14 July 2008

Real Bermudians

This weekend I was walking along the shore near Horseshoe Bay with my girlfriend, when we passed by a pleasant-looking older woman sitting off near her tent. Being polite, we said Good Afternoon, and she politely responded back Good Afternoon. Then she said, "I hope you are enjoying your stay". Let me add that the older woman was a black Bermudian, and that my girlfriend and I are white Bermudians.

I do appreciate that being an outgoing, friendly Bermudian, this woman meant only the best by her comment, assuming that we were tourists. And I do appreciate that, having spent some years in the USA, I have an American wardrobe, and unfortunately, a bit of an accent. But, I am not American. I can't work there, I can't live there without a visa, and I am always quite happy to get back home from a trip stateside.

It happens to me often. Last month I was getting an egg sandwich for breakfast at the gas station, and I asked the friendly (black) lady working the grill to please "hook it up". She responded "I bet you don't get them like this where you are from. Where are you from?" Me: "Southampton." Her: "Well, I bet you still never had one like this" (referring to the sandwich). Again, this lady was being polite and friendly, assuming I was a tourist, but she's obviously never seen me in my serious Bermudian sandwich construction mode.

[edited 15 July 2008 to add]
My favorite example of this occurred while I was canvassing during the election. The (black) American cousin of a (black) constituent asked me where I was from, and was surprised to hear that I was Bermudian. I had to laugh: why did he think I was spending 6 months of my time knocking on doors all day long? I cut him some slack since he wasn't actually from Bermuda, but still...

What is my point? Too many act as if and believe that "Bermudian" means "Black Bermudian". Often white Bermudians are accused of being isolated, and ignorant of the "real" Bermuda. Although there is certainly a (decreasing) segment of the white population for which this accusation is true, there are equally as many black Bermudians who act as if whites aren't real Bermudians -- despite the fact that the first Bermudians were white, and that 40% of Bermudian residents and 31% of Bermudians are white! (2000 Census, Bermuda Dept. of Statistics, pages 30 & 31.)

I understand that some black Bermudians have this attitude as a reaction to their relatively oppressed history in Bermuda. They finally feel empowered, that Bermuda is finally "theirs" under a black PLP Government. And I don't begrudge them this. However, the PLP leadership cynically exploits this feeling in its public relations, and continues to use language that subtly implies "real" Bermudians are black, when they talk about "jobs for Bermudians" or "housing for Bermudians". This of course makes political sense: if they can get 2/3 of the black vote, then they win the election. But it's divisive, and does no one in Bermuda any favours. We have enough problems on our Island without creating false divisions.