There are few words used in today's Bahamas that causes more angst than racism. This was demonstrated recently when the Institute circulated some 70 people with an e-mail that went something like this:
We are "considering a piece on racism and wondered if you would share your thoughts on how you might have been affected by it over the past ten years. You might wish to comment on how racism has improved or worsened in this period, or if it seems to be used for political purposes in the main etc."
The responses were as varied as the people sending them in. Some shrugged it off, while others were obviously pained by how they had been impacted but more on those later.
Perspectives from outside The Bahamas
The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as: discrimination against or antagonism towards other races.
Historian Alan J. Levine in his essay titled, Redefining Racism – The term racism has evolved over time, for political reasons, tells us that, "Those interested in undertaking serious discussions of the problems for which the term racism was originally coined would be well-advised to use terms such as racial prejudice, hatred, bigotry, and discrimination. They may be a bit longer, but they are still clear and specific. And they have not yet suffered the perversion that has befallen racism."
In his essay Keeping Racism Alive, David Bernstein, professor of law stated that, …"racism has declined to such a degree that those who are intent on routing out modern instances of the scourge have to resort to some fairly extensive searching and some awfully creative reasoning to find their culprits."
When the United Nations was attempting to censure free speech in Canada in 2002, Fred McMahon of the Fraser Institute opined…"Racist views are best fought in public, where they can be shown to be hateful fantasy. Governments fertilize racism when they impose censorship. That suggests racist views are so appealing they must be suppressed, and that gives people reason to believe there must be some truth in racist talk."
In closing Mr. McMahon suggested that "Racism is an ugly thing, but it is best solved by free speech and understanding, not repression and distrust."
Perspectives from inside The Bahamas
Several people responding felt that racism is a very controversial subject that is usually swept under the rug and the Institute was "brave" to even consider an article on an "untouchable" subject.
A few excerpts:
"I have come to the conclusion that, in this twenty-first century, were it not for a few politicians who use race for political advantage, there would be racial harmony in the Bahamas such that we could stand proud as an example to the rest of the world." – A Bahamian professional.
"Lets all just accept our differences – talk and learn about them, leave the things we individually do not like, accept the things we think are good ideas – and then celebrate what we all have in common – each other – as a group of custodians of all life and this planet." – A Bahamian businessman.
"My sense is that while there are still some pockets of Racism (a few old diehards), overall there has been improvement over the past 10 years. My grown children do not see it as an issue at all. Even the politicians (at least publicly) do not use the race card like in years gone by." – A Permanent Resident.
"I must say, and perhaps this is a generation issue, racism is not something I can say I have experienced as regards my encounters with white Bahamians. The reality is our circles tend not to intersect. Could this be there is some "voluntary segregation" or just a way of life? – An Opposition Senator.
"…I believe that my experiences with prejudice in The Bahamas had more to do with my being a foreigner than a white man…Nonetheless, my experience of racism has been more in the realm of the public sector, i.e. government, politicians and civil servants than in any other area of Bahamian society…I could recount many more instances of racism in The Bahamas that I have encountered, notwithstanding countless racial slurs directed at me from time to time by various individuals. These are insignificant to me except for those implied or accompanied by some threat of violence, and there have been a number of them…I am one who truly believes in widespread integration. With sobering na?vet?, eventually racism will one day in the not-too-distant future be conquered here and perhaps even throughout the world as human beings begin to accept the true and growing value of relating to each other in the spirit of liberty and freedom of choice, regardless of skin colour or other differences." – A Permanent Resident.
"I compare racism here to a terminal disease that is in permanent remission. As with all races and countries, there is racism on the fringes, but it is definitely dying a just death here. There is no better place in the world to live than The Bahamas." – A Bahamian professional.
"I would otherwise say in my experience that racism in The Bahamas today is virtually non-existent, or at least confined to the bigoted fringes of white and black society – these people are so small in number (and dying out) as to be virtually irrelevant. Certainly … our day to day business is essentially colour blind." A Bahamian businessman.
"…there is an undercurrent of mistrust and pre-judgement prevalent in many circles – both black and white. When it co-mingles with economics, class, religion – it tends to exacerbate and exaggerate matters, putting the issue of racial prejudice into a more prominent position than it probably is. (I believe we all have some level of prejudice. It's a human frailty)." A resident.
"We are reminded that all groups and cultures – white, black, yellow and red skin colours have a history of racism." Some people are condemned to living in the past. This is unfortunate, but is probably just a reflection of resentment against achievement of blacks and whites alike." A Bahamian businesswoman.
Space does not permit a reprint of some of the very emotional stories of the pain caused by racism, but it can safely be extrapolated from the reasoned responses that racism is confined to the fringes of both white and black communities, but the civil service and politicians have some work to do to catch up with mainstream society.
One positive sign is the hopefulness in all of the responses received. Even if they have experienced the wickedness of racism, there is the belief that it will one day be vanquished and experienced only through the pages of history books.
As access to a proper education and the use of the Internet become more widely available, young Bahamians will not be as easily duped by racist rhetoric. Not only that, people will be judged on their individual character and less as a member of a racial group and Martin Luther King Jr's dream will finally be realised.
To paraphrase Bob Marley, those bigoted segments of society will some day be freed from mental slavery.