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An inconvenient truth

Stark warning: if we don’t get on board on the road towards a real and true humanity, we are just simply marking time for ruination

While having coffee, a gentleman slightly older than I asked a question with gravity in his voice. He asked: “Khalid, what has happened to us?” He then said: “Somebody needs to tell the story because, otherwise, these children and this generation would believe this is indeed all that we are.”

My first response was to agree with him and I said I recall when black Americans would come to Bermuda and get an intellectual boost because everywhere they went there were significant black businesses. From movie theatres to gas stations, guesthouses, hotels, grocers, wholesalers, construction — you name it, we were in it and in a significant way. I said now we have to go to America and places such as Atlanta to get the same boost, which was once our natural heritage. It is as though roles have been reversed.

He then asked, what happened? How did we fall?

I responded that back in the Sixties when we were at the apex of possibilities, the only thing in reality that the black population lacked was the vote. It did not need anything else except the vote to achieve the political power to attain the clout needed to support an already burgeoning economic, merchant-class community.

The 1960s had a confluence of ideologies overlaid by the battle against racial segregation. In the background of those issues was the Cold War, where the Soviet Union supported any subversive activities that undermined its Western enemy. As a consequence part of the movement, which would be otherwise progressive, was an extreme left-wing element that invaded the politics of the Caribbean, Africa and Bermuda. The level of success of the left-wing agenda varied in each region. However, the effects of its surge left undeniable scars everywhere.

The adoption of party politics only added a vehicle that gave life to an ideology that was anti-business and against any persons involved in a business. From 1965, this cleavage took radical form when most of the merchant black community were now labelled as gradualist Uncle Toms and favoured were those who proclaimed socialist ideals and the nationalisation of leading industries such as Belco and Telco.

The history bears this out, as you will examine many black businesses in Hamilton were burnt to the ground in the late Sixties. The established white businessmen added fuel to what would become a double whammy, with so-called black revolutionaries shooting their own in the hip along with the white establishment’s false handshake, which invited the black merchants’ political support but squeezed out any credit.

Thirty years of this betrayal and fratricide disassembled 150 years of black merchant development. By 1990, and after the Establishment, primarily the banks, rounded up and deliberately destroyed at least 70 of the remaining black entrepreneurial pacesetters, what remained was hardly a shell.

So now, 28 years later, in the eyes of a new generation, as far as they could see, this is all we have ever been.

A few changes have occurred: the once leftwingers are now the “newborn” politically approved entrepreneurs. However, the fratricide continues as the old black merchants remain on the unapproved list.

Real and sustainable progress will never happen until we understand our socioeconomic dilemma.

It will never happen until we can see the schizophrenia of trying to venerate a path that in reality helped to destroy us; in particular, how we try to reconcile that radical past with a future based on a wholly different philosophy.

In fact, can we admit we are trying to go back to a position where we already were 60 years ago?

You did not need to tell Bermudians to go into business, become an entrepreneur. That’s what we did. That was our principal way of life before and after emancipation. That is how we were able to build clubs, lodges and churches, and create charities that sustained our community.

An ill wind blew our way and we are trying to make heroism out of what in effect helped to destroy us. I, too, glorify in the intent, but this is an inconvenient truth and must be told.

The cold truth is the black merchant community was murdered in plain sight by double conspirators. We must recognise that as a historical reality.

There is a maxim that says: “He who recognises a town destroys it. He who doesn’t is destroyed by it.”

Europe went through this and they had to pull down the statues of Stalin; they had to remake themselves out of new principles. Our day of reckoning will also come and we too will embrace values that bind us together as opposed to those that keep us apart.

A new day means a completely new beginning. No one has clean hands. We all need to go down to the river to get baptised into a new ideology.

The new ideology is not about this side or that side, it’s about us, all of us. It’s not about our members, it’s about our electorate. It’s about one race called the human race.

If we don’t get on board on the road towards a real and true humanity, we are just simply marking time for ruination.