Ethnic Groups in the Bahamas

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Bahamas are famous tourist destinations, but how much do you know about the people who live there? In this lesson, we'll discuss ethnicity and see what it means to the Bahamas today.

The Bahamas

You've probably heard of the Bahamas. Anyone who's ever dreamed of vacationing on the white sands and clear waters of the Caribbean has seen pictures of this island nation, home to some of the most pristine vacation spots in the world. But, there's a lot more to the Bahamas than just tourism. The nation itself is actually composed of more than 700 islands, all part of the coral-based island chain called the Lucayan Archipelago. These islands stretch from off the coast of Florida nearly to Cuba. Not all of the islands are inhabited, but those that are have populations of Bahamians, citizens of the nation. Just as the nation is composed of a variety of islands and much greater economic diversity than many realize, the Bahamian people defy simple stereotypes.

The Bahamas
The Bahamas

Ethnicity in the Bahamas

In official terms, about 91% of Bahamians identify as black, almost 5% identify as white, 2% identify as mixed black and white, and the rest are unspecified. It should be noted that none of these categories include a number of people who claim ancestrally indigenous descent from these islands. The Lucayan people, original inhabitants of the islands, were entirely killed off or enslaved and transported to other islands by European colonizers. So, when we say that Bahamian ethnicity is black and white, we mean that pretty literally. This may sound simple, but let's take a closer look.

Black Ethnicity in the Bahamas

As with nearly every other nation in the Caribbean, the Bahamas contain a large number of ethnically black citizens, a legacy of the expansive slave trade that dominated the islands for centuries. Genetically, the majority of these populations can trace their ancestry back to West Africa, particularly the regions around Ghana, historically a cornerstone of the African slave trade. However, after centuries in the Caribbean, Afro-Caribbeans often identify more with their New World ancestry than Africa. That being said, a number of African customs and traditions have been preserved in various cultural and musical forms.

Many Bahamian festivals, such as the Junkanoo, display pride in black identity and African traditions
Bahamian festival

White Ethnicity

With almost 5% of the total population, the Bahamas actually contain a larger white population than many Caribbean nations. Not only is this a larger group, it's also less immigrant-based than in other nations. The white Bahamian population is generally native to the island, with many families tracing their ancestry back generations and generations.

About 5% of Bahamians identify as white
Ethnicity in the Bahamas

Ethnic Conflict in the Bahamas

Despite this seemingly simple distribution of ethnicities, there is a fair amount of ethnic tension within the Bahamas between a variety of peoples. Let's start with white and black Bahamians. Black Bahamians have a great numerical majority, and much of Bahamian culture is centered around being black. However, white Bahamians hold a lot of political and economic power, and tension can arise when this group claims to feel socially marginalized by the predominantly-black cultural standards.

However, the concept of being black is not itself without conflict either. Again, much of Bahamian culture is based around identification with African ancestry, so much so that there is something of a cultural taboo against admitting mixed ancestry. By some reports, up to 15% of Bahamians actually contain mixed African and European ancestry, but self-reported ethnic categorization does not reflect this. Few black Bahamians identify with any European heritage, while at the same time many see white Bahamians as people of mixed ethnicity who actively deny their African heritage. Again, this can cause a great amount of tension.

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