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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Afro-phobia

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Afro-phobia

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The inordinate and overwhelming public attention in the Barbadian Press and the wider society over the very private issue of the dissatisfaction by a group of visiting Nigerian students with their hotel accommodation, forces one to ask the question: why did such a trivial matter dominate the public discourse in the manner that it did? 

Anyone who has stayed at any paid accommodation, from five-star hotel to backroom rental, would agree that complaining about conditions is a constant. I have never stood in a hotel lobby anywhere in the world for more than ten minutes without hearing guests complain about their conditions. Airline travellers do the same thing. It is part of the “learned culture” of the international traveller. I am certain that the abused front-line tourism workers who have been trained to smile and smile at everything, can attest to that assertion.

It is the first time in my too-short existence that I have seen the complaints of paying guests receive such an overwhelming public, negative and indeed frightening response. An honest assessment would lead to the conclusion that it was the students’ African-ness and not their complaints which was the source of the public hullabaloo.

What is the nature of this negative seed that has been buried deep in our psyches that made the Barbadian state see it as necessary to send a group of heavily armed military personnel to a hotel lobby as a response to the private complaints by the Nigerian students over their disappointment with the fact that they were placed in a hotel other than the one promised when they took the trip?  

What explains why the private medical skin condition of one of the visitors would have been reported in the Press as a “highly infectious” disease, complete with images of a team of Government health workers descending on the hotel for an environmental assessment, and with claims, subsequently denied, that the Nigerian students would have been quarantined at a military base?

Why would a school administrator in a country that is proud of its managerial competence, industry and world-class service-providing capabilities declare publicly that his school is “not ready” to accommodate the students? In a context of Government cutbacks to the institution, why would this administrator risk losing such a large injection of non-state income to another domicile?

Reflective of public misunderstanding, someone declared privately: “Barbadians here suffering, and these Africans complaining,” forgetting that the students were funded by their oil-producing state.

Most shockingly, why would a country like Barbados, concerned about its status as a world class tourism destination, present such a negative picture of one of its service providers and in the process do untold damage to its tourism image?

Is our ingrained Afro-phobia so strong that we could so casually cut off our world status nose to spite our African face?

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected]