It seems mainstream media is sipping the Kool Aid.
At least, that’s what we think Mark Pettingill might say if he’d ever been in the unfortunate position of serving it.
Here at Kulcha!, we like our news served up with a pinch of balance, a side order of scrutiny and, if we’re feeling classy, some “jus de judgement.” The Bermuda Sun is 86 (out of stock) on those ingredients, but at Bermuda’s media houses, elite bias may just be a house special.
The matter at hand is the Bermuda Sun’s article, “Putting Bermudians to Work as Waiters,” which we fear may be just the tip of the ice-berg of the bias towards elite perspectives in Bermuda’s media; let us explain.
Bermuda Sun’s Friday June 28 lede read: “While nearly 100 people took part in the Waiter/Server programme last year, some were just ‘looking for a quick hustle’ while they were out of work.” The “evidence” is that 58 of the 99 graduates were still employed by the end of 2012 – and that Philip Barnett and Teresa Chatfield (Directors of Island Restaurant Group and MEF, respectively) say so. Specifically, they wrote in their Annual Report to the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce as co-chairs of the Restaurant and Night Club Division that “whilst there was an uptick of interest from Bermudians in areas such as bartending and servicing, and some positive graduates…many are looking for a quick hustle until they are able to find their “normal” source of employment.”
So quote the master to report on the slave – all is still right in the world, we say.
Before speaking on the class dynamics at work here, let’s first deal with the numbers. The article appears to say that only 58 out of 99 couldn’t stand the heat and quit the kitchen, but it goes on to say that of those 99 people taking the course in 2012, 84 passed the final test. 67 of those 84 secured jobs by August 2012 with 58 still employed by November. So what at first appears to be a 58.5% return on investment is in fact not-too-shoddy at 86.5%.
What is really troubling, however, is that nowhere in the article are the voices of workers themselves heard. In a country with one daily, print media has near-Biblical authority. In this case, the corporate masters say, “The slaves don’t work well,” and the masters of media toast to that.
The Bermuda Sun could have interviewed trainees of the program to find out why former servers left the industry, and what work, if any, they are doing today. It could have provided its readers with balance and perspective by pushing up against the rhetoric and investigating the nuanced realities that lie beneath.
But perhaps that approach might that be too akin to journalism for the Bermuda Sun.
The article seems to need “street-level” sources, and Kulcha! is good at that. Some of us are ex-hospitality workers ourselves and have Bermudian and expat industry friends. Here’s what we know: Phil Barnett, owner of the Hog Penny, Barracuda Grill, Pickled Onion, Frog & Onion, and Victoria Grill/Latin, has had Bermudian employees working for him in the last year making $5.35 an hour. That’s five dollars thirty five cents – out of which comes health and social insurance. We’d ask, “What Bermudian can live off $5.35 an hour?” but those of you making quadruple that salary in Bermuda know how difficult it is to survive. The struggle is real.
You may hear, “But they make it up in tips!” and it’s true that the height of the season, you can take home some decent cash. However your income from tips fluctuates and is dependent on a lot of variables. Are you working a Harbor Nights or a Tuesday lunch? Do you have a lot of tables, and are they in a quiet section or a busy one? How many shifts are you working? Are they weekends? Will you get the outdoor area when it’s warm and breezy, or hot and humid, or outdoors when it rains? All of these decisions are made by management and your shifts change weekly or at no notice. Not being able to budget, plan a social life with friends, or commit to extra-curricular wellness or educational opportunities takes its toll. Each restaurant deals with tips and gratuities differently, but it is my experience that servers don’t keep all their gratuities. The servers get 10% of the 15% gratuities charge; the other 5% goes to the House which includes the hostess, bartender, and well-fed manager. We also know of more than one Bermudians who’s insurance was “mistakenly” not filed after working thankless, demanding jobs and putting up with workplaces that can be very anti-Bermudian, as well sexist, racist, and socially isolating.
Now imagine you have children to take care of. One graduate of the training program found it hard to work out reasonable hours with her employer that would allow her to be present for her children. She quit. The last time I saw her, she was looking for work – not in the “normal” employment the Chamber of Commerce co-chairs suggest.
Where We Stand: Class Matters
It would take another article (and solid reporting) to do justice to the complicated issue of why some Bermudians leave the industry. It is also worth saying that not all work environments are created equal, and hopefully not all service jobs are as unsustainable as the ones my former colleagues and I experienced. I loved serving people, but the combination of factors proved overwhelming. But is it really that bad if 14% of servers decide they can’t stomach the profession on a long term basis and move on to more steady, better compensated, less draining jobs? Is it really that it’s possible that there are servers who see who see serving as a transition to better employment while the economy is down?
Bermudian workers have long been called lazy, unprofessional and unmotivated; the contention that Bermudians and this quote stands on the shoulders on those perceptions. Intentionally or unintentionally, fairly or unfairly, when these views go unchallenged they fuel the frustration of the young, the workers, the disappearing middle class, and the under- and unemployed that know their experiences and concerns are not being adequately represented in the national dialogue.
As former journalist/blogger Chris Gibbons wrote in his analysis of bias at the Royal Gazette, when news outlets don’t publish the full story it “fuels suspicions, particularly in the black community, which has an historical mistrust of the Gazette, of a hidden agenda, and that important stories are being suppressed.” I would add that class is just as significant a paradigm for understanding politics, social breakdown, xenophobia, and distrust of mainstream media in Bermuda as race is, if not more. Those of us who are under- and unemployed, young, or both know that there is so much more than meets the eye. Despite the talk of economic recovery and employment for Bermuda’s, hiring practices are hostile to young/Bermudians, and the class and racial oppression goes much deeper than any of the outlets are able or willing to report.
Xenophobia and social breakdown are issues of class aggression. When people scrawl “____ go home” on the bus stops or engaging in angry confrontations in public space, it’s not because they hate expats, but because they hate being unemployed and unheard, and foreigners seem to have the jobs. Few people in authority, if any, show sensitivity to the perspectives of the young, under- and unemployed. If this recession lasts long enough, and if no one stands up for us, class aggression may just turn to class warfare – and the news will be forced to report it.
Editor’s Note: Kulcha!’s youthful team is a spirited blend of mixed races and genders. Sipping the Kool Aid, contrary to some popular misinformation PLP, is not a racially charged term. Because we’re young and some of us are black and all of us are cool, we’ll cite Urban Dictionary as our esteemed style guide, but we’ll also cite Wiki for the rest of you).