29 July 2008

The Obama Channel

All Obama, all the time.

Bermudians' support for Obama is a delicious irony to me, seeing as how I am a member and candidate of the UBP, Bermuda's supposedly white-supremacist-elitist-racist political party (if you were to foolishly believe the PLP hype). Because the fact is, I and most (if not all) of my fellow UBP candidates, Senators, and MPs are huge fans of Obama! This despite the fact an Obama presidency has a non-zero probability of harming Bermuda's livelihood, international business.

So here are three recent tidbits from the news relating to Obama.

Blacks and whites think differently on Obama. Basically, blacks are more in favour of Obama than whites. But what is more surprising (or depressing) are the following statistics from the article: "Nearly 70 percent of blacks said they had encountered a specific instance of discrimination based on their race, compared with 62 percent in 2000"; and, "This month’s poll found that 55 percent of whites said race relations were good, almost double the figure for blacks." I wonder what those statistics look like for Bermuda? The CURE and Human Rights Commission reports would give you a feeling. Some people say that although there is a lot more heat around the topic of race in Bermuda these days, many black Bermudians think that race relations are improving, while whites feel the opposite. That is, to over-generalize, blacks are feeling liberated about being able to talk about their feelings and experiences, while whites feel threatened and accused.

David Paterson, the governor of New York State, said in an address to the NAACP that "we should remain mindful that racism still exists". This is not surprising, given his audience. Paterson is a legally blind black man, "New York’s first black governor and only the third black man since Reconstruction to lead a state". Otherwise the article echoes the same themes as the first one: blacks prefer Obama more than whites, and are more pessimistic about race relations in America.

Obama spent 12 years teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. He taught classes on race and politics, but never published as an academic. The article makes a good case that he used his time there to hone his ideas around those topics, and develop a personal style, as exemplified by his famous speech on race earlier this year (text, video).

Contracting & Bias

I agree with what Caliban said: government contracting needs to be more transparent.

But why shouldn't we trust the PLP government? After all, most people (by a thin margin) chose them in the election. Am I implying that they are all dishonest? No -- but I know that they are human and prone to common mistakes and lapses in judgment.

In fact, recent research indicates that people have a tendency to be moral hypocrites, without even realizing it. To quote: “Anyone who is on ‘our team’ is excused for moral transgressions,” said Dr. DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University. “The importance of group cohesion, of any type, simply extends our moral radius for lenience..."

What does that mean for Bermuda? It means that like Caliban said, we need to get serious about improving government transparency through initiatives like PATI, the MPs' register of interests (a UBP initiative), transparent bidding etc. We need to catch up with governments around the world, large and small, who have built structures with checks and balances to catch the mistakes and bad choices made by even well-meaning people.

I heard the news today, oh boy...

There were a few items in today's RG that made me suck my teeth and say, "Bye...".

One: Marc Bean on Ewart Brown: "...he is a very strong leader". Well, Mr. Bean is not exactly going to come out and say that he has issues with Dr. Brown. After all, his position is solely due to Brown's largess. That article is no more news than as if I was quoted speaking of my employer in favourable terms. Now, if Mr. Bean had come out slinging, that would be something to talk about. But I do give him credit for commitment: at least he bothered to attend the Emancipation march, and, unlike Thaao Dill who received his Senate seat for violating political broadcast regulation, Senator Bean actually bothered to run for office... he has done the work.

Two: I actually enjoyed this article about Howard Dodson in today's RG. He seems to speak a lot of sense when he says "You decide you want to create a museum or a monument but you don't invest enough in it to make it comparable in size or expression of power to that that's already there, and you are placing a monument that confirms you are inferior. You bring people from around the world to share with you your opinion of inferiority. If we are going to do this stuff, we can do it seriously or we are better off not doing it at all." At the March yesterday Senator Dill spoke, saying (to paraphrase) that to be black today is to live in a society that considers you inferior. I have a lot of problems with that thinking, especially in Bermuda's society. To me, Mr. Dill is simply parroting the US-centric view on race. After all, in Bermuda, society is mostly black. So who is Mr. Dill accusing of believing that blacks are inferior? His black Bermudian brothers and sisters? If that's true (and to many people who think on race, it is), then there are some serious problems in Bermuda.

Three: Finally, in thinking about the comment I overheard last night in reference to local black history ("Why don't they teach this stuff in the schools?"), I don't know. Good question. After all, the PLP has been the Government for 10 years, and I believe they had promised more local black history. Where is it? And if it is already happening, please let me know.

Attendance at the Emancipation March

Let me note who was and who was not at last night's march to celebrate Emancipation.

Present: Numerous UBP MPs, Senators, and candidates, including the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Swan. Minister of Culture and Social Rehabilitation Dale Butler, Senators Marc Bean and Thao Dill.

Absent: Premier, Deputy Premier, acting Premier, or any other cabinet members or senior PLP MPs and senators.

From the RG, Mr. Butler said "This Government believes that it is important to celebrate and honour the emancipation of Bermuda's bonds people as one of the momentous events in our country's history." Well all I can say is that you wouldn't have known that from attendance at the march.

But that's OK, I am sure they had a more important event to attend.

Race & Medicine: An (American) Apology

Today's New York Times has an essay about the AMA's apology for "past wrongs" to black doctors in the US. Reading the essay, it seems as if the AMA were pretty late to get on the integration bus, and behaved negligently in the issue of racial discrimination, although they have made up for in the last few decades. Interesting fact from the article: "In 1910, ... African-Americans made up 2.5 percent of the number of physicians in the United States. Today, they make up 2.2 percent". In Bermuda, we have the Ombudsman's report on discrimination which outlines the tensions over race and professional power between doctors at KEMH.

28 July 2008

Friendly Societies' Celebration of Emancipation

Tonight I enjoyed the beautiful weather by participating in the Friendly Society march to celebrate Emancipation. Starting from Barrs Bay Park, we wound our way through town, ending up outside the Lodge catty corner from the BIU building. We stopped at various points, where a speaker would tell a story or piece of history relating to that spot. The spots are listed in this booklet, which they handed out at the march.

Interesting Tidbits

As we were gathering in the street to start the march, traffic had to stop for a few minutes. A very rude woman stuck her head out of her passenger-side window, smoking a cigarette, and yelled us to get out of the way, she had places to go! She was white. The best I can say, is she must have had a rough day. And, was pretty clueless... Alternatively, perhaps it was another example of white hegemony? I think I may need some of Phil Wells's sarcasm points here.

Overheard at one of the stops: "How come they don't teach this in the schools?" Well, I never learned it because I went to Saltus when I was young, and we know how that used to be: British history all the way down. I have no idea what the private or public school curricula are like now. I believe that the book Bermuda: Five Centuries does have a lot of black Bermudian history, and was intended to be usable as a textbook. However, it does not have the same sort of colour that we got on the march tonight.

I left at the end of the march, but before the skit put on by the Friendly Societies, which I had seen the year before. It tells the story of the ship Enterprise (see top of page). The ship was carrying slaves when it got stuck in Bermuda, where the slaves were eventually freed. The Friendly Societies played a large role in helping the newly-freed slaves. Walking back to my car, I stopped for some Chinese takeout, and got talking to a man about the march when he saw my booklet. I was trying to explain to him the story of the Enterprise, and was corrected by another lady in the restaurant who claimed that the slaves all had to be paid for by the British Government. Unfortunately, I can't remember the details from the skit last year, and the Five Centuries book I have to hand doesn't mention any payment.

To me, the Friendly Societies stand as an example of the best aspects of Bermudian society, as they bonded together to help one another. I like to think that Bermuda has evolved enough that the societies are no longer needed in the same way they once were, but they are still around, and still active, carrying their message of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Now I know some of you "unenlightened" cynics are probably out there thinking, "great, here he goes on the whole black thing; next thing you know he'll be talking about white privilege..." Don't worry, that's for later blog entries. But if we are serious about coming together as an island, we need to learn about ourselves and our brothers and sisters. And, if you want to have a meaningful conversation with someone, it never hurts to listen, and find out where they are coming from. Finally, if you look at it from a partisan perspective, it is best to go into political battle armed with facts.

23 July 2008

The 1978 Clark Report

I am creating an online archive of significant reports around race, Bermuda and related topics. Eventually I'll get my proper website running, but for now I am posting one here. If you have copies of any reports you think fall into this category (e.g. on the riots, etc.) please let me know, I'd love to get a copy.

In 1978 the UBP Government of Bermuda commissioned a report on race and economic opportunity in Bermuda. Entitled "A Comprehensive Program Toward Racial Integration and Economic Equality", it was prepared by Clark, Phipps, Clark & Harris, Inc., and is referred to as the Clark report. You can download it from here, and the first page of the introduction is shown below:

Three Questions

Here are three questions for you, courtesy of a friend of mine.

For the Bermudian political party of your choice:

1. Why should I vote for them?
2. Why should I join them?
3. Why should I evangelize for them?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

20 July 2008

Scholarships: Who knows about them?

In my previous post, I talked about what sorts of scholarships and higher-education funding is available to Bermudian students. The question is, why do some Bermudians think there isn't very much funding available? I can assure you, my parents knew. One day I came home from high school and was presented with the Bank of Butterfield Scholarship Directory (I believe this has been replaced by scholarships.bm). The message was clear: get your butt in gear and apply for some of these scholarships.

I believe the answer has (at least!) two parts: educational and social.

  1. Educational. Many of the private-sector scholarships are performance-based. You have to be smart and accomplished to win a scholarship, and you are in competition with the top students from across the Island, in both public and private schools. By definition, that means most of these scholarships will not be awarded to students in, say, the lower 2/3 of academic performance across the Island. And because of the education system's current poor performance, most students in public education will not be able to win many of these private scholarships in a head-to-head competition against the private schools' top students (which is not to say there are no great students in public education).

  2. Social. If you are a student, how will you find out about any of these scholarships? If your parents didn't attend university, and if they don't move in circles where many people attended university, how will they know about the big book of scholarships? Who will tell them? Who will tell you? Who will explain to you how to write a compelling scholarship application, so that you can compete with students whose well-educated parents and teachers are helping them?

What can we do? I believe the situation is improving. Recent Government activity has publicised their scholarships, and the scholarships.bm web site is a good way to promote private scholarships. But, students need to be prodded into applying for appropriate scholarships, and taught how to write a good application. To me, this is the job of school guidance counselors. Also, mentoring organizations such as YouthNet, Big Brother/Sister, etc., and the churches can use their organizations to help students identify and apply for scholarships. Finally, if you are a professional, if you have a university degree, if you know anything about how the scholarship/university application process works, you have an opportunity to reach out and help the youth of Bermuda navigate what may be a new world.

15 July 2008

Scholarships: How much is out there?

A common complaint is that there are not enough scholarships available for Bermudian students, and that businesses and Government ought to provide more. In fact, one of the PLP's election promises was to increase the amount of available scholarships.

In fact, there are numerous scholarships in Bermuda, but only part of our society knows about them. The Bermuda Careers Centre maintains an extensive online list of scholarships at scholarships.bm, along with information about how to apply for them (website requires registration and login). By my count, in 2007 there were about 123 private scholarships from businesses and charities, offering just over 2 million dollars per year, or over $16,000 per scholarship on average. In reality, many of the scholarships are small, or for a limited time, while some are very large and for multiple years.

In 2007, there were 9 Government scholarships offering $490,000 per year. Brand-new legislation supported by both parties has added eight new scholarships, which will probably provide about an additional $200,000 per year. Government also provides a variety of bursaries, mature student, and teacher training awards (more info here and here).

My estimate is that the Government provides about a million dollars per year of scholarship funding, or about half that of the private sector. They have also recently proposed to provide funding to the University of the West Indies, which will allow Bermudians to study their at 20% of the cost. That's about $45,000 Trinidadian ($7,600 US) total cost to the student for an Engineering degree (including expenses), or just over $41,000 Trinidadian ($6,900 US) for Humanities or Social Sciences degrees.

Another option for Bermudians is to attend university in the UK, where they pay the same price as UK citizens, at no extra cost to the Bermudian taxpayer. For example, an Engineering student at Bristol would pay just over 3,000 pounds tuition (about $6,000 US). That would probably be less than living and travel expenses for a Bermudian student.

It would be more cost-effective for the Bermuda Government to offer subsidies to Bermudians who wish to study in the UK, either instead of or in addition to the UWI subsidy. Both of those options are more attractive than the average US private university which can run up to $25-$30,000 just for tuition!

Unfortunately, all the money in the world can't solve the primary problem: Bermudian students without quality secondary education will not qualify for scholarships, will not qualify for a decent university, and will not be able to take advantage of university education if they do manage to attend. And all the press releases in the world won't fix that problem.

14 July 2008

BlogRoll / Links

On the right side of this page you can see a list of recent articles from Bermuda blogs, under the heading "Bermuda Blogroll". I keep a list of Bermuda blogs using Google Reader. If you want to read or subscribe to the whole list, use the links under "All Bermuda Blogs and News". That feed includes a live Google search for all Bermuda-related news items.

If you have or know of a Bermuda-related blog that's not in there, let me know so I can add it. If you prefer that I didn't list your blog, also please let me know.

I am working on getting a calendar widget going. The UBP maintains a pretty good online calendar of community events in Bermuda, which you can access here.


I haven't settled on what to do about comments on this blog. Although I like the idea of creating a place for people to discuss the topics in here, I am leaning towards not having comments. I've seen too much ridiculousness going on with other people's blogs (spam, childish behaviour, etc.). I could moderate comments, but I definitely don't have the time or inclination to spend all day doing that.

For now I have turned on comments, but I'll turn them on or off or delete them at my whim, depending on how much hassle they cause me. After all, as more experienced members of the "blogosphere" (ugh) have said, if you want to say something, get your own blog, they're free (Dave Winer, via Joel Spolsky).

Finally, regardless of the blog comment policy, if you want to talk about what I am writing, you can always email me or call me up personally (contact details at top right of the blog). Who knows, we could even meet in person and talk face-to-face!

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.

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.

Theme Song

Since we are well into July, I've decided that this blog needs a theme song.


Welcome to my new blog. I plan to write primarily about race and politics in Bermuda, but I am not making any promises.

I was the UBP candidate in Southampton East at the December 2007 General Election, and therefore am necessarily partisan. That being said, since I am also a scientist and engineer who wants the best for his country, I try to bring an open mind to issues and give fair consideration where it is due (more on open minds later).

I work in the reinsurance industry here in Bermuda, and will have some comments about that, but I know you will understand if I decline from discussing any specific companies, including my employer.

Why is it called FreshieBlog? Don't worry about all that...