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Curb race talks ‘encouraging’

All smiles: one of Curb's four "community conversation" groups found a gratifying mutual trust, even while delving into painful topics (Photograph supplied)

Sharing and listening in an atmosphere of mutual trust, the diverse groups in a first round of truth and reconciliation talks have found a rapport on Bermuda’s notoriously enduring and difficult subject: race.

“Bermuda is a small place — we can do this if we have the will to do it,” said Cordell Riley, an activist with the group Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda — and a facilitator in one of the four groups that have met over the past three months.

“This was very beneficial. If it can be replicated on a country basis, it would be ideal. We found it very worthwhile.”

Establishing a safe space for the circles of participants to discuss race brought an “encouraging” dialogue, he said — and diverse attendance.

The start this spring got an “amazing” and rapid buy-in, so much so that another round is to be held in September.

Curb has its share of critics, but Mr Riley said that “whatever negative criticism people have, if they had been in the room with us, they would have a different view”.

Lynne Winfield, president of Curb, has planned the community conversations over many years, but felt that the island’s time had come — especially with last year’s protests over immigration reform laying bare the racial differences.

“However you categorise it, there was clearly tension in the air,” Mr Riley said, describing the upset as reminiscent of the labour standoffs that racked the island in 1981.

Organised around restorative justice, with facilitators trained in its principles, the talks helped members “get into their stories without worrying about being attacked” — and there was no shortage of white participants.

“One white male felt that we didn’t delve enough into racial inequality, but we were building that relationship first,” Mr Riley said.

“When we got into those topics, we didn’t want people to withdraw.”

Asked what the group hoped to accomplish, Mr Riley said the goal was to “continue the educational process”, with an appraisal at the close of the six-week conversation that would “determine what the next phase of it will look like”.

The Royal Gazette aims to explore the stories that emerge: to begin with, we spoke with Stratton Hatfield, a member of the group that was led by Mr Riley with Suzanne Mayall as assistant facilitator.

Well acquainted with restorative justice, Mr Hatfield said he felt a strong pull to “understand my position in this world as a white male — to come to terms with what that means”.

“In order to learn, I would need to feel uncomfortable. There are so many people out there that feel uncomfortable on a daily basis. It’s not just race. Females are constantly made to feel uncomfortable. It also applies with sexual orientation.”

Born in 1986, he shares the millennial view of race, where the problems and pain are less overt.

“It’s unfortunate in a way that it’s being pushed on to the younger generations, but I also think our generation could be more open to these concepts, and better read. It’s like there’s more hope.”

As with other groups, his circle represented a surprising variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, Mr Hatfield said.

Discussions stretched beyond race or the black-white dynamic.

“The opening session was crucial. It set the parameters and the need to listen. Listening, especially.

“Setting the safe space was what made it so good. By the second or third time, we all felt comfortable with each other.”

Mr Hatfield came away reflecting on the need to “get beyond the idea of the single story” in recognition of the multiple stories that lie within.

“In order for us to move forward collectively, as a community, we need to not only understand our past, but to recognise its impact. We need to be prepared to learn more, to understand other perspectives. It’s the only way we can get together and make Bermuda a better place.”

He added: “People need to be reminded that they will feel uncomfortable. That’s the only way we learn. But it should never be overlooked that knowledge is power.”

To learn more, e-mail admin@uprootingracism.org.