Is the Bahamas mature enough to vote for a white political leader?

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Tribune Columnist Adrian Gibson

By ADRIAN GIBSON
ajbahama@hotmail.com

This is my final column before entering my final examination period for the Christmas term. I will resume writing after exams.

LOCALLY, although the unambiguous and overt forms of racism may have receded since Majority Rule and constitutional changes, in the political realm, clearly race continues to be a relevant feature of the political rhetoric. The concept of race has greatly shaped our society and national identity and its study provides us with a framework to address issues that may linger on and persist in dividing our nation.

Race remains a prickly subject in the Bahamas.

In the years since the UBP’s dismantlement/Majority Rule, black Bahamians have become apprehensive about white Bahamians ascending to political power, mainly due to the angst that these Bahamians could have a stranglehold on both the economic and political structure, turn the country into some kind of racist backwater where the masses are oppressed and/or accrue more wealth in the process.

Whilst there is a maturing air of racial harmony in the Bahamas, there are occasions where antipathy and racism surfaces, particularly when self-seeking, narrow-minded politicians exploit the psychological effects of slavery and the racist injustices of the past. Indeed, in the Bahamas, race issues and classism go beyond the sphere of political discourse, but also influence attitudes, social interaction and settlement patterns.

In the mid-1990s, PLP senator Franklyn Wilson maintained that racial division is a part of Bahamian history, and a part of his resolve as a senator was to “build bridges within our community to help us come together as a people.”

The fact that American voters rejected worn-out Republican orthodoxy and elected Barack Obama in 2008–while in many instances overlooking race–demonstrates the evolution of the American electorate and leaves a monumental question about the evolution of the Bahamian electorate. Would a majority of Bahamian voters rise above racial stereotypes and, in many instances, misplaced fears/prejudices and elect the nation’s first white Prime Minister post-Majority Rule/Independence?
Is the Bahamas now mature enough to vote for a white Bahamian to lead a political party and eventually the country? Does the rhetoric of racial propaganda in any way reflect the real world social values inherent in Bahamian society today?
Are Bahamians ready to move past the lingering resentment of being shut out of public places/activities and leadership roles in a bygone era?

Hon. Brent Symonette - Deputy Prime Minister

Would Brent Symonette or any other white politician have the ability to galvanize people across the political spectrum and lead their respective parties to an electoral victory?

During the 2007 general election, one PLP MP asserted at a rally that Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham would turn over the government to “the UBP heir” (Brent Symonette).

Of course, rather than addressing the issue, now Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette was dismissive, saying:
“They have opened this up and exposed themselves for what they are, and I have no intention of entering a discussion of race any further.”

In a 2005 interview with another daily, when addressing his heritage and culture, Mr Symonette was again dismissive and seemingly asserted his disconnect and apparent cultural demarcation, stating: “My heritage is France, hence the name “Symonette.’ France to England and possibly to Bermuda and then here. When Alfred Sears stood up and talked about Clifton, he painted this very emotional picture of the black slave captured in Africa (sic) and landing into freedom in The Bahamas. I didn’t come that route. So my cultural history isn’t based in the navel string of Mother Africa, so how can you ask me to celebrate that heritage?”

As was eloquently stated by Helen Klonaris–a white, Greek Bahamian–at that time:
“After reading this sentence, I felt winded, the breath knocked from me. I had read a portion of it in Dr. Russell’s letter (on ontological whiteness), but reading the entire conversation trounced me. ‘I didn’t come that route,’ said Mr. Symonette. As if African slavery and the arrival of white colonialists were not connected; as if the two histories are not integrally, irreversibly intertwined and still to this day rub up against each other and hurt when rain is coming, when hurricanes start brewing, when it is just another ordinary day in a small place and we don’t know how to look each other in the eye and tell the truth.”

“I cannot identify with Mr. Symonette’s feeling. I am only the granddaughter of immigrants, still arriving in so many ways, and yet, my own experience has rooted me in an African and Greek cultural reality which I could not shake if I wanted to. I do feel that the history of my sisters and brothers of African descent in this place is now a part of my history, and that my Greek history must also be a part of theirs. I not only want to celebrate ‘that heritage’, I want to love the people connected to it, people I consider to be my people. I am no longer one, here in this new world. I am more than one,” she said.

She went on to further state:
“Know also that I have grown up in this body, in this white skin, and am conscious of what racism feels like, looks like, the power it has to keep me from wanting to tell the truth. I am conscious of what white privilege feels like, how it can separate me from Black people, because it is supposed to; how if I don’t see it for what it is, I too could be duped into believing that whiteness and all that comes with it is the way; see everything and everybody not white through that white light that distorts faces, cultures, histories, makes them all seem less than ‘mine’.”

Expounding on the issue in a recent interview, Christopher Curry, my former college lecturer and a white Bahamian historian who recently returned from university where he pursued his doctoral studies, stated:

“Brent Symonette at times appears to lack a sensitivity regarding how our national identity is construed as one that is very much related to black consciousness and our diasporic identity. (When it comes to ascending to the leadership) it would be a rare individual! To find a white Bahamian who could truly empathize with and understand and appreciate the whole gravity of what colonialism did for the Bahamian psyche and trying to be sensitive to that. Generally, they’re not interested in reading about this stuff.

“It will take a different kind of ‘Conchy Joe’ to be accepted by blacks. And more importantly, even more practically than that, would you see Brent Symonette in Nassau Village, would you see Brent Symonette around Mason’s Addition, would you see Brent Symonette walking around Bain Town? Ya see, the thing is there is still that social stigma, there’s still that social distancing that we have going on where whites either because of class or race don’t feel comfortable around blacks in certain places and situations. And so, you would have to have someone who is embraced by blacks as being from the grassroots, at least who they can identify with in a way that they feel as if their concerns are at heart. I mean, Brent Symonette, what’s his constituency? St. Annes? What is St. Annes? I mean that constituency is tailor-made for him, I don’t believe it includes some of the more ghetto areas right? He had it easy, he was campaigning in an area that represents his ethnic identity! If that’s the area you find whites, so that’s it–that wasn’t a big challenge,” he said.

Mr Curry went on to say:
“The day you see a white fella could run in a black belt area and successfully win then I would start considering that maybe this guy could possibly be a Prime Minister.”

“From some of the comments I’ve heard him say, he doesn’t seem to be too sensitive to what black Bahamians have experienced. He comes off as too white! He needs to show a greater appreciation of the struggle,” the historian asserted. Former Director of Culture and College of the Bahamas lecturer Nicolette Bethel, whose family is of mixed heritage, when asked about the prospects of Brent Symonette or another white Bahamian becoming Prime Minister in the near future (maybe 2017), and how far removed one must be from the notion of being a UBP heir or tied to UBP/Bay Street interests, said:
“I don’t think that Brent Symonette has good prospects at this point, unless the Bahamian voting public has returned to the time when it wants a white Massa to look after it. Part of the problem is his ‘whiteness’ (which is compromised in any event, as his father was not a white man) but part of the problem is also his UBP/Bay Street heritage. I can’t say how far removed one must be, but he isn’t anywhere near removed enough.”

Asked whether she felt the outlook of white Bahamians and the perception of their involvement in local politics had evolved in the wake of President Obama’s ascendency to the US Presidency, she wrote in response:

“I have no idea, but I don’t think it’s changed all that much. There is a fundamental difference between the sort of minority that Obama represents and the sort of minority that white Bahamians represent — blacks don’t have nearly as much control about their lot in society as white have in any part of the world. We can’t separate ourselves from the global hierarchy that continues to expect white skin to be equated with power and dark skin to be equated with powerlessness or servitude. Whites have chosen to remove themselves from local politics, for the most part, and I don’t see a whole lot of change there. Here, of course, I mean true white Bahamians, rather than fair skinned Bahamians of colour, who have a very different perspective and outlook, if one can imagine that they share such a thing.”

She stated that “it’s not impossible” for a white Bahamian to ascend to the Prime Minister’s post and/or be embraced by black Bahamians particularly if they recognize the historic struggle of blacks, slavery, etcetera. She notes that this can happen, but only “as long as he isn’t a Symonette (or a Pindling or a Maynard or, nowadays, a Christie or an Ingraham).”

Previously, Dr Bethel noted the inherent fears of some Bahamians asserting that the appointment of a “self-identified white Bahamian as Deputy Prime Minister has raised the fear that the oppressive force that was fractured in 1967 will return and change the Bahamas back to what it was before Majority Rule.”

Law professor Michael Stevenson–son of PLP founding father Cyril Stevenson–took a somewhat divergent, socio-legal perspective towards addressing the question of race and politics and the role of Brent Symonette and whites.

He said:
“Minister Symonette today could become, de facto, the Prime Minister of The Bahamas under a limited set of conditions set out in the Constitution. I say ‘de facto’ because technically the Deputy Prime Minister can never assume the office of Prime Minister because of conditions that would authorize him to perform the functions of Prime Minister. Of course, there is a huge difference in the Bahamian imagination between the possibility of Minister Symonette being the Prime Minister and him being authorized to perform the functions of Prime Minister as Deputy Prime Minister. Still, I believe it is significant that the heir of a quintessential Bay Street Boy now has the authority to perform the functions of the Prime Minister if the occasion requires, and that this authority has nothing to do with the psychological question whether black Bahamians are prepared to accept a white Prime Minister or whether the outlook of white Bahamians has changed since 1967. There has to be something comforting in that thought, whether you are a fan of Minister Symonette or not; or whether you believe the majority of Bahamians would accept him as their legitimate leader or not.”

It is not lost on me that other predominantly black countries in the Caribbean basin with an even more dreadful racial past have risen above the colour/ethnic/gender lines and elected whites, Indians and women to high office. However, locally, any white politician seeking to lead the country must have a transcendent political aura about him and demonstrate that he can embrace the country’s African cultural and genetic heritage whilst preaching a message of unity and inspiring citizens. Indeed, the current political leadership must encourage ethnic/minority political participation and bridge-building. Rather than alienating whites, or whites themselves choosing not to participate in the affairs of the state, it will take a coalition of blacks and whites to build a unified and prosperous country.

It is high time we disregard partisanship and race/class to incorporate the brightest talent in any administration to work towards developing a country and formulating a progressive national plan that is free of the divisive politics that continue to plague this nation. For far too long, local politics has been dominated by parochial figures who cannot see beyond their backyard, which is a stark contrast to the broad-based perspective so desperately needed in establishing a different social and political ethos.

Tracey Strachan

TRIBUTE TO TRACEY STRACHAN

Last Monday morning, I received shocking news that my friend and former colleague Tracey Strachan had died from complications during child birth. “Strachany”, as I sometimes called her, was the most outspoken, passionate and hilarious combination ever to come out of Fox Hill. Her hilarity and mischievous smile was unmatched!

I met Tracey when I first entered the service at the LW Young high school and I was a little apprehensive as I had heard that she was a head of department who was quite stern and vocal. Indeed, she had a no nonsense persona and took no prisoners! However, before long we hit if off and, as they say, the rest is history.

Tracey’s crowning glory probably came after the 2007 general election as I can vividly remember her exclaiming and jokingly chanting “we red and they scared!” However, regardless of her political choices and playful teasing, she embraced all people. If you could take a good ribbing, you would easily fit in as she was comedic, with vivid descriptions and gestures and a mischievous way of speaking that was nothing short of riotous. I could see her “full” eyes popping open and shutting as she laughed or was having a good time. I am still chuckling at the jokes she cracked at the Fox Hill day festivities in 2009.

Tracey was a kindred spirit and an educator extraordinaire. Indeed, the DW Davis family and indeed the world of education has lost a hard working, dedicated teacher who positively impacted so many children as an agent of change during her tenure. Life is short and we are nothing more than vapor. Indeed, this tells one how important it is to cherish each day like it’s our last.

I extend my condolences and sincerest sympathies to her husband and young, school-age children and to her entire family. Tracey – “I is a Fox Hill gal” Strachan – rest in peace my friend!

I also wish to extend my condolences to the family of Joel “Uncle Joel” Pratt of O’Neal’s, Long Island. Rest in peace “Uncle Joel!”

30 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, I’d vote for a white Bahamian;as long as his father was not the architect of the accomplished conspiracy to rob the public treasury after the 1942 Burma Road riot. I would definitely vote for Leo Ryan Pinder

  2. I’m a white man, and I can appreciate Mr Gibson’s analysis and remarks. The fact that he includes noted historians and “expert” voices on the issue–some of whom are themselves white–brings clarity and a reasoned,constructive approach to the topic. His conclusion hits the nail on the head as we will all need to work together for a better, enlightened Bahamas.

    Kudos to the writer for another great piece, he is some whose column I avidly follow.

  3. Thats not true. All Bahamian policemen are at risk no matter their colour. The point is that black Bahamians are taking all the risks as policemen to protect an unjust, ungrateful society. As to police salaries, these will never, ever be high enough to compensate the risk of their jobs.Finally,lets not use the term “White” too loosely, only 5% of Bahamians are really considered “White” and, none of them are poor!

    • Sounds like you think you know me better than I know myself, well Id love to not be poor but thats the fact jack, and I am as white as they come. Since you want to keep believing the way you do, fine, but its sad. This country will never advance with that kind of racist backward thinking.

    • Also regarding the police, sure ALL policeman ARE taking risks thats a given, the point was that, well, if you were WHITE and living in the Bahamas you would very well know the abuse that White Bahamian males have to endure here, White boy this, White people soff, White people cant tell us what to do, White people that complain are racists, etc. But ofcourse you arent white so you have no clue. Ive been attacked too many times to count just because of my skin color here, because I must be rich and oppressing them, even kidnapped before and told they would kill me for being white. So take it as you will. Being a cop here is the last thing on my list especially now, though when I was younger I did give it some thought, that thought didnt last long when I saw how corrupt and dysfunctional the police organisation as a whole is here, and that hasnt changed much. And you are correct about the Police here protecting an unjust, ungrateful society, except that society is made up mostly of their own family and friends. And the last part, again, about white people arent poor, thats the kind of rubbish I was talking about in my other posts, its a totally incorrect and one should be ashamed to even suggest it. Anyway, do as you will, but bundling up all that hate for White people will get you nowhere, and god does not like it either.

  4. For the record i am more then 60 years old. I know of which i speak.I speak from experience and i know that the Bahamas and the white Bahamian have not changed. They have more to lose than most especially when crime threatens their businesses; but, are they policemen, customs or immigration officers? The answer of course is no. Incidentally, their henchmen(politicians) only hire expatriates for government jobs and contracts when there are many Bahamians who would do an excellent job.

    • Well for the record Im a poor white bahamian living in Nassau. I know what I speak of. And um there ARE white police here, but really why would you expect someone to want to take such a low paying dangerous job? A White Bahamian becoming a police around here is like just putting a sign on their back saying shoot me. Its crazy. And its ridiculous to assume that they dont care because they are not one of them.

  5. I suspect maturity is not the correct presumption on which to base the vote for an ethnic minority politician in the context of the Bahamas given that Bahamians, with their dual reality and self perception would- all other factors remaining equal – probably choose a white candidate over a black one 6 out of the 7 days of the week. But perhaps a less parochial and more wide ranging analysis of the factors influencing how and why Bahamians vote would be more useful. For example, do Bahamians vote the community’s self interest or their personal self interest? or for that matter do people vote their personal ambitions with or without consideration of those ambitions alongside their or the community’s best interest – short or long term? Is the decision of whom to support in an election based primarily on factual evidence and objective reasoning or on intangibles? What are the intangibles?

    Yours etc.

  6. Go Ryan Pinder, the next leader of the PLP..Go Ryan oh yeah I saw Ryan Pinder at the Fish Fry (Twin Brothers), then the Cricket Club…Go Ryan Pinder

  7. I’m not sure that the election of a white leader has anything to do with maturity. How can qualify political or social maturity by such a measure? Many countries around the world have not had leaders of colour or other minority ethnic backgrounds. Yet we do not label their democracies as immature. My point is the race of your leader has nothing to do with maturity of a nation. Every nation has issues with race relations we have too many other things to sort in this country to even be having this argument. I’m a white Bahamian and both whites and blacks in this country need to get it together. We are too hung up on silly stuff when we have more important things like economics and crime to deal with.

    • I agree with you John Bull but I would say that I am “certain” that the election of a leader, black or white, has nothing to do with maturity. That this question is being asked speaks more about the ongoing, mindless rhetoric that dominates (and distracts from the conversation that needs to be happening) Bahamian politricks than any constructive assessment of future political leadership.

  8. Well I am a black Bahamian, and I personally do not tarry long in a lot of the black belt communities for the simple reason that law and order is not a major priority there. When you have guys smoking weed, carousing and drunkeness…cursing, just folks carrying on loose it is no wonder why white Bahamians avoid these areas like the plague!

    The guys we see on TV doing the bank lane shuffle for murder, armed robbery, drugs, and gun possession look exactly like them fellas who hang on the blocks in those black belt areas – so let’s get real and speak the truth about this thing.

  9. @ Media.
    Case and point in the above posts, that some Black Bahamians still see the White Bahamian as too different, as the Oppressor (even though most alive these days were never Oppressed). They prejudge all White Bahamians based on a few, mostly based on things that happened along time ago also. I think that is called racism in any other place, or at the least, prejudice. As long as a majority feels that way, then things will never change.

  10. The question: Is the Bahamas mature enough to vote for a white political leader….my question, given how our country is going…are we even mature enough to vote.

  11. I disagree with “newsman” when he/she says that black Bahamians should stop seeing white Bahamians as people from outer space. It is not a problem the way black people see white people nor is it a problem how white people see blacks.
    The single thing that causes black Bahamians to continue to see white Bahamians (generally) as from a different planet; as racists; as not caring; as separatist is the way whites seem to view them generally with their actions for actions speak louder than words. They don’t hang out where blacks hang out; they just simply seem content and indeed make every effort to stay to themselves. Their children go to special schools; they live in generally whites only neighborhoods etc; etc. This attitude lends to the perpurtration that whites think themselves better than blacks and so the dividing line (imaginary, though it might be) continues to be drawn. I believe that the country will one day come to the place where the blending of whites and blacks will become the norm and voting for a party with a white as leader and therefore potential PM, but it is not now and it will not be someone like Brent Symonnette’s kind from his era. Pierre Dupuch came closest to acceptence and that was because his attitude, in my view, has always been in the right direction; he is truely a Bahamian patriot; he is color blind when it comes to right and wrong and he would argue for all things Bahamian.
    Brent don’t stand a chance. Now that Pierre has gone off the active political scene i am convinced that the PLP’S Ryan Pinder is young enough; smart enough and his attitude is in the right place that he just may be the First great white hope for PM.

    • Wow. So Sans Souci is a whites only neighborhood? Winton? There are more black Bahamians living in those areas that Whites. What area do you mean if not those? Even Blair has almost 50-50 now. Not all Whites live in Gated Communities, heck most that do are not Bahamians even. And what do you mean dont hang out where Blacks hang out? We dont all share the same interests, eg. I dont like fish, so you wont find me anywhere near the fish fry. I HATE the smell of black and mild and dont listen to rap and reggae so you wont find me in some bar over the hill, not to mention the DANGER that comes with it, lets be real, nobody in their right mind would hang out somewhere there is so much violence. Otherwise we ALL goto the same food stores, the same banks, the same MALL, the same schools, It seems you are lost, where is it you live again? Do you ever get out? See it is your type that I was talking about, you are the type that looks at Whites and judges all of them, why would be want to be around a racist punk like you?

  12. The fact that someone would even contemplate a white leader in the Bahamas shows how we have failed as a nation. The whole idea of independence was to be free once and for all of white minority domination . Rather than try and translate our political power into economic power, we spent all of the years after independence playing with the whites and savaging our black brothers and sisters. This nonsense about a “Quiet Revolution” is mainly the cause. If Bahamians ever expect to dominate and shape the Bahamian economy so that it benefits the many instead of the few we must wrest economic control from the ungrateful uncaring minority and build on that.In any event, we have a lot of soul searching to do and that starts with our politicians who are still puppets to the white oligarchy and, are forever sucking up to them for campaign funds and handouts.

    • Really? So that is what you think of White Bahamians, that they are the Oppressor, that they wronged Black Bahamians? See this is what I was talking about, it is attitudes such as this from some Black Bahamians which causes White Bahamians to not want to mingle in certain areas. Why would I want to hang out with you or anyone for that matter when they think of me like this?? Thanks I will just stay at home and browse the web and watch movies, thats my life, thanks to people with your mindset. Im not going out walking around the Ghetto just to please the likes of you or anyone else (though in my younger years I did risk my life and do just that like the young fool I was!). And just so you know, I dont hang out with White people either, guess “Hanging out” is something you do when you are young, when you get older, its all about work and paying bills.

  13. The Bahamas doesn’t need “to vote for” any white political leaders. Unelected (mostly), and ever and always grasping for even more of the economic pie,and always directing the course of the economy to their interests. Arrogant and dismissive of the majority’s needs;hiding behind their puppet overseer.
    We already have them in abundance.

  14. Bottom line? No. Im white, and I also dont come from the culture that is African, and neither from anything such close nit as the Greek community. I HAVE celebrated those customs in the past, but who am I kidding? I dont even celebrate my direct European Heritage. When we are younger we have alot of time for things like that, but as we get older, the age of a politician for example, we dont, we have work to do, and that takes up most of a person’s time. Other than the White Bahamians that go boating and partying every other day (not PM material), the only other ones that might be good as a leader are already too busy running businesses. I think people ignored Symonette’s elite family ties due to him being a businessman and not a lawyer and hoping that might rub off on government, it hasnt. Then again I think a business man such as the one that owns kellys would have been a better choice 😀 And I dont think anyone necessarily would need to walk around the ghetto areas to get support, in most cases that would be mad with the crime level as it is. And the problem is not always that the white bahamian feels uncomfortable because the people in an area are of a different race, but that the White bahamian is seen by many as an outsider and in some cases an Oppressor, that alone can make anyone uncomfortable though especially in a crime ridden community where bullets ring off every day. So to end, I dont see it as the White Bahamians having to do anything different, I feel that Black Bahamian voters need to stop seeing White Bahamians as someone from a different planet as we all experience some of the same things every day living here, no not all of us live in the ghetto or in shacks with no running water, but neither do most Black Bahamians. And oh yeah, not all White Bahamians are rich and dont know what it is like to live in Poverty or hard times, that is a big misconception that many Black Bahamians still have to this day. Also although I have Greek family through marriage and I love them all, they are different from the average White Bahamian as they like to stick to their own communities, the average White Bahamian on the other hand, we go EVERYWHERE in Nassau and hang with EVERYONE. Personally I dont think race should have any part in the matter anyway, but moreso who is willing to make the tough decisions that would most likely cause them to be a one time PM, yet possibly save the Bahamas from where it is at now – I dont care if they are white, black, yellow, or even if they are a muslim, long as they do the right thing and make some real changes and dont curtail to such entities as the Christian Council and die hard party supporters. Thats all I have time right now to say on the matter. Peace.

  15. Although the PLP is trying to make a statement on their website, they should really move that gun. It does not impact the message they intended in a positive way.

  16. I think the bahamas is not mature enough to vote for a while political leader… why u may ask because are bahamians are so narrow minded and so use to things the way they are there scared for change…. i personally am an american/bahamian i have been in nassau for 16 years now and things have just became worse as time progressed… maybe we need a white political leader it might be change for the better.

    • So white skin can make the economy better and not better economic strategies? Or how about white skin stopping all the murders instead of an over haul of the law system. Or maybe white skin can make our children perform better in school when we have parents and teachers who don’t care about them…I fail to see how a white political leader would change anything….Fresh ideas and a new approach to leadership is what our country needs!!

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