Are class and inequality really invisible?

Dear Editor,

Of late, many Bahamians have tried to avoid (as we always do) talking about class and inequality.

Many ignore the glaring classism that exists in the way politicians address themselves to the people they claim to represent.

As Hurricane Dorian and the coronavirus pandemic have come together to test the government’s metal, the “quiet” weaknesses have appeared.

As have the gaping wounds that many avoid discussing, like crossing bridges that collapse over shallow waters through time-worn disregard for maintenance and good governance.

As Dorian passed over Abaco and Grand Bahama, the gateways were thrown open for the national airline, among others, to exploit those who needed to flee the devastated islands.

There was no consistency and certainly no national scheme, message, plan or policy. Silence around this occurrence today has been deep and wide.

Ministers have remained silent on the subject. Yet people were charged to flee, even if they had to secure sponsors on the other side who either came to the airport to hand over cash or paid in advance of them leaving the islands. The free escape, taxpayers paid for, came late in the nightmare. Somehow government remains unaware these transactions occurred; and no one has been refunded a dime. Pirates’ republic or rich man’s paradise?

If one has a plane or a private charter, one can come and go as one pleases. Though, if one does not, one is bound by some rules called Emergency Orders written in some unequal book. The more one can read, the more equal one becomes — to a certain extent.

The minister of health has tendered his resignation, according to the normal “rules” of the Westminster system.

Rich people are afforded the opportunity to speak, fax (what does this even mean today?), email or satellite phone the man in charge.

Of course, this is because they have substantial bank accounts, (and as a former minister claimed of one permanent resident, he is a better Bahamian than many).

Many working-class Bahamians have no bank account. Economic citizens’ wish is our national command.

Economic residents/citizens have more and different rights than do most regular, working-class folk. And this is all but enshrined in many heads of agreement. So, when airports are closed and borders blocked, one can always phone in and access shall be granted.

This is not an indictment on economic residency/citizenship, but rather an exploration of how it looks in the nation that “accesses” power through it: inequalities widen.

If those permanent residents who landed last week had been Haitian, they would not have been let in; they would have been ignored and/or made a mockery of.

Do you think they would have been escorted through immigration without clear record of their arrival? Their sloop or airline has a different trajectory. Would the director, permanent secretary, DPS, minister, secretary or whomever else have allowed them through?

If they would have been Joe Rolle from Wulff Road, Englerston, Mount Moriah, MICAL or Salt Pond, would they have been ushered through?

This is intentionally bringing together seats, neighborhoods and roads to show the “hidden” inequality.

I see the people on Facebook talking about it, but how will that change the brassy, crass class-based reality of this postcolony?

Postcolonies thrive on inequality and always have. Can that change?

Economic citizenship and colonial laws were made to enrich and empower particular people, not everyone. In early colonial days, they would not have been black.

A few might have been light brown after a certain date; some, even later, could have been black.

In many parts of the postcolonial world, recognizing the steadfast color/class lines, even when political leaders were meeting with white visitors, they would not be allowed into “closed spaces” — think Barbados.

After independence, those very same people who set the rules earlier continued to be catered to.

After the post-independence groundswell, the people who were always disenfranchised by English law in the colonies continued to be disfavored.

How is this discussion of class entitlement, and who is free to fly and land as they wish different today?

Many seem to think that the 80/20 law is wonderful, as long as they are within the 20 and the 80 pay for their empowerment and entitlement.

If one is Haitian, Bahaitian, working class, middle class or poor, one is lumped into the 80 that empower the 20.

The top brass defends the 20 percent’s right to reap benefits class privilege affords them.

The inequalities between Bahamians seeking escape from harm and economic citizens seeking to return to paradise seem loud, but this is what paradise is built on.

Can this change?


Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett 

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