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The importance of seeking reparations for slavery

Published: Oct 21, 2013

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Dear Editor,

I am grateful if I may have a few lines in your publication in support of the recent CARICOM initiative to seek reparations from former slave-holding European nations.

We need to ask ourselves the honest question of whether a society founded on slavery, colonialism, rape and murder could possibly be anything other than what it originated from.

The answer to this question leaves us with no choice other than to vehemently reject the oppressive philosophical structures that pervade our everyday lives.

A part of this rejection is to seek reparations from the former European slave-trading powers.  This is an act of dignity by Caribbean peoples that says that yes, we reject the European formula of civilization, wherever it has necessitated the subjugation of people.  It is a subtle but also a broad and poignant point, not just for African peoples, but for peoples the world over.  It is a question of right and wrong.

Slavery continues to this day throughout the world.  How can it ever be eradicated if the most heinous example of mass slavery – i.e., the trans-Atlantic slave trade – goes unpunished, and even without a substantial apology?

One line of reasoning in objection to reparations is that the former slaves should sue the Africans or Arabs.  But it was not African or Arab ships that took enslaved Africans across a wild ocean, sweating and bleeding and defecating in the hull, men, women and children huddled together in inhuman piles.  It was not the Arabs or Africans who threw them on to the shores of the so-called New World, branded them and beat their names and language out of them; who set them to work long hot hours in the strange new land for meager rations; who told them that, in whipping and raping them, they were civilizing them; who prohibited them from voting for over 100 years after the abolition of slavery.

No, it was European capitalism that orchestrated and profited from these crimes, which really are the points key to our present discussion, rather than the initial crime of kidnapping.  The profits from institutionalized slavery kick-started the Industrial Revolution (“Capitalism and Slavery” – Dr. Eric Williams) and this changed the face of the world to this very day.  Those who enjoy the architectural grandeur and sophisticated amenities in Europe today are benefiting from the indirect profits from slavery, whether they are the descendent of a slave or enslaver or neither.

In the same way, those who endure the crime, violence and immorality in our society, are experiencing the ill effects of slavery, whether they are the descendent of a slave or enslaver or neither.

So, hopefully, it will be clear that the reason for reparations is not just to get a couple of dollars.  It is a re-balancing act.  It is a guarantee that it will never happen again.  It is an admission that we are still impacted by this horrific era in our history, and that we must change the status quo; the emergence of a new brand of thought about ourselves as a nation and as a (human) race.  This is why certain quarters in our society are getting quite nervous. Too bad for them.

The only way to look to the future is to resolve the past.

– Indira Martin

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