Do not forget where you come from
When I learnt I was successful in getting a job at Cable & Wireless in 1980, my family and I were ecstatic. This was my first full-time employment and the company had a great reputation in training young Bermudians. In fact, shortly after joining, I was to travel to Barbados to undergo an eight-month course at the company’s regional training centre.
Of course, I was excited for this learning opportunity, and I was also looking forward to travelling to an island in the Caribbean for the first time. In the back of my mind, I was curious, as I never been to a country that had a vast majority-Black population and one that had Black leadership in important public roles.
Except for Sir Edward Richards, who served as premier from 1973 to 1975, Bermuda’s public leaders before 1980 were primarily White. Frederick “Penny” Bean became the first Black police commissioner in 1981, Sir John Swan started his 13-year tenure as premier in 1982, and Reginald Rawlins became the first Black chief fire officer in 1986.
My experience in Barbados was incredible. Like in Bermuda, I found the people as its biggest asset. As I had assumed, the country’s government and public leaders were predominantly Black. However, I did witness something I was not accustomed to. There were visible class distinctions among the people and the stark disparities of inequality were evident.
Having to reside on the island for less than a year, I was unaware of any consequences of the noticeable differences beyond my simple observation of it. As a young man, I was oblivious to whether there was any form of prejudice and how they viewed each other.
In 1980, Bermuda had a narrower difference in social classes. No doubt there were people that possessed great economic means, but most Bermudians were considered as the working class. Leading up to the 1990s and beyond, our class structure steadily broadened. Today, we arguably have what could be termed as lower, working, middle and upper classes.
To illustrate this point, according to the Department of Statistics, 76 per cent of households in 1991 had a median annual income of $72,000 or less. In that same year, only 2 per cent had a median household income greater than $144,000. In the year 2000, 51 per cent of households had a median income of $72,000 or less, and 15 per cent had $144,000 or more. The same trend continued in 2010: 31 per cent of households had a median income of $72,000 or less, while 35 per cent had $144,000 or more.
While it is noted wages do increase over time, partly to keep up with inflation, it is clear the median annual household incomes in Bermuda have grown for some while others have lagged. This is not unexpected, as it is one of the outcomes and, some would argue, downsides of capitalism.
People of similar economic means do tend to move more together. They have more in common, they can afford the same things in general, and they share many of the same concerns. One of the effects of a broadening of the social classes is a community becoming less considerate and compassionate for others, especially those in the lower classes. The wider our social classes get, the more people seem to care only for themselves. For sure, one’s family should always be their priority. However, this does not mean one should forget about others when a crisis is not affecting them directly.
I point to the gun and knife incidents, and the unacceptable number of murders we have been experiencing over the past decade. Bermuda has been averaging five murders per year, and we have had four killings already in 2022. For our tiny population, which would leave nearly 30,000 empty seats at Wembley Stadium if the whole island attended, this number is very high. We have more murders per capita per year than New York City, Toronto and London.
Where are the planned protests or march demonstrations? Where is the pressure to make this issue a top priority alongside the economic recovery plan and lowering of the cost of living? Where is the demand for an emergency summit to address this spate of violence and the polluted environment it continues to grow in? For those that have political capital, there is not enough being spent on this issue.
It is known people in lower social classes are more likely to commit violent crimes; Bermuda is no exception. The reasons why are another article for another day. That said, in the case of any doubt, most people in all social classes are law-abiding. However, murders and violence on the island have been largely associated with gangs, and their members are mostly young men from households that have lower incomes.
The question to ponder is why the inaction from the wider community? Is it because most believe it is people from the lower classes who are more likely to be involved in the violence and, more importantly, would also be the ones more likely to be affected by it?
If the victims of violent crime were random and everyone’s son or daughter would be more at risk, would the community at large then take to the streets and request for a more urgent intervention? What has happened to unity in the community? There have been plenty of thoughts and prayers going around, but that is all.
There is wide consensus that education is the great equaliser. That is, a good education can help to reduce inequality, open many opportunities, and help to deliver a life of promise. We all know how important education is for our children, but we also know our public education system has been inadequate for many years.
Changes intended on further improving the quality of public education are being implemented and it has been mentioned there will be a transition to an Education Authority. Why has it taken so long to get to this point? The Hopkins Report did not paint a rosy picture in its assessment of public education in 2007 — 15 years ago!
Many parents by way of their actions have lacked faith in public education. In the year 2000, 36 per cent of students attended private schools, not including special and preschools. In 2020, 44 per cent of students have attended private schools. In contrast, countries such as Canada and Britain have less than 7 per cent of their student population attending private schools. Finland, considered as having one of the best public education systems, has less than 2 per cent. It is not inconceivable that private school attendance in Bermuda will one day surpass the student numbers at public schools if the perception remains the same.
It is no secret that public schools are attended disproportionately by students from the lower and working social classes. If there were no private schools on the island, would all parents have let their disgust be known for the snail pace of education reform? Where is the outrage from everyone?
A report by the Wage Commission proposing a minimum wage was tabled in the House of Assembly more than a year ago. It recommended three options: $13.20, $15.75 and $17.30 per hour. Considering more than 90 per cent of all countries in the International Labour Organisation have some sort of minimum-wage legislation, it is unbelievable there has been pushback from some in the community on this.
There have been complaints that a minimum wage may increase the cost of living, or that some businesses may have to close. All while having a lack of empathy for the people that get paid these low wages in the first place, and ignoring the challenges they must face to buy groceries, and pay their rent and bills. Nevertheless, I am surprised this Bill has not been passed yet. What is the hold-up and why are there only a few carrying this torch?
Just this month, the European Parliament and European Council have reached an agreement on a standard for fair minimum wages for countries in the European Union. They have recommended a minimum wage based on 50 per cent of the country’s average gross pay and at least 60 per cent of the median salary. For reference, the Bermuda Wage Commission used 55 per cent of the median salary as its model in recommending the top-tier option of $17.30 per hour.
The great music icon B.B. King once wrote, “I’m trying to get people to see that we are our brother’s keeper; red, white, black, brown or yellow, rich or poor, we all have the blues.” I am cognizant that times are much more difficult today, especially since the pandemic. However, just imagine what households in the lower social classes are going through and what they face. Try to put yourselves in their shoes.
For example, imagine how frustrating it is when your car has a flat tyre and you cannot take your child to the nursery, or when your car has broken down and does not start right before work, and you must make alternative arrangements. This is how those who depend on public transportation feel every single time the buses do not run for whatever reason. As we know, the lower and working-class families depend on public transport the most.
It appears to me that many of us need a reminder where we have come from. Times change, but this does not mean we should forget about our fellow man. No child or family should be left behind.
• Malcolm Raynor has worked in the telecommunications industry in Bermuda for more than 30 years. Benefiting from Cable & Wireless’s internal training and education programmes held in Bermuda, Barbados, St Lucia (The University of the West Indies) and Britain, he rose to the level as senior vice-president. An independent thinker possessing a moderate ideology, his opinions are influenced by principle, data and trends