Improving racial-equity in Bermuda: How blacks and whites can both benefit
At this moment — and perhaps for a short period longer, probably only months — there exists a window of opportunity for all Bermudians to benefit socially, economically and politically. That sounds exciting, and it is, but it requires black and white Bermudians to re-evaluate their long-held beliefs and attitudes concerning racial equity and then work together to implement meaningful programmes to dramatically reduce the social, economic and political dysfunction that today directly and indirectly harms all Bermudians.
The sad reality, however, is that such a dramatic shift in attitude and understanding is unlikely to happen in such a short period of time. Thats because many whites, with good reason, no longer want to hear about the racial-equity issue, and many blacks, with good reason, no longer want to talk about the racial-equity issue, particularly with whites.
That breakdown in communication is, to a large degree, the result of two factors: the way many white Bermudians view the racial-equity problem, and the way many Bermudian race-equity advocates present the problem.
Fortunately, as we move closer to an election, there is an increasingly strong incentive for white Bermudians to carefully listen to the racial-equity concerns of the black community and to support the introduction of programmes to help struggling black Bermudians.
If racial-equity advocates can shift their approach to take advantage of that opportunity, Bermuda may be able to not only bridge the racial divide that has plagued this island throughout its history, but also come to a better understanding of why its education and political systems are failing to meet the needs of its people.
Strong incentive for whites to act
Many whites in Bermuda are reluctant to become involved in meaningful discussions of racial equity because they believe that there is no racial inequity any more, which rests on the argument that racial inequity ended with the removal of segregation laws and racial glass ceilings, and now everyone has equal opportunity.
This belief is particularly problematic because it has contributed to many whites no longer even listening to what racial-equity advocates are saying, making community-wide understanding and cooperation to develop solutions virtually an impossibility.
This is unfortunate because there are compelling reasons for implementing programmes that address the growing problems in the black community. Moral fairness alone would dictate that a people who have been mistreated for hundreds of years should be given help in their time of need. But on a more practical level, whites have much to lose if they do not work with blacks to go to the root of the problem because racial inequity, generational family dysfunction, a failing education system, a malfunctioning political system and gang violence are so closely interrelated in Bermuda that unless we minimise the former two, we are unlikely to turn around the latter three.
Fortunately, with the election soon upon us, there is an additional reason for whites to listen carefully to the concerns of the black community. Simply put, if they fail to do so, the PLP will likely be re-elected, and many in the white community believe that outcome will be extremely detrimental to the future of Bermuda.
Justified or not, there is a strong feeling in Bermudas white community (with a fair amount of support from blacks employed in senior positions in International Business) that this countrys large economic problems are, to a great extent, the result of Government incompetence and the perception of corruption, and that if the PLP were to win the next election, Bermudas problems will become decidedly worse, not simply because the PLP are unlikely to govern better in the future than they have in the past, but because many Bermudians and expats will simply give up on Bermuda. Their thinking goes like this —if the electorate wont throw out these guys after 14 years of incompetence and corruption, then there is little hope for the country and we should build our future elsewhere.
Those Bermudians who hold this strong belief have a correspondingly strong incentive to reduce the odds of that happening. And that means addressing the race issue in a meaningful and constructive manner.
While in many countries it would be highly likely that a governing party with a record of numerous breaches of good governance and a massive growth in Government debt would have little chance of re-election, in Bermuda that is not the case because good governance and fiscal competence are not the sole deciding factors in choosing the Government. For years, one other factor has also played a primary role: race.
So right now the white community has a choice to make. It can do nothing and simply gamble that a sufficient number of black Bermudians will give greater weight to the good governance issue than the racial-equity issue and therefore vote against the PLP, or alternatively, the white community can address the racial-equity issue in a meaningful way.
The following is an attempt to move that discussion forward, and is divided into three parts:
(i) Widening the White Perspective (which I will discuss today),
(ii) Changing the Way the Racial-Equity Problem is Presented (which I will discuss in my Rotary speech next Tuesday), and
(iii) Some Programmes That Can Help (which will be published in The Royal Gazette late next week).
Part 1 Widening the White Perspective
Eliminating the cause does not equate to eliminating the problem.
One of the biggest obstacles in dealing with racial equity in Bermuda is that whites and blacks generally see the issue very differently. In fact, many whites dont even see a racial-equity issue; they see only a poverty issue or a bad parenting issue that just happens to be greater in the black community than in the white community. As far as they are concerned, racial inequity ended when segregation laws and racial glass ceilings ended. In other words, because state-supported racial discrimination is legally and effectively a thing of the past, they believe that, by definition, everyone has equal opportunity.
The following discussion is an attempt to convince whites that not only is there another perspective of the racial-equity issue, but that other perspective is both valid and important.
There is one caveat: in no way should this discussion be considered complete. I am a white guy talking about a complex issue that directly affects blacks and only indirectly affects whites. Obviously blacks, particularly black racial-equity advocates, can tell you much more about this issue because they have studied it for years and lived with the problem all their lives.
My goal is simply to open the door to the possibility of whites and blacks taking another look at the issue because so much rides on the outcome.
The racial-equity struggle is different in Bermuda than in the US
Before beginning a discussion of racial equity in Bermuda, it is important to make clear what we are not talking about. Specifically, we are not talking about overt, racist acts occurring today. Yes, such acts of racial bigotry still occur, but they are relatively infrequent compared to yesteryear and victims now have legal recourse to address such wrongs, such as under the Bermuda Constitution and the Human Rights Act.
We are also not talking about a lack of political or civic power. Unlike their counterparts in the United States, blacks in Bermuda not only control the legislature, but also hold an overwhelming majority of the key positions in the judicial and executive branches of Government.
In other words, the racial-equity struggle in Bermuda is much narrower than its counterpart in the United States. In Bermuda, the principal concern is not about racial bigotry occurring today; those happenings (with the exception of some criminal justice/racial profiling problems) are relatively infrequent. Nor is it about achieving political and civic power; blacks already have that.
The racial-equity struggle in Bermuda is, for the most part, about state-sanctioned discriminatory actions that occurred in the past — specifically over hundreds of years of slavery, segregation and racial glass ceilings — that have directly and indirectly contributed to the disadvantages many black Bermudians face today.
These disadvantages — economic, educational, psychological and social — vary significantly from family to family and person to person. In some cases they are mere obstacles that with hard work and the help of dedicated parents are already being conquered, and in other cases they are so overwhelmingly large and crippling that they have become principal contributors to the generational family dysfunction that not only impedes economic and social advancement but also plays a significant role in Bermudas increasing levels of gang violence and crime.
l The second part of this Opinion column will be published in tomorrows Royal Gazette.
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