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Commissiong vows to address racial disparity

Educational campaign: Rolfe Commissiong to ensure everyone is up to speed about opportunities available

A Progressive Labour Party backbencher has called for more to be done to address income inequality and racial disparity in Bermuda.

Rolfe Commissiong told MPs on Friday that data from the 2016 Census highlighted that the gaps between blacks and whites had widened.

He explained: “Black males experienced the largest decrease in median income of 13 per cent, $7,281, followed by black females at 12 per cent, corresponding to $6,569.”

“The income levels of white males exceeded those of black males by 70 per cent and were 17 per cent higher than the income level of white females.”

Mr Commissiong said the number of black Bermudians without health insurance had increased from 2,480 in 2010 to 4,085 in 2016.

He added: “So the level of socio-economic insecurity has only continued to increase in Bermuda. The racial disparity gaps have widened and it is something we can no longer ignore.”

He added that the statistics “graphically” belied claims that progress had been made.

Mr Commissiong said the 2016 Census also highlighted that a programme was needed that would lead to black economic empowerment “in a real way”.

He said the Government’s new Code of Practice for Project Management and Procurement marked an “historic milestone”.

He added: “Last fiscal year for example, our government spent $150 million on goods and services locally. Most of that spending went to white-dominated companies.”

But he added that the affirmative-action policy, in which the Government pledged to use its purchasing power to promote equality of opportunity with regard to disability, gender or race, could “play a significant role in reducing racial disparity around the procurement span”.

Mr Commissiong said an educational campaign would be created to ensure everyone “is up to speed and educated about these opportunities and what it will take to take advantage of them”.

“There is too much at stake here to have companies fail. Ultimately, it is going to be up to them but we are going to ensure that there are not going to be stumbling blocks in front of them.”

Mr Commissiong also highlighted a call by insurance executive Jonathan Reiss for the private sector to make more effort to tackle the lack of diversity in workforces, management and boardrooms.

Mr Reiss, who spoke at the Bermuda Captive Conference last month, said the reasons for a lack of racial diversity in the island’s insurance industry were “much more complicated than outright discrimination”.

He said they ranged from education to recruitment methods and unconscious bias.

Mr Reiss added: “It’s the legacy of white supremacy, slavery, and how this legacy continues to permeate our institutions despite the monumental shift in attitudes and intentions.”

Mr Commissiong pointed out that Malcolm Butterfield, CEO of the Bermuda Insurance Institute, said Mr Reiss’s speech was “one of the most courageous speeches on diversity and inclusion that I have ever heard”.

Mr Commissiong said: “Malcolm Butterfield must be deaf, blind and I will let you fill in the rest ...

“Because how many Bermudians of high esteem, from Dr Eva Hodgson to so many others, Cyril Packwood, go down the list, Ira Philip, people still alive today, spoke about the same disparities?”

He added: “He felt comfortable to put his feet in the water because he had a very powerful white Bermudian who has said what many of us have been saying for so, so long.”