Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019
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Race in the public sector of The Bahamas

The participation of Bahamian whites in positions of leadership in the public sector has not maintained pace with their representation in the Bahamian population.

Today, there are just two white members in the House of Assembly. There is no white member of Cabinet.

Brent Symonette, a son of the last white premier of The Bahamas, has said that he does not think that The Bahamas is ready for a white prime minister. Certainly a contributing factor must be that too few white Bahamians participate in public life in The Bahamas today.

In 1967, there were 18 white Bahamian members of the House of Assembly. That number dropped to four in 1968; was increased by one to five in 1992 and today stands at two.

We note also that the Supreme Court has one white justice; the Court of Appeal none.

In the public service, one of the last two white permanent secretaries has recently retired. The career diplomatic service may have as few as two white officers. Bahamian whites are similarly scarce in the top management of public corporations.

It is not acceptable that the majority black population of The Bahamas is not accurately informed of the history of the white minority other than as leaders of the minority government prior to 1967. All Bahamians must know the legacy of the Bay Street Boys but they should also know that not all white Bahamians were a part of or beneficiaries from that minority government.

Even more importantly they must know that the ugly history of minority government ended more than 50 years ago and formal and informal racial segregation and discrimination and privilege for a select racial group are all things of the past.

Quite rightly, following the achievement of majority government in 1967 there was a concerted effort to open opportunities for black Bahamians in areas of the public sector that had been effectively closed to them before that time.

And, Bahamianization, introduced by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government, was responsible for numerous black Bahamians moving into positions of responsibility in the public sector of The Bahamas and indeed, in the private sector. Many replaced white foreign nationals.

Bahamianization in the education sector transformed economic prospects for countless Bahamians, especially black Bahamians. Many Bahamian students attended private high schools on government scholarships and hundreds more received university education and teacher and nursing certification abroad on government-funded scholarships after 1967. To the credit of successive administrations, these programs have always been racially blind.

With the attainment of majority government, the Bay Street Boys came to accept that the majority race in The Bahamas would dominate leadership positions in the country even while some of them considered themselves the most nationalistic of Bahamians. It bears mentioning that laws reserving certain sectors of the economy for Bahamians did not originate with the PLP.

It is time for dispassionate education and discussion on the development of our democracy and the role that both black and white Bahamians must play.

We think there ought to be a concerted effort to attract white Bahamians to public life in all branches of government service: parliamentary and the public service including in public administration, the judicial and legal service, education and the uniformed branches. To mature our democracy requires the active participation of both black and white Bahamians.

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