Recently, in the Wall Street Journal, guest columnist Shelby Steele wrote a very incisive commentary entitled "Why Jesse Jackson Hates Obama".
Steele articulates in the American context exactly what I've always considered the problem with the PLP's approach to race but have never been able to express well (emphasis mine):
Mr. Jackson was always a challenger. He confronted American institutions (especially wealthy corporations) with the shame of America's racist past and demanded redress. He could have taken up the mantle of the early Martin Luther King (he famously smeared himself with the great man's blood after King was shot), and argued for equality out of a faith in the imagination and drive of his own people. Instead -- and tragically -- he and the entire civil rights establishment pursued equality through the manipulation of white guilt.
Their faith was in the easy moral leverage over white America that the civil rights victories of the 1960s had suddenly bestowed on them. So Mr. Jackson and his generation of black leaders made keeping whites "on the hook" the most sacred article of the post-'60s black identity.
They ushered in an extortionist era of civil rights, in which they said to American institutions: Your shame must now become our advantage. To argue differently -- that black development, for example, might be a more enduring road to black equality -- took whites "off the hook" and was therefore an unpardonable heresy. For this generation, an Uncle Tom was not a black who betrayed his race; it was a black who betrayed the group's bounty of moral leverage over whites. And now comes Mr. Obama, who became the first viable black presidential candidate precisely by giving up his moral leverage over whites.
Mr. Obama's great political ingenuity was very simple: to trade moral leverage for gratitude. Give up moral leverage over whites, refuse to shame them with America's racist past, and the gratitude they show you will constitute a new form of black power. They will love you for the faith you show in them.
Read the whole thing, it's well worth it, but that section is very relevant to Bermuda.
The Big Con(versation) in Bermuda is an official exercise in the manipulation and amplification of white guilt. Ewart Brown said as much in the contentious post-election interview with BBC Caribbean:
EB: This discomfort is part of the healing.
NN: But but it could also make the problem worse…
EB: I don’t think so. We take the risk of healing the country. It’s a risk you have to take.
NN: But you see, you see Premier, the first thing you are doing is reaching out to your black electorate. You haven’t said anything as of yet about reaching out to the white part of your population and that …
EB: That’s because you didn’t raise it.
The PLP forged both their ideology and identity during the tumultuous times of the 1960s and 1970s. Ewart Brown in particular spent his formative years in the US Civil Rights movement not Bermuda's. It should not come as a surprise then that his politics are precisely those of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
Steele's comments on Uncle Toms are incredibly relevant to Bermuda as well; they explain why the PLP attack non-PLP blacks as sell-outs, house n*ggers and white apologists:
For this generation, an Uncle Tom was not a black who betrayed his race; it was a black who betrayed the group's bounty of moral leverage over whites.
Black UBP candidates know precisely what this is all about; being black and not in the PLP is the ultimate sin.
Blacks who join the UBP have made a decision to pursue a partnership which cannot exist with a continued focus on exploiting white guilt and demand that blacks fall in lockstep with the sole legitimate black political ideology of the PLP.
Stan Ratteray (who I had the honour of spending time with for a few years before he passed away) for example fought as a key member of the Progressive Group with the Theatre Boycott to end segregation and then became a UBP MP.
You can't argue that he didn't support civil rights, but he did eschew manipulating white guilt as a political strategy.
Politicians across both parties in Bermuda admire and dare I say envy Obama. One of Obama's challenges is that many people are trying to latch onto his popularity, but - at the risk of appearing to be one of those - substantively and temperamently, the politics of the PLP are the antithesis of Obama's.
As Steele so well demonstrates, Obama expressly rejects the identity politics that the PLP thrive on and that the US Republicans and Jesse Jackson style black-Democrats have used to great success.
Obama has translated this into incredible cross over appeal, creating a not insignificant conservative support base, even though he's a Democrat.
Without a doubt he is also a very savvy political operator, he is not the Messiah by any means, as demonstrated in Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker's excellent essay over almost a month ago (the essay of which seemed to get lost in controversy over the cover cartoon).
His language is conciliatory; he is an incrementalist not a revolutionary; he is a coalition builder; he seeks to bring people together and bridge differences.
I think these traits are part of who he is as an individual (coupled with extraordinary charisma, intelligence and rhetorical skills), but you can't ignore the fact that he has to be these things because he is in the demographic minority in the US.
As are the UBP in Bermuda.
Obama's campaign knows that it has to address race, but avoids it as a central issue as much as it can.
If he is pigeon-holed as "The Black Candidate" he loses. During the Primaries the Clinton campaign tried unsuccessfully (and delicately) to make this stick, but the intent was clear.
What's the parallel in Bermuda? It's obvious. The PLP's primary objective is to make sure that the UBP are "The White Party".
While the UBP tries to generally avoid race, the PLP make sure it's injected into every press release - both implicitly and explicitly. The UBP try and build a coalition, but it's a delicate one that has suffered from them ceding their branding to the PLP for at least a decade. (Obama's branding on the other hand is masterful.)
I don't want to go too far off into Obama-land, but like Steele demonstrates in his column, what is causing such tension in Bermuda now is the full-court press on white guilt.
Because while the PLP often point out that whites vote overwhelmingly for the UBP as proof of racism, what doesn't get said is that the PLP's explicit appeals to black racial solidarity and identity, coupled with language which is exclusionary not inclusive, has the equal and opposite effect of driving white support away.
The PLP's appeal to whites to join the party is based on white guilt: "You're a racist if you don't join us." Not the most welcoming invitation is it.
This is an easy win win for their identity politics driven approach as they're in the demographic majority. Sadly demographics are a crude fact of life in politics.
For the PLP they're also a political luxury, one that Obama doesn't have in the US, but also something that he may not need.
The UBP had better be taking notes.