Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who's Your Daddy?

n 2007, the FNM won the election (or did the PLP lose?) on a campaign that focussed on its leader, Hubert Ingraham. It portrayed him as a decisive leader and man of integrity ("It's a Matter of Trust"). Given the impression given by the Christie administration, this was somewhat justified if for a moment we recall that PLP cabinet members not only denied corruption charges but clearly were not even able to comprehend why they were being criticised. It may not have been visions of policies that made the decision then, but at least it was about a style of politics. Now, five years later, the Bahamian electorate is not even being treated to this level of sophistication. Instead, the governing party has settled for a pattern with dangerous precedent.

What is it with Caribbean leaders seeing themselves as father figures? The first, and so far only FNM t-shirt I've seen this year only says, "Papa or Nuttin'" - what an irrelevant message! To my shame, I must confess that my first association was Francois Duvalier of Haiti, better known as Papa Doc. "Papa ou rien."

However, I am giving the former Haitian dictator too much credit here, for he did not come up with this theme. Paternalism has haunted slave societies much longer than that. In fact, paternalism was one of the historic arguments for slavery, along with religious and economic justifications, paternalism was the popular racist defense of the slave system. It argued that slaves (read "Blacks") were too immature (read "stupid") to make their own decisions, and therefore dependent on a benevolent father figure (read "White master").

Bahamas Press is correct in criticising FNM candidates for wearing these t-shirts on the campaign trail: "What in the hell is this? MPs in the FNM are acting like ‘lil’ Kindergarten children who cannot stand on their own. "

It is a remarkable demonstration how the slave mentality is still ingrained in us, 178 years after the end of formal institutionalised slavery. The people* on the plantations are not given a programme, an outline of policies to come - no, they are expected to simply show their devotion to Papa and not ask any questions, which is why Ingraham is the only party leader who still has not committed to publicly debating his PLP and DNA counterparts.

* I could have said "slaves" instead of "people," but even slave owners such as William Wylly in 1815 referred to the forced labourers on the plantations as "people" in an effort to disguise the inhumane nature of the system they had created and continued to force upon the majority of us/our ancestors. As a "caring father," Wylly worked hard to give the impression that he cared for his "people." In fact, the regulations that governed slave life on his plantations were published in the newspaper; here is an example: "An Ox (or a competent number of hogs) is to be killed for the Christmas dinner of the people; and Rum, Sugar, Pipes and Tobacco are served out on that day." Now you know where your MP got the idea from, next time he or she gives you a turkey or a ham.

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