Race & Death In Bermuda

Ken posted his observations of Mr. Bascome’s public viewing at Alaska Hall, and his questions concerning the racial discrepancies involved on the tribute thread for Mr. Bascome. I replied there with my own thoughts, but I thought it may be more appropriate to discuss the issue in a thread of its own. I’ve copied and pasted both Ken’s comments and my reply to him below to initiate discussion. In many ways this is not a new topic, as it was raised during the deaths of Pauluu Kamarakafego and Lois Browne-Evans, and recently with the death of Michael Jackson. I mean no disrespect to the families of the deceased, but I thnk it is important to understand the racial-cultural differences to death rituals that divide our people, as these can lead to misunderstandings.

Ken wrote:

Sadly I was at the viewing last night, and hung around outside for a while, and if i counted 4 white Bermudians coming to pay respects that was all. This shows the racial split in bermuda.

Did they not come because they dont respect the 20 years of Parliamentary service that Nelson bascome dedicated to Bermuda?

Did they not come because it was at Alaska Hall and they refuse to enter PLP HQ?

Did they not come because of the location (Court St) and they feel uncomfortable there?

Did they not come simply because they don’t like viewings?

Even from the Opposition, the only members I saw were Patricia Gordon Pamplin and Gina Spence Farmer, both members whose family roots are within the PLP. I am sure the rest of Parliament will be in full attendance today, but it just makes me wonder that’s all.

It was the same for Dame Lois as well…

I can’t speak to Eugene Cox though.

I just wonder why we all can’t honor the service to one’s country in a similar fashion.

To which I replied:

Hi Ken, those are all good questions.

I will try and give my own perspective as a White Bermudian on those questions.

For one thing, I think there seems to be a very different cultural approach to deaths between Whites and Blacks – same with the different approaches to worship in the Churches. I’ve only been to three funerals in Bermuda, two White Bermudians and then Lois Browne-Evans’ one. Viewings really aren’t done to be frank. It’s just a memorial service at the Church, then a few words at the graveside, and then off to the Wake. The Wake seems to be the most important aspect amongst the Whites, and the death is very much seen as a private affair for the immediate family. Those outside of the immediate family try not to get involved, paying their respects from afar. In my observation Black Bermudians have a different approach to deaths, with viewings and public outpouring of grief being more central than the intimacy of a Wake gathering. Of course, these are generalisations and there are always exceptions to the rule. But the above seem to be the case. I would imagine that many White Bermudians, who would offer their respect will do it from afar, be it comments online or letters of support in various media. But coming out in a physical and public act, that would be unusual.

As for the location, I am also sure that is a factor. I remember when I joined the Party in the immediate aftermath of 1998. Entering Alaska Hall was very much like breaking a taboo, and I did it by taking a deep breath. Not many White Bermudians would even know where Alaska Hall is, or visit it, largely because of psychological reasons I guess, but also because they are not part of the PLP and do not think it right to enter the Party’s HQ as such.

Similarly Court Street can be quite intimidating for Whites I think. Many will go there for Chewstick, or occassionaly pop in to a store there (Caribbean Market or for Jamaican food), but they will do so infrequently and very much ‘in and out’ as quick as possible. I personally don’t like walking there and made my way to Alaska Hall for meetings on foot through a roundabout way, usually through Princess Street or down Cedar Avenue and then over, sometimes even going down by House of India and up the hill there. Very very rarely would I walk straight down Court Street. Perhaps most of that is purely pyschological. I do feel as if everyone on the street is watching me as I go down Court Street, and occassionally get accosted as I walk there. Actually, its only on election nights for celebrations that I don’t feel intimidated at all, its a very different feel.

So I think it is definitely a combination of the factors you mention, a different approach to death and funerals, but also the location being a big factor.

For the funeral of Lois Browne-Evans, I didn’t attend the viewing at Alaska Hall cause that’s really not my thing. I did attend the service at the Cathedral, as much as I detested the pomp of it with the Union Jack over the coffin and the like (I had a long-standing disagreement with her accepting the Dameship and refuse – as she was aware – to recognise such colonialist titles). And the service was quite long, and religious – being atheist I was respectful but uncomfortable – and I was wary of her death being politically exploited. I was much more comfortable with the parade to the grave.

I am not sure if my writing is helpful to you, but it is the best I can come up with. Bear in mind I was a member of the Party, regularly atteneded various meetings, and remain a supporter (though critical!), and yet I would not attend a viewing and feel uncomfortable walking through Court Street to get to Alaska Hall. Make of it what you will I guess.

Certainly good questions that should be discussed.

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31 thoughts on “Race & Death In Bermuda

  1. alas,nothing is sacred.

    not even in death can the race pimp propagandists miss an opportunity to discredit whites.

    Why don’t you play in Calypso Louie Farrakhan’s band ? He’s the wizard of stirring up conspiracy theories.

  2. Um, Sal, I don’t see anyone acting as a ‘race pimp propagandist’ attempting to discredit Whites. What I see is a legitimate question about a distinct fact.

  3. Once again, I will only say that it is a cultrual thing. The writer did bring up some points that made one think. I think we all have our own answers and deal with certain events in differant ways.
    When my Mother passed exactly 9 years ago today I did not go too the funeral home for the viewing. It was personal and I wanted to remember her as when I last saw her many months before.

    If more people would extend a hand instead of trying to create certain things the world would be somewhat less frustrated.

    I only dream.

    The area discussed here is a great area to learn and the residents do their best. What else can we ask for.

    A great day too all.

    Ps. I did write to the Editor of the Royal Gazzete this morning and told him to change Nelsons middle name as it was spelt wrong and he did it. Wonder how many others noticed it. I found it offencive and Bill had it instantly changed. Good on him.

    Nelson? Taken too soon. Hope we learn from his passing.

    Rummy.

  4. Personally, I wouldn’t think to show up at someone’s viewing or funeral that I didn’t personally know. It seems crass to me. I will however, as I did with Dame Lois, show up at the graveside to show my respects. I think it’s just how people show their respect. It’s really not fair to assume that since someone doesn’t show respect in the same manner as yourself that they are any less or more respectful.

  5. Ken,

    I don’t feel like I can speak for whites but could offer my thoughts as to why I suspect many did not turn out.

    I suspect that beyond Jonathan’s suggestions it is also possible that many didn’t turn out for similar reasons that whites don’t support the PLP.

    It is rather unfortunate but in the eyes of many the PLP have used race for political ends that has only led to further division amongst the races.

    Unfortunately the PLP have bred a very divisive environment where whites are made to feel unwelcome. Thus, is it really of great surprise that the viewing for a PLP MP, held at the PLP headquarters in an area where Jonathan himself admits to feeling apprehensive had low white turnout?

  6. Just as an aside, and perhaps this belongs in a thread of its own, I do take an issue when people keep saying the PLP plays the race card. I don’t deny that this is the case, but I do feel that people tend to turn a blind eye to the UBP’s own playing of the race card. The UBP don’t do it as, shall I say ‘clumsily’ as the PLP, or with the same motives, but they do use it all the same. The most obvious instance is their choice of parliamentary candidates which makes a mockery of their claims to colour-blindess and meritocracy. Anyway, that’s all on that.

    I can certainly see Denis’ point about how White’s do feel they have been made unwelcome at such events. The question is how much of that is a convenient excuse? Also, how much is this a self-perpetuating situation?

  7. Jonathan,

    You’ll note that I am usually always in agreement with you that the UBP also plays the race card, though more subtlely. Though I didn’t feel it warranted mentioning because it didn’t seem to fit the discussion at hand.

    May I ask what you mean by a ‘convenient excuse’ or better yet, what kind of situations you’re referring to?

    As far as it being a self-perpetutating situation, of course I believe it is.

    On one hand we have majority whites gathering at a rally to speak out against the Premier’s handling of the Uigher situation. They express dismay at the lack of Blacks who turn out despite polls, letters to the editor, word of mouth suggesting many are just as annoyed with the situation.

    Now let’s flip the coin.

    We have majority blacks gathering at the viewing to express their remorse over an individual who contributed greatly to our community. Blacks subsequently express dismay at the lack of whites who turn out despite words of condolences and praise in other mediums.

    The issue here is that we’re still divided. Many blacks are frustrated at it as are whites. In some ways it’s political. In some ways its cultural. In some ways it’s historical.

    What is clear is that we’re along way from healing the divide and as long as our present political structure (meaning both parties) continues to be willing to put winning for themselves (especially via the race card) ahead of bettering of our island and people as a whole.

  8. Isn’t this – as I think is being suggested – simply a matter of cultural differences and personal preferences?

  9. Hey Denis, my response wasn’t an attack on you, it was just I felt it necessary to counter an all too prevalent argument about the PLP playing the race card. While you were replying just now I actually decided it was worth its own thread.

    What I mean by ‘convenient excuse’ is that Whites may use the ‘excuse’ of the PLP having ‘bred a divisive environment’ to avoid actually engaging in events and countering the self-perpetuating situations. I guess the best example would be the Bermuda Race Relations Initiative (the Big Conversation). Perceiving the PLP as being anti-White and as such not considering joining the Party (even though one may be closer ideologically to them) or the like could be another situation.

  10. Most whites are fearful of even walking down Court Street, let alone entering Alaska Hall. Geeze… To these guys everything boils down to race, and I’m getting quite sick of it, frankly!

  11. And old Rummy always gets accused of derailing threads and topics.

    I spill my guts and give reverance and this is where it is going?

    I need a rum…….damn…gave up drinking three hours ago……………..

    A great day too all.

    Ps. I don’t drink spirits, I visit them…………………..

  12. I think everyone is entitled to grieve in one’s own way. I’ve been to viewings, and I’m not a fan. I went to my first at age 8. My parents always used to go. I only go if I feel a need to say a personal goodbye. I think that this is a likely reason behind a lot of people who attend the viewings, because it is a little more personal than the funeral service. For the most part, I prefer to remember the deceased as the person they were in life. A dead body is merely an empty shell, less than a shadow of the personality that once inhabited it.

    I watched my father die in front of me early this year. I didn’t see the need to revisit the experience at his viewing. Neither did my siblings. But those of my parents generation came in droves.

    My cousin alsys summed it up perfectly when she said attending funerals and viewings of people you didn’t know personally was crass. Show your respect with a more classy condolence statement at the gravesite or with a letter later. Offer to help the surviving family members in some way. Contribute to a cause dear to the heart of the deceased.

    I worked with Nelson professionally on some projects about 15 years ago. He was a class act then, and always was cordial afterwards. Rather than be grist for the pigmentation rumour mill by attending a viewing, I’ll honour him by making a donation towards substance abuse counseling services. I would wager he would prefer that anyway.

  13. Jonathan,

    No worries, I certainly didn’t take your remarks as an attack. I just didn’t want it to be lost that I support your arguments about the UBP also playing the race card and didn’t counterpoint using it as it felt like such would be out of place on this thread.

    Regarding the ‘convenient excuse’ example of the ‘Big Conversation’. The issue I have is that the appointment of the highly paid race relations coordinator & consultant, an individual who has been described by the white community as one of the most divisive and racially abrasive towards whites, is simply counter intuitive and comes off as a political play to be intentionally divisive. Subsequently it’s using the guise of ‘race relations’ while playing the race card, enabling people to proclaim that whites simply aren’t interested in moving forwards and perpetuate the divide for political gains.

    My apologies but I don’t accept that whites should be expected to look past it when blacks don’t stand up to condemn such a move and demand that the coordinator be removed and replaced. That would be like the UBP when they were in power holding their own versions of the ‘Big Conversation’ and appointing a former KKK member as the coordinator. Yes, the example is a rather extreme comparison but I use it simply to illuminate my point.

    Blacks wouldn’t move towards such a UBP initative unless whites stood up to condemn the UBP and refused to take part as long as such a reprehensible coordinator was in place, even then they probably wouldn’t go for it because of the sheer reprehensibility of the move to begin with. Yet when the tables are turned whites are condemned for not turning up when blacks don’t stand up to condemn the rather unfitting coordinator who was appointed.

    It is rather rediculous to me that people want to level the playing field and have honest and frank discussions about how we can unify together and try to heal the divide while continuing to use divisive tactics that are really about using race to win at politics and has nothing to do with healing the divide. It is why we’re still in a stalemate and won’t truly move forwards.

    We can play the blame game all we want. If it makes you feel better, go for it, but don’t pretend like we’re going to be moving the ball forwards. If we truly want to move the ball forwards we need to stop playing games with one another, stop trying to win, stop trying to steal the ball and truly start working together. Only then will the healing begin and only then will people start turning out, black, white and the rest of us who are belittled as ‘other’.

  14. That last statement needs revision ‘if it makes you feel better’ should really say ‘if it makes an individual feel better’ as I didn’t mean to imply that you personally intend to blame anyone.

  15. A piece of advice that has been given to new MP’s, at least in the past: “when a black constituent dies, go to their funeral. When a white constituent dies, don’t.”

  16. How on earth a lack of desire to view the deceased remains of someone you don’t know and never even met – can be turned into “failing to honour”, is beyond me.

    Are we really at the stage in Bermuda where we have to “justify” what we do on a day to day basis to avoid criticism?

    I shudder to think how everything we do is possibly interpreted.

  17. Again, I think it really is a cultural phenomena that illustrates the culutural differences between White and Black Bermudians. Which is why I thought it important to highlight it, as it can – and does – breed misunderstandings i.e. lack of respect, etc.

    Personally, I think this would be an excellent research thesis for any Bermudians going into Anthropology, ‘Death Rituals in Black & White Bermudians; One Island, Two Cultures’ or something like that.

  18. Thanks for all the responses…

    I wasn’t accusing whites of doing anything to discredit or not honor Minister bascome or any of the PLP luminaries that have passed.

    i was just wondering what the reasons for their lack of attendance might be.

  19. Ken,

    For what it’s worth – I don’t think we understand each other at all.

    And therein lies the problem. Imho.

  20. Let me recount what an MP once told me about funerals: Arrive late, walk to the front so everyone sees you and take a seat.

    That’s cold.

    Funerals are private affairs not to be exploited like that. When death is turned into a political event, or even worse a campaign event, very, very tasteless.

  21. This kind of reminds me of Mr. Alvin Williams’ challenge in his Mid-Ocean columns a couple years back when he asked what he, as a Black Bermudian, had in common with White Bermudians.

    This provoked a good degree of outrage (as I saw it) amongst Whites. And yet I never really came across an adequate response to his challenge.

    Of course we all share the same island, the same lingua franca and some common cultural items like fish cakes, fish sandwhiches, cassava pie, fish chowder, rum, flying kites and swimming after May 24th only. But thats about it.

    There are distinct cultural differences in religious practices, recreation, drink, food, even dialect, kin systems, sporting interests and even residence.

    It is a fact that we are one nation (to be) made of different cultures, with the three main ones being Black Bermuda, White Bermuda and Portuguese Bermuda. I personally don’t see this as a problem per se, as long as we are aware of our different cultures and avoid misunderstandings as a result. Together they do fuse into a creole culture of all together without losing the integrity of its individual parts.

    So, to me, as long as we are discussing and learning about our shared and different cultures, thats all for the better of our nation.

    To me that was the response that should have been given to Mr. Williams’ challenge; what we share is our mutual heterogeniety, and that is our potential strength as a future nation. Not that we must loose what makes us Black Bermudians as opposed to White Bermudians, but rather that we recognise these differences as well as the fusion of them that it creates without dissolving the parts.

  22. Not wishing to detract from the main thrust of your point Johnathan which is as always thought provoking, but I am tempted to ask what Alvin has in common with anyone – other than those who share what seems to be a view on life that is at the extreme.

    I make the point because I suspect that few of us sit comfortably with the extremes.

    I can almost feel the bile and the hatred when I open the paper at his column.

    He is hardly the voice of the middle ground is he?

  23. i honestly think that there is a lot of difference in the way that black people and white people view funerals and death.

    black people are much more likely to attend funerals than white people…i have gone to funerals of both and the congregations are much more scarce at white funerals. i dont think it means that white people dont care, but i think if the person isnt a close family member then they dont tend to attend.

    black folks are much more likely to attend the funerals of friends of friends, and relatives of friends and show their support in a physical sense.

    there is no right or wrong.

  24. Just to add to that Ken, and I might be totally wrong, is that there is a different attitude to ‘passing’ held by black people, than is held by whites.

    It’s a sweeping generalism I know.

  25. From my experience, white folks DO tend to go to funerals for people that they knew personally and that’s about it.

    Coming up, the only funerals I went to where I didn’t know the person were, in fact, for black friends… their parents, siblings, friends, etc. Save one exception, for the father of a friend, this holds true.

    I hadn’t noticed that. Thanks for pointing that out, Ken. It’s really interesting.

    It’s also why I didn’t go to Mr. Bascome’s funeral or viewing. I didn’t know the man at all, so didn’t think it appropriate to attend. I certainly hope no disrespect was taken. None was intended.

  26. UE, your first sentence boggles my mind. No offence intended but re-read it.

    It’s nice to be nice but please………………………

  27. Funerals make me sick i hate them. pastor lamb is an arrogant fool i almost interuppted his rambings the other day. It is all a show to these speakers no sincerity.
    Minister Bascome has helped me out on two occasions. It was hard not the agree with the mans stance on Homosexuality. Their will be a big fight for his seat. The death of Julian Hall concludes the death of weak black liberalism that has failed this little island.
    The fact Minister Bascome was buried in the Queens colours is blow to his dream of Independence.

  28. I don’t know the history in Bermuda with regards to flags on coffins but – Independence or not – I thought it strange to see a full Union Flag.

    Anyone know the history?

  29. I believe that as Mr. Bascome was a sitting MP, and in as much Bermuda remains a British colony, protocol stated that his coffin be draped with a State flag – in this case the Union Jack. Protocol would also have dictated the actions of the Regimental honour guard.

    I understand that had Mr. Bascome left a written statement to the effect that he most definitely did NOT want such protocol to be followed, this would have overridden such protocol. But I seriously doubt Mr. Bascome, let alone anyone else, foresaw his tragic and too early death and had the prescience to leave such instructions.

    I am sure there are other readers of this site with a far greater knowledge of protocol matters than I though.

  30. Thanks Jonathan…

    I take the point – it must have been the very last thing on his mind.

    Begs the question, wonder if any others have left specific instructions – young or not so young.

  31. The flag was just a statement from certain people. Thats all.

    RIP Nelson.

    Wonder what will happen tomorrow……

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