Over the weekend I was asked if I had any thoughts and comments on Dr Hodgson’s op-ed piece concerning Marc Bean’s election as Party Leader and what this may mean for the PLP in terms of ideology. As I was already drafting a bit on this, I found the opportunity useful in helping clarify my thoughts on the issue.
I gave the RG a rather long reply (reflecting the draft I was already working on), and they did a pretty good job of taking excerpts from it. I need to write more concisely, lol!
Out of interest, my full comments are below, should this help with any clarifications of what I said.
I should stress right at the beginning though, that it is far too early to really tell what Mr Bean’s election and ideological positions are, these thoughts are based just on the limited comments I’ve seen of him.
To begin with, I do think she makes some very valid points, and the general outline of her argument – as I understand it – seems more or less correct to me. However, I do think she is, well, rather mean-spirited in some of her attacks regarding Mr Bean. She comes across as times as rather bitter in the sense of making what seems to be rather personal attacks against Mr Bean, which I think were rather unnecessary and takes away from the valid points she does make.
I agree with her, in broad terms, that the PLP has, for the bulk of its existence, not explicitly addressed structural racism in Bermuda. To be sure, the occasional Party figure has spoken on this topic, and many Party figures no doubt do consider structural racism a problem in Bermuda, but they have not necessarily oriented the PLP to address it head on. They have, despite the protestations of many White Bermudians, actually bent over backwards in many cases (as Dr Hodgson notes) to be seen as a colour-blind labour party in the fasion of the UK Labour Party.
I don’t see how being a social democratic (labour) party prevents them from addressing structural (or overt) racism, the two are far from being mutually exclusive, although I do think the PLP did historically seek to play up the class angle more than the race angle in Bermuda, which I do think was a strategic mistake on their part. The Black Beret Cadre, and other similar groups, did fill that void to a degree.
Personally, I don’t see how any social democratic or democratic socialist group in Bermuda could realistically develop a platform which failed to acknowledge the reality of structural racism in Bermuda, and develop their strategy accordingly, and I think the failure of the PLP to explicitly really address this (especially when the reality of structural racism was much more obvious in past decades) is a grave historical error on the part of the PLP.
I disagree with her when she seems to regard socialistic approaches as being incompatible with addressing race, although the Bermudian labour movement is hardly the only one that can be charged with failing to address and deal with the colour bar, with the mainstream US leftist movements largely failing to address racial issues for much of its history too.
Mr Bean & Racial Discourse
I do agree with her, if I’m understanding her correctly, that Mr Bean’s comments may be seen somewhat paradoxically, in that he both brings race into prominence in political discourse, and then subsequently appears to argue for its removal from our political discourse.
The way it has been presented in the media (and presumably by Mr Bean himself) does lend itself to appropriation by the White community (and thus, by extension, the OBA, as per the overwhelming support it receives from White Bermuda). The comments can – and I think already have – been seized on by White Bermudians to repudiate the perceived use of the ‘race card’ by the PLP in recent years (mostly relating to Dr Brown’s tenure), and will be used as a beating stick against any (such as Dr Hodgson in this instance, but also NGOs such as CURB) who ‘dare’ to name and challenge structural racism in Bermuda.
Mr Bean – Washington Versus Du Bois?
Personally, I’m waiting to see what Mr Bean does in terms of expanding on his ideology, and thus the direction he’ll try to move the PLP. In many ways it’s too early to tell what he means and what direction he’s taking the party.
Based on his past, and more recent, comments though, I understand him as largely taking the ideological direction of Booker T Washington, as opposed to WEB Du Bois, who in many ways have come to personify (in the American context, of which we, and presumably much of the ‘Generation Next’ for the PLP that Mr Bean’s ascent appears to represent) the divergent approaches to racial-issues in society.
Washinton focused on accommodating to the existing structural (and overt!) racism of the late 19th Century (and into the early 20th Century), with the focus on building up the capital (economic, social and human) of African-Americans, while Du Bois argued that the focus needs to be on challenging, head-on, structural racism, and even questioned whether this could be achieved within the confines of the capitalism; Du Bois argued that Washington’s approach would only have limited success, and, in many ways, would actually be counter-productive to the cause of liberty and equity.
As I understand Mr Bean’s comments, he seems to be acknowledging the reality of structural racism, but advocating that the best strategy to overcome it is to ignore it and instead focus on Black enterprise, Black capitalism and Black social reconstruction, rather than challenging the system itself.
I see that as a policy of appeasement and accommodation to structural racism.
In some ways this may be considered even a retreat from the (largely) non-racial Labourist approach she chastises the historical PLP for.
While I believe Mr Bean to be quite progressive on social issues, I worry that he is adopting a very neo-liberal economic approach, albeit one focused on Black capitalism. Again though, it’s pretty early to tell, and I need to review and speak with him on these issues before I can say anything more concrete.
Mr Bean & Dr Brown
I don’t see him as moving away from Dr Brown in this sense though, despite what Dr Hodgson alleges.
Dr Brown’s ‘Big Conversation’ and comments on race were more cynical than progressive, and I saw Dr Brown’s main ideological position as being very much in line with a Black capitalist direction, and using ‘racial discourse’ more to consolidate a foundation for Black capitalism more than to challenge structural racism in Bermuda.
So, in that sense, I would see Mr Bean’s comments more as a maturation of the direction that Dr Brown was steering the party.
The Two Parties & Racial Discourse
So, what doe we have now, in political terms?
We have two parties which do not challenge structural racism.
We have one party (the OBA) largely supported by White Bermuda which benefits (historically and today) from structural racism, one of the privileges of which is to be mostly ignorant of their privilege in terms of structural racism, and which has neither the short-term interest or desire to challenge structural racism.
And we have another party (the PLP) which historically danced around the issue of structural racism (rather than address it head on) and is now, apparently, adopting a policy of accommodating to structural racism and focusing on protecting and expanding the existing Black upper class within the confines of the existing system.
To me, we need to challenge the structural racism of the system, and I certainly lean much closer to Du Bois’s line of argument in this regard. This approach by Mr Bean, if I’ve read it properly, only reinforces the system of structural racism and makes the challenge of real, concrete and long-term progressive change in Bermuda (social and economic) all that much harder.
‘Kwanzaa’ capitalism is, within structural racism, only going to maintain inequalities based on race in Bermuda. We need less avid readers of Black Enterprise and more anti-racial socialistic critiques of the system if we are to truly deal with structural racism in Bermuda and elsewhere.