Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dr. Eva Hodgson Speaks About Race

Some people really are stuck in the past.

Every community has a men and women who insist on framing the modern world in the thinking of a time now passed. In Bermuda one such a person is Dr. Eva Hodgson. I intend no criticism of her personally, but I must admit there was palm-to-face action as I read her recent two part opinion piece in the Royal Gazette.

As far I can tell her point was twofold. Firstly that more needs to be done to combat the racism that she believes still exists in Bermuda and secondly that Bermuda needs to abandon the party system. On both counts I disagree..

On the first suggestion, that not enough is being done to combat racism Dr. Hodgson has a number of arguments which she unfortunately begins with the suggestion that:
"All whites benefited from the system even if they were neither employers nor politicians."
 Which unfortunately is neither true, nor helpful in combating the racial divisions in our society.

Let us take as an example to illustrate why that statement is not true whites who have immigrated from Eastern Europe since the end of slavery, they certainly weren't benefiting from the racist system of the 60s were they? Nor were the Irish, many of whom were only just getting out of poverty themselves after centuries of subjugation under the English.

Sentiments like that, which stereotype on the basis of race (i.e. are examples of racism), simply make it easier for certain people to adopt a "whites are bad" or "whites are out to get me" kind of mentality which, in turn, make it harder to tackle the disparities between the races and stoke racial tensions. It is through no malice that Dr. Hodgson makes that statement though, that I am sure. Her intentions are undoubtedly good, the problem is that she seems unable to widen her focus from anything, but race.

Let us examine the various examples of seeming preoccupation with race in the piece:

She says of the situation following universal suffrage:
"it was logical that the black Community would now wish to ensure that they had a majority of those who would represent their majority status and their interest among the decision makers."
Which is an understandable sentiment of that time.

Dr. Hodgson further comments on the racial make up of our legislature in lamenting the split in the PLP which:

"Reduced the number of blacks in Parliament." 
In both these statements we see one suggestion that is constant: that the colour of a politician trumps all, even looking back from today.Had this been presented in a "this was what the thinking was like then" way there would be no disagreement from me, but Dr. Hodgson seems to suggest she holds that view even now. I am sure it is self evident that basing a political decision on race is a bad idea, so I will simply leave it at that as an example of her unfailing focus on race.

It doesn't stop at politicians though. Dr. Hodgson also says:
"It also meant that as well intentioned blacks set their mind on positive social goals those goals became integration with whites and not justice for all blacks.
The general idea, that justice is more important than integration, is an interesting one. On the surface it seems reasonable, but when one actually considers what integration means it becomes significantly less rational sounding. Integration means, essentially, that race is irrelevant (because everyone lives and works together regardless) and that one is judged on the content of one's character, rather than on the colour of one's skin. If that isn't justice then I don't know what is. Leading civil rights activists have dreamed of such a world throughout the struggle, how strange now that Dr. Hodgson should decide that apparently it shouldn't be our priority. Apparently wide spread racial discrimination is still possible, even when race is no longer relevant in the decision making process of the majority of people! Go figure! When we remember Dr. Hodgson's borderline obsession with race it is no surprise that this argument is made, but once again the intentions are good. The only problem is that her obsession blinds her to reality.

As I have argued before, the disparities in income between the races now have little or nothing to do with race any more. If we imagined that everyone in Bermuda woke up tomorrow and found themselves coloured purple what would change? Would the next generation of purple people porn to those on or near the poverty line (many of whom were previously black) have it any easier than their parents? Or would the poverty trap prove itself just as inescapable in Bermuda as in other countries? I would hazard a guess that the poverty trap would be just as strong and the poor would stay poor, while the rich stayed rich. I.e. it is socioeconomic status, not race that causes the continuing disparity. Of course the origin of the problem is indeed race, but that is no longer what perpetuates it. We have two options:
  • Large scale re-distribution of wealth from the wealthy to the poor so that everyone ends up equal
  • Improving education/support for our youth so as to ensure that anyone who has the skills and the drive will succeed.
I know which one I prefer. What about Ms. Hodgson?

Neither! In fact there is only one thing that needs to be said about this topic according to Ms. Hodgson:
"Many of us have been angered by both the resistance and the dishonesty of the white community over the issue of the Equity Bill and the disparity between black and white salaries"
Ahh.. of course.. The implication that those who oppose it, oppose it because they're white, while any true black would support it.. That's constructive and, as usual, shows her inability to move beyond race.

In case we needed another example:
"even be occasions when some of those who are now white UBPers would agree with some of those who are now black PLPers"
 Goodness gracious I don't believe my eyes! A UBP supporter agreeing with a PLP supporter! Surely no!

Well firstly don't call me Surely (R.I.P.) and secondly don't overstate the level of racism in society. The UBP has been shown to have around a 50-50 black-white support base and from what I can tell the majority disagree with the PLP not because it has a lot of black people in it, but because they seriously believe it is taking the country in the wrong direction.

There was a time when race was the defining characteristic of a person and when it was necessary to take it into account when making decisions on how to better the country because that was how society worked and the only way to correct for society's obsession with race was to push back equally hard. However that time has passed, the majority of us no longer think in terms of black and white and I genuinely believe that the majority of employers in IB are no different. To continue to think in terms of black and white puts us at risk of ignoring the realities and problems of today in favour or assuming they are the same as yesterday. Dr. Hodgson correctly suggests that economic disparity and the existence of an underclass is a major problem in our society, but she illustrates my point in that the only cause she can conceive of is race. As good as her intentions are she is no better than the racists of old, both shared the same obsession with race. The legal guarantees of equality have all been won an it is now time to put race to bed. Our future, as much as even its mention causes anger in some sectors of the community, is colour blindness. I believe it's possible.

But perhaps thats just wishful thinking?