Bahamians First… No matter what

First Published: 1999-03-16

by Rick Lowe

As the drum beat of the global economy gets louder and closer to home, we appear to want to close up shop. Yesterday the clarion call from certain quarters was that we are being taken advantage of by these foreign conglomerates. Today the foreign teacher is the object of our scorn. What will it be tomorrow? People with straight hair, people with brown eyes, people with fair complexion or people of dark complexion?

Thinking that the expatriate in our midst must be feeling most uncomfortable with all the “Bahamians First” rhetoric, it caused me to reflect on my experience as a “foreigner” in Toronto, Canada. In the entire five years my family and I where there, we were never once confronted with the attitude that we did not belong. Nor were we ever made to feel that we were holding jobs that Canadians were “entitled” to.

What motivates us to resent foreigners?

The Worlds Dominant Culture.

Our economic growth has brought with it increasing numbers of expatriates, but instead of this being perceived as a good thing, we seem to focus on the fact that we have another “foreigner” among us. We lose sight of the fact that they bring opportunity for other citizens of our country.

We have to decide whether we want to fit into the worldly scheme of things. Prosperity, growth and attendant luxuries depend on fitting ourselves into the global economy. We have the option of choosing to remain in the backwater as we were in years past, but we can-t have it both ways.

Admittedly change is difficult to deal with, and I suspect that some of us might not like to see our “culture” being eroded by the dominant culture of the business world. If this is in fact the case, the only struggle really is with ourselves.

Milton and Rose Friedman compared the success of Japan to the slothfulness of India and discussed how Japan consciously imitated certain western values in the late 19th and early 20th century. The result did not turn Japan into Western Europe…it was still Japan with a new look and style of life etc. In a hundred years, medieval Japan became the world-s second most important economic powerhouse. Look where India ended up by choosing the opposite route.

Is it Racism or Class?

I would not like to think that we take these positions from a racist perspective. Through intermarriage and associations of genuine friendship these differences are less important.

Perhaps resentment is based on differences of social and economic status. But this is the case among ourselves. Just as I don-t expect to be invited to the Prime Minister’s home for dinner, he wouldn’t expect to be invited to mine. Now if I work hard enough and become wealthy or influential enough, then I might expect that invitation.

It’s our Right! But with rights, come responsibilities.

Forgotten along the way is that with every right, there is a corresponding responsibility. The one analogy I can draw here is the behaviour of certain local radio talk show hosts. The long awaited “right” to private radio stations has been a reality for some time now, and we use every opportunity to call in to berate one person or the other. While this is perfectly acceptable, it is the responsibility of the host, to present both sides of the debate. What we tend to get is one emotional roller coaster after another, inflaming issues with accusations that “we are being taken advantage of,” meanwhile the analysis of benefits is seldom presented.

Adapt we must.

Survival of all cultures requires adaptation to the differences of the more dominant cultures. Some people might have the benefit of a family fortune, some of us come from families of meagre background, but the requirement to work hard and continue to find ways to adapt to the ever changing rules of the game is the one absolute in this process. If we want to rest on our laurels, the world will pass us by.

The Friedmans also wrote that: “economic and social progress do not depend on the attributes or behaviour of the masses. In every country a tiny minority sets the pace, determines the course of events. In the countries that have developed most rapidly and successfully, a minority of enterprising and risk-taking individuals have forged ahead, created opportunities for imitators to follow, have enabled the majority to increase their productivity” and by extension their wealth.

The Global Community, the Bahamian and the Foreigner.

Like many other Bahamians, I genuinely fear for our future in the global economy. Not because of the effect it might have on me personally, but because we are unprepared for the changes that will be required of us. Screaming against the foreigner will not help us. Taking stock of our own abilities and willingness to meet challenges and be innovative will be the only things we can count on.

In other words, the enemy we face now is ourselves, and if we adapt we will automatically assume the number one position because we earned it, not because we believe we deserve it.

March 1999

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