Race is back in political discourse

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  • Dr Eva Hodgson

    Dr Eva Hodgson

The new PLP leader’s initial comments and concern according to published reports have to do with race. He says that the Party will do its part to take race out of the political discourse. In so saying, he has put race front and centre of the immediate political discourse.

Opinion polls show that whites were completely unified in their support of the OBA. A large majority of blacks voted for the PLP but blacks were far from unified in that support. Thus the defeat of the PLP can be seen as the divisiveness within one community while the OBA victory can be seen as the cohesiveness of the other community.

Thus it was particularly disturbing to read that the PLP delegates’ meeting fostered further division. First of all, the only campaign ad circulated by Marc Daniels at the conference encouraged disrespect and even contempt for the older PLP members who worked to bring the party to office through very difficult circumstances.

Then there was the divisiveness when the delegates seemed to have turned on the very Parliamentarians who had actually won seats for the PLP and met as a body to determine the most cohesive way forward. The delegates chose the maverick who had demonstrated disloyalty to his Parliamentarian colleagues and their promises and pledges.

Those of us who are older would have hoped that his first comments would have been to express concern and question why so many erstwhile supporters of the PLP had turned to the OBA or, even more significantly had stayed at home. Instead he gave solace to those bloggers and supporters of the OBA who charged the PLP with “playing the race card” and thereby being responsible for Bermuda’s racial divide. The new Leader tells us that “We are all Bermudians”. We have always been all Bermudians but that did not prevent the establishment of policies and practices of segregation that actually ensured the racial divide in order for one community to remain in an economic and psychological inferior and subordinate role.

His remarks also failed to acknowledge that they were merely in the tradition of the founders of the PLP and the actual practice of the PLP hierarchy throughout the years. He showed an amazing lack of knowledge of the history of the Party that he is now about to lead. He did not even acknowledge that both the former Premier Paula Cox and the contender Terry Lister had also attempted to take race out of the political discourse as soon as Dr Ewart Brown disappeared when they both said, in one [way] or another, that they were going to “dial back” on the racial rhetoric. That seems to me to be insulting to them, as if their efforts in this regard were not even worthy of acknowledgment.

The older generation for whom this younger “brighter, more energetic, more progressive” generation seems to have so little respect might at least educate them about the positions that were so important to both the founders and the succeeding generations of the PLP hierarchy. Members and party activists in the PLP should know something about the history of their Party. This seems important to me even if it is a matter of indifference to this new progressive leadership.

In the early 60s when the PLP was formed we were still officially segregated. It was my view, at the time, that any political party intending to represent our community should begin by addressing the segregation which constituted the most obvious social division. But the PLP took the position that the management/labour divide was more significant and the party would represent labour. The party decided to “ignore racist attitudes” and the issue of race itself. They made the point by putting ‘Labour’ in their name. They naively hoped that all workers would also ignore race and support the Party. PLP leaders were particularly expectant that the many immigrants from Great Britain who supported the Labour Party there would join the labour Party here. We all know how those expectations were dashed. Many of the founders of the PLP utilised European political models, completely ignoring the unique circumstances in Bermuda.

To emphasise that they were “ignoring” race and “racist attitudes”, they removed a long-time politician who had given sterling representation to the ‘coloured’ community and put in his place a newly-arrived lady from Great Britain and ran her in the most predominant ‘coloured’ district to ensure that she would be elected, which, of course she was. At that time their enemies did not charge them with “playing the race card”. Instead they were charged with being “communists”. Today no one could charge the current PLP hierarchy with being “communist”, or even socialist. Chris Furbert seems to sometimes wonder if they can even be called Labour since he contends that their governance has benefited employers more than the Union. So Mr Furbert may not hurt much more as a result of the change of Government!

Some have even compared the ‘new leader’ with Ron Paul, the extreme right wing Republican, whom he is said to admire.

Over the years, as the Opposition to the UBP, the PLP hierarchy did “point their fingers” but it was always at employers and never because of race. Their challenges and often successes, as in the establishing of a Labour Day holiday, were always on behalf of labour.

In view of the success that the PLP achieved as Opposition to the UBP I have often wondered how much better our race relations would be if they had put race on their agenda. But they have not. They did not even follow up on the work of the Progressive Group who successfully broke down public segregation and CUAS who successfully achieved universal franchise, both before party politics.

It was also, in my view, a slap in the face of his political mentor and benefactor since Dr Brown was the only member of the PLP hierarchy to put race front and centre of the “political discourse” (with a vengeance). The ‘new leader’ seems to have no knowledge beyond the administration of Dr Brown who talked but didn’t actually do anything.

In recent years, after the PLP became Government, they clearly have ignored race to the extent that they have never been prepared to consider unabashed affirmative action policies. Even Dr Brown, despite his rhetoric and the charge of his being “Americanised” never followed America in attempting to establish affirmative action policies. The PLP were certainly “ignoring” both ‘racist attitudes’ and race when they let the Equity Bill die. They certainly ignored race when, apparently out of personal vindictiveness, they took the silos in Dockyard from Jim Butterfield and did not give it to someone in our community, as some were naive enough to expect. They have ignored race when they continued most of the contracts that had been given out to the wealthy UBP. They certainly ignored race when they permitted Zane DeSilva to oust Stanley Lowe who was even their Speaker.

While we must give credit to former Premier Paula Cox for creating the Economic Empowerment Zones, we know that she was ignoring race when she would not call the election when the PLP had a better chance to win. The PLP hierarchy was ignoring race when they turned five PLP safe seats into marginal and safe seats for the OBA. Even the ill-conceived and ill-fated term limits were ignoring race. The UBP had not been concerned about the statelessness of many Portuguese but the PLP promptly addressed the issue and to prevent the same thing happening to other foreign workers they introduced the term limits when they could just as easily have let the foreign worker stay as long as he/she liked while making it clear in their contracts that they would never be given status.

The reality, which Marc Bean seems to ignore when he says that ”the Party will do its best to take race out of the political discourse” (having just introduced it in his very first comments), is that “the Party” consists of more than just him, and, for that matter, of more than just the PLP hierarchy. PLP members cannot ‘ignore racist attitudes’ because racist attitudes determine racist actions. Those actions often result in those with the same qualifications getting paid very different salaries. It does not matter how much we are prepared “to do for ourselves” if we have to have very different collateral when we go for a bank loan, or when we see that we are seldom the ones to get very profitable Government contracts. I certainly agree that we need to look at ourselves. In doing so we might recognise the extent to which we have internalised the racism to which we have been subjected for generations and the fact that as a result we are always prepared to attack each other while being more than willing to give a pass or excuse the inexcusable actions of others.

I do not know Mr Bean. I am told that he is a very bright young man. He may well be. But what the defeated PLP needs in its leadership is wisdom and humility. Despite Mr Bean’s frequent comments on wisdom he seems to have neither. Certainly he lacks wisdom if he believes that those in our community who are sometimes struggling to put bread on their table can focus on the “finer things of life” whatever he means by that. He lacks wisdom if he believes that the many supporters of the PLP can ignore racist attitudes when they look around them and see the great disparity in our economic circumstances.

This is particularly true since at least 50 percent of their supporters support the PLP because they see it as the black Party. They are not likely to believe that it is all because we have failed “to do for ourselves”. Certainly he lacks humility when he believes that he can accomplish what generations of the PLP hierarchy did not accomplish no matter how hard they tried to ignore racist attitudes and race, or for that matter what Paula Cox and Terry Lister did not accomplish no matter how much they dialled back on “racial rhetoric”. Clearly they did not succeed when his very first remarks have introduced race in his “political discourse”.

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Published Dec 31, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm)

Race is back in political discourse

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