GHETTOS

Ghetto.  An explosive word prickling with shards and fragments. Racial shards. Ethnic fragments. Like a bomb with trip wires. Touch any wire and – Boom! – it blows!

            In my lifetime, in Europe and Asia, ghettos were the places where Jews were confined and kept segregated from the major society. The ghetto, as I’ve just described it, reached its zenith – or was it its nadir? – in Europe during the Second World War. It happened with the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, Poland.

            In 1943, after four years of increasingly restrictive and harsh Nazi and SS confinement, the locked-in Jewish population of the Warsaw Ghetto exploded in revolt. The Jews who rose against the Nazis sent a radio message to the Free World. That message ended with the words: “Save Us”.

            That Warsaw uprising began on 19 April 1943.  History records that though the Ghetto fighters asked for help, and though help was needed, no help came. Part of the reason for Allied inaction lay in a strain of anti-Semitism that, even then, permeated much of the Allied decision making hierarchy. This was coupled with a disbelief that what was said to be happening in German-occupied Europe was actually happening as alleged. So the whole Allied machinery of war stood by as the Nazi forces annihilated the Jews of Warsaw. 

            April 19, 1943 was the same day that a conference convened to discuss the War’s ‘refugee problem’.  One of the problems was the plight of the Jews and what actions would be taken to help them. That conference took place in Bermuda. Most of the meetings took place in the Belmont Hotel. For Jews, this Bermuda Conference achieved nothing.

            At the end of the Bermuda meeting, an American-based Jewish organization took out a three-quarter page ad in the New York Times. The ad blared: “To 5,000,000 Jews in the Nazi Death-Trap Bermuda was a Cruel Mockery.”

            Later, and very strongly in the 1990’s, black Americans resurrected the word. They used it to describe their inner-city living. Hip-hop and Rap artists helped give the word its highest profile. In their music, these artists described themselves and their inner-city audience as people living in ghettos. The word itself, combining with the style of life portrayed, showed that the word accurately and honestly described the life of many – too many? – inner-city black Americans.

            Unlike the walled-in Warsaw Ghetto, these newer self-described inner-city ghettos had no visible walls acting as real confining mechanisms. These newer ghetto’s were wall-less. The blacks who felt confined within these ghettos were locked-in, but locked-in by invisible walls. 

            These invisible walls were built up of the bricks of major society discrimination, major and minor society prejudice, poor education, low skill levels, low expectations, and low or non-existent hopes.  Faced with years of resurging white American conservatism, many black Americans retreated and hunkered down in their inner-city ‘hoods and ghettos, and even seemed, at times, to glamourize the resulting lifestyles.

            Bermuda is a polka-dot mix of nice alongside not-so-nice. Rich mixed with not-so-rich. Well-off twinned with poverty. Bermuda doesn’t have one single area that can be accurately described as a ghetto. That doesn’t mean though, that some Bermudians don’t describe themselves as living in a ghetto. That doesn’t mean, either, that there are no ghettos in Bermuda in Bermuda. Quite the contrary.

            Bermuda has many ghettos. They’re all over this island.  They exist wherever there is a regular gathering of a group of people, resident in the immediate area, who share these characteristics: Poorly educated – low skill levels – low or non-existent expectations – a feeling of nothing to lose, and equally, nothing to gain.

            More important than the picky point of an exact geographic location, the sight of rows of boarded-up windows, or lines of decaying buildings, is that these ghettos do actually exist in the minds of a significant segment of our Bermudian population. The lack of precision of place obscures – but doesn’t eliminate – this reality. Our Bermuda ghettos exist in the minds of hundreds of locked-in – more correctly locked-out – Bermudians.

            Tell me, in 2007, what identifiable part of our population of 48,000 Bermudians shares these characteristics: “Poorly educated – low skill levels – low or non-existent expectations – a feeling of nothing to lose, and equally, nothing to gain.”?

            Tell me, in 2007, what identifiable part of our population of 48,000 Bermudians would agree with the sentiment: “Bermuda… a Cruel Mockery.”?

            Tell me, do we really have ghettos? Yes? No?

            Please, please, tell me.

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