watched and listened. It was not my platform, I told myself. It was not my time to speak. It was in fact my friend who was being interviewed, and so I silently rooted for her and sent her positive wibes through the show. I know my strengths, and dealing with quotes from The Bible and damnation is not one of them. Honestly, I was amazed at how she dealt with them with patience and intelligence, even as they were dismissive, combative, and condescending. This experience made me really understand the battles I would have to face living at home on a daily basis - not only because of my sexuality, but also because I am critical of organized religion & fundamentalism, and on top of everything, I have radical views about tourism and development (that counter dominant perspectives - I do not believe it is our savior), and my deep investment in feminist movement that is anti-racist and class conscious.

Not that I don't have (these) battles where I live now, and will no doubt have battles wherever I live. Homophobia and sexism are alive and well everywhere. So I'm not saying that it's so much better here than there. But what I have come to accept is that there are battles I am willing to fight and others I can't - at least not on the ground, at least not right now. And while I want to be home, I know that I will continue to do the work I want to do from wherever I am. I have to believe that I can make a difference through my writing, through my poetry, through my community work. I have to believe that I can be a part of change at home, even as I live abroad - my spirit is always home. So my spring dream is that I can be and live at home at some point... soon... But in the mean time, I'm gunna keep writing and working and saying the stuff that is hard to say. I will not hold my tongue.

I have felt how dangerous it is to be (outspoken) female, queer, Black, and feminist in all the spaces I have lived. But I'm gunna keep it movin' anyway. In the words of Audre Lorde, "it is better to speak, knowing we were never meant to survive." And so even as we speak, we must sustain ourselves and spirits first in order to be in healthy in the struggle and in all the work we do.

31 January 2009

Migration and Human Rights

I've been working on this piece for the past couple weeks. I am responding to an article published in The Tribune Insight (Nassau, Bahamas) on Jan 12th about Haitian immigration (if you want a copy, let me know, I can email it to you).

Trying to figure out the best way to respond has weighed on me... because it is so important and because it was/is hard to write. While I wrote this as a letter to editors of newspapers in Nassau, I plan to continue the writing and turn it into a longer article. And so I see it as a work in progress... there is so much more to say about these issues and concerns. I hope, like others, to create more dialogue and more exchange and more space for us to talk about these issues -- especially my fellow Bahamians and the rest of my Caribbean brothers and sisters.

The Tribune; The Nassau Guardian; The Bahama Journal

Dear Editors,

In response to the recent and ongoing debates about Haitian immigration in the Bahamas, I urge my fellow Bahamians to think about these issues from a place/space of justice and humanity. More specifically, in direct response to John Marquis’ article on the 12th of January in The Tribune’s Insight, I offer a challenge to his racist colonial engagement with history and culture. As a Caribbean scholar, writer, and cultural critic, I feel a great sense of obligation to enter these debates. While I live and work abroad, my spirit is also at home. The work I do as a teacher and community worker is rooted in the struggle for liberation of all people, especially people of African descent and communities who are marginalized. In the university courses I teach, I often discuss issues concerning immigration broadly, particularly in the Caribbean context. I also share my ideas and feelings about these issues at home and abroad, mostly among friends, family, and fellow writers, artists, and scholars. But I have been too silent about the experience of Haitians in the Bahamas in my writing; hence, why I write this letter, knowing full well that you, the editors of our Bahamian newspapers, may not publish it. I know this because other letters in response to these debates, challenging John Marquis particularly, have not been published. But I write this letter anyway—to you and to my fellow Bahamians, in support of the rights of Haitian migrants and Haitian Bahamians.

We in the Bahamas traffic in ugly and hateful language when speaking about Haitians and Haitian Bahamians. Our government policies on “illegal” immigration and the detention of Haitian migrants in the Bahamas is too often inhumane and violates the most basic notions of human rights. We criminalize and deport Haitian migrants who seek refuge in the face of grave danger and the social and political unrest in their country. We depend upon the labour of Haitian migrants everyday, even as we deny them legal rights and/or status to be in the country. We even deny rights to the children of migrants, who are by birth Bahamian citizens. But due to an outdated law that grants automatic citizenship only to those who have Bahamian parents, many Haitian Bahamians remain stateless in their own country because of the difficulty in securing their status. They (like all children of migrants in the Bahamas) have to apply for citizenship at 18—which can take years, especially if one does not have access to legal help. On top of the legal challenges that Haitians and Haitian Bahamians deal with, they are socially stigmatized—from slurs and racial stereotypes to poor treatment at our clinics and hospitals, Haitian people bear much blame for a variety of social ills in Bahamian society. When times are rough, tourism is down, crime is on the rise, and/or people are getting laid off, Haitians are the scapegoats for our troubles, crime, and strapped resources.

I have heard too often from my fellow Bahamians that Haitians are “different” from us, that they are “violent,” and that “they taking over.” I respond by trying to reason with people and call for a sense of humanity. I point out the obvious: that we as people are connected, as Caribbeans, as neighbours, as having common histories and ancestry. But my conversations halt or take a different turn once I indicate my belief in the rights of Haitian migrants to seek political asylum and the rights of Haitian Bahamians to their birthright of citizenship. Sometimes we have arguments, and other times, people say things like “they don’t belong here” or “they need to go back to their country” or “we can’t help and why should we.” I respond with a slew of reasons why we should help and why they do belong here, grounded in human rights, a sense of justice, and also in history. During these moments, it occurs to me that part of the problem here is our lack of knowledge—what we don’t know about the related and connecting histories between Haiti and the Bahamas, and what we don’t know about the region and global relations of power, and how all these are linked to the effects of slavery and colonialism. Some of what we don’t know is the lack in our education systems; some of what we don’t know is because of silence and fear.

And sadly, some of what we don’t know is miseducation, coming from the very sources that are suppose to keep us informed; case in point, Marquis’ imperialist and white colonial view of Haitian and colonial history, which he uses to “prove” his point about the “dangers” of Haitian “illegal” migration into the Bahamas. He uses a very skewed and racist vision of history to support his unfounded argument that Haitians “introduce a violent strain in Bahamian society” and that we come from “different tribal backgrounds,” which is frankly ridiculous and wrong. In the article, he repeats an analogy that he has used before and insists on using again—Haitians entering the Bahamas is like pitbulls mixing with potcakes. By comparing both Haitians and Bahamians to dogs, Marquis participates in a long colonial tradition, started during slavery, one that sees Black people as animals (i.e. scientific racism), and one that views creolization (the mixing of African & European people, languages, & culture) as contamination. Miscegenation (racial mixing) was a threat to colonial white rule during slavery, but European planters and slave owners also depended upon and encouraged the rape of Black women to control the enslaved population, as well as to “produce” and “breed” more bodies for slavery. Marquis claims to have studied Haitian history, yet it is clear he only looks at history and politics from a white colonizer’s perspective, while leaving out and ignoring so much. Marquis’ words are dangerous (as Helen Klonaris has expressed already in her letter to the editor on January 25th), not only because of his racist and imperial gaze on history and culture, but also because he creates and sustains hysteria with his words. He feeds on people’s fear of difference and manipulates the anxieties that Bahamians have about the economy, crime, and migrants straining resources. He predicts that the Bahamas will be “ruined” because of “illegal immigration” in just 10 to 15 years, and he uses false claims about Haiti and Haitian people to support his prediction. He relies on distorted colonial views of history to form his opinion about the current socio-political climate in Haiti and the Bahamas.

We must silence these false claims and inaccuracies. We must do our own research of Haiti, the Bahamas, and the rest of the Caribbean. We should think about how many of us have migrated and sought refuge (for education, for work, for family, for love, for better opportunities) abroad. We should think about how many of us desire to move and live abroad. We should ask ourselves how we want and expect to be treated if/when we migrate. We should really think about what it must feel like to have to flee/escape one’s own home because one has no other choices. To do this, we must think about migration rights and human rights—perhaps migration as a human right. We ought to ask each other questions and uncover the silences and culture of intolerance that bind us. And then maybe we can face certain truths and histories, reflecting on how close we are to Haiti and how long our stories as places, colonies, and countries have crossed.

We need to remember that Haitians have LONG migrated into the Bahamas and have LONG time been a part of the Bahamas and Bahamian culture. If one supports migration rights and human rights, then we cannot support how our government deports Haitians, and we cannot support the statelessness of Haitian Bahamians. We should call on our government to offer more assistance to Haiti. We need to recognize the problems in Haiti are our problems too – people are suffering. We should not discuss the “return” of Haitian migrants until more efforts are made to truly support and help free Haiti from the chains of debt and poverty (these efforts should be led by the Bahamas along with other countries in the region). This should not be seen as a handout, but as genuine regional solidarity and public acknowledgment of our commonalities and complicated histories.

Haiti does not exist in a vacuum. It did not suddenly become destitute or mismanage resources on its own. There are many reasons: tied to all the ways in which global capitalism works and how the Global South feeds/sustains and keeps wealthy the Global North. There are many reasons why Haiti is in political and economic crisis, why it remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Some of these reasons have to do with the violent dictatorships and corrupt governments since the 1960s, BUT many have to do with regimes of power (like IMF & World Bank), United States imperialism and their support of dictatorships, and a long history of interference. A history and silenced past too long and complicated to recount here, but I offer a list to begin/open the conversation: The Haitian Revolution in 1804 sparked intense fear across the Caribbean, in the United States, Latin America, and Europe. As a result, Europe and the United States worked to destabilize Haiti; to name a few examples: France demanded 150 million in gold to recognize Haiti as a nation; the U.S. Occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934; Haiti not fully recognized as a republic until well into the 1900s; United States through their Munroe Doctrine continuously interfering in Haiti’s economic and political landscape for their own military and resource interests for over one hundred years.

Haiti like the rest of the (post)colonial world has a context – slavery, colonialism, and new forms of colonialism. This historical/political/social context must be taken into account as we try to understand the present, and as we work towards a better future. A future where we embrace each other regardless of our differences, a future where we love and support each other, a future where we can all be human and free.

Angelique V. Nixon
Postdoctoral Fellow, Africana Studies, New York University
January 31, 2009, New York, NY