For the first time ever, after fourteen years of writing, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Editor of the Royal Gazette. For the first time ever!
My stand is in support of, and in agreement with, his response to the ruling of the Human Rights Commission on the use, over the airwaves and in context, of the words ‘house nigger’. So that there is no doubt or confusion over what Bill Zuill [the younger], wrote, here are his opening sentences:
“Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert is a house nigger. So is Shadow Finance Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin. All black members of the United Bermuda party are house niggers. By extension, Premier Alex Scott is, presumably, a field nigger. So is Works and Engineering Minister Sen. David Burch. All black members of the Progressive labour party are field niggers. All white Bermudians are honkies”.
Bill Zuill has captured, precisely, the core issue.
The Human Rights Commission, in its ruling, actually supports the use of the word and supports its use in the context in which it was actually used. To formally describe its use, in context, as insulting or unwise or distasteful or any other word except the simple word ‘wrong’ was and is wrong!
Language is the means of communication between individuals. It’s the primary means of communication between groups of people. It’s also the means through which many human values are communicated. Language is also a political tool.
Black Americans stood together and fought their way out from the ‘nigger’ laden world of ‘Jim Crow’ though the ‘March on Washington’ and on to Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and Osaka Barama.
Newer black Americans, pursuing American dollars, have taken themselves back into the ‘Jim Crow’ human value days by re-introducing the words ‘nigger’ in referring to black men and black people. Of course, taking commercial license with language, they actually write and display the word as ‘nigga’ or, plural, ‘niggas’.
These newer black Americans also use devaluing language in describing their own black women as ‘whores’. Again, taking the same kind of commercial license, they actually write and display the word as ‘ho’ or, plural, ‘ho’s’.
Seventy years ago, the Nazi Germans took the simple word “Jew” or “Juden” and, without ever changing the word itself, turned that single unchanged word first, into a term of opprobrium, and then, into a sentence of death.
In a side column on page five of the Mid Ocean News of Friday 19th May 2006, an American travel writer was extolling the virtues of Bermuda as a travel destination. He spoke of our having a $69,000 per capita GDP – amongst the highest in the world.
I made a flash connection between that outsider’s view of Bermuda and my insider’s view of the use of language. I thought that Senator Burch’s use of language, in context, was on exactly the same plane of usage as the language used by dollar-rich heavily blinged black American rappers who strut and jump about their stages – raking in American dollars – by calling and demeaning themselves and all other black Americans – depending on gender – as ‘niggas’ or ‘ho’s’.
Senator Burch’s use of the language, and the Human Rights Commissions decision on the use of that language were both wrong.
Since April 1992, I have written over 460,000 words in more than 600 newspaper columns. I have castigated the previous government; been critical of this current government; fought – very publicly – with government Cabinet Ministers; tangled with other newspaper columnists; had a long running battle with the previous editor of the Royal Gazette. Through all of that, I have written as what I am. A proud black Bermudian man.
I never have, and I never will, use the word ‘nigger’ to describe my fellow black Bermudians – even if they do disagree with me or if I don’t like what they are saying.
Persons in public office, or persons speaking or writing in public forums should always use language that is appropriate and acceptable to all listeners and all readers – even if those listeners and readers strongly and angrily disagree.
If not, put your too-big baseball cap on sideways, wear a too-big T-shirt outside your too-big pants, drape yourself in bling, and go “shuck and jive with the rest of ‘em”.
With the Human Rights Commission ruling now in, the one certainty is that we have all seen a true and unpleasant demonstration of one person’s set of core personal human and political values; and a questionable set of values in another group of people.