The Third Bermuda

A paradigm shift to heal an island


Bermudians are a divided people, in more ways than one. This is painfully obvious to anyone who has lived on the island.

Black or white. Rich or poor. Foreign or local. Sinner or saved. Progressive Labour Party (PLP) or One Bermuda Alliance (OBA). Even with regard to marriage equality, the island seems split in two. Whichever way you slice it, the idea that there are “Two Bermudas” appears to be built into the very structure of our society. Nowhere is the notion of “Two Bermudas” more prevalent than in the political sphere. In a two-party system, what rhetorical device could be more useful?

What if I told you it was a lie, and that there are actually Three Bermudas? (In truth, there are over 65,000 — one per person. But for our purposes, let us say that there are three.) This changes everything.

It Takes Two to Tango

Did you know that the Wikipedia entry for “Racial polarization” features Bermuda as a prime example? It’s outdated, but it hits on an important point: Bermudian politics is heavily divided along racial lines. Established on the basis of parliamentary opposition, it is little wonder that the Westminster system has brought us to this sorry juncture.

Obviously Bermuda’s divisions can be traced far beyond our contemporary political predicament; however, something about politics in particular seems to cause racial tension on the island to flare up. If the creation of a new political party before the 2012 election sought to fix this problem, it failed when it merged with the United Bermuda Party (UBP).

The PLP was Bermuda’s first political party, founded in 1963 by a group of working-class Black men. The Theatre Boycott — through which activists called the “Progressive Group” achieved desegregation — had only been four years prior, and voting laws still unfairly favoured the rich, giving landowners an extra vote.

In 1964, the UBP was formed. According to a 1987 pamphlet, Sir Henry Tucker “convinced his colleagues that the introduction of universal adult suffrage and the formation of the [PLP] had created the need for a new approach to politics.”

With this dichotomy established, voters naturally associated the PLP with its Black Power roots and the UBP with its links to the elite white oligarchy that had traditionally been in charge. Then, in 2009 a faction of the UBP broke off to form the Bermuda Democratic Alliance, supposedly offering a “Better Way.” This lasted two years, until the prospect of losing the 2012 election brought the BDA and the UBP back together under a new banner: the OBA.

Call it a “New New Approach” to politics, or call it an elaborate rebranding conspiracy; the fact is that despite the formation of the OBA much has remained the same, with one party pitted against the other in a constant battle for the hearts of the Bermudian people.

Opposition Leader David Burt was right on May 16, when during his speech entitled “Race, Ethnicity & Two Bermudas” he said:

For many Bermudians, struggle is something that has always defined us. Others in our community don’t understand it at all. This is one of the fundamental divides we see between the Two Bermudas, and, to say that race doesn’t play a role in this divide is to lack a fundamental understanding of our country’s history.

On May 30, Deputy Premier Bob Richards replied, acknowledging the divide. In an opinion column entitled “Measure ‘Two Bermudas’ by actions not words” Richards said, “The very name my party took on, One Bermuda Alliance, recognised the history and defined the goal, which is to build One Bermuda out of two.”

Notwithstanding Richards’ claim, Bermuda remains divided, in politics more than anywhere else. With two competing political parties, how is it possible to build one Bermuda?

The Bermuda Triangle of Systemic Inequality

To say that there are only “Two Bermudas” is to oversimplify the issue. It is true that Bermudians are a divided people; however, it is important to remember that we are divided in more ways than one.

The location of the Third Bermuda was revealed to me when I was reading an article I found through a friend, entitled “Why ‘Checking Your Privilege’ Doesn’t Work.” Here’s the paragraph that stuck out to me (with added emphases):

The contemporary use of “privilege” emerged to address an absence in the language for discussing systemic inequality in general. In scholarship, a “privilege” focus means looking at oppression not only in terms of the oppressed, but also of the oppressor. It means studying systems of marginalization by looking not only at the marginalized, but also at the non-marginalized. Like all new (or repurposed) buzzwords and concepts, it fills a need. Inequality does exist across a wide range of intersecting axes, and the “haves” in each area really are oblivious.

The concept of “Two Bermudas” emerged in very much the same way as the contemporary use of the word “privilege,” to address an absence in the language for discussing systemic inequality. Also known as oppression or discrimination, it is systemic inequality that has given rise to the “Two Bermudas” that define social and political life in Bermuda today.

Systemic inequality, or “Structural inequality” on Wikipedia, “refers specifically to the inequalities that are systemically rooted in the normal operations of dominant social institutions.” They are literally built into the very structure of our society.

As the article says, systemic inequality is perpetuated across a wide range of intersecting axes. That’s because systemic inequality affects any body that fails to align with the dominant cultural narrative. This not only includes bodies that differ on the basis of race and class (which is perhaps more obvious in our milieu), it also covers sex, gender, health, education, age, sexual orientation, abilities/skills, and practically any other way that you could compare two individuals.

So, it is true that Bermudians are a divided people. And, using an intersectional approach to politics, it becomes clear that Bermudians are divided in many more ways than one. In fact, there are over 65,000 Bermudas — one per person — but for our purposes, suppose there are Three Bermudas. One is the privileged, the other is the oppressed. Where is the Third?

The Third Space

There is actually a well-established body of academic theory in the field of postcolonial studies that describes exactly what I’m getting at. Attributed to Harvard professor Homi K. Bhabha and his 1994 book The Location of Culture, third space theory is abstract and complicated. However, I found a great overview in a 1998 paper by Paul Meredith called “Hybridity in the Third Space.” Although Meredith’s paper is about indigenous-settler relations in New Zealand, it relates to Bermuda inasmuch as both nations are the product of a colonial encounter. Meredith states:

What has become apparent is the emergence of a cultural politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand concentrated and contested around the binary of Maori (the colonised) or Pakeha (the coloniser), over-simplified and essentialised. The dichotomous categories of ‘us/them’, ‘either/or’ have alarmingly found an increased currency resulting in adversarial polarities premised on exclusion and purity.

The problem Meredith lays out — a cultural politics concentrated around a binary of the colonised and the coloniser that produces essentialized and exclusionary categories of “us/them” — perfectly describes the “Two Bermudas.”

Meredith calls for a more critical perspective, found in the concepts of hybridity and the third space. To boil it down, the third space is a conceptual space where “new forms of cultural meaning and production” come into being, resulting in the “disruption and displacement of hegemonic colonial narratives of cultural structures and practices.”

Basically, at the point of contact between a colonial culture and its colonised subjects, “a new hybrid identity or subject position emerges from the interweaving of elements of the coloniser and colonised,” which goes “beyond the realm of colonial binary thinking and oppositional positioning.”

Meredith makes clear not to “celebrate a false sense of liberation from the continued influence of the historical colonial encounter.” Rather, the third space is positioned as “a way of describing a productive, and not merely reflective, space that engenders new possibility.”

Something to Chew On: Theory in Practice

Through the lens of third space theory, the Third Bermuda becomes more obvious. It is the place where cultural currents converge, and cultural meaning is under constant renegotiation. It is the space between dominant cultural narratives, where boundaries are blurred and assumed cultural knowledge becomes unsettled. Importantly, Meredith states, “Despite the exposure of the third space to contradictions and ambiguities, it provides a spatial politics of inclusion rather than exclusion,” which creates great opportunities for transcultural collaboration and contestation. All cultural narratives are fluid by nature, and the third space can operate anywhere that cultural meaning is being communicated, be that the House of Assembly or Backatawn.

Unless it has real-world applications, theory is useless. The best example of how third space theory works in Bermuda is Chewstick. Established by a group of artists in 2003, Chewstick has become Bermuda’s leading cultural arts movement. On the homepage it says,

Dedicated to breaking down social barriers, providing opportunities for storytellers of every medium and committed to being part of the solution; we use creative programmes, events and initiatives to empower the individual and enrich the community.

With a vision statement that reads, “To empower one, to enrich all,” Chewstick centres the individual. This gets to the heart of intersectional politics, recognizing that systemic inequality affects each individual differently. There are over 65,000 Bermudas — one per person — and Chewstick provides a place for them all, enabling people to relate to each other across differences and not in spite of them. This is the Third Bermuda.

Chewstick’s perspective is informed by Afrocentrism. It calls itself a “Neo-Griot” movement, where griot is a “storyteller in western Africa who perpetuates the oral tradition and history of a village or family.” This is important: by situating itself within the African Diaspora, Chewstick contextualises itself within Bermuda’s colonial history, creating a space for colonised voices to be heard outside of the operations of dominant social institutions. This is the Third Bermuda.

Chewstick disrupts the status quo and generates new cultural narratives. Of course, it’s not the only example of third space theory operating in Bermuda, just a really good one. In addition to the above, Chewstick demonstrates the dynamic nature of the third space because it has no fixed location (curse that tragic fire). The third space depends on people, not a place or an institution. Community is key. This is the Third Bermuda.

Back to Basics

Black or white. Rich or poor. Foreign or local. Sinner or saved. PLP or OBA. Whichever way you slice it, the idea that there are “Two Bermudas” appears to be built into the very structure of our society. Nowhere is the notion of “Two Bermudas” more prevalent than in the political sphere.

Granted, the concept of “Two Bermudas” has been very useful for diagnosing the social ills of Bermuda. It is good that we have developed the language to discuss the existence of systemic inequality in our society. The term “Two Bermudas” draws attention to the fact that there is a problem and that we need to address it.

However, the idea of “Two Bermudas” has major drawbacks. Engaging in this rhetoric perpetuates an oversimplified “us/them” binary that results in adversarial polarities based on exclusion, even as politicians claim to seek a more unified society. The term “Two Bermudas” obscures the reality that systemic inequality is literally built into the structure of our society, manifesting itself in many different ways across the normal operations of dominant social institutions. It hides the fact that it is a system we should be fighting, not each other.

To the minds of many of Bermuda’s politicians, the island really is divided in two: OBA voters or PLP voters. However, there are in fact many Bermudians “on both sides of the divide” who would rather participate in a political process that isn’t so dichotomous by nature. There are even Bermudians on Facebook, in a group called The Bermuda Governing Council, who advocate for replacing our inherited and outdated Westminster parliamentary system with an alternative, non-partisan democratic system, similar to Guernsey. This is the Third Bermuda.

Our politicians are fully aware that the system is broken, and they know what needs to be done to fix it. During his speech, David Burt gave us the ABCs: Acknowledging the social disparity, Building a better Bermuda, and Collaboration, which he said “must extend beyond Government and take place across all segments of our community.” Collaboration must extend beyond Government, because our system of government is not established to facilitate collaboration. As our most dominant and enduring social institution, Government is in fact part of the problem.

David Burt knows that too, which is why he said, “Each and every one of us in positions of leadership — of any variety — in my view, have a social responsibility to dismantle the institutions which perpetuate racism.” Insofar as Bermuda’s system of government is perhaps the single-most blameworthy institution when it comes to perpetuating systemic inequality, it is ironic for someone running to be Premier to make such a claim (especially since his party doesn’t even support marriage equality). Any politician or political party serious about addressing Bermuda’s deep-rooted social problems should be running on a platform of moving Bermuda away from party politics towards a non-partisan democratic system, as The Bermuda Governing Council suggests; and remember, regardless of which party is in power, Government will always be the Establishment.

Anyone who is considering not voting in the upcoming election because they are disaffected with our political system should reconsider. Instead of throwing away your vote, register your discontent with the system by spoiling your ballot. Spoilt ballots are still counted, and if there are more than the statistically probable number of spoilt ballots cast in this election, it will send a message to those counting the votes that voters are demanding more from their leaders.

It is still important for us to elect a responsible government and to hold our politicians accountable. That being said, it is up to Bermudians as individuals and communities to combat social injustice at every turn. By recognizing the perspectives that are silenced by the notion of “Two Bermudas,” we can begin to see the full extent of social injustice on the island. By opening our perspective up and considering the idea of Three Bermudas, we welcome the opportunity to create a new space for society to flourish.

Does a butterfly remember? No one knows for sure.
Two months, or less, that’s all it takes; Papilio matures.
And after that, there’s not a trace of what it used to be:
A caterpillar, lone and lost. That caterpillar: me.
My life has been a lonely one, or sometimes so it seems.
Not to say I lack for love, or kin, or hopeful dreams.
But who can know the way that life has taken shape for me,
Those changes that I’ve faced alone throughout maturity?
We share a sense among us all of what it means to grow,
But words will often fail us here; how else are we to know?
Two months, or less, that’s all it takes; Papilio transforms.
Its future is unknown, untold; Papilio flies forth.
It flies for now, for here, this day. Its past is gone, is flown.
For days, not weeks, it shares its grace. Short days, and then it’s gone.
And though it dies, it is not dead; the cycle still goes on.
I have tattooed upon my back, in black ink, centre, strong:
Papilio, my wings reclaimed, to fly me right from wrong.

— Demoleus