OF ELEGANCE AND INELEGANCE

Though the shrillness and volume of delivery may be unpalatable to some – if not most – the message that’s conveyed is still a message that needs to be heard.

            In the normal rough and tumble of a true democracy, each one of Bermuda’s four groups grabs for whatever power it can get in order to achieve what it considers to be in its own best interests. This grabbing for power has always occurred and is occurring now. In the mighty USA, the Republican Party has just completed a successful grab for power. Republicans now control the White House, Senate, and Congress. They have total power.

            In our Bermuda, power of this kind was once wielded by the UBP and its predecessor – the Party of Independents [the PI – Pee-eye]. 

            Over 348 years from 1620 until 1968, the PI showed the most remarkable voting consistency. The PI party, in 1957, even as Ghana was gaining its independence, was still maintaining, in Bermuda, a strong segregationist policy which would have been lauded by Vervoerd”s South African Nationalist Party or the USA’s Ku Klux Klan.

            PI party policies favoured white Bermudians, white non-Bermudians, and extended some small favours to a small element of Portuguese-Bermudians. PI policies did not treat black Bermudians equally or with the same kind of favour as shown to  white Bermudians and white non-Bermudians. PI policies were aimed at, and succeeded in, not enfranchising black Bermudians; barring black Bermudians from full participation in the economic life of this island; and socially distancing black Bermudians from mainstream culture.

            PI policies succeeded. They succeeded right up until 1968 when the PI recognized impending change. In 1968, with the small successes that black Bermudians had thus far won [ending legal segregation (1960); formation of a political party that represented mostly black interests and the first extension of the vote (1963); the advent of universal adult suffrage (1968)]; the PI saw that they would need to change.

            So change they did. Safely cocooned inside Bermuda’s House of Assembly, the all-white PI – caterpillar-like – metamorphosed into a two-colour UBP. In turning itself into the UBP, the PI took on black members – something it had never done before.  Not in 348 years.

            In taking on black members, the PI, now formally flapping its wings as the UBP, successfully grabbed for power. The UBP power grab consisted of attracting, then holding on to, then increasing its membership of blacks. From 1968 to 1998, this power grab succeeded. From 1990 on, however, it was clear that this black membership was having less and less impact on the UBP’s ability to retain political power.

            The anomaly in all this grabbing for, and holding on to, of power was that in a full democracy, the natural majority tends to hold sway. But here, in our Bermuda, this tenet of democracy was skewed by the combining of our political, social, and economic histories. The result? Bermuda’s majority population was treated – in all ways – as if it was a minority. This was the result of the success of the UBP power grab. A power grab that was done under the rules that exist in every democracy.

            Until 1998, Bermuda’s natural majority had been kept marginalized by the UBP coalition of minorities. This coalition was made up of old PI people, thousands of new status Bermudians from Europe and North America and the Azores, and a tiny few from the Caribbean. That coalition of minorities acted along the same lines as the old PI, with the same barring of persons from Bermuda’s natural majority.

            In 1998, Bermuda’s majority woke up. Woke from a deep sleep that had lasted 184 years. Nine times longer than Rip Van Winkle had slept!

            In 1998, Bermuda’s wide-awake majority grabbed for power. Grabbed for it and got it! For the first time ever, Bermuda’s natural majority was under natural majority rule.

            In 1995, then-Premier Sir John W Swan pointed out that there were no ‘black’ businesses on ‘Front Street’. In 1996, Bank of Butterfield CEO Norman Tugwell and sociologist Dr Dorothy Newman wrote and spoke of bad or negative racial imbalances. Underlying all of these personal, professional, political, and scientific observations were the raw numbers of Bermuda’s 1991 Census. All these observations combined to display the true colours on the canvas of our Bermuda life scene.

            Even as late as 1996, it was evident to all except the willfully blind, that Bermuda’s natural majority had remained a majority that was partly disenfranchised and discriminated against.

            Sir Winston Churchill offered that: “…democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried…”. For Sir Winston, democracy had, indeed, been a rough and tumble affair. He had suffered its roughness. He had been tumbled. And he had even been humbled.

            In the rough, some ideas get expressed with some inelegance and sometimes in tones not suited to the languid lounges of lords and ladies. That’s the rough. In the tumble, some things fall and a few things – feelings mostly – get hurt or broken. That’s the tumble.

            However, from deep within the soul of Bermuda’s natural majority, there is a desire, first, for real change; and second, for that change to continue.

            Trouble is, Bermuda’s natural majority, since its power grab of 1998, is still getting its hands on, and is still digesting something that it has never had – or tasted – before.  It’ll take more time for those hands to get more comfortable. It’ll take more time to start swallowing and become comfortable with the tastes and textures of power. It may take even more time before rough ideas are tumbled out with ‘Churchillian’ finesse.

            So when you hear those shrill decibels about “people who look like me”, accept that even though inelegantly expressed, the idea and feeling is absolutely sound and is a reality of democracy. Recognize that this thought and this feeling is but one outcome of 348 plus 30 years of one-sided domination that actively suppressed Bermuda’s natural majority. Recognize also, that as inelegant as it is, it’s still a sign of the workings of a democracy  of ‘Churchillian’ quality and style.

            One significant recurring reality remains. This thought, absolutely common in all of majority Bermuda, does not percolate or bubble through our Bermuda media.

            Like the rhythmic beat from our gombey drums, the expression of this feeling can be filtered out, or not let in. Not by any deliberate censoring. Just by ignoring it. But this non-percolating, this non-bubbling through, shows, yet again, the inability of our media to tap into the stream of ordinary emotions and the flood of feelings that flow through the veins and arteries of the many channels of communication that – for more than 380 years – have survived and that still exist amongst this majority population.

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