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Our free speech problem – it’s positively maddening

Walker Zupp

Bermuda is a small place, and I think that we all have cabin fever. But if one is discouraged from speaking freely because of how small the population is, and how we all know one another, can one still argue that we have free speech?

It is difficult to speak your mind in Bermuda because you very often risk a blowback from your family and friends.

If you’re privileged enough to have had an education in Britain or Canada, you’re indebted to your family — or in debt.

Does that mean that you should shut your mouth when you return home, and play nice?

Does your academic advantage mean that your speech should be at a constant disadvantage?

I don’t know any gang members, and I’ve never been in a gang. I don’t believe in God; I have a higher power because I’m a reformed alcoholic, and apart from that, I’m just your regular white guy.

But am I allowed to say that Pastor Leroy Bean is an antiquated bore, who is about as much use as a Bible in an investment firm?

Can I say that without being called a racist? I think that withholding responsibility from young black men is racist, but you won’t see me being brought in to fix the gang problem anytime soon.

As of last year, black people are in 17,822 jobs; whites are in 10,752 jobs. If you’re black, you’re going to be making $30,353 less than your white colleague, or boss.

Am I allowed to say that that is an embarrassing indictment of our little island’s politics: black or white, One Bermuda Alliance or Progressive Labour Party? That they couldn’t even be bothered to try to remedy a wage gap?

Am I allowed to say that the only thing the Wakanda Royalty Gala celebrated was how ignorant voters are, and how loathsome and disgusting I feel because I’m scared to make fun of it?

Is that the price of my education: that I can’t even have a discussion, or a good time at some elected fool’s expense?

Well, it’s my expense; it’s my family’s expense; it’s my friends’ expenses, and if you can’t pay up, I’m happy to provide a loan.

People don’t want to be educated because they know they will catch hell from their family and their friends. I shouldn’t have to argue the case that things are bad. We know they’re bad.

And if you catch hell because you’re smart, or because you read, then it should also work the other way around: that everyone tells each other how bad things are, and what they’re doing about it, because we’re a community; we’re an organism, and we have thoughts, even if they don’t come out sounding as la-di-da as we would like them to.

Am I allowed to say that I’m grateful without someone calling me a rotten hypocrite? If I wasn’t grateful, I’d be plucking turkeys in New Jersey.

I am grateful — and to the same family and friends that I can catch hell from for saying something I shouldn’t, or writing something I shouldn’t have, or reading a certain book and regurgitating it, and relearning it because it’s what I hold to be true.

Now, is that an inbuilt instability, or just how things are?

The only thing I’m sure of is that I’ll have to think about that because that’s what all the MPs and the civil servants and the pastors and preachers don’t want you to do.

I don’t care if they’re nice people; what they do at home is their business.

But if you get to stand up in Parliament, or at the front of a church, or on a podium, then it is my business. It’s at my expense.

I’ve realised now that it does not matter if we throw $92,000 at the gang problem, or $70,000 at the National Gallery instead of $40,000, or $221,851 at the Cabinet.

It doesn’t matter how much money we throw at things because no amount of money can change the nature of a thing.

You can’t put a price on a dead teenager; you can’t put a price on the artistic community; you can’t put a price on integrity, honesty or utility.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that we do not care enough about the quality of our lives.

It shouldn’t take Thomas Sowell to tell me that paying $6 for a carton of milk isn’t right.

I don’t know what to do about the prices and the gangs and your pension, or why the internet is so slow, or why there isn’t a single competent mechanic on the island — but, first, I know that you’ve got to get mad.

Walker Zupp, a St Georgian, studied English language and creative writing at Lancaster University, where he remained for the Creative Writing Independent Study MA. He is about to start his PhD in Creative Writing at Exeter University