Reaching Out: Lynne Winfield is fighting white privilege
Resource type: News
The Royal Gazette | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]
When Lynne Winfield first came to Bermuda to work from England, she walked right into a secretarial job. She assumed she was the most qualified person for the job, and the words “white privilege” never crossed her mind.
Today, she is outgoing president of the organisation Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB). Since her involvement with the group during its earliest days in 1998, she has learned a lot more about race relations and what it means to be white in Bermudian society. She believes that Bermuda has more or less fixed interpersonal race relations, but now has to work on fixing the outdated colonial systems that keep some people in power while excluding others.
Ms Winfield has been president of CURB for the last five years. She has seen it grow into a vibrant organisation of more than 2,000 members since it officially became a registered charity in 2006. Its mission is to be an anti-racist, interethnic movement, above party politics, dedicated to ending racial inequalities in Bermudian society.
The Royal Gazette met with Ms Winfield to learn more about her, and her work with CURB.
What is CURB’s work about, to you?
For myself it is about normalising the conversation around race so that it doesn’t become the big scare thing that it historically has been. It is about continuing dialogue that focuses on telling the truth about our past and understanding how it links into the present with issues like gang violence, and the economic disparity that affects us all. It is about the white privilege that those of us who are white still carry even though they may be from a working class background, which I am from. We need to understand how that white privilege works and how it gives you an edge in job interviews, if you are white. I realised that when I came here in the 1970s on a work permit, I probably got the job because of who I was and what I looked like. I probably did a number of black secretaries out of an opportunity. I did not understand that at that time.
Does that mean you are to blame?
No. Does it mean I have a responsibility? Yes it does. I have a responsibility to make things more equitable and better for others that I may have disenfranchised just by my physical presence. The conversation about race is about being able to say that and not fear the consequences of saying that. So many black people who join in on these conversations, have told us they feel totally validated by it. They say, ‘at last someone is acknowledging the past and what happened’. I came here in the 1970s and didn’t fully understand well into the 1980s that there was segregation only a few years before I arrived.
Is this situation particular to Bermuda?
Bermuda is not a unique situation. There are elements that are different, but that same human capacity to make sure that one person stays on top and others stay below is not unique. Even the person who would say ‘I am a good person, I am not a racist. I don’t do anything like that’ even that person who is totally unaware is part of that system and is getting benefits. It takes a huge shift in thought process to see that. It does take time.
How many members does CURB have?
We have about 2,500 members. We have 1,500 members on our contact list and more than 1,000 on our Facebook page. I am sure that a lot of those people are not in the same place that I am, but those people are in the room for a reason. They believe in the basic premise of CURB that there should be racial justice; there should be racial equity; there should not be economic disparity between the races; it should be fair and just. Everyone buys into that message, but some people don’t understand how that stuff is systemically embedded into our society, and in any colonial society including the United States.
Did you have an epiphany and decide you were going to dedicate yourself to this? Why racism as opposed to sexism or some other ‘ism’?
Once I got involved I began to read voraciously about the issues. Everything I picked up, I was like ‘oh, my God. I didn’t understand. I didn’t know’. Right now I am reading books about ancient African history. Egyptians got their knowledge from Ethiopia which spread right the way across Africa. I realise how much I was miseducated. I grew up in London where I was taught that colonialism was the best thing that ever happened to anyone. Now I am reading about colonialism and I realise it was another word for invasion. You moved into a country, took its resources and disenfranchised its citizens. I became to realise I knew nowhere near what I needed to know. The more I read the more I became more passionate about the work.
Would you like to see sexual orientation added to the human rights bill?
Of course, personally I do. I don’t think you can be an activist working on human rights and not believe in all the other isms. You can’t pick and choose your human rights. You can’t say it is good for some people, but these other people don’t really deserve it.
To play devil’s advocate your organisation has brought in a number of interesting speakers, but could some local people have not have addressed those issues?
Absolutely. That is what we are going to be trying to focus on more. The reason we bring in international speakers is, even though people say they don’t know Bermuda, they know racism and how psychologically and socially it works in society.
I guess I would argue that most of the speakers you have brought in come from a country where whites are the majority?
That is what makes it so much more tragic, that here in this Country, a majority black environment, we are still struggling with the same issues. Really, for me it shows how embedded racism is here. It shows how we really have to look at it and make sure our institutions and society begins to work on a more equitable manner. In the 1970s young people were picked up constantly for speeding on bikes and were imprisoned if they did it more than two or three times. Many of them ended up in prison [and were] labelled and had difficulty getting jobs after that. Historically, there was a difference between how blacks and whites were punished. Sadly, it is still going on today, not as graphically or harshly but when you look at the statistics that 98 percent of our prisoners are black males there is something going on there. Many Bermudians admit that there are lot of white Bermudians who smoke [marijuana] or do [other] drugs who are not being picked up.
What would be the ideal statistic be for the prisons?
t should reflect the population. It should be 65/35 or 60/40. Surely, it should reflect that in a fair and just society.
But is it more a question of economics?
That is in there too because economic disparity is a direct legacy from our past. If you systematically prevent a people, for hundreds of years, from working and owning land and even from voting or having any kind of franchise, take it all the way through today. Today, there are many black male accountants and lawyers and other successful people. They have succeeded, but what most of them don’t have is equity. A white male lawyer might have a father who can give him a loan so that he can buy his own house as soon as he qualifies. There is pre-existing wealth there to enable the white male to go out and buy a house almost immediately. [The black man] may be a lawyer or accountant today, he still has to struggle to find a way to put down a payment on a house.
CURB is an Atlantic grantee.
For more information about CURB visit them on Facebook or www.CURB.bm