BVI News

COMMENTARY: BVI and Black Lives Matter

By Benito Wheatley, Contributor

The Black Lives Matter movement is prompting the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to look at both racial injustice abroad and discrimination at home as global protests continue around the world against police brutality and systemic racism toward people of African descent (i.e. black people), sparked by the horrendous death of George Floyd — an African American man — at the hands of white police officers in the United States (US).

The BVI Government has expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, but wider societal participation will be tested at the Black Lives Matter march in Road Town on 20th June.

International Solidarity

From an international perspective, the movement against racial injustice and systemic racism is important to the BVI because a less racist US, United Kingdom (UK) and world will be safer and more welcoming for the people of the BVI who are predominantly of African ancestry and many of whom are connected to the outside world and whose interests are intertwined with countries that have a long history of racism.

Eliminating racism in all forms should be a goal broadly shared by everyone in BVI society. The BVI also has very practical reasons for showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The large majority of BVI college and university students pursue their education in the US and most of the BVI Diaspora live and work in cities across America.

Moreover, for decades BVIslanders have regularly travelled between the islands and the US for business and leisure. The global problem of racism and the particular danger presented by US police to people who are considered black, including many BVIslanders and their loved ones who reside in, or travel to the US, makes racial injustice abroad an issue that the BVI should not be silent about at this historic moment.

Local Discrimination

At home, the BVI should not overlook its own often subtle problems of discrimination within the society. It is undeniable that prejudice of different kinds exists between societal groups on the islands.

However, for decades the society has largely operated peacefully, preoccupied with economic activity and the pursuits of modern life. A measure of social integration has been achieved as several families are now of mixed national, racial and ethnic heritage. However, despite the civility that has prevailed, social tensions continue to bubble below the surface that periodically erupt when issues around immigration and employment arise. 

The BVI population today is comprised of 137 different nationalities, among which include persons with national backgrounds from the US, UK, Europe, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Middle East and many Caribbean nations.

The population also reflects several races and ethnic groups (i.e. Black, White, Arab, East Indian, Latino, Asian etc.), as well as different socio-economic classes, and to a lesser extent, different religions. BVIslanders are the largest single national group who make up less than 40 percent of the population.

Personal identity and prejudices

Each societal group has its own identity, interests, ideas, prejudices, biases and peculiarities. In many instances, associations, clubs, faith communities and educational institutions have been formed around nationality, race, class, ethnicity and religion. 

There is also the fact that in certain quarters of BVI society, segregation is commonplace, which is not often publicly discussed. Enclaves have formed that have not been balanced by robust efforts in past years to effectively integrate the society’s various groups into a wider BVI community.

There has also been a failure to effectively monitor and police economic and social discrimination by different groups toward each other. A concerted effort should be made to address these issues in order to achieve greater social cohesion and maintain social stability.

Social dialogue

A formal process of social dialogue is needed to allow members of the various strands of the wider BVI community to responsibly and maturely discuss their challenges and frustrations, without fear, and with a view to gaining mutual understanding and beginning to address long standing social and economic issues and divisions. However, in such a process, all concerned parties should refrain from making broad generalisations or blanket statements about different societal groups. 

A proper understanding of the social and economic dynamics of the BVI and the interactions of its various societal groups is needed. An objective independent study of social relations, social cohesion and economic relations within the society can provide a clearer picture of the situation on the ground and how things can be improved. 

More immediately, however, existing systems for anonymous reporting and investigation into discrimination in the workplace at all levels and by companies in their business practices should be strengthened, along with enforcement of the laws already on the books.

Achieving meaningful change

The issues of racial injustice abroad and discrimination at home are sensitive and very uncomfortable for many in BVI society. However, they are issues that must be openly discussed and tackled if the BVI and the world in which it exists are to improve. 

Marching in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on 20th June will be important, but it should be coupled with local action to root out discrimination and build a fairer BVI. 

This is a moment where all people of good conscience should be on the right side of history.

Benito Wheatley is a Policy Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge. He can be contacted at benitowheatley@gmail.com

Copyright 2020 BVI News, Media Expressions Limited. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.

7 Comments

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  1. E. Leonard says:

    The June 20th BLM March should rival the Great March of 24 November 1949 and the unfavorable Sanction and Anti-Money Laundering law against OTs. Thousands need to safely rally for the BLM cause.

    Frederick Douglass, a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman, says,“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Struggle against racism is needed for progress in wiping it out.

    MLK says, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and “the arc of the moral universe is long, and bends towards justice.” Well, the arc of racism is at best slightly flattening. Racial discrimination and prejudice have been going on for approx 500 years and the arc needs to bend rapidly altogether.

    Racism is a cesspool for racial hatred and cultural norms in some advanced countries. It is also present in the VI. The fuel that drove the racism engine, the lifeblood that carries the oxygen that fed/feeds racism was the plantation system and its dehumanizing, evil twin was Slavery. In addition to Slavery building both US and UK economies, it moved from an original economic engine and transitioned itself into a racial superiority driver and divider. That superiority complex continues today.

    Moreover, many citizens from advanced countries migrate to the VI, bringing their warped and nasty racial behaviour and attitude with them. The behaviour and attitude were allowed to fester and spread and needs to be rooted out soonest. Many migrate to the VI shores and concentrate in enclaves, being allowed to perhaps create a territory within a territory. Now, VI residents are wondering what the he…l happened. Wondering is one thing but acting is another. Strong actions are needed against racial discrimination in the homeland.

    Benito, good real as usual. But I had to launch into my rant.

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    • @ E. Leonard says:

      @ E. Leonard, you keep it raw, unvarnished and real. You are not delicately playing around the edges, hitting hard at the core of the racism issue as others want to but timidly do. Like it.

    • Check yourself says:

      A March to support BLM, that is all good but here we don’t have any of that what you marching for. Sure stand with our brothers and sisters but we need to look in the mirror before we start chanting against “racism” the protest here should be against the racism shown to fellow black people here by the so called “Belongers” (a discriminatory word itself), the only privilege here is Tolian privilege. How they taking the SS and NHI from other caribbean peoples and nuthin done to them, report your boss to Labour and you get fired-and sent away? yeah racism is real but here it be done by blacks to other blacks. It may make you feel good to walk and chant and think you part of something, but all you doing is not addressing what under your nose.

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  2. Diaspora says:

    It has been open season on hunting Blacks, especially Black men. For approximately 401 years, it has been open season of hunting Blacks like animals. Enough is enough and time is up. The slaughtering of Blacks started with the horrible trip across the Atlantic while chained like animals and stored liked cargo in ships hole. The sick and rowdy were thrown overboard. The slaughtering continues. Enough is enough and time is up. Black Lives Matter!

    The VI can bury its head in the sand as ostriches supposedly do in regards to racism. Here is a news flash. Racism is in the VI. It has been cultivated, festering and spreading. The racists enjoy living in the VI but not among the masses, the majority of whom are Black. The racists need to scatter their @$$ out of the territory and under the rock from where they came. Racists are I welcomed and must find it uncomfortable living in the VI. Let’s march on Saturday, June 20th in support of Black Lives Matter.

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  3. Hello says:

    Wow, so black lives matter now because a white man kill a black man? Black lives didnt matter when they comitted murder against 1 another, black lives didnt matter when fathers were becoming increasingly absent or when education systems been failing them? A bunch of money hungry attention seeking hypocrites. Founders of BLM are gay and married to caucasian jews but nobody putting that situation in check.

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