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Anger over lack of diversity in honours

The Queen's New Year's Honours List has sparked new debate over whether Bermuda should create a home-grown version.

Christopher Famous, Progressive Labour Party MP for Devonshire East, said this year's awards had generated controversy over the ethnic make-up of recipients.

Mr Famous asked: “Where's the black people?”

The MP was speaking after more than 20 people who helped to run the 35th America's Cup last year were honoured, along with Bermuda Audubon Society president Andrew Dobson, social worker Glenda Edwards and teacher Catherine Lapsley.

Mr Famous said: “The optics of it sticks out. It's not to say that people are not deserving, but it didn't reflect the community.”

The lack of black recipients in a community in which the majority of people are of Afro-Caribbean descent caused widespread comment on social media.

Mr Famous, who addresses the controversy in his column in The Royal Gazette today, added: “Most people are not racist, but I think people are a little bit naive about other people's sensitivities.

“Black people are saying the awards are not reflective of society, and there's an immediate, kneejerk reaction that you're putting down the people who did win.

“But what about other people?

“The claim by some is that they only grant awards according to who is nominated.

“A possible solution is to have the nomination process a little more transparent. Nominations for the Queen's New Year's Honours List should be made public before the deadline, thus allowing for additional submissions.

Mr Famous also raised the possibility of a Bermuda version of the awards.

He said: “Bermuda is a divided society. You would have many people that would think it's time to have our own. Another segment, black and white, will say having our own would not be equal to having an award from the Queen. There would be appetite from some and reluctance from others.

He added: “I'm not advocating getting rid of the awards, but having additional awards. When you look at the volume of people doing good things in the community, there is no way that everybody could be recognised by the Queen.”

Mr Famous said: “I think it should be open to anyone who is a resident of Bermuda to make it more inclusive.

“We have a lot of non-Bermudians serving the community in many ways.”

Mr Famous said he planned to raise island honours with PLP colleagues,

He added: “Most things gain traction from the public; if you plant a seed with them and the public demands it, then the Government should act on it.”

Walton Brown, Minister of Home Affairs, declined to comment.

But Mr Brown has highlighted the honours system on several occasions, including in a 2011 opinion piece for the The Royal Gazette.

The column followed a visit to the island by the Earl and Countess of Wessex.

Mr Brown, at the time, branded the monarchy “an imperfect fit in our modern world”.

He added: “The most vivid imprint of the monarchy locally rests with the Queen's Honours List.

“On the one hand, these awards recognise the accomplishments of Bermudians in social, political and other fields, all in service to the country.

“It is laudable that those who have contributed to the betterment of Bermuda be honoured.

“On the other hand, there is something distinctly perverse in a colonial subject accepting an award installing him as a Commander of the British Empire or indeed to become a Knight in such an empire.”

Mr Brown pointed out that people who were against the awards would have their contributions to the island unrecognised and called for the revival of an alternative awards scheme considered under former premier Dame Jennifer Smith.

Chris Famous raised the possibility of a Bermuda version of the awards (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published January 05, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated January 05, 2018 at 1:01 pm)

Anger over lack of diversity in honours

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