Bermuda Premier Craig Cannonier: Speaks about economy and racism in Bermuda

January 22, 2013

International

Bermuda Premier Craig Cannonier: Government will tackle racism

By Ayo Johnson
The Royal Gazette

The first One Bermuda Alliance Cabinet has the will to tackle structural racism and all options, including affirmative action type policies, are being looked at, Premier Craig Cannonier said Sunday, January 20, 2012.

And Government’s tiny majority in The House of Assembly will be good for the country.

The comments were made in a wide-ranging interview with The Royal Gazette yesterday afternoon.

Mr Cannonier was reminded of his 2011 Reply to the Throne Speech — his maiden speech in Parliament — in which he spoke of the need to address racism.

Asked what his Government’s approach to race is, he said that the community had to acknowledge the past and deal with economic disparity.

“There’s been talk about affirmative action type decisions that we may need to look at. We’re exploring those options right now and what that means,” he said.

“I certainly am not an expert on all of race relations but I do know that the conversations that we’ve had in the past haven’t really led to any more dialogue or resolution.

“So we’ve got to find a way to have this conversation because it will get conflicting, but at the same time we come out of it with a clear, defined way of dealing with it.

“Otherwise it’s just going to continue and continue. The walls have been built up and we got to continue to break down those walls of divisiveness.

“How we do that needs to be a collective argument and a collective decision making per se.

“I’m going to be looking for an avenue, a pathway. So that everyone gets a voice in being able to say how they feel about economic equity in this country. There is a disparity.

“It would be foolish for me to say that there isn’t a disparity, and I think that disparity has come about because we have not made enough information available to everyone in order to take advantage of opportunities.”

Asked if his Government will play an active role in addressing structural racism.

“We have to. We have no other choice. There’s too much going on, there’s too much at stake to continue with the walls of divisiveness that’s up there. The question is how do we do that.”

He said he had been talking to people like Dr Eva Hodgson and her brother, former Progressive Labour Party MP Arthur Hodgson about the need to make strides on race.

He said he liked their focus on resolving the issue of racism and “that something has to happen and that we haven’t really put anything in place that is addressing it. That means that its wide open for opportunity and so we’ve got to find a real way of doing that”.

Opposition Leader Marc Bean has signaled that his party will “evolve the narrative” on race. Dr Hodgson responded by harshly criticizing the PLP and its leaders saying that the party had failed to take a leadership position on race since its inception.

The Premier’s Cabinet consists of a number of Ministers who were once members of the now defunct United Bermuda Party which many say did little or nothing to address the legacy of racism and present day structural racism while in power.

“That doesn’t preclude the fact that they are open to address it. That just means that, whoever was leading at the time, certainly did not set it as a mandate,” he said.

“We have set that as something that we want to address. I, myself, as the leader and our Ministers understand that in their decision-making they’re going to have to start looking at this.

“That’s my mandate that I’m putting across to them — that we need to address it.”

He said he was grateful for their level of experience even if they had done nothing on race when in Government. “We do have a group that is in the room that has set it as a mandate.

“Just because you’ve got people who did not address it before does not preclude the fact that its not going to happen. This is a new day.”

Mr Cannonier refuted a suggestion that the 19 — 17 split between the political parties in the House of Assembly made for a precarious parliament.

“You may look at it and say from a party line that’s not very favorable.

“But just like competition in the entrepreneurial world, I think when you have that even level I think it brings about better legislation because you do have to be on your Ps and Qs, you have to be on point, otherwise you will get caught out,” he said.

“It is close, a 19 — 17 split is very, very close. But that means that, I believe, Bermuda should get better information and better legislation. That’s what it should lead to.”

But he acknowledged that having an Opposition MP as Speaker of the House will give his party a political advantage.

And he said that he had spoken to PLP MP Randy Horton, and others, about being the Speaker of the House of Assembly.

The Premier drives his own car to and from work, and not the official car GP1 which is reserved for ceremonial occasions, he said.

The Premier also laid out some of the major challenges his Government will tackle, with crime and job creation the priorities.

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Video: Bermuda Premier Craig Cannonier speaking about the economy and racism in Bermuda

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History of Slavery and racial issues in Bermuda

In 1503 the Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez discovers the islands and in 1609 English explorer Sir George Somers was shipwrecked on his way to Virginia and settles the island. In his honor Bermuda is renamed as the Somers Islands.

In the year 1684 Bermuda becomes an English crown colony.

The first enslaved Africans were brought to Bermuda in 1620s. The slave trade was outlawed in Bermuda in 1807 and all enslaved Africans were freed in 1834.

For 200 years, Bermuda’s colonists used enslaved Africans as cheap labor, on their land, aboard their ships and in their homes. Introduced soon after the Island’s settlement in 1612, slavery was an integral part of local society until 1834 when it was abolished throughout the British colonies.

Unlike the large plantations economies of the Caribbean or southern United States, Bermuda’s fortunes were fueled by the trade and commerce linked to maritime pursuits. While the Island’s first Africans were brought to farm tobacco and other produce, enslaved Africans of the 18th and 19th Centuries were more likely shipwrights, pilots, carpenters and craftsmen.

Slavery was a system of conflict and compromise. Owners embraced it for their material benefit and enslaved Africans fought back for the sake of their freedom. Along the way, whites and Africans influenced each other’s cultural lives, shaping the face of modern day society. Emancipation brought a new social order to the Island. yet the legacy of their enslaved past connects black Bermudians to those of African heritage throughout the world.

Source: National Museum of Bermuda

Bermuda Enslaved African Sale

Bermuda Enslaved African Sale

Bermuda Enslaved African Sale

Segregation existed throughout government as well as in theatres, banks, shops, restaurants, hospitals, churches and hotels.

In 1941 the United States of America established a military bases on the islands.

The Bermuda Theatre Boycott of 1959 was pivotal point in Bermudian affairs. The boycott was organized by the Progressive Group. It was the beginning of the end of segregated theatres and restaurants and hotels. The Theatre Boycott ended segregation in public places rapidly.

In 1961 Universal, but not equal, suffrage was achieved. It was not equal because landowners receive a plus vote.

Also, in 1961 the Restaurant Act in Bermuda created parity between black and white diners.

In 1963 Lois Browne-Evans became the first elected black woman member of the Bermuda Parliament and a first-generation Bermudian with West Indian roots. She was a member of the Progressive Labour Party.

In 1963 the Parliamentary Election Act was passed, giving every adult 25 years of age and above the right to vote. Universal adult suffrage was declared.

The proportion of white Police officers (mainly expatriate) in relation to the number of black Bermudian officers, particularly with regard to the racial make-up of Bermuda, was  a constant subject of debate amongst both Police officers and the public since the founding of the Force in 1879. In 1965, in an attempt to redress the unequal racial balance, senior officers went to Barbados specifically to recruit black officers. Selected applicants were interviewed and seven Barbadians were chosen to join six Bermudians on Basic Training Course number 7 (February to May 1966).

In 1966 the “plus” vote was abolished and the voting age for every Bermudian (by birth or grant) was lowered to 21 .

Also, in 1966 Ruth James was appointed Registrar General and  became the first black woman to head a Bermuda Government Department.

The April 25 and 26, 1968 Floral Pageant Riot. Until 1968, Bermuda had an afternoon off in April to put on the “Floral Pageant”. A race riot erupted in Hamilton, caused by the perception that whites only were being given access to an overcrowded fair. Troops were called to Bermuda from Britain on two occasions.

In 1968 Lois Browne-Evans becaome Bermuda’s first female barrister and later Bermuda’s first female Attorney General.

In 1971 Sir Edward Trenton Richards became first black Premier of Bermuda.

In 1973, Bermuda’s white governor, Sir Richard Sharples, and one of his aides were assassinated at the Government House. Scotland Yard eventually prosecuted and obtained convictions for 2 of the men involved. The hanging of the 2 men resulted in further riots in the black communities.

Erskine Durrant “Buck” Burrows was arrested in 1976. In his confession Burrows wrote:
The motive for killing the Governor was to seek to make the people, black people in particular, become aware of the evilness and wickedness of the colonialist system in this island. Secondly, the motive was to show that these colonialists were just ordinary people like ourselves who eat, sleep and die just like anybody else and that we need not stand in fear and awe of them.

Larry Tacklyn was acquitted of assassinating Sharples and Sayers but was convicted of killing Victor Rego and Mark Doe at Shopping Centre supermarket in April 1973.

In 1977 the government discussed independence because some of Bermuda’s blacks stated that independence from Britain could be a way to end racial discrimination.

In 1981 the Human Rights Act become law prohibiting racial discrimination.

In 1989 the voting age was changed to 18.

In  1995 Bermudians rejected a proposal of independence 2/3rds majority, mainly in fear due to the conditions that they saw with independence in Bahamas and Jamaica.

In 2004 the Premier announced the formation of Bermuda Independence Commission; new body is to debate cutting ties with Britain.

Bermuda Independence Commission

Bermuda Independence Commission

http://www.bermudaindependencecommission.bm

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Dr. Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon

Born in Trinidad and educated in Scotland, Dr. E.F. Gordon came to Bermuda to open a West End medical practice in 1924. Dr. Gordon championed the rights of black Bermudian nurses — whose American qualifications were not fully recognised by local medical authorities — to work in King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. And he took up the cause of Bermudian tradesmen working on the US new bases to earn the same higher wages as their American counterparts — a move strongly opposed by Bermuda’s political and business elite in case it produced an inflationary spiral in the local construction industry. By the 1940s he was attending to the island’s social as well as its medical needs on a full-time basis. Recruited to head the Bermuda Workers Association [the predecessor to the Bermuda Industrial Union, the island’s first modern labour movement emerged from the dispute involving Bermudians helping to construct the US bases in 1944].

In 1953 Dr. Gordon was appointed to the House of Assembly’s Inter-Racial Committee — created at the prompting of British political and diplomatic officials growing increasingly exasperated with the slow pace of meaningful change in Bermuda. The nine-member committee, comprised of four black and five white MCPs, was chaired by Sir Henry Tucker.

Dr. Gordon died of a heart attack on April 20, 1955. He was 60 years old.

Within a few years of Dr. Gordon’s death, the Progressive Group’s 1959 Theatre Boycott ended officially sanctioned segregation in Bermuda’s public places following a boycott of the island’s cinemas. Shortly afterwards the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage headed by Roosevelt Brown [later Dr. Pauulu Kamarakafego] was formed, prompting an urgent island-wide debate on the need for wholesale political reform.

Source: Bernews

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Video: Dr. Mazumbo Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon

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