By Earl Bousquet
With Reparations in the air everywhere now more than ever on both sides of the Atlantic following the killing of George Floyd and the US Black Lives Matter protests, apologists for the heirs and successors of the benefits of the Slave Trade and against growing Reparations are working overtime to undermine the increasing levels of interest being manifested across the Caribbean as the region’s governments continue to demand Reparations from Britain and Europe for centuries of Slavery and Native Genocide.
Newspapers, radio and TV stations, mainstream and social media are alive in most Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries with talk shows, opinions, commentaries and Letters to the Editor appearing more than just few and far between, as apologetic writers and commentators go into overdrive to undermine the Reparations Movement’s arguments and advocate that CARICOM governments simply stop demanding what Time and History have proven to be the Caribbean’s accumulated and long-overdue British and European debts for centuries of Slavery and Native Genocide.
Hard Truths, Cold Facts…
Many who oppose Reparations offer crude and outdated arguments that have been responded to by the likes of Marcus Garvey who spoke directly to and connected with Black people the world over back in a time, a century ago, when there was no wireless or internet, email or WhatsApp.
But just as many can and do offer arguments that are judged more on the basis of who’s speaking (or writing) than on the hard truths established by cold facts of history and they too need to be responded to quickly and thoroughly, lest their flawed arguments be allowed to take root in minds still seeking basic truths about CARICOM’s quest for Reparations from Europe.
Take the following recent related exchange in the Jamaica press – and one healthy outcome…
In a July 10, 2020 Jamaica Gleaner Letter of the Day entitled Imagination First, Reparation Next penned by Earl Mckenzie, a former Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the West Indies (The UWI), the writer argued that if CARICOM countries are serious about asking European countries for Reparations, they should “first draw up a list of specific developmental projects and then ask these former colonial governments for assistance in implementing them.”
But, he personally opined, “Preparing such a list would be an exercise of imagination, the ability to think about what is not the case.”
Few in Jamaica responded directly to what some considered McKenzie’s rational arguments, but the irrationality of his entire letter and offered arguments, inter alia, were not lost on at least one social commentator concerned about the need for history to be set straight in any public debate in Jamaica.
Verene Shepherd is a popular weekly Jamaican talk show host – who is also Professor of History at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) Mona Campus, Co-Chair of the Jamaica National Council on Reparations (NCR) and Director of The UWI’s Centre for Reparation Research (CRR) and who also served on several international bodies, including the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
And, as the first CARICOM citizen to be elected to serve on the UN’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which is attached to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) and who is also included among those who grace the Black Achievement Wall of Honour at the UN alongside Barack Obama, Derek Walcott, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Derek Walcott, she did offer a brief response to McKenzie in her popular ‘Nationwide’ radio talk show ‘Talking History’ on July 25, 2020.
Professor Shepherd, who is also a Vice Chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) pointed out that the CARICOM Reparations Commission’s (CRC) main Reparations Strategy Document, also called its Ten Point Action Plan, “is in fact a product of the creative imagination of the CRC Chair, Prof Sir Hilary Beckles and other members of the CRC’ – and it actually “does attempt” that level of creative imagination he recommended.
The CRC Plan was also “framed within the discourse of development and contains feasible, practical proposals” and “does draw inspiration from the creative achievements of the past” which McKenzie hinted might not be the Caribbean’s case
However, she posited that the CARICOM Development Plan being proposed by the CRC “is located within the discourse of a just demand and not an act of begging,” as McKenzie had suggested.
She also argued that “Reparation is located within the framework of decolonization, but demands a more sophisticated strategy than simply listing a catalogue of ‘our own creative achievements’ and calling that ‘the best kind of decolonization’.”
McKenzie would soon submit another similar article to ‘The Gleaner’, this time challenging the basic foundation of another fundamental cornerstone of the Reparations movement, that of Decolonization. In his second ‘Letter to the Editor’, McKenzie lamented what he described as “Destroying the representations of persons, places and things valorized during the colonial era that now seem objectionable to us,” and regretted that “statues that took months or years to build and erect can be toppled and thrown into the sea in minutes…”
He offered that “All forms of knowledge… are slowly acquired over many centuries” and questioned “whether such knowledge be discarded on the grounds that these were not the ideal and preferred ways of knowing?” McKenzie also argued that “using creative thinking to solve the problems that are the legacies of colonialism” – is hardest to apply in the Caribbean, because “Creative geniuses are few and far between.” And he concluded his second epistle saying Society… “is a contract between the ancestors, the living and the unborn” and the task today is, therefore, to “learn from our ancestors and preserve the best of what they passed on to us.”
It’s easy to dismiss McKenzie’s arguments as sober-sounding palpitations of a learned Caribbean apologist for those who argue against Reparations from within by offering the same old arguments clothed in new phrases and masked with colorful vocabulary.
But arguments like his ought not to be dismissed or disregarded as more of the same from people who should know better.
Disinformation has always been used by the colonial overlords to confuse the minds of generations of victims of slavery and native genocide, but Misinformation is no less dangerous when spouted from familiar mouths in language that more among them will try to understand.
Philosophical arguments about why Caribbean nations have no reason to demand, request or otherwise seek Reparations have come from many mouths and pens in as many forms as can be imagined, as such apologists exist on both sides of the Atlantic.
But there will never be agreement between the oppressors and the oppressed, between the victims who demand Reparations and the guilty European culprit nations for their Black Debts to former West Indian colonies.
The Lewis Development Plan
In-house, House Slave-type apologists for those who seek to escape ultimate judgment for their sins of commission and omission will always find new pleas and arguments to offer.
Therefore, it is for those pressing the Reparations call in these new and exciting times to do even more to acquaint themselves with the arguments offered by Sir Arthur Lewis in his blueprint for Reparations from Britain for Slavery, as contained in his seminal first work Labour in the West Indies (1939), which, eight decades later, still provides the basis for creation of a Caribbean Development Plan akin to the US-funded Marshall Plan for Britain and Europe after World War II.
It was through the Marshall Plan that West Indians of the Windrush Generation were lured to provide cheap labor to rebuild Britain, only to be marginalized less than a century later and ultimately targeted for involuntary repatriation by expulsion and deportation to their original colonial lands of birth, no longer considered worthy of citizenship or equal treatment in the countries they worked hard to rebuild and also paid the taxes that helped Britain finish paying its historical reparations debts to 19th century slavers in 2015.
The CRC is proposing the Lewis Development Plan as the blueprint formula for assessing Reparations from Britain for centuries of slavery in the West Indies and it too will soon become the target of those who continue to search for and find sick and disguised arguments to further bear witness for the European who committed the greatest crime against humanity.
Very Much Alive…
The apologists for those unwilling to accept blame for Slavery and Native Genocide in the West Indies are very much alive everywhere across CARICOM today – and are indeed also becoming bolder in their statements of opposition to growing efforts to correct Caribbean history.
In Trinidad & Tobago recently, the Spanish Ambassador threatened Hell and Damnation would reign down on Port of Spain if any government of the twin-island republic even hints at succumbing to growing pressure to remove the prominent statue of Christopher Columbus from a prominent location in the bustling city.
The Barbados government recently decided to remove the statue of Lord Horatio Nelson from the center of Bridgetown, the capital of what was once ‘Little England’, much to the regret of the descendants, heirs and successors of the English planter class that has survived to continue to control the commanding heights of the Bajan economy, with equal funding-support influence over both major parties (BLP and DLP).
Similar arguments may soon be made against Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua and Barbuda, while a petition has already started in Saint Lucia to rename Rodney Bay, named after another English admiral who helped preserve slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean.
Growing National Consciousness
CARICOM has for seven years entrusted the CRC and National Reparations Committees (NRCs) in over a dozen member-states with the task of growing national consciousness of Reparations issues.
At this time when the movement is gaining global traction and regional attention is increasing exponentially, it is therefore all that more important for NRCs to intensify responses to the old arguments in new wrapping that will continue to come from those who will continue going heads-over-heels to convince Caribbean people that their leaders don’t have what it takes to secure Reparations because they simply don’t have enough brains.
The months and years ahead will bring increased hardships for the average Caribbean citizen for whom Reparations are being sought in small states strangled by debts, crippled by COVID and with the continuing resulting regional economic decline.
Unless conditions improve, people will continue to resist and revolt – and with no curable medicine or viable antidote on the horizon, Caribbean nations have no choice but to press-on even harder now for collection on Britain and Europe’s outstanding accumulated debts.
Finally, spokespersons for the Reparations movement and teachers of History across the region should feel encouraged by the positive responses that continue to flow from their corrections of misrepresentations of Caribbean history and the aims of the movement for Apology and Atonement.
Example: McKenzie’s missives were published in the ‘Jamaica Gleaner’, CARICOM’s oldest newspaper with a history associated with slavery in Jamaica. But Professor Shepherd’s consistent weekly efforts at putting history right through her radio program have been roundly acknowledged by Jamaica’s other major daily newspaper, ‘The Observer’.
In an editorial on Sunday, August 2 entitled Thank You Prof Verene Shepherd – Teacher ‘The Observer’ noted the primal importance of Jamaicans understanding their history to the process of nation building for the future and described her show as being “an invaluable contribution to nation-building.”
The editorial said of Professor Shepherd, “She is a public intellectual who has put her knowledge to the service of the people by extending her teaching beyond the university classroom.
“Our most respected educators are revered with the title ‘Teacher’. We say: ‘Nuff Respect, Teacher Shepherd. Future Jamaicans will salute you!”
To her, the CRC and CARICOM citizens should also say: Respect Due!
(Earl Bousquet is an Executive Member of the CRC and Chairman of the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee.)