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Crimes against humanity

A significant event occurred recently, but it was hardly noticed because it was not broadly covered by the international media. During this event, all eyes have been on the Ukraine and Russia war, the revolving door of government appointments in Britain, and the polarising political mess in the United States. In Bermuda, we had the run-up to the most scrutinised and anticipated leadership race of a political party.

Although the event did not warrant prime-time attention within itself, it was important enough to follow, as it may provide an impetus to improve equality and race relations between Black and White people.

For the first time, a majority of the House of Representatives from the Netherlands has publicly recommended, in writing, that its country should apologise for its role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. More importantly, most of the members that form the ruling coalition government in their cabinet are also in agreement.

This momentous occasion has come about after a two-year consultation process by the Advisory Board of the Slavery Past Dialogue committee, a group that was appointed by the Government. The advisory board adopted a broad approach by consulting with various interest groups in the Dutch-Caribbean islands, a citizen panel and scientific experts. Its aim was to find out and document the various aspects of slavery, how it has impacted society, and offer recommendations.

The research with various internal and external stakeholders culminated with a report titled Chains of the Past, which was handed to the Government last year. This was followed up this year by Members of Parliament visiting the Dutch constituent countries, Curaçao and Bonaire, and Surinam, which has been independent since 1975.

After the visit, the government representatives recommended the Netherlands should indeed apologise. If this advice is followed, it would become the first European country to officially express its regrets directly to the descendants of those it enslaved.

In addition to the advice given to the Dutch Government on making an apology, the Chains of the Past report also included several other notable recommendations. They are:

• To start a national research programme in the slavery past and its impact today

• More attention for the slavery past to be given in education and informative training

• A national facility to raise the profile of slavery

• Declare July 1 as a National Day of Remembrance to be attended by the King and the Government

• Raise the profiles of Tula, a slave from Curaçao, and other resistance heroes

• Establish a Kingdom Fund as of July 1, 2023 for structural and sustainable financing of recovery measures

Based on my familiarity with the Netherlands, I thought it would be the first country in Europe to apologise to its Caribbean colonies. Three of their biggest cities — Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht —have already done so. The Dutch people are at least aware of their dark past. They are pragmatic and tend to be open-minded. In present times, from a young age, they are generally taught to value and show tolerance, which involves respecting people’s freedom of choice in their attitudes, beliefs and individuality. It is not surprising it was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001.

If there is an official apology, it is widely expected it will be done next year. The stumbling block for why it has not been done thus far has been the political party with the most parliamentary seats in government. However, the party leader, who is also the Prime Minister, stated during his own visit to Surinam recently, “2023 should be dominated by recognition of the slavery suffering. Next year will be 150 years since slavery was abolished”. I believe the country is ready.

By now, some of you may be thinking why this even matters, would an apology make a difference, and what does this have to do with Bermuda. After all, we have no political ties with the Netherlands and none of the present or former Dutch island colonies are members of Caricom.

The Netherlands ranks fourth in terms of relevance in the European Union, behind Germany, France and Italy. If it does formally apologise for its past role in slavery, this would put pressure on other EU countries to do the same — such as Portugal, Spain and France. It takes only one country to do the right thing for others to follow.

Would Britain apologise for its role in slavery? That situation is far more complex as Britain’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade was more widespread. Britain’s influence was felt by more people and cultures around the globe. At its peak, the British Empire ruled more than a quarter of the world’s population.

Of course, no one alive today was responsible for slavery and can be directly blamed for it; actions that were taken were hundreds of years ago. However, the effect of slavery still very much lives on in the form of systemic and institutionalised racism, and it largely affects Blacks in Bermuda. It is so ingrained into our way of life, many of us normalise the unfairness of the outcomes.

Take for instance the median annual gross incomes for Blacks and Whites procured from the Bermuda Job Market Employment Brief, September 2021 edition. The median income for Blacks is $59,113, compared to $87,876 for Whites. This is nearly a 50 per cent difference.

In the September 2022 edition of the Bermuda:Re+ILS publication, research by the Association for Corporate Racial Equity disclosed that White Bermudian men occupy just 17 per cent of the entry-level roles within the international business sector, while having more than 60 per cent of the executive positions. This is the exact opposite in the case for Black men. Another reveal showed Black Bermudian women as having the least opportunity for promotion within international business, although they make up the largest segment of all university-degree holders on the island.

During the early phase of the Covid pandemic, the health minister stated that Blacks on the island disproportionately made up 72 per cent of the hospital cases, and 88 per cent of the deaths. One can draw a dotted line from the inequality of healthcare on the island as a contributing factor. In the 2016 Population and Housing Census Report, 66 per cent of Black people possessed the best insurance package of major medical, in comparison to 82 per cent of White people. For those with no health insurance, 12 per cent of Blacks did not have any, in contrast to 2.6 per cent of Whites.

The equality differences in income and economic opportunities for Black and White Bermudians are startling, although data and figures such as these have been shared for many years on a regular basis. If the situation does not change, the environment of mistrust will continue ... which it has.

The slow progress in closing these legacy gaps is why an apology from the Netherlands, along with implementing the recommendations that were made by their advisory board, would be a big deal. The hope would be for a snowball effect that would give companies and organisations on the island a much needed push to focus more on their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The hope would be for everyone to at least understand why Bermuda needs to transition to universal healthcare. The hope would be for all of us to learn more about the impact slavery has had on people’s lives, beyond the statistics.

There has been an increase of countries acknowledging their crimes against humanity. Canada agreed to a multibillion-dollar deal to compensate First Nation children for being separated from their families. New Zealand and Australia agreed to pay hundreds of millions to their Indigenous communities for the harm suffered from settlers. In the United States, legislation has been approved and there is now heavy lobbying for the President to establish a presidential commission to study and issue proposals on a national apology and reparations for African-Americans.

I have stated, in several other op-eds in The Royal Gazette, that race is the No 1 factor that impacts Bermuda’s growth and lack of trust. An apology and actions to atone are necessary steps because it would be an important part of the healing process of the community, for both Blacks and Whites. For certain, it would heighten the conversation into this sensitive and least discussed part of our history.

• The Chains in the Past report is available to view and download online. To view the report, it must be translated into English, or you can send me an e-mail at mraynor@outlook.com for a translated copy

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

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

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Published November 16, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated November 15, 2022 at 3:38 pm)

Crimes against humanity

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