RESURRECTING DEMONS

In the 1950’s and 1960’s the sons and daughters of working-class black families attended the Berkeley Institute. They went to Berkeley because they couldn’t go to Saltus, or Bermuda High School for Girls [BHS], or Warwick Academy, or Mount Saint Agnes Academy [MSA]. They couldn’t go to these other schools because these schools didn’t accept black children – even if they were academically qualified, and even if their parents could pay the fees.

            In the 1950’s and 1960’s these sons and daughters of working-class black families, after five years at Berkeley, sat the same ‘external’ examinations as the children of Saltus, BHS, and Warwick. In the 1950’s and 1960’s these sons and daughters of black families passed these external exams. Often – most of the time – they got better results than the ‘other’ kids at Saltus, BHS, and Warwick.

            Racial integration and the 1970’s arrived. Some sons and daughters of black families began attending Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA. But white children did not begin turning up at Berkeley.

            In the early 1970’s the government-of-that-day closed the Bermuda Technical Institute [‘Tech’] and began to introduce the Bermuda Secondary School Certificate [BSSC]. The BSSC was intended as a replacement for the Cambridge School Certificate [CSC], set by Cambridge University; and the General Certificate of Education [GCE], set by London University.

            By the mid-1980’s, Berkeley, still a 99.98% black school was having less success at the newer GCE’s and GCSE’s which were replacing the old CSC [Cambridge] and GCE [London].

            Had the students entering Berkeley become generically and genetically less able? No. Not at all. Nor had they become less capable. But the trend in results in these external exams had turned downwards, continually downwards. Finally, in 2000, Berkeley stopped regularly entering its students for these external exams. Berkeley’s decline had reached bottom.

            During all this time, Saltus, BHS, and Warwick Academy, whose students had not become genetically superior, had continued preparing their students and entering their students for these external exams. Their students continued to pass these exams.

            By the mid-1980’s, Berkeley students were no longer entering first rate universities and were fading from the ranks of local scholarship winners. Their places were taken by students from Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA.

            Cedarbridge Academy has no record of past success. Berkeley Institute, in this new millennium, does not produce the quality of product that it produced for most of the old millennium. Within twelve months, further up the hill from the present Berkeley Institute, there’ll be a brand-new building which will also be named as the Berkeley Institute.

            Will this expensive new building be used to house failing policies, shelter under-performing students, and provide jobs for a teaching faculty that delivers a product that is markedly inferior to the product coming out of Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA? If Bermuda’s public education policies don’t change – and change fast – the ‘new’ Berkeley Institute will continue to produce an inferior product.

            White Bermudians have already abandoned Bermuda’s public education system. In the 1980’s blacks began to drift away from publicly funded secondary education.  In the 1990’s, this drift turned into a stream. If this black shift continues, it will turn into a black flood and the expensive ‘new’ Berkeley Institute will fail, and will fail in the same way, and for the same reasons, as the present Berkeley.

            It’s now blatantly and nationally obvious that in the 1970’s two wrong policies were formulated and then implemented. The first was the policy decision to do away with the Bermuda Technical Institute – the ‘Tech’. The second was the policy decision to start replacing the CSC and GCE external exams with an internal exam – the BSSC.

            Both policy errors have resulted in a degrading of the quality of public education that is delivered to those Bermudians who can only afford public education. It has also resulted in the non-delivery of adequately prepared middle level [semi-professional and para-professional] workers for our radically changed workplace.

            Both policy errors have also contributed to the now perceptible increase in certain kinds of social tensions and social pressures. These pressures show up in the increase of the massing of young men into their own separate social groups – ‘gangs’; in stronger competition for lower cost housing; and in the growing disparity between the grand lifestyles and wide choices of high-end income earners and the less grand lifestyles and fewer choices of low end service providers. 

            The full effect of these two failed educational policies is that the 55% of Bermudian students who only ever use the public education system, have a lower starting point when they leave this education system and enter Bermuda’s job market or try for tertiary education.  They start one or two steps behind. They start one or two levels below their peers who’ve gone through, or who switched to, the private education system. Having started behind or below, many never catch up or even have a fair chance of catching up.

            Statistical information as well as our everyday experiences tells us that in 2002, we were ‘under-educating’ 55% of our national Bermudian population. We were under-educating and therefore under-preparing this huge percentage of our national Bermudian population in a Bermuda that, in 2002 and 2003, is a global player in a harsh and uncaring global environment. Both ‘Tourism’ and ‘Business’ operate in an environment of global competition. Both industries need to be staffed by people able to win in a competition against millions of well-educated or better-educated people everywhere else in the world.

            Some may – many will – see this difference in the delivery of education as a narrow black/white issue. It isn’t. It’s a much broader race-neutral national issue. The reality, though, is that the overwhelming majority of the people who are being under-educated are black. Because this black majority receives a second-class education, it is in danger of being consigned to permanent or quasi-permanent second-class status. But this inferior status will be a result of their second-class education. Not their skin colour. Even though the vast majority will be black.

            Left unchanged, these failed education policies will take us backwards and will re-segregate Bermuda. But Bermuda will re-segregate on bad new education lines – not the bad old colour lines. However, it will appear as if the segregation is colour-based.[*]           But despite this verifiable reality, the parallel and consequential reality is that re-segregation will resurrect and re-energize the almost buried ‘race-hate’ demons.  Demons that all of us have worked hard at capturing, killing, and burying.  

            Dr Eva Hodgson’s book “Second Class Citizens, First Class Men” [1964], accurately described the Bermuda of the past. The book’s title – re-worded – accurately describes today’s public education situation. It’ll be ironic – damned ironic – if this book’s title just as accurately describes the Bermuda of the future. [**]    

            Given the passage of thirty years; given the clear evidence that Bermuda’s public education system is delivering an inferior product; given the need to avoid more and growing national social tensions; it’s time to admit past errors and make future changes.

            Even superpower USA had to humble itself, acknowledge its mistake, bury its 58,000 American boys, and retreat from Vietnam. Former US Secretary of Defence, Roberts S McNamara, enlightened by twenty-two years of hindsight, admitted that US involvement in Vietnam was wrong. But he did admit it.

            We Bermudians have to do so much less. All we Bermudians have to do is display some good sense and acknowledge past Bermudian mistakes. We’ve no dead to bury. Not yet, anyway!

            So when I opened Tim Hodgson’s weekend newssheet [24th  December 2002] and read that persons from the Ministry of Education were looking at the possibility of bringing back external exams for students in the public system, I thought – Hallellujah!  My people have seen the light!  Some good sense’! It’s fifteen years overdue but  it’s here now!

            By the way, our very public and frenzied ‘fussing’ over the Auditor and the angry words and the accusations and the money and the contract and the builders and the building of the ‘new’ Berkeley reminds me of Rome blazing while Emperor Nero played Bob Marley reggae on the electric guitar – or was it a Handel largo on an electric violin?…

            What concerns you? The fuss or the future? What’s important? The building or what will happen inside the building?

           

 [*] Ask yourself this question: “Has re-segregation been happening already?” But before you answer, examine the relevant data in the 1991 and 2000 Census Reports. [**] Dr Hodgson’s 1964 book was sponsored by the Amalgamated Bermuda Union of Teachers – an ironic twist.

NOT PAST

Six decades ago, I was born into a Bermuda that, because I was black, consigned me into the bottom half of Bermuda society. Six decades later, no person in Bermuda is consigned in the same way. Now, birth to a single parent or into a dysfunctional family unit are the primary consigners of place.

            Race isn’t.

            Bermuda probably has more black millionaires per thousand of population than every other place on this earth. Admittedly, counting a Bermuda millionaire may mean just counting a homeowner, but that doesn’t change the dollar reality. Bermuda, with a white minority population, has a black majority government. There are no white faces occupying the government front bench.

            Still there are calls for some kind of reconciliation or rapprochement between blacks and whites. But is that necessary? Is it important? Does it matter?

            Does it really matter that there are places in Bermuda where pockets of people of like kinds gather?  Does it matter that ‘Docksiders’ is considered a white expat hangout; that the ‘Rec’ is a black club; that the AME Church is probably 99% black; that the congregations of Bermuda’s Lutheran Church may be 95% white; that ‘horse-racing’ is white and ‘motor-cross’ is black? Does it matter?

            I have little in common with a profane [I prefer clean language], beer-swilling [I prefer wine, and red wine, at that], inarticulate [I prefer intelligent conversation] person whose only interest is yesterday’s ‘game’.  No matter what colour or who that person is, I will not encourage his proximate presence.

            I, and all other Bermudians, have emerged from the separated worlds into which we were consigned at birth to one world where the people who traipse through my life – and through whose lives I traipse – are both black and white.  If I tell you that my niece has a son – you cannot tell if I’m describing a white or black person. The people who regularly turn up on my doorstep are of either race.

            In the recent past, in various public utterances, a few people – a tiny few – have looked back at Bermuda’s past and at past global history. They’ve brought forward issues of the past.  They talk of both reconciliation and revenge in a time where most young Bermudians have achieved a high degree of togetherness and are happily mixing and sharing their slightly different cultures and significantly different histories. These vocal few need to move on and let go of those elements of the past that are no longer relevant.

            Certainly, I know my racial history. Certainly, I know that my black history is different from white history. My thirteen years of writing and two books will tell you that.  I don’t hide it.  I’ve never hidden it. But I do not flaunt it like some tattered flag.

            Proclaiming that they’re from America’s black ‘ghettos’, black American Rap stars, have revived the use of the word ‘nigger’.  They demean themselves. They demean themselves to help them get more dollars for more ‘bling’.  They’re at the other end of the spectrum from Robeson, Malcolm X, Cosby, Colin, Oprah….

            Here in Bermuda, we’ve had the American speaker and writer, Tim Wise, try to get white Bermudians to do something or other – I’m not quite sure what – to achieve some kind of better rapprochement between black and white Bermudians.

            I don’t believe there is any need for that. We’ve achieved racial parity. There are no statutory barriers barring anyone from anything on the grounds of race.  The only barriers left are barriers against gender and sexual orientation.  For any barrier that still exists, if the will of the people is that the barrier should be removed, then the barrier can be removed in the two seconds that it takes to put an ‘X’ on a ballot paper.

            For either side in Bermuda, waving the race flag in today’s Bermuda is like having the Ku Klux Klan riding around in their pointy hats while wearing red, gold, and green robes – or Louis Farrakhan’s Muslims sporting White Aryan Race insignia.

            Racial pasts are past. The present and future lie in the kind of ordinary interchanges that I find so ordinary in my ordinary daily life.

            I’m black. I’m proud. I know my black history. I live my Bermuda life in a Bermuda that’s freer than it ever used to be. I live, today, by looking and thinking and acting and working forward. Not past.

 

WORDS AND VALUES

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.

 

THE REAL ISSUE

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist” is how the Brits would say it. For Jamaican’s, it’s “Hol’ yuh cool.” However it’s said, the message is the same.

            Alpha Phi Alpha took umbrage at what I’d written. What did I write?  Alpha Phi Alpha is a ‘black’ fraternity…”

They are. Alpha Phi Alpha’s history says that seven black men – “jewels” – started the fraternity.  The fraternity adopted its first constitution in December 1907.  It opened its ranks to whites and others in 1945. In 2005, their own chapters describe themselves on their own websites. In 2005, Alpha Phi Alpha is ‘black’ in the same way that the AME church – certainly an international, interracial, and Christian organization – is still a ‘black’ church. Alpha Phi Alpha is still a ‘black’ fraternity.

            Did Alpha Phi Alpha invite all six senior schools to participate? Their follow-up complaint in the Royal Gazette says that they did.  The original “Bermuda Sun” story said Alpha Phi Alpha only asked five of the six schools to participate.

            If Alpha Phi Alpha were seeking to find as many young men as they could, I’d expect them to ask all six senior schools. Whether or not they asked five or six is entirely their own business. 

            If, however, they did leave out one school – which school was it? In the same free world that Alpha Phi Alpha lives in, I’m free to wonder why? I’m free to ask. I’m free to comment. I did.

From census and education statistics, at the senior school level, counting just one age-band of Bermudian boys, there are about 250 black male students in that one age-band. About 180 black male students would be in public education and 70 in private education.

Alpha Phi Alpha’s offer may have been to every student in that age-band in Bermuda. That was excellent. Alpha Phi Alpha’s response in the Royal Gazette obscured the fact that I’d said – quite clearly – that their offer was not fully taken up. That was no fault of Alpha Phi Alpha. The fault lay elsewhere.

Bermuda’s two ‘public schools’ contain the overwhelming majority of black male students. Neither of these two publicly funded schools ensured that at least two of their 180 eligible black male students completed Alpha Phi Alpha’s challenge. Three ‘private schools’ share 70 of these male students.

The real issue – the important issue – the fundamental issue – that really bothered me was this. Why did neither of the two publicly funded public schools complete the challenge? This was the critical issue.  

It bothered me. I thought it would bother everybody else. I hoped it would bother everybody else. That’s why I pointed it out.  That this excellent opportunity wasn’t fully subscribed still bothers me.

A large part of a very real problem, shown in this little spat and spread throughout much of our Bermudian life, is a Bermudian propensity for too many of us Bermudians – certainly individually and sometimes nationally – to focus on the smallest and least important fragment of a much bigger and far wider problem.

Far too many Bermudians work themselves up into a frenzy over one or two niggling points and completely miss the big red monster blob.

Come on people: “Hol’ yuh cool!” See the real problem!

 

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?

 

SCHIZOPHRENIA

I was working away last Saturday morning.  As happens, I had the radio turned on.  It was one of these sets that have a multiplicity of buttons, dials, displays, and acronyms that say everything but how to tune in to a particular station. So as I worked, I listened – as background noise – to what was happening on that day at that time with the radio program that someone else had selected.

            The radio station was one of Bermuda’s newest stations. The announcer, or whatever designation is now used, seemed to be an American. Certainly this announcer’s choice of language, his inflections, and his subject matter were highly appropriate to America. Particularly black America. I think he might have been from Chicago. He might even have been broadcasting from Chicago.

            Amongst other announcements, he had a ‘joke’ announcement about offering free DNA tests to ‘baby mommas’ so that they could test a few guys and so find their ‘baby daddys’. More than any other, that announcement did its work. It catapulted out of the background, caught my full attention, and made me listen much closer.

            Listening closer, it became clear to me that whoever this guy was, he was broadcasting through a Bermuda radio station, that was actually operating in Bermuda, to a Bermuda listening audience. However, his ‘sell’ and style seemed aimed at a black American listener-ship from what Americans call the ‘inner city’.

            You’ve probably heard of Condi Rice’s meeting with Russia’s Putin and the UK’s Tony Blair. You know who Colin Powell is. So you know that black Americans now exist at all levels of American society. Top to bottom.

            You’ll certainly recall the still fresh images from Katrina’s smashing blows at New Orleans. You may know that on Sunday 16th October, thousands of black Americans reprised the all-black Million Man March of ten years ago. Even now, in 2005, black Americans acknowledge that they are still living, as Dr Martin Luther King described it in 1965,  in “America’s basement.”

            In 2005, black Americans – by their own admission – will still tell you that they do not feel that they have yet gotten their rightful place in American society. Black Americans will still tell you that they still think they’ve a long way to go to catch up with all the other ethnic groups that make up what American’s call their ‘melting pot’.

            So on this Saturday morning, there I was, a black Bermudian who was living and working in Bermuda in 2005. I was listening to a particular American value set being foisted on me and other Bermudians. I realize that this same set of values is often transmitted through BET. It’s also transmitted – osmotically – by the general environments of the Historically Black Colleges of the USA.

            As far as I can tell, these values are not transmitted by the University of the West Indies [UWI]. Nor are they transmitted by Queen’s University in Toronto. Or the University of Buckingham. Or any other university or college that operates outside the USA. Nor do these values seep through CNN or ESPN or NBC.

            Here in the Bermuda that I live in, blacks, if not acknowledged as in the ascendancy, are certainly seen as equals. Black Bermudians have dominant political power. The racial disparities that still do exist can be eradicated. However, eradication cannot come through more laws. Further eradication can only come through better education, more investment, and more savings.        

            I’m puzzled when a black Bermudian picks up the cloak that black Americans are still forced to wear, and then casts himself [herself] into the role of racial victim. I do though have an explanation.

            Some time ago, a ‘shrink’ – I think he was here on a work permit – suggested that Bermuda had a higher than normal incidence of schizophrenia. This schizophrenia must have settled, especially, in Bermuda’s black community. It results in the view, often expressed – sometimes quite forcibly – that black Bermudians are ‘racial victims’ in the same way as are black Americans.

            From Bermuda’s geographic location, within Bermuda’s social setting, within Bermuda’s economic and political reality, it’s difficult – I believe impossible – to say honestly that, in Bermuda, black Bermudians are a ‘downpressed’ lot in the same way that ‘inner city blacks’ in Chicago are a downpressed lot.

            Unless you’re schizophrenic.

 

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.

 

DARK DAY?

There was “Ottie” striding across the page. Under the picture, this headline: “Bermuda’s ‘dark day’ – 40 years on”. The headline led into a story, run over two pages, replete with names and personal recollections [RG – 02 Feb 05].

            The story showed a depth of research that is not that common. It was a well-done and interesting story.

            That headline though, told another tale.

            ‘Dark day’ is entirely a matter of perspective. The story’s lead paragraph spoke of a “..turning point in Bermuda’s history…”. This theme of a ‘turning point’ was reiterated by “Ottie” Simmons – forty years ago, in 1965, a BIU organizer; and by Derrick Burgess – forty years later, in 2005, the BIU president.

            However, if the headline writer’s perspective is correct, it appears that for him [or her], the day was a bad day – a “dark day”.. Certainly, the idea that February 2nd 1965 led to a troubled period in Bermuda’s history can be supported by pointing to the riots and arson of 1968 – the disturbances of 1970 – the killings of 1973 – the riots and hangings and killings of 1977 – the General Strike of 1981.

            So, from one perspective, 2nd February 1965 might have been a bad day. And all the other events bad events. But that’s only from one perspective. Is there, as there usually is, another perspective? There is.

            In the forty-six years from 1959 to 2005, Bermuda changed from what was then a typical colonial regime to full internal self-government. From a white minority government and racial segregation and discrimination maintained by Bermuda laws, to a black majority government and an absence of almost all discriminations.

            Change in Bermuda did not come about because ‘Jack Tucker’ and his mates woke up one day in 1959 and said: “We’ve seen the light! We’ll end all segregation! We will have equality of treatment for all!”  No, that didn’t happen. In fact ‘Jack Tucker” found the 1959 Theatre Boycott a “’curious affair’, since there did not appear to be any serious matter of principle in dispute” [*].

            From June 1959 to November 1998, this island’s black population worked its way towards the free and open society that we all today enjoy. 2nd February 1965, was just another one of those several days on which this long black struggle saw an eruption into violence.

            Violence is a common part of the process of struggle.  Those who are struggled against often paint and demonize strugglers as criminals and troublemakers. This happens because those who are struggled against are the makers of laws. Those who are struggled against generally create laws that help to maintain their ascendancy.

            Those who struggle have two choices. Either accept inequity or break some laws and start to create a brand-new situation where equality will exist. More simply, either stay down or stand up. Over a hundred years ago, the Irish patriot James Connolly put it this way: “The great only appear great because we are on our knees…let us arise!”. Eighty years later, Bob Marley sang the idea to the new reggae beat in “Get up, stand up”.

            One hundred and twenty-five years after Emancipation, black Bermudians began to “get up and stand up”.  At intervals, there were scuffles and riots. Along the way there were some deaths. Always, though, there was a steady movement – by black Bermudians – towards the free and open society that now exists. Always, unfortunately, there was resistance – by some white Bermudians – towards that desirable progress.

            When looking back and assigning values to past action, all of humankind tends to place values according to the stream of history down which they came.  Martin Luther King’s ‘march on Selma’ is seen by some as a march to victory that helped to bring Condoleeza Rice to where she is today. But that’s a black American perspective. A staunch right-wing white Alabamian might still see that Selma march as an act perpetrated by black criminals and trouble-makers.

            For a right-wing white Alabamian, the day of the march on Selma was a ‘dark day’; presaging many darker days to come. Is this the same for the person – whoever that person is – who worded the Royal Gazette ‘dark day’ headline for what was an otherwise superb story? A story refreshingly devoid of any other biased perspective.

            Forty years later our ‘dark past’ still surges into our present.

 

             

[*]  “Man of Stature – Sir Henry James Tucker” J Randolf Williams – Camden Editions, 1987 – page 132.           

THE RACE RACE

With details of the 2001 Census now leaching out, it’s clear, in one prime area, that there has been some change. That area? Re-balancing of our society.

            In 1991, incomes in black households were 29% below incomes in white households. In 2001, it appears that incomes in black households are 22% below the incomes of white households. Anyway you look at it, that’s an improvement. A 10% improvement. Black households have done some catching up. One of the bad effects of Bermuda’s past is beginning to fade away. But at this catch-up rate it’ll be another seventy years – a whole generation – before blacks reach parity.

            However, there’s a danger lurking on the sidelines. That danger stems from the difference in the return on investments made in education.

            Bermuda is now an economy that relies heavily on selling its intellectual – not physical – services. Result? Bermuda needs a greater percentage of its workforce trained and educated in higher grade skills. With continuing improvements in technology and greater use of micro-chips, Bermuda needs fewer and fewer technicians and artisans. So does all the rest of the world. So, globally, there’s less of a demand for plumbers, masons, carpenters etc… Still a need. Still a demand. But less of a demand than 50 or 25 years ago.

            The demand now is for ‘brain’ workers. ‘Brain’ workers tend to require education past the secondary level. ‘Brain’ workers need some kind of quality tertiary education. Maybe not university, but certainly some kind of post-secondary skills, vocational, or academic training.

            In order to get a quality tertiary education, the pre-requisite is an adequate primary and secondary foundation education. It’s here that a difference shows up. The majority of white households send their children into private education. The majority of black households send their children into public education.

            Bermuda’s white households invest heavily in education. The Census says that 3 out of every 4 white children are in some kind of private education. White households who use private education systems, still pay into the tax base for the public education system. For education, these white households are paying – investing – twice.

            Bermuda’s black households do not invest as heavily in education. The Census says that 3 out of every 4 black children are in public education. These Black households only pay into the tax base for the public education system. For education, these black households only pay – invest – once.

            Private education delivers a generally high quality education. The private education system makes sure that its students regularly qualify to international standards and regularly gain entry to first class institutes of tertiary education.

            The public education system delivers a lower quality education. Its students do not regularly qualify to any recognized international standard. Its students do not usually qualify for entry into first class institutes of tertiary education unless they have some kind of remedial education.

            Thus, in the absolute and unforgiving race to produce ‘brain’ workers, black households are handicapped – not by their race – but by their choice of system, and by their priority of choice. The choice made by black households results in their being handicapped by the reality that the education system that they use is inferior to the private system.

            But don’t black households earn less than white households? Yes. And the Census confirms that. However education enables incomes to improve. So choice of educational process will determine whether or not a good product or an inferior is received, and thus whether or not income earning potential can or will increase. Since choice is driven by a combination of priority and affordability, it’s clear that lack of money can lead to a lack of choice – even if do priorities exist.

            So richer white households find private education more affordable and place a high priority on it. Black households, with less money, may find private education less affordable – but may also place a lower priority on education.

            In this national – indeed global – production race, Bermuda’s black households are further handicapped by their inability – or refusal – to change and improve their clearly inferior but extremely well-funded public education system.

            In this national – and global – race for economic place, it’s possible for black households to catch up, but not if they remain handicapped by the education system that they pay for and use.

            Race isn’t the problem. It’s years of inferior education that creates the molasses in the black guys and gals running track. It’s years of superior education that creates the spikes in the shoes of the guys and gals in the white lane.

            It isn’t race. It’s choice. It isn’t a black and white issue. It’s a results and priority issue.

            There’s little point in black folks sitting in the moaner’s pews wailing and moaning about the past. The past is past. The power has shifted. Every power, every tool, every device that’s needed to get rid of that black track molasses is in the hands of black Bermudians.

            In 1972, black people in Bermuda grew big afros, wore dashikis, complained about racial discrimination, and talked about Black Power. Back then they had no power. It’s now 2002. Black Power has arrived. Real Black Power exists.

            Got it! Use it!

REALITY AND POWER

Why no majority black support at Hogges games?  Why hugely black support at any Devonshire Cougar’s game at the ‘Rec’ – just 300 metres away along Frog Lane?

            Globally – USA excepted – professional football is a sport characterized by intensely loyal – even fanatical – bands of supporters who follow their teams and watch every game – whether at home or away. Devonshire Cougars have been around for a long time. They have a sizeable following made up of their highly partisan neighbourhood supporters. 

            Cougar’s win many of their games. Hogges have yet to hit a winning streak.  Bermudians – especially black Bermudians – have a well-established habit of supporting winners, and not supporting teams or entities that they consider ‘losers’ – even if they’re national teams. Look at the low level of support for many of Bermuda’s other sporting teams and events. Bermudian support for Bermuda’s WCC team was generated more as the result of international interest and comment on the ‘newsworthy’ and comedic aspects of the team’s performance. Note the drop-off in interest once the team returned.

            The BFA’s entry price to a Cougar’s game is far less than the minimum $25 that it cost to watch a Hogges’ game.  A father – or mother – could take two kids along (as happened so often) thus dropping the real attendance cost to under $9 each. So taking a family to a Hogge’s game was actually a good form of cheap entertainment. Statisticians don’t hide the income differentials that do exist in Bermuda, so some people will always find it easier to pay $25 or $35 than others.    

            Some people were prepared to pay, and pay well, to watch a bunch of Bermudians learn to play high quality professional football. Some people understand that a team needs support when winning as well as when losing. Some people understand that spectator support is as much an investment in the team as are the hours and dollars that others spend on the actual team itself.

            Overall, a different pie-slice of Bermuda’s resident society attended the Hogges’ games than attends the Cougar’s – or other BFA – games. Most of the black non-support at the Hogges’ games was caused by the combining of all – and then some more – of the factors that I’ve set out.

            There are many differences between blacks and whites in Bermuda. These differences are often glossed over. Just as often they break through. They broke through and showed themselves in the blue seats at the National Stadium.

            We are still two Bermudas. Each behaving and reacting differently.

            Southlands? Until 1998, black Bermudians were powerless. From 1834 through to 1997, black Bermudians could only try to influence Bermuda’s real power-wielders. Blacks did this in two ways. From 1834 until 1964, they begged for better treatment and more inclusion. In 1964, black Bermudians joined the newly formed UBP and tried to insert themselves inside the white political power structure and use a power-sharing process to get better treatment and achieve more inclusion.

            Between 1963 and 1998, by providing the possibility of an alternative PLP government, blacks, now operating in both ways, did strongly influence many of the political actions of the white power-holders.

            That changed in November 1998. Bermuda’s black majority, in a successful bid for political power, grabbed all of that power. They have had it ever since.           

            Now that Bermuda’s black majority has its hand on the levers of power, it is using that power. That majority has now become comfortable with power. The Southlands decision is a clear demonstration of their power. There will be damage to the environment. But for these power-holders, this damage to the environment is – in US military parlance – acceptable collateral damage. The overall action at the 37 acre Southlands is not markedly different, in plan and in principle, from the 1920’s sale of 510 acres in Tucker’s Town to the Bermuda Development Company.

            Julian Hall, Dr Smith-Wade, even, at times, Dr Eva Hodgson, write and talk about a passed past. The Bermuda that I see is a Bermuda where power sits in the hands of Bermudian people like Gerald Simons, Ewart Brown, Vince Ingham, Derrick Burgess, Charles-Etta Simmons, Philip Butterfield, Paula Cox, Neletha Butterfield….  But power also sits in the hands of people like the boo’ers at Snorkel Park and Election Day Voters – and these know that.

            So listen carefully to all the cries coming out of Bermuda. Keep your eyes open. See who is crying and see the power-wielders against whom people are crying out.

            Look! See! Listen! Hear!