EDITOR, The Tribune
I saw a Facebook video of a Free National Movement (FNM) supporter alleging that a controversial media personality and political opportunist has described Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis as being an Uncle Tom. Undoubtedly, this latest inflammatory rhetoric by the political opportunist is stemming from the awarding of several government contracts to Bahamas Hot Mix, a company which St Anne’s MP Brent Symonette reportedly has familial ties with. When Symonette’s father, the late Sir Roland Symonette, was honoured by the Advisory Committee for National Honours in July 2018, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) National Chair Fred Mitchell vehemently opposed the move, even going as far as labelling Free National Movement Chair Carl Culmer as an Uncle Tom. Among the list of reasons cited by Mitchell for not awarding the late Symonette with such a prestigious honour was that “he gave aid and comfort to a group that wanted to break up the nation.” In all likelihood, the PLP chairman was referring to a group of white Abaconians called the Greater Abaco Council or the Abaco Independent Movement. The Greater Abaco Council, led by former Marsh Harbour MP Errington “Bumpy” Watkins, Leonard Thompson and Sherwin Archer, all fought tirelessly for Abaco to secede from The Bahamas, after it was revealed by the then PLP government under Sir Lynden Pindling that it would push for independence, no later than 1973. With a debilitating economic recession in the United States due to OPEC’s oil embargo on the West for its support for the State of Israel, independence figured prominently in the PLP’s 1972 general election platform, seeing that Pindling and Co. were utterly powerless to curtail the negative impact of the economic drought, brought on by external forces.
In late 1971, Watkins along with Messrs Thompson and Archer went to England to plead on behalf of hundreds of white Abaconians who feared the prospects of being severed from the United Kingdom. They apparently did not trust the black PLP government managing this country’s external affairs.
With the dissolution of the Greater Abaco Council in 1972, Watkins would go on to lead the Council for a Free Abaco along with Chuck Hall and Albert Albury, which also vehemently opposed The Bahamas becoming an independent state. Watkins’ initiative was supported by FNM Parliamentarians Cleophas Adderley, Michael Lightbourn and Sir Roland Symonette. For all intents and purposes, Sir Lynden and the PLP were successful in countering the anti-independence arguments of the Abaconians before the English. Apparently, the PLP has never forgiven Sir Roland for lending moral support to the ambitious Watkins and his Abaco Independent Movement, whose undertakings could’ve easily been construed as treasonous to black Bahamians. Serving for a staggering 52 years in the House of Assembly, Sir Roland’s support for Watkins and Co was one of the few mistakes committed during his illustrious career in politics. I don’t believe the PLP should hold this against him anymore than FNMs should hold anything against Sir Lynden, despite allegations that they were systematically victimised by his PLP administration during the 1970s and 1980s. As for the Uncle Tom reference by the controversial media personality, he was undoubtedly influenced by Mitchell. As a well read politician, Mitchell, unlike the political opportunist, is obviously familiar with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which laid the groundwork for the Civil War in the United States between 1861 -- 1865. One of the main factors leading to the war was the 11 Southern States seceding from the Union in 1860, over their unwillingness to end slavery. Thankfully, the Abaco Independent Movement did not lead to an civil war in The Bahamas, although one can argue that the motivating factor which led to the opposition to independence was fear among the white Abaconians and United Bahamian Party elements within the FNM. It had nothing to do with racial superiority. That’s one reason I have no issue seeing Sir Roland on our $50 banknote or him being considered a national hero by the Advisory Committee for National Honours.
While I didn’t read Beecher Stowe’s novel, I did watch the 1987 film adaptation of the novel, starring prominent African American actors Avery Brooks, Phylicia Rashad and Samuel L Jackson. In the United States, an Uncle Tom is an African American who is devoutly loyal to white people. This may have been the thinking of renown American entertainer Harry Belafonte, when he in 2002 labelled then Secretary of State in the George W Bush administration Colin Powell a “house slave.” Considering the United States’ abysmal record in its treatment of African Americans and other ethnic minorities in the Antebellum South during Jim Crow, Belafonte’s controversial remarks had historical context, especially in light of the lopsided ratio of whites to blacks on Capitol Hill. In The Bahamas, however, the racial situation is markedly different. With a population of nearly 400,000, 92.7 percent of which is black, whites make up only 4.7 percent. Clearly, if there’s any racial marginalisation in this country, it has to be felt by our white brothers and sisters.
In both the Lower and Higher Houses of Parliament, of the 39 MPs and 16 senators, only three are white: Brent Symonette, James Albury and Clay Sweeting. This ethnic disparity in The Bahamas in 2019 is unacceptable. With that being said, Minnis being labelled an Uncle Tom is totally inappropriate. The charge makes no sense, considering the racial context of The Bahamas in 2019. If anything, it should be the other way around. The uninformed political opportunist was only looking to create a clickbait among his gullible grassroots following.
July 4, 2019