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Inequalities associated with class in the Bahamas
One of the greatest tragedies in The Bahamas today, is that after decades of Majority Rule many are still beguiled by the illusion that constructs a superhighway of class equality. Alarmingly, many Bahamians appear to be oblivious to the underlying prejudicial rhetoric used by politicians, the prevailing class oriented mindset and the privileged minority who continue to steer and controlled the wealth and economic course of this country. Due to profound the inequalities associated with class in The Bahamas, there is a division between thousands of Bahamians economically, educationally and in the health care system. This division has had a significant effect on the social development of the Bahamas. It can be implied that class has become the architect of a national plutocracy that furnishes the wealthy, powers the elites and elevates the corporate masters to control and dominate the political and economic system of The Bahamas. As asserted by Author, Glinton Meicholas “This divisive sociological phenomenon is creeping quickly into Bahamian Society which will create another divide – social class and Economics” (pg.2).
In a class society there are three type of classes the upper class, the middle class and the lower class. According to Krieger and Moss, 1997, “since prehistory, all societies have perceived hierarchy among their members. Leaders and followers, strong and weak, rich and poor: social classifications are universal. Humans have invented numerous ways to classify people—by wealth, power, or prestige; by ability, education, or occupation; even by where they live” and this is seen in the Bahamas today. Krieger and Moss further stated that “the term “social class” originally referred to groups of people holding similar roles in the economic processes of production and exchange, such as landowner or tenant, employer or employee. Such positions correspond to different levels of status, prestige, and access to political power, but social class eventually took on a more generic meaning and came to refer to all aspects of a person’s rank in the social hierarchy” (pg. 45). The upper class in The Bahamas is very diverse and consists of the old rich white Bahamians who were born into wealth and who control the country’s means of production, economic resources as well as land and capital, whereas, the middle class and the lower class are made of predominantly black Bahamians, whose acquisition of wealth is extremely limited.
Even thought The Bahamas is viewed as one of the more stable Caribbean countries both politically and economically and continues to be listed among the top nations in the Caribbean for it Real Gross Domestic Product (RGDP), high standard of living, and high per capita earnings there are still thousands who have low income and consumption levels, and low levels of human development in education and healthcare thus, contributing to poverty. Poverty according to the World Bank is defined as the inability of people to attain a minimum standard of living. The annual poverty line in the Bahamas is $2863 per person. Someone who lives on this line would be able to spend $7.84 per day on a basic diet (, 2400 calories per day) and non-food needs. According to The Bahamas Living Conditions Survey presented to Parliament on October 5, 2005, the Bahamas poverty rate stood at 9.3 percent or about 28,000 people half of whom are children, are living below the poverty line.
Our national statistics record that 77% of the poorest people, those who fall in the bottom 20% of the country when it comes to income and expenditure, live in New Providence and Grand Bahamas, whereas, 91% of the wealthiest people also live in the aforementioned locations. Statistical data reveals that more that 75% of all poor Bahamian households have five or more members, an estimated 42% of poor heads of household have completed some secondary schooling, 34% of poor youth, ages 19- 24 are out of school and unemployed, 54% of people living in poor conditions do not have piped water, 33% lack access to a flush toilet, 58% of poor families rent rather than own their homes and 50% crowd more than three people into their bedroom.
Among the more wealthy class in The Bahamas, there are higher rates of investment and capital formation, higher salaries and employment, more luxurious lifestyles and homes, more entrepreneurial activity, self-sustained economic growth, higher levels of savings and higher levels of consumption. The upper Bahamian class would have more natural asset, land, human assets, financial Assets, including access to credit, social assets, and greater influence on the Bahamas macro and micro economic policies and conditions. Their life expectancy, education, literacy and health provision would be higher than the other classes of society. Usually it is the upper class of society that controls the means of production and consumption. The middle class on the other hand would have moderate rates of investment and savings, average employment, medium salaries, and high levels of consumption. While their access to credit may be disparate compared to the upper class it is not limited. Additionally, this class would also have some natural assets, land- though more generational than purchased, and their life expectancy, educational, health and literacy levels would be on a similar level as the upper class.
The population of The Bahamas comprises of a sizeable number of underclass of citizens who are relegated to perform menial and labour intensive work. Their living environments take on the existence of a filthy, unmaintained and poorly sanitized ghetto. Unfortunately, these ghettos have forged chains that keep many of the local residents’ imprisoned since they lack the necessary wherewithal to elevate themselves or to escape the trenches of the ghetto, crime is rife, unemployment and the rate of illiteracy are high, the scores of high school dropouts staggering, and there is a sense of political disenfranchisement .
In The Bahamas, every boy and girl enjoy equal access to education at all levels. However, equal access to education does not mean equal participation in education. While William Allin implies that “Education is not the answer to the question but the means to the answer to all questions”, author Laurence J. Peter states that “Education is a method whereby one acquires a higher grade of prejudices”. Unfortunately, it is quite the popular belief in a wide cross section of society that we are a classless society and that class should not matter. Perhaps, it should not, but unfortunately, it is evident everywhere. In our education system inclusive of elementary school settings, and college settings, class is quite apparent. Statistically, the achievement gap between the lower class students in comparison to the upper and middle class students is relatively wide. It must be noted that social class including student’s family characteristics affects learning and has a great influence on the academic achievement of students even in elementary settings. This is substantiated when both the public school and private school exams result are compared.
Students who attend private schools
The majority of the students who attend private schools such as St. Ann’s High, Queens College, St. Augustine’s and St. Andrew’s are from the affluent / upper and middle class who have either a steady income or who just have money at their disposal. In contrast the students who are attending Government Schools usually have to struggle to get the materials needed or have to rely on the limited resource provided by the government who is subsidizing many of the private school through funding and ensuring that the materials needed are there at their disposal. This in itself speaks of the inequalities and the injustices in the educational system that is the apparatus responsible for producing the nation’s future leaders.
Because of the inequalities that exist in our health care system, many of the poor, especially the elderly meet their demised due to the mere fact that they can not afford proper medical assistance. These persons are made to rely on the Public Health care systems which at time can not carry it own weight or meet the demands of the general, and frequently lack the doctor prescribed medication needed for persons to get well. In other instances the medication is either expired or the public hospital and clinic is just not in the position to render the services required. On the other hand, the elite or the socialite of the country can afford to go abroad or seek medical attention at the private medical facilities such as Doctor’s Hospital. Alder and Steward paints an accurate picture of this relationship, comparing societal classes (or the resources associated with them) to be like rungs on a ladder. Our relative positions on the ladder, “predicts how long you live and how healthy you are during your lifetime”. (2007: 4) They further states that ‘one of the major issues of the differences between social classes in the U.S. is that the distances between the top and bottom rungs are massive.
A perfect example of the massive, who at times are considered to be the under privilege attends the Princess Margret Hospital and are made to feel like second class citizens. Whereas, those who are considered the privilege are treated as first class citizens and are able to seek medical attention at Doctor’s hospital. Adler and Stuart goes on to state that “people at each social class level tend to have different, associated health levels. People in the lowest social classes are at greatest risk of dying before age 65 and are sicker throughout their lives, people in the middle class are healthier than the lowest class, but not as healthy as those in the highest class (Adler & Steward: 5).
Paradoxically, many in the lower class of society can and could have achieved national leadership in many different spheres if they were not disadvantaged and stagnated by our deeply embedded and covert class system. It would be untruthful to say that our nation has not made significant strides in dismantling the socio-economic barriers of the class system; however, the inequality gap is continually widening and the bonds of the class system becoming even stronger. In our foremost areas of society, such as business and politics, there is still the covert prevailing class system that endorses the son or daughter of an old wealthy Bahamian to carry the mantle of and leadership. It is imperative, therefore, that given our history of slavery, and colonialism, that we begin to place collaborative efforts to provide each citizen with equal opportunity, both social, educational and in the health care arena. As the old say goes “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future”. “The greatest lesson we can learn from the past . . . is that freedom is at the core of every successful nation in the world.”(Frederick Chiluba) therefore, it is imperative to understand how the class system deprives citizens of their rights to thrive, to prosper and to participate in the socio-economic development of The Bahamas.
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