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OLSON'S COMMENTS DID NOTHING FOR RACE RELATIONS--CURB'S LYNNE WINFIELD Featured

  • Written by  Carla Zuill
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OLSON'S COMMENTS DID NOTHING FOR RACE RELATIONS--CURB'S LYNNE WINFIELD

It's no secret, the name on the tip of many Bermudians' tongues these days is Rick Olson. Last week, the owner of Red Steakhouse, Bermuda Bistro at the Beach and proprietor of the concession at the Island's most popular beach, Horseshoe Bay, offended a number of residents when he made a post in a Facebook chat group about he thought should have happened to December 2 protestors--one of the most contentious political events in the Island's recent history.

Initially, Mr. Olson apologised for people misunderstanding his humour, and told those offended to 'lighten up' which appeared to have angered them further. Subsequently, he apologised again, after being told to by Premier Michael Dunkley, who, along with the One Bermuda Alliance condemned the post.

In the days since the post was made, and taken down by the group's administrators, calls have been made to boycott all busineeses associated with the businessman.

 On Friday, in the height of the backlash, Today In Bermuda spoke to Lynne Winfield of Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB) and asked her to weigh in on the matter, which has become a national discussion.

Today In Bermuda: What was your first reaction when you heard about/saw the post by Rick Olson?

Lynne Wynfield: I had posted on FB about this pretty soon after it came out, but my posts, along with a number of others' was taken down… at least I can’t find it and its no longer in my account activity timeline. 

I was horrified at the disrespect and offensive nature of the post. In a majority Black community, at a time when there is social separation and conflict between the races, his post was inciteful and in my opinion has led to heightened tension.

Imagine the response if a Black person had posted the same picture after the protests by a majority of white people at the House of Assembly against Dr. Brown a number of years ago. That Black person would likely have been up on charges for a hate crime. 

To have gone to the effort of finding such a picture shows there was some clear intention behind the post.  What was astounding was the white people who went to his defense on FB, with one person even commenting that as Rick Olsen didn’t mention colour or race, what was the problem! 

TIB: His initial apology appeared trite and condescending. Do you think that it was insensitive (to tell people 'lighten up because it was only social media')?

LW: He made a couple of ‘apologies’ early on, which were inappropriate and defensive, and appeared to have no real sincerity behind them. He has since made a more public apology on Fun Talks Chat Group, which was the right thing to do, but from the responses on social media it is too little, too late. 

He is likely horrified by the response to his post, but I doubt he truly understands why it has created such anger in the community. 

TIB: The public reaction, especially amongst Black Bermudians has had a commonality—anger. Why do you feel this post has sparked such an outcry?

LW: Because the comment was racist.  If the post had shown a lynching in the south the majority of people in Bermuda would have got the racism behind the post… but because white people were being barbarically hung, drawn and quartered… it was perceived as a poor attempt to deflect away from the real meaning behind the post.

TIB: Some have called the comments racist, while others say political? Your thoughts?  

A combination of both. Racist comments for the reasons I give above. From other comments he has made in the past it clear where his political affiliations lie. 

TIB: Are discussions like these healthy?

LW: Not this type of discussion, i.e. there is no discussion at this point other than hurt, pain and anger. 

Some have said they are breaking down race relations further?

LW: Yes it has made things worse, his comment was inciteful and has added to the already heightened tensions in our community.

TIB: Are we making progress with race relations in Bermuda?

LW: Certain people would argue we are not making progress, and there is some truth in that but not for the reasons they might believe.  For instance in the last 10+ years we have gone from rarely confronting racial justice issues, to the willingness to speak up and speak out against injustice and discrimination.

So from that perspective there is progress, but for some it is seen as bringing up ‘stuff’ that should be left in the past.  But  the very fact that we are talking more about race relations is a positive, i.e. normalizing the conversation and lifting the culture of silence and culture of fear that has undergirded any discussion on race in the past.  There is an awakening in our community and people are no longer willing to be silent about their experiences or about the racist comments or actions they are confronted with. 

I do not know what Rick Olson’s intent was, but I do understand the enormous anger and disgust his online FB post has created in our community.  His post is an example of the enormous disconnect and lack of understanding of the social crisis in our community, that too many white people continue to exhibit and fail to understand.  

The fact that in a majority Black community such a comment/picture can be posted on social media speaks to the protection of white privilege. Whatever his intent, and he says it was a joke and/or his sarcastic nature, the impact on the Black community has been extremely negative, and their anger a natural reaction.  For the white community, I think many are horrified by his actions, and a number are speaking up on social media deploring his post, but too many are silent.   

As a community we must understand that silence can be seen as complicity, and it is time to no longer remain silent.

1 comment

  • Bob
    Bob Friday, 21 April 2017 07:34 Comment Link

    Being hung, drawn and quartered was a statutory punishment under a 1351 English law for treason against the crown. How is a reference to it racial in any way? That punishment for the crime of treason was on the books until the 19th Century when the punishment was changed to hanging, beheading and the like.

    I know I am late to all this debate, how is this reference an obvious racist one, unless one is already predisposed to see racism everywhere one looks?

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