Several years ago, I put a question to a group of my media colleagues, but was in no way prepared for the responses.
We were in our newsroom discussing social issues when the topic of race came up. After an intense discussion, one of the men I was working with said he often wished he were white. I laughed, thinking he was joking. He was not. As I looked around the room, I noticed that some of my other colleagues – all of whom were black – were in agreement.
So, I did a poll. I asked each person if they could come back as any race what would they come back as.
Everyone in the room with the exception of me and another female said white or another non-black race. Things really started to get interesting as we dissected the reasons they wouldn’t come back as black.
The men immediately said that black men are treated much worse by police or don’t get the same respect as their white counterparts, even if they are dressed nicely or have well-to-do jobs. Others felt they would be further along in life if they were white. Another said he would come back as a poor, white man over a rich black man because he felt he would get more respect.
One of my female colleagues, who constantly boasted of her blackness, said she, too, would want to come back white just to prove that whites have it easier.
Days later, I put the same question to a white friend of mine. After convincing her that I wouldn’t judge her for her response, she admitted that she would return white. Her reasoning: she didn’t want the hardship of being black.
Racism Exists In The Bahamas
When we think about race relations, we often tend to think of our neighbors to the north. America has a tragic history when it comes to its handling of blacks. Many of those same issues that plagued that country hundreds of years ago, persist today.
Here in The Bahamas, we have convinced ourselves that because black people form the majority, racism does not exist. We’ve also convinced ourselves that most of our issues are socio-economic-based – that we’re treated differently based on if we have money or don’t. That is partially true. However, Black Bahamians, who have either witnessed or experienced acts of racism, know that it goes further. They experience racism when they are excluded from certain groups or shot a glance that says they don’t belong. A lot of it is subtle, but very noticeable.
I, and many of my friends, have gone inside of white-owned stores and been followed. A few months ago, a white proprietor had the sudden urge to dust when I walked inside her store. As I headed toward the back, she followed closely with her duster. When I moved to another spot, there she was dusting. I moved to another area, and there she was again – dusting.
I finally turned around and asked her if she wanted me to return after she had finished cleaning up. She got the picture.
After our encounter, I noticed that other non-blacks had entered the store and she didn’t dust their area.
As a black woman entering some white-owned stores, I often have to prove that A) I’m not a thief or B) I’m not a waste of time. Of course, this does not happen in every store I go into. It’s just happened enough times for me to avoid those places altogether. Instead, I shop online, where the only color that matters is green.
Just To Get By
Some years ago, the assistant to a prominent accountant confided that her boss had to hire a white man to front the business in order to get work from some white clients. The accountant, who is highly-skilled, had approached these clients, hoping to secure their business. They never got back to him. He felt he knew why. He, later hired a white accountant, who was his junior in terms of qualifications and experience, and let him front the business. This man then approached the same clients. They immediately came on board.
I know there are some who’ll say that perhaps the clients didn’t click with the black accountant or there could have been many other reasons why they chose not to go with him. They may be right. However, that was not the first time I had heard of black businesspersons having to get a frontman in order to secure white business. It happens in law firms, insurance agencies and the tourism business. At some point, we have to accept that there is a strong possibility that race plays a part.
African-Americans often talk about white privilege, which says that white people have inherent advantages based on their race. In The Bahamas, we call it nature’s passport. Perhaps this is why my colleague said he would come back as a poor white man over a rich black man. It’s very telling.
There’s A Difference
I recently overheard a group of people badmouthing a black businessman who is very outspoken about issues that plague his industry. He’s always respectful and makes valid points. However, rather than speaking about the issues he faced, they accused him of being a chronic complainer.
There are white Bahamians who speak out on a variety of issues. If it’s affecting them or their business, they should. The difference, though, is in how they’re viewed. When a black person agitates, he’s called a complainer. When a white person agitates, he’s called a lobbyist.
The purpose of this column isn’t to demonize white people, nor is it to glorify black people. It’s to acknowledge that there are some serious differences in the way black and white people are treated in this country. It’s also to spark a conversation that too many people are simply uncomfortable having. At some point, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to have to address the elephant in the room.
I’d like to hear what you have to say.
Sandena Neely says
Great blog as usual Rogan, thank you for fostering this all-important conversation. I think, as human beings in general and as Bahamians in particular, it would do us well to note that if one is different it does not mean that they are somehow deficient! I think the convo needs to be amped up as globalization has already taken place and our country is now even more of a melting pot, and the age old issues of race between Black & White Bahamians need to be brought to the fore and reconciled as we co-exist globally (in our country). Thanks again Rogan!
Rogan Smith says
Thank you so much, Sandena. I think you’re spot on. Different does not mean deficient. Well said. It’s sad that we can’t have civil conversations about this very issue. It’s so important and I think it would go a very long way in improving race relations. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting!
Masekenuba Donald says
Great article. I remember shopping at Walmart in Jacksonville sbout 2 years ago. I professionally suited up thought I had passed one of the main stereotypes of being a black man. In America. Suddenly I noticed a live mannequin popping through each aisle I navigated through. Each time she flashed a stalker’s smile and then disappeared like a wakamolly. It wasn’t until I was checking out that I found our she was in fact of the store’s security. Rogan, these are some of the things that confirms my suspicion that it’s neither a black person’s appearance nor mannerisms that makes some.white people uncomfortable around them, it’s an innate reaction, some kind of defensive posture to an imagined threat. Threats borne out as a result of being subject to the tales of the bogeyman and the need to confine and isolate this danger within a socioeconomic desert where desperation compels them to kowtow to unfair norms and practices so they could cannibalize each other. I’ll return as an informed black man with the ability to convince Africans around the world that we are lions who need to build and protect our pride freely in the plains and not.some.sheep that should be groomed and slaughtered for wool. Coming back as white person would only reinforce the caged where the rest of blacks are tethered.
Rogan Smith says
Hello Mr. Donald! Thank you for your response. First of all, let me say, you are incredibly funny. I immediately envisioned the security guard when you said you noticed a live mannequin.
You make an excellent point. It doesn’t matter how well-spoken you are, how well-dressed you are or how docile you appear. The mere fact that you are black means that you are a threat. This is why it’s so important that people spend time around one another. I remember shopping repeatedly at a store in Nassau that is white owned. It didn’t matter that I had spent thousands of dollars in there. Each time I walked through the door, I was treated like a thief who needed to be constantly monitored. All things considered, I would still come back black. Thank you once again for checking out the blog. Don’t be a stranger!