“PLP should lead discussion about race in Bermuda”

I’m quoted in an article in the RG today, as a follow-up to my earlier comments in relation to Dr Hodgson’s critique of Mr Bean’s recent comments concerning racial discourse in Bermuda.

I was asked why it was that the PLP was refusing to participate in the discussion on racial discourse, as per being offered the opportunity to comment or reply to Dr Hodgson’s critique, with only one PLP MP being willing to make any comment whatsoever, and even that being more of a non-reply than anything.

While the RG does a pretty good job of summarising my argument through excerpts, it’s always possible that someone may misunderstand an excerpt without seeing it in the context of the full reply.  So, I offer my full reply to the RG below.

“What do you make of Mr Brown’s reply on the issue, and the overall non-reply from the PLP?”

Well, I can certainly understand the PLP’s, and Mr Brown’s, refusal to comment on issues of Party Leadership.  The party has a strong tradition of not airing dirty laundry, or discussions about these kinds of things [in reference to party leadership], in public, at least not with their name attached.  There are many who are happy to do it anonymously though!

On the failure to speak on the issue of structural racism, it’s harder to understand the silence coming from them.  It may be something as simple as the relevant individuals, including the Party Leader, being in holiday mode, or even off-island.

But that at least one individual, Mr Brown, [did reply] and then only to say that he doesn’t think he can speak on the matter publicly, well, that could be interpreted in a number of ways.

I think it speaks mostly to two issues though.

I think with the election of a new leader, and one who’s made comments on race, the various MPs and members are still unsure about what the Leader’s position is and [are] afraid to speak frankly about their own opinions should these contrast with that of the Leader and lead to repercussions for them down the line, in terms of the party whip and future ministerial appointments (if the PLP regains power under the existing Leader) or internal party discipline consequences.  Which I think is pretty pathetic and speaks more to the problems with the traditional party system in terms of handicapping frank discourse and diversity of opinion.

On another level, I think it can speak to the bankruptcy of the current PLP’s approach to race and structural racism in general.  If any organised group should be leading the discussion on structural racism in Bermuda, and the intersection of race, class and gender, it should be the PLP.

If they are going to abdicate that responsibility and continue to either dance around the issue of structural racism, then they become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  In fact, they become part of the system of structural racism itself, and an obstacle to progressive social and economic change in regards to race.

I find it actually a bit odd, when Mr Brown says that he does ‘not think it appropriate for him to participate publicly in a discussion on the Black community’s response to racism.’

Why not participate publicly ins such a discussion?  We need to have that discussion, and as Mr Brown has largely styled himself as a public intellectual, and even has a pretty good book on the issue of race and class in Bermuda’s political development up to 1998, one would expect him to actually be one of the key contributors to such a public discussion on structural racism.

So I can only think that in this instance he is abdicating his public responsibilities as a public intellectual for the sake of a misplaced commitment to the party line (or, in the lack of such a line, of stepping out of bounds into the unknown, alone).  Which I hope is not the case, as he is more than capable of contributing greatly in this area, so I hope there is an alternative explanation for his statement (or lack of) on this issue.

Either the PLP takes a leadership role in challenging structural racism, or it adopts a policy of appeasement and accommodation to structural racism, and thus becomes one, of many, elements reinforcing and maintaining structural racism in Bermuda.

If they chose the latter, then structural racism is strengthened, although there will continue to be voices opposing and subverting structural racism – there cannot help but be such voices as long as structural racism continues to exist in Bermuda – although they may be initially weakened and the opposition/subversion may take new and varied forms, be it in terms of a new political body, public intellectuals, grassroots activists, artists and writers or other civil society actors.

One big concern is that with the OBA winning, we see the White community emboldened and even aggressive in their pus to strengthen structural racism.

Not that they are conscious of this, most genuinely believe they are advocating a colour-blind philosophy of equality.  But they confuse the concept of racism.  To them racism is only the open discrimination against other races, or the open display of racist views.

They do not, for the most part, understand the concept of structural racism, and have a very superficial approach to race, seeing it in purely legalistic terms.  To them, racism ended with the end of legal segregation, and openly racist views are seen as dying out.

They fail to understand that the social and economic legacy of slavery and segregation continues on through inertia, and that the racial inequalities are largely strengthened and reinforced by an attempt to govern for colour-blindness while our society remains structurally racist.

Such a colour-blind approach, that the majority of White Bermudians advocate (and what they ‘see’ in the ‘diversity’ of the ‘OBA team’ – as opposed to the OBA’s membership, nervous system and support base) only helps blind them from the reality of structural racism and perpetuates structural racism.

We risk seeing, under the OBA, and especially right now with an emboldened ‘White righteousness’, reinforced by their appropriate of Mr Bean’s recent comments, an aggressive strengthening of structural racism economically and politically, if not also ideologically.

The PLP, if it abdicates its role as a leader in challenging structural racism, in tackling it head on, it only helps to facilitate this aggressive structural racism, racism by stealth.  And the mandate then passes on to others to pick up.

One thought on ““PLP should lead discussion about race in Bermuda”

  1. I really don’t think that it is a case of white bermudians not understanding structural racism.

    For myself, as a white Bermudian, I felt that the plp were throwing the ideas out there (a little too haphazardly for my taste) but not really making it clear how they were going to tackle it. Because of the angry, sometimes aggressive, approach to race by the plp I didn’t trust them with the subject matter.

    I also think the reverse scenario in your “white righteousness” theory happens when the plp address race …plp followers (some) feel empowered to lord it over the white community.

    Either way, race should be handled with greater sensitivity than it has in the past by all Bermudians. We were all “raced out” by the time of the december election after many years of unproductive race discussions.

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