Affable Curmudgeon who helped shape Bermuda
At 10, Lowdru Robinson was amazed to learn his grandmother was white. Until a classmate called her a “white codfish”, he’d never thought about it.
“She was just grandma,” said the 81-year-old.
And in segregated Bermuda, he found it difficult to reconcile his kindly grandmother with other white people he knew.
It made him question everything he knew about race.
“From that experience I developed a lifelong interest and curiosity about skin colour and how people’s lives are impacted by it,” Mr Robinson said.
Today, he’s still exploring the topic through a blog The Affable Curmudgeon. Since August 2016, he’s been writing about everything from white privilege to uncelebrated inventors.
He chose the blog name for the play on words.
“An affable curmudgeon is one who is working towards reaching an agreement on a bad-tempered, evil problem,” he said.
So far he’s had positive feedback with two university sociology professors contacting him to thank him for his writing.
“One BBC television host retweeted information that I sent him on a blog I wrote about blacks in Britain before the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush, dating back to Roman times,” said Mr Robinson. “That included information on Queen Victoria’s black goddaughter, Sara Forbes Bonetta.”
In his writings, he puts quotations around words like “race” and “race relations”, because he believes they are questionable terms standing for social constructs.
“There is only the human race,” he said. “All biologists agree that humans developed in Africa and spread around the world. Everyone goes back to being African.”
Mr Robinson is a former director of Community & Cultural Affairs, and Human Affairs, and retired in 1999. He now lives in Portishead, Bristol, England.
As a youngster he dreamt of becoming a lawyer.
“Lawyer Arnold Francis was my role model,” said Mr Robinson.
But when he graduated from the Berkeley Institute, teacher training scholarships were the only financial aid options available to black Bermudians.
“My intention was to do teaching, get a job, earn some money and go back to school to become a lawyer,” he said.
But he fell in love with teaching.
“Teaching was a good match for me,” he said. “I just loved working with students.”
After studying at Ottawa Teacher’s College in Canada, the scholarship required him to teach in Bermuda for three years.
He taught at Francis Patton Primary and Southampton Glebe, but left the island as soon as his time was up.
“I just couldn’t stand the segregation on the island,” he said. “I had experienced the freedom of life in Canada, including being able to vote in the country’s federal election because I was British.
“Back in Bermuda, my father was not able to vote because he did not own any land. Trying to live in Bermuda with the continued segregation was a frustration, not only for me but my returning classmates as well.”
He returned to Canada and worked as a teacher and guidance counsellor at a high school in Hamilton, Ontario.
In 1978 he brought a group of his students to Bermuda on an exchange trip.
“When I was here, the government advertised for a director of community and cultural affairs,” said Mr Robinson.
On the urging of a friend, he applied for the job, and got it.
Much of his early work as director involved implementing recommendations made by the 1978 Pitt Report.
The Pitt Report, drawn up after the 1977 riots, made suggestions for improving race relations.
Mr Robinson was responsible for many programmes and events we take for granted today, such as community education, seniors week and the Bermuda Day Parade.
“The Pitt Report said people really needed events and activities that encouraged national pride,” said Mr Robinson.
But when he first started the Bermuda Day Parade, there was community resistance.
“When the last Easter parade was over, there was a mini riot that evening,” he said. “The riot really had nothing to do with the parade, but people connected it with it.”
The late Eddie DeMello, Choy Aming and Dickie Green helped Mr Robinson get the first Bermuda Day Parade started in 1979.
Thirty-eight years later, Mr Robinson marvelled at how much the parade had grown.
“I was back for it this May,” he said. “It was quite an emotional experience to see the streets just filled with people,” he said.
In 1993 he became the director of another new department, Human Affairs, and was responsible for the Centre for Unity and Racial Equality, the Human Rights Commission and the Consumer Affairs Bureau, among other things.
After six years, he retired and moved to China to be with his daughter Lolita Schmalenberg and her family.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “I spent 14 years there and loved it.
“In China I worked as a teacher in a couple of international schools.
“I ended up working with business managers, working on their English.”
While he was in China he met someone who told him about Bristol, England.
“I visited it a couple of times and liked it,” he said.
He moved there in 2013.
Today one of his passions is golf. He learnt to play through one of the community education programmes that he helped to start.
Mr Robinson is also a passionate reader and has more than 2,000 books in his home library.
“My mother taught me to read when I was four, by using comic books,” he said. “I haven’t stopped reading since.”
In Bristol, he lives in Portishead, near the entrance to the Bristol Channel.
“I can see Wales from my balcony,” he said. “I can see all the ships going to Bristol Harbour. Everywhere I have lived I have always lived near the water.”
Mr Robinson has four grandchildren and twin great-granddaughters.
• To see his blog see kemet36.wordpress.com/
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