FEAR

In the past year, there has been an outpouring of feelings. Ira Phillip’s history of the BIU; Rosemary Jone’s “Bermuda Five Centuries”; ex-MP Bill Cox’s Bermuda Sun columns; many letters to the editor. Then there is that petition asking for a referendum.

            Bit by bit, word by word, piece by piece, this literature, in all its forms, is re-fashionong the fabric of our Bermuda society. It’s a slow process. It’s also a necessary process.

            Rosemary Jone’s 2004 history book closes the gaping hole in Terry Tucker’s 1983 history book:  “Bermuda, Today and Yesterday”.  Here’s how Terry Tucker deals with the 1959 Theatre Boycott: “…it was a year that saw Bermuda at its best and its worst. Amid the almost continuous celebrations, there had been the first labour troubles of any note: tensions, strikes, boycotts, and an unprecedented wave of violent crime…. That same year saw the voluntary end to segregation for dining and dancing in the island’s major hotels….”

            Contrast Terry Tucker’s literal dismissal of a seminal event with Jones’ description of the 1959 Theatre Boycott.  Jones starts on page 208 and finishes on page 211.  These two descriptions show the gulf that separates and the information that joins.

            Black and white Bermudians can and do have different perspectives on their social, economic, and political histories. Unsealed archives in London, Ira Phillip’s history of the BIU, Randolf Williams’ biographies of Dame Lois, “Jack” Tucker, and “E.T. Richards”, all combine to give us small sips of the waters of the deeper rivers of emotion that run so steadily, so deeply, but so invisibly, through all levels of society in this tight little community. 

            Since 1998, there has been a sea change in the social values extant in this community. The aging members and younger descendants of the old ruling minority are learning to deal with a new layer of previously suppressed feelings. These feelings had gone unexpressed mainly out of a fear of retribution.

            As black Bermudians push their historic perspectives to the front, and as white Bermudians learn more about the current feelings of the black Bermudians who surround them, some white Bermudians seem to have become newly uncomfortable. As these feelings unfold, I sometimes sense a discomfort – or is it fear? – coming from the likes of ex-MP Bill Cox, letter writer Phil Cracknell, Gazette columnist Christian Dunleavy, and others.

            For me, the post-1998 society that we now live in is a freer society. That’s how the overwhelming majority of black Bermudians view it.

            If, though, significant numbers of white Bermudians now feel newly intimidated or freshly fearful, then our Bermuda society may simply have flipped. If so, it’s not good and it should be fixed.

            But why would there have been a flip? Why would an old black fear be replaced by a new white fear – of exactly the same kind?

            Granted, there are some loud, crude, and insensitive blacks who have favourite rants. But blacks got used to living with loud, crude, and insensitive whites who had their favourite rants. The ultimate black response was to engage and discuss – not withdraw and sulk. That’s what must happen with whites. As blacks learned, the process of engagement can be painful and unpleasant, but the prize is worth the effort.

            The prize? A free and completely open society where ideas stand and fall on their own merit. Where individuals are free to express themselves knowing that there will be no retribution of any kind.

            Bermuda’s first completely free and open public discussion on any matter was over the issue of ‘Long term Residents’. That issue uncapped a gusher of emotions. Each of the meetings saw some loud heated arguments and some below-the-belt interchanges between people speaking from the floor. These exchanges displayed all the raw roughness of new grass roots democracy.  These exchanges were different from the genteel and over-controlled exchanges that prevailed under the old oligarchy.

            The handling of that first issue really showed Bermuda’s new democracy at work. It seemed to work well, though roughly and noisily.

            Now, in 2005, in this post-1998 freer society, we should all feel completely free to openly and freely discuss or tackle any issue. If some of us feel less free, then we have a problem.

            Am I right? Do some Bermudians feel less free now, in 2005, than before? Is this new fear a significant factor in the Independence and other public debates?

            If so, why?  What fears, threats, or retribution loom so large? What? Where?

 

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