CULTURE CLASH: Let's admit it - Jean-Charles' problem is we see him as just another Haitian

Attorney Fred Smith with Clotilde Jean-Charles, sister of Jeanrony Jean-Charles, who is said to be missing from the Detention Centre. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

Attorney Fred Smith with Clotilde Jean-Charles, sister of Jeanrony Jean-Charles, who is said to be missing from the Detention Centre. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

By Alicia Wallace

The story of Jean Rony Jean-Charles has been flooding social media, raising questions, highlighting glaring issues and exposing the flawed value systems of many among us over the past week.

Trying to get accurate information on what transpired with Jean-Charles is like trying to catch a chickcharnee. Who should we expect to have information on his whereabouts when the Detention Centre and Department of Immigration are both incapable of providing proof of their actions and the Haitian Embassy has no record of his supposed deportation? Further, how do we justify repatriation when a person is not sent to the country of their birth?

Jean-Charles was born in The Bahamas to Haitian parents and is said to have never travelled outside of the country. He was detained for three months and is now effectively missing. We do not know where he is and his family is concerned. Really, we should all be concerned. When people are taken into custody and disappear without a trace, there is a serious problem. This should be obvious. It isn’t. Why not? Because, to far too many Bahamians, Jean-Charles is not a human being. He is not deserving of dignity and respect and full access to human rights. He is not a person with a family. He is a Haitian.

We, Bahamians, think we are special. We see Bahamian citizenship as an exclusive good. We are happy to access and give our children access to other nationalities and nations, but believe Bahamian citizenship and The Bahamas must be kept for ourselves. We want it all. We want to take what we are not willing to give. We even pride ourselves on this attitude, leaning on the law to support our narrow points of view. We belabour the definition of Bahamian and how citizenship can be gained according to the The Constitution of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Nationality Act. This is what makes us better than the other — the non-Bahamian.

We have a complicated relationship with the foreigner. We strive to be as good as the European and the North American foreigner and we look down on the Caribbean foreigner.

We have bought into the myth that Gross Domestic Product is an appropriately comprehensive measurement of value and stability.

We are proud of the extent to which we have been Americanised and constantly try to divorce ourselves from the history and continued struggle we share with Caribbean countries.

We set ourselves apart, calling everyone else “other”, failing to see we are the other.

We are caught up in our false Christianity as a nation, refusing to be our brothers’ keepers in favour of amassing wealth that cannot possibly be the loftier goal we are meant to march toward.

We do not see that in leaving our brothers and sisters behind, we betray our ancestors, spit on history that should guide our steps and contribute to a negative narrative of nationhood that will not help us when we become climate refugees.

Yes, our time will come. By then, our borders may be too tight and death and disappearance toll too high to engender empathy or kindness from any nation that might otherwise be inclined to offer assistance.

The Bahamas has the right to protect its borders. Few people would disagree. It does not, however, have the right to endanger or cause harm to people of any country. It cannot be excused for violating human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear in its 30 articles that state and protect the rights and freedoms of all human beings. It includes the right to a nationality, to seek asylum in another country, recognition as a person under the law, a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing and protection from arbitrary arrest or detention.

The Bahamas has signed the declaration and must abide by international law. Unfortunately, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not govern individuals. It is not part of our curriculum, so many are unaware of it, or do not understand the commitment.

That aside, we are not doing enough to sensitise the Bahamian people to the plight of migrants from Haiti or other countries, or the obligation we have as signatories and, let’s not forget, a Christian nation.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and the world is well aware of its political and economic instability, economic inequality and vulnerability to natural disasters. According to the World Bank, 59 percent of Haitians live below the poverty line of $2.41 per day. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew damages were almost one-third of GDP.

The Bahamas, in comparison, is the land of plenty. To hear many Bahamians tell it, this country is populated by Christian people who love their neighbours as themselves and find ways to share five loaves and two fish with thousands. Sadly, we do not live up to this reputation. We, on the contrary, fail to see certain foreigners as people. If they do not come by plane with credit cards and US dollars to gamble in casinos, get their hair braided and buy mass-produced non-Bahamian souvenirs, they are of no use to us.

If they are looking for a better life and intend to work, we see them as thieves, coming for what is ours, even if we are not willing to do the same work to access it. We had probably convinced ourselves that we only have the problem with Haitians because of their large numbers and illegal entry, but the national response to the government’s assistance to Dominica proved otherwise. We have a problem with helping. We are willing to put our hands out, but not interested in giving a hand up.

We, who go to Florida to give birth so our children can have American citizenship, have a problem with migrant people.

We, who think ourselves too good to weed, cut the grass, shape hedges and wash windows, have a problem with migrant people.

We, who raise and educate our children to live a better life in a better place, have a problem with migrant people.

We, who were stolen and loaded on to boats, dropped off and made slaves across a chain of islands, have a problem with migrant people.

We, who don’t know where we are really from because we left many decades, generations, languages and plantations ago, have a problem with migrant people.

We, who pride ourselves on the bit of colour or soft hair or whatever other sign of mixed identity we can find, have a problem with migrant people.

We forget that we are migrant people. We forget that the Haitian Revolution was the beginning of our freedom, or maybe we just don’t know. Maybe we don’t know about Saint-Domingue in the late 1700s. Maybe we don’t know we might not actually belong here either, or that everyone deserves to be treated like human beings, or that no human being is illegal and there is a difference between a person and their actions, or that we are going to need somewhere to go before the end of this century.

Maybe we don’t understand English. We may need to get the message in French.


My2cents 6 years, 7 months ago

I know this is an opinion piece but the assertions, generalizations and stereotypes about Bahamians are disgusting. If a similar piece was written about Haitians using anecdotal sources, imagine the uproar? Talking about the negative effects of illegals: shanty towns, high birth rate of children into poverty and without status, having children for status, the extra burden placed on limited resources and links to crimes such as drug, arms and human trafficking....are off limits because it contradicts the ignorant claims that Bahamians are xenophobic. Bahamians are reacting no differently than people of other countries facing mass inflix of illegals. Please stop the hypocrisy of fighting for one group while constantly chiding and demeaning another.

Pastor_Cedric_Moss 6 years, 7 months ago

Very well written article. From my vantage point, your generalizations of Bahamians' views towards Haitians are fair and not overstated. Thanks for having the courage to write this article, especially when, I'm sure, you knew you would receive flack for it.

ihavecommonsense 6 years, 7 months ago

aka My2cents (I am locked out of my profile).

There is nothing courageous about bashing an entire population based on anecdotal "evidence" and stereotypes. In fact, it is very easy to bash Bahamians because it is accepted; and pc to do so. One sided articles such as these however well intentioned, only promote discord when people make it taboo to address real concerns by writing it off as xenophobia and ignorance.

A courageous article would have discussed how those in power (past and present), the elites and well-off Bahamians who have allowed this problem to fester for decades and how to move forward. And also acknowledged the thousands of Bahamians at the very bottom who have no say in this: no grass of their own to cut much less hire someone else and no means of travelling to Miami to have babies. These are the ones fighting for resources that become even more limited with each illegal landing. Someone should try speaking up, rather than down, to these people.

sheeprunner12 6 years, 7 months ago

Sooooo, you accept the "false Christianity" description as well???????

ihavecommonsense 6 years, 7 months ago

There is nothing courageous about disparaging Bahamians, in fact it's very easy to condemn Bahamians because no one speaks up for the poor Bahamian who is affected by the selfish decisions made by elites and well off Bahamians under the guise of humanity. A courageous article would have addressed the powers not be, and not used personal opinions to ridicule the struggling masses for not welcoming the very people that are steadily decreasing the availability of already limited resources. The writer seems to have no concept that poverty exists in the Bahamas.

stillwaters 6 years, 7 months ago

One can easily surmise that you are young and idealistic. One thing though.........the Bahamas is NOT 'the land of plenty'. Travel around Nassau, out of your comfort zone, and get some more perspective except your own moral outrage.

Cas0072 6 years, 7 months ago

What happened to the emotional intelligence you espoused just a few weeks ago? I don't see it in this one sided column. You started off well enough but fell off the rails with your own vitriol, starting with chiding Bahamians for thinking they are special. Citizens everywhere feel they are special, including Haitians who pay homage to Haiti wherever they might be. If I got into the ridiculousness of your stereotypes, I would be here all day. You sound pretty much in agreement with people who say Bahamians don't know poverty and hence are indebted to or in a position to help Haiti. It is impossible to help anyone when you can't even help yourself. Too many Bahamians are struggling for this to be brushed aside on these faux humanitarian tirades.

sheeprunner12 6 years, 7 months ago

Ms. Wallace needs to do some research ......... and discover when we were the poorest British colony in the Caribbean .............. Then explain how we lifted ourselves up to be where we are today ......... Bahamians are a very resilient, proud people ...... We do not need apologists for our country like Ms. Wallace............... While we have things in common with the other Afro-Caribbean nations, it is no different from how the USA/Russia or Britain/France are both "white" or China/Japan are "Asian" or India/Pakistan are "coolie" but they are national rivals.............. Ms. Wallace needs to go and investigate how African tribes treat each other (then & now) and maybe that will uncover the root cause of our "blackness" problem.

CatIslandBoy 6 years, 7 months ago

A very bold, well-written and glaringly truthful article. Of course there will always be those apologists who want to shoot the messenger. Unfortunately, most of our people are just "too full" of themselves to accept constructive criticisms.

joeblow 6 years, 7 months ago

Firstly, Bahamian citizenship is not automatic for illegal non-Bahamians born in the Bahamas.

Secondly, it is unlikely the Universal Declaration of Human RIghts intended that small nations would be inundated by much larger nations with a largely uneducated, destitute population to the detriment of the smaller nation. Common sense must apply here. We need immigration quotas!

Lastly, those who think the Bahamas is a land of plenty are deluded. Our towering national debt and shrinking middle class testifies to this. The burden of absorbing illegals has contributed to an increase in violent crime, the increased cost of health, social services and national defense.

I for one am tired of it!

birdiestrachan 6 years, 7 months ago

WE?? exactly who is WE?? speak for yourself. You have no idea what the vast majority of Bahamians think or do. zero of what you have written applies to me or to any one I know,

birdiestrachan 6 years, 7 months ago

The man in question has not disappeared Those concerned know where he is.. It is all a big show put on by the Show boat. But at the least the writer was able to entice a reader. because I never , ever read what she wrights. Now that I have, I will return to my old ways. she really does not have any thing of value to contribute.

Porcupine 6 years, 7 months ago

Sad, but true. She has not exaggerated. Double standards of the highest degree.

avidreader 6 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps Ms. Wallace should concentrate on the basic fact that Haiti has a population of many millions with no apparent plans to slow down the numbers. She should recall the Law of National Labour in Cuba in the late 1920s intended to restrict the number of immigrants on construction sites in Oriente Province. She should recall that The Bahamas cannot absorb limitless numbers of what they call in Spanish "mano de obra" or manual labour. If a people are unwilling to defend their own country from an influx of illegal immigrants then they will find that they don't have a country to defend. Check what has happened between Austria and Italy over the summer in the matter of illegal immigrants and widen your horizons a little. Bahamians should not feel ashamed that they they do not want their country overrun by illegal immigrants with little to contribute.

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