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Diane Gail North-Saunders is a Bahamian historian, archivist who is a pioneer of research on Bahamian history. Along with Race and Class in the Colonial Bahamas, 1880–1960, Saunders has also authored Historic Bahamas and Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People about Bahamian history. Saunders’ Expository text Race and Class in the Colonial Bahamas, 1880–1960 prominently features the non-white majority who have been overlooked for generations. Here, Saunders unravels a complex interrelationship of race, class, color, and economics in emancipated Colonial Bahamas.
Despite the upward mobility of liberated Bahamians, she explores the continuous oppression they faced by the white elite until at last directly challenged by the majority of liberated Bahamians.
When British abolish the transatlantic slave trade, it did little to improve the condition of slaves that were already there. After the abolition of slave trade, large scale of slaves uprising took place. These rebellions gave fresh momentum to the abolitionist movement and in 1833 slavery was abolished, however apprenticeship act took its place.
Slavery in term no longer existed but apprenticeship to white family was no different than working as a slave, at least for four to six year. Frustrated at the gradual emancipation, abolitionist exposed the failing apprenticeship system. Therefore, the British Caribbean recognizes 1838 as the end of slavery, the day apprenticeship was abolished. This establishes the idea that weather British abolished the slavery as a humanitarian act or for economically reason, they still wanted to insert their superiority toward color folks. However, Saunders does not only explore racial hierarchy determined by color but their culture, education, family background, occupations etc.
that eventually shapes them and their communities.
Saunders begins with the political economy of the Bahamas and its social structure that exploited the former slaved into labor systems the secured the supremacy of white class. Even though, the non-white were able to participated in government, most areas of social contact in the Colonial Bahamas were segregated. Here, Saunders makes no attempt to provide any quantitative details, rather stress on the role that is thrusted upon the former slaves by the agronomical bourgeoisie. However, any rise to political consciousness of nonwhite Bahamians were those who could afford secondary education or persons studying in professional fields, but this wasn’t a choice since white elites still completely dominated economy. Nonetheless, in 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party started the constitutional advancement. However, in the beginning, the organization was essentially made and by near-white men. Eventually it was dominated by black, middle-class professionals who made their appeal to the black majority on the basis of racial identity. This party, working closely with the trade union movement, eventually forced political change.
Chapter three and four explores the gradual change of Bahamian economy which accelerated after the first world war. Through social scientific literatures, extensive interviews, research findings integrated with primary sources, she touches on the early black nationalist and pan-Africanism movements while exploring the economic depression of 1930s and the boom in the tourism industry which turned the economy around. However, it ended up worsening the racial tensions. She argues that, despite majority of colonial Bahamas were those who were liberated between 1880s to the 1960s, segregation predominant in most provinces of life which lasted into the 1950s. Saunders argues that the rise of racial consciousness brought up by the boom, which also made the up and coming nonwhite to lose ground, prompted a political awareness among them. However, until the early 1950s, they will remain largely apathetic to politics that governed them.
The upward mobility of liberated Bahamians reflected the inflexible treatment of color people of United States instead of the British West Indian colonies. This was due to the geographical isolations from other British colonies. Nevertheless, Saunders makes no attempts to compare any other colonies in depth with the Colonial Bahamas despite them all having a very familiar segregation. She does a very clear job of focusing her attention just on the Bahamians and how events within the Out Islands and around the world affected them socially and economically. Saunders traces the nonwhite Bahamians trying to escape poverty while Bahamas became the center of bootlegging. They migrated to Florida postwar years when the U.S economy took off. Saunders’s argument for rise of migration among the nonwhite from Colonial Bahamas to United State is indirect, nevertheless it is convincing.
Despite having only a little background knowledge of the Colonial Bahamas, I had no trouble following it. Saunders stayed true to her thesis throughout the texts. It resolved my perplexity about the whole emancipation of nonwhite Bahamians without them being granted civil rights. They were liberated on paper and no longer labeled as slaves but that did nothing to stop exploitation of their labor nor their discrimination based on the color of their skin, even today is still the case regarding racial discernment. In any event, Race and Class in the Colonial Bahamas, 1880–1960, with its examinations of social structure that existed within each period that Saunders touched on, painted a vivid picture of the attitudes toward liberated Bahamians and how that shaped their personal and social surrounding years after their freedom being restored to them. Saunders’s argument is explicitly comparative as well persuasive regarding intricacies of social relationship in the period of decolonization. However, Saunders does not sufficiently explain the lack of unified challenged toward white minority by the liberated Bahamians.
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