OF BRETHREN AND SISTREN

For quite a while now, something’s been bothering me. Is it race? Or is it education?

            Last time I looked, every sitting member of the ruling party was black. The CEO of the Bank of Bermuda/HSBC and the chairman of the Board of Directors of Butterfield’s Bank were black.  There are plenty of black doctors, dentists, nurses, lawyers, accountants, civil servants…

            Why then are there still cries that blacks are being disadvantaged because of their race? Why are these cries given credence?

            Look around and see the reality that comes in through your own corneas. Then study the statistics and see what the numbers say. Both will impart the same message.  Bermuda’s workforce has darkened – and not from sun-tanning on the beach.

            When CURE’s initiative to get employers to hire more ‘people who looked like me’ took hold, employers responded by hiring with a distinct bias towards people of colour. In the absence of black Bermudians, employers took in Indians, Africans, West Indians, black Europeans, and black North Americans.

            Bermuda’s 2005 workforce is much ‘darker’ than it was twenty-five years ago.  So is there a real prejudice against the hiring of black, brown, or any other non-white?

            Still, there is a reality.  Black male Bermudians are under-represented in the workplace. Black male Bermudians are over-represented in prison. Black male Bermudians have a near-monopoly on ‘wall-sitting’.  They are the one group singled out as needing special attention.

            One thing that this ‘special attention’ group seems to have in common is either or both of a below average education or inadequate individual preparation for the life opportunities that Bermuda actually does offer. Black female Bermudians do seem more successful than black male Bermudians.

            Both black groups – male and female – came down exactly the same Bermudian birth canals. It was impossible for them to come any other way.

            Both black groups – male and female – passed through exactly the same family units. It was impossible for them to be cared for in any other way.

            Both black groups were processed through exactly the same educational systems. It was impossible for them to be educated in any other way.

            But the black male came out behind. Consistently behind. Demonstrably behind.

            Bermuda changed from a service economy needing lots of service workers able to provide high quality manual service as builders, mechanics, barmen, waiters, … to a service economy needing workers able to provide high quality intellectual service. The change meant that education became significantly more important. Certainly, Bermuda’s public education system must accept a big chunk of blame in not correcting a situation that has been developing over at least three decades.

            This shift to the need for a different and better education came at the same time that the workplace opened up to women and Bermuda’s economy sidestepped from manual service to intellectual service.  In this economic switchover, black male Bermudians were left behind, were left out, or were passed over.

            Now, in this twenty-first century, black male Bermudians certainly do have to catch up. Not catch up in the way that all black Bermudians had to – and did – catch up in the 1960’s; but catch up in a closer more individual competition. Black males are in competition with their own black sisters!

            So is it race? Is it education?

            Looking about me, and looking at the statistics, I find a much darker workplace. I also find a prison population still disproportionately filled with black male Bermudians. I find black male Bermudians still making up a disproportionately low percentage of every years graduating class in the public educating system; but doing slightly better in the private educating system.

            I hear black Bermudians ‘making off’ about how ‘racial discrimination’ still holds back Bermuda’s black male. Is that true? I don’t think that it is. Not when I see the reality that surrounds me.  And you.

            But something else bothers me.

            Almost all Bermudians will be familiar with the terms ‘cracker’ and ‘redneck’. These two words are heavy with history and connotation. I’m beginning to think that we have Bermuda equivalents. ‘Biscuit’ and ‘blackneck’.

            ‘Biscuits’ and ‘blacknecks’ hang on to values of the past, have confused visions of the present, and steadfastly refuse to change their ideas, their rhetoric, or their behaviour.

            Certainly, systemic problems are blocking the progress of black male Bermudians. However, any endemic racial prejudice against them is probably the smallest of the obstacles facing them in their quest to achieve parity with their own black sisters.

 

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