Bermuda’s battle for civil rights and racial justice is on the right track, former attorney-general Phil Perinchief said yesterday.
Mr Perinchief said: “We are maturing as a democracy.”
He was speaking as the island marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights activist the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr Perinchief said signs of progress included “white people themselves speaking out against the injustices and inequality they have heard and experienced among their circles of friends and relatives”.
He highlighted Kevin Dallas, chief executive of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, who this week spoke out in support of Bermuda’s record on gay rights.
Mr Perinchief said that Mr Dallas “not too many years ago would never have dared openly to speak out, unless in coded terms, on the topic of gay rights or rights for black people, or black equality”.
Mr Perinchief was a member of the island’s Black Beret Cadre, a black-power activist group, in the post-King 1970s.
He was a 23-year-old student and a member of the Progressive Labour Party when Dr King was assassinated at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Mr Perinchief added that, along with a “growing group” of his generation, he was “very much influenced, but not particularly shocked” when Dr King was assassinated.
The clergyman was often criticised for his insistence on non-violence during the American civil rights campaign.
Mr Perinchief said he and his friends had found it difficult to line up “front and centre” behind Dr King and others who seemed “quite comfortable accommodating themselves with the status quo”.
He added: “Although we respected what Dr King was attempting to accomplish, we were never really interested in becoming like our former white masters.
“We viewed many who strived for civil rights, as opposed to human rights, as pandering to authority and attempting to ape the white man and Eurocentrism generally.”
Mr Perinchief said that his group saw their mission as “changing an economic and social system that was systemically racist and unequal”.
He added, many preferred to follow Malcolm X, the firebrand activist who was murdered in 1965.
Mr Perinchief said: “Achieving Dr King’s dream without working to change those fundamental inequities was a time-wasting exercise and irrationally futile for us, although we understood why many persons, white and black, might wish to take that route.
“We were more interested in working towards an egalitarian society by attacking the core economic and social foundation that propped up the inequality that Dr King, and others, strove ineffectually to remove.
He added: “We thought such energy could be better used in not moving around the topsoil of inequality, but rather dynamiting the bedrock that held it up.
“Once the field was truly economically and socially levelled, and equally and fairly shared and distributed fairly among all men and women, then Dr King’s dream would have better prospects of being achieved in reality.
“Then, the contributions culturally, intellectually and experientially of all races and nations, would be respected and emulated by all mankind, as opposed to the current hegemony of Eurocentric domination being allowed to openly and subliminally define and determine black people’s destinies, unwittingly or otherwise.”
Mr Perinchief said: “For us, Malcolm X and the others provided us the compass and maps we needed. Dr King didn’t, at least for the whole journey we had in mind.”
He added that he backed peaceful protest as exemplified by Dr King — if it could achieve equality.
He added: “The term ‘peaceful protests’ is an oxymoron, even contradictory. True peace cannot coexist with injustice.”