BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday May 21, 2012 - “There are some people who come to our shores who are alien to our culture of democracy and, in fact, come here and dictate to Barbados in a manner which is repugnant to our justice.” - Opposition Senator Kerrie Symmonds, as reported in last Thursday’s Nation.
“I do not consider the remarks (Sir Roy) made to be racially oriented.” Independent Senator Geoffrey Cave, ibid.
In just a matter of a few weeks, a company which has been operating in Barbados for nearly two decades and is a key player in the tourism sector has seen its CEO suddenly become the victim of a metaphorical playground bully, with a few supporters cheering him on after the attack.
The issue which led to Mr. Jacob Hassid being called an “Egyptian Jew” at a public event by the general secretary of the Barbados Workers Union apparently revolved around the firing of a number of employees of the jewelry store Diamonds International, which Mr. Hassid manages.
Sir Roy’s characterisation of the gentleman led to a huge outcry against the union boss for what has been widely regarded as a below-the-belt remark not worthy of the esteemed knight.
Senator Kerrie Symmonds’ comment, as noted above, in support of Sir Roy - that there are people who come to Barbados with an “alien” view of democracy and act in a “repugnant” manner - fails to acknowledge that there are also some Barbadian employers who behave the same way.
Further, nothing can excuse the invocation of the stereotype or profiling associated with the use of the term “Jew” in an adversarial context. While it may not have been racist in intent, it instantly raised the bogeyman of the “foreigner” coming in to Barbados to suck his profits out of the suffering of hard-working locals, in the process cheating them out of their patrimony.
This singling out of an individual’s “foreigner” status is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it is sad to see it used so often in this country. Whenever we cannot win an argument, or feel that our case may not be as strong as we might like it to be, too many of us invoke the “foreigner” option.
Does anybody care that the CEO of Diamonds International has Barbadian-born kids? Or that he and his wife have lived here for seventeen years? That they have become part of the wider Barbadian family?
Recently, Paul Doyle of the Crane Resort was subjected to similar “anti-foreigner” bad-mouthing. Mr. Doyle also has a family in Barbados, and has lived here for twenty years. These are real people with real lives and real worries about their families’ personal security and good names, yet somehow they can suddenly find themselves at the receiving end of punches by a local power broker who has declared a turf war on them.
That is why I was so offended by Kerrie Symmonds’ and Geoffrey Cave’s defense of Sir Roy. Ganging up on a non-Barbadian was an easy and unheroic thing for Mr. Symmonds to do and Mr. Cave should have recused himself, period. Reason: Mr. Cave has business interests in two companies, Colombian Emeralds and Jewelers’ Warehouse, which are in direct competition with Diamonds International, not just here but around the region.
Therefore, on the one-in-a-million-chance that someone might see an ulterior motive in his support for a person who has just dissed one of his biggest business competitors, Senator Cave should have invoked the rule on himself that “Silence is Golden.”
Whether Diamonds International acted justly or unjustly in its dealings with its fired employees I do not know, as the facts of the case have not been fully aired in public, nor are they likely to be unless the matter ends up in court or at some arbitration panel.
But thanks to Sir Roy and those who jumped to his defence the company has been given a bloody nose long before any independent panel or court has found it guilty of anything. And while it maintains that it has acted fairly and within the law, its good name has already taken a beating. Is this fair because its owners and managers are “foreigners”?
Thankfully, despite the efforts of Messrs. Symmonds, Cave, and others, most people seem to feel that the bullying of Diamonds International in the court of public opinion has been unjust. Finally, the BWU’s refusal to take the “foreigner-bashing” tactic off the table, as evidenced by Sir Roy’s declaration that he has no apology to make, should make it clear to all employers that “We are all Egyptian Jews now.”
This story was originally published in the Broad Street Journal.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pat Hoyos. Pat Hoyos is a business writer and publisher of the Broad Street Journal.