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Stop the denigration of Black people

Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage

I read Khalid Wasi’s response to my op-ed entitled “Know your place” with interest and some bemusement. Typically, it contained once again his revisionist take on Bermuda’s mid to late 20th-century history for about the 500th time.

Khalid, please let it go. We get your point The Black working class of the day and its political party, the Progressive Labour Party — as we emerged in the post-1960s era — helped to destroy the Black merchant class as you characterise them. You are wrong, but we get it.

I am not going to take too much time to directly respond, but let me say this: only in Bermuda and among so-called Black conservatives in the United States, such as Lee Elder who recently ran as a candidate in the recall election in California and lost, will you witness Black men and even some Black women wielding racist tropes such as “Black-on-Black crime”.

This phrase along with its companion phrase “the race card” surfaced during the 1980s during the Reagan period in the US and was used to demean and denigrate (pathologise) Black people in the eyes of the White majority there, particularly those who supported the Republican Party. Certainly, Sir John Swan’s “Black men are the problem” comment in the 1990s can also fall in that category, along with Paul King’s more recent comment in the aftermath of those horrific murders. I make no apology in asserting as much.

As I write this, the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, a young White American has been sent to the jury. Rittenhouse, as many of you know, murdered two White men who were protesting racial injustice around the shootings of mostly unarmed Black men by police. Has anyone characterised this as a White-on-White crime? Or how about the mass murder of the schoolchildren and adults in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012? Is that an example of White-on-White crime. No. Why? Because it is a nonsense and always has been.

There is no such thing as Black-on-Black crime, except in the minds of racist White politicians and political hacks in the US who coined the term and wielded it as a rhetorical weapon against marginalised Black people. There are underlying causations at work here as it relates to what we have been describing as gang violence, but so-called Black-on-Black crime is not one of them — not at all.

Also, as anyone who knows me will attest, if those comments by Messrs Swan and King were made publicly by anyone else, my response would have been the same. It was not motivated by Wasi asserting that they were members of the Black merchant class, as he highlighted.

Clearly, there remains in Bermuda essentially two Bermudas. That has not changed one iota. The Bermuda Government employment briefs that were published in September 2021 indicate that White job holders earned $87,876 in 2020 while Black job holders earned $59,113, which in Bermuda today would have to be near or at poverty level.

Just look at the racial composition of those in our food lines up and down the island or the disparities around health outcomes. What has worsened that divide over the past two decades has been the significant growth of income inequality. This is not confined to Bermuda. Throughout the West and beyond, there has been growing concern and even alarm over this development.

Look no further than the types of legislation that Joe Biden has proposed as a direct response to this threat. Or similarly on a global basis, the recent adoption by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and more than 130 countries to impose 15 per cent global minimum corporate tax, which will significantly affect Bermuda’s economy. Both measures at heart are a direct response to the rampant growth of income inequality.

But what is income inequality? As it rises, it simply means that more and more income is going into fewer and fewer hands at the very top. And its greatest impact in a negative way is upon those at the bottom of income distribution in Bermuda.

Translation: poor and working poor, who are overwhelmingly Black people.

Research has shown that some of those impacts are the rise of poverty and gang formation and violence, including gang violence, poor education outcomes, a decline in social mobility and more, as previously noted.

To combat this destructive trend, which has been largely midwived by the inordinate rise of international business in Bermuda during this same period, requires intervention by our government in the form of redistributive policies — as history and research tells us.

That is what is occurring in the US right now. I have reprinted what some of those policies should look like from the previous article. These public policies are necessary to offer relief to those households and communities from which these destructive impacts have been emanating. It is these households and communities that are, after all, the canaries in the proverbial coalmine of Bermuda’s society:

• Tax restructuring to provide more equity in the system by removing the tax burden off the backs of the working poor, who are predominately Black in Bermuda, by ensuring the wealthy corporations particularly in international business and Bermuda companies such as Belco, Ascendant, Colonial and Dunkley’s pay their fair share

• A living wage

• A root-and-branch restructuring of our health system with the implementation of a model based on some variation of a single-payer system in order to produce universal access. Pre-pandemic in 2019, more than 5,000 Bermudians and their spouses were without health insurance — 91 per cent of them were Black. That figure included children (sources: Ministry of Health and Bermuda Health Council).

• A legislated affirmative-action framework to ensure racial diversity and inclusion throughout our economy for both qualified Black Bermudians and Black-owned companies as it relates to government contracts with respect to procurement and capital projects. To think that after two decades of PLP government that has still not been achieved boggles the mind, actually. If we really want to place race behind us, its starts here by putting in place the necessary race-based remedies to accomplish that. This is how we begin to close that sordid chapter.

• A proper unemployment insurance scheme

Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage

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Published November 18, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated November 17, 2021 at 5:26 pm)

Stop the denigration of Black people

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