Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The OBA and Racism

“The legacy of racism is the root cause of many of the social ills and the dysfunction we are grappling with today….white supremacy has imposed injustice…and still works to maintain the status quo.” Powerful words coming from a new voice. These are neither the exhortations of the venerable Dr Eva Hodgson nor of the irrepressible Mr Rolf Commissiong . This is the voice of the leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, Mr Craig Cannonier. That this is now the official position of the official opposition on the impact of racism is instructive.

To begin with, there is recognition that racism not only has contoured our island home in significant and deliberate ways, but more importantly, its impact continues.  The OBA, then, has embraced the position long held by the much maligned Dr Hodgson and, effectively, endorsed the work of the Big Conversation, led by Mr Commissiong, to raise awareness of the legacy of racism. If the OBA Members of Parliament who were elected under the UBP label and who previously excoriated the work of the Big Conversation have embraced the perspective of their leader then Bermuda is moving in a better direction.

One of the challenges for the OBA will be to persuade many of their supporters—the thousands who previously supported the UBP—that racism has had a real and meaningful impact on the lives of people today. Too often we hear comments such as “I am not responsible for what my grandparents did” or “I worked hard to get where I am today” as if our racial past never matters. Mr Cannonier is correct to remind us that it does. That he chose to give it prominence in his Reply to the Throne Speech suggests the OBA will make racial injustice a theme in their future campaign.

While it is important to recognize the legacy and ongoing impact of racism and white supremacy as the OBA does, that is merely the first critical step. The more difficult challenge is what to do about it. On this front the OBA has not provided any direction. If one recognizes the playing field is unequal and unjust because of racism it is illogical to fall onto the false notion of equality of opportunity. Mr Cannonier: “We should all have a chance to make the most of our God given gifts no matter what colour we are.” Asserting equal opportunity without equal capacity is a false construct. In simple terms, a new business owner with $1 million of family money in backing has a greater capacity to succeed than a new business owner with $10,000 in savings. 
If the OBA is to be taken seriously on an issue their leader argues is responsible for many of our social ills they have an obligation to inform us what they plan to do about it. The PLP government initiated the Big Conversation, introduced the Economic Empowerment Zones to provide greater opportunities for marginalized groups and began discussions on work equity legislation. I look forward to the OBA proposals to address the injustice created as a result of racism.

My view has long been that race is the prism through which many issues are refracted. Understanding racism is a critical part of understanding the making of modern Bermuda. But it should never be a crutch on which everything rests. Rather, we should recognize it, understand it and then devise suitable initiatives, policies and programmes to remedy the damage it has caused. If the OBA can contribute toward this end we should welcome their input.

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