That was then ...
November 17, 2011
I recently asked what Bermuda’s future was likely to be if we do not address the enormous economic and psychological disparities between the black and white Communities. The leader of the new Opposition gave his opinion when he ended his radio address. He said: “Bermuda’s best days are to come.” I wondered if that included the black community, particularly the black male, or if he had even considered the recent trend of the black community during the last 40 years? If not I suggest he begin by reading a recent article by MP Dale Butler.
Mr. Butler wrote: “When the society was more repressive than it is now, black men worked to achieve and in being employed and skilled. They avoided prison. They had guts and fortitude. Parental, Church and Community support helped them to take one step at a time … Our community philosophy which used to guide young men to success upward, pants up respect not disrespect, overcoming barrier and not allowing success to be deterred by racism or economic privilege”.
Mr Butler is not alone in commenting on the difference between “then” and “now” They, too, speak of the “good values” which prevailed: a belief in God, respect for those who did even if one did not have the same belief, respect for teachers because they dispensed the education which they believed was a path to escape the worst oppression.
The Cambridge overseas results at the time often proved that they were successful when the results at the Berkeley Institute were often the best in the Island. Apart from Berkeley, there were others who invested in the young. They did not have degrees, they did not have high salaries, but they saw the conditions around them and hoped the younger generation would bring about the changes for which they worked. They invested in young people because they cared both about them and a different society for which they worked.
Blacks deliberately gave respect to each other in the face of the deliberate disrespect by the more powerful society. Since none had high social status they gave this respect to those who were older by always giving them a title, the title which the white community deliberately did not give even to a member of Parliament like Dr EF Gordon who created an international sensation by taking the name of Mazumba in protest.
They not only worked hard but they worked cooperatively and built institutions to help each other. They supported each other because they had no alternative. The Friendly Societies flourished and the Churches, particularly the AME Churches created opportunities for their members to take on roles which confirmed their value. A few made tremendous sacrifice to report what was happening in the black community and what was important to them but was completely ignored by white press. The Recorder was an important Institution in a community which knew the reality of racism.The recognition of the realities of the evil of racism forced us into a cohesion and oneness in our struggle which made the achievement of Universal Franchise possible, so that even landless blacks could vote despite the strong resistance. We were developing a separate culture that gave us support in the midst of a society that did what it could to demean, exploit and degrade us.
The black community saw racial segregation as an evil that was destructive to them and so they fought it. Their cohesiveness at the time brought public desegregation to an end in a matter of a couple of months. That was “then”. “Now”, today, black men are killing each other and Larry Scott can describe young people who, as Mr Butler has said, makes our blood run cold? Looking back we have little reason to believe that, for us, Bermuda’s best days are to come, unless something very different and very dramatic begins to happen in regards to the black community. What has happened? And what is it that is “very different and very dramatic” that can happen, again to quote Mr. Butler, what can happen to “reshape our common community philosophy”?
EVA N HODGSON