I have observed the majority of responses to the most recent hot-button topic on most of our collective consciences. I often stay clear of these scandalous storylines because one can get caught up in the euphoria of sensationalism and political mud at the expense of measured reflection.
However, I have decided not to remain silent on this occasion. The recent online posting by a sitting Cabinet minister asking for “titty milk” while talking with female customer service reps at a cereal bar in Britain has forced my hand.
This incident speaks to a number of issues that have not been addressed. Most, including the offending minister, agree that his behaviour is insulting to women and that as a Cabinet minister his words and subsequent actions fall below our collective standards. His words and actions do not look good for his representation of Bermuda and our people.
I have not yet heard it said how damaging his behaviour is to black men. In fact, this dicey issue makes it difficult as well as necessary for me to add my thoughts. The predictable response from some is that for me to say anything negative about the minister’s conduct is to allow myself to be used as a whipping boy to kick another black man while he is down.
I have taken this concern into consideration with this response. However, if this issue is about black manhood, it is important for black men to weigh in.
Wayne Caines, like all black men of prominence, represents our collective triumph over the formidable obstacles we genuinely face to make something of ourselves. For this we are rightfully proud of him. But what does it say about how seriously he takes his role as a black leader when he puts himself in this predicament?
The notable sequence of events are as follows;
1, The Minister of National Security was in Britain for official Government of Bermuda business dealing with addressing sexual misconduct
2, He decided to record himself making a sexist remark “as a joke” and then post it online
3, He followed through with this premeditated plan with the opportunity at any time to change his mind
4, The post ended up in local and international news, to a barrage of condemnation
5, The minister issues an immediate apology, saying that it was intended “as a joke” and the customer service reps did not hear him
6, The Premier issues a statement, saying it was “exceptionally poor conduct”
As black men we need to reflect on this very carefully because “we” arguably stand to lose the most from not heeding the lessons of this kind of behaviour. In fact, the minister’s apology is even more troubling than his original words and actions.
Is it implied that we are the type of people who believe this is excusable as an acceptable joke?
Is the thought that if it doesn’t cause a media circus with political fallout, or if the two women did not hear it directly, this behaviour is acceptable?
Because it was recorded and posted online, the two females and all others have now heard it and it is a stain on all of us.
As black men, are we so incompetent that when we take on roles of national importance we cannot discern that our actions will be scrutinised this way? Are we so irresponsible that we are inclined to risk so much for amusement?
What depths have we sunk to that when confronted with wrong, our excuse is that it was just “a joke”? It condemns us even further? What has or will become of the women now that they bear the unwitting brunt of “a joke” receiving worldwide attention?
As I conclude, I’m not calling for Caines’s head on a platter. I sincerely hope he can recover from this as best as he can with an invaluable lesson learnt.
However, I am deeply concerned about the collective damage everyone receives when behaviour such as this does not meet an appropriate recourse. This careless, self-inflicted damage must be sufficiently condemned and meet an appropriate penalty. This will afford the minister the opportunity to recover and the rest of us will have the best opportunity to be exonerated, especially black men.
Leadership must raise the standards of respect, decency and decorum throughout our nation. Governing is not a popularity contest where we seek likes and comments. There are too many lives being lost, our seniors are still in need and our healthcare costs are rising.
As I have spoken before and will continue to advocate, political leadership’s role is to decide how national resources are to be developed, managed and allocated to determine our material quality of life. When this is done, it empowers us all.
We must be visionaries and provide political leadership, not simply political stewardship. When black political leadership recognises this and stops with the jokes, they will have an opportunity to start to “Put Bermudians First”.
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017