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 Bahamas Commentary

2005-05-12 15:34:27

Racism in The Bahamas?

Nassau Guardian columnist E.W.I. Watkins says there is no longer, in this country, space for racial, religious or political discrimination.

Because of two incidents in this country over the past two months involving Ministers of the Government of the Bahamas, the issue of racial prejudice has once again raised its ugly head in this country, where, like South Africa, a mere fifty years ago, the minority segment of the population controlled the masses of the population, economically, educationally, politically and otherwise.

If a black man or poor Conchy Joe did not own a house, piece of land or paid ten shillings or more per week for rent he could not VOTE. If a man was paying ten shillings or more for rent and his landlord's choice of a candidate in an election was not that of his (the tenant) then the landlord would drop his rent to nine shillings and six pence (9/-6d) per week thus successfully disiranchising his tenant. All males below that bracket had no voting rights; women were out of the question. A popular saying in those days was, "If you are white you are all right," "If you are black stay back," and "If you are brown, you can stick around."

Segregation and discrimination, both racial and class, were rampant throughout this archipelago.

It is indeed sad to see how quickly the Tribune jumps to the defence of foreigners in this country, when they, like the Cat Cay and Exuma incidents, allegedly insult, disrespect and verbally abuse two constitutionally-elected members of our Parliament and try to make them (MPs) out to be at fault.

The late Sir Etienne Dupuch, owner and publisher of The Tribune of old - it now appears to be a part of the Miami Herald - who fought and risked public arrest for and on behalf of the masses of this country to rid it of any and all forrns of racial, cultural, ethnic, class, religious and political discrimination, would not only turn over, but walk upside down in his grave, to see the seemingly disloyal and unpatriotic stance of today's Tribune with regard to the insulting and disrespectful behaviour by foreigners to Bahamian citizens.

In those by-gone days of discrimination, only the white folks and a few chosen men of colour could use the services of the one bank (RBC) in the country. The Post Office Savings Bank was for the rest of the citizenry. When one went to J. P. Sands food store on Bay Street, where now stands the Bank of Nova Scotia, White folks were served on the east side and Blacks on the west. Many taxi drivers (Blacks) would not accommodate Black passengers. Butlers and cooks were a class above maids and gardeners. One's only qualification to work in a store on Bay Street was the

colour of one's skin (White). The only Black persons employed by RBC) in those days were messenger - one of whom is today still kicking. Mulattos were in a class above the chocolate brown; mixed marriages were rare and when they did occur the White partner was an outcast to both races. Children born to unmarried mixed race couples were treated like lepers from both sides of the fence. Restaurants on Bay

Street operated by Greeks and Chinese owners were off limits to Black folks - rich and poor alike. A certain restaurant in the City district operated by a Mulatto, served Blacks downstairs and White folks upstairs. If a Black man or boy was wearing a hat when speaking to a White person, he had to take it off and put it back on when out of the presence of that person. In certain Family Islands one would see in a community

predominantly Black, a family of Mulattos whose mother is black and father White, of the same surname of an all White family in another Family Island. That man with his Black wife and Mulatto children was the victim (an outcast) of an entrenched system of racial discrimination practised in this country up until 1956 when the Black

majority of this country led by men like the late Sir Milo Butler, Clarence Bain,

Freddie Munnings, H. M. Taylor, Charles Rodriquez, A Leon McKinney, L.O. Pindling, Cyril St. John Stevenson, Samuel White and others too numerous to mention, staged sit-ins in places like the Grand Central Restaurant and the City Restaurant on Bay Street, culminating with Sir Etienne Dupuch moving the historic Resolution against discrimination being practised in any form in this nation.

It is a fact of life that this archipelago being of a tourist-oriented economy, foreign investors and investments will always be a part of the Bahamian landscape, and human nature being what it is, we are bound to come across odd cases of persons being endowed with a racist mentality, who at times - like the afore-mentioned incidents - tend to forget where they are and who they are when dealing with Bahamians in general and Government officials in particular.

Full credit must be given to the General Manager of Four Seasons on Exuma for his sensible and well-reasoned action in tendering an apology to Minister Wisdom and clarifying certain misconceptions as to what really happened; although I thought that his open invitation for the Minister to visit the Four Seasons at some later date was an insult and in very poor taste as it can be taken as a form of BRIBE in order to assuage the Minister's feelings over such humiliating and embarrassing circumstances, not only in the presence of Bahamian voters but in the presence of his wife. I am sure that Minister Wisdom has accepted the apology, but should most definitely decline the invite.

This country has come a long way from that fateful and historic night in 1956 when Sir Etienne's Resolution broke not only the back, but arms and legs of racial prejudices in this nation. It is incumbent upon every Bahamian citizen to zealously and jealously do all in our power to preserve that which was so bitterly fought for and won without bloodshed by men, many of whom have since crossed the Great Divide, in the hope that their offspring would be able to enjoy to the fullest, the benefits, privileges and rights of freedom, which had been denied them for the better part of their lives, and that they (the offspring) would not only cherish, but guard with tenacity of spirit a heritage so graciously bequeathed to them.

We are grateful to the investors for their investments; but we are not prepared to have our birthright and dignity as Bahamians trampled upon by our guests.

Every citizen owes allegiance and loyalty to the Flag, the Country and the Government of the Day. When we as Bahamians continue to disrespect our own, then we can expect nothing less from our guests. In any case there is no longer, in this country, SPACE for racial, religious or political discrimination.

By: E. W. I. WATKINS, The Nassau Guardian

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