Let’s talk about race

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  • All smiles: one of Curb's four

    All smiles: one of Curb's four "community conversation" groups found a gratifying mutual trust, even while delving into painful topics (Photograph supplied)

Volunteers are needed to sustain “community conversations” from the group Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, which reported a successful first year.

Feedback from the race talks are “clearly showing that we are on the right track”, according to Curb president Lynne Winfield.

Now the group faces a challenge in maintaining the popular endeavour, aimed at fostering understanding.

“What is amazing is to witness the people who come into the room, and can’t wait for the next session,” Ms Winfield said.

“People realise they are part of an important process that is helping them and broadening their understanding of a complex issue.” But she acknowledged concerns about continuing the venture, which she called “a big worry” for the group.

“As a completely volunteer organisation, reliant on charitable giving, we face a huge task in sustaining the community conversations moving forward.”

Two rounds of talks, which are ultimately hoped will build a critical mass of at least 1,000 participants, went ahead in 2016.

The Royal Gazette spoke anonymously with persons who had taken part in the seven-week Truth and Reconciliation Community Conversations, announced in January 2017.

A 61-year-old black Bermudian participant called it “a good experience”, having joined in both this year’s sessions.

She said: “In the latest one, people were more expressive — it was very emotional. I left feeling that Bermuda is not as far ahead as we think we are — we are still divided.”

However, she felt heartened to learn that “you can have an influence”.

“I believe I can still make a difference for my country that I love. We can make examples for others to follow. We have all the right material — I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

She was sceptical that white Bermudians could candidly listen to the experiences of black Bermudians. She recalled one white participant telling the group that “she was in some kind of tunnel — she saw one part of the country and never saw the other half”.

She added: “That leaves you kind of like a horse with blinkers. She was amazed.”

Discussions revealed widely different experiences between black and whites, such as being pulled over while abroad and being asked “where you got the car from”.

“That’s when we got more emotional — when stories started to come out.”

Ms Winfield noticed that at the close of each session “there is a real reluctance to finish — and some have committed to sustaining the conversations in their own groups”.

Ms Winfield added: “People come to the TRCC for different reasons, with different needs. Some come with certain expectations, and some with their own personal agenda. The challenge is to meet those needs as best we can in a facilitated and supportive environment.

“Some come to tell their stories and share their pain; others come because they know something is wrong and wish to understand why there is ongoing division in our community; others come because they want action and to find a way forward.

“There are those in the room who still have hope, despite their overwhelming disillusion and pain with the discrimination they have experienced.”

Ms Winfield said that 95 per cent of feedback was “positive” — and Curb was using suggestions to adjust the talks.

In 2018, she said, “we will be reaching out to the people of Bermuda to help us continue to provide this important resource to our community”.

“We will seek help from the business community and Government. Most importantly, we will be seeking individuals who are willing to be trained in restorative practices and racial justice to help continue the work by volunteering their time and energy.”

A black Bermudian recalled telling a black friend that he had signed up — only to get the response: “Why are you bothering talking with white people? Use your energy to build up our (black) community first!” He said: “This somewhat surprised me, but I understood where he was coming from. There are a myriad of philosophies in regards to improving race relations ranging from focusing exclusively on strengthening the black community first, to direct engagement with white Bermudians.

“I figure both can be progressed in tandem. One doesn’t have to take priority over the other.”

He admitted to holding “reservations about Curb” that were allayed after meeting Ms Winfield and the facilitators who guided the talks.

“Over those seven weeks, the participants were able to voice their opinions and outlook on many topics like, for example, the Bermudian ‘history’ we’ve been taught.

“The facilitators created a safe environment where most felt comfortable to honestly and openly express their feelings.”

At the close of the seven weeks, he said all members agreed that “these conversations must continue”.

“It’s not about getting white people to ‘like us’ or ‘accept us’,” he said. “If we can get black and white Bermudians in a place where they are open to listen to each other, then the ‘education’ begins. But it is also about ‘changing minds’ so ‘preaching to the converted’ is almost a waste of time. We’ve got to bring people together who don’t normally interact except on a superficial level.”

He added: “A try is better than grumbling that nothing will change.”

A 67-year-old black male joined after discovering “how much ignorance there seemed to be by older white males (even those who I thought to be liberal and progressive or very logical and ethical) about significant themes in the black Bermuda world”.

Few white Bermudian males seemed to take part, he said, while “plenty” of white female participants joined.

“The exercise requires that one must not come with an agenda to win ‘converts’ or to ‘educate the uneducated’.

“This would probably be very difficult for most males and would be extremely unusual for the typical Bermuda scenario, which depends on a structured social pecking order in which unpleasant topics are avoided.”

Curb’s next round of talks start on January 30.

To learn more, e-mail admin@uprootingracism.org.

I was keen to hear ordinary people’s views

As a white Bermudian, 43 years old, I took a natural interest in Curb’s truth and reconciliation talks.

While the discussions occasionally included members of Curb, I was especially keen to hear ordinary people’s experiences and views, and I appreciated the candour that emerged in our small group.

Curb were adamant on creating a safe space, and it worked. There was an intimacy, even when members of the group disagreed or misunderstood one another.

As with any group, some of us were more talkative and others less so.

Reporters in Bermuda often cover race-related topics, but I found my weekly meetings with the group instructive. Some of the black participants described the distrust that they held for white people, which for many of us might be difficult to hear.

Critics of Curb have tended to view the enterprise as anti-white, which I expect will prove a challenge for the group. That was not my experience, however.

Jonathan Bell

What does Curb want

The group’s “community conversations” on race are aimed at reaching more than 1,000 Bermudians over the next four years.

The goal is to “create a paradigm shift in society”, Curb president Lynne Winfield said, with collaboration between people who have experienced the talks.

Ultimately, the group seeks to develop “a natural plan for reconciliation”.

As the talks proceed, she said the goal was to “forge relationships and build community”.

Participants are encouraged to “broaden your knowledge about past history and legacies”.

They will also “participate in authentic conversations, by speaking one’s truth and hearing other’s truths”.

Through sharing experiences, the aim is for participants to “come up with actions and ideas to bring about racial justice, equity and healing”.

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Published Jan 10, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 10, 2018 at 6:15 am)

Let’s talk about race

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