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.
In a continuation of a recent Spheres of Influence article on how youth in Bermuda navigate systemic racism and the impacts of colonialism, two Bermudian racialized youth, Kate and Jane, discuss recent issues and events in Bermuda over the past few years that have highlighted tensions between youth and older generations.
A High Cost of Living
In a 2022 global index of cities with the highest cost of living, Hamilton – the capital of Bermuda – ranked first. “I think that one of the main ways you can see this is through retail,” Kate says. “Bermuda is incredibly dependent on imports for its material resources, but that comes with high amounts of duty fees, which means very few people shop retail items in Bermuda.” In turn, this has led to a decline in retail sales, which fell 16.3% in October 2021 in part due to the impact of COVID-19 and increased duty fees.
“Even if we were to order something online, it would take months to get here and we would pay almost double [the] price due to taxes, customs, and duty fees,” Jane says. “So instead, what people do is they travel to another country, buy clothes and other retail items, and pay customs when they come back. That’s actually cheaper than shipping something from abroad to Bermuda.”
The cost of housing is also an issue in Bermuda. “Our housing market is insane. I have an extremely tiny house in Bermuda… and it’s worth roughly 10 million dollars. You’re lucky if you own a house or land in Bermuda, especially land,” Jane continues. The average rental price of a one-bedroom apartment in Bermuda was over $3000 CAD a month in 2017. In comparison, an equivalent apartment in Toronto – one of Canada’s most expensive cities for housing – costs around $1132 CAD a month in 2017. “We do get paid higher wages to make up for the high cost of living,” Kate says. “But for Black Bermudians like me, it’s even harder because people don’t want to hire Black Bermudians. My mom, for example, is [in] the second-highest position at her hotel job and she’s still not getting enough to fully support our family of three.”
“Moreover, our electricity bills are expensive as well because we have one company that supplies electricity,” Jane adds. The Bermuda Electric Light Company is the only distributor of electricity in Bermuda and uses fuel oil and diesel which are imported from overseas suppliers. Therefore, customs fees apply, raising the cost of electricity in Bermuda.
In addition, generational dynamics seem to play a part in the annually increasing cost of living in Bermuda. In 1993, the average sales price of houses sold on the island was just below $400,000 BMD; in 2017, that price increased by 300% to a startling $1.6 million BMD. Jane attributes this in part to the debt that Bermuda has built up over the years, which negatively impacts the younger generations’ ability to purchase homes in Bermuda.
COVID-19 and Misinformation
The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected Bermuda’s economy. As tourism is one of Bermuda’s largest economic sectors, the lack of overseas visitors during the pandemic led to the shutdown of cruise ships, airports, and hotels, which employ around 69% of Bermuda’s workforce. “Before the pandemic, a pressing issue for Bermuda was how much debt we’re in for such a tiny island,” Jane says, “and COVID-19 did not help this.” By 2021, Bermuda had an outstanding government debt of around $3.8 billion CAD, which increased tremendously since 2020 due to the COVID-19 response.
The government’s response to the pandemic also increased societal tensions in Bermuda. “When COVID-19 restrictions began, everybody was angered by the government because they imposed the restrictions, but honestly, they weren’t even that bad,” Kate says, “but Black Bermudians even started comparing COVID-19 restrictions to slavery about how having to show COVID-19 documents paralleled Black people needing to show papers proving their identity, or how the control of the government paralleled the control of slaveowners.”
“Then the conspiracy theories about the vaccine began,” Kate continues. “My family was adamantly anti-vax because they heard from a friend [that] her infertility problems were a result of receiving the vaccine. When I got vaccinated without their permission, they were all so mad and kept asserting that I would never have children in the future. And this was true for almost every one of my friends, whose older family members would be completely against their decisions to get vaccinated.”
As of May 2022, Bermuda has had 14,755 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 138 deaths. In February 2021, only around 10% of Bermuda’s population were fully vaccinated. Fortunately, that percentage has risen to around 75% by May 2022. Kate says that Black Bermudians are less likely to get vaccinated than White Bermudians, and in January 2021, it was reported that only 14% of Bermudians registered for a COVID-19 vaccine were Black. This stems from a complex legacy of medical mistreatment when Black people were used as experimental subjects and low-income Black women were nonconsensually sterilized. As such, the Bermudian government vouched to increase communication in order to encourage vaccine reception to vaccine-hesitant Black communities.
Same-Sex Marriage Ban
Another social issue in Bermuda that has highlighted the discord between older and younger generations of Bermudians is same-sex marriage, which has a turbulent recent history. In May 2017, the Bermudian Supreme Court voted to legalize same-sex marriage after a gay couple appealed their marriage application rejection. Yet, just a year later in 2018, the Bermudian government legislated the Domestic Partnership Act, which permitted same-sex partnerships, but not marriages, in contradiction to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Most recently, in March 2022, the United Kingdom’s Privy Council, which is the final court of appeals for Bermuda, sided with the Bermudian government and claimed that the 2018 Act was constitutional, officially prohibiting same-sex marriage in Bermuda. In defense of its decision, especially as same-sex marriage is legal in the United Kingdom, the Privy Council stated that international acts and other nations’ constitutions are separate from Bermuda’s constitution and cannot be used to influence Bermuda’s lack of recognition for same-sex marriage.
Kate and Jane attribute this ban to the fundamentalist, radicalized Christian beliefs of many Bermudian adults. “The consensus of the majority of Bermudians, who are predominantly Christians,” Kate explains, “is that being gay is a sin against God.” Anti-LGBTQ+ organizations such as Preserve Marriage Bermuda contend that marriage should be between a man and a woman because of the words of God, and have asserted that they will be continuing their fight against same-sex marriage efforts.
Perhaps more so than religion, Kate and Jane also believe that this issue is connected to the older generation’s desire for tradition. “I remember this one time when my mom and I went to a supposed ‘movie night’ at our church,” Jane says. “When we got there, we realized that it was instead a rally against gay marriage. It’s always been this way, where Bermudian elders will preach conventional opinions to the public using the Bible so that everyone will somehow adhere to a ‘tradition’ that doesn’t allow homosexuality.”
Youth Reflections on Generational Differences
The same-sex marriage ban and the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 were eye-opening moments for Kate and Jane that shone a light on the tensions between older and younger generations in Bermuda. According to Jane, it revealed how “[older Bermudians] will use any means possible to maintain tradition on any issue.” “Even when the government argued against same-sex marriage,” Kate says, “they made sure to mention that international influence cannot play a part in their decision, because the older generations are so shut off to other cultures, other lifestyles.”
When asked how a better future can be paved for Bermuda, Kate and Jane both agree that change can only be propelled under the leadership of Bermudian youth. “Most of the people who speak out about Bermuda’s unjust issues are the younger generation,” Kate says, “so honestly, we’re sort of the only ‘hope’ for Bermuda’s underrepresented minorities.”
“But it’s still complicated because there are kids who hold the prejudiced beliefs that their homophobic parents instilled in them,” Jane continues. “I think it’ll be a struggle to combat the deep roots of familiarity still present in some youth. But there is definitely hope that social change can be propelled in Bermuda by our generation, and I’m quite excited to see what lies ahead in Bermuda’s future.”
Edited by Chelsea Bean