13 July 2008

BRRI: Race and Politics

Last Thursday I attended the BRRI discussion on 'Race and Politics', which was held at their regular venue, the Leopard's Club. Although I have not been able to attend all of the discussions, I find them stimulating, if imperfect. The points below are from my notes. If anyone at that discussion believes I misrepresented a point, I hope that they will contact me.

Race-based voting

One of the first questions was whether or not anyone at that meeting had voted based on race. I raised my hand, because I had. But let me explain that a bit more. I voted for the UBP, and in fact voted for a black candidate (most of my fellow UBP candidates were black). I did not vote for a particular candidate based on his or her race, and I did not vote for the UBP because I felt it represented a particular race (e.g. white). Rather, I ended up supporting (and running for) the UBP because I believe the UBP leadership was making a genuine effort to cross racial lines.

[edited 20 July 2008]
In contrast, despite having labour in their name, I believe that the PLP leadership (but not the membership) are cynically using (and inciting) racial tensions to win votes and solidarity. As examples: Lovitta Foggo's speech that identified a UBP Government with plantation days (we saw that line in two elections), Ewart Brown using language such as 'us' and 'them', etc. In fact, Lovita Foggo directly said that for the UBP, money and wealth is only for whites. I could never support a party that allowed its leaders to behave in that fashion, which I consider disgraceful, and in that sense, my vote for the UBP was a vote for a party that does not campaign on race.

I tried to explain this to the group but doubt I was successful, and that was one of my motivations for beginning this blog.

Open minds

I had started my explanation of race-based voting by saying that I returned to Bermuda 4 years ago with an open mind. I was quickly, and rightly, corrected by another participant. Of course, none of us have truly open minds: we come everyday with our biases, history, and other influencing factors. But, what we can do, and what I strive to do, is to continuously pay attention to our thoughts, and to examine them with self-discipline to see if the conclusions we reach do, in fact, match up with the facts. So in fact, I don't have a wide-open mind, but instead, I have my foot in the door to my mind, and I am pushing up against it with my shoulders to keep it open and ensure I am being as fair as possible.


At one point someone mentioned colonisation. We ought to use that term with care when discussing Bermuda. Although technically we are a colony, the term generally also implies the existence of a displaced and downtrodden native population, which is not true for Bermuda (there being no-one living on the island when the first colony was established). On the other had, we have suffered from slavery and the colonial government's use of the island for economic gain, and as many of us know, our history is far from squeaky clean.

Selection of Party

One participant claimed that historically, when selecting a political party, some blacks chose the UBP in order to gain access to economic advancement, while others chose the PLP for political advancement. The question is, does anyone now need to make that kind of choice? It is probably true that it is not necessary for most whites today to support the PLP (as Government) in order to access economic advancement. If so, then it is evidence of either i) an inherent access to economic opportunity by whites regardless of the Gov't, or ii) an unfair denial of economic opportunities to non-UBP supporters in the past, which no longer exists under the current Government. This presumes, of course, that you agree with the original statement that blacks only joined the UBP for economic benefits. Even if you disagree with that statement, it helps to understand the motivation and thinking behind the conclusions of whoever said it.


I counted 15 black and 7 white participants, which I think is more representative than previous discussions I attended, which I found had 'too many' whites (assuming the island is split 60:40). That was positive, even though I hate to categorize people into 'black' and 'white'.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with the moderation, which was done by Eva Hodgson. Although I respect her scholarly work and commitment to her cause, I think she could do a much better job as moderator. For example, she did not fairly rotate through the participants, she consistently gave herself the last word on each topic, and she often slipped into a lecturing mode. And, there were frequent side-conversations in the room, which I found disrespectful to whoever was speaking. Furthermore, as a notable public supporter of the PLP, she is a particularly bad moderator for the 'Race and Politics' session. Despite an avowed intent for the discussion to not focus on the particular parties we have in Bermuda, I don't think that is possible or even useful to have a completely abstract discussion about race and politics.