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Burt’s call for action over ‘two Bermudas’

David Burt issued a call to the haves and have-nots to tackle Bermuda's longstanding “racial divide”.

But only about 12 members of Hamilton Rotary Club were on hand to hear the Progressive Labour Party leader's speech — with some said to have had “angst” at what Mr Burt might speak about.

The MP's remarks examined the relationship between race, privilege, and the PLP's oft-cited claim of “two Bermudas”.

“My speech today is a call to both the privileged and to the disaffected,” Mr Burt said.

Race, he said, had long been the elephant in the room on the island.

“Bermuda can only move forward if the traditional, rigid divisions of race and privilege can be replaced with a movement based on shared values, shared challenges, shared commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” he said.

He said privilege was not limited to race, adding: “More and more of white Bermudian citizens are beginning to lose ground when it comes to jobs, opportunity, access to quality education, and are beginning to understand that the elite and privileged are moving forward together, while many Bermudians are being left behind.

“Race, sex and class all intersect to form different levels of privilege.”

Some in Bermuda, Mr Burt said, failed to grasp the concept of struggle.

“To say that race does not play a role in this divide is to lack a fundamental understanding of our country's tortured history,” he said.

He added that for generations Bermudians have heard that “the racial divide would fix itself” but continued: “I know we can face this longstanding divide and take real action to address it.”

The speech also detailed the “ABCs” needed to create the nation Mr Burt said all sought: acceptance, building a better Bermuda “that works for all”, and collaboration.

Approximately a dozen club members were in attendance for the lunch-hour meeting yesterday. Neville Tyrrell, a former Rotary president and now a PLP MP, noted the low turnout for the event in his opening remarks.

At one stage before it began, the media were told by some members they were not welcome, but after some discussion from Rotarians, reporters were allowed to stay.

Gwendolyn Creary, president elect of the club, explained to this newspaper: “Some of the members still had some angst or reserve about him [Mr Burt] coming and what he might speak about.”

The presence of the representatives from various media outlets was not unique to today's event, Ms Creary said.

“The press is invited all the time.”

Mr Burt's speech, she said, discussed issues that needed to be addressed by all people of Bermuda.

“It needs to be a drum that we all beat,” Ms Creary said.

“We all owe it to each other to work together and figure out solutions that work for all of us.”

Rotary speeches have traditionally veered away from politics, but Liana Hall, press secretary for the PLP, said she did not believe Mr Burt's speech was political.

“It was a rallying call about confronting race issues,” she said.

Mr Burt said he was not concerned by the low turnout for his talk.

“I am comfortable with what I said, and I think that for the persons who heard it, it was well received,” he told this newspaper.

Organisations like the Rotary Club — in addition to Government, business and religious leaders, and others — have a role to play in addressing the issues, the PLP leader said.

“There are real realities of disparities and inequality of opportunity that do exist,” Mr Burt said.

“And if we do not address them, then we are going to find ourselves as a country having a challenge.”

David Burt, leader of the Opposition, speaks at the weekly Hamilton Rotary meeting (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 16, 2017 at 5:25 pm (Updated May 17, 2017 at 7:19 am)

Burt’s call for action over ‘two Bermudas’

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