‘Death of monarch should not in itself be a trigger to pursue independence’
It has been a time of mourning and reflection for people all over the world, as presidents, premiers and the public pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.
But for many, the past nine days have also included increased scrutiny of Britain’s legacies, including colonialism and enslavement.
As the world prepares for the burial of one sovereign and the coronation of another, is this an opportune time for this island to again consider cutting ties with Britain?
A spokeswoman for Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, an antiracism charity, said: “Curb believes independence is a natural progression for a modern, mature democracy, and while there may be reasons for and against, the death of the monarch should not in itself be a trigger for Bermudians to pursue independence.
“However, as the issue of ‘independence’ is both a pragmatic and emotional one, it is understandable why some would tie the death of the monarch to a change in Bermuda’s status.
“It has been argued that some of those who oppose independence only do so because they appreciate Victorian-style nostalgia and have a perception that Bermuda should be ‘Little England’.
“We have been settled since 1612, we have our own constitution, laws, traditions, currency and culture; and frankly it is very difficult to see how being a colony or Overseas Territory benefits Bermuda in any tangible way.
“Even still, if Bermudians want independence, it should be because the majority of Bermudians want it, at a time when Bermudians feel it is the best strategic and suitable moment, and on terms that Bermudians want.
“It is far too important to pursue due to an external factor that has very little bearing on Bermuda’s actual future.”
There continue to be 14 Overseas Territories, including Bermuda, that have a constitutional link with Britain.
The Curb spokeswoman said that, in Bermuda, colonialism led to enslavement, which led to inequality and, in turn, “enduring, systemic racism”.
She added: “The Westminster system further exacerbated inequality and racism as the divisions that began as political eventually became racial and class divisions.
“The system has been a source of division, but the UK retains it in its colonies, as the ‘first past the post’ system produces strong governments and weak oppositions.
“This allowed London to maintain control over far-flung lands by controlling the Government.
“Neither the late monarch nor the UK Government have been proactive in helping to heal Bermuda’s division caused by slavery and colonialism. As such, many Black Bermudians simply do not see the Royal Family as symbols of equality, goodness, etc.
“Frankly, singing a national anthem with the words ‘long to reign over us’ in 2022 might be problematic for some British people who live in Britain; it can possibly be seen as irrelevant to people who live thousands of miles away and do not have an anthem celebrating its own 400-year-old history, traditions and its people.”
Curb said that the Queen’s reign “might” have been more progressive than many perceived it to be had she apologised for the institution of slavery as well as other occurrences, such as the housing in the British Museum of artefacts acquired during colonialism.
The spokeswoman recognised that there were also social advances owing to the island’s relationship with Britain.
She said: “The fact of emancipation, albeit slavery was instituted by the British; a constitution, even England does not have one; and stability borne of the English common law and legal system were all developments that aided Bermuda, when used appropriately.”
The spokeswoman also noted that Bermudian students benefited from the same fee scales as British students, rather than the much higher international student rates.
She concluded: “The relationship is quite complex and goes through cycles of tensions and ease depending on whether Bermuda’s interests conflict or align with Britain’s, and there is a latent racial dynamic given colonialism and Bermuda’s past.
“Some would say independence is as inevitable as young people moving out of their parents’ home to face the real world; others feel ‘if it isn’t broken why try to fix it?’.
“Regardless of Bermuda’s international status, all Bermudians and residents can contribute to making a better Bermuda — one where skin colour favours no one.”
Antiracism charity Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda said the organisation was disappointed when Rena Lalgie, the Governor, did not respond to a request to talk to her about race relations.
A Government House spokeswoman said yesterday that the request was acknowledged but confirmed a meeting did not take place at the time.
Curb told The Royal Gazette: “Over the years that Curb has been serving Bermudians, we have found that politics can lead to very different interpretations of race relations in Bermuda.
“The one constant — as borne out in our most recent survey — is Bermudians overwhelmingly agree that race relations needs constant monitoring and improvement.
“As a result, we have found that being non-partisan produces more diverse participation in workshops/training, and solutions are more innovative.”
The charity said: “Accordingly, we reached out to the new governor — legislatively non-partisan — when she arrived seeking to pay a courtesy call and speak about race relations in Bermuda generally.
“We had great expectations given Her Excellency was Bermuda’s first Black governor; regrettably, our request and subsequent correspondence did not receive a reply from Her Excellency the Governor.
“It was disappointing but Curb will continue to pursue racial equality in our society.”
A Government House spokeswoman said yesterday: “A meeting request was received from Curb and acknowledged in early 2021.
“While it was unfortunate that a meeting did not take place at that time, the Governor is happy to meet with non-governmental organisations.”
Ryan Robinson Perinchief, who invited Bermudians to “dare to invent the future” when he was a panellist at an independence forum in 2019, posted comments on Twitter after the Queen’s death [see panel], which included the phrase “reign over us no more”.
Asked if that was a call for independence, he explained this week: “Above anything it was a call to remove the mental shackles which would have persons believe that anyone, whether another human or state entity, is superior and entitled to rule over another.
“Once our people are psychologically free, the question of independence in the political sense you refer to will take care of itself.”
I weep for no royalty, but for my people who believed the Queen to be their friend and not their overseer. For my leaders who talk out of both sides of their mouths. For the so-called representatives who in one breath claim to stand with the people for equality, justice and freedom, yet in another breath call for God to save their worldly oppressors so that they may “long reign over us” – our minds and our lands – not through merit but destruction, indoctrination and bloodshed. It is we who are denied both rest and peace.
The elders our youth are to follow who “grew up with the Queen” place their affliction with Stockholm syndrome on full display, having developed nostalgic affection for their very captors. No wonder we have not made more progress – the whole time we were fighting on a team full of double agents, undercutting our objectives with their hypocrisy and dance. One cannot serve two masters – each must make their choice so that their legacy may be judged by successive generations. I was born never to be reigned over nor recognise any man as superior. We are made of the same stardust. I was created free and equal with capacity to make my own decisions.
“Reign over us” no more, we too want rest and peace. Our people will one day be mentally emancipated so that we can rule our destiny. The fickle among us who vacillate with whatever direction the wind blows will have their day of judgment for their participation in our cultural, economic and political destruction. And those who tire in their duties by confusing the minds of our people will be deserving not of sympathy nor remembrance, neither rest nor peace.
Peace if possible. Compromise our principles never. Freedom by any means necessary.
Mr Robinson Perinchief, whose comments were made in a personal capacity, was asked about what circumstances he thought would be needed for the island to become independent.
He replied: “If there is only one thing persons remember from the discussion, it should be that the challenges of the world as it is being shaped today will require Bermuda to have a greater international presence and the ability to represent ourselves on the world stage with a respected and equal voice; that for our society to progress socially and economically we will need a stronger and better system of democracy than the one we are confined to by our constitution; and that our future prosperity will be vitally determined by our ability to align with other small-island states in the region so that we can operate and defend our interests with the power of a collective bloc.
“All of these things require strong leaders with sufficient awareness of these challenges at the macro-level, and crucially, a good government with persons of integrity who can maintain the trust of the people in executing a long-term vision for the future of the island.”
Dejon Simmons, a well-known digital marketing and multimedia consultant, believes a change in mindset is needed before any serious talks about the future of the island’s relationship with Britain.
He said: "For us to have this discussion in Bermuda needs mental maturity and a shift in consciousness that isn't blinded by political identity or personal gain.
“We have to take on our share of responsibility for the community.
“If we can't be accountable enough to come together for the smaller problems, being dependent on the Government to fix them for us, we will never be independent of ourselves, and so on.”
Mr Simmons added: “All politics and economics aside, we must see that we can take care of each other first, by family, by a friend, by neighbourhood, through education, and through local business, etc.
“Right now, it's every man or woman trying to survive.
“Until we see we are each other's keepers, we are divided and dependent.”
Independence was put to the public as a referendum in 1995 by Sir John Swan, a former United Bermuda Party premier, who resigned from office when it was rejected.
Alex Scott, when he was a Progressive Labour Party premier, appointed the Bermuda Independence Commission in 2005.
He said at the 2019 forum: “It was under my watch that we brought out the basis of going independent — but were unable to move it forward.”
Independence has been a goal of the Progressive Labour Party since its formation in 1963.
It was not mentioned in the PLP’s 2020 platform.
• To read in full the statement from Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.