Mr. Speaker, I rise today to highlight a public consultation exercise that the Ministry of Labour, Community Affairs and Sports, is embarking on to address race relations in Bermuda.
Mr. Speaker, Bermuda’s community is one that is vibrant, diverse and steeped in history. Our ancestries hail from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.
In fact Mr. Speaker as the Hon. Premier noted during his official welcome of His Excellency the President of the Regional Government of the Azores, Vasco Cordeiro – Bermuda’s people are descendants of Africans and West Indians; Englishmen and Scotsmen; Pequots, Italians and Azoreans.
We are truly a melding of traditions, ideologies and human stories. Our collective histories are entwined against the backdrop of our cultural and racial diversity.
Mr. Speaker, we recognize that for generations Bermuda’s history has also been fraught with tensions and disagreements particularly when it comes to the topics of race, diversity, inclusion and equality.
We also recognize that the issues of racial inequity and race relations can be difficult and complex discussions for us to have as a people. But I believe that as a community, we should have the courage, openness and vulnerability to have these important conversations.
And Mr. Speaker, I believe we have a unique opportunity to do so.
With that in mind, Mr. Speaker, our Ministry is taking the bold step of inviting honest and direct engagement from the community about how Bermuda can address and improve the relationships between the various sub-communities on our island. We need this community feedback in order to spark an informed and insightful dialogue that embraces our shared experiences.
But most important Mr. Speaker, we want our community to share their thoughts and views on possible solutions: on how we can better the connections between the races.
Essentially what we are seeking via public feedback is the following:
- Do you think that Bermuda’s race relations have gotten better in the past five years?
- What do you believe we can do either individually or as a community that will improve race relations?
- What is the greatest stumbling block to us coming together as Bermudians? and;
- With regards to the historical issues between the black and white communities, what does resolution look like?
Mr. Speaker, we are open to hearing all suggestions and approaches of how we can address this issue – whether it’s more education about our collective history in our schools, whether it’s reviewing inequitable policies or laws that have existed on our legislative books or whether it’s introducing or creating a cultural facility that showcases our racial and historical legacy.
Mr. Speaker, our Government is committed to addressing our racial divisions, and to aid us in our mission, we have sought the involvement of a variety of our community partners to hear about the significant works they have done on this matter.
For example, we’ve had meetings with Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB) to discuss their progress and to hear their feedback.
And we have met with the Association of Bermuda International Companies (ABIR) to discuss what the international business community can do to address the concerns regarding employment disparities.
I believe that we are at a stage where we can have an honest and thoughtful dialogue.
We have seen the best of what can be accomplished when we come together as a community.
An example of this, over the Emancipation Day holiday and during our recent celebrations for the 170th anniversary of the arrival of the first Portuguese immigrants to Bermuda.
Leading up to Cup Match, Mr. Speaker, we celebrated the 185th year of the abolition of slavery in Bermuda and had a time for reflection.
As part of our Ministry’s commitment to commemorate this historical milestone the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs has hosted and supported a number of public events over the past several years which highlighted the resistance to slavery such as the conspiracy of 1761, the trial of Sally Bassett, and the poisoning conspiracies of the late 1720s.
Mr. Speaker, we have also tried to share with our community key educational information about our history before slavery, including research by Boston University professors Drs Thornton and Heywood indicating the Angolan roots of the original African-Bermudian population; as well as the post-emancipation contributions of black Bermudians, including the role of our Friendly Societies, the significance of black entrepreneurship, and the five-year “trail of our people” programme that charted the contributions of unsung champions who supported the black community through the post-abolition and segregation eras.
Mr. Speaker, there is a long and rich heritage that we have to draw from, and these are the stories that Bermudians need to know and claim as a way of bolstering a sense of national pride, identity and purpose.
As part of our ongoing cultural education efforts Mr. Speaker, the Department has also highlighted our National Hero Mary Prince, as her story is an integral part of our national narrative.
This will include a statue in her honour in a public park that will provide a space to reflect on not only the legacy of Mary Prince, but those that have carried the baton and made significant personal sacrifices to effect social change in our country.
Mr. Speaker I referenced another observance which in my view helped to expand our historical understanding and bring our community together.
We recently had a public holiday to recognise the 170th anniversary of the arrival of the first Portuguese immigrants in Bermuda.
Mr. Speaker, you and the Honourable Members of this house joined the Government and members of our Portuguese community in participating in a number of events from November 2 – 4, to celebrate this occasion.
We were also very pleased to welcome the President of the Azores, His Excellency Vasco Cordeiro and a delegation to Bermuda for the occasion.
History tells us Mr. Speaker that in 1849, the first Portuguese immigrants arrived on Bermuda’s shores from Madeira, leaving behind their families and all that is familiar.
For nearly two centuries, their vibrant customs, unique traditions, distinct language and fascinating personal histories have been woven into Bermuda’s story.
Mr. Speaker I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that Portuguese residents and Bermudians of Portuguese descent have played a significant role in Bermuda’s social, economic, political and cultural advancement.
So Mr. Speaker, I use these as examples… as we have a rich history to draw upon which indicate shared commonalities of our people regardless of race.
And yes Mr. Speaker, whilst it’s important to understand how we got here, it’s also important to know where we are going and what we will do as individuals and as a community to advance race relations in Bermuda.
My vision is for a just and equitable community that embraces diversity and supports all Bermudians.
We are a small, proud, tightly-knit community and we can be an example to the world of how a country can find ways of addressing the issues born from a complicated and painful history in order to move forward together.
Mr. Speaker, how we move forward must come from our community, and we genuinely seek the public’s ideas on how we can improve race relations in Bermuda.
With that in mind Mr. Speaker, I invite interested members of the public to visit our Citizens Forum online at forum.gov.bm and share your thoughts as to how we can improve our racial connections in Bermuda.
It is my intention to keep this moving forward and I will come back this House with those recommendations from the public that will help us to improve race relations in Bermuda and how we can assist with implementing them.
Thank you Mr. Speaker.