Challenging black leadership

  • Checks and balances: Walter Roban, who would go on to be appointed deputy premier, celebrates the landslide 2017 election result that returned the country to a perceived black majority rule (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Checks and balances: Walter Roban, who would go on to be appointed deputy premier, celebrates the landslide 2017 election result that returned the country to a perceived black majority rule (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“The ultimate tragedy is not the

oppression and cruelty by the bad

people, but the silence over that by

the good people”

— Martin Luther King Jr

Recently I have been asked: “Why are you attacking black leadership?” The reason why I am asked this question is because of the opinions that I submit regarding the Progressive Labour Party government’s actions and lack thereof. In these opinions, I also attempt to invite thought on whether the PLP is truly putting Bermudians first.

As a black man, this question is concerning to me. This question being posed at this very important time in our history should be concerning to all of us.

I anticipated this type of questioning because of my scrutinising of the Government, hence my op-ed dated January 15, 2018 entitled “Are black OBA members on the white side of history?”

My vision for Bermuda was spelt out in the last paragraph where I said: “I’m hopeful of the day when race-baiting and race-mongering are no longer front and centre in our political dialogue. I’m hopeful for the day when Bermuda moves away from racial politics and we move towards nationhood for the benefit of us all.”

Racial polarisation is a massive challenge that will continue our national decline unless we commit to rise above it. Now more than ever, Bermuda needs to have our leadership in government confronted, challenged, opposed and tested. This would develop us with a view to improving our existing racial political culture and the present leadership.

When leadership — black or white — is not held accountable, it tends to act irresponsibly and become saturated with corruption. In principle, democracy became dominant in the world when people fled from self-absorbed royalty, ruthless warlords and dictators. Leadership, if left unchallenged, will become plagued with corruption; hence the famous quote: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In Bermuda, because of our history and culture of racism in politics, society and economics, it is very difficult for a white person to confront black leadership because the person will have to contend with the accusation and stigma of racism. Additionally, blacks are often reluctant or careful not to criticise the actions of black leadership because they run the risk of being undermined and accused of being a servant to the white leadership agenda.

Therein lies a great danger. There are black leaders who thrive on manipulating this dilemma. They present themselves as being a victim of the white agenda and stir up the black masses to protect them despite their exploitation, deception and corruption. Then they become a law unto themselves and can do nothing wrong because if whites confront them, they are racist and if blacks confront them, they are being sell-outs.

There appears to be this unwritten rule that there can be no public denunciation of black leadership’s failures and missteps. In our democratic system, nothing will corrupt black or white leadership more than the belief that they are above public scrutiny. Giving leadership a free pass like this is a ticket to failure.

Leadership in public office is not a private business or matter. Private scrutiny, to the extent that it exists, is likely to be too weak to be effective as a check and balance. Additionally, behind-closed-door caucus meetings have their role to play. However, when public officials commit wrongs for all to see, they should be held accountable publicly and they should provide the public with an honest explanation and adequate reassurance.

Those who would condemn me for being constructively critical of black leaders and highlighting their public actions and failures are the biggest danger to black leadership. They betray the leadership by not guiding and steering it in the right direction. They also betray the people and our future by accepting and accommodating leadership that is inadequate, ineffective or incompetent.

We encourage mediocrity at the highest levels when we do not confront deficient and defective leadership. When mediocrity in leadership is allowed to continue, it filters through all of society, which results in average and mediocre becoming the accepted normal. Similarly, we encourage corruption when we do not strongly and publicly oppose corrupt actions by our leaders.

Demanding leadership to improve should not matter whether the leadership is black or white. We saw what happened throughout Bermuda’s history where the white leadership commonly remembered as the “Forty Thieves” was behaving corruptly. Whites didn’t speak up publicly when all could see the level of corruption for fear of being marginalised by the white power base. Blacks who did publicly oppose white leadership had to deal with economic consequences, societal roadblocks put in their way and mortgages being recalled.

For black leadership to evolve, it must appreciate that we live in a multidimensional world. It must develop the confidence and the skill set to lead more than just black people. They must also recognise and appreciate that “black people” are a categorically complex and dynamic community and demographic.

Bermuda, like the rest of the world, is home to many races and nationalities. We have a society of black, white and Portuguese as the main groups. However, increasingly we have Asians, Europeans, Africans as well as Caribbean, American and a Canadian presence here. We are a tourist destination with more than 500,000 per annum arriving from every corner of the world. We have an international business regime here that maintains our economy and we have instant global communication, which puts our parliament headlines in front of the world to see.

Our black leaders must take all of this into account and provide multidimensional leadership necessary to lead Bermuda in a multidimensional society. Of course, this should not mean that the concerns of the black voters who elected black political leadership should not be prioritised. Indeed, they should be prioritised as democracy demands it.

However, representing a particular community cannot be done in isolation and should not mean a reckless disregard for everything and everyone else. To do so would continue with the racial polarisation that we must try to get beyond. The skill to govern in a multidimensional way is what should qualify one to be a leader — whether they are black or white.

To get to the highest levels required for our nation to evolve our governmental leadership must be confronted, challenged, opposed and tested. The freedom of expression exercised by a free press and individuals is crucial to the maintenance and wellbeing of our society and the development of our leaders. Therefore, I will continue to do my part to ensure that our government’s actions are in the best interests of Bermuda and all its people.

Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017

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Published Apr 9, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 8, 2019 at 10:37 pm)

Challenging black leadership

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