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Bermuda’s bleak future

Bermuda's bleak future

November 17, 2011

Dear Sir,

The black community is very different today from the description which Mr Butler and others have given of 40 or more years ago when, according to Mr. Butler, the society was far more repressive. Certainly the racism was more overt and therefore more honest. There was no possibility at that time of pretending that racism and discrimination did not exist. The black community, knowing how destructive segregation was, fought for desegregation rather than for justice. They saw and understood the economic impact that racism had but they did not see nor understand the psychological impact which racism also had.

Blacks got a measure of the desegregation for which they fought but they failed to realise that without economic parity they could never have ”integration” (or true “prosperity and harmony”) and, without recognising and addressing the psychological damage, justice was far out of their reach. Centuries and decades of the propaganda of black inferiority and policies and practices which deliberately excluded blacks from both opportunity and significant experiences had gradually ensured that blacks themselves began to believe the propaganda. White people had all of the best that the society had to offer so it must be because they were superior!

The younger generation on whom the older generation invested so much did indeed bring about change, but it was not always the change for which the older generation had hoped. Beginning in 1959 there was the desegregation of public places in a very brief period, then there was the achievement of universal franchise. In 1963 there was another major change which the older generation would never have envisioned and it was the first step in officially introducing conflict and division within the black Community with the introduction of party politics.

There is no doubt that those who formed the PLP were genuinely concerned about the repressive conditions to which Mr Butler has referred. But they did not look to Bermuda to solve Bermuda's problem they looked to Britain who had done little to relieve the oppressive conditions under which they lived. Yet they believed if they did what the white world had done, they would solve the black people's problem of racism! But they did not even address the racism, they addressed labour because that is what Britain had done. This was the first indication of the psychological damage done as a result of centuries of demeaning blacks as inherently inferior. The PLP founders believed that whites were so superior that they looked to the white organisations of party politics to solve their problem of racism! Today, when we hear that to talk about the lack of equity is wrong because there is now equal opportunity for all, it is being deliberately naïve or just plain ignorant. It is also another way to say that blacks are inferior because in spite of having equal opportunity they are still in an economically inferior position and experiencing all of the related social problems, which they are.

If the repressive conditions under which blacks lived (and often still live) had been physical rather than economic and psychological, it would be more difficult to pretend that the past does not matter. If we had been physically tortured, it would be more difficult to pretend that we had an equal opportunity to run a five mile race with those whose legs were unbroken and who had also been given steroids. The psychological damage done to blacks is of even greater significance. It is for that reason that we hear so many black commentators and high profile blacks like Sir John Swan blaming blacks for the evil fruits of the past evil seeds that have been planted. The recent attack on those from the Philippines is evil but it is the result of employers who fire Bermudian workers while they keep on foreign workers. That, too, is evil and that has nothing or little to do with the international companies who simply follow the policies which white Bermuda has established. They are white Bermudians who brought in white Europeans to drive Blacks out of the hotel industry and brought in white British to drive them of the Police Force and who created an economy in which Blacks were not even supposed to participate. Technology may change rapidly, human attitudes do not.

There was change for the younger generation. They obtained higher degrees, and/or higher salaries and as they were desegregated they gained social and/or political status which they had never had before. It was as they gained higher salaries and significant social or political roles that the psychological damage became more evident. Their behaviour and their attitudes made it clear that they believed that Whites and white values, as they perceived them, were superior to their own. They turned their backs on both the black Community and the values which had sustained it throughout the centuries and decades of exclusion and exploitation. Because of their high profile they had a significant influence on the black community. But the only values which they were manifesting for the younger generation and those who were neither integrated nor fortunate enough to have seen any change in their own condition, was the effort to acquire more money and the desire to gain the approval of the white Community. Both of those goals were far out of the reach of the majority of the black Community. Thus, not only was the older generation, who had neither, disrespected but the younger generation, and in fact the majority of Blacks, felt increasingly devalued because they, too, had neither. Now they were being devalued not only by Whites but by other Blacks.

At the same time, in spite of the vast disparities which were still very evident, they began to be told that racism was no longer an issue and we should not talk about black and white. But in spite of people like Anthony Francis, young white people still vote only for the UBP and the colour of those killing themselves and each other are black and 90 percent of those in prison are black and those in managerial positions are white. But those blacks who see themselves as integrated seem to believe that by pretending that we should not talk about black and white, they can disassociate themselves from the problems of the black Community and therefore have no responsibility to the younger generation or to those who still suffer from the economic disparity. But they are black children that we see on the TV getting breakfast because they are reared in a culture of poverty which leaves the white Community untouched. People like Anthony Francis are encouraging young black people to selfishly ignore the conditions around them and concentrate only on their own efforts to enrich themselves and to “integrate” to prove him correct. But that is not changing the destructive impact of the continuing economic disparities about which Mr Francis is so indifferent. Even those teachers who are aware of the continuing discrimination and disparities dare not try to motivate their students by pointing out the disadvantages under which they still struggled and why they must therefore be excellent. Racism still often exists but to mention it was to be accused of using it as a crutch.

We had fought for desegregation but when, as an example, to speak metaphorically, the PLP left Devonshire Recreation Club and went to the Southampton Princess, they left behind many others at the Recreation Club. When they left the black clubs to integrate the white golf Clubs they also left behind others. When they gained social or political status, they left behind many others who still had none. As those, though few in number, with high profile in the black Community or in leadership roles saw “integration” as their goal, acquiring money seemed the obvious way to do so. Black men who were still excluded from the main stream economy turned to an alternative economy to gain the same objective of getting money. The Drug trade is risky but very profitable for some. Thus while white racism may seem to be less repressive, the consequent black divisiveness and loss of values has proven to be far more destructive.

The disintegration of the black Community and the result of the decline in its moral values did not happen overnight. In the early 80s, when a few began to express concern about the loss of values which had sustained it and made it a more cohesive and productive society despite the repressive conditions, it never occurred to them that we would be facing the kind of social conditions which we face today. As blacks in leadership roles turned on each other for political or social reasons, it became easy for the younger generation, who felt less and less worthy, as well as alienated, to also turn on each other with more disastrous and fatal consequences. The fact that there was a measure of desegregation simply increased the sense of frustration of the many who saw no difference in their own circumstances.

The victory of the PLP which was greeted with such euphoria and which was expected to make a difference for the black Community, sadly and ironically, often increased both the divisiveness within the black Community and the sense of alienation among those who were not included. The very nature of party politics meant that a great many were not included because what now mattered was only “the Party” and its hierarchy, not the black community. Blacks who were not in lockstep with the rhetoric of “the Party” were seen as “the enemy”. The extent to which “the Party” continued to attach more importance to the white Community is seen in the frequency with which they claimed that the UBP also did this or that as if because they did it therefore it was right and also to the extent to which they were prepared to make concessions to the white community as they did when they failed to carry through on the Equity Bill. When Blacks should have been marching and boycotting against the continuing discrimination, Larry Scott could describe how black leadership was “partying” and expressing an extreme indifference to the condition of the black Community by dismissing it as “only four percent”.

Senator Ingham recently referred to the promise of “prosperity and harmony” and the Premier has called for us “to build one another together”, but neither is possible without a deliberate and overt policy of turning centuries of white affirmative action policy into a frank black affirmative action policy. White affirmative action was intended to pull black folks down, as was the doctrine of their inferiority. Clearly the policy has succeeded, so It is not enough to merely officially suspend white affirmative action, particularly since it is clearly continuing unofficially, there must be a policy which is in direct opposition to white affirmative action not because it will make any great difference in our generation but because it will be one small step in saying that Blacks do have value at least under a Government that they have elected. Without this kind of policy we are continuing to make concessions to the white Community and once more sending the message that they have more value than do Blacks. Without at least this symbolic gesture there can be no “harmony” and we are not trying to “build one another up”. Bermuda's best days will be in the past, not the future, because the violence and frustration within the black Community can only continue while the white Community can feel smug at the moment because they are only black men killing each other, Bermuda is too small for it not to eventually impact the entire Society as it now impacts the entire black Community.

At the same time it is important for us as a black Community to remember that they were not our elected Members of Parliament who led the way in our achieving either public desegregation or universal franchise. They were ordinary citizens who led the way. In one case they were only recently graduated students. Since the formation of political parties we have left too much to the Party hierarchy and because they have been afflicted with the same lack of self worth as the founders of the PLP and the black Community out of which they have come, they have lacked the courage to directly confront the age old policy of white affirmative action. So unless there are those in the black Community who are prepared to lead the way Bermuda has a very bleak future.

EVA N HODGSON

Hamilton Parish

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Published November 24, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 24, 2011 at 8:29 am)

Bermuda’s bleak future

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