If only two words could be used to describe Linda Mienzer, they would definitely be community activist. Known for her unwavering commitment to addressing discriminatory issues facing Bermuda and its people, Linda’s latest effort is to create open and honest dialogue about racial discrimination on the Island.
Not quite sure why her name is ringing a bell? It was Linda who first brought the now-infamous Facebook post of business man Rick Olson to light. Initially, Olson dismissed those offended by telling them to ‘lighten up’ as he was simply being humorous, which only angered people more.
Olson was subsequently made to apologise by Premier Michael Dunkley, who condemned the post.
But this wasn’t enough, says Linda. For the last two weeks she has called for the boycotting of Olson’s businesses: Bermuda Bistro on the Beach, Red Steakhouse and the Rum Bum concession at Horseshoe Bay.
Recently Today In Bermuda sat down with Linda to gain insight on why she has taken such a passionate position and why she is not afraid to stand up for what she believes is right.
“When you say that persons who have chosen a means to express themselves, when you stand up and say they should be hung drawn and quartered and you think it’s funny, I have a problem with that,” Linda explains.
Olson’s post made reference to the December 2, 2016, protests which saw tension rise to unprecedented levels outside of the House of Assembly grounds. Protesters, including women and senior citizens, were pepper-sprayed by Police (see video).
Linda continues: “This whole idea about a joke…let me tell you about a joke...a joke is some sort of spontaneous thing that you think that the people who you are putting it out there will find it funny. For me he had to go and look for that information. He had to go and google that. It didn’t stumble up on his feed.
“Then he had to make the decision to apply it to an actual event, to an actual group of people and 99 percent of those people were Black people. I don’t find that funny because what happens now is every time you apply an image to something, for me the faces of those people come up on your image.
“I’m seeing the faces of my union colleagues. I’m seeing the faces of Bermudians who came out and decided to make a stand but I’m also seeing the faces of my relatives, that’s not funny to me.”
Linda goes on to address the critics who have said that calling for a boycott is a futile exercise because eventually Bermudians will return to spending at the establishments: “We are always going to catergorise our people when they wake up and start to push back. There is always going to be those who want to keep us in that defined box that they have for us but at the end of the day what I’ve said is that Mr Olson had ample opportunity from the onset. He was asked to apologise, he was resistant, he was asked again...he was resistant and when he was asked by Mr. Dunkley he placated us with, ‘I only apologise if you don’t get my sense of humour’, which is not an apology.
“I think that’s sad that the Premier of this country had to intervene in a situation like this, basically force somebody to apologise and it should be noted that the Premier in his statement said it fell under the guise of racism, discrimination and bigotry. And then the OBA followed up with a statement that said it was racist, so why continue to hold a debate on whether it was a joke, or it wasn’t racist, or that’s not what he meant, when it has already been deemed that way.”
Linda offered this response to those who are of the opinion that she is going too far by sustaining her call for the boycott, wearing her “Boycott” t-shirt daily.
“I think we have to realise that our economic power should be respected and everybody gets to decide what they want to do with their money. If you have a person in a position of wealth and he has a business and the large majority of people who frequent that business is from the black community, who he has clearly disrespected, you should not spend your money there.
“I have encouraged the boycott on the principle of if you cannot respect the people who provide you with your economic wealth then you don’t deserve to have it and I think that we as a community as a Black community and as a white community should support that.”
But the fact cannot be ignored that Olson has created successful businesses which cater to the tourism sector. When asked if she felt that he should be one of the faces of tourism, Linda replies: “Some would say yes because he appears to be a successful businessman who generates much in the tourism industry. That is the same premise under which slavery operated where the wealth of businessman benefited by blacks in slavery and they may have taken their wealth and done good stuff for their countries but it doesn’t change the fact that they built up that wealth off the backs of slaves.
“Just because you hire Bermudians, just because you are a successful business man, doesn’t give you a pass to be racist. And it shouldn’t and that’s for anybody.”
Reflecting on the backlash Lynn Whitfield from CURB has received as a white woman who spoke out about the inequities shown and yet not acknowledged, Linda surmises: “She’s going to get some backlash and I’m going to get some backlash and everyone who has ever spoke out in this country is going to get some backlash.
“That is the price that you pay when you stand up and say something is wrong. This is not just a Black problem in this community, this is for the white community and all of us. It’s either we acknowledge that racism is wrong or we do not. It is a responsibility for all of us. I even talked about my allies in the LGBT community…where are they because racism is against human rights and so we all should be on deck. That is the only way we can really start to see change.”
She continues: “It’s been 183 years that we’ve been talking about this, again bring to the fore that racism has no place in this country. And everybody needs to stand up. It should disturb everybody.”
To some, Linda is considered too vocal and a one-man band…
“I am not a one man band. It feels that way to me sometimes but every day I receive messages from people who support me.
“I think the support is far greater than people would say, but here’s the thing. Whenever you stand up and say ‘I support’ then you are putting yourself out there. There is a mass fear of the repercussions of doing that and that should disturb people.
“Anybody who puts up their hand and says, ‘I don’t think something is right in this country’ has this great fear of backlash.”
When asked if she is afraid of losing her job as a Police Station Duty Officer, Linda tells Today In Bermuda: “I’m always afraid for my job but I don’t think that I am doing anything wrong as a civil servant being conscious. I don’t think that I am doing anything wrong as a civil servant calling for unity in our country on an issue that the government itself made a statement on.
“So how can you penalise me as a civil servant for taking up the cause when they themselves said there is no place for racism in this country. If anything as a civil servant you should be applauding me.”
Linda expresses what she would like to see for Bermuda in the future.
“I would like to see us come out of this a better, mature country where we are not afraid to have this dialogue and have a fear of the backlash. I think if more people stood up and demanded that we had this conversation then a responsible government would make every effort to have it. It can’t just be CURB and these little pockets of organisations that stand up and say, ‘Hey we want to be heard.’ It has to be a collective of people who are tired of fear in this country.”
Linda expresses her gratitude to her supporters: “What I am doing is tiring but I have no choice. I would feel like a fraud if I did not put effort in what I believe is a human right. I don’t talk out of two side of my mouth.
“If I am an advocate for human rights, I am an advocate for human rights and it doesn’t mean only something that I am going to benefit from. It has to be something that will benefit the country. If we were all able to come together and push aside our personal agendas and come together on a way that we can really move our country forward, that would be amazing. Do I think it’s going to happen. Probably not. But I am not going to stop trying.”