The Royal Gazette
Opinion (21 Nov. 2007)
On Saturday November 17th, The Royal Gazette published a Letter to the Editor from Dr. Eva Hodgson which took issue with a recent column of mine calling for an end to divisive, dishonest, racially polarizing politics.
Dr. Hodgson began by saying that “perspective is everything” and compared her experiences as a black woman with mine as “a white male who has probably never faced any form of discrimination, certainly not racism…”
Since I started this column, some have attempted to rewrite my life so that they can discredit me based on their prejudiced assumptions of me and my motivations. They reframe my views as racially driven, when in fact race is almost entirely unrelated to most of the issues of which I write.
Although I very rarely write about myself or my life – preferring issues, principles and values – and this column is not a forum for personal arguments, it’s time to explain why I’m so personally angry and outspoken about the scandalous events at the Bermuda Housing Corporation (BHC) and the deteriorating public education system in particular.
Contrary to Dr. Hodgson’s ill-informed and stereotyped portrayal of me in her letter, my grievances have nothing to do with race but a great deal to do with my connection with the victims of the BHC travesty. You see, I grew up in BHC housing.
As a child, my family struggled to afford housing in Bermuda, but we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to rent a home from the BHC. It was largely because of the support of the BHC that my parents could provide for their family; because of this subsidized rent, my parents were able to use their remaining income to send their children to the schools of their choice.
Yes, Dr. Hodgson, this “privileged” white boy grew up in Prospect in Government housing because, unlike the stereotype of the endlessly privileged white that you’ve painted me with, my family couldn’t afford to buy a home and struggled like so many others just to rent.
My present day situation is possible because of opportunities afforded to me by the BHC. It is inexcusable to me that anyone – worst of all government officials – could plunder the BHC for personal gain. I know firsthand how it feels to need the support of an agency like the BHC, and how well-managed government services can have a real and lasting improvement in people’s lives.
The reality is that the race of those implicated in the scandal is of no interest to me. What I do care about – what outrages me and so many others – is that senior members of the present Government apparently abused an agency founded to provide a hand-up. I’m outraged because, instead of using the BHC to help Bermudians, some in this Government helped themselves to the BHC.
It is perplexing then, to say the least, that I am consistently accused of racism, simply because I want public officials to be held accountable for exploiting an agency that primarily benefits struggling black families.
Has Bermuda’s racial climate become so distorted that it’s racist to criticize a handful of unethical politicians who happen to be black for the sake of thousands of black Bermudians in need?
Yet Dr. Hodgson and most likeminded critics of mine, implies that my outrage at this present government is built on a desire to return to all-white rule. That assertion has nothing to do with my views and everything to do with their stereotyped views of me. It is an insulting and offensive accusation.
But just what would I be returning to? I was born post-segregation into a working class family with a father who was as comfortable at Warwick Workman’s Club as at the Old Colony Club. I spent most of my childhood at a garage on Ord Road owned by my sister’s working-class black Godfather. You wouldn’t find us at Coral Beach, the Yacht Club or the Mid Ocean Club where I, like many Bermudians black and white, feel hopelessly out of place to this day.
I was never taught to view black and white Bermudians as separate or unequal. In my experience, we’re all just Bermudians. Why then would I want to go back to a time when things were otherwise; when racism was socially acceptable?
It seems that some do want a return to those days … they just want the racist shoe to be on the other foot awhile. These are the people who invoked white privilege when I asked for a comprehensive and independent review of our public school system – fully two years before the PLP Government finally decided it was due.
They saw the issue only in terms of race. They saw a white man criticizing black officials. They refused to see it for what it was: a Bermudian citizen criticizing Bermudian officials for neglecting the well-being of Bermudian students.
Perhaps most ridiculously, people routinely ask why I didn’t speak out when the UBP was in power. The reason for that is simple. When the UBP was in power, I was a kid. I was fresh out of university when the PLP took the reins with so much goodwill. I am part of the ever-growing generation of young Bermudians that have spent their adult lives under a PLP Government.
For me and others of my era, the PLP are the status quo. They don’t represent change, they represent the establishment. While my generation is grateful for the civil rights battles the party fought in the past, we are far more concerned about what the PLP is doing – and not doing - for Bermuda today, as the government in power. They haven’t embraced modern progressive politics but are locked in an antiquated battle against a white foe that has largely died off. I don’t have a dog in that fight.
The racialism and combativeness of the ‘60s is not useful in addressing today’s problems. Those critics with their old-fashioned and hardened views want to drag the rest of us back into their world by misrepresenting our words, our beliefs, our interactions and our experiences. They insult the values that I was raised with, and my family who are not all white.
We don’t all carry around the baggage of the 1960s. Not all of us categorize and stereotype people by race. Some of us, as Dr. Martin Luther King proposed, judge people on the content of their character, not the colour of their skin.
So yes, Dr. Hodgson, I guess I have been privileged, but not for the stereotyped reasons you say. I was privileged enough that when my family needed the help of the BHC, it wasn’t being looted and undermined by unethical politicians.
I was privileged enough that the BHC gave my family the ability to send me to the school of their choice. That’s why I passionately criticize the present government for the events at the BHC and falling education standards. Affordable housing and an excellent education are privileges that I want every Bermudian to enjoy.
As you said, Dr. Hodgson, “perspective is everything.” Your polarizing, stereotyping-based perspective is, with each successive generation of Bermudians, thankfully becoming a thing of the past.