'Now is the time' to tackle racial injustice – CURB’s Riley
A massive turnout for the island’s Black Lives Matter demonstration a year ago was a moment of truth for the leaders of the charity Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, its president has said.
Lynne Winfield, the head of CURB, joined the procession of thousands through the streets of Hamilton.
She said the shock of watching the murder of George Floyd caught on camera “triggered people around the world, and it seems to be sustaining itself – the biggest worry we had was that it wouldn’t”.
Ms Winfield said she was “uplifted to see such a great mix of people that came out”.
But she added she wondered a year on: “Is it because we are majority Black and there’s more pressure on Whites to recognise it?”
Cordell Riley, Curb’s vice-president, went out later in the day to photograph the turnout, to keep a safe distance from the potential coronavirus risk from the huge crowd.
He said: “There were still quite a few thousand people. The shot I took gave it a vastness.
“I was surprised at the turnout. Perhaps because it was organised by younger folks and that people had been watching 9½ minutes of George Floyd’s death over and over, it sank into the psyche.”
Mr Riley said Mr Floyd’s death caused “a fire lit around the world”.
He added he was also surprised at the level of White attendance at the Bermuda event.
He added: “The surreal moment for me was listening to young White people saying ‘end white supremacy’. It was astounding, really.
“I wondered about its lasting effects. That’s the real question. It shook the world – what’s the impact?”
Ms Winfield said “huge” numbers had taken Curb’s History of Racism workshops through their employers since the historic march.
She estimated the numbers at “close to 1,000 by the end of June”.
Ms Winfield said international business has predominated, but other organisations such as the Anglican Church also embraced the challenge.
She added: “There seems to be a real wish, instead of ticking the boxes of diversity and inclusion, for people to understand racial injustice.
“I think people are really shocked to find they’ve been spoon-fed stories of things being beyond slavery.
“They didn’t know that the wealth of today is based on the wealth of the past.”
She added: “It’s been changing for the last several years, but, for me, the need to change has become apparent to the White community.”
Curb’s research has traced the foundation of many Bermudian institutions to the post-emancipation payout of 1834 to owners forced to free the enslaved.
Mr Riley said participants had left Curb’s workshops “understanding how things tick in Bermuda – particularly people new to Bermuda”.
He added: “From my perspective, there is a level of sincerity. Some have been involved at the CEO level.
“We have a track record – we were in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, it took the death of George Floyd to propel our work forward.”
Ms Winfield said the legacy of the murder of Mr Floyd on May 25 last year was a shock that “made people collectively want to go deeper, to make a difference”.
She added: “Across the island, it made Black people reflect.
“I think it produces profound grief and trauma for Black people because they’ve seen it all before.
“For White people, it produces grief and shame.
“It’s taken them to a point, to that place, where they’re willing to do something.”
Ms Winfield said a friend who worked as a teacher had been shocked when she discussed the aftermath of the George Floyd demonstrations, that a white pupil could not remember Mr Floyd’s name.
She added: “The student said 'maybe it’s because I don’t have to’.
“Collectively, people on the island are more willing to think about it. People are finding the courage to go deeper.
“There is a responsibility and accountability for all of us to speak truth to power.”
But Mr Riley said White reluctance to tackle the problem remained “very much” in place.
He added: “Privilege protects privilege. When you talk about race, you’re really talking privilege. You get pushback.”
Mr Riley said the “All Lives Matter” hashtag often used in response to Black Lives Matter was “in essence, true”.
But he emphasised: “The challenge is that all lives are not treated the same.
“Blacks are not viewed the same as Whites. It’s in the White psyche and some older Blacks as well. You have to overcome those things. That’s not going to be easy.”
Mr Riley said that inherited wealth rooted in slavery was a sensitive subject for many.
But he added: “When you start to look at the very root, you have to face reality.
“We’ve had the Pitt Report and others calling for taxation on wealth – that never happened.
“It’s one of the reason we have such a wide gap and we can’t even track it.”
Mr Riley asked: “If all lives matter, then shouldn’t there be some compensation for those lives that didn’t matter?”
Ms Winfield said allowing the memory of George Floyd to slip away risked “losing one’s own humanity”.
She added: “We have to remember this, not let it disappear.
“I think George Floyd’s name will be around for many years.”
Mr Riley said: “As we come out of the pandemic, it’s not only a return to a sense of normality.
“We’ve also had a disruption to race relations.
“Perhaps the consolation of George Floyd’s death is it has put a face on race and injustice, that perhaps now is the time to deal with this.”