THE shocking events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend stunned a modern world that wanted to believe racism was a thing of the past or reserved for over zealous police in troubled cities. Suddenly, racism was alive, re-asserting its demonic vehemence when white supremacists led by the KKK staged the Unite the Right rally protesting the removal of a statue of confederate Gen Robert E Lee and were met by counter protestors.
Scenes of violence and hatred exploded like the lava of an erupting volcano.
Millions watched online and on TV as hatred spewed forth its effluent. Brawls broke out. Cops met angry protestors with shields, tear gas and pepper spray. Two policemen monitoring the violence from overhead were killed instantly when their helicopter crashed. A car driven by a 20-year-old man described as “disillusioned”, “misguided” and a supporter of the neo-Nazi white supremacist movement plowed into a crowd of counter protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a paralegal who devoted her life to the fight for human rights and justice. In all, 34 people were wounded, 19 suffering serious injuries.
It took the state of Virginia years to reach the decision to remove the statue at the heart of the anger and conflict, a statue that symbolised the South’s defiant defense of a slave economy. The debate over its presence or removal raged in full view of the public.
In the end, right won out. History’s evil must be remembered lest it be repeated, but it need not assume a place of honour in a state capital that is home to its flagship university, one designed by the framer of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson.
What happened in Charlottesville and American President Donald Trump’s refusal to lambast the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists shook a sleeping public accustomed to so much protection for equal rights that the underlying need for that protection had slipped out of mind and sight. If it re-awakened the reality of racism in its most heinous form in the United States, it also sent a message to The Bahamas.
In The Bahamas, the evil of racism is much more insidious. Rarely openly displayed, its existence is caught in the glare of an eye when a black Bahamian does not realise a white Bahamian sees. It shows up in unpredictable places where instead of a wave or greeting there is an unexpected icy stare. Some vow it is alive in pricing, the same goods or services sold at different prices depending on the consumer or the community.
In The Bahamas, where whites make up less than 15% of the population, was it anti-white racism when the Bahamian flag was designed with the aquamarine, black and gold? Here, in the government’s own words, is the description of the symbolism: “Black, a strong colour, represents the vigour and force of a united people…” The omission of white as a colour on the flag has long sparked controversy and the late Norman Solomon excused it by saying that the white welting holding it together represented the minority segment of the population. Mr Solomon, a former UBP politician and progressive leader recognising the need for majority rule, refused to be insulted by the flag’s design but for others it has remained a sore spot for more than 40 years.
If the hate and bitterness that spilled over in Charlottesville by people who felt displaced was misplaced, it touched a sensitive nerve that triggered 24-hour coverage of an issue so painful and raw it refuses to hide its ugly head.
In The Bahamas, while this weekend’s events were a reminder, there have been improvements but we still have a short way to go. Most Bahamians work, live and play together without issue. They show the respect they should to people with whom they interact. Many would not even remember if the last person they spoke to or did business with was black, brown or white.
Fortunately, we are far ahead of our neighbour to the north. Bahamians are largely colour blind in the best sense.
But we must not ignore the undercurrent that influences decisions, makes immigration issues tougher and builds resentment. In addition to time mending and blending all, there is only one strategy to make certain that someday there will truly be One Bahamas. That solution is to treat each person as if you could not see colour. If the young man accused of stealing a pack of cigarettes has to be shackled going to court, so should the former Cabinet minister accused of extorting thousands of dollars.
If a developer snubs his nose at the government and tells it to leave the project alone, that developer should be apprised of the rules and should he not wish to abide by those rules that everyone else has to abide, he should be invited to do business elsewhere. The clerk who steals must be prosecuted in the same way his boss must be if there is a Customs violation.
Racism will never vanish until we vanquish the differences with which we treat people. Eradicate the difference in treatment and the resentment that breeds racism will, finally, be a lesson for history classes. This is one evil that we can put to rest and say “Sleep well and for a very long time.”