The Bahamas is a nation composed of a group of islands located in the Atlantic Ocean. The small island nation covers an area of four hundred and seventy thousand kilometers squared and has a population of only three hundred thousand people. Though the island has limited resources, it was the subject of a lot of interest from the European powers between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries because of its location between the United States, Hispaniola and South America. After the Europeans first arrived in the islands, they used it as an outpost for the lucrative slave trade and even enslaved some of the nation’s indigenous people in Hispaniola. After serving Spain as a slaving outpost for several centuries, the island became a crown colony of the British Empire as the Britons used it to end the problem of piracy. The island’s fortunes changed once more in the nineteenth century when the British abolished slavery and subsequently freed many slaves, settling them in The Bahamas. Similar to other regions in the Atlantic such as the Caribbean and Hispaniola, The Bahamas frequent contact and interaction with the British, Spanish and American empires left strong imprints on the nation’s legacy, history and the demographics of its population. However, this past has not seen the Bahamas experience any problems related to the issue. Most of the ethnic problems facing the Bahamas are related to the influx of immigrants from surrounding nations, particularly Haiti.
Description of the Bahamas and its Ethnic groupings
The Bahamas (officially called the Commonwealth of the Bahamas) is a nation that consists of more than seven hundred islands and islets inside the Atlantic Ocean. The country is located North of Cuba and South East of the United States. Together, all of the nation’s islands cover four hundred and seventy thousand squared kilometers. The original inhabitants of the Bahamas were people belonging to an indigenous community called the Lucayan. The Lucayan occupied the island nation for almost a millennium before the European powers first arrived. The island became the subject of European interest in 1492 when Christopher Columbus became the first European to arrive there. After Columbus’ arrival, the Spanish empire used the nation as an outpost for its slave trade. The Spanish Empire incessantly enslaved the Lucayan people in Hispaniola, a course of action that resulted in the complete depopulation of The Bahamas.
After more than a century without human interference, settlers from Bermuda repopulated The Bahamas. The settlers refused to submit themselves to the rule of the Spanish and the English and this saw the island become a haven for pirates and wreckers. Eventually, the British decided to solve the problem of piracy and claimed The Bahamas as a Crown Colony. This ended the piracy that was operating through the islands and placed them under another European power. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British Empire abolished slavery. The Empire enforced this new policy on all of its colonies and even attacked slaving ships belonging to the American and Spanish Empires. Resultantly, many freed and escaped slaves settled on the islands. The majority of the slaves were of African descent and their descendants form most of the Bahamian population. In 1973, the Bahamas gained its independence from the British Empire, with Queen Elizabeth remaining as the island’s monarch.
The Bahamas’ interactions with the European nations had a significant impact on the islands’ demographics. When the government in charge carried out the first census in 1722, seventy-four percent of the population was white, with the remaining portion being black. After three centuries, these statistics have changed drastically as ninety-one percent of the population identifies as black, five percent as white and the remaining people being of mixed race. Scholars attribute this drastic change in population to the slave trade and the British decision to abolish slavery. During the slave trade, settlers established several plantations in The Bahamas and imported labor from Africa and Latin America. The black population on the islands grew even further when the British started settling the slaves that they freed on The Bahamas. These former slaves became the ancestors of the black population that has grown in the islands since the nineteenth century. Citizens of Haitian descent are another significant demographic within The Bahamas that the 2010 census revealed. The Bahamas is currently home to several people who migrated from other countries around the world. These include people from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Europe. Of all the migrants in the nation, Haitians make up the highest portion. The most recent census revealed thirty-nine thousand people of Haitian descent living in The Bahamas. This means that people of Haitian descent make up eleven percent of The Bahamas population, making them a significant minority in the islands. Based on these statistics, the ethnic stratification system in The Bahamas classifies the nation’s society into blacks, whites and immigrants. The difference between white and black Bahamians within the nation’s ethnic stratification system is marginal, with the nation experiencing very few problems related to racism. The country’s black population considers itself a single ethnic grouping, further eliminating any possible friction that could arise within The Bahamas. The only issue that emerges in The Bahamas’ ethnic stratification system is the continuous marginalization of people of Haitian descent. Researchers and non-governmental bodies note that most people of Haitian descent live in shanty towns and slums that have scarce amenities.
Ethnic Problems and Harmony in the Bahamas
The population of The Bahamas only has three ethnic systems worth noting: blacks, whites and immigrants. Black people make up the majority of the population in The Bahamas, with ninety-one percent. White people account for five percent of the entire population, with the remaining percentage being from Asia and Latin America. Haitian immigrants and their descendants make up eleven percent of the nation’s population, making them one of the most significant minorities. Human rights reports from 2010 and 2013 revealed that The Bahamas did not have any problem concerning racial or ethnic tensions within the indigenous black or white population in the islands. The 2013 report explained that the two races existed in a climate of peace, with the absence of overt tension between the communities.
The Bahamas currently has two ethnic problems. The first issue concerns latent race tensions in the islands. Russell (2009) argues that The Bahamas has a problem concerning racism, a fact that is made obvious by the continuing discourse on the matter. Despite a lack of any obvious discrimination between the races in The Bahamas, many scholars claim that white Bahamians generally occupy higher social positions than their black counterparts do. An even bigger ethnic problem in The Bahamas is the marginalization of Haitian immigrants and other people of Haitian descent. Human rights reports note that people of Haitian descent in Haiti make up eleven percent of the total population, leading to claims that they strain the nation’s resources and facilities.
Scholars have cited many examples of the ethnic problems that currently challenge The Bahamas. Russell outlines one of the examples of racism in the country by pointing out the employment of whites and blacks in The Bahamas. The scholar explains that the composition of the Bahamian civil service is indicative of the nation’s racial differences. Despite claims of racial inequality, there are virtually no white Bahamians in the civil service, working in low level positions such as janitors and hotel workers. Instead, the majority of white Bahamians work in their own business establishments, ventures that derive most of their income from the business generated by blacks. The ethnic problems facing the people of Haitian descent in The Bahamas are more noticeable. Human rights reports claim that most of the thirty-nine thousand Haitian immigrants live in shanty towns that have poor sanitation. Additionally, the security and infrastructure in the slums is almost none existent, something that the reports claim is a result of continued marginalization by the government.
The ethnic problems in The Bahamas have had ranging effects on the nation. Scholars note that the issue of racism is latent and is not the source of any real conflict in the nation. Accordingly, the apparent racism has not had any consequences on the nation and is only noticeable through the persistent discourse on the matter. Contrastingly, the persistent marginalization of the Haitian community in The Bahamas has had large consequences on its victims. Because of their marginalization, the members of the Haitian community generally live in poverty, have limited employment opportunities, and virtually no healthcare. This has resulted in the Haitians
Research on Ethnicity in the Bahamas
Most of the research into ethnic issue facing the Bahamas has focused on the issues of racism and the Haitian marginalization. Russell (2009) carried out a study of racism in The Bahamas that he based on secondary data, specifically the writings of other scholars. Russell’s main premise is that the racist narrative in The Bahamas is dysfunctional in nature and generally assumes that The Bahamas do not have any problems concerning the issue. Through the arguments and observations of other scholars, Russell concludes that The Bahamas do have a problem regarding racism. He states that the problem is particularly evident in the ongoing discourse and the nation’s avoidance of the issue. Fielding et al. (2008) conducted a study into the stigma that members of the Haitian community face within The Bahamas. The premise of their study was that the related histories of Haiti and The Bahamas along with the political strife in the former have resulted in constant stream of migration between the two countries. This migration has seen many Haitians relocate to The Bahamas. Subsequently, the Bahamian people have developed some resentment towards the Haitians, who they consider a strain on their welfare. Fielding et al. (2008) conclude that the marginalization is affecting the Haitian community in negative ways, affecting their education and living standards.
Comparison between the Bahamas and the United States
The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world. People from different races and ethnicities make up the country’s population, a factor that contributes towards the nation’s culture and heritage. The government of the US classifies citizens based on race and ethnicity. The two classifications overlap, as people from certain ethnicities also have to identify with a specific race. The most dominant demographic in the country are Caucasians, who make up seventy-two percent of the nation. Hispanics and Latin American are the largest minority in the country, making up fifteen percent of the nation. Interestingly, the group is considered an ethnicity, meaning that people associated with it further identify with specific racial groupings. Fifty-three percent of Hispanics are white, with the rest belonging to different racial groups. The American government classifies other minorities by race and not ethnicity. Black people are the most significant of the remaining minorities, making up thirteen percent of the population. The remaining racial groups are the Asian-Americans (4.4%), multiracial people (2.3%) and Native Americans (0.8%).
The ethnic stratification system in the United States has resulted in a lot of problems and concerns regarding racism in the country. The nation’s system favors whites above all other racial and ethnic groupings an issue that has resulted in decades of overt tension, violent clashes and protests. Statistics show that white people in the United States are less likely to be arrested brutally, and receive jail terms for drug related offences. Apart from the judicial system, the inequality in the United States also persists in other areas such as healthcare and education. Most of the injustices in the US have resulted from years of racial discrimination and oppression that only ended in 1964 after Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act. Because of the previous discrimination, people from minority races (especially Americans of African descent) have harder time accessing health care facilities, are less educated than their counterparts from other races and generally have lower incomes than other Americans do.
The ethnic situations in the United States and The Bahamas are similar in several ways. Firstly, the main ethnic compositions in both countries are the black and white groupings. Secondly, both the United States and The Bahamas seem to have an ethnic stratification that favors white people and allows them to flourish at the expense of their black counterparts. Lastly, racism is a problem in both nations, with the issue playing out in the U.S. through various protests, conflicts and overt tension. Similarly, scholars in The Bahamas are regularly embroiled in discourse on racism particularly regarding the nation’s past.
Despite these similarities, the ethnic issues in the US and the Bahamas are more noticeable for their differences. Firstly, despite both nations being divided between the black and white races, people of African descent are the majority in The Bahamas. A second difference is related to the ethnic stratification systems in the two countries and their effects. In the Bahamas, the system favors the white Bahamians as they occupy a higher social position. However, the system has not caused any overt tension or conflict between the two groups. Indeed, the issue of racism in The Bahamas plays out through academic discourse on not direct confrontations between the two groups. The situation is different in the United States where ethnic and racial tensions have led to overt conflicts between black and whites in the nation. Some of the racial conflicts in the country include the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. Additionally, the ethnic conflict in The Bahamas is centered on the Haitian community, a problem that the United States does not have.
Ethnicity is a large issue for most countries in the world as differences based on people’s ancestries result in different kinds of conflicts. The Bahamian population is currently divided between black and white citizens. A common history between the two groups has ensured that there is little tension between them, with racism only being a minor problem. However, there is still a problem in the nation regarding the marginalization of Haitian people. Contrastingly, the United States has five main ethnic stratifications, whose differences are the source of a lot of conflict within the nation.
Ballantine, J. H., & Roberts, K. A. (2010). Our social world: Condensed version. Los Angeles: SAGE/Pine Forge Press.
Craton, M., & Saunders, G. (2000). Islanders in the stream: A history of the Bahamian people. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Department of Statistics. (2010). 2010 census of population and housing. Retrieved from http://www.soencouragement.org/forms/CENSUS2010084903300.pdf.
Fielding, W. J., Balance, V., Scriven, C., McDonald, T. & Johnson, P. (2008). The stigma of being “Haitian” in The Bahamas. The College of the Bahamas Research Journal, 14, pp. 38-50.
Harris, D. R. (2013). The Bahamas. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/48951/The-Bahamas#toc276755.
Pinder, S. O. (2012). Whiteness and racialized ethnic groups in the United States: The politics of remembering. Lanham: Lexington Books.
Russell, K.A. (2009). Race in The Bahamas: A dysfunctional narrative. The College of the Bahamas Research Journal, 15, pp. 1-7.
U.S. State Department & Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. (2013). Bahamas 2013 human rights report. Retrieved from http://photos.state.gov/libraries/bahamas/8325/pdf/bahamas2013report.pdf
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