FRONT PORCH: How privilege blinds us from seeking justice and equality

“The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won’t let us.”

  • Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night

In the spring of 1992 the late President George W Bush toured a burned-out neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles following protests and riots in the predominantly African American area.

The unrest was ignited after a jury acquitted three white and one Hispanic Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer accused in the vicious beating of Rodney King following a high-speed chase. The beating was videotaped, sparking national outrage.

Following the acquittal of the officers, from a police department notorious for racial abuse of black civilians, thousands of people erupted in anger in LA for six days after the verdict.

After his tour of the neighbourhood Bush acknowledged: “I can hardly imagine – I try, but I can hardly imagine the fear and the anger that people must feel to terrorise one another and to burn each other’s property.” Given his extraordinarily privileged background and the worlds he inhabited, it was no surprise that Bush could barely understand the seething outrage.

Bush desperately tried to show some level of understanding but betrayed his limited mindset of the response to the verdict by using the word “terrorise”. He failed to fully appreciate that many of those who rioted, who did not have his level of access to wealth and privilege and opportunity, might view property and ownership quite differently than the 68-year-old scion of a wealthy family.

Bush was speaking from the confines and limited worldview of a Connecticut-born WASP and son of a US Senator. He spoke as a former congressman, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and head of the Republican National Committee. He spoke as a graduate of the prestigious schools Andover and Yale.

An Op-ed piece in the New York Times by Jason C. Deuchler, a black writer, the day before Bush visited the black neighbourhood, observed: “White people sometimes think that if blacks could act more like whites, everything would be all right.”


When he witnessed or saw the results of protests and rioting in American cities, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr counselled against violence while acknowledging “a riot is the language of the unheard”.

Empathy and understanding are like muscles. They grow stronger through exercise, usage and practice, no matter how difficult and sometimes halting. As in physical exercise, the benefits accrue the more one exercises certain habits of the heart or consciousness.

The late Sir Durward Knowles, known for his outstanding community service and philanthropy, was also a man of wealth and privilege. He went well beyond the confines of his privilege of class and race to understand the racial history of The Bahamas.

Sir Durward was a founder of the One Bahamas Foundation which was committed to the oneness and unity of the country across the Family Islands, race, class and other areas of national life. He celebrated the diversity of the country and the various threads of the Bahamian tapestry.

In Grand Bahama some years ago Sir Durward apologised for the discrimination and treatment of black Bahamians over many centuries, including the pre-majority rule period of the white oligarchy which used its privilege to secure wealth and deny opportunity and political power to black Bahamians.

Sir Durward said at the time: “Boys and girls, you are living in a great country. I was brought up when white people were in charge of these lands and they treated the black people very badly. I’m here to apologise on our behalf. Today, we’re living in a great society. We’ve [beaten] all the trials and temptations and now we’re here as one Bahamas.”

Sadly, quite a number of white Bahamians of his generation and younger still fail to acknowledge or appreciate the legacy of racial oppression and discrimination at home and abroad. Privilege often blinds one to the realities beyond one’s gated communities and gated mindsets and gated hearts.

In a 2006 commentary Bahamian poet and author Helen Klonaris, who celebrates her Greek-Bahamian identity, described the penchant of a number of white Bahamians to eschew the broader history of The Bahamas.

Klonaris wrote: “As a Greek Bahamian who grew up in Nassau, my life has been deeply and profoundly influenced by African Bahamian culture.

“For me, I have come to understand, this has been a privilege which afforded me lessons, insights and ways of seeing and being I could not have learned anywhere else; certainly not in America, where the majority Anglo populations again and again turn away from the possibility of creating something new out of real engagement with communities of colour; the possibilities for transformation that the perspectives of non-white cultures might offer.”


She referenced a 2005 interview between Bahamian Rhodes Scholar Christian Campbell and businessman and former cabinet minister Brent Symonette, which appeared in The Weekender publication.

Klonaris wrote: “What I read in that interview was shocking at first, but, I had to admit, disturbingly representative of a vast number of white Bahamians, especially of middle and upper classes. …

“It concerns me that a leader who is white and Bahamian could express wonder at why race is still an issue in today’s Bahamas. That somehow to come to grips with our history means to accept it and move on.”

She continued: “I think what white Bahamians really mean when we say this is black people should accept what happened and move on. What we are really saying is ‘I don’t want to have to think about how I, as a white person, have developed an identity in an age of racism; I don’t want to have to think about how 400 years of European enslavement of Africans affected who I am today.’

“We don’t want to have to think about white privilege and how it most certainly does affect how we live in the world, perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, our presumed power…”

In Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently had to apologise for denying the history of slavery in his country. In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing and the ensuing global protests, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson downplayed the level of racism in Britain.


He now says he will establish a commission on racial equality. We will see if this is yet another talking shop leading to little concrete action in terms of greater equality for people of colour in the U.K. and a greater acknowledgement of the systemic racism from the country at the heart of the black slave trade.

Many in Britain have not forgotten the horrid comments of Johnson in a Daily Telegraph column he wrote in 2002 when then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Johnson wrote: “They say he is shortly off to the Congo. No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.

“What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies; and one can imagine that Blair, twice victor abroad but enmired at home, is similarly seduced by foreign politeness.”

The George Floyd killing has sparked significant change and awareness about white privilege and systemic discrimination. But why did it take so long?

Why do so many white people including leaders still refuse to acknowledge the festering depth of racial inequality and injustice? Why do so many refuse to acknowledge so much of the history of racism and slavery?

The road to justice is still arduous and dangerous because the systems and mindsets of white privilege and supremacy remain entrenched in certain generations and mindsets that still ultimately believe that whites are inherently superior and blacks inherently inferior.

It is a conceit and bastion of white privilege that remain as resident abroad as it is at home, no matter the platitudes from some quarters about equality. The evil of racism will have to be dismantled and destroyed root and branch for generations to come!

As O’Neill reminds us in Long Day’s Journey into Night: “The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won’t let us.”

We saw this in brutal relief in the eight minutes and forty-six seconds and the sixteen times George Floyd gasped that he couldn’t breathe.


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