The American Crisis – What is rightwing populism?

It is difficult to fully define anything – there are always exceptions to the rule – and I am not a fan of dictionary explanations of certain things (there are many Whites for example who refuse to recognise structural racism, insisting instead only on a narrow dictionary definition of racism, restricting it solely to overt racial discrimination, for example).

However, it is important to get at least a general outline of what rightwing populism is, and more specifically how it manifests in the USA. This is what I attempt to do here.

I am going to follow the lead of Margaret Canovan where she argues that all forms of populism “involve some kind of exaltation and appeal to ‘the people’, and all are in one sense or another anti-elitist.” And I also agree with the sentiments of Berlet & Lyons (2000) in their excellent book (which informs much of this series on this matter) where they develop a working definition of populism as:

  1. Involves a celebration of ‘the people’; and
  2. Some form of anti-elitism.

They go on to distinguish a populist movement from populist appeals with the qualification that a populist movement uses populist themes to mobilise a mass constituency as a sustained political or social force.

There are of course both rightwing and leftwing forms of populist movements (and I suppose there may also be centrist populist movements). Additionally, they may be authoritarian or egalitarian in nature, and based on a charismatic cult of a central leader or a decentralised movement based around a motivating idea. They may be advocates of a new future system, or conservatives that romanticise a fabled past ‘golden age’ that they seek to reassert. Further, what falls under the concept of ‘the people’ can be inclusive or it can be ethnic or other identity based. Some may be based on an actual critique of real existing social structures (such as class or structural racism), or they may be based on absurd conspiracy theories (i.e. lizard people or Protocols of the Elders of Zion).

Additionally, populist movements may be repressive in nature or emancipatory. A repressive populist movement is one that mixes anti-elite rhetoric (and scapegoating) with efforts to create, maintain or intensify systems of social privilege and power. Such as race or sex. Often they involve channeling popular discontent away from emancipatory, positive social change and towards oppressing marginalised or vulnerable groups (ethnic or other minorities, immigrants – so, for example, against Filipino workers but away from the bosses who exploit them to depress the general wage of labour…).

Sara Diamond offers what I think is a succinct definition for determining a rightwing from a leftwing movement: “To be rightwing means to support the State in its capacity as an enforcer of order and to oppose the State as a distributor of wealth and power downward and more equitably in society.”

I also agree with Berlett & Lyon’s argument that a rightwing populist movement “is a repressive populist movement motivated or defined centrally by a backlash against liberation movements, social reform, or revolution. This does not mean that rightwing populism’s goals are only defensive or reactive, but rather that its growth is fueled in a central way by fears of the Left and its political gains.”

It is not hard to see much of the rightwing populist movement, throughout the USA’s history, as fitting the above. One need only look at the KKK as a reaction to Black empowerment during the reconstruction era, and since, especially during the civil rights era. Or the Tea Party (and Trumpism) as a reaction to the election of a Black President and gains made by the Democrats in the 2008 (such as the Affordable Care Act).

What do you think – is the above a good working introduction to what rightwing populism is?

For those interested, I strongly recommend Berlet and Lyon (2000) Right-Wing Populism in America – Too Close For Comfort (The Guilford Press). I picked it up early on in the Trump regime and have found it very informative; much of the early part of this series The American Crisis is indebted to the insights of this book.

Also cited above are:

Canovan, M. (1981) Populism. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.

Diamond, S. (1995) Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements & Political Power in the United States. The Guilford Press.

The American Crisis – Key Theses

There is a lot to cover regarding the American crisis, and my analysis will likely change as the crisis continues to develop and as I look more deeper into things. This post seeks solely to provide a skeleton look at my thinking at the moment. Subsequent articles will look to expand on these issues; I just want to put down in writing my current thinking and for readers to have a birds-eye view of it.

  1. The American crisis is in the immediate sense a result of the success of the neoliberal revolution against the social democratic state in Europe and its equivalent in the USA, the Keynesian compromise that grounded the social compact between capital and labour.
  2. Having said that, currents of rightwing populism have existed in the US since its creation. One can trace the thread of rightwing populism from the earliest colonial times, with the genocidal wars against the indigenous people, to the building of slavery, through to the civil war, the KKK, the racial massacres following WW1, the growth of the fascist movement in the 1920s and 1930s, McCarthyism, the struggles of the civil rights era, the economic nationalism of Pat Buchanan, the growth of Christian evangelism, the development of the militia movement in the 1980s and 1990s, the jingoism of the War on Terror, the emergence of the Tea Party movement in reaction to the election of Obama and right through to the Trumpian mess we have today.
  3. The essence of this rightwing populism in the USA is (i) mid-level groups who have a stake in traditional social privilege but feel their position is precarious while also resent the power of groups above them, ‘the elites’; and (ii) factions of the ‘elite’ who use forms of anti-elitism to either curry more power for their faction or as a tool to deflect potential threats to the social order (and thus their own – and for all elites – welfare). It goes without saying that a good chunk of this is based on White supremacy, as well as patriarchy.
  4. The failure of the USA left – already weakened by the McCarthyism of the Cold War – to counter the neoliberal revolution and to advance an alternative, has led to a vacuum within the working class which the right has exploited; it has produced fertile ground for rightwing populism to grow.
  5. The coup attempt of January 6th was more the heralding of a new era of rightwing activism. There will be further insurrectionary attempts in the near future (January 17th and January 20th in particular), followed by a move to the underground by the more militant elements (think domestic terrorist attacks along the lines of assassinations, bombings and occupations a la Malheur Refuge).
  6. The militant right is the immediate threat, and the left will have to mobilise to defend against it.
  7. However, the greater threat in the long-term is a return to a ‘business-as-usual’ Democrat regime. The social and economic pressures that birthed the rightwing populist threat must be addressed, otherwise one has the dilemma that Hercules faced fighting the giant Antaeus. No matter how defeated the giant was, once it touched the ground it was able to renew its strength and fight back. The American crisis cannot be ended with band-aids. It requires a radical restructuring of American society.
  8. As such, the left cannot be complacent and expect a return to normalcy under a Biden Presidency. The left must continue to mobilise within and without the Democratic Party. This means a focus to rebuild union power in the USA, while also building alliances (and in this there are lessons from Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Corbyn’s Labour in the UK) with social movements such as BLM.
  9. The coming struggle is thus on two sides; the immediate threat is combating the rightwing populist threat, but the struggle against establishment Democrats and/or the construction of a new force must not be ignored.
  10. The Republican Party also cannot be ignored. In the immediate term they risk a fracture between the far-right and the relatively more moderate right.
  11. It is possible the Trumpian faction might spin-off completely to form a new party, not dissimilar to the rise of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) in Germany which absorbed to more right-wing of the Christian Democrats.
  12. It seems likely that the more moderate faction will search for a new ideological approach. My intuition is that the project centered around Oren Cass, the American Compass, with it’s conservative labour approach is well placed here, and their ideology needs to be examined and countered.
  13. There are consequences for Bermuda here as well. Any advances in the US left struggle invariably will have ramifications for us. Wins in the USA give the left in Bermuda the energy to advance leftist struggles here. Furthermore, there are questions related to our constitutional relationship with the UK which the Trump era, in particular following the coup attempt (and the potential for a more successful coup in the future), that we need to prepare for. It is abundantly clear that a Brexit UK was happy to cosy up to a fascist in the White House for its own interests, and that has consequences for Bermuda to consider going forward.
  14. We must also consider what the coup attempt, and the continuation of the American crisis means globally, both in terms of economics and geopolitics. This must include the impact of Brexit and the rise of China.
  15. While the American Empire is in decline, it would be a mistake to write them off. The new regime under Biden will likely look to try and reestablish American hegemony, and this will have ramifications of its own, even if it is only temporarily successful.

The American Crisis – Views from the 14th Colony

I confess that when, on New Year’s Eve, I wrote about my blogging plans for 2021, I had not envisioned that an attempted coup in the USA would happen on January 6th.

To be clear, it was obvious since early December that the far-right around Trump were looking to organise a protest in early January. They were not exactly subtle about their intentions, including their ambition to storm the Capitol. However, I assumed that this was more bluster than anything – that the US security forces would be reading the same things I was and would put in sufficient security so that all that would happen would be a noisy protest outside.

My biggest concern was that the more militant elements of this mob would seek to provoke a response from anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, with the intention of giving Trump an excuse to execute some form of martial law, and do a coup through that way. I was confident they would fail in their attempt to provoke such a reaction.

Well, here we are, four days after the attempted coup. It happened, but not in the way I expected.

In light of the attempted coup, I have decided to try my hand at a series, The American Crisis. My objectives in this series will be to:

  1. Explore the origins and nature of the fascist/rightwing populist movement in the USA.
  2. The likely development of this movement in at least 2021, as a result of the attempted coup.
  3. The likely development of the post-Trump Republican Party (and the internal conflicts shaping this).
  4. The likely development of the post-Trump Democratic Party (and the internal conflicts shaping this).
  5. The opportunity for a revolutionary offensive (noting it might not be a revolution, but the opportunity to advance class positions against the right all the same).
  6. The potential implications of the attempted coup and the ongoing American crisis for Bermuda – and what we, in Bermuda, might do. This includes a look at our own issues of class and race, as well as our constitutional relationship with the UK.

It will take me some time to cover all of these issues. I will seek to first publish a skeleton article hitting my key points, which I will then expand in respective articles

I have taken the name of the series from the work of the same name by my favourite US Founding Father, Thomas Paine.

Additionally, while the US mythos speaks of the 13 colonies that launched the revolutionary war in the first British Empire, a war that ended in their war of independence, there were actually other colonies in the Americas. Bermuda was actually the 14th colony. Only our geography – isolation and small size – and a large British military garrison prevented us being one of the founding States. We have, of course, diverged since. However, we have always remained interlinked with the US. Like Mexico, we are too far from heaven and too close to the USA; in practical terms we remain a British colony formally, but an American colony in reality.

Smoke surrounds the Capitol Building during the January 6th attempted coup. Photo by Heather Khalifa, the Philadelphia Inquirer.


There has been an interesting response to my story on responsible tourism, where I hoped to at least get some people thinking about what kind of tourism do we want for Bermuda (and what kind of tourism do we not want).

One can read the full response here on BIAW. AMCAM

I thought it would be a good idea t quickly respond to it though:

  1. AMCAM wonders how I figure the actions of Ms Fox constituted ‘irresponsible tourism’. To understand that one needs to look at how I define ‘responsible tourism’, which I do in the same article (for just this purpose). The definition I use, which I think is a good one, is that used by the International Ecotourism society ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’. A tourist coming, carting of some 70 pounds of sea glass (part of our environment), and in doing so hurting local artisans, would seem to be very much contrary to any interpretation of responsible tourism. Thus my reasoning that her actions constituted ‘irresponsible tourism’. I’m surprised I had to explain that. AMCAM is usually one of the most insightful commentators on tourism issues after all…
  2. ‘Imperialist mindset of a White American tourist’ – AMCAM takes particular exception to my choice of phrasing here. Perhaps it’s useful to expand on it for his (and others) benefits. Ms Fox is a White American tourist. That’s a statement of fact. That in itself means little, in as much as the vast majority of our tourists could be so defined. And that’s fine. However, to believe that there’s no racial dynamics involved in tourism featuring Whites expecting to be served hand and foot by a majority Black population in a country with a history of slavery and segregation where Blacks were forced (overtly and covertly) to serve Whites for centuries is to be delusional. Service doesn’t need to be servitude, that’s clear. And it shouldn’t be. The relationship should be one of hospitality to guests – a host-guest relationship, rather than a master-servant relationship. However, there are certain things such as White privilege here, as well as power dynamics and historical factors at play. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is not a reality. As for ‘imperialist mindset’, that seems quite an apt fit for describing a mindset of someone coming to someones homeland and simply helping themselves to the resources there and seeing no problem in doing so. It is an exploitative and imperialist mindset. The history of the Americas is full of this tendency, of Whites coming, expecting the ‘natives’ to be their ‘happy’ servants and generally raping and pillaging the environment. Ms Fox’s actions, while obviously no where as barbaric as the conquests of the Americas, follows this general mindset, and accordingly is resented as such within the general prism of our collective (Americas) history. I don’t need to ‘think twice’ before describing the incident in question as representative of an imperialist mindset by a White American tourist. It simply strips away the niceties that usually obscure these things. It quite aptly describes the incident. It may not be in terms that make AMCAM or others comfortable, as it touches on matters of race and exploitation, but so what? If the description fits and all…
  3. ‘Claims are conjecture’ ‘rant’ – All I did was provide a general summary of what was reported in the media, and by Ms Fox herself. It is a fact that Ms Fox came to Bermuda for the explicit purpose of collecting sea glass for her business. It is a fact that she collected approximately 70 pounds worth of sea glass. It is a fact that she then exported this sea glass back to the USA. It is a fact that she is using this sea glass for the purpose of making a profit. How any of that equals ‘conjecture’ is beyond me. What is circumstantial is where she collected all her 70 pounds worth of sea glass (was it at sea glass beach – which seems probable – where there is a sign forbidding such?), and I didn’t make any firm statement on that at all. It is my understanding that removing sea glass and doing so for business reasons like she did, is illegal. It may be okay for local artisans to do so in a small-scale sustainable way, but it is not okay for a ‘tourist’ to act in such an unsustainable way. Not quite sure how it constitutes a ‘rant’ however. I’m happy with people disagreeing with me and putting forward a counter-argument. Heck, that’s what I called for, a conversation. Not barbs. If AMCAM want’s to put forward a counter-position, I welcome him to do just that.
  4. ‘Jonathan, Bermuda does not need your brand of tourism!’ – And which brand of tourism is that? The brand of tourism I explicitly suggested Bermuda should adopt was that or responsible tourism, of which I provided a definition. Is AMCAM saying that Bermuda doesn’t need a brand of tourism based on ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’? Is AMCAM suggesting we should instead advocate a brand of tourism that does the opposite, that seeks to damage the environment and hurt the well-being of local people? If that’s the kind of tourism AMCAM believes we should have, I’m sure the majority of our people would respectfully disagree. And if that’s not what AMCAM means, then what does he mean, and what sort of ‘brand of tourism’ does he think I’m advocating then? It’s either a poor argument on his part (misrepresenting my argument) or, well, I don’t know what else. If I’m charitable I’d suggest he only read the first half of the post and didn’t bother to read it all and consider the argument.

Ultimately, I’m all for serving our tourists as hosts do guests. I think that’s healthy. I do not support a form of tourism predicated on servitude, in a master-servant dynamic. And I’m for a tourism where tourists come here to enjoy our natural environment and culture, that engages in a non-exploitative manner with our environment, culture and economy.

I’m not for a form of tourism that, in the Caribbean, has been called ‘whorism’, a wholly exploitative form of tourism. This doesn’t necessarily mean sex tourism, but rather the general approach of engaging with our environment, culture and economy in a fundamentally exploitative manner.

But let’s have that conversation.

Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel prize winner for literature.

Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel prize winner for literature.

I think it’s appropriate here to conclude with an excerpt from Derek Walcott’s Nobel prize speech:

“But in our tourist brochures the Caribbean is a blue pool into which the republic dangles the extended foot of Florida as inflated rubber islands bob, and drinks with umbrellas float towards here on a raft. This is how the islands from shame of necessity sell themselves; this is the seasonal erosion of their identity, that high-pitched repetition of the same images of service that cannot distinguish one island from the other, with a future of polluted marinas, land deals negotiated by ministers, and all of this conducted to the music of Happy Hour and the rictus of a smile. What is the earthly paradise for our visitors? Two weeks without rain and a mahogany tan, and, at sunset, local troubadours in straw hats and floral shirts beating ‘Yellow Bird’ and ‘Banana Boat Song’ to death.”

Happy International Women’s Day 2015!

I generally write an annual article to commemorate this event, and this year is no different – only, as with last year, it’s on Bernews rather than my blog. 

This year I decided to build on a theme from my 2012 election platform:

“Enact Workforce Equity legislation to require all workplaces with more than 10 employees to develop a workplace equity review and plan to ensure gender and racial equity in the workplace concerning wages and decision-making.  Enable workers to seek compensation for unequal gender or racial pay regimes up until the year 2000.”

I decided to focus on the matter of gender (and racial) equity concerning decision-making in particular, and the article itself provides some useful links that I used for the argument.  I was also working on an equal pay aspect, but the article got far too unwieldy – so I’ll develop that for an article in it’s own right.

I would like to add a quote which I ultimately decided to cut from the article itself, because I think it does make a good point and is something to consider going forward.  It’s an excerpt from a 1983 work The Nouveau Poor by Barbara Ehrenreich and Karin Stallard – though over thirty years old, it still seems pretty valid to me!

“We need a feminist economic program, and that is no small order.  An economic program that speaks to the needs of women will have to address some of the most deep-seated injustices of a business-dominated economy and a male-dominated society.  Naming it will take us beyond the familiar consensus defined by the demand for equal rights – to new issues, new programs, and maybe new perspectives.  Whether there are debates ahead or collective breakthroughs, they are long overdue; the feminization of poverty demands a feminist vision of a just and democratic society.”

A look at income inequality in Bermuda – Slices of the income cake & the Palma Index

Setting the Context

Not too long ago Craig Simmons, a lecturer in Economics at the Bermuda College, was featured in an RG article discussing inequality in Bermuda (and was clearly doing so after reading Thomas Picketty’s masterpiece on the subject).

In response to the warnings being raised by Mr Simmons, the Finance Minister Bob Richards essentially dismissed Mr Simmons thoughtful comments by saying there’s no statistics to back up Mr Simmons argument.

Which isn’t to say that Mr Simmons is wrong (and unless we’re invoking Bermudian exceptionalism, I’d imagine Mr Simmons is more right than wrong, seeing as the points he’s raised have been found globally), it’s just to say that the Government isn’t actively collecting or making available the statistics we’d need to ‘prove’ his points.

Not too long after this, Mr Wayne Furbert (PLP MP) proposed a Quality of Life study, which was rather crudely dismissed by the OBA Chair, Ms Susan Jackson, MP.

Both of these incidents got me thinking about what stats do we have which may illustrate inequality in Bermuda.

Historical Reviews

Both the 1991 and the 2000 census attempted to measure, to a degree, rates of inequality, and the Low Income Thresholds Study, is also informative on this (see Statistics for more information on these).

However, the matter of inequality seems absent from the 2010 census, and the Low Income Thresholds Study – despite a stated commitment to update it regularly – has not been updated since its 2007 publication.

So, I thought I’d try my hand at a first look at matters of inequality in Bermuda.

I’m not a statistician, and I only have limited time and resources (including limited access to data), so I’m only going to say that my findings are, at best, indicative of inequality in Bermuda.

Furthermore, they only speak to income inequality, not total wealth, which would include accumulated savings, inheritances, various assets (property, stocks, etc).

I’m pretty sure that if all those were included to make a more refined model, the inequalities in Bermuda would be much more unequal than the income inequalities alone suggest.

So, what did I do?

I decided that the data regarding income in the 2010 census was the best place to start.

This provides data on total income distribution, and then income distribution broken down according to race and sex.

I’ve decided here to focus on race rather than sex, although I think that’s important too.

The data shows population distribution according to 16 income bands, ranging from ‘$36,000 and below’ to ‘$750,000 and over’.

I’ve worked out:

  • The percentages of population distributions across these bands.
  • Plotted these according to a line graph.
  • Plotted both total racial population distribution and compared it to total racial income distribution.
  • Worked out a proxy of total income wealth distribution per income band (by adopting the mean for each income band multiplied by numbers of people in each band, adopting $36k and $750k for the first and last bands – which I imagine under-represents total wealth).
  • Condensed the 16 income bands into 10 in order to approach a decile breakdown of income distribution (combining income bands 2 and 3 into a single decile, and income bands 12 to 16 into a single decile).
  • Created a Palma Index for Bermuda’s income distribution, for Total population, Blacks, Whites, Mixed and Not Stated racial categories.

I decided to use a Palma measure of inequality simply because it was easier to do than other measures of inequality such as the Gini Coefficient or the Theil Index, and this article indicated it was actually a potentially better index than the others.

It essentially looks at the very rich and the very poor as an indication of inequality, largely ignoring the ‘middle’.

The Palma Index itself is determined by dividing the total wealth of the richest decile by the total wealth of the four poorest deciles.

A Short Discursive

Basically, the data reflects what many of us have known for a while…

  • The working class is overwhelmingly Black, the upper class is overwhelmingly White.
  • The majority of income wealth in Bermuda is commanded by a minority of the population.
  • We live in an unequal society, and, based solely on income distributions, a more unequal society than, say, the USA or the UK.
  • Income inequality is more pronounced within the White population (in that there are greater extremes of wealth inequalities there – there are a lot of VERY rich Whites, the bulk of Whites are ‘middle class’ but there’s also a number of very poor ‘small’ Whites) than in the Black population (Which has a minority of VERY rich Blacks, and the rest are almost evenly split between the lower and middle classes).

Once again, these results are only indicative of inequalities in Bermuda and only speak to income inequality.

Personally, my feeling is that if one were to include a wider metric, covering all facets of wealth, our inequality levels would be much greater than that reflected in income distribution alone.

It would be interesting to situate these figures historically too, to see if the income inequalities have changed over time, and under different governments, or if they’ve essentially stayed the same.  Perhaps someone could explore that angle in the future.

I’ll just put forward the hypothesis (and thus the challenge!) that under the PLP (so between the 2000 and 2010 censuses) inequality would have marginally decreased, and that Blacks increased their numbers in the upper income bands.

And now, the tables and graphs!

I worked these out on Excel, and I welcome people to go through my sums and check to make sure I’ve done it right.  It’ll take too much time to explain exactly what I did and why, but I hope it’s mostly self-explanatory.  I’ll try to answer any questions in the comments section, and look forward for any schoolboy errors being pointed out…

The Excel spreadsheet opens by clicking the below link:

Bda Income by Race

Figure One shows the racial compositions (in percentages) of each income band (disregarding the ‘Not Stated’ category).  WFigure Onehites make up about 30% of the lower class and the lower and mid middle class.  Blacks make up around 60% of these classes.  As one gets into the upper middle class (which arguably is ‘lower upper class really, based on the income band!) this begins to switch, with Whites increasing the composition and Blacks decreasing, with the income band of $235k-349k being roughly equal in racial composition.  Blacks then make up around 30% of the upper class, with Whites making up just over 60%.  Mixed/Other seem to be mostly steady at all income bands, at around 10%.

Figure Two shows theFigure Two racial composition of income wealth according to racial group.  Blacks actually command the majority of income wealth (at 47%), but this is lower than what would be expected if income wealth was equally distributed according to total population size of each racial group.  Blacks make up 51% of the population in question, but only command 47% of the income.  Whites only make 32.4% of the population, but command 41% of the income.  Mixed/Other seem more equal, being 11.7% of the population, and commanding 11% of all income.  Not Stated make up only 0.72% of the population, but command 1% of all income.  In other wordFigure Threes, Whites command 1.27 times their ‘fair’ share of income wealth, and Not Stated command 1.4 times their ‘fair’ share.  Blacks command only 0.9 times their fair share, Mixed/Other 0.94 their fair share.

Figure Three shows the population breakdown of each decile of income band (I use the term ‘decile’ loosely here).  If each decile commanded their fair share of income wealth, the income distribution should mirror this.  It doesn’t.

Figure Four shows the totFigure Foural income slices for each of those same deciles as in Figure Three.  The richest deciles (nine and ten) alone command 60% of all income wealth in Bermuda, while only making up 30% of the population.  Decile ten alone, at 14% of the population, command 38% of all income wealth.  Or to flip it around, 70% of the population only commands 40% of all income wealth.  And if one looks at just deciles one to six, which represent 50% of the population, they only command 22% of all income wealth.  It’s not quite the 99% versus the 1%, at least in terms of income distribution, but it certainly is inequality.

Figure Five shows the total income wealth according to the Palma format, showing the income distribution between the pooresFigure Fivet four deciles, the middle five deciles and the top tenth decile.  According to the Palma equation, where one divides the wealth of the top tenth decile to the wealth of the lowest four deciles, Bermuda has a Palma Index, for income distribution, of 2.65.

Figure Six shows the income distribution within the Black population, along the same Palma format as in Figure Five.  The Black population has a Palma Index of 1.56.

Figure Seven shows the income distribution within the White population, as above.  The White population has a Palma Index of 5.68.

Figure Eight shows the income distribution within the Mixed/Other population; they have a Palma Index of 2.

Figure NineFigures Six to Nine shows the income distribution within the Not Stated population; they have a Palma Index of 2.25.

Figure Ten shows Bermuda’s Palma Index in reference to other countries (strictly these are not comparable, as I’ve only measured income, not total wealth; I include it here solely as an indication of our minimum inequality in comparison with other countries).  Based on this, we’re a more unequal country than the USA and the UK, as well as Malaysia, Venezuela, China, Morocco, Russia, Tanzania, Albania, India, Bangladesh, Egypt and Denmark.  Jamaica is the most unequal country, followed by South Africa.

I have a gut feeling that a truer metric of our inequalities (including those beyond income) would see Bermuda place somewhere in between South Africa and Brazil.  I leave that as a hypothesis and a challenge for others.

Figure Ten

A week is a long time in politics – and cannabis possession…

Similar Cases?

This week, aside from my own involvement regarding launching the petition for a referendum on casino gambling, has also seen an interesting contrast of court cases regarding personal possession of cannabis.

Last week, the 19 year old son of Cabinet Minister Trevor Moniz, Thomas Moniz, was taken to court on charges of possessing 2.1 grams of cannabis and related drug-related equipment.  Mr Moniz was found in possession of these ‘in Devonshire parish’.

This week a 29 year old without any obvious close connections to sitting Cabinet Ministers or governing party MP, was taken to court on charges of possessing 2.04 grams of cannabis.  The accused, Mr Pearman, was found in possession of this at Captains Lounge where the police were ‘conducting a liquor license check at Captain’s Lounge on Reid Street’.  The police had smelled ‘cannabis coming from the outdoor patio’ where they proceeded to search Mr Pearman.

Now, based solely on the evidence which the media reports as being the basis for these two’s charges, one might expect that, ceteris paribus (‘all things being equal’ – a favoured phrase of economists…), these two individuals would end up with the same conviction and punishment – or, if anything, the one found in possession of more cannabis as well as related drug equipment, would end up having a worse outcome.

Makes sense, right?

However, things are not ceteris paribus as it turns out…

Has justice been seen to be done?

Has justice been seen to be done?

Instead, Mr Pearman, with no drug equipment and possession of less cannabis (2.04 grams) was convicted and fined $500.

Mr Moniz, with drug equipment and possession of a greater amount of cannabis (2.1 grams), instead saw the Crown ‘fail to bring evidence’ and the case subsequently dismissed and all charges dropped.

Mr Moniz’s case also saw the Attorney General breach his constitutional remit by intruding on the remit of the DPP by taking it upon himself to explain why Mr Moniz had his case dismissed.  We learn that apparently Mr Moniz was in possession of such a small amount of cannabis that normally he would only have received a caution, with the case never even going to court.

So, confused?  

After all, Mr Pearman had less cannabis on his possession than Mr Moniz – why did his case go to court too?  And, at that, seeing as Mr Moniz was also in possession of drug-related equipment, why did Mr Moniz see his case dismissed while Mr Pearman did not, instead receiving a conviction and a fine?

Obviously not everything was equal between these two.  But what might this difference, or differences been?

Based solely on the information communicated in the media one is left understandably confused by the discrepancy between these two cases.

Now, perhaps this was Mr Moniz’s first charge, while Mr Pearman perhaps had previous charges – maybe that had a bearing on the different outcomes of these two otherwise similar cases?  Of course, we don’t know if that is the case; we just don’t know.

What we do know about the differences though are these:

  1. Political Connections: One was intimately related to a high-powered member of our community, a Cabinet Minister.  The other has no obvious connections with anyone of power.
  2. Race: No where in the media reports is there an overt indication of the defendants ethnicity.  However, there is a picture of Mr Moniz, and I think we can all safely identify him as being ‘White’ or ‘Portuguese’ in Bermudian racial terms.  There is no photo of Mr Pearman, although I think it’s fair to say, rightly or wrongly, that many would conclude that Mr Pearman would be considered, in a Bermudian context, as ‘Black’ or, at the very least, ‘not-White’.  First off, his first name ‘Yuki’ would not generally be associated with ‘White’ Bermudians, although it could pass as East Asian.  Secondly, Mr Pearman was charged as a result of being searched at Captain’s Lounge.  To non-Bermudians this wouldn’t mean much, but I think most Bermudians would agree that this establishment would generally be considered a generally ‘Black’ establishment.
  3. Wealth: As with ‘race’, one cannot make any definitive judgement here.  What we can say however is that Mr Moniz was somehow able to employ one of Bermuda’s most expensive QC’s, while, for whatever reason, Mr Pearman’s legal representative is not reported.  I think if Mr Pearman had one of the island’s most expensive QC’s, or someone on par with Mr Moniz’s representative, this would have been recorded.

So, while we don’t know about the two’s criminal histories, we do know for sure that there is a discrepancy in terms of power between the two.  And we can infer, with some degree of good reason, that they differed in terms of race (one White and rich, one not-White and not rich).

Now, whether or not those were indeed the only differences between the two cases, we don’t know on the basis of the media reporting.  However, it is likely that I will not be alone in drawing the above differences between the cases.


There are likely consequences that will arise from counter-posing these two cases.

Those who believe there is one law for the rich and another for the poor will see that belief strengthened.

Those who believe there is one law for Whites and another for non-Whites will see that belief strengthened.

Those who believe that the courts are subject to political interference – and that there was political interference in the case of Mr Moniz – will see that belief strengthened.

Ultimately, the credibility of the court and the law is undermined as a result of these two cases, at least in the eyes of the people.

And, somehow, I doubt the Attorney General will see fit to breach his constitutional remit again for the benefit of Mr Pearman.




It’s pretty late where I am right now – almost 0100hrs – so I’m not going to post too much here.

Many readers will be aware by now that former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away earlier today.

From the Guardian, a 1985 picture of protesters demonstrating solidarity with Mandela.

From the Guardian, a 1985 picture of protesters demonstrating solidarity with Mandela.

Mandela was 95, and had suffered from ill-health for some time, thought to be particularly influenced by lung damage he suffered while imprisoned under Apartheid.

While his death is not exactly unexpected, having been hospitalised for most of this year, with reports indicating he was somewhere between a coma and a vegetative state, it is no less powerful an event for many.

Individuals like Mandela have attained a near-mythic status – they have transcended their all too human reality to become an icon and an inspiration for whole peoples and generations.

In our secular age, Mandela has joined the ranks of our modern Saints, right up next to other now mythic figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Che – and he achieved this status long before his death today.

While there is a lot about Mandela’s presidency and the post-Apartheid ANC Governments in general that can – and should – be subject to criticism, such criticism takes nothing away from the very real achievement of overcoming Apartheid and ushering in the rainbow nation of modern South Africa.

Mandela and the overcoming of Apartheid in many ways marked the end of the first liberation struggle of the 20th Century, overcoming formal imperialism and overt racism.

There are still examples of overt racism and formal colonialism today in the 21st Century (just think of Bermuda, for example, which remains a colony), but nothing on the scale that the first liberation struggle confronted last century.

There are many ways by which our people, and others throughout the world, will seek to express their grief over Mandela’s death, or seek to honour his life.

Locally I expect the media to be full of statements and comments from everyone, but particularly from the OBA and the PLP, with both parties seeking to claim the legacy of Mandela for themselves.  This will be played out both globally and in pretty much every country in the world I reckon.

Personally, I feel the best way to honour Mandela – the myth if not the man – is to renew the commitment to building a better world and launching a second liberation struggle.

This next liberation struggle is as relevant to Bermuda, the Caribbean and everywhere as it is in South Africa.

This second liberation struggle must overcome the covert and structural racism which still haunts our lands and even at a global level; it must also be a struggle against the colonialism of the mind, of colonial mentalities.

Even more, this second liberation struggle must be against a socio-economic system – capitalism – that not only exploits and maintains existing inequalities, but actively exacerbates them while creating new inequalities, that threatens to consign whole generations and populations to the dust-heap, that thrives on war and that poisons our very planet, all in the pursuit of profit and not in the pursuit of realising our human potential.

The next liberation struggle is the struggle to build a better world for all.

I can’t think of a better way to honour the life of an icon like Mandela.

So, yes, mourn today – but tomorrow, the struggle continues.


Covert Racism in Bermuda Today – A brief outline of the problem

By its very nature, covert racism is not easy to identify.  It’s not impossible, but it is difficult.  I’ll do my best!

For a more ‘definitional’ explanation of these terms, please see my previous post.

Covert Personal/Ideological Racism

This form of racism is found in a variety of forms.

One of them is when statistical facts, resulting from structural/systemic racism and the subsequent racial inequalities that persist in Bermuda, are interpreted not in terms of the structural factors in question but in terms of failings on the part of members of the race most affected.

For example, if Blacks in Bermuda consistently have lowed educational attainments than White Bermudians, rather than looking at the structural factors (from social and economic capital, to the built environment, etc) that may explain these failings, these failings are instead interpreted in racial terms.  ‘Blacks don’t place enough value on education’, for example.  There are a number of other possible versions, such as those relating to racial interpretations concerning drug use, criminality, behaviour in general, teenage pregnancy, etc.

The failure of Whites to integrate social spheres considered ‘Black’ may also be seen in this context.  In this I refer to patronage of Black businesses (such as those in north-east Hamilton) or clubs, or even trade unions or political parties, may all be considered in these terms.  This may also be seen in terms of White flight from social spheres previously dominated by Whites, such as cricket or football clubs.  It is not necessarily easy to identify the exact causes behind these actions (or lack of actions), and a variety of explanations may be offered, but in general terms it is hard not to conclude that there is some form of covert personal/ideological racism being involved.

One key form, and perhaps the main one, is the refusal to acknowledge structural/systemic racism, or racial inequalities, as a reality.  This may be done in two main ways:

1) The refusal to identify racism in any form beyond that of overt personal/ideological racism or overt structural/systemic racism.  If that is the only form of racism one accepts, then it is easy to deny that the other, covert, versions of racism even exist.

2) The refusal to accept race as a social category altogether.  This is a particular phenomenon found in many White liberal reactions (in my experience).  They cite the scientific findings that the concept of biological race are a myth, for example.  In this they fail to acknowledge that the biological reality (or non-reality in this case) of race, is irrelevant.  Race exists as a social reality, whether it was originally a manufactured social category or not is irrelevant; what is relevant is that it does exist as a social category, and that racial inequalities are measurable.

By refusing to acknowledge the reality of (covert) structural/systemic racism, by insisting on ‘colour-blindness’, one helps to perpetuate and reinforce (covert) structural/systemic racism.  By refusing to adopt, or actively resisting, policies which may help dismantle (covert) structural/systemic racism, one helps to perpetuate and reinforce (covert) structural/systemic racism.

In this way, such individuals, or actors, may, arguably, be considered ‘racist’ in that their actions help maintain racial inequalities, even if they defend their actions in terms of ‘colour-blindness’.

Covert Structural/Systemic Racism

Again, this is hard to detail in terms of its mechanisms, and it is in many ways pervasive in our society.  I will try to provide only a basic outline here (for sake of brevity and clarity, but with the loss of being definitive).

I don’t think anyone in Bermuda would realistically seek to deny that under the era of segregation, and even earlier, under slavery, Black Bermudians were systematically disadvantaged socially, psychologically and economically, while White Bermudians were socially, psychologically and economically empowered.

It is true that even during segregation there were individuals that may be considered more successful or more unsuccessful in both races, and that there were (and continue to be) both Black and White lower, middle and upper classes.  But in general terms, Black Bermudians were actively disadvantaged while White Bermudians were actively advantaged.

As a result of this overt structural/systemic racism (of slavery and segregation), when overt structural/systemic racism was dismantled and formal segregation ended, there existed stark inequalities between Black and White Bermudians in terms of social, human and economic capital (I use these terms to encompass education, skill-sets, network connections, access to power or money, and other such ‘capitals’).

Since the end of segregation, these inequalities have not been corrected.  After decades and centuries of active disempowerment of Black Bermudians (and the active empowerment of White Bermudians) to expect that these inequalities would cease to exist simply by ending overt structural/systemic racism is, quite frankly, unrealistic.

As no policies were enacted to reduce these racial inequalities, and instead the system adopted a non-racial (colour-blind) approach, these inequalities have been largely maintained, and in some instances reinforced.  Racial inequalities have largely continued as a result of inertia, and in some ways have actually gotten worse.  This does not deny that there have been Black successes, but in general terms racial inequalities exist as a result of inaction.

Non-intervention to reduce the racial inequalities resulting from overt structural/systemic racism leads to maintaining racial inequalities through covert structural/systemic racism, and provides the ground for covert (and even overt) personal/ideological racism.

For the sake of space I’ll end this here.  I can try and expand on issues later.  In my next post I’ll try to outline some steps that may help build a non-racist Bermuda.

“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.