Candid discussion on race is needed

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Dear Sir,

I’m grateful to the relevant senators for acknowledging the need for a progressively candid national conversation on the experience of race in our country. I believe in the value of such a conversation and feel I should do my part to encourage it.

To write my undergrad dissertation, I had to develop a useful framework with which to reflect on the black Bermudian experience, which resulted in me understanding it as a sociohistorical, economic, ideological and systemic condition.

Sociohistorical in how people of the African diaspora contemporarily experience the enduring consequences of the transatlantic slave trade.

Economic in how these people find disproportionate difficulty in accessing opportunities, and therein wealth and a certain quality of life, which is a consequence of the slave trade and oligarchic post-emancipation efforts.

Ideological in how certain internalised values and beliefs implicitly dictate the black experience in restrictive ways.

And systemic in how these three things subtly and passively work together to create a reality where the aspirations and lives of black people are statistically more impeded, among other things.

Can you imagine the frustration? Just because you were born at a certain time, in a certain place and to a certain historical legacy, chances are it’s going to be harder than it should be for you to develop your potential, or even notice it.

And what if effort isn’t enough? What if existing beyond the apparent historical, economic and ideological limitations of the black experience just doesn’t seem possible, which seems to be the case for so many in your position? And even if it is, you still have to carve out a space for yourself in this world; and so you do, but many times in ways that only serve to fortify the systemic and personal barriers that already exist for you. This is the context for things like black Bermudians being grossly overrepresented in crime and gun violence statistics, and for the reality that they dominate the socioeconomic underclasses of our country. For the integrity of our social fabric and the prosperity of all Bermudians, I don’t see how one can readily trivialise, let alone dismiss the relevance of race for us.

As much sense as my thinking made to me, my dissertation tutor, the people who marked the dissertation and the few others who have read it, I’ve been called “brainwashed” and “naive”, and I’ve been accused of “race-baiting” and of trying to be “intellectually trendy” because of my views on race and how vocal I choose to be about them.

I’ve also been warned enough times that by doing things such as submitting this writing to you, I’m committing a taboo as an “upwardly mobile” young black male, since race shouldn’t be relevant to me, and that I definitely shouldn’t be revealing that it is in such a public way, mostly since I don’t need the “right” people having the “wrong” impression of me.

Such thoughts, I feel, are a part of a censoring political correctness that is superficial in its expediency and only serves to cause conversations about race to be as neurotic and counterproductive as they are.

Sir, I hope that I’ve at least begun to show that, although we’re meant to be a part of a “post-racial”, “colour-blind” world, the consequences of historical racially specific action are still impeding life for people of the African diaspora and, of course, beyond, while others, such as the equally unwitting descendants of the perpetrators of said historical action, continue to thrive, although many times dismissing the current relevance of race from their privileged position.

As a millennial, early twenties, I’m meant to be a part of advocating a “post-racial” ethics, but I can’t, since such an ethics wouldn’t allow me to acknowledge the racial legacy that many of our country’s challenges are a part of, thus preventing me from fully understanding them and affecting their resolution.

It’s a great time for us to begin opening our hearts and minds to each other in order to effect some real unity in our country, and I hope that we’re able to use a national conversation on the experience of race in Bermuda to do that.

RAJAI DENBROOK

St George’s

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Published Jul 6, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 6, 2015 at 1:23 am)

Candid discussion on race is needed

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