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United we stand, divided we fall

Political pundit: Khalid Wasi finds favour with Rolfe Commissiong (File photograph)

How many times have we heard that chant? But is that phrase a principle or a prophecy? Assuming it is a principle, the next logical question would be, are we united?

It is fairly safe to say and obvious that we are not united, which means we are either falling or have already fallen. I saw someone else write the other day: “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

Let me give another one: “You cannot preach a divisive philosophy and expect unity.”

While it is true that the country as a whole is divided, the Blacks who are the majority population are more divided than the rest. Making it worse, there is a whole politic that survives off that division. Practise that philosophy of division for 60 years and we see what we have today as insurmountable walls. But would that have been different if in the beginning there had been more than one political party representing the Black population?

While we cannot rewrite history, what was done is with us now and we cannot change what happened, but we can learn something. There is at least one political pundit, Rolfe Commissiong, who relays the theory that had there been two Black parties that emerged from the civil rights efforts of the late Fifties and early Sixties, there would have been far more balance.

More importantly, if the Black community had its conservative and professional element sharing its own portfolio in that early representation, it would not have resulted in one party, namely the labour party, as the sole representative of the Black masses.

Instead, because of the split in the one party, the 1965 fallout resulted in the minority White population empowered by 25 per cent to 33 per cent of the Black voters who were disaffected and not represented by the labour party and demonised.

Demonised to the extent that the newly formed United Bermuda Party knew that if it maintained 20 per cent of the Black vote, that was all it needed.

There is a lot of merit in Rolfe’s observation because if the five who were expelled had formed their party from the inception of party politics, they might have been the major party and ahead of labour. It might have required a coalition to gain ultimate political dominance, but it would have been a politics based on collective strength rather than the resultant Black collective division.

As an adjunct, I recall the excitement around the Black Power conference held around 1968. It was held not long after we began to call and relate to ourselves as Black rather than as Coloured or Negro. Tunes such as Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud became popular, all of which was good for people who were taught and felt inferior in their own skin. There were upsides and downsides to this, as I recall.

On the one hand, the era fostered pride, where people could begin the slow healing processes after centuries of being told they were inferior in their Black skin. On the other hand, it became another source of division. Now there was a new raised question of identity that sought to define one’s blackness according to their political opinion. If one did not align themselves with the Left, they were not Black but Negro — or, worse, an Uncle Tom, gradualist or capitalist — but were not going to be fully respected as a Black person. Unfortunately, we have lived and experienced a few generations of that kind of division being instilled into our politics.

Unfortunate, too, is that the White community became accustomed to this type of political equation that was built on a false premise and a Black divide. Today, the exercise is to climb out from under the rubble of a politic that has laid our society as a wasteland of divided people and runaway leaders, and it is a daunting task.

Where do we begin?

Do we wait until the One Bermuda Alliance, the last remnant of that old formula of gaining 20 per cent Black support, disintegrates? Or do we watch the Progressive Labour Party, which is still at war with the Black middle-class merchants, give away the entire country? Or will someone make some sense by starting a new political wave that captures the middle ground?

This attitude of “we want none of the above” has hit Jamaica and its public. Small islanders have grown tired of leaders who disappear and make deals with other leaders while abandoning their own, who are left in the dark without knowing or having a voice.

It is probably a bit too much to ask that our leaders be the new example and the shining light on the proverbial hill. People are tired of seeing leaders who prefer nothing more than to enrich themselves. The new oligarchs have forgotten, or don’t realise, that the old oligarchs had generational wealth and they aimed to preserve the power to hang on to their empire. The new oligarchs who come in penniless want that wealth, but want it now.

It’s time for a little sobriety from which everyone can benefit. It is, despite the seeming doom and gloom, still very possible to re-engineer Bermuda to being the top island in the Atlantic. It requires leadership that loves all its people. Unfortunately, we know that is not the case today. We have government ministers holding portfolios who take pride in others knowing their disdain.

It would be nice if we could reverse the clock, but we can’t. If we could, we might start with a clean slate and design what was appropriate for a population of 60,000. We had 18 parish representatives, then 40, now 36. Maybe the first increase should been to 20 and capped there. I thought at 40 we were giving broader representation and more democracy; however, with the PLP split in 1965, all the increase did was create the recipe to further divide the majority population.

Who would have thought then that a future PLP would resemble everything about the UBP except its colour. The early UBP did everything it could to rearrange the racial dynamics, including giving British nationals a vote. Today, the modern PLP is heading towards the Caribbean, seeking its nationals for the same ends.

This racial game must be stopped and someone must call us back to the realisation that we are, despite our tendencies, one humanity and need to operate as though that is our aim to exemplify because divided we continue to fall.

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Published May 29, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 28, 2024 at 5:49 pm)

United we stand, divided we fall

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