Bridging the racial divide
In considering our racial divide and the PLP, it is important to remember that, from its inception, the founders of the PLP made the decision not to address the racism or segregation or the racial divide, all of which were prevalent, official and Government sponsored at the time. They decided to follow Great Britain and represent labour, even though our circumstances were very different from those of Great Britain, and the British who came to Bermuda may have been Labor in Britain but promptly became UBP when they landed in Bermuda! The PLP did not wish to directly confront the white Community and were naive enough to hope that working class whites would join the Labour party! The fact that their sister organisation, the BIU did have rare occasions to represent Portuguese and were supported internationally by white labour organisations may have given them further reason. But when one considers the condition of the black Community almost fifty years later, one can question their justification for ignoring the racial divide.
The PLP and the BIU have made a difference for Labour, one wonders what difference they may have made to the racial divide if they had so chosen. Their enemies at the time charged them with being Communist but never with racism. Their efforts to compromise with whites were so evident at the time.
The PLP followed this path so totally that when Dr Brown came on the scene with his racial rhetoric it made a dramatic impact. For those who then called the PLP racist and claimed that was the reason whites would not join, it was as if the previous forty or fifty years had never existed. For others it was a breath of fresh air to have the most significant aspect of Bermuda life to be directly addressed. Unfortunately, in retrospect, the Big Conversation was merely a distraction that gave those who wanted the status quo to continue an excuse to be angry and to attack the messenger, Rolfe Commissiong, without its bringing any benefit to the black community. We needed legislation, with or without conversation. That would have given our enemies substantive reason for their anger. But he did not even carry through on the Equity Bill. Considering the fact that the former Premier was frequently charged with being too American, it is incomprehensible why he did not follow America in introducing a black Affirmative Action policy, particularly in the face of six hundred years of white Affirmative Action.
But it is in retrospect that it can now be seen as a mere distraction since I was one hundred percent in favour of the Big Conversation at the time. It was a very gradual process to realise that addressing the racial divide in the interest of the black Community was not on the Premier's agenda, no matter how much concern he may have had about white racism. Ironically it was because the black Community wanted change in the racial divide, without concern about white racism that they had given the PLP the Government yet both before and after the Brown Administration, and during it, there was more concern about the white Community than those in the black community who needed their attention. Marc Bean, now Minister Bean was unabashedly very clear about this greater concern when he insisted that the accumulated generational wealth of the white Community must be protected, much of which wealth was accumulated during slavery and segregation. For blacks he simply said that they needed to be united, implying that the Government had no responsibility for their condition (as long as white wealth was protected). Since party politics makes black unity impossible his remarks were almost cynical. The PLP have also said that they will “encourage” black entrepreneurship, as if that were their only responsibility after six hundred years of governed-sponsored white affirmative action. The irony of the implication of that would take an essay of its own.
In addition to white affirmative action the black community has also had to deal with the issue of foreign workers and the charge of xenophobia, particularly in view of Sir John's recent solution that we must bring in wealthy foreigners who will bring with them a retinue of workers from cooks to landscapers. No matter how right his solution may be, blacks are aware that since 1834 all of our Governments have attempted to undermine them with foreign workers after emancipation. Throughout the 1840s there were all kinds of schemes to bring in white workers from Britain, but there was no success until 1849 when Portuguese were imported. Then there was the 1940s when Europeans drove blacks out of the hotel industry. But apart from these mass efforts there has been a consistent and continuous effort to bring in white workers to displace blacks and to be their superiors in the workplace. So there was particular irony when Dr Brown told black graduate students that they were not “entitled” to work in their own country while foreigners clearly were so entitled. They were not even entitled to a minimum wage policy so that they would not have to compete with often exploited foreign workers from third world countries with a much lower standard of living.
Dr Brown' administration showed its commitment to local workers when Leonie Junos was fired to satisfy Americans who saw themselves as her superiors, and what can one say when a white foreigner is hired to do a replica of the iconic Dame Lois Brown, in the face of our numerous artists black and white.
Clearly the racial divide and its very destructive impact on the black Community has not been taken very seriously even by those who profess to represent the black Community, perhaps not because they are black (!) but because it was the black Community which put them there in Government. When the leader of the new Opposition promises to” bring us together” and to do things “differently”, then talks about a “crisis in education” and a “crisis in the economy” and “transparency” and a list of other things without once mentioning the ”crisis” of our racial divide one wonders just how he is going to” bring us together”. After all the racial divide is clearly both the direct and indirect cause of most of our other crises, since most of which are only in the black Community. One also wonders since, at the moment, most of his supporters are the white Community which not only created the divide but have been very insistent on maintaining it.
So what does the future hold for Bermuda in view of this total indifference by all to our racial divide and its continuing destructive impact on the black Community?
EVA N HODGSON