'The UBP survived for years time and time again because whites would not vote PLP but yet blacks would vote UBP. As campaign manager of the UBP for many years, I had a pretty good breakdown of the racial break in voting patterns and while efforts were always made to keep the white vote on the political reservation, the main focus was always toward the middle of the road black voter.'

- Mike Winfield

Perhaps, finally, we have started a debate which is long overdue but necessary. I am referring to the interesting exchange which occurred in the House of Assembly during the last sitting, between the Premier and former Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons on the issue of white Bermudian political participation.

The backdrop to the exchange was the election to the U.S. Presidency of Barack Obama and Dr. Gibbons' attempt to appropriate that victory in order to make political and indeed racial hay in the Bermudian context.

Certainly, it is clear that on the lips of people like Dr. Gibbons, Obama will replace Martin Luther King Jr. any time he and other whites attempt to ignore or deflect any real and substantive discussion of the issue of race and/or racism in Bermuda.

In academic circles, this is called "aversive racism". This is the habit of those who wish to maintain the racial status quo - and all the unearned privilege which that entails - of masking those views and the actions informed by them by appropriating the language of racial equality.

Those who practice this brand of aversive racism are also adept at appropriating the symbols of racial egalitarianism or justice, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and now apparently Barack Obama - but not as stated to advance racial justice and equity, but to slow it down or even oppose it.

Dr. Gibbons' real political bedfellows in the U.S., the Republicans, were masters of this approach and used it successfully to woo white southern voters over the last 30 years and stymie and even turn back the clock on civil rights in the U.S. One of their pet phrases was "race card", as in "playing the race card" - uttered to shut down any meaningful debate on race or racial justice.

Another tactic was to artfully position privileged white males as the new victims of racism by claiming that black Americans were the new racists and they, the new victims.

Sounds like Bermuda over the last 10 years to me.

Take for example the vaunted claim of white Bermuda's overwhelming support for Obama during the Presidential election. Firstly, not even a majority of so called non-Hispanic whites in America - largely white Americans of European descent (British, Western European descent primarily) - voted for Obama. McCain beat Obama within this racial demographic by 12 percentage points.

Obama did garner a bigger slice of this white American voting block than his predecessors, Gore and Kerry. But Obama's victory occurred despite a lack of white support beyond 38 per cent of that electorate, and not because of it.

It was a Jesse Jackson style Rainbow Coalition for the 21st century which put Obama over the top, with his campaign garnering overwhelming majority support within the black and latino voting constituencies; along with a significant minority of mostly young white supporters.

Back on the home front, I go to a restaurant most mornings which has about 12 white Bermudians as regular customers. I know most of them and frequently we discuss local and international politics.

An informal poll that I conducted before the U.S. election showed that only about three of the 12 were solidly for Obama. Of the remaining nine about seven were certainly pro McCain and/or not willing to support Obama.

Now some are the type of white Bermudians who would never vote for a black man unless he or she was a candidate for the UBP. It just makes them feel safe about supporting a black candidate I guess - as in, "he's black, but he's our type of black'.

In other words, and as the Premier indicated, if Obama was running for the PLP as a candidate in say Paget West, he would certainly lose; but place him as a candidate for the UBP and he would be the second coming of Jesus. Don't believe me, just ask Sir John Swan or Shawn Crockwell.

Perceived threat

And the others in the anti-Obama wing of the restaurant would have been those who opposed Obama, because of the perceived threat which he represented to Bermuda's status as a major offshore business centre; although, I suspect even among this group of four or five, the previous comments in the preceding paragraph would readily apply as well.

Remarkably, however, after the election - and taking their cue, I assume, from Dr. Gibbons - suddenly all the whites who gathered every morning at the restaurant were suddenly pro-Obama and would have voted for him without reservation, the Premier being the devil incarnate for suggesting otherwise.

But let's set the record straight; its obvious that we do not have a presidential system here; but rather a parliamentary system. The Premier was correct to point out that the only equivalent phenomenon to the Obama victory and what it represents racially in America, would be for the PLP to win an election and do so by garnering at least 10 to 15 per cent of the white Bermudian electorate - something it has never done in its history.

I was 11 years old in 1968 when the first election held under universal adult suffrage took place and up until the general election of 2007 whites have voted as an identifiable racial bloc for one party and one party only; that being the UBP save for the on average 1.5 to 2 per cent - bless their souls - who do vote for the PLP. To paraphrase Mike Winfield with respect to the UBP and white voters, that reservation is always full.

But the question remains, as MP Zane DeSilva articulated in the House of Assembly; is this continuing practice healthy for the democratic and political life of the country? Does the continuing prevalence of this behaviour directly contribute to the high degree of political polarization along racial lines which does exist?

Incidentally, DeSilva and the country are still waiting for a response from Dr. Gibbons and his colleagues on that one; but frankly I don't think it will be coming any time soon.