The following article includes excerpts from interviews. The names of the interviewees have been changed to respect their privacy. The opinions expressed by the interviewees do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Spheres of Influence.
Bermuda is a British overseas territory located in the North Atlantic Ocean, largely known as a hub for tourism – but what many don’t hear about are Bermuda’s rich history and culture. In the early 1600s, Bermuda was predominantly home to White, British residents. However, with the forced influx of enslaved people from Africa and elsewhere in the West Indies, White people became a minority. Now, about 52% of Bermudians identify as Black and only around 31% identify as White. Yet, the social and economic climate in Bermuda is still structured to favor White citizens, despite their minority status. In an interview with Spheres of Influence, Kate, a Black Bermudian, and Jane, a half-Hispanic, half-Black Bermudian, share their insights on the sociopolitical environment in Bermuda and talk about how racial discrimination is certainly not a thing of the past.
Wealth Inequalities and Labor Disparities Fueled by Racism
“A lot of the tension between Black and White people stems from the knowledge that white people are richer,” Kate says. For context, White people in Bermuda reported a 30% higher income than Black people in 2010. In 2016, income for Black Bermudians dropped by 13% and income for White people increased by 1% between 2010 and 2016, according to a census report. This wealth disparity traces back to Bermuda’s past with colonization and slavery, as White Bermudians had already established themselves as the leaders of the island’s tourism and international finance sectors, which are the biggest contributors to Bermuda’s economy. Black Bermudians, on the other hand, had to work their way up from their enslaved statuses in order to establish themselves as an integral part of the Bermudian community.
“You can see this through housing,” Jane says. “Generally, White people are in better housing, housing that they own, whereas Black people rarely own their houses. There are certain areas in Bermuda that we know are affluent, with big mansions and larger lands, and this is where most White people live. Compared to the [United] States, there are definitely more Black people who live well off, but then again, that’s just because Black people are the majority of Bermuda.”
However, Kate describes how this is “not just the effect of things that happened way in the past. For example, there was this place called Tucker’s Town in the early 1900s where a lot of Black Bermudians lived. This was during a period of discrimination against Black people, who still weren’t taught to read, and White people used this knowledge of the Black people’s illiteracy to offer them ‘financial help.’ But in reality, they made them sign a contract and took all the land for themselves. They did this a lot with other good areas of land and that’s why they do economically better because land is expensive in Bermuda and the White people get good money off of it. It’s like if you see a White person in Bermuda, you assume that they’re rich and you’re right, and that’s where the tensions between Black and White people ensue.”
“And racism in Bermuda doesn’t just extend to Black people,” Jane continues. “It extends to Hispanics, and especially Filipinos. My mom will always complain about Filipinos because they’re coming to take our jobs, in her words. And most Black adults I know do this too and just perpetuate this stereotype of Asians taking our jobs, which sets a dangerous precedent for more anti-Asian discrimination. My mom works in the hotel business and she said a lot of people don’t want to hire Black Bermudians. Instead, there are a lot of white expats who have these big job titles and they’re basically displacing Black Bermudian job opportunities.” Bermuda’s government doesn’t seem to be helping this case. For instance, the government failed to legislate a workplace equity bill in 2007 that people believe would have helped equalize the income levels between Black and White Bermudians instead of widening this gap.
Privilege and Discrimination in the Classroom
One of the most apparent examples of the wealth disparity between Black and White people is in Bermuda’s education system, especially in the hierarchy between public and private schools. Private schools in Bermuda were segregated during colonial times when only White students could enroll in private schools. Although such regulations have been abolished, private schools charge massive amounts of money compared to the free tuition offered in public schools.
“Because White people are richer, private institutions are filled with mostly White kids and most Black kids end up in public schools,” Jane says. “There are definitely Black people who went to private schools like us, but that’s only because of scholarships. We went to Bermuda High School (BHS) and most of the Black students there were scholarship kids, like all our friends.” In 2021, Clarien Bank, one of the main banks in Bermuda, offered funding to assist non-White students entering private schools, a decision which garnered great criticism because it was thought to reinforce the notion that historically White, private schools were superior to non-White majority public schools. Instead, Bermudians suggested that such funding should have gone to improving public school education.
“It’s not a secret that people believe Bermudian public schools to have a worse quality of education and that they need to improve the public education system. For example, Bermudians from public schools usually do not go off to universities abroad. Those who do are mainly White and from private schools, because Black people are so so financially disadvantaged compared to White Bermudians that we don’t have the money for universities abroad, to begin with, unless they get scholarships, like us,” Kate says. Kate also attributes this to the Bermudian government and the ministry of education, who have failed in implementing the fundamentals of good education, such as meticulously training educators. Because of this, Kate and other Bermudians believe predominantly-Black public schools are failing in producing successful academic and employment futures for Black Bermudians.
“There are also disparities in what public schools teach compared to what private schools teach,” Kate continues. “For example, I went to public school in my early years, and in public schools, all we learned was Bermudian history and culture. But in private school, you don’t learn it for the most part.”
“Exactly,” Jane agrees. “In all 13 years of my life at BHS, I took history for maybe 8 or 9 of those years and I only learned Bermudian history for a couple of months, because it’s a White institution.”
Tracing the Roots of Systemic Racism in Bermuda
When asked what they believe to be the root cause of inequity and systemic racism in Bermuda, both Kate and Jane relate it back to British colonial rule.
“For example, wealth inequality in Bermuda is definitely a surviving effect of colonialism. Bermuda was established as a slave port upon its discovery, and rich, White people came there to participate in the slave trade. Black Bermudians and most other non-White Bermudians, on the other hand, were the slaves, and if you’re in Bermuda and you’re not White, you most definitely have some slave ancestry,” Kate says.
“I personally have not experienced any obvious forms of racism, and that’s probably because Bermuda does have a predominantly Black population,” Jane says. “However, I’m not saying that racism does not exist in Bermuda, because it does, but just in implicit, systemic ways.” Social justice reform groups in Bermuda have advocated against the systemic racism that Black Bermudians face, especially when it comes to being targeted by the criminal justice system, such as through police mistreatment. In 2018, it was reported that 97% of Bermuda’s prison population was Black, highlighting the Bermudian government’s disproportionate targeting of Black people.
Without changes in legislation enacted by the Bermudian government, the wealth inequality gap between Black and White Bermudians may never be narrowed, and the quality of education for predominantly-Black public schools may never improve. Rather, it would just enforce the systemic racism prevalent in Bermuda, even with the island’s Black majority. But with the help of every individual in Bermuda speaking out against acts of racism they witness and advocating for stronger approaches to addressing the wealth and education disparities, there is hope for Bermuda to slowly eradicate the racist traces of its daunting colonial legacy.
Edited by Chelsea Bean