Tag Archives: globalization

Reading: Mintz, Three Ancient Colonies

First of all, thanks to Nicholas Laughlin and the Caribbean Review of Books for asking me to review this book.

I’ve long been a fan of Sidney Mintz. His study of the impact of sugar on the creation of modernity, which I read first in the 1979 article “Time, sugar and sweetness,” (Marxist Perspectives 2 (4): 56-73) and then more fully in his book Sweetness and Power, shifted the way in which I thought about the Caribbean, the world, and my place in it. I’ve fallen out of touch with his work. Our research interests diverge somewhat. But this new book of his, which grew out of three W. E. B. Du Bois lectures (2003), has brought me back.

Won’t say much here. After all, I’m supposed to do that for CRB, and I will. Let me jsut say that thanks to Mintz, I’m remembering the excitement of rediscovering our region (even though he repeats the not-so-wise wisdom of excluding the Bahamas from the historical Caribbean), and, most importantly, of the place of history in our realities.

For those of you who think that colonialism is dead, that there is no point in “resurrecting” the past (I put the word in quotes because that past has not yet died within us), understand this: without colonialism there would be no us. The Americas in general as we know them, populated and shaped largely by an extension of a Europe  that conquered, subordinated and coerced other groups of people in the process are the specific creation of colonialism. As long as we exist, it can never be dead; we are our past, as the past created us. Until we get that through our heads, until we understand that process, until we know who we are and give up the myths and wishes that fool us into thinking we are “free”, we will never inhabit complete societies. For, as Mintz observes:

The history of the Caribbean region … embodies the real beginnings of European overseas imperial rule … the modern world’s first colonies are to be found mainly in the Caribbean region. … Not only did most of the islands become colonial early, most of them also stayed colonial late. … People in erstwhile colonial areas besides North America may be slow to grasp how anciently colonial the Caribbean region is. The Indian subcontinent is usually thought to have become a colonial possession, mostly of Great Britain, when Clive defeated the nawab of Bengal at the battle of Plassey in 1757. Yet by 1757 the Antilles had been colonial for more than 250 years … Once it can be acknowledged that Caribbean colonialism is truly ancient, its history can help to give additional nuance to the term “postcolonial”.

In other words, globally, we cannot understand colonialism or independence or postcolonialism without first understanding the Caribbean — without understanding ourselves. Mintz and others (Eric Williams, for one, C. L. R. James for another) have argued that we cannot truly understand modern western civilization without understanding the Caribbean either, and each time I reread the argument I’m reconvinced. But more on this later. For now, I’m reminded. The significance of our region is far more than we comprehend ourselves. We must know our history, and the history of the world, to understand this. “The world in a basin” is not simply a romantic term; it’s more real than we can understand ourselves.

Peter Hallward, “Securing Disaster in Haiti”

Well worth reposting, reading, and savouring in days to come. Sobering commentary indeed.

Nine days after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010, it’s now clear that the initial phase of the U.S.-led relief operation has conformed to the three fundamental tendencies that have shaped the more general course of the island’s recent history. It has adopted military priorities and strategies. It has sidelined Haiti’s own leaders and government, and ignored the needs of the majority of its people. And it has proceeded in ways that reinforce the already harrowing gap between rich and poor. All three tendencies aren’t just connected, they are mutually reinforcing. These same tendencies will continue to govern the imminent reconstruction effort as well, unless determined political action is taken to counteract them.

via Peter Hallward, “Securing Disaster in Haiti”.

Ward’s take on the local film industry

I’m really taken by Ward Minnis’ series of blog posts on the viability of Bahamian art, and I’ve linked to them on this blog and I’ll link to them again. He’s developing a number of such posts (more power to him!) and they are very interesting reading. If you’re at all interested in entrepreneurship, in the arts, in careers other than the dead old accountant, lawyer or doctor, read them for yourselves.

I’m writing to take issue with the premise of his second post, though. I referenced it in my last blog post, and you can see the beginning of the post there. And Ward does this cool thing at the ends of his posts, which is summarize his main points.

(Short aside: Can you come and do that for all of my posts please Ward?)

And so I’m going to give you an idea of what he says in his post by quoting from his summary. Here you go:

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT —>The point® is this:

The main flaw in his argument lies in his basic assumption — that movies can only be made in a Hollywood fashion for Hollywood-sized budgets, and, once made, they must follow the Hollywood model of distribution in order to make money. Now if his assumption were true, then his argument would hold together. But it’s not.

Continue reading Ward’s take on the local film industry

On Culture, CARIFESTA, and the Bahamian Economy, Part I

It came to my attention last month that our government was planning to postpone, once again, the hosting of the Caribbean Festival of Arts, if it had not yet done so. Announcements to that effect would be made very soon, I was told. The fact that such announcements have not yet been made may make this post obsolete. I rather doubt it, however.

It should be no surprise to anyone at all that I think this is a terrible idea. It’s not just because I would like to write for a living and make that living in the country in which I grew up. It’s also because it’s flying in the face of what international agencies focussed on development economics suggest is the place of culture in that development.

For those of us who don’t know, or who haven’t noticed, the world has changed. As I write, indeed, at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, the US President is opening the door for negotiations with Cuba, which, as we all know, is the only viable competitor for The Bahamas’ prosperity in the Caribbean region. In fact, it’s possible to argue that the only reason The Bahamas has maintained its supreme position in the region has been because the fifty-year long US embargo of Cuba, has coincided with the latest Bahamian boom. But now, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is visiting Cuba, and the Obama administration is making very clear noises that the embargo will soon be lifted.

At the same time, for the first time in almost twenty years, the Bahamian government’s plan for prosperity — foreign investment, foreign investment, foreign investment — is not bearing fruit. Why not? The reasons are various. Perhaps the biggest is the reason Barack Obama himself gave for changing the way the USA has done business for the past generation or so — that trickle-down economics, or the spreading of the wealth accumulated by the rich and mighty — does not work. It no longer works in the USA, which is the greatest nation in the world; and it has not worked in The Bahamas as an engine of development for a country that has not yet invested in itself.  Oh, it has done well in providing a couple of decades’ worth of get-rich-quick money for a smattering of people. But as we are noticing, where the sharing of wealth is dependent on the goodwill of the greedy, little gets shared. And so our current “wealth” is almost wholly dependent on the goodwill of the foreign investor, who is interested in the people of this nation only as workers — as block-layers, lifeguards, toilet-cleaners, cooks, drivers, or middle managers who have no ability to affect or shape company policy.

Continue reading On Culture, CARIFESTA, and the Bahamian Economy, Part I

Fear: 4 packs, 10 oz. each

Fear is the name of an art exhibition mounted and curated in Canada, but produced in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s the work of Christopher Cozier, whose bio notes that he is

an artist and writer living and working in Trinidad [who] has participated in a number of exhibitions focused upon contemporary art in the Caribbean and internationally [and who is, among other things,] a Senior Research Fellow at the Academy of The University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) and … Artist-in-Residence at Dartmouth College during the Fall of 2007.

What’s exciting about his exhibition is the way in which it’s produced. It might be perplexing for most of us, who are used to the prettiness of art, the decorative quality of paintings, the controllability of our response to them: it consists of “a rubber stamp and 3x3x3-inch cardboard boxes that gallery viewers could stamp and take away with them from the exhibition.” (Fear, 2009: 5)  But that is entirely the point. The boxes and the stamp symbolize the state of the world at this end of the first decade of the 21st century: consumers of the fear exported by the USA that justifies and legitimizes the way in which that country exercises its authority as the last superpower on earth. It’s exciting, collaborative and subversive all at once. As Andrea Fantona, curator of the exhibition, explains:

The addition of this participatory element to the exhibition was exciting. Furthermore, producing the
elements comprising Available At All Leading Stores resulted in a fascinating reversal of the production-
consumption chain that generally defines North-South relationships. Here I was in Canada, producing a
work of art for consumption here in the North that was conceived and designed in Trinidad. The irony of
the process rang loudly for me. It seemed that the age-old system of capitalist development that favoured
the North had been turned onto its head, as I was now adding value to an idea, turned into commodity,
conceived in the South, yet produced and distributed in the North. (2009: 5)

What’s even more exciting, for me, is the way in which Nicholas Laughlin, fellow Trinidadian writer and editor, responded to Cozier’s work. For J’Ouvert (for those of you who don’t know what that is, follow the link and look it up) this year, he created his own riff on it: a cardboard box turned into a headpiece for the festival, on which he wrote

PARADISE
100 PACKS 10 OZ EACH
MADE IN CHINA
DISTRIBUTED IN T&T

As he says:

For three or so hours on J’Ouvert morning, Paradise is an empty space, an absence, in a cardboard box I
balance on my head. Watch me, turning into a metaphor for a nation bearing the burden of false advertising and false hopes. If anything and everything is for sale, if art is just another product with varying profit margins, if Cozier can taunt us with the joke of commodified Fear, then I can re-commodify, re-sell, re-brand. (2009: 15)

Oh yes oh yes.

Microwave not recommended to bake a quality bread product

I’m baking a frozen roll of French bread for breakfast.  That’s what it said on the package.

Know this.  As long as I’m awake, little things run through my head, rather like the ticker tape display you see at stock markets.  Little communications from my subconscious flash across my conscious mind and distract me from what I’m doing.  And unfortunately for me and those around me, those communications have emotional reactions.  Recently, I’ve been operating in a state of low-grade anger.  It’s a bit like a low-grade fever; it makes me irritable some of the time, snappish and sarcastic (which has its humourous moments).  Most of the time, though, it just makes me depressed.  It’s like being locked in a tiny room with no windows and a nagging relative.

The thing that makes me angriest these days is the fundamental disrespect that we offer ourselves as Bahamians, our country, and (yes) our culture.  The three are inseparable, and the disrespect is pervasive.  I’m not talking about crime or politics here, although both are symptoms.  I’m talking about the conviction that far too many of our leaders seem to have that we are really second-rate people. Our country can’t compete.  We are incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.  We can’t develop ourselves, so we have to find foreigners to invest their money in our economy to develop us for us. Etc. (Shut up, Nico).

The disrespect comes out when we see what we invest in ourselves, in our society, in the formation, cementing, and celebration of our identity as a sovereign nation.  I keep raising the point that we are the third richest independent country in the western hemisphere.  So forget the fact that Bermuda and Cayman are richer than we are; they’re still colonies/dependencies of Britain.  The Bahamas is richer than every other country in the Americas than the USA and Canada.

And what do we have to show for it?  What monuments, institutions, works of art, buildings, public spaces, have we provided for ourselves (and only ourselves) over the course of thirty-five years?  What we did have we have also destroyed — Jumbey Village comes to mind, along with Goombay Summer, the National Dance School home (the institution still exists, limping along in near-oblivion, but its building was demolished for no reason anyone can give me, whose land still stands empty next to Oakes Field Primary School, and its rent now costs the government a goodly and unnecessary packet), the Dundas Repertory Season, the Government High School.

Great nations invest in symbols.  They understand the need to spend hard money on creating objects and institutions that mean — or can mean — something to the people who belong to the nation, and they create a sense of belonging.  Washington D. C. is an example of the kind of grandness that preceded the greatness of a nation; the American founding fathers imagined a great nation, built the symbols, and let the country catch up to their vision.  In Britain, squares and statues and public places and institutions and buildings are created for every great moment in their history, and you can see those great moments literally laid out on the ground.  In the capitals of our Caribbean neighbours, public and private funds are invested in monuments — statues, institutions, promenades, parks — so that even the most humble of their nationals, and the most arrogant of their visitors, can get some idea of who they are.

But here in The Bahamas of the twenty-first century, we put up our parks and our monuments and our et ceterae only when we beg the help of our foreign investors.  Meanwhile, we take the taxpayers’ money and pour it into failed institutions or foreign pockets and cry poor-mouth when asked to help artists explore our identity though self-expression.  The people who get our money do not know or care who we are, except that we are whores who will let them wipe their feet on us when they are finished with us.  And without them our governments (no matter what initials they wear), who are stewards of the third richest independent government in the New World, choose again and again not invest a penny in the development of the Bahamian person, the Bahamian soul.

So how did I get here from what’s written on a packet of frozen French bread?

Simply this.  The French, who have invested millions in their people and their symbols (some of which, like the Eiffel Tower, could be regarded as a horrendous waste of time, aesthetics and money) and who hold in their greatest art museum not only the great art of the French but the great art of the world (the Mona Lisa, after all, rests in the Louvre) have an unassailable sense of themselves.  People who know claim that the French are arrogant.  But after all, they have things to be arrogant about; their governments’ investment in culture has made even the most ordinary and semi-educated Frenchman proud to be French. And that pride leads to quality — a quality that is recognized world-wide, and that turns, in the end, into money again.

Hence the message on the bread package.  Microwave not recommended.

In this microwave land our politicians and administrators have created for us — that we have allowed to be created for ourselves — it’s the kind of thing that nags me, and threatens to drive me mad.

Budget

The Bahamas’ budget debate is taking place now.  As a civil servant, I am not free to comment as I would like.  So I’ll just ask questions instead.

I am listening to the debate, and the rhetoric is impressive.  But what is the reality?  Is this budget really preparing us for the 21st century?  Do we even understand what the 21st century will require of us?

Here’s the link to our budget.

You can download bits and pieces or the whole thing in .pdf format.  I encourage you to do so.

Here are some links to important global developments that will impact our economy in short order.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

UNESCO Cultural Industries Overview

CARICOM Cultural Industries (pdf)

Our Heterogeneous World

… and if you don’t know what that long word up there means, go look it up.

I was reading Shashwati’s Blog this morning.  It’s been a long time since I’ve checked her stuff out, which doesn’t mean that I don’t value what she says, but rather that I really have not had the kind of time to do the kind of blogging I would like to do.  But this post resonated with me, because I think we suffer from the same malaise.  

She talks about an experience she had (as an East Indian woman, in Caribbean parlance) with a Taiwanese masseur who, having heard her voice, questioned her about her colour.  As Shashwati says:

[He (the masseur)] realized my English was better than my Chinese and asked me where I was coming from. I replied, “United States of America.” He turned to a seeing woman next to him and asked her what I looked like. Specifically what the color of my skin was (I could comprehend that much despite my poor language skills), then he turned to me and said, “Are you White?” what reply was he expecting me to give? Yes that I was White, so should be treated better. But he already knew the answer, so was he testing the “truthiness” of a non-White person? I told him no, I was browner than the brownest Taiwanese, and that the US had many people of different races and colors, and America should not be equated with being White, it was a big diverse country. I was suddenly in possession of language skills that normally elude me.

By that I mean that, just like the Taiwanese she writes about, we Bahamians appear to imagine that the world is monocultural.  More specifically, we tend to associate specific nations with specific “races”.  We don’t question this tendency, and we imagine that it is somehow natural.  But the world is a multicultural world, and, colonial mythology aside, it is not divided into clumps of people who fit specific moulds.

We should question it.  Our history has determined how we see — the world, our nation, ourselves.  We should not accept that way of seeing without interrogation.  We need to carve out our own existence, make our own reality.  We cannot allow past oppression to stretch into, and shape, our futures. 

Hell thaws again

Hat tip to Rick Lowe, for linking to this blog.

Since our brief moment of harmony, though, I think we’re going to part ways again. Here’s why hell couldn’t have stayed frozen for long.

I’m a great big fan of The Wire — the TV show about the Baltimore streets that’s set up to be the classic story of cops and robbers, but which is a whole lot more.

You watch The Wire, you get an appreciation of how our government works, and doesn’t. I’ve long thought that our country runs rather like the municipal government of a major American city. So fine, the Mayor has more direct and absolute power perhaps than the Prime Minister does — he doesn’t appear to have a cabinet that he has to work with or around (or which he has to put to work for him); but the very same deals and development schemes and favours and lobbying take place. Well, maybe not the lobbying; we’re not so good at that round here. But pretty well most of the rest. Not sure whether the violence that occurs on the streets of Baltimore is matched by our crime, but for that we can only be thankful (and hey, I might be wrong — we don’t have any TV show to reveal to us our underside).

The show is created by David Simon and Edward Burns. David Simon was known to me because I was a fan of Homicide before I was a fan of The Wire. He’s got grittier. In fact, he claims to have become a cynic. And he’s got a view of the world, and of the USA, that rings true — for the most part — for me. (The remainder of this address can be seen on YouTube).

Enough woffle from me. Watch the clip(s), and see what you think.

Continue reading Hell thaws again