Tag Archives: Caribbean

Reparations Part II: A Lecture by Prof. Hilary Beckles

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The lecture is not short. Watch it at your own leisure. You may well not agree with it, all of it or some of it or a little of it. But if you have anything at all to say about the question of reparations, you will have no ground on which to stand unless you engage with the ideas he puts forth.

Here is a taste:

When the world sits down, the western world, the European world, when they sit down to discuss the Caribbean, Africa, when they look at their past and the enslavement of our peoples, the victimization of our peoples, the destruction of Africans’ potential, and the consequences that followed slavery, the apartheid that was put in place in the Caribbean after slavery, they speak about [the idea that] the time has come to move on.

And they discuss moving on in the context of certain key words. These are the words that they use: Let’s be progressive. Let’s move on. Let’s have progress. Let’s have equity. Let’s have democracy, equality, time for healing, time for atonement. We must have redemption, and forgiveness. The time has come for reconciliation … Justice.

These are the key words [around which] the conversation takes place about the legacies of slavery. But if you look at these words very carefully—and these are all very important words because these are the key words in western civilizations that speak to human progress—but there’s a word that is missing from there. There is a word that is missing from the dialogue. And that word is what we call the elephant in the room. There’s an elephant in the room. There’s a word that nobody wants to say in the western world. There’s a word that they do not want to use. But without that word, all of the precious words of hollow. Without that word, the justice, the forgiveness, the atonement, the equality, the progress, the reconciliation—without that word all of those other words are hollow. And that word of course is reparations.

Concerning Reparations for Slavery: Part One

This past October, a tiny tempest-in-a-teacup erupted in the wake of a fairly routine report on a decision taken by CARICOM to sue the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands for reparations for slavery. Following the report, which headlined, somewhat misleadingly, as “BAHAMAS SUING UK OVER SLAVERY”, was a flurry of communications on both sides of the debate, along with a quick opinion poll by the Tribune which suggested that one-third of the people who took it were in support of the lawsuit, two-thirds against. The matter has since seemed to go away, sinking into the mire of superficialities which passes for public debate in our nation. But I want to suggest that what CARICOM has initiated is something that will eventually occur, and which may, when it does happen, change the future of the region if we let it. Whatever the noise in the market, the matter of reparations for New World slavery will not go away. A great wrong was committed against millions of human beings in the name of nothing more than global domination and profit, and that is a debt that will one day be paid.

Here’s why I say that. It seems to me that the resistance against the idea of reparations for slavery takes one of several forms. The first is the idea expressed by the UK government representative contacted by the Tribune to respond to CARICOM’s lawsuit: that “governments today cannot take responsibility for what happened 200 years ago”. The second is subtly connected to the first, but it shifts the focus from the enslaving nations to the nations founded on slavery, and argues that as the ills of the present cannot be solved by placing the blame on past wrongs, the past should be buried and the future considered. There is a third: that the debt has already been paid with independence, and that the political freedom of the people who were once enslaved is all that is necessary to right the wrong. A fourth argues that instead of focussing on the slavery of the past, the continuing enslavement and exploitation of people today is more a more pressing matter to consider. And there are countless other objections to the idea.

What all of these objections have in common is that they deflect the idea of reparations from the principle on which the idea rests to the practicalities of the issue. In so doing, they inadvertently make the case, at least to me, for the very thing they oppose. What not one of these objections admits is that the institution of transatlantic slavery was a crime against humanity of such magnitude that makes it nearly impossible for us to deal with even two centuries after the beginning of its abolition. What they all do, instead, is continue to perpetuate the crime that lies at the heart of the reparations movement: that the enslavement of Africans by Europeans in the process of founding the so-called “New” World depended upon the fundamental dehumanization of those enslaved, and was accompanied by the very different dehumanization of the enslavers which occurred in the process.

Continue reading Concerning Reparations for Slavery: Part One

Gilbert Morris on Blackness & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power

This is an interesting thesis, to say the least. I want to reject it outright, but I am not sure I can. I can certainly see evidence of what Morris is talking about in the case of our own turn-of-the-century leaders; there is a core lack of confidence in the ability—or is it the right?—of Bahamians to take control of our own destiny. It’s something I run up against in my students again and again—as one young man told me, “white man always on top”. It’s a myth, sure, but it’s a myth whose psychic power, especially, apparently, among men, hinders us from taking advantage of the authority that independence and nationhood confers.

I had a conversation last night with someone who compared the confidence (might we call it the arrogance) of someone like Stafford Sands, the architect and mover of the Bahamian economy to this day, who pretty well invented, or refined the invention of, the successful service economy in the immediate post-war era, when the majority of nations were seeking to develop along the Euroamerican “proper” path, which meant building agriculture, developing industry, and becoming a player on the global market through exports. Thanks to Sands, The Bahamas ignored that trajectory and built up tourism and financial services, starting in the 1950s, several decades before this was acceptable on the global economic scene, and we were unable to explain the success of that model until the whole world had adopted it. Now, we find ourselves unable to imagine something equally brilliant and equally radical to maintain what we have achieved.

I’m really concerned to reject Morris’s argument in the case of Obama, who as a truly African-American man seemed to have a fairly rounded concept of the world and of the need for power. For me the jury may still be out here. But as a general rule, I have long felt something along the lines of what Morris writes about. It lies at the core of what I have already termed the insufficient consideration given to the meaning and structure of democracy in the Bahamian setting; it explains why our leaders are so anxious to sell the country they are supposed to be managing for future generations, and why roads that take tourists to the harbour and Paradise Island, or the selling of crown land for a temporary handful of house-slave jobs seem to be the best ideas that our leaders can offer to us.

Morris’s article is worth the read, believe me. It’s not the most cheerful thesis to engage with, and it’s certainly not wholly politically correct, but I’m not sure it is entirely wrong. My only criticism is that Morris presents it as a fait accompli rather than as a malaise that can be cured.

Read it, and let me know what you think. A taste:

Blacks have never had a “concept of the world” sufficient to drive foreign policy. This has been the prerogative of the ‘dominant culture’.

… given the legacy of slavery, “white supremacy” and racial discrimination in the United States, when a moment [of] racial fairness or ethnic equality (say in Iraq) collides with a moment of racial tension or Machiavellian exploitation of ethnic differences that advances American policy objectives, how can a person whose very being and cultural primacy is structured to protest unfairness and inequality opt for the Machiavellian strategy?

via Gyroscopia: Blacks & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power – Caribbean Basin Review.

And more importantly, consider Morris’s conclusions — which I, for one, question on certain fundamental grounds, not least of which is that leaders who are women, and therefore similarly disenfranchised, have demonstrated that they are not affected by these “rules”, but which hold enough water to warrant some deep thought:

  • it is inconceivable that a Black or minority person can exercise power with an instinct of belongingness, since, nothing will have prepared him or her to deal with the interstices and immediacy of superpower politics.
  • Social protest movements … do not prepare their beneficiaries for and they move “against the grain” of superpower imperatives, which aim at serving its power first, and principles second, if at all.
  • In the foreign policy superstructure, there are few Blacks, working on technical questions aimed at securing power for and maintaining the dominance of the United States beyond being part of the apparatus. Yet, this is the heart of American influence, and its perch from which, beyond imposing its will, it can be a force for good in the world.

via Gyroscopia: Blacks & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power – Caribbean Basin Review.

More on the Caribbean Review of Books

Yes, I know I wrote about this before, but I have spent a lot of today reading bits and pieces of the new, improved, online Caribbean Review of Books and I need to write about it again.

Here’s what it has to say about itself:

The Caribbean Review of Books (CRB) is a bimonthly magazine covering Caribbean literature and arts. We focus on reviews of new and recent books of Caribbean fiction, poems, biography, arts, culture, and current affairs, but the CRB also publishes new writing, interviews, and essays on literature and visual arts.

Here’s what it has to say about its history:

The original CRB was published from 1991 to 1994 by the University of the West Indies Publishers’ Association in Mona, Jamaica, and edited by Samuel B. Bandara.

In May 2004, the CRB was revived by a team of writers and editors based at Media and Editorial Projects (MEP) in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 2007, the CRB was incorporated as a not-for-profit under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. Our last print quarterly edition was published in 2009. In 2010, the CRB was relaunched as a bimonthly online magazine.

And here’s why you should read it. There’s so much to read! Congratulations to Nicholas for putting together such a rich experience, and providing fertile soil in which Caribbean writing might grow.

Reading: Mintz, Three Ancient Colonies

First of all, thanks to Nicholas Laughlin and the Caribbean Review of Books for asking me to review this book.

I’ve long been a fan of Sidney Mintz. His study of the impact of sugar on the creation of modernity, which I read first in the 1979 article “Time, sugar and sweetness,” (Marxist Perspectives 2 (4): 56-73) and then more fully in his book Sweetness and Power, shifted the way in which I thought about the Caribbean, the world, and my place in it. I’ve fallen out of touch with his work. Our research interests diverge somewhat. But this new book of his, which grew out of three W. E. B. Du Bois lectures (2003), has brought me back.

Won’t say much here. After all, I’m supposed to do that for CRB, and I will. Let me jsut say that thanks to Mintz, I’m remembering the excitement of rediscovering our region (even though he repeats the not-so-wise wisdom of excluding the Bahamas from the historical Caribbean), and, most importantly, of the place of history in our realities.

For those of you who think that colonialism is dead, that there is no point in “resurrecting” the past (I put the word in quotes because that past has not yet died within us), understand this: without colonialism there would be no us. The Americas in general as we know them, populated and shaped largely by an extension of a Europe  that conquered, subordinated and coerced other groups of people in the process are the specific creation of colonialism. As long as we exist, it can never be dead; we are our past, as the past created us. Until we get that through our heads, until we understand that process, until we know who we are and give up the myths and wishes that fool us into thinking we are “free”, we will never inhabit complete societies. For, as Mintz observes:

The history of the Caribbean region … embodies the real beginnings of European overseas imperial rule … the modern world’s first colonies are to be found mainly in the Caribbean region. … Not only did most of the islands become colonial early, most of them also stayed colonial late. … People in erstwhile colonial areas besides North America may be slow to grasp how anciently colonial the Caribbean region is. The Indian subcontinent is usually thought to have become a colonial possession, mostly of Great Britain, when Clive defeated the nawab of Bengal at the battle of Plassey in 1757. Yet by 1757 the Antilles had been colonial for more than 250 years … Once it can be acknowledged that Caribbean colonialism is truly ancient, its history can help to give additional nuance to the term “postcolonial”.

In other words, globally, we cannot understand colonialism or independence or postcolonialism without first understanding the Caribbean — without understanding ourselves. Mintz and others (Eric Williams, for one, C. L. R. James for another) have argued that we cannot truly understand modern western civilization without understanding the Caribbean either, and each time I reread the argument I’m reconvinced. But more on this later. For now, I’m reminded. The significance of our region is far more than we comprehend ourselves. We must know our history, and the history of the world, to understand this. “The world in a basin” is not simply a romantic term; it’s more real than we can understand ourselves.

The Caribbean Review of Books • A bimonthly review of Caribbean literature, art, and culture

Big congratulations to Nicholas and company for this venture.

I’ll be checking back regularly!

A note to our readers: Welcome to the new website of The Caribbean Review of Books. From May 2004 to May 2009, the CRB published twenty-one quarterly print issues, featuring reviews of books of Caribbean interest, interviews with writers, original fiction and poems, essays on Caribbean art and culture, and artists’ portfolios. In May 2010, the CRB’s sixth anniversary, the magazine has been relaunched as an online publication, offering the same intelligent, incisive coverage of Caribbean literature, art, and culture.

via The Caribbean Review of Books • A bimonthly review of Caribbean literature, art, and culture.

Rex Nettleford Dies

Professor Rex Nettleford Is Dead

Prof. Rex. Nettleford CaribWorldNews, WASHINGTON, D.C., Weds. Feb. 3, 2010: Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies, Professor Ralston Milton `Rex` Nettleford, is dead. Nettleford died at 8 o`clock tonight in the George Washington Hospital last night. He was 76.

via CaribWorldNews.com – Global Caribbean Daily Newswire.

The Gaulin Wife: Making Connections

This is not the crux of Helen’s post, but I chose it to inspire people to want to read the whole thing. It’s crucial reading.

I have to remind myself to continue making connections, and to look for the triumphant in the stories of disaster, to look for the survivance in them, for the ways people continue to refuse to be victims. I have to remind myself, because on the screen the stories being told are told with such potent images, of the dead and the dying, of the grieving, of those who have lost, and they are almost always brown skin people. And the people with microphones in front of their faces, telling the stories, and the people behind the camera lenses, making the pictures, are almost always beige, pale skin people. Beige, pale skin people who appear magically in these places of such pain, while they themselves appear untouched, able to leave when they want to, to smile even, in the midst of it all.

I have to remind myself because I am also beige, pale. And though my socialization is a complex thing – I was raised in a Caribbean country; my way of being in the world, my physical sense of relationship to others is both Africanized and Anglicized and both are rooted in my ancestral Greekness, Greeks from islands, Greeks who were peasants from villages and not aristocrats from the cities – I am still a beige person in a racially polarized society and my imagination is at stake. And what I know is our potential for human transformation depends on our ability to imagine.

via The Gaulin Wife: Making Connections.

How not to lead a nation

Before I post this, let me say two things. First, I have been informed by a reliable source (one of the editors) that the Tribune was not responsible for writing the article whose headline I slammed; it was an AP story that they re-ran as the lead.

And second, I am trusting that by reposting this I will find someone who will tell me that this is not what my Prime Minister actually said (the emphases are mine).

Ingraham added: “It is not appropriate for us to be collecting goods to send to Haiti because there is no means by which we can get [them] there. The port is in terrible shape. The airport is difficult to navigate. The ground transportation is terrible. The extent to which we in the region can provide assistance in terms of medical support, doctors, nurses, public health, pay for medicine, food, water, whatever it is, we are clearly prepared to do so.”

via The Nassau Guardian Online

Here’s my problem. If this is what he said, the message that our Prime Minister is sending is that it is all right to allow practical impediments get in the way of help. It is OK to let the fact that it’s difficult (not impossible, as Miami has demonstrated by getting Channel 10 news crews in and survivors out, or as Jamaica has demonstrated by flying its PM and the leader of the Opposition in) to get planes and boats into Haiti stop us from giving whatever we can. It’s OK for us, the wealthiest and most fortunate independent nation in our region, to keep our wealth and fortune to ourselves in this time of great need because it’s hard to do something different.

I cannot think of a worse message to be sending to a group of people already hidebound by greed and fear. I hold my leaders responsible for setting standards of behaviour. If this is what he said, our Prime Minister just gave his people license to exercise selfishness, to continue to breed prejudice, to continue to choose greed over generosity, to continue to seek the easiest paths to comfort.

I hold our leaders responsible for the way in which some of us behave. The stands they take influence the attitudes we display; monkey see, monkey do after all. I am calling on all responsible Bahamians in positions of influence and power to behave as they know we should all behave, to encourage us to make every effort to find ways to get to Haiti, to encourage us to give and give and give until it hurts, to ask us to share our wealth a little more, to ask us to give up a little of our comfort and safety to build true community and nurture compassion with our neighbours. I am calling on all talk show hosts to refuse to allow more hate and fear to infect the air waves, on all politicians to think about what is right instead of what is expedient and to model it, to all teachers to model the highest standards for behaviour, to all administrators to exercise fairness and compassion. I am not giving any of these people a free ride any more; real change comes when individuals take risks. From here on in, let us call them out.