RACIAL

Changing how we talk about racial divide – by Lynne Winfield

218 years of enslavement and 137 years of segregation have left Bermudians struggling with the legacies of intergenerational trauma and economic inequities across our society. A culture of silence and fear arose ensuring that past was suppressed and not talked about. People speak of the need to work together and the need for unity, however, the racial divide is widening, economic disparity between the races continues to grow, and social media is both educating and inflaming passions.

With direct descendants of enslaved people and slaveowners still living on the island, and sharing in many cases the same last name, we needed to find a way to speak to the divide and bring light and truth to our understanding of that past.

Since 2005 Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB) members have worked to sustain the conversations around racial justice issues and normalize the conversation on race.  In January 2017 we launched the Bermuda Truth & Reconciliation Community Conversations (TRCC), believing there was a growing need to change the way we talked about race, justice and poverty, and confront our history of racial trauma and inequality.

But we struggled with how to bring people together to talk about this past and its contemporary manifestations, whilst encourage them to stay in the room despite the challenging and at times raw conversation.  We discovered restorative practices training and we quickly realized how it could be adapted to a T&R process, and moved to ensure all our facilitators were trained through the International Institute for Restorative Practices (www.iirp.edu).

CURB recognized the real work towards conciliation must be a local one, for example larger ‘national’ events can be planned, but the best conversations occur with 10 – 20 people in a room building relationships forming a community through a lens of justice and equity.  Encouraging participants to speak about their experiences, with openness, authenticity and trust, close relationships are built. Relationships are the building-blocks of community. There cannot be ‘unity’ without building community.  There can be no systemic change without including relationship and trust building.

We also recognized the need to educate attendees about the history of colonial oppression, just as people were intimidated not to talk about it, we also understood that much of the past history had been suppressed and/or marginalized.  There was a great need to acknowledge and learn the true history and teach the stories of those who fought for freedom, whilst raising awareness that a legacy of intergenerational trauma and inequity continues to play out in our society.  By becoming conscious of root cause of the disconnect and misunderstandings that still persist, we can provide people with a way towards understanding and repairing the harm.

Telling one’s story can be cathartic and listening to other people’s stories can leads to empathy and understanding, displacing cynicism and distrust.  When you put yourself in others’ shoes, it is harder to think of them as “other.”  It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who said “My enemy is someone whose stories I don’t know.”

Through these small group conversations we inspire others to take what they learn into the broader community from person-to-person; group-to-group, ultimately creating policy changes.  In effect creating a tipping point where a groundswell of public opinion is formed who demand equality, equity and justice and seek solutions to bring some repair and healing to the past and its ongoing harms.

CURB designed scripts for the facilitators so that subject matters are introduced sequentially to take participants through a process of individual and community growth. Each session builds on the previous, guiding those who attend on how to talk about race in a supportive way, whilst also addressing the challenging issues in our lives and in the community.

During the seven weekly sessions, participants are encouraged to reflect upon what they have learned, and this reflection is supported by resources which can be read or watched at home to broaden understanding and knowledge.

We have seen these groups build community, learn and grow together, and find ways to create change within their own sphere of influence, and in the greater community.  We have seen transformations take place and lasting friendships formed.

Most importantly, groups come up with creative ideas to bring about social change and greater racial justice and equity in our society, which are recorded by CURB and will inform our National Plan for Race Relations in Bermuda.

Following the completion of the seven-week course, the TRCC Alumni are offered continued opportunities to get together to learn, support and encourage one another. Participants can create the change that they want by becoming actively involved in finding ways to build a better Bermuda, one that our children will be proud to inherit.

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