New CURB president aims to promote racial healing
Mark Nash has his work cut out for him — he wants to help bring about healing and reconciliation between the races.
The new president of anti-racism organisation Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB) says the organisation’s advocacy work in fighting institutional racism will continue but “changing hearts and minds is an important step toward breaking down structural and institutional racism”.
“I want to try to infuse some respectful behaviour into the dialogues,” Mr Nash said. “It’s a very hot topic, it gets people uncomfortable — especially with many white Bermudians they get defensive and walls go up and there’s anger.
“I want to create an environment where we can engage and keep people engaged in the process.”
But he’s under no illusions that success will happen any time soon.
“We are going to have to create this as we go along,” he said. “There are models out there in the US, but we have to recognise that Bermuda is different than the US and we’re a small country where we live side by side and the descendants of enslaved people and slave owners live side by side,” he said.
“We have brought experts here from the US and other parts of the world in the past. But we need to develop a Bermuda solution. It’s a Bermuda problem.”
A key part of his strategy is empowering people in small groups — rather than the public stage — to talk about race.
“Another piece is for us, as the council members, to go into our spheres of influence — our friends, family, church groups, whatever that is for us — to start to build and have frank discussions with people we already trust but that we maybe never talked to deeply about race before.”
He said: “The goal would be to bring these groups together once there’s more of a dialogue and a trust level so we could converse authentically because people are now invested in relationships with people and they believe there’s an authentic relationship and lack of judgement and respect and we can build something that’s mutually beneficial.”
While the task is huge, Mr Nash is conscious that as a white man he may be able to reach places others can’t.
“Regardless of whether I like it or not, some people in the white community will listen to me more than they would to a black man or indeed maybe a white woman, because there’s gender issues there as well.”
He added: “It would be hard for white Bermudians to say I’m playing the race card when I’m raising these issues. So maybe some people who may not have been engaged in the past may be willing to become more engaged.”
Mr Nash believes it’s important for Bermudians to acknowledge the past.
“Many people today want to say ‘let’s not bring up the past’,” Mr Nash said. “It’s important to not forget that it happened and it’s not ever been acknowledged. Certainly people wouldn’t tell Jewish people to just get over it — to forget their holocaust.”
CURB events have been attracting the same four or five dozen people each time since its resurrection in 2006 — an indication that Bermuda’s most visible and knowledgeable anti-racism organisation is not gaining the critical mass necessary to reach its goals.
CURB is challenged by people’s natural inclination to avoid talking about things that make them feel uncomfortable, a perception that it is politically aligned (it isn’t) and a tendency for many in the white community to get defensive about race,” Mr Nash said.
“I’ve seen a lot of white people get defensive and angry because they feel they are being personally blamed for things that happened in the past or are ongoing right now. And we’re trying to get through the idea that it’s not about individual behaviours. A lot of these behaviours are not individually based, they are systemically based.”
Mark Nash’s own awareness about race came about through his wife Tina, a long-time racial justice advocate.
She began to challenge him to examine his privilege as a white man early on in their relationship.
“I was very averse to those discussions. I would get defensive, I would get angry. And I would usually be the one to disengage from the conversation,” said.
“But essentially in the comfort of our own marriage I was able to come to an understanding.”
His involvement in CURB began soon after. “I did not want to live in a world where these disparities existed,” he said.
“If I recognise a problem exists and I am not willing to do anything about it then I become part of the problem.”
He also discovered that he was a descendant of Captain John Ingham who owned Bermudian slave Mary Prince. In 2011, he helped to pay for a plaque unveiled in her memory at the University of London.
“It was some small atonement and acknowledgment of the past and apology for my family’s participation — regardless of whether I was there I can apologise for the sins of the past,” he said.
He said: “I believe on both sides that there’s been multi-generational trauma that has been passed down that we need to heal from. That’s one of the reasons I want to move CURB to a healing focus. We need to heal ourselves and each other from the legacies of slavery and segregation.”