Thursday, July 26, 2012

Comeau speeches miss the point

Kevin Comeau’s speech this week before Rotary was designed to be both provocative and the subject of sustained debate. I am not sure he wants to be helpful. Race remains the prism through which many of our social, economic and political issues are refracted and we seem set to have to endure this for the immediate future.

Understanding how our racially structured society came about, how it is being addressed today and how to remedy the damage caused by racism is as complex as it is necessary. Unfortunately, Mr Comeau’s analysis falters on both epistemological and factual grounds.

To begin with, there is the application of an American theoretical construct — the “black authenticity” construct — which is more fantasy than reality in modern Bermuda. That construct, as applied to the Progressive Labour Party, was phased out by former leader Frederick Wade during his tenure (1985-1996) and in so doing played a critical role in the PLP’s 1998 electoral victory.

The black authenticity model was critical for the development of black pride against a backdrop of white supremacy and colonial rule but it was always an impediment to electoral victory for the PLP since middle class blacks shied away from this ideology. There are certainly people today who advocate this construct but that sentiment is not reflected in the approach taken by the PLP. 

A more serious challenge with the Comeau analysis is that he places the blame for the continuance of racism on black people — the very victims of white supremacy and institutionalised racism. For him, the quest for racial justice will secure legitimacy when white people are comfortable enough to sit down and work with, presumably, black people to work through the challenges of race.

Seriously? The social history over the past 40 years is a history of black people integrating every segregated white institution they could: schools, clubs, social organisations, political parties, etc. On the other hand, whites generally, have not moved to join historically black institutions, which were always open to all races. There was no “black authenticity” construct at play here that denied white people the opportunity to join such organisations and there is none in play today.

Mr Comeau loses credibility when he permeates his speech with the theme that this government is corrupt. Having focused the entirety of his comments on what black people need to do, this corruption undercurrent is without question a bold statement that this black government is corrupt.

In making about as serious a charge as one could make about any government, does he present a shred of evidence? No. Yet his accusations stand. Governor (Sir Richard) Gozney was asked directly if he had seen any evidence of government corruption at the executive level and his answer was an unqualified “no”. Perhaps he too was on the take.

The assertion that black people vote in solidarity for the PLP is obviously false, as even a cursory look of election results since 1968 show a significant percentage of black voters have voted for parties other than the PLP. But if the view that blacks vote solidly for the PLP, even if false, so concerns Mr Comeau, why does it not equally concern him that whites vote solidly for one party? And by an even larger margin.

Perhaps more important than a government’s electoral base are the policies and legislation it puts in place. Any careful examination of successive PLP actions in this area will show policies and legislation that are “race neutral” in both design and implementation. There is undoubtedly a class bias as a party focusing on working people should act accordingly. 

We need less hyperbole, less name calling and more constructive contributions if we are to realise the vision articulated by Emperor Haile Selassie and popularised by Bob Marley — the day when “the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes”. Regrettably, this intervention by Mr Comeau sets that day further back.

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