AN ENDURING REVOLUTION (1)
Tuesday, April 06, 2010.
Asked his assessment of the 1789 French Revolution, a mid-20th century Chinese leader cautioned, perhaps apocryphally, "It is too soon to tell!" Just 34 years after his death, China is significantly different from the isolated and economically anaemic state Zhou Enlai governed as premier from 1949 to 1976. He appreciated that history is best measured in centuries rather than in decades.
There is a narrative in some post-independent former British colonies in the Caribbean that majority rule has failed or is failing. This line of reason ploughed its way into last Wednesday’s Nassau Guardian editorial: “A failing revolution”. The editorial was based on obviously false premises and historical revisionism.
It was also typical of that genre of editorializing which believes that the problems in one’s own country are worse than those of much of the rest of the world. Such narrow viewpoints are best expanded by a broader perspective of the contemporary struggles of other countries.
This many years after the attainment of majority rule and independence, such revisionism was bound to happen. For example, whatever his accomplishments, to claim, as some are now doing, that Sir Stafford Sands was not a racist is a blatant attempt to whitewash history.
With regard to last week’s editorial, one would expect an editorialist for a leading newspaper to distinguish between commentary and editorializing and between historical accuracy and rewriting history to lay the foundations for a dubious argument.
False Premise One: The editorialist began the narrative of majority rule at a juncture convenient to his argument. As with any narrative, it depends on where you begin the story or one’s historical assessment. Hindsight is not 20/20 if we measure history mostly through our own approximately four score plus seven years.
The children of the Loyalists' slaves, who became the majority, might assess the successes, freedoms and opportunities of our 21st century majority-ruled Bahamas differently than those who myopically speak of a failing revolution based on a narrow reading of history.
This narrative of the failure of majority rule in the Commonwealth Caribbean has two underlying memes or messages: that of black failure and white success. Majority rule and Bahamianization are code words for black, while foreign is code for white. To wit, because black people have failed to rule themselves, white foreigners are needed to put things right.
This mindset not only suggests that black rule is a historic failure. It arises from a more sinister worldview, namely that black people are inherently incapable of ruling themselves, while white people are inherently endowed with the capacity to rule themselves -- and black people.
There is, of course, a corollary to the “We need the white people to sort us out” argument. To wit, “If the UBP and the British were still running things we would be much better off.” That Britain has many of the same pressing problems as the Bahamas is conveniently ignored by those who still pine for Rule Britannia.
The editorial’s limited and revisionist read of history was served up in a double dose in its opening paragraphs. The ensuing commentary, built on demonstrably false grounds, sank under the weight of its own presumptions and historical amnesia.
False Premise Two: “Forty-plus years ago black leaders sold the people on the promise that removing an oppressive minority group from power would lead to bliss for all.”
Hyperbole may be expected from the political arena but it is most certainly out of place in editorials. While some black leaders may have been over-enthusiastic in their promises, the idea that black leaders generally promised bliss is utter nonsense and a distortion of views of the vast majority of the leaders in the movement for majority rule.
Indeed, many black leaders cautioned that attaining majority rule was but a beginning in the hard work of building a multi-racial, independent Bahamas with opportunity for all.
The UBP’s fear mongering in the 1962 general election, encapsulated in the slogan, “Vote PLP and Starve”, never materialized. Instead, majority rule ushered in opportunities and benefits the UBP were unwilling to extend to the black majority. This brings us to yet another false premise.
False Premise Three: “In today's Bahamas there are few empirical indicators providing hope that the future of The Bahamas will be bright.” Indeed the editorialist lists only two accomplishments of majority rule: “Our black leaders ended institutional racism. And Atlantis has helped prop up our economy. Beyond this, the modern Bahamas is not soaring to a glorious place.”
These are bizarre statements for the oldest newspaper in the country, which recently celebrated its 165th anniversary, to make. Today The Nassau Guardian is owned by Bahamians and managed and staffed by talented multiracial professionals.
That the majority of the staff at the newspaper is there because of the educational and economic opportunities as well as the possibility of social mobility flowing from majority rule seems to have evaded the editorialist.
The impressive range of social legislation, environmental preservation and political stability that the 21st century Bahamas enjoys has also been conveniently ignored by the editorialist. The editorial is lacking in balance and fairness.
Apparently, one of the paradoxes of a successful revolution is that its larger triumphs and ongoing accomplishments are often taken for granted by those who enjoy its success.
To brazenly claim that, “there are few empirical indicators providing hope that the future of The Bahamas will be bright”, is not simply hyperbole. It is demonstrably false based on “empirical indicators” by leading international agencies on the successes of the modern Bahamas. It is also demonstrably false based on “empirical indicators” right in front of our very eyes.
This is not to deny that the modern Bahamas faces a variety of challenges. But these challenges are not unique to the Bahamas or to black governments. Indeed, a majority-ruled Bahamas is doing quite better than many countries, including during these globally difficult economic situations.
Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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