Black Bermudian history highlighted at Oxford
An all-female panel comprised four Bermudian academics and an American professor presented research on Bermuda as part of a two-day conference hosted by the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, entitled “Racialisation and Publicness in Africaand the African Diaspora Conference”, on Thursday, June 27.
Presentations were made by Dana Selassie, Rosemary Hall, LeYoni Junos, and Alicia Kirby, as well as Sydney Hutchinson, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology from Syracuse University. Bermudian Dr. Kristy Warren, a Research Associate at the University of Leicester, moderated the panel.
The Bermuda panel, entitled “Racialisation in (post)colonial Bermuda: Past and Present” was sponsored by the English Speaking Union of Bermuda and the Bermuda Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission provided technical support for the panel, and was honoured to help facilitate the exceptional Bermudian researchers.
Bermudian Alexa Virdi, a DPhil candidate in law at Oxford who helped with the conference, said: “It was great that Oxford brought together such incredible researchers, all working within the same space, yet who had not been previously connected. The panel impressed conference attendees, and we hope to share educational resources of the event in the near future.”
Dr Selassie earned her PhD in Film and Television Studies from the University of Nottingham, where she examined Bermuda’s colonial relationship with Britain, economic partnerships with America and significant cultural ties with the Caribbean that helped to shape Bermuda’s emerging media industries — newspapers, radio and television — in the 1940s through 1960s.
Her paper was entitled They Called Us Hoodlums: Media, Desegregation and the 1959 Bermuda Theatre Boycotts, where she shared her research on the role The Royal Gazette played in shaping black Bermudian identity before the 1959 Theatre Boycott, and the role the Bermuda Recorder played in constructing new articulations of black Bermudian identity as the island became desegregated.
Rosemary Hall completed her PhD at the University of Oxford in 2018, and now works as Assistant Professor of English Linguistics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Her PhD thesis investigated Bermudian English in terms of its historical origins, pronunciation patterns and sociolinguistic status today. Her conference paper was entitled, ”Goin’ dahn de road”: Racialised dialect parody in Bermuda and investigated the ways in which language mocking practices by white Bermudians reinforce racist stereotypes.
LeYoni Junos is an independent Bermudian researcher, who is an advocate for decolonisation and member of the Civil Justice Advocacy Group. Her conference paper was entitled MY NAME IS “SUE”: The Mother of Mary Prince and the Racialised Abdication of Bermuda in the Authentication of Her History. The purpose of her paper was, first, to establish the true identity of Mary Prince’s mother to be a Bermuda slave woman by the name of “Sue” — never before named in external academic research; and, second, to expose one symptom of the continuing psychological effect of colonialism, “our propensity to abdicate responsibility to research, verify and document our own history in deference to the white, visiting, research “expert”.
The youngest on the panel at age 23, Alicia Kirby holds a Master’s Degree in Anthropology and Cultural Politics from Goldsmith’s University in London, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Global Challenges, International Development from Leiden University Honours College in The Hague. Ms Kirby offers a unique outlook on addressing contemporary issues in humanities, and social and political sciences, from an anthropological perspective. Her conference paper was titled Memories Lost in the Triangle: An Exploration of Bermuda’s Social Conditioning Through Racial Amnesia.
Ms Kirby said: “Bermuda functions in a state of ‘racial amnesia’, which refers to a diagnosis of a collective societal condition whereby elements of racial trauma and distress have been forgotten by a population. While at high school, when we questioned the opportunity to incorporate Bermuda history into our curriculum we were told that it was ‘irrelevant and would not be taught’. I graduated just six years ago, and judging by what small action has been taken to date, that sentiment appears to remain the same. Following the Oxford conference, I am hopeful that by continuing to come together, Bermudian academics can become a major part of a movement to create a much needed, robust Bermuda curriculum to help shape a national identity based on our true and full history.”
Panel moderator Kristy Warren’s ongoing research is centred on the place of “race” and class in colonial governance, as practised in the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda. More broadly, her interest lies in the sociopolitical histories of Caribbean islands that were once colonised by the British, and the lingering legacies of this past — both in the Caribbean and the wider diaspora.
Sydney Hutchinson is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at Syracuse University and research associate at Humboldt University Berlin. She has published numerous articles and several books on Latin-American and Caribbean music and dance. She is beginning new field research on Bermuda’s Gombeys. Her conference paper was titled Bermuda Gombey (re)connections: Covering and recovering indigeneity in the Black Atlantic. In it, she explores the reconnection between the Warwick Gombey troupe and its links to the Pequot Indian diaspora.
UPDATE: this article has been amended because it was incorrectly stated that researcher LeYoni Junos was calling for historians to identify the “unknown mother” of Mary Prince. In fact, Ms Junos’s contribution to the conference, My Name is “Sue”: The Mother of Mary Prince, specifically identified for the first time a Bermuda slave woman named “Sue” as Prince’s mother. The Royal Gazette apologises to Ms Junos and the panel for this error
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