By Anthony C Musgrove JP
For the rest of our lives, my generation will no doubt remember the evening of November 5, 2008, for we were privileged to stand on this side of history. On that night the world stood still as a tall, thin, charismatic man took the stage to claim victory as the 44th president of the United States of America.
Anthony C. Musgrove is a former Bahamian Senator
As we all know, there was something quite unique about this President- there was something not found in the DNA of his 43 predecessors. He, with his black Kenyan-born father and white American-born mother was in fact a true African American. That brief moment in 2008 shattered 234 years of history through the election of the first black president of the USA.
Now, what inspired me about Barack Obama's victory was not the fact that generations of black slaves could have never perceived it, but rather the fact that this victory was a shared victory by the most diverse nation in the world.
Now let me put this article in its proper context. I write having no agenda. I write, though, as a man who shares the desire to protect The Bahamas for Bahamians and I also write as a man who has matured to the point of accepting all people for the value they add to making this world a better place for all.
One of the goals of any country is to be able to compete in a rapidly changing global arena. This is indeed a primary objective of our beautiful Bahamas, and certainly this goal should be paramount to a people who have enjoyed so many luxuries in the past because of a booming tourism and lucrative financial services industries.
If The Bahamas is going to have an elevated influence on the world's stage we must begin to use our diversity as our greatest asset. We must find some balance between our dreams and our fears. And one of the biggest economic and social challenges facing The Bahamas as a whole relates to unlocking the barriers to the acceptance of diversity in our economy and our wider society.
Diversity can be defined in many different ways. Diversity is a commitment to recognizing and appreciating the variety of characteristics that make individuals unique in an atmosphere that promotes and celebrates individual and collective achievement. Diversity refers to human qualities that are different from our own and those of groups to which we belong.
Throughout the global community, there is a common belief, a belief born of experience that diversity in all spheres of our society is important for them fulfilling their primary mission: providing a quality of life in which the simple truth is that diversity enriches the standard of life for all citizens.
We learn from those whose experiences, beliefs, and perspectives are different from our own. Yet, there is still so many who unfortunately do not choose to see that this diversity spills over into our living communities.
For the most part, The Bahamas, like many smaller countries, are pioneers when it comes to woman in leadership, thus we see gender diversity in government, churches, businesses and non-government organizations.
As a nation, we can proudly boast of being very accepting of persons with diverse appearances, unlike other countries that may be biased based on weight, age, gender and so forth. However, it is generally viewed that Bahamians seem to be quite afraid of living in a multiracial and multiethnic society for fear of misplacing our cultural roots, or even worse, having our children grow up in a country and finding no place in the nation that our ancestors built.
Let me make this point clear: I understand the concerns of my people, for I am a man much too indebted to my country to risk pawning its identify. But, I believe that, if The Bahamas is to weather those varied storms in the short term and further strengthen our global standing in the long term, we must stop seeing diversity as a problem, and start accepting diversity as an advantage.
There are some amongst us who believe that The Bahamas is in crisis and they are afraid for our safety, our culture, our jobs, our comfort, our future. This fear has caused them to believe that there is no alternative -- to the loss of our job security, to our diminishing salaries and prolonged working lives -- no alternative other than to protect our borders from the apparent threat, the threat of DIFFERENT.
You know, I hear their argument. They say that, in the past, when a small number of Haitians migrated to a small section of Florida, they created "Little Haiti." That, when a small number of Cubans descended upon another area in Florida, they created "Little Havana." I say that argument does little to solidify our fears but only proves the point that culture is not easily lost.
Love of culture and country is not influenced by our environment. Love of culture and country is born in the hearts of men and women and it is that love that creates our environment. Remember this: if we have a firm grasp on who we are as Bahamians, no group of controlled legal or illegal migrants can cause us to lose that grip. In actuality, diversity should not be viewed as a hindrance to progress, but rather as the catalyst that may motivate our progression.
The prevailing unwarranted fear of diversity could cripple us to the point where we are weary of foreign investors -- we all hear the noise filling the market place with accusations of selling our future. Now it is indeed true that we are to have some concern about an economy being saturated by foreign businesses and ownership; however, it is also true that no nation as small as ours can have the resources to generate the needed opportunities for a growing population.
For the foreseeable future, let's allay the fear that in The Bahamas the percentage of foreign investors will outweigh national investors. Let me make it clear: this will never happen because our government's investment policy restricts foreign investment in a number of sectors from wholesale and retail operations to media and advertising.
So it was inevitable for the present level of diversity to exist in The Bahamas because of our geographical location having such close proximity to the United States, Cuba and Haiti. Our goal now, when we talk about diversity, is to move beyond just talking about possible implications but to start to use our diversity as a resource. Let's move beyond that point when it was a challenge in getting our grandparents’ generation to embrace diversity.
You know, part of that challenge stemmed from ignorance, part from prejudice. Point though: One of the possible reasons our forefathers resented diversity is because they did not collectively have the necessary skill set or educational background to compete with foreigners coming to our shores and, at that time, our forefathers’ concerns were justified.
However, with our brilliant minds and progressive thinking, we will not have this barrier. For the most part, we here are enlightened and practical thinkers who are changing the connotation of the word DIFFERENT.
I further implore us to continue to grow in our thinking. Let us be the generation to educate our family and friends that no nation in the world, not one, was built solely with indigenous hands. Let us encourage our loved ones to begin to appreciate the contribution of all peoples to the growth and development of a modern Bahamas.
National populations are growing and the world is indeed getting smaller. Now more than ever before, we must live the valuable lesson that America learnt on November 5, 2008, that if a man or woman shares like values, like goals and like vision, that person regardless of whether they look like you or whether they act like you is still deserving of your utmost respect.
History will one day show that the diversification in leadership that America is now experiencing has not eluded The Bahamas. In fact, at a time when our affluent neighbours to the north were still living in segregation, we swore into office a black prime minister -- Sir Lynden Pindling -- such a profound step for a small nation comprising farmers and fishermen. In many aspects The Bahamas has been the leader in diversity and in other aspects we have yet to follow the trend, participate in a global reality.
I know that the future of The Bahamas is bright and promising. This future will however require us all to embrace DIFFERENT. And, I honestly believe that together, hand in hand, we can do it. Yes, let's show the world that in The Bahamas, we are increasingly embracing diversity.
You know, one of the Bahamas Ministry of Education's grounding principles sums it up very well: We need to foster, "An appreciation of the significance and value of the rich diversity of The Bahamas and its people, and of the responsibility of the educational process to reflect and respond to that diversity; with tolerance and understanding..."