I’ve been working on a response to Christian’s post ‘I support Obama, but not Brown’ since he published it, but with the holidays, the Gaza crisis and my studies, I haven’t had the time to finish developing that response. However, with this article in today’s RG I felt compelled to write a rather quick article. In truth, while these ‘quick articles’ have there problems (clarity, references, etc.) they have benefits in that I’m more likely to write and post them within twenty minutes and not leave them in the purgatory of draft limbo. And so, with all its warts, here’s the article:
Messrs Scott and Swan, two former Premiers, have spoken at an Imagine Bermuda event which has been reported in the RG. Due to the constraints of space and interest, it is clear that this report does not record everything they had to say, but it gives a general feel of the opinions expressed by them. The subject of their speeches may generally be regarded as looking at the Obama model as a useful one for Bermuda to replicate. This Obama model speaks directly to that constant of Bermuda politics, the leviathan that is race in Bermuda, omnipresent, even if occassionaly hidden below the surface.
Both Scott and Swan speak in glowing terms of the Obama model. Both of them agree that Bermuda needs to resolve the problem of race, and that the Obama model is potentially the vehicle with which to achieve it. What exactly that means is generally left unanswered though. And that is the problem.
Yes, Bermuda needs to resolve the race question. That is pretty much obvious to just about everyone in Bermuda, black, White, citizens and expatriates alike. How to resolve it though is the million dollar question, and one that has generally animated our politics and social development for the better part of our history, from slavery days, to segregation, to our current quagmire of institutional racism (covert as opposed to overt). This is not at all to ignore the other great currents in Bermudian politics, such as class and heterosexism and the like. But race and class, and even the politics of sex, and pretty much every other socio-political issue is very much connected to the race issue, and solving any one of them cannot in reality be fully done without resolving all of them, with race being the primary focus.
There have been a number of approaches to answering this question, of which I will only focus on some of the more predominant ones here, the UBP model, the (current) PLP model, and the socialist model.
The UBP Model
The UBP model has been the dominant trend in recent Bermudian history. I think it may basically be described as ‘don’t mention race’ combined with a sincere hope in the ‘trickle down’ theory of economics to transform Bermudian racial and class demographies. It is an inherently conservative ideology, albeit one that can prove very seductive to certain groups within our population. It is an approach that believes that articulating the fact of racial problems in our society may directly increase the scope of the racial problem. It hopes that over time, through the miracle of trickle down economics, the race question will resolve itself, and the best thing we as a society can do to help that process along is to not talk about it at all. Wedded to this is a policy of ‘colour-blindness now’ in the form of presenting a vision of a Bermuda that has no racial problems, as seen in the concerted committment of the UBP to offer parliamentary candidates that approximate the racial demographics of our country, even though this appearence directly contradicts the support base and membership of that political party, and flies in the face of UBP ideology that officially opposes affirmative action.
Mr. John Swan in his speech to the Imagine Bermuda forum essentially expresses this ideology where he says ‘People said to me: ‘You didn’t take on this racial thing.’ I didn’t take it on because I didn’t want to make Bermuda more racial.’ That right there, in a nutshell, is the UBP model in rough.
The PLP Model
The PLP model, what may arguably be more better called ‘progressive capital’ as opposed to ‘progressive labour’ is essentially a model that states that the trickle down effect is a mirage, and that not talking about a problem doesn’t make it go away but actually leaves it to fester and get worse in its periodic outbursts – instead we need to talk about it openly in order to discuss it, and we need to use the levers of the State to correct the discrepancies between our racial and class demographics. Thats the current PLP model in a nutshell. It doesn’t question the basic idea of capitalist class relations, it only wants to reduce the racial tensions resulting from our current racial disparities of the classes, and thus make Bermudian capitalism more rational, through the use of affirmative action (in the form of Government tendering practices, legislation, seed money and support for (Black) entrepeunership, and, ultimately, through correcting the public education systems that are predominantly Black in population) and articulation of the race problems. Some may see this as reverse racism, but in truth it is more about equalising the playing field through active State intervention, and not penalising or revenge. While there are indeed some questionable actions that detract from this generally positive and progressive approach (namely the Bermuda Cement Company fiasco, and a too gung ho approach as seen with the Berkely Pro-Active disaster), it is more about correcting past injustices than revenge for them. When the PLP model warns that if these actions are not taken now then there will be outbursts like the riots of the 1970s they are not making threats as some within the UBP camp suppose, but simply stating a fact that if the contradictions between our racial demographics and class demographics are mot resolved in this controlled manner, it (the contradictions themselves) will boil over in an ‘uncontrolled’ manner.
The PLP model has as its sole objective the transformation of our class demographics to reflect our race demographics. This is to be done through affirmative action and redistributive methods (i.e. education and tendering) and not through penalising, and was best articulated by Mr. Alex Scott when he said that the ‘haves will continue to have, but the have nots must have more’ and also by Dr. Brown’s statement following the 2007 election victory that the Whites do not need help, while the Blacks do (or words to that effect). These statements have been wildly misinterpreted by some within our society, to be explicit, some of the Whites, who have seen them as direct threats, when in reality it was little more than an acknowledgement of reality and the limited objectives of the PLP model.
The Socialist Model
The socialist model, in various forms, has been perhaps the most important model for change in our history, and it was the threat posed by this model to the status quo that led to the limited progressive reforms allowed under the UBP model and now under the limited objectives of the PLP model. It has essentially said that without radical economic and political democracy the race question cannot be resolved. Both the UBP and current PLP models serve to release just enough pressure in order to prevent the situation exploding and destroying the system with the intention to replace it altogether. The socialist model has challenged the very foundations of our colonial society and threatened to resolve our race and class contradictions through a fundamental reconstruction of society on the basis of racial equality and particpatory economic democracy. While in reality the early progressive labour movement was portrayed as socialist, its objectives were so watered down through the alliance of the working class with the bulk of the Black Bourgeoisie/professional class, that the PLP model of today can be clearly seen as in existence even back then. What was true though was that there were significant currents of socialist thought in the earlier progressive labour movement, and it is possible that without the limited UBP reforms that helped maintain UBP power (amongst other tactics), should the PLP have formed the government in the 1960s-1970s, these socialist currents may have had some impact and further development.
As it is the PLP of today, with a few ageing exceptions, is largely devoid of socialist currents, even if a vague socialist ideal remains within its rank and file. The Black Power (Black Beret Cadre) movement itself was more or less a manifestation of socialist thought, heavily influenced by the tactics of the USA Black Panther Party and national liberation movements throughout the third-world (notably the ANC, Nkrumah and Nyerere African Socialism and Castrosim). The socialist model remains a potent threat to the status quo, and manifests itself occassionaly in various forms of grassroots discontent and disillussionment with the limited goals of the PLP model after a decade of power.
The Obama Model
Now that we’ve reviewed the main models in Bermuda for resolving the race question, it is now possible to give a summary of the Obama model and then compare it with the three noted above.
The Obama model is one that has expressly sought to avoid the race issue altogether. In many respects it has bent over backwards to distance itself from the race question, as best evidenced by the Obama campaign distancing itself from the statements of Reverend Jeremy Wright. Reverend Wright’s statments explicitly talked about the race situation in the USA as well as a number of other contradictions about US imperial power, both domestic and foreign. The Obama campaign not only explicitly severed its relations with Wright, it also hyped up the fact that it had no race model at all, other than showing that ‘the audacity of hope’ as expressed by Mr. Obama’s career proved that the trickle down effec tcould work, that the system wasn’t racist, that Obama was not like those others (like Jesse Jackson or Malcom X) that may be called ‘angry’ Black political leaders, and the election victory of Obama reinforced these values. His campaign, through its explicit avoidance of the race issue, and the reaction in the media before and since, is essentially an attempt of ‘racial reconciliation on the cheap.’ Mr. Obama’s career history and successes are more examples of exceptions to the role, and, if anything, serve to reinforce covert institutional racism in the US.
The Obama model, quite frankly, is virtually identical to the UBP model. It is one that avoids the race issue altogether, it is a model that represents what the UBP has been doing for decades, with a Black candidate for an overwhelmingly White Party explicitly avoiding the race issue in articulation and substance for political gain, and serves to reinforce a covert institutional racial system.
That virtually all of the PLP uncritically supported the Obama campaign only proves the bankruptcy of critical thought within the Party. That equally solid Obama support from the UBP, let alone the parrallels between the UBP and Obama models failed to set off any alarm bells within the PLP only serves to reinforce the bankruptcy of PLP critical thinking. This has given the UBP and its supporters a golden opportunity with which to attack the PLP, as seen by comments from UBP leaders (Grant Gibbons, Kim Swan, Michael Dunkley for example) and its online supporters (such as Christian Dunleavy).
This does not mean that the PLP model itself is bankrupt, far from it. The PLP model is inherently more progressive than the UBP model in that it will reduce the contradictions of our race problems, and will rationalise our capitalist system by reducing racial friction. The UBP model cannot be put back into power, but the slavish devotion to Obamaism from the PLP does serfve to indicate problems in the future due to its failure of critical thought.
The Obama model would represent a step backwards, towards UBPism, for Bermuda. Its adoption, after a manner, by the PLP serves to indicate a more or less complete transition away from critical thought and lays bare both its limited objectives and ideological bankruptcy. The PLP model, as articulated above, will continue, and it will successively lead to complete ideological hegemony over the UBP model. But it leaves open the potential for a revival fo the socialist model, as its failure to do anything more than rationalise Bermudian capitalism faces criticism from the grassroots disillussioned with PLPism but with no intentions to replace it with the corpse of UBPism.
Avoiding the race issue will not solve it. The PLP model can only lessen some of the more obvious contradictions, but will only lead to new ones.