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Racial politics and living the lie

Emperor Haile Selassie: “One day the colour of a man’s skin will be of no more significance than the colour of his eyes”

Today I want to talk about the thorny topic of race politics. In past posts and columns, I have mentioned my mixed heritage as 60 per cent Nigerian, 20 per cent British, 7 per cent Native American and a medley of sub-Saharan, about 1 per cent Ashkenazi Jewish and other North African trace ethnicities.

One may ask, why mention these others as if they are important when you are treated as a Black person?

Some may take the position that your identity is based on how you are perceived and treated. I recall a conversation I had many years ago with Eddy deJean, one of the founders of the Progressive Labour Party. Many people may not know but he had a parentage much like Barack Obama’s. In this case, his mother was a White French-Canadian and father a Black Guyanese — my great uncle-in-law — was of pure African descent. Mr deJean, who was always quick and witty, said once in his usual quirky response to a question about behaviour and attitude: “We can’t say whether it’s the Black or the White in us that we are responding with.”

I lay that as a rational truth and the axiom of this discussion. I must confess, I have witnessed this in my own life experience because our DNA, not our ethnic culture, influences much of our predispositions. One may even say that our DNA is the backbone of our culture.

I learnt many years ago about some of the White elements of my heritage, coming down through the Darrell, Godet, Keys, Otten and Loblein family lines, which are my direct ancestors as great-grandparents. Then a few years ago on a trip with Alan Burland, where I visited and stayed at his Prince Edward Island residence in Canada, I distinctly noticed that we had so many similarities in taste that it was uncanny. This relationship is several generations removed — at least five — yet something informing our behaviours is as active today as they were two centuries ago when our greats were brothers coming from the same father, James Darrell. (He was father also to the famous pilot Captain Jemmy Darrell.)

However, notwithstanding all of our DNA, why has none of it translated into our social and political behaviour? Either I don’t know the answer or it is staring me in the face and I am in denial.

If I asked the question, “Why am I not embraced?”, it would be an open-ended question that could be asked equally of the White or Black side of my reality. There would be no doubt two different answers, but the biggest given our political realities would be why the mistreatment from the White community given I have risked my own Black credibility, not for the sake of Whites but to be fair on the subject and the reality of Bermuda. I understand Black people’s sense for what they may deem to be true but it is a misguided idea of betrayal. For the Whites, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, it is incomprehensible, yet every bit as real.

Haile Selassie once said in a speech that was memorialised by Bob Marley: “One day the colour of a man’s skin will be of no more significance than the colour of his eyes.”

Obviously, we are not there yet, and I would say I am the essential proof of this. I’m not alone; this is actually typical of most of Bermuda. If we use the “one drop of blood” theory, it actually goes both ways because most Black people are either unaware or don’t care to accept that most of the people we consider White in Bermuda are Black by that standard. Very few Whites in Bermuda don’t have one drop of Black blood. I can think of quite a few prominent names, even at law firms with persons whose great or great-great-grandparent was a Black woman. The only White Bermudians who can say they are mostly or purely White are in general immigrants coming late in the 19th century.

In Bermuda, it was not just the colour of your skin that was cause for separation, but also the family name, the colour of your money, how much property was owned — all of which became a means to differentiate. But the most evident was the colour of your skin.

Within the Black community, colour also mattered for many years, including hair texture. Those of my generation would remember the term “good hair” and knew almost instinctively if a girl was to be chosen to present a bouquet to a visiting dignitary what that girl would look like. Yes, we can blame it on racial indoctrination, but this was more than that, if we are honest.

Our loss of culture and empowerment led to a negative self-perception to the point where many Black persons felt inside themselves a preference, if it were at all possible, to be White. (This is not my perception; rather, a Harvard professor’s thesis.)

Transcendence does not necessarily mean or equate with redefining ourselves through imaginations of being Chaka Zulu. Rather, it is a call to look beyond the colour of anyone to reach that human potential which exists inside and which informs oneself they can accomplish anything — if you can see it, you can achieve it.

When anyone reaches that level of awareness, they would be in a space beyond colour or any limiting factor. They would be a free human, and if they happened to be black-skinned or brown-skinned that accomplished anything of significance, so be it. They did not accomplish because they were Black or brown; they did so because they exercised their human potential. That’s what a human can do.

Bermuda and the world will wake up one day from this illusion that was created back in the 15th century of a White race and a Black race.

It was a lie created during the Portuguese adventure to the West African coast by the journalists of Prince Henry the navigator who coined the words “Black” and “Negro” as a characterisation of a race of people he considered as sub-human and savage. That lie persisted and was used subsequently by other European colonists to enforce the idea of White supremacy.

It was the lie that was the doctrine of the founding fathers of the United States of America where teachers, professors and preachers had preached for centuries, and by law where Blacks were considered three-fifths human and prevented by law from receiving not only education but also church communion.

Whites are stuck in a place where they either believe in the lie or are subconsciously living out the lie. Then there are those who are woke, feel liberal and are humanely trying to reduce the impact of the lie. Meanwhile, many Blacks are reacting to the lie with great resistance, which only has the quicksand effect — the more you wiggle, the deeper you sink.

My hope was that Bermuda, because of its small size, unique racial composition and worldly status, would be the country to put the final nail in the coffin of that lie and free ourselves as an entire country from living with or reacting to the lie.

We cannot do that by releasing ourselves from the trappings, habituations and patterns that keep us in the prison house of that dialectic. We need to declare a new political paradigm based on our humanity. We can’t put this new way of thinking or infuse it into any existing party. It would be like putting new wine into an old cask.

We all want a better result, but we cannot achieve this if we use the same ideas or methodology. This dark moment offers us the possibility to advance to a brighter future — if we can see it.

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Published August 18, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 17, 2023 at 7:43 pm)

Racial politics and living the lie

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