PLP racist? No, here’s a history lesson

  • Beaten but not bowed: the systemic erasure of a glorious past is truly a crime against humanity. 

Kunta Kinte, brought to the TV screens by LeVar Burton in Roots, typified a bold resistance to slavery (Photograph supplied).

    Beaten but not bowed: the systemic erasure of a glorious past is truly a crime against humanity. Kunta Kinte, brought to the TV screens by LeVar Burton in Roots, typified a bold resistance to slavery (Photograph supplied).

Dear Sir,

The recent report that the Government was not tabling its immigration reform plan prompted the unleashing of a barrage of criticism in the comments section accusing the Progressive Labour Party of racism. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I will concede that one may reasonably infer that there is a bias. There is nothing wrong with a bias. All of us have our biases.

I support Somerset, you support St George’s. Our biases determine the selections we make.

On the other hand, racism is so much more. It is where one group considers that it is inherently superior to another. It is used as a justification to take courses of action that are detrimental to the group or individual deemed to be inferior.

Our local experiences are instructive. The PLP was formed in 1963 because it was a necessary tool to minimise the oppressive voting policies then in existence. The records will show that even though Bermuda had a 60:40 ratio of black-to-white population. The House of Assembly had 36 persons, of whom 29 were white and seven were black.

Ownership of property was the criteria and larger properties were “temporarily shared” before elections so that voters’ lists in the parish elections were swelled by the inclusion of persons from other parishes who became the ”temporary part-owners” of properties and voted in the parish elections. Some were thus able to vote in every parish where they had either actual or “temporary” ownership.

To facilitate this odious practice, General Elections took place over a three-day period. The first day would be for Sandys, Southampton and Warwick, and the next two days for the second and third group of parishes. That process was because there was no motor transport.

It benefited the white community. There was a response from the black community. Most parishes had a political association. During elections, each parish could elect four representatives. If there were six candidates, each voter could vote for four. Blacks generally would vote only for the one black candidate and not exercise the right to select any of the other three, thereby increasing the likelihood of success for their choice.

This was called “plumping”. In fact, the formation of the PLP could be likened to the amalgamation of the Parish Associations (United We Stand). The PLP founders were criticised by the political elite who stated that there was no place for political parties in Bermuda and that parliamentarians should be independent. However, the next year, when the House of Assembly was on its summer break, 24 of the 30 “independents” formed the United Bermuda Party without even consulting their electorate.

Many in the older generation know of the white lady who joined the PLP and was elected in 1963. Her invitations to afternoon teas with her “friends” were abruptly stopped. Her husband was made painfully aware that his upward mobility at the real estate firm where he worked would not be realised.

We also know of the young white man who worked at a local gas company and joined the PLP on a Friday, but was jobless the next Monday. There are those of us who know of a professional who was encouraged by a doctor/politician to join the PLP. He readily agreed. However, he and his wife, who owned a business, immediately began saving furiously, and did so for eight years. He then announced his intention to run for the PLP. It was with smug satisfaction that when his mortgage was called, he was able to withdraw his funds from the bank and repay the Front Street lender at his commercial premises.

These are just a few examples of what racism does. What do “racist” blacks do. We call some “Uncle Tom” or “House n***er” or Oreos — black on the outside, white on the inside. We might call some “white trash“ or “po’ white”. The words are hurtful, but we are not able to call mortgages or deny the opportunity for employment.

Biases were reflected during the 1950s when throughout the island we heard of Portuguese sailors who survived a shipwreck and were brought to Bermuda. They were said to be staying near the Paraquet Restaurant. Several members of the Portuguese community went there to render aid and comfort to their countrymen. Their humanitarian concerns disappeared when they found that the survivors were black, Portuguese-speaking Africans from Cape Verde.

Reference was also made to slavery. What I find reprehensible about the comments is the failure to recognise that the slavery of Africans was so different. Historically, many enslaved peoples were able to retain their customs, language and beliefs in a hostile environment. African slaves were stripped of all of this.

Where on the continent did I come from? I don’t know. Am I from Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Senegal? All of this is lost in the mist of history. Am I supposed to be a Christopher rather than an Nkrumah Mandela, Lamumba?

The systematic erasure of a glorious past is truly a crime against humanity. The body of water known as the middle passage is littered with the remains of millions who died because of cruel mistreatment during the voyage or who died by suicide rather than live in a strange and cruel land that produced the likes of their captors.

I am reminded of a scene in the television production of Roots. There is a barebacked, manacled young man being questioned by a whip-wielding overseer who asks “What is your name?”

The young man answers “Kunta Kinte”. The overseer angrily retorts “You’re Toby”, as he mercilessly applies lashes to the bare back and asks again “What is your name?”

The response: “Kunta Kinte”. More lashes. This is repeated until the young man is beaten into submission and then, feebly and almost inaudibly, whispers in response “Toby”.

The spectacle is observed by other slaves on the plantation who are powerless to intervene, other than to tend to the wounds after the beating has stopped. The brutality became commonplace until the African homeland initially became a fading memory, which eventually completely disappeared.

The inhumane behaviour in Bermuda should not be forgotten, but seared into our collective memories. Not to exact vengeance, but rather to ensure that future generations of all races would put emphasis on that which we share rather than superficial differences.

We can be Bermudians and members of the human race.




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Published Nov 16, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 22, 2019 at 6:36 pm)

PLP racist? No, here’s a history lesson

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