Behind the Smile: Negotiating and Transforming the Tourism-Imposed Identity of Bahamian Women
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
American Culture Studies/Ethnic Studies
Radhika Gajjala, PhD (Committee Chair)
Lara Lengel-Martin, PhD (Committee Member)
Kamala Kempadoo, PhD (Committee Member)
Bonnibeth Fonseca-Greber, PhD (Committee Member)
This research seeks to describe the links between whiteness and tourism in the construction of ‘Othered’ identities. It adds to the challenge of theorizing identity as posed by Frantz Fanon and Stuart Hall, and presents sociopolitical and theoretical insights informed by the historical constructions of whiteness from the lived experiences of black Bahamian women’s struggles for agency. Throughout this dissertation, I use Frantz Fanon’s inquiry into black identity formation – that is, as a construct in opposition to whiteness – as a framework to examine the development of tourism and identity negotiations in the Bahamas. Fanon himself – colonized French, black, expatriate, and activist – knew all too well the pitfalls of being at the margins of many identities.
Moreover, with the advent and development of tourism throughout the Bahamas, whiteness became the protracted mode by which Bahamian progress was assessed. The minority white elites in the Bahamas benefited financially from the tourist industry, building an economy and a country where rich wealthy whites are served by the majority black populace, hence the development of a ‘white tourist culture.’ I use the term ‘white tourist culture’ in this dissertation to describe how Bahamian national identity is constructed through our dependency on a tourist economy that has built its financial system on a myth of paradise, where white tourists are catered to, and black Bahamians serve, entertain and cultivate the exotic.
Through examination of my own life experiences and the experiences of women working both in and outside of the tourist industry, this work helps to reposition whiteness as a form of oppression for racialized Bahamian women. This project uses the voices and experiences of women working in the Bahamas Cultural Markets (the straw market, as it is known by the local people of the Bahamas). It discusses the lived experience of women, who on a daily basis are compelled to ‘perform’ their constructed indigenous identities created through the marketing of the Bahamas to the rest of the world, as the "ultimate tourist destination." It also focuses on the production and maintenance of representations of whiteness in the way these are constructed and contested in the lived experiences of Bahamian women. I, along with Babb (2002), contend that whiteness is a social location of structural advantage, power and privilege. In this context, I demonstrate that, in tourist populated places like the Bahamas, markets like these are designed to reposition Bahamian women as an exotic proletariat, and they contribute to the continued subjugation of black Bahamian women, while giving white tourists legitimized access to feelings of power and privilege.
Higgs, Dellareese, "Behind the Smile: Negotiating and Transforming the Tourism-Imposed Identity of Bahamian Women" (2008). American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations. 35.