Bermuda is governed by blacks, yet a waitress will not serve me

I am seeking shelter everywhere from the persistent and insistent rays of sunlight. Between 11am and 3pm, all is purgatory. For a few minutes, maybe, the swimming pool, then the ocean, but these provide only momentary relief.

The one certainty is a full breakfast, putting gas in the tank before I drag my body through the humidity that descends on the tiny island of Bermuda. Breakfast is a must, to be enjoyed in the still of the morning.

On my third day here, I amble along to the restaurant. I plonk myself down with a bowl of fruit in the middle of the joint, waiting to be served my orange juice, bacon and eggs, and whatever else takes my fancy.

I sit and sit and sit and sit, waiting. A young Englishwoman is in charge of my station. She serves here, there, along, around me, without paying me the slightest attention. As usual, I'd had a shower that morning, and was suitably deodorised - there was some special Armani spray that I got from my nephew for Fathers' Day. I was dressed rather simply: designer T-shirt, jeans, black leather Reeboks. Excuse the detail, but I need to eliminate all the reasons why she might have steered clear.

The entire breakfast room had been seized by a state of uneasiness. The hotel residents were shifting in their seats, eyes darting to and from where I was sitting. I sat and waited. Then the waitress approached the man immediately behind me. He had arrived after me, he had already been served, and he had finished eating. Yet she offered him another glass of orange juice. She walked away. And then, after 40 minutes, I called out to her. She turned, looked at me and looked away. I called again. She turned, looked at me and looked away again.

She returned to the man behind me and asked if he was satisfied. He could barely speak. He stuttered, got up and left. I turned on her and asked if she was crazy. Had she lost her little cotton-picking mind? Did she want me to skate her white arse all over the restaurant floor? By this time, the entire restaurant, to me, had gone dark. My head was pounding and my entire body shaking. But I tried to withdraw coolly and carefully.

Where did she get the power to pull such a stunt, in a country where 60 per cent of the people are black, where there is a black government in power, and where her immediate boss is black? The answer is that these are very recent developments in Bermuda. Whites have been in charge of everything for centuries, and it is only in the last two years that blacks have taken charge of whites. There is a hesitancy and uncertainty about black power on this island, and this English suburban wretch was playing it to the hilt.

I called an old London friend who is now a leading lawyer on the island. We agreed to issue a writ. We made two demands as conditions of settlement: her work permit should be withdrawn, which would lead to instant deportation; and I should be compensated for the hurt and public humiliation.

I was so compensated, and I never saw her for the rest of the time I was in Bermuda. Once more in my life, race had reared its ugly head, and lost.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Just you wait until I grow up