We need to bridge our differences
November 1, 2011
One of your most regular and consistently-themed contributors to these columns wrote, in a letter published on October 27, that: “It is our deep racial divide with all of its inequities that is a greater problem (than Bermuda’s ‘failing economy’).” The letter repeated the phrase “inequities of our racial divide” (or words to that effect) at various points. This phrase struck me for what the words in it really meant, and how valid, or not, the assertion or implication of the phrase was.
First, an “inequity” is not the same as an “inequality”. An “inequity” is an inequality cloaked by a greater ethical and moral inference of discrimination, prejudice, bias and injustice. “Inequity” requires a proof that something is not fair or just according to established norms of equity in the judicial sense (and apart from the fact that some things in life just are not fair and get over it). I assume the writer knew this and that this is what she meant. Certainly there are racial “inequalities” in Bermuda today, just as there are inequalities attributable to education, gender, ethnicity, and so on, some of which certainly have to do with race. But I question the writer’s assertion that there are actually racial “inequities.”
The great difference between the Bermuda of today and the Bermuda of past generations is that human and social rights legislation, and, not least, the Bermuda Constitution, have proscribed “inequities” based on racial, ethnic or any other differential grounds. Anyone in Bermuda has recourse to the law for the redress of an “inequity” they allege to be perpetrated against them as discriminatory. There is no redress for an “inequality”, because perfect equality is an absolute impossibility and a wholly unnatural state in anything in the known universe even in Bermuda. Nothing is equal in this or (presumably) any other world (except, possibly, the divine one). Many things, on the other hand, are inequitable (and iniquitous) as a result of inequities, including some kinds of inequality. But the epistler in question presents no evidence of “inequities” (and racial inequities in particular) in Bermuda today that, as she rightly says were endemic in the past, as opposed to inequalities which are the normal if sometimes undesirable condition of things. Bermuda has already done a lot to eradicate inequities. And that in itself has promoted equality of opportunity in Bermuda. It is the latter, however, not so much the former, that needs constant and renewed commitment and investment of resources and energy to pursue as a continuing if elusive goal.
Secondly, a “racial divide” suggests a partition or segregation or separation or severance between different racial groups; a divergence from unity based on racial differentiation or, indeed, discrimation. But it also implies that there cannot be unity fundamentally because of racial differentiation; that races will always be “divided” by their biological and social differences. By logical extension, gender groups (men, women and any other derivations thereof) or different religious or ethnic or national groups, amongst others, would also be intrinsically alienated and divided by their differences. And this just isn’t so. We all have our differences, but we aren’t necessarily all divided by them.
Our differences can either divide or define us. We can choose to perpetuate divisions (or “divides”) that segregate us, which accentuate our inequalities and encourage inequities, or strengthen ourselves by a communal commitment to the things and values we share in common, what we identify with as “Bermudianness”: our customs and heritage, our traditions and culture and all the different qualities and characteristics as individuals that make the Bermuda community what it is today, and wherever we are (including way out here in the diaspora). The qualities of our differences, not the inequities of our “divides” or “divisions” are the building blocks of Bermuda’s future. The “inequities” and “racial divide” of past generations (and those who perpetuate them) have no place in that future. It doesn’t mean we sweep them under the carpet or ignore their existence. It does mean that we question whether they have any validity in Bermuda today and, if so, how to convert them into bridges that unite us rather than maintain them as parapets to fire from against ourselves.
Book 3 of the series of Bermuda Primary Social Studies books, “A Bermuda Year” (available from the Ministry of Education and a good read for anyone, together with Books 1 and 2), concludes: “Our traditions and values are our identity. Our identity is who we are. Our community is what we build together.”