“Every man think his burden is the heaviest
“But ooh, yeah, come on, they know because they feel
”Who feels it, knows it Lord.”
— Bob Marley
I don’t very much care whether West End Primary School is closed or not, even as I was born and educated at the primary school level in Somerset, after all I went to the ‘White School’ and was made to suffer and feel inferior by many of the West End Warriors, but for a decision not my own .
My older sibling did attend West End as did our heroic, late father, Myron Bean, who was an active participant in successful desegregation battles to allow Black sons and daughters and by extension Portuguese, as it was not merely we of the darkest shade that were denied to occupy the same sporting arenas, football pitches and sit in the same classrooms as Whites.
Both became proud alumni and while pride is a quite dangerous trait, there’s nothing grossly immoral our wrong with the nostalgia that pervades the hearts and minds of the schools past and present student body. For it was with great longing and hopefulness of feeling the same spirit that seemed to fill and emanate from those occupying the neat rows of classroom building on Scott’s Hill Road as a pre-schooler preparing to advance.
However, my parents decided to have me cross where a barrier had been removed and partake of that which had been forbidden, so off I went to Somerset Primary School, the aforementioned, well funded ‘White School’, as I was continually reminded of as a child, in language and manners far from complimentary.
Somerset Primary or Sandys Grammar School, as it was named during its existence in segregationist times, had a wealthy Board of Governors/Trustees, which ensured the school’s students were supplied with the best available educational materials and that its buildings were well kept. It also served to implant jealousy and certify the derision offered by West End’s student body and affiliates to Blacks that matriculated at the Gilbert Lane institution.
The period of my attendance involved daily interaction with many area Portuguese migrant children, who were also denigrated and became my closest friends and allies. As well I was in constant interplay with the offspring of wealthy Whites from Daisy Field, middle class Whites and the children of expatriate military personnel from the area’s three military outposts the Canadian Forces Station at Daniels Head, the United States Naval Annex at George’s Bay in Southampton and the Royal Naval Air Station in Dockyard who were bused to school and didn’t have to deal with much of the expressed idiocy of inward prejudice.
Only yards away but made to seem miles apart, such was the dilemma of many youngsters, as they were coloured a shade somewhere between black and white, fully belonging to neither, floating within an unwarranted abyss.
It was the constant regurgitation and reminding of my attendance at a previously segregated institution that largely served to ostracise myself and other area Black youngsters, most of whom went to Somerset Primary by parental order rather than choice, and served to make myself and others feel patently inferior as a Black person and become something of a band of social misfits.
A saving grace, of sorts, was my football talent and my father’s allowance and encouraging me to join Somerset Cricket Club’s football programme, where he was a youth coach and I thrived on the pitch, just as I did in the class-room.
At the end of my tenure at Somerset Primary my great aunt, Inez Kennedy, a renowned educator and a pioneer for Black women in the then White bastion that was tennis, signed me up to sit the entrance exam for Saltus Grammar School and, even in personal reluctance, I earned a scholarship to another predominately White institution.
The achievement garnered praise even from many of the ‘bigoted’ West Enders, although some figured I should have gone to Berkeley Institute.
I had also been accepted at the distinguished Pembroke institution, but having procured a full-scholarship to Saltus, a highly regarded achievement among Blacks. One seen as an ideal vehicle toward upper class membership, whereby my further participation in the public school system was not an option.
I did not desire to attend Saltus, largely because if was boys only, overwhelmingly White and stigmatised as elitist and, as noted, I desperately wanted to attended Berkeley in order to enhance my status and belonging among the Sandys community’s Black cadre.
However, it was not only the era’s Blacks attending Somerset Primary that were subjected to the elitist snobbery being perpetrated, but also those that went to Boaz Island Primary School or the ‘tin school’ not to be confused with the old Tin Top school that existed on Sound View Road as it was often derogatively referred.
West End Primary was largely populated by offspring of the west end’s Black bourgeoisie and its Black middle-class homeowners, the parish’s presumed upwardly mobile crowd, while Boaz Island consisted of those of lesser means. These were the ‘despised’ renters who occupied the ‘abandoned’ row houses of Albert and Victoria, former housing quarters for those of the British Naval Air Station in Dockyard.
The Dockyard folk were largely looked down upon by reason of their lack and were very much shunned by the Blacks of Somerset Island, which consisted of the West Enders.
The closure of the school in the late 1970s led to most of the students being reallocated to Somerset Primary, immediately resetting its racial dynamic and dramatically enhancing our sporting prowess to that of a force comparable to the athletic giant which was West End.
The White School chatter thus gradually wore off with the designed integration of the Dockyard Blacks into the Somerset Primary population and closures of the various bases, with today’s students much less subjected to the name calling and pompous jargon of days gone by.
Yet memories never die. We learn to live with them. And never so sour a pill been made to swallow by the West End Warriors as the appointed closing of their legacy-laden institutional landmark.
My point in writing this Op-ed is to not to denigrate the West End Warriors or dismiss their efforts in fighting to retain a key piece of Sandys, Bermuda and indeed western hemispheric history, but to unpack some of the baggage unknown, forgotten and/or ignored also attached.
I raised the issue at a town hall meeting and was comforted by the sympathy expressed toward myself and another attendee, yet the fact remains that all things affiliated with the Blackness of West End Primary, specifically the racial idolatry then and now, was/is not in the best interest of the whole of the west end community, just as such can be counter-productive to today’s learning and the overall advancement of the Island’s Black community.
What I believe is much more important than quarrelling over aged, condemned bricks and mortar when a sturdier castle has been provided is the implementation of a viable, structured educational system that better informs students of the complete and balanced history of matters Bermuda Black, White, ethnic, etc., warts and all with a goal of moving toward the obliteration of racial and class tensions, inequity, inequality and inherent systemic prejudices which unduly pervade this island ‘paradise’.
Such should be carried out without promoting a fatally flawed, self-destructive, modern Black culture invested in a ‘woke’ doctrine, with basis in racial idolatry, immorality, victimhood’ and a disassembly of sound familial structure, which can only serve o hinder and prevent, rather than enhance the Black community’s ability to harmonise and advance its singular position, let alone Bermuda as a unified country.
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