Reparations, Black History Month and the International Decade for People of African Descent
- By UWI Centre for Reparation Research
- In Essays
Following is the full text of an address delivered by Earl Bousquet, Chairman of Saint Lucia’s National Reparations Committee (NRC) delivered at the Antigua Multipurpose Cultural Center on February 22nd 2018, at the invitation of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission (ABSRC).
I was on a hospital bed in Havana, Cuba, when I received the official request to come to Antigua an Barbuda to deliver this little talk — and I didn’t think twice: I agreed immediately, only subject to a little adjustment to enable me to get here in time. The closest available date was today, which is also Saint Lucia’s 39th Independence Day. I feel entirely good about dedicating that date this year to doing what I was invited to here in Antigua and Barbuda, in that place one of your calypsonians proudly refers to as ‘Wadadli’.
Who am I? Apart from what you have been told tonight in the Chairman’s introduction – all of which is true — I have also, during the past four decades, also always identified with the progressive political movement, the regional Rastafari Movement and the cause of African Liberation and People of African Descent, at home and abroad.
Tonight, I was asked to talk about Reparations (in the Context of) Black History Month and the International Decade for People of African Descent. I propose to do this by taking you through what I hope will be a short journey through a writer’s approach, through what I am guided by as the Five W’s of Journalism: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY. I also propose to end with 2 (two) more Questions also starting with words starting with W: ‘WHAT is to be done?’ and ‘WHERE to begin?’
An early cautionary note… Please be informed that I have compiled this presentation from a simple standpoint of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, so whenever I say ‘We’ or ‘Us’, or ‘They’ and ‘Them’, please be minded that I am referring not only to people of African descent, but also to all who also identify with our cause and who, like us, are or have been victims of the same systems of exploitation and oppression, past and present, that have contributed to who we were yesterday and who we are today.
I have been given 40 minutes and I have more than 6,000 words to share, so I will ask our chairman to kindly also double-up as my timekeeper and give me a signal when I have only ten minutes left.
So, let’ get started…
Question 1 – WHO Are We?
We are among the first people on this earth. Whether you believe in Creation or Evolution, whatever you have read or how you may have interpreted the history of Humankind, you cannot but conclude, honestly, that we were among the first humans Made by God or Evolved from and with Nature. We also built among the earliest Civilizations on this earth and developed aspects of Science and Technology before the circle was drawn or the first nail was made. Africans and Asians developed sciences as far apart as Astrology and the still-mysterious Engineering sciences that went into construction of The Pyramids.
Knowledge of the history of the African continent goes back much further in time than the whole world has been taught, which is, that the world started with the birth of Jesus Christ. The same misleading historians also told us Europeans ‘Discovered’ our part of the world, as if the millions they met and killed and exterminated, whose civilizations they also destroyed — like the Mayans and the Aztecs – never existed.
African and Chinese fleets sailed to our part of the world long before Christopher Columbus, who had knowledge of and access to the early Chinese maps of the oceans he knew not of. The Chinese were looking for ‘the end of the earth’ before they concluded it had to be round. Great African fleets from Mali and other parts of Africa also sailed to what we now know as ‘South America’ long before the Europeans arrived seeking ‘New Worlds to Conquer’ (N.B. This is also actually the name of a history book for West Indian students up the latter part of the 20th Century). Some of the great ships wrecked and the surviving Africans landed and survived, some integrating, others fighting to preserve their ways of life, but all leaving both their marks in history and their contribution to the Humanity that built that part of our world, from there on. That part of our history is well documented in They Came Before Columbus by Guyanese author, Ivan Van Sertima.
You can see today the evidence of that past in the succeeding generations of those Africans in Brazil and Colombia, Argentina and Cuba, Mexico and Ecuador, in the people and artifacts embedded in Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano, in which he recorded what he described as ‘Five centuries of the pillage of Latin America’.
The stories those scribes of falsities presented to us, which were actually their own seasoned and salted versions of our history, have also helped sow the myth of a ‘Latin America’. But that is an innocent-sounding but really fully-loaded geographical term mathematically minted to embed in our minds the falsehood that this part of the continent was somehow Latin in its origin.
The continents we learned at school were Africa, America, Asia, Europe — and Australia. And there was that other one Europe, that has always been (and is still) historically responsible for all the wretchedness that has visited ours and all other continents.
We are the descendants of Africans at home and abroad, the sons and daughters and succeeding generations of those original ancestors who left home and arched across the world like all others, but much earlier and in different ways.
Our forebears took Africa with them to every corner of the rest of the world. The evidence is there, not only in us in the Caribbean – where we did not come of our own free will – but everywhere else that we can be seen and found.
We are also in the Aborigines of Australia, the Maoris of New Zealand and the Garifunas of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — and Belize.
And now, Europe is finding out the startling truth that many of them came from us, that we are likely the very first people to set foot on and live with Mother Nature in that part of the world they thought was always exclusively theirs.
European puritans got the Mother of All Shocks from the British press a few days ago when DNA tests on the oldest skeleton in Britain confirmed that it represents one of us. It was found in a cave in Somerset and was named ‘Cheddar Man’ after the area it was found, which earlier also gave the same name to the popular cheeses the world continues to love.
‘Cheddar Man’s DNA analysis revealed he lived over 10,000 (ten thousand) years ago – and that he had ‘blue eyes, dark skin and dark curly hair.’
Another Cautionary Note: Note the process of word management here: the writers of the article [published in The Guardian of February 7, 2018] were overly careful not to say the original Cheddar Man had ‘black skin’ or ‘black hair’. Instead, they insisted he had ‘dark to black skin’, leaving room for doubt. The article also does not say that the DNA confirms anything — only that it ‘suggests’ that his skin and hair were like ours.
The article is by Hannah Devlin, The Guardian’s Science Correspondent. Europe’s rude awakening also dawned on many when they viewed a later related documentary entitled First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man aired on BBC’s Channel 4 on 18 February, 2017.
This is Who We Are: People of ‘dark to black skin’, who look like no others and are different to all others, especially in the eyes of others. This is in fact both Who We Are and Who We Are Not — depending on who is talking, because another fact is that not all of us have ‘dark-to-black skin and curly hair’, but even so, we do know who we are, even if too many others still don’t.
We know for sure that who we are is more in our hearts than in the color of our skin, our eyes or our hair. Some of us don’t even look like who we are, but they also know deep inside that they too are who we are.
It is therefore to Who We Are that I dedicate this little talk on Reparations, Black History Month and the International Decade for People of African Descent.
Question 2: ‘Who did WHAT to Us?’
Tonight’s theme asks us to remember, while observing Black History Month and the International Decade (for People of African Descent) every year and pursuing the righteous demands for Reparations, those who did all they did to inflict the type of everlasting damage that still afflicts and affects us in big ways today.
We don’t need to go into Who They Are, because so many among them just did not know, until recently. But we have felt who they are, almost throughout our existence.
Centuries ago, Europe committed Mortal Sin against Africa in sustained ways and means, unseen and unknown before and since: invading and marauding countries, destroying tribes, raping women, kidnapping men and children, copying and stealing from civilizations and inventions and eventually creating the world’s worst Crime Against Humanity, the Slave Trade – the inhuman trade in African lives.
They kidnapped our fore-parents, chained and shipped them as slaves across the world through what was to them the crucial ‘Middle Passage’ and the bountiful ‘Great Triangle’. But even before that they contributed an even greater Genocide that is not sufficiently known or acknowledged.
While we are seeking deserved Reparations for old or new, ancient or modern, precolonial and modern economic slavery, we must also remember never to forget that crusades of harm also visited Hell and Damnation on huge portions of Humanity — on the people the Europeans met when they ventured on the Caribbean and South America.
Those other people who the Europeans divided between those who were ‘peaceful’ (and therefore easily captive) versus those who were more resistant (and therefore ‘cannibalistic’) and who they christened as ‘Arawaks’ and ‘Caribs’, respectively, those people were subjected to one of the worst examples of Genocide Against Native People.
It is for this reason that the demands of the CARICOM Reparations Commission and the National Reparations Committees in CARICOM member-states are for Reparations from Europe for Slavery and Native Genocide.
Just look at the surviving original First People in Dominica and their kindred in the Amazon region and you will see that, like ‘Cheddar Man’, they too had the nomadic tradition of walking across the world – whether on ice, through hot sand, or on tough earth — long before those who found that doing it by sea also took them quicker to more lands that were further apart.
Over time, Europe developed mechanisms that have more openly and in more hidden ways kept more of us in the bondage and servitude that replaced by direct brutal Slavery. Indian immigrants, for example, were bonded for life through a special type certified and legal, unchained slavery called ‘Indentured Labor’. But this too was simply a more sophisticated method of extracting cheap and almost free labor from humans through the same system of Exploitation of Man by Man employed in Slavery of Africans.
Call it Slavery or Indentureship, the culprits in all these cases crowded one particular continent – Europe — which today is no longer what it was, but is still moving Hell and High Water to maintain that high level of global domination that Slavery and Colonialism gave them.
We will also find that just like they dominated a significant portion of the Slave Trade back then, the same political and economic forces are still behind the so-called ‘Modern Slavery’ that continues to traffic Africans and other people like us through Human Trafficking, which is as alive in the 21st Century as we never, ever thought it would be.
This then, is part of WHAT they did to us.
Question 3: WHEN did all that happen?
It’s been happening from Time Immemorial, but most of the remembered damage was done during the 15th to 20th Centuries. Yet, those were not the only 400 years that we and people like us were subjected to the cruel lifelong effects of the machinations of those who wished to rule a carved-up world. Earlier and later, years of conquest also took place by armies on horseback and other transported means.
Within the latter part of those 400 years, the Europeans even fought among themselves, each of the conquering states wanting a greater share of the conquered continents. They drew and flew their flags over distant lands, drew new maps establishing new borders, created new countries and gave them flags of same colors but in different shapes and sizes.
Africa was carved into scores of colonies, islands in the Caribbean Sea became the ‘West Indies’ (because Columbus thought he as in India when he first saw them), the original people in the southern Americas became ‘Latin Americans’ and the Aborigines inhabiting earth’s largest island became ‘wild Australians’ to be tamed and civilized by Europeans.
Again, the Europeans ensured during that period that there must be absolutely no manufacturing in the West Indies – not even a nail was to be fabricated; and in America, not even an acre of land came to belong to those to whom all of it belonged.
The Europeans and their American descendants had by then developed Slavery to higher levels, spreading and deepening colonialism, always ensuring that the economic system of exploitation remained intact through whipping and hanging, systematically shedding blood while drinking the sweat and banking on the tears of the exploited.
During those Over 400 Years of Slavery there were always those of us who continued to perfect the various forms of resistance to oppression. It was natural to resist, so we always fought back. And here again, our revolutions and revolts were treated like Sins of Commission for which we were punished in new ways and old.
But resist we did!
Yes we did, leading to the Haitian Revolution in 1804, not only establishing the first Black Republic in the world, but also establishing the first country in the world that declared Slavery to be a Sin, that outlawed Slavery as a Crime Against Humanity, that made Slavery illegal at a time when Europeans in America were fighting to ensure it remained alive in both north and south.
We created in Haiti the first society in which we, beyond Africa, were able to show that there can be a civilization that can survive without colonial or European domination. But here too, we were again descended upon, with genocidal blood again spilt, followed by implementation of the first known case of Reparations having to be paid — not to us for having been kidnapped, uprooted and exploited, but to be paid by us, to those whom we dared to throw off our backs and off our lands.
The original Reparations Bill for 150 million gold francs was later reduced to 90 million, but it was imposed on Haiti by France and that would punish Haiti and Haitians for over 100 years, ensuring that small land and people – occupying only half of an island — became that land and people we still cry for to this day.
The Haitians paid and paid, but they did liberate the land and that signal victory also became a signal that continues to shine this day, flashing the message worldwide that a people united can never be defeated; and while battles will be fought and wars won and lost, the struggle will always continue, right through to The Bitter End.
That’s been our eternal experience.
Question 4: WHERE did all this happen?
By the end of the 19th Century, the big European Colonizing Nations were everywhere else in control. The Aborigines and the Maoris in what was now Australia and New Zealand, the Indians in their part of Asia, the Amerindians in so-called Latin America and the West Indies, the so-called Natives in the new USA and Canada, the captured and subjugated Africans in Africa’s new colonies — and all those resisting slavery in all the new European colonies – were also all seen and treated the same.
Everywhere the Europeans went, everywhere their new flags were flown, everywhere their new economic systems of slavery and exploitation had been forcibly implanted they ensured that we remained people in subjugation, the forms of slavery not changing, merely being adapted and adopted to ensure continuity of exploitation through blood, sweat and tears.
Yes, we remained subjugated everywhere across the world, at home in Africa and abroad. But everywhere we were exploited we resisted — and that resistance, while always itself resisted by the oppressors, did continue to evolve, our struggles being linked through knowledge of their existence, even if only through limited knowledge conditioned by those who saw those struggles in different terms, who seeing liberation struggles as mere revolts by recalcitrant and ungrateful lesser people.
That exploitation and oppression, therefore, was conducted everywhere!
Question 5: WHY was all that done to us?
Everything the Europeans did from the day they first landed in Africa was systematically designed to ensure it all fit into the grand plan for conquering the world and redrawing the world map in their own image and likeness.
Walter Rodney tells us that story of systematic, scientific exploitation in ways never before told in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. W.E.B. Dubois gave early accounts of who we are in The Soul of Black Folk. Jeremy Black offered us A New Global History of Slavery. Piers Brendon offered harrowing accounts in The Decline and Fall of the British Empire between 1781 and 1997. Mike and Trevor Philips later traced the rise of racism in Britain in Windrush and Hilary Beckles did even more tracing and exposing in Britain’s Black Debt.
The information is available on all media platforms today – online, on air and in print, written and published books, studies, reports and articles to be read that offer the whole story of why Europe, led by Britain, sought to rule the world.
That history of exploitation evolved over the years – from Feudalism to Slavery, from Colonialism to Capitalism and Imperialism, each refining and redefining the system of economic exploitation at all steps along the way. Colonialism led to Neo-colonialism, Capitalism led to Imperialism, Liberalism to Neo-liberalism. The links between Capitalism and Slavery today are clear everywhere the Europeans went.
It is very clear, as we look back, that Slavery was more than just racism, more of an economic system in which people — human beings — were treated as goods and commodities. Lives on ships were insured as cargo. People became goods owned by owners, to be compensated for if and when lost.
The system was designed and implemented to ensure that Europe continued to milk us and our nations across the world.
Just like the French were compensated for losing their interests in Haiti, the British were compensated for losing their slaves in the West Indies, each through systems of Reparations, sometimes by other names that made us believe we had regained our freedom, but under which we were just not free.
We were handed political systems that offered us versions of Statehood and Independence that told us we were in charge of our destinies, but within the limited Royal Realm of British and European majestic domination and rule. Africa was carved into European colonies, West Indian islands became British and French colonies, North and South American states were made into English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian colonies. Australia and New Zealand became British colonies. India and parts of China (like Hong Kong) became British colonies.
Armies of conquest were in fact dispatched across the world to ensure Europe’s economic interests were maintained, safeguarded and assured.
This is why they did it – to keep their flags flying and their system intact beyond their borders. This is why they designed economic and political systems to ensure their continued dominance.
We fought and won battles, but the war is yet to be won.
Southern Africa was liberated decades ago and we have the African Union (AU) and several regional African entities today, but Angola and South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe are still not yet free. Aborigines are still virtual slaves in Australia. Older First Peoples making modern demands for Reparations are being treated as ingrate and greedy natives and only seeking to deprive the sons and daughters of kind Europeans their rightful inheritances.
First People in Dominica, Guyana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize continue to be seen and treated as surviving minorities just as their fellow First People in the Amazon and across South and North America are still treat as products of the wild from the distant past existing in the age of the future.
That is why the Europeans did it all the way that they did – to ensure we are who we are today in their eyes, rather than realizing who we still are in our own eyes.
Today, what is described as ‘Modern Slavery’ is a global system that still uses the same old ‘Middle Passages’ and the same old ‘Great Triangles’ to lubricate the present economies of the same old European and American states leading the new Western World they built.
The system of Modern Slavery is today declared by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as being officially responsible for over 40 million persons the world over, most of whom were forced to leave their homes in search of better across borders and in distant lands.
Here too, human beings are being trafficked for money and being milked to be taken to Lands of Milk and Honey. But also here too, their experiences, bad as they are, are nowhere the experiences of those who suffered through the original Trade in African Slaves.
WHAT, WHERE AND HOW?
Question 5 begs for 2 answers: ‘What is to be done?’ and ‘Where to begin?’
First, what is to be done? How do we go about claiming what is ours and regaining ownership of ourselves?
Here again, we are not rediscovering history or re-inventing the wheel, not starting the struggles all over again. Instead, our task is to continue the struggle that has always been continuing.
Just like those who oppressed us and exploited us for centuries developed systems to ensure the longevity of their domination, it is for us to likewise devise opposite mechanisms to regain and re-take what has always been ours and was only stolen from us.
In other words, just as they developed refined mechanisms, so must we.
We have a lot to do.
We have to rediscover and rewrite our history: From Marcus Garvey to Haile Selassie, from the African tribes that resisted and were slaughtered by the Germans in Namibia 100 years ago to the birth of the Rastafari Movement in Jamaica, from the African cultural renaissance of centuries revived in recent decades to the flowering and flowing of Reggae music from Jamaica and the Caribbean to the rest of the world. That basis and those bases for continuity exist continually, but must be built upon.
Our forebears started to demand change and observe the contributions of Black People to History and now we have Black History Month being observed and celebrated worldwide. But even more is also happening across the world where we are found:
- Africa is defining new relationships to rebuild itself and consolidate its destiny
- First People worldwide are demanding their history be taken into account in the new dispensation in which they continue to be treated in ways of old
- The USA is seeing rowing resistance to racism and the quality of demands for equality and redress now include Reparations for Slavery across America
- Reparations for past injustices now feature in key demands being made in Africa, the USA and Canada, or the Caribbean.
- People everywhere are coming to the realization that the system keeping us down all over is fixed and designed for that purpose and that oppression and exploitation have no respect for color or complexion, only to make the rich richer and keep the poor poorer.
- The world has discovered that the One Percent (1%) that rules owns and controls many times more than the other 99% is becoming even richer by the day while the poor are only getting poorer in most places.
As more people come to these realizations, more new elements and manifestations of resistant are taking place in the USA.
On February 15, 2018 Blacks, Latinos and Americans of all aces and creeds gathered in front of the United Nations building in New York to not only denounce President Donald Trump’s recent vile, racist comments about Black People and Black People’s countries. They gathered, not only to condemn the systematic exploitation of African migrants across America, but also to celebrate the contribution of Black People to wealth in the United States.
Today, in Zimbabwe and South Africa, decades after the end of Apartheid and White Minority rule, governments and people are coming to the realization that there is no liberation with economic strangulation.
They are realizing that, for as long as they have to wait to significantly alter the economic power structure, that’s how long they will have to wait to achieve what Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela led the early fights for, to be achieved.
In South Africa, a noteworthy changes in the struggle’s characteristics is that both the business people and the poor have confidence that the new ANC Leader and the nation’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, will turn the economy around in ways that will benefit all.
Indeed, long before his victory, Ramaphosa had already increased the various manifestations of improved economic confidence, including the stock markets bubbling with optimism.
Here we have a former trade unionist who led the negotiations for an end to Apartheid on behalf of South Africa’s blacks and who was selected by Nelson Mandela to become his successor. But he was somehow sidelined in favor of Thabo Mbeki and moved on become a successful billionaire businessman — and now president.
In Zimbabwe, on the other hand, the black tide had long turned against Robert Mugabe in unexpected ways and a once prosperous economy is now struggling to stay alive, with everyone everywhere genuinely hoping the problems there will be resolved sooner than later.
In both cases, the demands are no longer only or mainly for racial equality on a color basis, but also on an economic basis. But in terms of the equal chances to survive in economics, they still don’t have enough control over the economy to channel the nation’s wealth in the direction of the black majority in terms needed to bring their dreams to life, nearly four decades after they got rid of Apartheid.
The enduring lesson in all these liberated states today is that with power more economics, the Europeans and their other Western allies have their eyes dead fixed on economics and continued exploitation of Africa’s national resources. That’s why today their governments want to impose political solutions on African nations that would not even be considered in theirs.
Reparations are also being discussed in Africa now, even though not as much as is being heard, seen and read about those struggles as in the smaller Caribbean.
Here too, though, even if accused of blowing our trumpet, we must acknowledge, understand and appreciate the leading role the Caribbean has played — and is still playing — in bringing Reparations to negotiating tables across the world.
The Caribbean’s role in the world’s Reparations Movement is one of being in the vanguard. This is the only case in the whole wide world, where a group of nations has come together to pursue reparations from those who have carried out historical injustices, in this case for ‘Reparations from Europe for Slavery and Native Genocide’.
CARCOM’s initiative to establish a Reparations Commission in 2013 has seen the Caribbean regional movement offer the rest of the world an example of common resolve in pursuit of a deserving demand.
The CARICOM example has been largely instructive for and helpful to the US Congressional Black Caucus in pursuit of the HR-41 legislation calling on ‘Uncle Sam’ to pay compensation to African Americans for Slavery.
It is widely felt some places that African nations are not as yet as much in on board with the Reparations Movement as they ought to be. But hard lessons are being learned everywhere and a main one we cannot fail to grasp is that it’s not about the color of your skin or the texture of your hair, but, as Martin Luther King said, about the content of your character.
The Regional Reparations Movement is also well advanced in its own pursuit of this noble demand.
The CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) is implementing a regional strategy with national committees in more than 10 CARICOM member-states — including your own Antigua & Barbuda Reparations Support Commission (ABRSC).
Each National Reparations Committee (NRC) or council or commission is pursuing both a national and regional agenda that complement each other. Each was appointed by a CARICOM government, with clear Terms of Reference — some with budgets, some without, but all working within their means to keep the Reparations fire burning.
The CRC also has clear Terms of Reference and has also adopted a CARICOM Reparatory Justice Program featuring an agreed Ten-Point Plan.
The CRC and NRCs together fly the reparations flag at home and broad, within the region and beyond.
In 2017, the Reparations Research Centre (RRC) was established at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica.
The CARICOM Governments have all adopted the UN-designated Decade for People of African Descent from 2015 to 2024, which provides a 10-year window of opportunity for each NRC to plan ten Black History Months, ten sets of related observances and ten years of learning and teaching about the contribution and state of People of African Descent across the Caribbean.
The necessary structures have therefore been established to decide ‘What is to be Done’ and among those inescapable immediate tasks is finding out Who We Are and What is Our Contribution to the History of Humankind.
Knowledge is power and this knowledge will prepare us for all the subsequent phases of the Reparations struggle.
But that is not all…
In finding out Who We Are and What We Have Done, we also have to identify Who Did What To Us, When and Where, in each territory.
We have to trace those monuments to our exploitation that still exist and stare us in the eyes in each country – those statues and edifices, those elements imposed on our landscape as permanent reminders of the exploits of those who came and conquered and left lasting legacies of domination and plunder that we still uphold as part of our history.
Today, for example, Milner Hall at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad & Tobago is undergoing a significant name change, now that it is known and established that for decades upon decades, it’s name has celebrated a man who was not just a key pioneer of Apartheid, but who established in Trinidad an agricultural research institute For Whites Only, to train them to better husband agriculture in racist Southern Africa.
But apart from Milner, there is another foundation cornerstone pioneer of Apartheid who is also being celebrated in the Caribbean in a big way: Cecil Rhodes, who designed the laws of Apartheid and left a lot of his money to promote the Rhodes Scholarships around the world. The Caribbean, like Africa and elsewhere, also has its fair share of Rhodes Scholars.
And then there’s Lord Horatio Nelson, a statue in whose honor stands royally in Bridgetown, Barbados; and then here too there’s Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua, which the man it is named after disparagingly described as “a vile hole”; and a statue of Christopher Columbus stands royally in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Rodney Bay celebrates the infamous admiral in Saint Lucia; and there is also the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway in Trinidad & Tobago, with no other such highway named after ANR Robinson or Basdeo Panday.
All over the Caribbean we have similar statues paying homage to those who designed our fate and ensured we remained conquered people to be forever exploited.
We have to identify these reminders of the deadly past and tell and keep alive the true stories behind them and decide how we go about ensuring their real stories are learned and never forgotten. There will be hostility from their heirs and successors, as well as from those who have grown accustomed to never questioning the imperial versions of history taught to us.
We have to learn our past, but there is also the fact that Europe is today dodging our legitimate demands.
Several years ago the CARICOM leaders have dispatched a decent letter to the European Union (EU) leaders requesting that those member-states that benefited from Slavery come to the table to talk Reparations.
Britain, under Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, has simply refused to talk, insisting that the 350 million pounds offered to CARICOM countries by Cameron during a 2015 visit to Jamaica is enough to compensate for 400 Years of Slavery.
France too has refused to talk, with President Emmanuel Macron also urging that we forget the past and move on while he moves to consolidate France’s slipping grasp on former French territories.
Germany too, is also telling Namibia it wants to give it help on its own, instead of being directed to do so by a court.
Britain paid 20 million pounds worth of compensation to the slave-masters after supposed the Abolition of Slavery in 1834, which today amounts to countless billions of dollars. The French sucked Haiti dry over more than a century for 90 million Gold Francs to compensate for the loss of the slaves freed by Toussaint and Dessalines.
The British, French and Germans are basically telling us to our faces: ‘We admit to our role in Slavery, but we are not paying one dam cent, because that was so long ago.’ In that light, it bequeaths us too, to come up with an equally damning response to also let them know just how serious we are about this Reparations issue.
So, in terms of ‘What is to be Done’ there is quite a lot to do, but here I have tabulated a few tasks to leave you with – tasks which are not yours alone in Antigua and Barbuda, but which are being recommended and pursued at various levels across the Caribbean, by all NRCs and organizations representing People of African Descent, First People and all those who fall within the brackets of People Like Us.
Today, we must (here in Antigua and everywhere else):
- Support the work of the ABRSC, the other NRCs, the CRC and the RRC; and embrace their programs by supporting and participating in them
- Study CARICOM’s Regional Reparatory Justice ‘Ten Point Program’ well enough to be able to spread the word, while promoting and pursuing its demands
- Especially the lawyers among you and us must help to build Antigua’s Legal Case for Reparations, which will have to accompany a similar case from each other CARICOM member-state when the time comes – as it will – for CARICOM to file a legal case at the International Criminal Court against the guilty EU member-states
- Work on ensuring that the true history of Antigua and the Caribbean are included in the local education syllabus, because in too many cases History has been replaced by Science and Technology. Today, the approach in our schools is in favor of STEM – Science and Technology, Engineering and Maths. But as Professor Verene Shepherd reminded us in Saint Lucia last year and as we all know very well, there can be no STEM without ROOTS – and if we don’t know where we came from, we can never tell where we are going
- Learn what was said and written by those who came and went before us: Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Walter Rodney, Ivan Van Sertima, Horace Campbell, CLR James, Arthur Lewis, Ellis Clarke, Lloyd Best, Clive Thomas, Hilary Beckles, Verene Shepherd and others
- Follow the CRC’s Website and make use of the research findings being turned out by the RRC
- Always look beyond our borders – ‘Beyond the Boundary’, as CLR James put it – to establish contact with other Peoples of African Descent throughout the African and Caribbean Diaspora, also looking at a Tri-Continental Approach to link the Reparations struggles of the Caribbean with those of Africa and North America, as well as with Europe, Australia and South America
- Embrace the causes of the First People of the region — Caribs and Arawaks, Garifunas and all those we can trace in all the language groups and all the Caribbean territories — and embrace too the cause of the Indentured Servants, who were also exploited no less than slaves
- Press the governments to take steps to ensure the revival of the Caribbean’s earlier Reparations offensive at the United Nations, where governments put the issue on the General Assembly’s agenda, but three years later seemed to have totally forgotten to revisit it
- Press our governments to look closer into the revelation that David Cameron, while offering peanuts and carrots to the CARICOM governments in Jamaica, had also had in place, at that same time, mechanisms to ensure today’s heirs and successors of the British Slave Owners – like himself — are still being paid Compensation for Abolition, while the succeeding generations of the slaves cannot even get today’s leaders of the guilty European countries to even talk to our governments about compensation.
- Pay serious attention to the case filed against Germany by Namibia in the US courts
- And press our CARICOM Governments to make the necessary moves and provide the necessary resources to accelerate the pace of preparing the region’s case for compensation to be filed in an International Court of Justice, sooner rather than later
I can go on and on and even start to bore you with more ideas on what is to be done. But here I will stop and simply end by asking the question and offering my own answer.
The final and ultimate question is: ‘Where to Begin?’
And the answer is simple: Let’s start right here, at this Antigua Multipurpose Cultural Centre, this very night. Let’s begin by committing ourselves to act as individuals and as a family, to read and watch, to listen and follow, to learn and teach more about what CARICOM and the ANRSC, along with all other NRCs, are doing to ensure that this battle continues as part of the wider war that His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie referred to, when he delivered the historic speech at the United Nations on behalf of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now eternally kept alive by Bob Marley in the memorable hit song ‘War’.
As did by Professor Shepherd in Saint Lucia, I therefore close tonight with a relevant verse…
“Until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned,
Until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation,
Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes,
Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race,
Until that day, the dream of lasting pace, world citizenship and the rule of international morality
Will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained,
Everywhere will be war:
War in the East, War in the West, War up North and War down South…’