Praise for island’s efforts to tackle racism

  • Voice of hope: NAACP official Hilary Shelton brought his message to the island (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

    Voice of hope: NAACP official Hilary Shelton brought his message to the island (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

A prominent voice from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People has praised local efforts to grapple with the island’s legacy of racism.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, commended the latest round of truth and reconciliation “community conversations” organised by the group Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda.

“It’s a very good idea — the only way we can move forward is by being able to reconcile where we have been and what we are, and move forward to where we need to be,” Mr Shelton said.

The activist, who serves as the NAACP bureau’s senior vice-president for advocacy and policy, visited the island last week as a guest of Curb and the United States Consul General to Bermuda, Mary Ellen Koenig.

Acknowledging the “painful element of the past” was essential, Mr Shelton said — and critics of the exercise were “missing the point — they’re just not taking into consideration the value of getting to know their neighbours better”.

“It’s about finding shared values,” Mr Shelton added. “The more we have these conversations, the more we see how alike we really are.”

Curb had just completed a second round of small group dialogues, in which members of the public gathered over six weeks of private sessions to share and discuss experiences of race.

Participants followed up in a talk circle with Mr Shelton at the US Consul’s residence, covered by The Royal Gazette on condition of anonymity.

One woman told the group that the narrative of “two Bermudas” endures, with demonstrations for worker’s rights “swarmed by the black community” and LGBT rallies “swarmed by the white community”.

She added: “In these separate dialogues, their agendas are totally different.”

A biracial woman responded that “people who show up represent people who want to show up”, and reflected that the shock of the Parliament protests of December 2, with pepper-spray used on demonstrators, had grown only more painful one year on.

While the white community was often said to duck the issue of race, she noted that white participants in the Curb talks had proved receptive.

And a black Canadian expatriate, who said she “sounds white down the phone”, described the difficulty of navigating Bermuda’s racial divisions — telling the group: “I haven’t been disadvantages — but I haven’t been advantaged either.”

A white Bermudian man suggested “three Bermudas”, with “a middle where there’s great interaction between blacks and white”.

He added: “I understand that we have to get our past experiences out, and divest ourselves of our frustrations.

“If we’re able to talk with each other and agree with each other’s perspectives, we’re well on the road to recovery, but we have to do so realising that we may not agree.”

A white woman who said she had “pretty much given up hope of unity before this process” said she had found the Curb talks “transformative and elevating”, adding: “I have vastly more hope today than I had three months ago.”

Another said the impetus of the talks should be directed towards pushing for legislative change.

Mr Shelton recalled the activist Martin Luther King, Jr telling a reporter in 1964 that he would “continue to move to change hearts and minds in this world — but I need policy”.

A black male participant said that veterans of the talks “need to engage people who are too afraid or not open minded enough to get involved in something like this”.

He added: “I’m not somebody who just wants to do this for seven weeks and then stop.”

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Published Dec 13, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 13, 2017 at 5:51 am)

Praise for island’s efforts to tackle racism

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