In this article, I continue with my assessment of Roy Bodden’s recent book - From Guard House to the Glass House - one Man’s Journey through the Maze of Caymanian Politics. I focus on the book’s Preface.
The word preface is Latin in origin and means ‘spoken before.’ In the context of a book, it is what precedes the main text- even though sometimes the preface is followed by an introduction.
The preface presents the opportunity to the writer to explain in an honest and open way how the idea of producing the work came about, the inspiration behind the work, the challenges, the aims and why persons should actually read it. Through a good preface, readers can come to know the writer, especially if the writer is not bothered with making him or herself vulnerable. The preface usually concludes with a list of acknowledgements- after all, in writing and publishing a book, the writer usually draws on the input of many.
It becomes clear from the outset that the writer views himself as an intellectual- a black Caymanian intellectual. This is important as in the preface, Bodden not only outlines his reasons for writing this book, but he does so drawing from what he sees as main flaws of a colonial society- racism, and issues of social class and the interconnections between race and class and especially their effects on peoples experiences and life circumstances. Every social scientist knows of the troubling impacts of these forms of inequality on individuals and on the broader societal landscape and so, it should not be a surprise that Bodden examines these, how they affected him on a personal level, and, the society generally.
The book was written, he explains, as a kind of tell all so that a record is left for future generations to learn of his personal journey and, possibly, to learn some valuable lessons. He says he wants to inspire all – but especially black Caymanians.
The preface of the book covers some valuable themes, which are explored more fully in the main text. These include race and class prejudice, political corruption of various kinds, issues affecting family life, sexual harassment, political ideology and so on.
Bodden makes it clear that he believes the power brokers who underrated the importance of education and the educated treated him badly out of sheer prejudice. But his broader argument is that the society, by its harboring racism, ‘might have caused irreparable injustice upon generations of our own people’.
He is especially indignant of the view expressed by some that persons who have ‘run nothing’ should not be entrusted to run the economy- the logical conclusion of which is that only the moneyed should be allowed to govern.
In sections of the preface, Bodden gives us glimpses of the enticements to corruption that are sometimes offered to those in political office. There is a subtle warning that the political novice must be constantly on the watch as those who desire to corrupt come in various guises. This is an important observation as those who study political corruption are aware that some who become corrupt after entering politics, might have believed that they were incorruptible when they first entered. Yet, there are those, who after many years in politics, are never involved in bribes, craft, nepotism, cronyism, improper use of government property, fraud, influence peddling, political patronage, immoral conduct, etcetera. What are the factors at play that make for the difference? This might be an important area for further study.
A main part of Bodden’s preface is his listing of the sources that influenced his thinking and his intellectual formation- what he calls his ‘search for a political ideology.’ He says the reading of these sources was a ‘most profound’ and enlightening experience and, no doubt, led him to detest ‘the game of colonial politics’ and nurtured he says, his unwillingness to become part of it.
Boddens Intellectual Influences
As his main intellectual influences, Bodden notes quite a distinguished list of thinkers who all have in common an understanding of the colonial situation and a desire to fundamentally change it. Paula Frieire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a text that is timeless for progressive educators. Published in Portuguese in 1948, this book uses a Marxist class analysis in exploring the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. As an educator, Frieire called for an educational and pedagogical approach in which the learner is a ‘co-creator of knowledge’ and sees freedom as the ‘indispensable condition for the quest of human completion.’
This text has had a huge impact on a variety of intellectual settings- education, colonial studies, critical pedagogy, etcetera.
For many, Franz Fanon’s, Wretched of the Earth is a passionate and brilliant elucidation of the process of decolonization. Fanon in using a psychological and psychiatric analysis of the dehumanizing impacts of the colonial project on the person and the society draws significantly from the Marxian approach to call for a revolutionary process of change in colonial societies.
Albert Memmi’s, The Colonizer and the Colonized, explores and describes the psychological effects of colonialism on the colonized and the colonizer alike as he sought to expose the facts about the colonial situation.
James Baldwin, black American essayist, playwright and novelist known for such works as, The Fire Next Time, Another Country and Go Tell it on the Mountains. Baldwin explores race and social issues. He also notes the influence of E. Franklyn Frazier’s book, Black Bourgeoise. Frazier uses a Marxist framework to analyze the social and political behavior of the African-American middle class.
Bodden has also been influenced by that giant of West Indian Literature, George Lamming, writer of the classic - In the Castle of My Skin, described as a ‘ study of colonial revolt’ and as ‘ one of the greatest political novels in modern ‘ colonial’ Literature’ by NgÅ©gÄ© wa Thiong'o, the renowned Kenyan writer and academic. Lamming is also the author of such books as – The Immigrants, Of Age and Innocence, The Pleasures of Exile and Season of Adventure.
Significantly, there is also Dr. Benjamin Mays, that most outstanding educator, who, born of a sharecropper in 1894, went on to serve as President of Morehouse College. Known as an important teacher and ‘intellectual father’ to Marin Lunther King, May’s autobiography, Born to Rebel, is a testament of what it means to overcome challenges on the way to success.
Bodden also notes as an influence a black Caymanian, John Calvin McField, who saw him as a ‘promising black man’ who had the potential to occupy the seat of power.
These and many more are significant influences on the writer in his ‘search for a political ideology’, though I am personally surprised that there is no mention of Marcus Garvey, arguably, one of the most important anti-colonial voices of all time.
In the section in which Bodden speaks of his quest for a political ideology, one learns of the thinkers who influenced him, but not a distillation of the main outlines of what became his political ideology. One is also left at the end of this ‘search’ wondering what became the framework of his political ideology. He does not say this explicitly and so it must be deduced that it is a mix of Anti-colonialism, Marxism and maybe Liberation Theology.
One of the ironic elements of colonialism is that those most hostile to it underestimate the extent to which they themselves have been impacted by this system in their thinking and behaviors. It would have been interesting to get a perspective of this from the writer.
The writer says that he has poured his soul into the effort, with the hope that it will be accepted, though he holds no ‘lofty’ expectations that it will be. In the end Bodden seems to come out in favour of self-determination, maybe another word for independence. He says, ‘I caution against making the mistake of sacrificing our ambition for self-determination to the short term glamour of a false success in which Caymanians can expect the ‘trickle down.’