The argument for coming together
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” — the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr
Bermuda has become more polarised politically and socially in recent years. It seems everyone is defined according to their affiliation with a particular political ideology, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. Many were hopeful that the Covid-19 global pandemic would help repair this. We live in one of the most challenging periods in our lifetime; however, we are more divided on this 21-square-mile island than ever.
Why are people so angry? Why do we insist that there is no other option outside the one we have? Why haven't we been able to pull together? Sadly, we have spent more time segregating, arguing and disseminating misinformation while the virus and the escalation of violence tear our communities apart.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 and the violence that continues to plague the island do not give a damn about our divisions. We cannot survive economically and socially if we remain separated. We need to show respect and concern for all residents of Bermuda, whether we agree with their opinions or not. The erosion of social, moral, cultural, economic and political values will severely hamper our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Economic inequality adds fuel to the fire. Stark differences in existing financial security bring anxiety, fear, distrust and resentment. Bermudians and non-Bermudians alike are struggling to pay monthly bills, pay off debt, cover the costs of food, education, healthcare and housing. Our failure to appreciate the economic frustration and pain residents feel will continue to separate us.
We need to speak candidly about the economic impact that Covid-19 continues to have on the economy, and how we can work together to improve it. We cannot remain in a constant state of delusion and denial.
While the pandemic's long-lasting impact has affected public health and the economy, acts of violence — firearm incidents, stabbings and other criminal activities — have increased, especially in the Black community. We must ask ourselves, why does this keep happening? We must “tell it like it is” and be honest about the underlying issues resulting in this kind of behaviour. And it’s time to break the proverbial code of silence.
Do we value life? Are we holding people accountable for their actions or inaction? People have wanted to come forward with information in many circumstances but have decided against doing so because of fears of retaliation. The Crime Stoppers hotline and website allow us anonymously to report those responsible for these acts of violence and eliminate the risk of retaliation. Gone are the days we can “See and Blind — Hear and Deaf”. Our civic duty is to assist law enforcement in eradicating the perpetrators in our communities.
To be successful, we will need a new era of relations, marked by co-operation, not conflict. Regardless of our status, we must be seen as individuals, not as being part of a group that is either oppressed or part of a group that oppresses. Divide and conquer is no longer an option. The energy that could be used to transform this island is being wasted.
Furthermore, we must be prepared to do what is necessary to revive the economy. Blindly adhering to a particular viewpoint or ideology can do more harm than good, but talking to business leaders and other professionals who have had experience in different regions can prove valuable. And it’s not just the Government, but "we the people" who must be strong enough to address these problems, and willing to let go of traditional and entrenched beliefs so that we can rise successfully from this morass. Being inclusive and working collaboratively means Bermudians and non-Bermudians must maintain a willingness to embrace the possessive pronouns of "we" and "our" and "us."
Collaboration, when successful, generates better solutions and more significant benefits. Bermuda’s economic recovery is paramount, and ensuring that our young people have access to higher education, certifications, training and the ability to upskill to compete locally and globally is imperative. We cannot allow those easily swayed by political demagoguery and race-baiting to impede an inclusive recovery. And we must be prepared to banish those cultural mores, practices and codes of silence within certain subsets of our community that protect perpetrators of negative behaviours. Such practices have only proven to be counterproductive to real progress in the Black community, while empowering the few bent on perpetrating these behaviours, even passing them on to younger generations as a legacy. Undoubtedly, this will only undermine any progress that can be developed as part of a recovering, inclusive society.
We must be proactive and intentional with our approach. Government spends a lot of money to help individuals and families pay for food, housing and a wide variety of other needs. However, the financial assistance programmes are not sustainable without increasing government revenues.
No, we must be creative and think outside of the box to solve the ongoing economic crisis. A think-tank should be established inclusive of Bermuda residents to identify strategic investments and policy changes to facilitate more effective alignment with our present state of affairs. Serious consideration should be given to revising the tax on corporate income. Difficult choices must be made relating to taxes to ensure an equitable recovery to help residents move from barely surviving to thriving.
Many industries, particularly hospitality, small businesses and entrepreneurs continue to wrestle with how to pay the costs associated with the pandemic. The development of a fund where they can secure low-interest loans is another area for potential collaboration.
We need to be willing to invest in creative and strategic initiatives for more inclusive long-term growth by working with international businesses to develop initiatives that will secure training visas for Bermudians to gain international experience, making them more skilled and more competitive in the local job market when they return to Bermuda.
I don't and won't pretend to have all the answers; however, I felt compelled to put myself out there to appeal for us to come together for the greater good of everyone on this island. We need to work together. The contribution of expatriates and foreigners should be celebrated instead of denigrated. It is time for us to realise that together we are the cavalry; we must put aside our differences, impress upon our leaders the importance of uniting the island around a plan for economic growth that includes everyone — and save ourselves.
• Romeo Ruddock is an executive member of St George’s Cricket Club and a programme development manager at Bermuda College. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the view of Bermuda College