What is a picture really worth ...
“The political exclusion of Blacks was supplemented by an equally conscious attempt to limit their influence through immigration and population policies. Once emancipation was imminent, White Bermudians began to suggest to Blacks that they leave the island colony upon receiving their freedom.” — Bermuda and the Struggle for Reform: Race, Politics and Ideology 1944-1998 (Walton Brown Jr)
Who is the little toddler in the picture dressed in white, imploring — no demanding — for his momma to let him go? “Please, momma!” Is he the same one taking charge of the transportation pool where all of the high-end baby carriages were parked?
The neighbourhood was Spanish Point in Pembroke, which colloquially we called Key West circa 1959-60, on the occasion of a birthday party of one of the neighbourhood children.
Note that most of those kids were from families where it was the norm then to have between three and five children per household, much to the concern and paranoia of certain powerful Whites in the community, including the British-born health official Simon Frazer, who as a psychiatrist arrived here in 1941 and eventually became the Director of the Department of Health — that title, I believe, being the forerunner to the position that we would classify today as Chief Medical Officer.
That picture would have represented their worst nightmare back then, as it illustrated the ongoing explosion of Black fertility. The only thing worst than that in their eyes would have been having a Black majority government by the late 1960s or early 1970s, as was occurring throughout the British imperial possessions in the region, which is what Sir Henry Tucker, Henry Vesey, James Pearman and the rest of the powerful Anglo-Bermudian oligarchs and individuals such as Frazer were desperately seeking to avoid.
Their answer to the above was to ensure that Bermuda had one of the more liberal abortion regimes in the whole of the western hemisphere by the 1970s, thanks to the “less than” good doctor, who was known as the population czar — this informal title probably indicating that he may have been also an adherent of the now thoroughly discredited, unscientific eugenics movement of the prewar era. During that period, the eugenics movement and the ideology of White supremacy were at times firmly tied at the hip in a number of countries, such as the United States, Brazil, Britain and Nazi Germany.
In addition, in anticipation of the upcoming elections of 1963 and more importantly that of 1968, the powers that be literally opened the floodgates and welcomed with open arms largely White Anglo immigrants from Britain and Canada, whom they then fast-tracked to plum jobs denied to equally or even more qualified Black candidates. But that was just the means to an end. The end was to result in the establishment of voting eligibility for them by putting in place a three-year residency vote for those from the British Commonwealth, which was the whole object of the exercise. That privilege took years to unravel and eliminate, of course.
As my former colleague Walton Brown wrote in his book, and which I have covered previously, in the decade of the 1960s, Bermuda witnessed an extraordinary increase in the foreign-born population to the tune of 66 per cent to a total of 14,496 persons. This figure represented a virtual doubling of the numbers to that of the preceding decade (1950-1960). Brown wrote that “well over two thirds of all of the foreign-born persons living in Bermuda in 1970 came to the island during the 1960s”. It was all designed to politically marginalise Black Bermudians.
The constitutional conference in 1967 created the “status” regime that became another vehicle to keep the taps of racialised immigration policies flowing throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s.
All of this resulted in the life chances of many of those children, particularly the males in the photograph, never being fully realised. The squandering of such human talent and potential because of the types of social engineering that was occurring at that time under the cruel heading of integration simply boggles the mind. We do not understand the real price Black Bermuda paid by what occurred during that period, as Sir Henry Tucker and colleagues were desperately seeking to ride the democratisation wave present throughout the declining British Empire in such a way as to maintain their political, economic and racial dominance and privilege within this society.
That is why immigration remains the third rail of politics in Bermuda, as former One Bermuda Alliance Cabinet minister Michael Fahy discovered to his utter dismay with his introduction of the Pathways to Status legislation a few years ago. The wounds and traumas endured by Bermuda’s Black community as a result of such practices still resonate powerfully today, especially among the generation of my parents and that of my own. Certainly, the democracy we were promised then is not the democracy we got. And we have been struggling ever since to make it — to borrow a phrase — a more perfect union.
Look at their hopeful faces…what is a picture really worth?
This brings to an end to part one.
• 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