PLP should lead discussion about race in Bermuda, Starling

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A failure to respond publicly to criticism of the Progressive Labour Party’s approach to structural racism could be due to uncertainty about its new leadership’s stance on race but the PLP’s silence could also indicate a worrying abdication of its leadership role in tackling structural racism.

This according to Jonathan Starling, a former member of the PLP who ran as an independent candidate in the December 17 general election.

Social justice advocate Eva Hodgson’s harsh criticism of the PLP last week was met with stony silence from PLP leaders contacted by The Royal Gazette.

Dr Hodgson argued in an opinion published in Monday’s paper that the party had failed to take a leadership position on race since its inception.

And she criticised new leader Marc Bean for comments immediately after his election which, she said, “gave solace” to the party’s critics who claimed the PLP played the racecard and was responsible for the Island’s racial divide.

Several PLP leaders, including Mr Bean, his deputy Derrick Burgess, Marc Daniels, Walton Brown, Walter Roban, and Rolfe Commissiong were contacted for their reaction but none responded.

However Mr Brown said that criticism of the PLP’s leadership and questions of the black community’s response to structural racism should be discussed internally, when asked why he would not discuss the matter publicly.

The PLP issued a statement saying it would not comment.

Mr Starling, who was the only person to give a substantive response to Dr Hodgson’s concerns, warned that if the party abdicated a leadership position on race it would effectively be facilitating structural racism.

On Monday, Mr Starling was asked his views on the PLP’s silence.

He said the PLP had a tradition of not airing its “dirty laundry” in public which would explain its reticence on commenting on criticism of its new leader.

But the party’s failure to discuss structural racism was a bit more perplexing, Mr Starling said.

Fear of repercussions should the members contradict its new leadership may be a factor, he said.

“The various MPs and members are still unsure about what the leader’s position is and afraid to speak frankly about their own opinions should these contrast with that of the leader.”

He added: “On another level, I think it can speak to the bankruptcy of the current PLP’s approach to race and structural racism in general.

“If any organised group should be leading the discussion on structural racism in Bermuda, and the intersection of race, class and gender, it should be the PLP.

“If they are going to abdicate that responsibility and continue to either dance around the issue of structural racism, then they become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

“In fact, they become part of the system of structural racism itself, and an obstacle to progressive social and economic change in regards to race.”

Mr Starling was particularly disappointed by Mr Brown’s refusal to participate in the discussion — the former political science college lecturer is the author of a book on Bermuda’s political development up to 1998 and “one would expect him to actually be one of the key contributors to such a public discussion on structural racism,” he said.

“So I can only think that in this instance he is abdicating his public responsibilities as a public intellectual for the sake of a misplaced commitment to the party line (or in the lack of such a line, of stepping out of bounds into the unknown, alone).

“Which I hope is not the case, as he is more than capable of contributing greatly in this area, so I hope there is an alternative explanation for his statement (or lack of) on this issue.”

Mr Starling continued: “Either the PLP takes a leadership role in challenging structural racism, or it adopts a policy of appeasement and accommodation to structural racism, and thus becomes one, of many, elements reinforcing and maintaining structural racism in Bermuda.”

But a policy of accommodation would create a vacuum to be filled by other forces — a “new political body, public intellectuals, grassroots activists, artists and writers or other civil society actors,” he said.

Mr Starling said that he was concerned that the One Bermuda Alliance’s victory at the polls appeared to have “emboldened” the white community in its “push to strengthen structural racism”.

“Not that they are conscious of this, most genuinely believe they are advocating a colour-blind philosophy of equality. But they confuse the concept of racism.

“To them racism is only the open discrimination against other races, or the open display of racist views.

“They do not, for the most part, understand the concept of structural racism, and have a very superficial approach to race, seeing it in purely legalistic terms.

“To them racism ended with the end of legal segregation, and openly racist views are seen as dying out.

“They fail to understand that the social and economic legacy of slavery and segregation continues on through inertia, and that the racial inequalities are largely strengthened and reinforced by an attempt to govern for colour-blindness while our society remains structurally racist.

“Such a colour-blind approach, that the majority of white Bermudians advocate (and what they ‘see’ in the ‘diversity’ of the ‘OBA team’ — as opposed to the OBA’s membership, nervous system and support base) only helps blind them from the reality of structural racism and perpetuates structural racism.

“We risk seeing, under the OBA, and especially right now with an emboldened ‘White righteousness’, reinforced by their appropriation of Mr Bean’s recent comments, an aggressive strengthening of structural racism economically and politically, if not also ideologically.

“The PLP, if it abdicates its role as a leader in challenging structural racism, in tackling it head on, it only helps to facilitate this aggressive structural racism, racism by stealth. And the mandate then passes to others to pick up.”

Monday’s story provoked vigorous discussion online. About 100 comments were made on The Royal Gazette’s website alone. Many of them were personal attacks against Dr Hodgson while a minority applauded her for raising the issue.

Some bloggers on social media suggested that the story was part of a conspiracy by this newspaper against the PLP.

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Published Jan 2, 2013 at 9:03 am (Updated Jan 2, 2013 at 9:02 am)

PLP should lead discussion about race in Bermuda, Starling

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