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The Bahamian Experience


By Nicolette Bethel


A band of youths barricade the small house in which a Haitian man lives, and set fire to it so that he burns to death inside.


Two young men grab a third from a bar, take him out to the country, beat him with a pistol because he is a homosexual, and tie him to a fence post to die.


A gang of Hutu citizens drag their Tutsi neighbours out of their houses, carry them to a nearby field, and chop them to death with machetes.


A group of Arabs hijack planes and fly them into a pair of tall buildings full of Westerners just arriving for work.


These are all examples of the destructive nature of hate. I could go on, but I won’t, at least not for now.


Instead, I want to talk about hate itself. I want to talk about it because in all our conversations — on the radio, in the newspapers, in the street, and, apparently, in the church — that is one thing that we don’t seem to talk about much.


We say many things are taboo — homosexuality, godlessness, sin, and too much mixing with foreign elements for starters. The one thing we don’t seem to think is taboo is hate.


Let me say that the hate I am talking about is the kind of hate that has no real reason for its existence. It’s the kind of hate that visits evil on other human beings not because of what they have done, but because of who they are or what they stand for.


Where love wishes the best for another human being, and does all it can to build that person up, hate works in the opposite direction, doing what is both easier and more common — actively tearing down.


And for all the talk of the Bahamas’ being a Christian nation, there seems a whole lot of this kind of hate going around.


Could the reason for this be that the word “hate” doesn’t come up all that frequently in the Bible?


No; a quick look through my own concordance reveals many entries for the word and its derivatives. Among them are some strong directives in Leviticus 19 — “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbour, lest you bear sin because of him”, and Matthew 5 — “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”


Perhaps the word “hate” isn’t as prominent in Scripture as other words, words like “homosexuality” or “foreigners”? No; I turned to my concordance and counted. The New International Version offers one entry for “homosexual” or “homosexuality” (the King James Version has none).


The same goes for “foreigners” — four entries for them in the King James, eight in the New International Version. “Hate” and its variants took up a column or two.


So why is hatred becoming a habit?


I ask because in almost every instance of hate-mongering that I come across, there is also the refrain “The Bahamas is a Christian nation”.


Now I find this most puzzling. I was taught that we would know our fellow Christians by their fruits (Matthew 7), and I read in Galatians that the fruits of the spirit are love, joyfulness (joy), peace, patience (long-suffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness), and self-control (temperance). Not hate.


Hatred manifests itself in a variety of ways. It takes shape in the very small and mundane — in the way we treat children, for instance, ours and other people’s.


I’m not talking about legitimate discipline here, corporal or otherwise.


I’m talking about the active tearing down of our children’s psyches by words or actions or worse.


One student at the College of the Bahamas wrote about how her mother constantly belittled her, so much so that she became an underachiever, a person who was unable to trust that anything she did had any value at all; her sister, tired of being told that she could never be anything but a slut, ended by striking her own mother.


It is not our actions, very often, but the attitudes that we hold that do the most damage; the abuse that many parents heap upon their children may or may not physical, but it is far too often psychic, and it lasts far longer than the sting of the switch.


We have become experts at condemning the homosexuals among us, for instance, or at shunning people we learn are living with AIDS and we appear to be safe in our open hatred of these people.


No matter how much we proclaim that we are “loving the sinner but hating the sin”, our behaviour, from the calling down of judgement from heaven upon them to our refusal to handle objects that they have touched, edifies nothing, but rather works to destroy individuals’ selves. There is no love in that.


Often we behave in ways we ought to be able to recognize from our own history as slaves and servants.


When we ascribe certain characteristics to whole nations of people — when we suggest that Haitians are inherently dirty, too unclean to use our cups and plates if we deign to serve them food, or when we imply that the tragedies of Pigeon Pea and The Mud were the result of the inhabitants’ own nastiness — we are replaying the hatred generated by our own slave past.


The way in which we choose to treat criminals has a similar genesis. Many of us seem to think that the housing of captured lawbreakers in a prison that has been listed internationally as inhumane is insufficient punishment, and that we ought to add regular beatings or hangings to the mix.


This is not discipline. It is hatred, and we learned it from our ancestors or our masters.


I believe our propensity towards hatred in the Bahamas stems from the fact that we have not yet learned to love ourselves, black and white alike.


If we are black, we grapple with what we consider to be the shame of being descended from slaves; if we are white, we must live with the reality that our forefathers participated in a dehumanizing and evil institution.


Some of us who are black should learn to accept that reality as well; a fair number Free Blacks, Coloured Caribbeans and Americans were slaveowners themselves.


According to Frantz Fanon, a psychologist from Martinique who studied the personality of the colonized individual, there are two major side effects of oppression.


One is the tendency of the oppressed to want to ape the habits and mannerisms of the oppressor, finding in them both superiority and power. The other is a turning of the frustration born of that oppression against oneself.


In the expressions of hatred that I hear so often on the radio and read far too regularly in the press I hear both. Our history has perpetuated hatred.


Racism has made us racists against Haitians and other immigrants; the brutality of slavery lives on in our prisons and even in our homes. Perhaps we so loudly proclaim ourselves “Christian” in a desperate attempt to find something to love in ourselves.


But in this, I believe, we miss the point. The Christ I serve did not come to earth in order to legitimize the hatred we humans have visited one upon the other since the dawn of time.


His gospel is a message of love. This is why, until I see acts of love, not hate, proceeding from the faithful among us, or hear words that build up rather than tear down, I will not be buying the oh-so-Bahamian lie that our nation is a Christian nation.


Nicolette Bethel currently serves as Director of Culture for the Bahamas Government. She is a social anthropologist and a writer. Her plays have been produced locally, and her fiction and poetry have appeared in various collections.


She blogs at Bahamapundit


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