It’s hard to get over the past. So when a white man who happens to be wealthy decides to offer himself for public service in a country where white people, possibly his own ancestors, once had slaves and colonial rule led to what some call the plantation economy, the past stomps on the present. In your face, present. It brazenly paints current perception with a patina of ugly reflection.
I understand the past and the fear, the hatred and resentment. I, too, was a victim, the first Jewish girl in an anti-Semitic small town in South Florida a long time ago. I was 13 when we moved there in March of a school year and no one spoke to me for three months. They moved to the other side of the hall when I passed between classes. They pointed fingers and whispered ugly names just loud enough for me to hear. My cousin, who was male, was attacked or threatened almost daily.
Even now, my husband and I, both of us white, face discrimination. When we went to Inland Revenue to present ourselves, pay real property tax and claim our senior discount, the woman official looked at us and said: “This reserved for Bahamians, you know.”
We handed her our passports and stifled information about my husband’s late grandfather being the first Bahamian commissioner of police.
No one is suggesting burying the past, nor pretending that it didn’t hurt. Some effects linger. PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization, attributes the high rate of mental illness throughout the Caribbean to vulnerability to both human and natural disasters, some of it dating back to slavery. But remembering the past and living in it are different forks on a road of our choosing. Those who choose to live with hatred and anger based on the past deprive themselves of the energy to succeed in the future.
It is that ongoing internalised rage which has produced a bizarre Bahamian phenomenon – a resentment toward success. On the one hand, we applaud it when someone, especially from humble beginnings, makes it big. On the other hand, we look at every successful entrepreneur with suspicion.
The distrust of people with money is at the heart of any discussion about former Cabinet minister Brent Symonette, who remains Member of Parliament for St. Anne’s. In three governments since 1992, Mr Symonette served in nearly every capacity that a Cabinet minister could.
He gave years and years of his life to public service when he could have been out boating, golfing, fishing. No one even knows if he had time to develop those hobbies like others of his wealth did. Most recently, he spent Saturdays pouring over Immigration files, trying to bring order and digitalisation to a department riddled with corruption.
Yet the conversation landed not on all he has done, but on contracts, most, if not all, of which he had no control over and which made good business sense for the Bahamian public. The two most frequently mentioned, a contract to repave the runway at LPIA and the relocation of the Post Office to space in the Town Centre Mall, both businesses in which he or his family had shares.
Decisions about who paves the airport runway are made at the airport authority and management level. Would the Bahamian people have been better served if a more expensive contract was awarded to a company with a less attractive record of performance? Are we supposed to be deprived of the actual winner of a bid and settle for second best because someone in Cabinet or a public office has shares in a company? How many Cabinet ministers or MPs have shares in Commonwealth Bank, or CFAL or Fidelity?
As for the post office at Town Centre Mall, which has been plagued by too much available space for years, only a fear of political fallout kept the sorely tempted PLP from taking the same action, a fact many of us were aware of and now is in the public domain. If I’m not mistaken, the FNM got a better per square foot rate.
The underlying problem is not with the individual, in this case Brent Symonette. It is Bahamians’ resentment of success, particularly if that success had a head start. If we continue to hold success against people, our hypocrisy will be to our detriment for we will be asking only those who can’t make it in a competitive economy to have the courage to step into politics. And then we wind up with professional politicians who can do little else but hang on to the seat they hold.
Mr Symonette was the brave one. He walked into the fray and brought his business acumen with him. Most of his peers chose not to. And because he did, he suffered the consequences, the endless unspoken questions, What’s in it for him? Does he want more money than he already has?
The Bahamian people must ask themselves, “Which road do we take, clinging with resentment to a past created by our ancestors or reaching out to a future we can mold with talent available in our present?” On a personal level, I thank Brent Symonette for his service and wish him years of relaxation and enjoyment in the Bahamas he loves. In time, he will make the perfect Governor General.
There’s a phobia for that
The world is filled with phobias and, in fact, you can find a phobia for just about anything except fear of success which only goes by the name Jonah’s complex after the biblical connotation. Among the strangest of all phobias are automatonophobia, fear of ventriloquist dummies or wax statues, and spectrophobia, fear of looking at one’s reflection in the mirror. And I thought that was just called avoiding reality.
A towering disgrace
Improvements to the port and to downtown Nassau can’t come soon enough. Here is the view cruise passengers get on arrival, the port control tower with all its bright yellow paint, sharp green trim and a roof that has obviously seen better days. Surely, we can do better than this. Shame, shame on us.