Magical dreams and uncertain destiny — A response

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Magical dreams and uncertain destiny — A response

FRANK PHIPPS

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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Christopher Burns has joined the debate on the call for reparation with an article in last week's The Agenda in the Sunday Observer (May 17) without come down on either side for the merits of the call — somewhat like a referee at a no-contest event, involving Mike Henry and P J Patterson, where both make the call. However, we must welcome his public statement as the views of a self-proclaimed agnostic, where silence can hurt the cause and whispered reasons for non-belief could be even more damaging.

Burns joins the transnational dispute with an opening ploy; stating, “History is for arguing.” Despite the rhetorical brilliance of some of the arguments put forward in favour of reparation by prominent scholars, reparation is not a panacea and cannot guarantee human harmony, neither will payment of whatever amount create happiness in ways that love or simple laughter can. No doubt, Professor Verene Shepherd and others may wish to comment on this statement that history is for arguing.

Without rushing into that argument where more qualified people will tread, it is necessary to quote from the article itself to show what history has turned up: “Whether one agrees with the unlikelihood of reparation payments happening in this century, or the next, the awareness is helpful. Furthermore, understanding the pangs of the transatlantic slave trade, with its attendant indignity and cruel contempt for human life, makes it criminally boring for anyone with a conscience to ignore the message of reparation. This is so because the basis for reparation is cast on years of extensive research, scholarly legal arguments, and evidence of lingering sociocultural subjugation. Centuries of resource extraction, exploitation, free labour, and myriad other disgusting crimes against humanity have left signs of the hellish reality of wide-scale poverty, malnutrition, disease, hunger, inadequate shelter, and food insecurity all over, but disproportionately among Africans and descendants of African slaves.”

That said, there can be no better way for stating the reasons for seeking reparation to correct the injuries of the past — a call for action to make amends for the wrongs that were done. Nevertheless, Burns cautions us not to allow the awfulness of history to cause us to harbour unrealistic expectations and useless fairy tale dreams at the expense of taking the request steps for self-improvement. One can take issue with that advice, for cautious inaction is where the article deals with the “what” and the “how” for reparation without thought for the “why” — what being evils of slavery and how is the cash payment for making amends.

Having dealt with what he calls the magical dream for reparation, Burns owes your readers Part 2 with his views on “why” reparation; the uncertain destiny he proclaims. Part 2 follows naturally from his closing paragraph: “Sensibly speaking, we have to create an enabling society that gives an opportunity to all.” This looks to the future for reparation without the dead hand of caution.

The dark tunnel for travelling to the future is obstructed by what the late Professor Fred Hickling calls the European delusion of white supremacy in the Caribbean from the late 15th century with a claim to all therein as his, in his book Owning our Madness. The delusion of white supremacy was practised worldwide where the people from Europe were plundering the natural resources of other countries and decimating the indigenous people with the greatest wickedness in the Americas and the Caribbean for people of African origin who suffered double cruelty by forcible abduction from their home followed by chattel slavery on the plantations.

Black people everywhere have too long been deprived of equal opportunities for shelter, health care, education, and jobs; this is why reparation is necessary to correct the persistent wrong-headedness in the concept of humanity that excludes black people. Black skin should not make a difference when creating “an enabling society that gives equal opportunities for all”.

The former enslaved people in the Caribbean have struggled for better to come after the empty freedom at Emancipation. Starting with a handicap from degradation and deprivation they lifted up themselves by the bootstrap — those who had boots — to get where they are today. More still needs to be done for this and succeeding generations to enjoy a better quality of life with a level playing field, where no one is denied opportunities because of the colour of that person's skin.

This is what reparation is about, those who savagely crushed the humanity of people from Africa must pay to repair it for the benefit of present and succeeding generations. Why remain an agnostic by closing eyes to the light of truth and justice for the people of African descent?

Frank Phipps is a member of the National Council for Reparation. The views expressed here are not stated on behalf of the council. Sendcomments to the Jamaica Observer or frank.phipps@yahoo.com.


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