Mr. Speaker, at last week Thursday’s Sitting of this Honourable House – on 11 June, 2020, you would recall, I spoke of the need to eliminate racism in all forms and from all places, in particular systemic and institutional racism against people of African heritage.
Members would recall that I expressed solidarity with other world leaders and the millions of ordinary persons around the globe who are raising their voices to say that systemic, institutionalised racism is real; that it hurts black lives, and that it must be acknowledged and addressed without delay.
As Premier, I also took that opportunity to announce my intentions for the establishment of an Equity Commission, which will be charged with the task of examining how the private and public sectors operate to determine and identify the systemic issues that undermine equity in our society, and to find solutions for creating a more equitable environment for all our people.
Racism can be a controversial topic and a very emotional one. It requires deep introspection that many persons are either not ready to do or are incapable of doing, and this is because the truth can be unpleasant or too much to accept.
It can also be difficult to come to terms with because of how deeply entrenched vestiges of racism have become in our ordinary, everyday lives; so much so that they have become norms that shape what are considered to be proper and acceptable, even though they may be wrong.
While there are forms and means of racism that are easily recognisable, one of the serious challenges facing black people today remains that of what some would describe as ‘undercover racism’.
This is where persons who are racist, pretend not to be, because it is socially unacceptable to be openly racist today; or because their agenda requires gaining the trust and friendship of blacks so that they can further their racist agenda when it is opportune for them to do so.
In many of the cases of unjustified violence against blacks where racism has played a role, what comes to the surface after the fact is how unassuming and unlikely the perpetrators were. And then the evidence comes forward to support the fact that what was portrayed was different to the secret reality. Sometimes their spouses and close friends and associates are shocked to find out what lies beneath their seemingly pleasant exterior.
This is the iceberg effect, in other words, while you can see the ice projecting out of the water, you cannot see the many layers, jagged edges, imperfection and perception under the way, unless you dive into that ice cold water and check it out for yourselves.
The existence of undercover racism in the world is most dangerous. This is what I call the ‘fog screen’ or ‘smoke screen’ effect. It appears good on the top, but when you chip away at the layers where the ice is below, you would recognise that what is there could damage your lives, your finances, it can erode trust and so much more, because while there is a huge smile for the world to see, under the ice cold water, where you and I cannot see, there are agendas, intentions and plans discussed only with those of liked-minds.
This is the next challenge that faces the achievement of equity for blacks throughout the world, and there is no reason why we should feel that the BVI should be the exception to a global phenomenon.
Our challenge is to find a civil, peaceful and respectful – but effective – way of overcoming this obstacle.
As Honourable Members are aware, a group of our young people have organised a Black Lives Matter March for 2:30 pm on tomorrow, Saturday, 20 June, 2020, starting at the Noel Lloyd Positive Movement Park.
Yesterday, 18 June, 2020, some of the organisers of this event met with us, the Members of the House of Assembly, on these premises and they explained what the march is about. It is about showing that the Virgin Islands is in solidarity with the rest of the world against racial injustice of all kind.
I have always said that this Virgin Islands belongs to those coming after us. We are preparing today for their future. They will be the ones to lead this Territory tomorrow, and I am pleased to join them as we together as a Territory take a stance for justice and peace because ‘Black Lives Matter’.
And also our bright tomorrows depends on our positive actions of today.
Let us not get so worked up by events that take place abroad, and shun from speaking up, speaking out, and confronting our own issues. Now is the time when we must face our goliaths head-on.
Whether persons choose to participate in tomorrow’s Black Lives Matter march in Road Town at 2:30p.m. or not, remember that we’re in this together.
I want Honourable Members and the public at large to know that I will be present and participating in tomorrow’s Black Lives Matter march because your lives matter, all of our lives matter.
Together, we will be sending a message to the world that systemic and undercover racism of any kind must no longer stand.
If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.
I commend our young people of the Virgin Islands for being brave and committed. Indeed, I am proud for the future of the Virgin Islands looks bright.
I want to urge all persons that as we march let each step be a meaningful step; let each step represent and rekindle the hope of our ancestors. Let each step represent peace and unity. And, most of all let each step signal that ‘Black Lives Matter’.
As soldiers of freedom we will march boldly and with authority and conviction that we are stepping into a brighter tomorrow where racism will not reign, where choruses of peace and love will be our refrain.
Please remember to ensure social distancing marching six feet apart from each other and wear your masks for we are not yet out of the woods with COVID-19.
May God continue to bless and protect the people of the Virgin Islands.
I thank you.