We live in times where perception is everything; where Bermudians, in particular a growing segment of black Bermudians, are wound so tightly that even the merest implication of offence can set them off in a frenzy of sought-after retribution.
Before the social-media age, animosities would boil over and dissipate; at worst, they would simmer below the surface, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. But now that we are well and truly ensconced in this new reality, you can say what you want, when you want, about whomever you want, and with instant and sometimes lasting effect — you can also invite all your mates to share and recycle your opinion, never mind that they were hitherto clueless about the subject matter.
No one is safe from the glare of the offended. Whether you are well-intentioned mainstream media, some hack who can barely string two words together but nevertheless captivates an audience, or whether you are a mean-spirited presence who should not be given ready access to a keyboard, you are always going to come up against it via opposition that is conditioned to be contrary.
We experienced this last week when a quite innocent headline that featured “bright young things” was pounced on by bloggers and callers who misinterpreted the play on words as something quite more sinister: that we were referring to black students in an uplifting story about achievement as “things”.
Nothing could be farther from the truth — we don’t recall Michael Jackson having to backtrack on his 1980s hit PYT (Pretty Young Thing) — and after a few days, the hysteria and perceived sense of hurt, none of which had emanated from the subjects of the story, had abated.
So with this as a backdrop — when, as is The Royal Gazette, you are a lightning rod for criticism — why on earth would Rick Olson, with his history for arguing the toss on social media, risk antagonising further those who feel hard done by as a result of the events of December 2, 2016?
There are many blacks who feel the “Pepper Spray Protest” was not a peaceful act of defiance against the Government’s Airport Redevelopment Project — 15 active court cases appear to support that theory — but the moment Olson made his “hanged, drawn and quartered” analogy for how the crowd might have been dealt with by the police, even the swing voters were enraged. And they had every right to be.
Apart from sating his own sense of humour, what was he thinking when he posted caricatures of people being shamed publicly?
It conjured, only, images of a thankfully long bygone era.
Perception here, you see, was of an entitled, white Front Street businessman — tautology gone wild, some might say — who could say what he wanted, when he wanted, about whomever he wanted, and then, when challenged, explain it away as a joke.
Few were laughing, though.
For the most part, the Bermudian community, much like Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory, doesn’t get sarcasm or humour of the intellectual sort. Is that to say the average Bermudian is thick as two planks? Not quite — and no one can argue that Sheldon doesn’t possess a peerless IQ. But the prevailing opinion here is that you have to tell it like it is; expecting everyone to have the ability to read between the lines or to appreciate a play on words increasingly has proved a wish too far.
After the social-media faeces hit the fan, it was of little surprise that the Progressive Labour Party chimed in to have a go at Olson. Then, so, too, did Michael Dunkley and the One Bermuda Alliance, with the Premier given credit for eliciting an apology.
Few are buying it and many more are refusing to buy at Olson’s places of business, the most high-profile of which is the Bermuda Bistro at the Beach. Whether they are right to engage in and to promote a wide-scale boycott of anything with an Olson stamp on it is open to question — and we are not condoning that here.
But Olson owes the community big time. Consider this his spell in the sin-bin, if you will.
It is not enough to be an employer of black Bermudians — at least one has refused to take up such an offer as a result of Olson’s most recent faux pas — but he has to show an improved sensitivity as well, for he has hurt a lot of feelings.
Many will be watching to see if the lesson truly has been learnt.