Wednesday, May 09, 2012
As an Anglo-Bahamian kid growing up in the sixties and seventies in Nassau, election time was an awful time in my house and in my world. My parents acted like a menace was approaching, something to fear, something to brace for, like a hurricane was heading straight for us that was going to tear up the world. There was a feeling we might get hurt, we might not survive. They grew tense, loud, desperate, like they knew something bad was going to happen and there was nothing we could do about it. They always seemed to be afraid that at any minute Mr. Pindling was finally going to take his revenge, send armed gangs into the street to kill all the white people, and this fear reached near-hysteria levels at election time. Election time was time to watch out, something threatening called "the masses" was on the move and it hated and wanted to hurt me. As the years went on and I became a voting adult in the 1980s elections were sad, angry times, like a game I had to play that I knew I'd lose. By then I thought voting was a ritual I performed so as never to admit utter powerlessness and defeat. I went to the polls with all my protections and defenses up and locked, I avoided eye contact, I rushed straight home afterward and locked all the doors, then waited for news of how badly the opposition had lost. Then for months and forever after we went back to our lives felt like I had a blinking sign around my white neck that said, powerless, unwanted looser. The heightened, "us and them" rhetoric subsided a little when elections were done, but it never went away for me. Not even when I became more conscious, more educated about all that had happened to cause the division and disconnection, not even when I matured enough to admit to myself that I had also been responsible for excluding myself from society and culture. Not until 1992 when Hubert Ingraham and the FNM I voted for won a term in government at last. The PLP had been in power my entire life. When the announcement came I remember feeling connected and important to the voting process for the first time in my life, like it really was possible that I could be a real contributing citizen after all. Since then my election experience has changed from a fear-ridden exercise in hopelessness to an empowering, hopeful experience, even when the party I voted for was defeated soundly, as it was in the elections this week. We were disappointed, not destroyed, we said, well, it was meant to be. There was no fear, no doomsday predictions, not in our house anyway. It no longer feels like hatred for me when the PLP wins, it no longer feels like time to panic. It no longer represents my personal exclusion or rejection. It simply means that when I begin calling the Cabinet Office with my concerns I will now be asking for Mr Christie's secretary instead of Mr. Ingraham's. The same struggles as before, continue on today. But these days I have reclaimed my voice, and my identity as a contributing member of the citizenry, and learning how to forgive my parents who were also terrorized and miseducated by the racist culture of their day. These days I understand the value and and necessity of the dissenting voice and have tried to be one of them. These days I'm glad to have reached an age where I know an election is not the end of the world. There is the school run to do, supper to make, poems to write. I know that no matter who we elect, the power to transform our country remains in the hands of the people.