Race and politics in The Bahamas
The resignation of Brent Symonette from Cabinet presents the opportunity for Bahamians to confront the elephant in our political room – the dearth of white leadership in our government.
Symonette has said: “…I think this country…has to have a discussion about race, about wealth and about politics. Unfortunately for me, if you want to throw in the Bay Street Boys, and whatever else, rolled up in me is the epitome of everything people hate, despise, whatever…”
The race card and the Bay Street Boys card are old news. We should have moved on 50 plus years since the achievement of a majority government in The Bahamas.
Colin Hughes, in his book, “Race and Politics in The Bahamas”, states that Bahamian political leaders in the years leading to a majority government and political independence became skilled in “politics as symbolic action.”
As a result, myths were created and popularized and they came to shape Bahamian political conflict.
Primary among the myths is that “the enemy is the other race”. And, by extension, wealthy members of the “enemy other race” are responsible perpetually for the economic condition of others. A second myth is that the savior is the “black hero-leader”.
The primary creator of the myths and of the first Bahamian “black hero-leader”, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), understands this well.
The electoral victory of the Free National Movement (FNM) in 1992 under the leadership of a black man was not enough to alter the Bahamian-ingrained beliefs in its political myths.
While the FNM election victory, under the leadership of a black Hubert Ingraham, made the party acceptable to more grass root elements, traditionally steadfast supporters of the PLP, many more maintained that the FNM, regardless of its leadership, continued to represent the interests of the “enemy other race” as represented by the defunct United Bahamian Party (UBP) which merged with the FNM in 1971. And this remains the mantra of some in the PLP today as suggested in various declarations by the party’s present leader and chairman.
FNM electoral victories in Ann’s Town, Ft. Fincastle, Pinedale, Bain Town, Ft. Charlotte and St. Agnes and in other traditionally PLP strongholds in New Providence and in the Family Islands, in 1992 and again in 1997, 2007 and 2017, show that the FNM became acceptable and trustworthy in the eyes of many traditional supporters of the PLP.
Indeed, since 1992, ordinary Bahamians have, by their action in election poll booths, demonstrated that they find it inconceivable that Perry Christie or Lynden Pindling, products of middle-class Nassau families, could have been more connected to poor Bahamians than was Hubert Ingraham who came from the humblest of families in Abaco.
Similarly today, Bahamian voters in their majority, find it inconceivable to believe that Philip Davis, a very wealthy attorney, is more connected to the poor than is Hubert Minnis, a very wealthy medical doctor.
Both Davis and Minnis came from poverty and enjoyed great success before entering frontline politics.
Unfortunately, many Bahamians drank the mythical political kool-aid. They believe that while whites may offer for election to Parliament and even serve in Cabinet, they should never become leaders.
While Symonette maintains that neither race nor wealth played a part in his resignation, many continue to believe his aspiration toward political leadership was partially thwarted by exactly those issues.
The optics of no white Bahamian in the Cabinet is bad; as bad as the paucity of representation of women in that body. It is especially disappointing that under an FNM government, the party which bridged the racial divide merging with the United Bahamian Party (UBP) under the theme “All Together” and the party responsible for so many important firsts for Bahamian women, has a Cabinet with only a single female and with no white person.
This cannot be right. It is truly time, indeed overdue, for real leadership on the issue to be practiced by the leaders of our political parties.