Orientalism Questions and Answers
by Edward W. Said

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How do Said's writings on orientalism and othering help us understand the process of stigmatization of Haitian migrants in the Bahamas?

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Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Haitian immigrants have long sought to come to Bahamas, due to its relatively stable economy and political situation. In recent years, they have faced discrimination and attempts to bar their entry (and attempts to deport those who are there without documentation as well). This has become especially true since Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, especially the Haitian community there. Many media outlets reported that Haitian immigrants were blamed for looting and crime by Bahamians who also thought they were using already scarce resources that should go to them. This event exacerbated existing prejudices and stigmas against Haitian immigrants in the country. As for how Edward Said's notion of "Orientalism" can be brought to bear on this issue, one would have to focus on how Said illustrates the process of "othering." He argues that Westerners have long studied the "Orient" as an "other," stressing its exoticism, sensuousness, and danger in opposition to European society. This is a function of the disproportionate power relationships between Europe and the so-called Orient, a set of relationships that this body of knowledge actually reinforces. This is the "idea of European identity as a superior one in comparison" to non-Europeans. While Said is not writing about the Caribbean, it is the case that many Bahamian attitudes about Haitian migrants (and anti-immigrant sentiments anywhere) are informed by "knowledge" of these migrants as "others." They are portrayed in media and elsewhere as different and dangerous. It contributes to the construction of Haiti and its people as a threat to Bahamian life and identity. It is a short step from the expression of this attitude to the justification of discriminatory and exclusionary policies against Haitian migrants.