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Why AC is already a missed opportunity

Americas Cup Race Day 1. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

There is this conversation I have been having with one reader that I have been meaning to share, Mr Editor. After last week’s column, this is as good a time as any. Our conversation was about politics, race and the America’s Cup, an interesting but unlikely trio, you may think, at first blush. While some but not necessarily all readers may wonder what one has to do with the other, it is hardly surprising that the three should intersect, given our history and that this is Bermuda.

This reader, by the way, is a person who looks like me.

Our discussion was prompted in part by comments I had made in the past about the way in which Bermuda has approached the America’s Cup, as well as in part by that recent report from the Aspen Institute titled Racial Dynamics in Bermuda in the 21st Century: Progress and Challenges.

First, let me say this about the report: I thought it was a thoughtful piece of work that is well worth a read — and a second and a third. It tells it like it is in a way that people need to hear, and mostly people who, again, look like me. Get a copy and give it a read if you have not already done so. It speaks to all of us frankly about the challenging subject of race and race relations in Bermuda.

It points towards possible solutions, too, which brings me to my first point — let’s call it my “Bermuda First” point. You may recall the Bermuda First group that was established some years ago. The goal was to try to bring the community together (read political parties, business, labour and races) to tackle some of Bermuda’s competitive challenges and to collaborate on solutions.

The drivers of the project made sure it had co-chairpersons, the Premier and Leader of the Opposition, ostensibly to help to create buy-in at the top and presumably out there in the wider community as well. It made sense. Even if only symbolic, it sent the right signal.

The pity was that this was not done from the start with the America’s Cup.

There were always going to be challenges — and not just the structural and economic challenges that come with hosting such an important event. The need for broad community acceptance was surely known from the outset. Rocket science, this wasn’t.

The America’s Cup was not an event followed closely by broader Bermuda — until now. Indeed, sailing itself is viewed widely as an elitist sport, essentially for the rich, who also happen to be predominantly white. That’s no reason not to go after it. Tiny Bermuda made a big capture when we won the right to host it. All of us pretty well understand what it could mean for Bermuda and we have had some insight already of what it could for us.

Still, there is this scepticism as to who will benefit, and benefit the most.

Co-chairpersons might have gone some way to addressing such suspicions. It would have signalled and allowed for a decidedly more collaborative approach.

On the other hand, what we are left with is an Opposition on the organisational sidelines, members and supporters of whom could easily surmise one of the reasons why: if the OBA government pulls this off successfully, the “big final” occurs in the lead-up period to the next election when the Cup will hopefully “runneth over” and pay handsome dividends at the polls.

Co-chairpersons could have gone some way to diffusing the politics that invariably results from exclusion; and that cements the dynamic of “them versus us”; and all that follows as each party jockeys for position for votes. There is also the racial aspect, which we need to face up to and this leads me nicely into the Aspen report.

The report makes the point that Bermuda remains subject to “the subtleties of racial sorting and exclusion” that “may seem normal and go unnoticed by most”. By most, the report means white Bermudians who “probably remain unaware of the lingering sense of exclusion that some of their black counterparts still feel”.

This is not so difficult to appreciate, remembering that there was a time not so long ago when:

• Advertisements actually stated that blacks need not apply

• When that practice became unlawful, blacks were often turned away as unqualified and/or in need of greater experience

Like it or not, Bermuda has had a history — as the report puts it — of “a distinct racial hierarchy anchored in white privilege”. It goes on to suggest that some of our social constructs continue to reflect that legacy, and in ways that are often overlooked and unappreciated.

So I am back to the America’s Cup and those who were chosen to be the organising faces here in Bermuda. The top three are all people who look like me. This is not a reflection of the wider Bermudian community and it is the wider community to whom the organisers must look to make this event a great success on every front.

Some may think this a small point, Mr Editor. But small points send messages, too, and they have a way of adding up. Sadly, the America’s Cup was an opportunity to tack from the same old, same old way of doing things that may now have passed.