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The Prevalence of Racism in The Bahamas: Today & Yesterday in the Tourism Field

The Prevalence of Racism in The Bahamas: Today & Yesterday in the Tourism Field


Over the years, with a historical reference spanning from the 18th century, tourism has been at the forefront in elevating people’s livelihoods in the Bahamas and profiting the foreign investors who visualized the prospective aspects of this industry. However, amid this successful story, the problem of racism has been at the center stage. This essay will focus on the conversations about race by looking at whom it is mainly directed towards, who or what stands to gain or lose in the fight against it. Additionally, this paper will look at how this problem has prevailed over the years in the Bahamas and how it has primarily affected the tourism industry. The essay will unravel some of the historical circumstances that contributed to the racial injustices on the black individuals in the Bahamas with a keen focus on tourism. This paper will examine the theories surrounding racism in different literature texts on this subject with, The Land of the Pink Pearl by Louis Powles being our primary referencing material. Furthermore, this paper will tackle the cultural realities of racism as perceived by the Bahamian society and offer some of the social effects brought forth by this vice. Finally, it will offer suggestions on some of the most practical solutions to fight against the racial divide in the Bahamas as the country aims towards revamping its tourism industry.  


Since the 18th century, the Bahamas has made tremendous strides in the tourism industry. With its vast endowment of indigenous textile products such as cotton, wood pulp, sisal, and other resourceful land and sea products, the Bahamas positioned itself as a viable economic base (Saunders, 2016). Its warm and beautiful coastal beaches earned the Bahamas the title of a winter resort. These elements propelled the tourism industry in the Bahamas as they attracted the elite and wealthy European business persons. However, it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that it experienced the full potential and profitability gains from the tourism sector (Saunders, 2016).  This period saw the construction of hotels in the Nassau region to support the overwhelming numbers of tourists. Regardless of the effects of World War 2 on this booming industry, the Bahamas government embarked on a rigorous exercise to reverse this sector and not only make it a winter destination resort but an all-year-round tourist destination haven. Numerous investments have contributed to the realization of this objective. In conjunction with the private stakeholders, the government has formulated various policies to ensure the success of this lucrative industry

In recent years, the Bahamas government has continually created avenues to improve its tourism industry, emphasizing wealthy prospective visitors worldwide. These governmental efforts are motivated by the fact that the Bahamas tourism sector contributes up to more than 70% of its Gross Domestic Product (Wallace, 2020). To accomplish this, it has promoted the necessary amenities for tourism. These top amenities for tourism encompass having a tropical savanna climate, a tropical ocean with attractive beaches that have proximity to its broad spectrum of hotel and resort facilities. Additionally, welcoming citizens of The Bahamas who have a rich and exciting culture and history has been a selling point to tourists. 

In the middle of governmental efforts in the tourism industry, several loopholes and problems have been working against the Bahamian tourism industry. The reliance on the United Kingdom, stiff competition from other Caribbean Islands, an aging hotel infrastructure, unprofessional managers in the tourism sector form part of these vast problems (Saunders, 2016). Moreover, there are issues on the government’s attack on Freeports and negative socialism aspects in hotel ownership management. However, one major problem that has been prevalent over the years in this profitable industry has been racism (Saunders, 2016). This vice is still deeply rooted in the daily lives of the Bahamian people and its tourism sector. Therefore, for the Bahamas to achieve the prosperity that it genuinely desires from tourism, it has to work on a  careful surveillance strategy that helps to shun racism in its delicate and fragile economy. This study will analyze the prevalence of racism in the Bahamas tourism industry throughout the years and provide a clear roadmap of the governmental efforts in offering solutions to this problem.

Tourism and its relation to Racism in the Bahamian History

The Prevalence of Racism in The Bahamas: Today & Yesterday in the Tourism Field

Slavery establishment in the Caribbean exposed the Bahamas to the outside world. Columbus’ exploits in the Caribbean islands brought him to the Bahamas in 1492 and opened this hidden treasure to other European nations (Powles, 1). Britain’s colonization further expounded its significance as it acted as a trans-shipment area during the United States Civil War (Saunders, 2016). President  Lincoln had declared the closure of the southern state’s ports, but since the southern states needed to export their cotton for other goods such as guns, the Bahamas, which violated the blockade, offered the best strategic position to achieve this. Nassau provided the best environment for the goods bound for Europe and Confederate ports to be traded.

Though the numerous ships brought incredible wealth to the residents of Nassau, it was only enjoyed by outsiders, some elite white merchants, and British residents. Most of the Bahamian population, especially the blacks and a small number of poor whites, were left languishing in poverty. Racism was still imminent during this time as slaves, and free blacks made a considerable part of the Bahamas population. It was visible where land ownership becomes a critical issue in the Bahamas. Coupled with inflated land prices, black Bahamas suffered the fate of living like squatters in their own country (Saunders, 2016). Therefore, even as colonial administrators embraced the tourism industry, these black Bahamians got lesser jobs and were forced to work in deplorable conditions. Only the local elite individuals and the wealthy colonial masters with their citizens were profiting from this.

Fundamental changes in the tourism industry in the Bahamas took a turn around as it gained independence from its British colonies. The local elites were motivated to restructure their country’s cultural, political, and economic patterns (Saunders, 2016). With the decline in the traditional agricultural and sponge fishing industries, more focus was directed towards tourism. This shift was being experienced by most of the Caribbean Islands as they sought independence from their colonies. Thus, they started to encourage tourism in their territories. The new government needed to promote international tourism in the Bahamas. The beautiful beaches, zealously variegated seas, and a conducive climate provided a winter escape haven for Europeans, Canadians, and United States tourists (Saunders, 2016). The previously thought unfit plantations for the whites became part of the tourist attraction sites. The Bahamas had turned back from being a wasteland to a paradise.

 America’s interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s further propelled tourism in the Caribbean islands and, more importantly, the Bahamas (Saunders, 2016). Therefore, the Bahamian government needed to put strategies to harness wealth from this industry and stay ahead in infrastructure compared to other Caribbean regions. Part of the strategies embraced was to create a brand that would package the Bahamas as a place that the whites would luxuriate at the expense of the black Bahamians (Saunders, 2016). The black Bahamians would cater to every need that tourists demanded during their visitations at the beautiful beaches. Consequently, this notion created not only a form of servitude but also the social evils of racism.

The pursuit of the white’s dollars had led to the mentality of inferiority in the Bahamian society. Though free, this was a new form of slavery for the black Bahamians embedded in the notion of the country’s prosperity and patriotism. Women, in most cases, were used to professing the objectives of the tourism brand famous at every other winter season. With their bodies on display to tourists, the Bahamian tourism industry earned the term “straw market” (Saunders, 2016).  This mentality scripted the Bahamas economy on the sweltering heat that the black women Bahamas were forced to endure so as the country’s tourism industry would flourish. The new version of indentured servitude exposed the black Bahamian workers to marginalization and, ultimately, the social evils of racism. In their interactions and frequent encounters with the white tourists, the slavey, the mindset was advanced. These experiences bring out the argument that tourism brought more social ills than benefits. It reinvented the racialized tropes that free blacks had experienced during the colonial period and the era of slavery. Hence tourism, rather than reduce, advanced these social evils. 

Like most countries in the world, the Bahamas has not been spared from the legacy of racism. In the Bahamas, it can be extended far into the period before emancipation in 1838 (Saunders, 2016). Powles records that the labor tenancy systems, organized by the wealthy merchants, exploited the laboring masses in the Bahamas. The credit and truck system employed by the ruling class against the poor blacks was a form of achieving economic as well as social control. He records that “Shipping goes on here to a limited extent, but owing to the prevalence of the truck system, the unhappy workman derives but the little benefit here” (Powles, 59). Powles stated that spongers were disadvantaged by the merchants as they paid for inferior goods at the price of quality goods ( Powles, 88). The aim was to create debt relations with the poor black men and women in the Bahamian society so that a dependency kind of association will be bred between these two classes of people. This credit system made it hard for the spongers to accumulate enough funds to overcome it ( Powles, 90). This association was propagated by the white merchants so that the black farmers would lack the possibility of earning wages. Labour exploitation coupled with the ill-intention strategy of the ruling white oligarchy (Bay Street Boys) further ensured that the hierarchical race class order was maintained in the Bahamas (Saunders, 2016). Such a system would ensure that black folks were denied primary education and access to health and social services. Lack of even elementary education generated benign neglect among the black Bahamas such that they saw no need for public works and utilities. The Bay Street Boys tasked the British colonialists to ensure this racial discrimination was maintained. 

Even with the advent of a modern form of tourism in the Bahamas in the 1920s, black entertainers struggled to get their art showcased (Curry, 2020). They were forced to use the back doors of hotels to perform for the white tourists. Even with this struggle to have their craft heard and recognized by the white audiences, they still got pennies. When it came to shipping transportations, the white passengers were always given exclusive rights over the black Bahamians. 

The tourism industry brought with it the Eurocentric standards of beauty to the Bahamian culture (Curry, 2020). The notion of beauty in the eyes of a black Bahamanian is embedded in the concept of class and colorism brought by the colonialists and the tourists alike. Most Bahamians continue to embrace bleaching elements with the mindset of looking good and appealing to the tourists they presume will favorably. The ontological whiteness brought by the white tourists seems to be the basis through which the black Bahamas defines issues to do with beauty versus ugliness, good versus evil, and what is right versus wrong (Curry, 2020). In modern Bahamian society, the Afro-descended Bahamians continue to relocate to the peripheries of Nassau to seek upward elevation of wealth and status. They no longer want to be associated with the historic and culturally rich communities of the plantation. The black Bahamians mostly direct their aspirations of success towards the Eastern and Western districts of New Providence which are richly endowed by the white settlers who mostly came as tourists. 

Racism in the Contemporary Bahamian Tourism Industry

Interpersonal Conflict

In contemporary Bahamian society, racial profiling in the tourism industry is not that different from historical times (Curry, 2020). Black people are nothing more than cogs to maintain and sustain the capitalistic nature of the white man. Most of the employees in the Bahamanian tourism industry are black individuals from poor neighborhoods. Those working in critical positions such as housekeeping, food service, and essential security services still experience racial discrimination (Curry, 2020). The low payments received are a spat to the multimillion dollars that tourism generates for the Bahamas. Apart from being overworked during the on-season times for tourism, they are forced to abandon other essential responsibilities in their lives, such as family, to ensure the white-managed resorts rise handsomely during such seasons. 

With the onset of Covid-19, tourism was affected in the entire world and the Bahamas. Most hotels and resorts were forced to close down to control the spread of the Covid -19 virus (Wallace, 2020). The actual effect was the loss of jobs for most Bahamians were directly or indirectly relied on this lucrative industry. Although beaches were closed and strict directives generated towards discouraging social interactions, the Bahamian government continued to entertain the tourist access of these beaches (Wallace, 2020). The racial aspect is clearly visible in these directives since the black Bahamians are forced to stay at home and postpone their social events only for white tourists to be given access to these resort facilities. Several media reports purported that white tourists in possession of fake Covid certificates were allowed to enjoy the closed beaches as well as have destination weddings (Wallace, 2020). At the same time, ordinary Bahamian citizens continue to wait for government directives so that they can either postpone or cancel their social events. These instances are a clear reminder of the legacy of racism and servitude that were still prevalent in the Bahamian society and continue to present more pain than harm to the black lives of the Bahamian people. Through the lens of the tourists, the place of a Bahamian is to serve and make their stay memorable. They believe that the black Bahamians had no value outside the duties of maintaining and sustaining the sanctuary of the Bahamas to the outside world. 

The cultural reality among the Bahamian society concerning racism in the tourism sector is actually distorted. According to most Bahamian people, though the evidence of mistreatments is clearly visible in their workstations, at the end of the day, it is the only industry that helps to put food on the table. Most Bahamians have been made to contend with this vice and continue to worship the white tourists for their dollars (Wallace, 2020). More emphasis on this mentality is catalyzed by their aspiration to live for the Bahamian dream, which borrows its ideas on the lives of wealthy tourists living in mega-resorts compared to the tropical plantations (Curry, 2020). The Bahamian leadership also borrows a lot from these foreigners. Hence, they are puppets to their requests which further promote marginalization and discrimination along racial lines. 

The young population has abandoned their rich cultural values and embraced that of the white tourists who enticed them with tips to put them in the servitude cage (Curry, 2020). Even though the local elite persons downplay these negative cultural realities, their efforts usually land on deaf ears as the situation on the ground for most workers in the tourism industry is different. To them, survival is the only motivating factor to their endeavors. The element of servitude has affected their misjudgments on what is right for them, forcing them to live under the spell of foreign tourists who come to the Bahamas to scatter their enormous wealth. The Bahamian society has continually embraced the prevalence of race in their lives since the social issues of racial profiling, white privilege, wealth inequality, class, and colorism are still wide and open in their communities. Moreover, the government continues to propagate these vices by appointing corrupted leaders by these social evils in critical government positions.  

Solutions to Prevent Racism

Several measures need to be undertaken by the government and members of the general public to curb racism in all sectors of the economy, more so in the tourism industry. The bedrock of the racial ills majorly arose from the government structures which aimed at projecting the Bahamas as the ultimate tourist destination. The brands used created the servitude mentality for the black Bahamian society towards the wealthy white tourists. Therefore, the government should set up cultural events that project the Bahamian woman not in terms of their body but through the rich cultural heritage that the Bahamian people possess. Additionally, strict policies against racism should be set up significantly in high-end resorts and casinos (Wallace, 2020). Violators should undergo public humiliation, be subjected to face imprisonment, and in dire cases be deported. The culture of privilege and rank through racial orders should be dealt with, and the elite social clubs and gated white communities that encourage this anti-social be exposed. 

Another solution to prevent racism lies in the government diversification programs of the Bahamian economy. Racism is primarily witnessed in tourism which is considered as the significant economic stimuli of the Bahamas. Efforts by the government to boost the agricultural industry will offer more options to the poor black Bahamian communities to have alternative sources of income. This technique will catalyze the country’s economy by adding more dollars to its basket and reducing its reliance on tourism. This overreliance notion has led to drastic economic losses in the hotel industry due to the effects of the corona pandemic. More importantly, the Bahamian government should create public awareness for its people on racism issues and their social effects on its cultural heritage. Bahamians need to engage in open and frank discussions about racism issues (Curry, 2020). In line with this, the formation of a national truth and reconciliation commission should be adopted to address the issues raised in these racial conversations. 


Historically and in contemporary Bahamian society, it has become clear that the prevalence of racism is still one of the social disorders that need to be dealt with. However, the black Bahamian people should not allow the legacy of slavery, which thrives under racism and marginalization, to corrupt their cultural, political, and social patterns continually. More emphasis should not be put on the tourists’ dollars at the expense of the poor black Bahamian people, but a different attitude should be created in promoting tourism in the Bahamas. The rich cultural heritage, beautiful people, and paradise features of the Bahamas should be directed against the attitudes of servitude that breed an inferiority mindset and racial discrimination. 



Works Cited

Curry, Christopher. “Race, Power, and Privilege.” University of The Bahamas, 5 June 2020,

Powles, Louis D. “The Land of the Pink Pearl: Louis Diston Powles: Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming: Internet Archive.” Internet Archive, 1888,

Saunders, Gail. “The Bahamas in the Post-Emancipation Period.” Race and Class in the Colonial Bahamas, 1880-1960, 2016, pp. 14-33. 

Wallace, Alicia. “The Racist Cost of a Pandemic Vacation in the Bahamas.” Medium, 19 Sept. 2020,


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