Heal what has been broken
29 September 2013
For a long time I have felt a burning desire to discuss the issue of race specifically to white Bermudians through a public forum such as this newspaper. I can not wrap myself around the thought that white Bermudians do not feel that they owe black Bermudians an apology.
No organisations, other than the Anglican Church, have publicly offered an apology for excluding black Bermudians (please correct me if I am wrong). Up until the mid 1960s many churches, schools, private clubs, restaurants, entertainment spots, hotels, sport facilities and affluent neighbourhoods denied access to people of colour or if they were allowed then they had to sit separately from whites. Some of those private clubs and affluent neighbourhoods also denied entrance to people of the Jewish faith and the Portuguese community.
My parents met in Bermuda having both immigrated and being able to obtain work in the hotel industry during the mid to late 1950s when tourism was booming. Other than entertainment, black Bermudians were excluded from working in the hotels. They were not allowed to work in retail either.
Yes today everyone is included with open arms at churches, schools, private clubs, hotels, restaurants and sports facilities. Everyone has the right to vote and the playing field is required by law to be equal. The once held notion of many whites born before 1960 that blacks are inferior, is a theory considered embarrassing by most white Bermudians of the Millennial (born 1980-2000) and Z (born after 2000) Generations.
So pointedly Mr Editor, I open a forum to white Bermudians primarily of the Baby Boomer generation. I speak not to the white guest workers that have nothing to do with the sordid tragedy of our past sins and who should not have to bear the brunt of our unresolved racial healing.
How can we continue, Baby Boomers, to not understand that there are black Bermudians walking among us who have been deeply scarred by racism? I could list the churches, schools, private clubs, restaurants, entertainment spots, hotels, sport facilities and affluent neighbourhoods that once denied. I could wager successfully that those black Bermudians who were denied access would feel some vindication. But you see it is not vindication that I seek, but a justified apology. It is neither anger that I wish to invoke nor discourse that I wish to stir. It is purely and unequivocally nothing but seeking a healing for those who still walk among us, to whom we owe an apology.
A little girl and boy, they're twins, arrive for their first day at school with their mom, it's Bermuda in 1962. They are both smartly pressed out in their new uniforms and they are excited and nervous at the same time. It is not a long walk as they live near by and they have all their pencils sharpened and a special lunch packed. When they enter the school (public) they are told to leave and that they must attend another school that is for ‘them'.
Devastatingly they are turned away because they don't fit in even though they both have blonde hair and blue eyes. You see the twin's father was black, so that meant the children were black, even though they could have “passed by”. That is a true story, one of many that I have listened to.
But more than listening, more than the example of lifestyle, more than how we bring up our children is needed in order to heal what white Bermudians of previous generations have broken. Baby Boomers, is it fair to our children that they inherit the debt of a long overdue public apology to the black Bermudians among us who were deprived of equal opportunity to economically and educationally advance themselves prior to 1960 and discriminated against right up until the early 1980s? Does it have to take a “Paul on his way to Damascus” experience before we see the light?
My attending school in Cape Town South Africa under the apartheid regime for a period of one year when I was 11, and four years in Zimbabwe under the former Rhodesian white regime from the age of 12 to 16 was my conversion.
Our island is facing the Perfect Storm yet we stand totally fragmented with no unity. There is much unresolved hurt that has seeded anger and resentment and has been an attributor to crippling the human spirit in some pockets of our black community. A sincere public apology from the white community would start a domino affect of healing. There will be some that won't want to receive it and so the apology has to be given without reservation or expectation of forgiveness. As a white Bermudian, it is my hope to one day hear a public apology from all the sectors that ever discriminated against black Bermudians.