Separating the individuals from the issues
A friend of mine once said to me that people tend to address or attack individuals when instead they should address or attack issues. Over the past few weeks, various personal and online discussions have helped to illustrate this salient advice.
A few years ago, I wrote a few articles about growing up with persons whose parents were from the Azores and how I learnt about their culture.
Additionally, I attended one of their annual events held at the BAA parking lot, which afforded me the chance to learn a bit more about their community.
So, in June last year, when it was announced that there would be a celebration of the arrival of the Golden Rule, as a lover of history, my instincts were piqued.
Along the way, there have been various viewpoints exposed in both the positive and negative about this one-off holiday.
On one hand, we have the points that show pride in one’s community, the diversity of our island and an excuse to overdose on Portuguese doughnuts.
On the other hand, we have the reality that the Portuguese empire was the first and most longstanding operator in the Atlantic Slave trade.
So, exactly how and why should black people anywhere, celebrate an empire that enslaved millions?
Well, collectively, we have been and still celebrate far too many things about the British Empire, which was built on the genocide of millions around the world.
Clearly, we are collectively exhibiting a bit of Stockholm syndrome.
Closer to home, the fact remains that, historically, those in the seats of economic and political power in the 1800s chose to import persons from Madeira and then the Azores as a form of economic displacement of the recently freed black labour force.
Those are issues, I repeat, that cannot be denied.
Further, they are issues that need to be honestly discussed if we actually want to be a mature society.
However, the reality is not one person of Azorean descent alive today was a part of those decisions 170 years ago.
So, those individuals have all rights to celebrate their heritage.
With that in mind, it is equally important to keep things in proper historical and present-day context.
Last week, Robert Pires made an historically incorrect statement that left persons rightfully angered.
“They came here in the first instance to do jobs that Bermudians were not interested in — gardening, construction and, more recently, cleaning.”
— Robert Pires, The Royal Gazette, October 30, 2019
Let’s examine this logically, shall we. From 1616, enslaved Africans were brought to Bermuda, either directly from Africa or via various Caribbean islands.
They were forced to do whatever tasks their slave masters ordered them to do.
These tasks included farming, boatbuilding and construction.
As a prime example, the House of Assembly was constructed before Emancipation in 1834.
Who do we honestly think built that and hundreds of other structures, inclusive of churches, commercial buildings and residential homes?
If we are honest about it, black Bermudians dominated the construction trade up until perhaps 20 years ago.
So the argument that Bermudians did not want to do construction in the 1850s is totally false.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the question that must be asked is this: “How did we feed ourselves for more than two centuries between 1609 and 1849?
We, as both the enslaved and those that enslaved us, obviously had to be both farmers and fishermen in order to provide fresh food for ourselves and thousands on a daily basis.
So, again, the statement that Bermudians did not want to garden or farm is totally baseless.
Here is the thing.
The Azoreans were treated harshly with a host of inhumane conditions, including comparatively low pay, not being able to bring in their wives and families, and no schools provided for their children.
In latter years, many faced deportation.
Let’s be crystal clear, those injustices were meted out by those groups of individuals who had been in social, economic and political power for nearly 400 years.
It was the passion and work of the late Dame Lois Browne-Evans, in her role as human rights advocate and politician, which fought for there to be no segregation of schools between Bermuda’s ethnic groups.
It was the Progressive Labour Party that created the permanent resident’s certificate, which allowed hundreds of Azoreans to remain in Bermuda and grow their families and businesses.
By contrast, it was the United Bermuda Party, which, ironically, had several MPs of Azorean decent, but was deporting persons out of Bermuda.
Yet, somehow, their xenophobic ways were given an historic free pass.
So, yes, individuals must proudly celebrate their heritage.
At the same time, those who attempt to twist historic facts should be exposed.
In closing, it is impossible to determine how many Bermudians are of Azorean, Cape Verdean or Portuguese decent.
It remains that many men began relationships and then fathered children with black women.
These children, and their descendants, born and bred in Bermuda, rightly and readily identify as black or of the black community.
Should they, or anyone else, be ashamed of their heritage?
Should they, and all others, know the truth about all European empires built on slavery?
Essentially, as a country, if we wish to be a mature society, we must learn to separate the individuals from the issues.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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