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VALERIE DIXON
EDUCATOR, MEMBER OF THE UNIA 
 Many people who influence public thought have no idea or understanding of the history of Black people in Jamaica and throughout the Diaspora and therefore tend to downplay the importance and significance of reparation. I have never experienced winter.  I have never seen snow fall from the sky and I have never felt snow.  How can I therefore argue with people who have weathered many winters? Should I assume that it is because they have the wrong attitude towards winter why they complain about how cold and harsh winters can be?
Having lived the Black experience, I am here to tell anyone that life is cold and harsh for Black people regardless of their economic status, and all my life I have wondered where is justice for Black people.   It would appear that we either have committed the worst kind of evil known to man and therefore we must be brutally punished, or we have been, and continue to be such a powerful race, capable of doing powerful and wonderful things, that we were and still are the envy of other people.  So to my mind it is this envy that was, and is used to keep us suppressed for hundreds of years and even into the present time at tremendous costs.
After this preamble, the word 'costs' brings me to the difficult subject of reparation.  Time and time again I hear the arguments that Black people must forget about slavery and all the cruelties and atrocities that went along with it.  In other words, bad things happen in life - so get over it, as it's all in the past and there is nothing that can be done to change the past.  I totally agree that there is nothing we can do to undo the terrible crimes perpetrated against our forefathers.  However, we forget and most times conveniently, that vast material resources were stolen from our forefathers homeland, in addition to the human resources - referred to in history books as "human cargo," that was stolen as well.
	If in the world of today, thieves had invaded a home and kidnapped the father and raped the mother in full view of the children, stripped the walls of the artwork and artifacts, emptied the china cabinet and took all therein and then stole all the cash, there would be a lot of hue and cry, at least for nine days in Jamaica.  This woman is now left bereft of all hope of ever having a good life.  She, in most cases would be doomed to a life of poverty, especially if the children are too young to fend for themselves.  Many people would argue and say that she knows who did this awful thing to her family, and that the police should do everything in their powers to see that the perpetrators are brought to justice.  Still others would argue that if she could just get back what was stolen from her, then she would be able to raise her children comfortably and that the family might yet be able to prosper, even though the breadwinner was snatched from them.  
Nice story so far.  But there can also be a down side.  The mother would have no choice but to work in order to take care of her fatherless children.  But every time the mother works her fingers to the bones, some of the children steal the money and squander it on themselves, and she and some of the other children are powerless to do anything about the thieves in the family. So while some bellies are full, some bellies are starving.
These analogies are simple, but they underscore the point that if goods are stolen, they should be returned, regardless of what the new owners want to do with the goods.  People and material wealth were stolen from Africa and brought to the Americas.  My concern is not whether Black people sold other Black people into slavery, that is immaterial at this time - everything must be seen in its proper context, and many who argue this way are not able to realize that slavery meant different things to different people even during the same times.  Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, but he was able to become a 'deputy' Pharaoh.  Remind me - in which millenium will a Black man become President of the United States of America?  I forget, but that story is for another time.
All Black people know who were involved in the slave trade and who their ancestors' owners were.  Many of the slave owners' progeny and the slaves' progeny now agree that some awful crimes were committed.  There is shame on both sides and it is time for us to forgive each others foreparents and move on.  But the fact still remains that property was stolen and it needs to be returned.  
Hitler and his regime annihilated six million or more Jews.  The descendants of these Jews have asked for reparation from the Germans and have been given huge sums of money and also lots of treasures that were stolen, have been returned to the victims' families.  The Jews, however, have a big advantage over the Black Diaspora.  They knew the names of all the Jews who were annihilated and there was, in most cases, documentation of the stolen property.
There is a great difficulty here for Black people.  Not only were the Africans stolen, but so were their identities.  They had to give up their religions, family names and were given Christian names, and most times arbitrary surnames.  If documents existed, these were destroyed.  Black people were, and even to this day, never keen on writing or documenting, and even if they wanted to write, they were deliberately denied access to pen and paper.  Our history is replete with instances and examples of how we were suppressed as a people.  The only thing most of our ancestors were left with was an indomitable will to survive, hence the reason why so many of us are alive today.
Our survival today would be greatly enhanced if we could have our case for reparation properly argued.  Lawyers would have to argue that the principal sum plus interest must be returned to the descendants of the people from whom the wealth was stolen.   How the principal sum is arrived at is immaterial at this point.  The principal sum may never be able to be fully repaid, hence the need for compensation - otherwise called reparation.  That's why only intelligent lawyers must argue this case.  Those who have no interest in research and history need not apply.
 At a function in the Eastern Caribbean a few years ago, it was reported that the famous lawyer, the late Mr. Johnny Cochran said that the time is right for Black people to deal with the issue of reparation.  Mr. Cochran came to Jamaica a few weeks before the Caribbean Heads of Government Conference and unfortunately, as happens too many times, our lawyers missed the opportunity to ask Mr. Cochran to state how best this could be done, and to even solicit his help at the time, in putting forward the case. Our Caribbean leaders, also missed this  grand opportunity.  To my mind, the meeting in Montego Bay would have served us all better if they, like the Jews, could have jointly prepared a claim and spoke with one voice, on behalf of the Caribbean peoples and the rest of the Diaspora, against our colonial masters, their countries, churches and companies that benefited tremendously from slavery.  I get the feeling that earthly riches must be enjoyed by every other race, except the Black race.  We have been brain-washed and oriented to believe that our riches lie somewhere up in a place called "Heaven" and if we suffer in silence, go to Church everyday and 'chaw Bible leaf' then that is sufficient for us here on earth.  We live the belief that we must not store up treasures on earth for moths and decay to destroy.  Although I am not a Biblical scholar, it seems obvious to me that Biblical interpretation is usually given a white voice and that voice is primarily to keep Black people in their place and comfortable with poverty.  This is evidenced by the attitude many Black people have about money and richness.  Many are afraid to even think that they could become wealthy.  So it would seem that even our leaders are afraid to ask for the wealth that rightfully belongs to us.  
A cardinal law that many of us take lightly is the law that says:  "Do all you agree or promise to do."  Our European masters made many promises to the former slaves and they reneged on almost every promise.  For the most part, their word was not their bond.
Let us keep the argument fair.  No one is saying that we must take away anybody's possessions and give it to Black people.  The fact of the matter is that we know who reneged on their promises, we know that it was the forced labour of mainly Africans that built Europe and made those countries First World countries.  We also know that they know, that both human and material treasures were stolen from us.  Yes, the Pope and others have asked for forgiveness and in many instances forgiveness has been given.  But we still need reparation.
If England had paid reparation to us in Jamaica and all her other colonies in the Caribbean, social infrastructure would have been in place and we would have been able to reduce the social deprivation to such an extent, that crime and violence would not now be the only ways for some of us to survive and  make a living.  Real opportunities for economic development would have been in place and there would be very little need for a Privy Council or a Caribbean Court of Justice.  People would be in jobs, and could determine for themselves how rich or poor they want to be.  There would be no 'let off' or 'bligh' from anyone - our self esteem would be too high for us to become beggars.    We would have been a civilized society, able to dispense justice to every citizen, without too much intervention from outsiders.  
I'll argue further.  Britain and other European countries have imposed restrictions on Caribbean people entering their countries.  The burden that Caribbean countries place on their societies could have been solved at the point of Emancipation, if social infrastructure had been put in place for the development of the ex-slaves.  There would have been no need for us to become a migratory people, always searching for ways and places to improve our lot in life  Because of this deprivation, we have helped to develop their countries and our homeland sinks further into hopelessness and degradation.
Reparation money for x number of slaves over 250 years (and this should have been settled over 150 years ago) would be enough for social infrastructure, creating revolving loans, debt release - so that taxation can be reduced, since most of our earnings go to debt-servicing.  We could convert inner-cities into modern cities that would reduce the creation of drug barons and yardies who now plague their ancestors owners' homelands. 
I can hear the detractors cackling about how much money each man is to get and who is going to be the 'cutter' and making light of a serious matter.  Well thinking people understand that money from foreign agencies should be handled by a Commission or Board set up for such a purpose (watch those consultants' fees) so as to ensure transparency and avoid the temptation to lodge such funds in private European and non-European bank accounts.  So what's the point then of receiving compensation?
The answer to my mind lies in Black people finally realizing that tribalism and disunity throughout the Diaspora have not served them well.  Civil society must therefore be strengthened.  We must build the capacity of Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and our Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).  However, we are putting the horse before the cart.  When we get to that bridge we will cross it.  Let us support the call for reparation first.  Let us find good lawyers to take our case and win it, because deep in our hearts we all know that we cannot have peace and justice and lay the past to rest until we get justice for the sacrifices that our African ancestors made so that we can be here today.  
In the meantime, those who have never had the Black experience, regardless of race, colour or creed, must not argue that this is a 'simplistic' argument or that it is spurious.  It may also do some of us well to experience snow and learn what winter is all about.  This argument is sincere and simple because there is no need to mesmerize people with big words and intellectual diatribe.
Valerie Dixon can be contacted at: valeriecdixon@ubol.com 
Text Box: Reparations Now

Valerie Dixon

Text Box: Other articles by Valerie Dixon can be read here

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Last up-dated 10 November 2011

 

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1807-2007

 

Britain Commemorates  the Bicentenary

 of  The Slave Trade Abolition  Act 1807.

 

One of the Black Community’s Contributions -

 

“Cries of Our Kidnapped Afrikan Ancestors”

 

 

 

________________

Beliefs and Commentaries

 

“All faith is FALSE, all faith is TRUE.

TRUTH is the shattered mirrors strewn In myriad bits; while each BELIEVES

His LITTLE BIT the whole to own.”

 

From “The Kasidah of Hji Abu el-Yezdi”, as translated by Sir Richard F. Burton

 

Home

Publications and

Reviews

 Health Issues

HIV/Aids & Creators

Profiles

(Legends in their fields)          

Education and Training

Community Matters

The Environment

Sports

Films,

Music & Entertainment

Youth & the Survival Game in Britain (YSGB)

Short Story &   Writers’ Forum

What is Pan-Africanism

Editorial

Resident and Guest Correspondents

 

______________

1807-2007

 

Britain Commemorates  the Bicentenary

 of  The Slave Trade Abolition  Act 1807.

 

One of the Black Community’s Contributions -

 

“Cries of Our Kidnapped  Ancestors”

 

 

 

________________

Beliefs and Commentaries

 

“All faith is FALSE, all faith is TRUE.

TRUTH is the shattered mirrors strewn In myriad bits; while each BELIEVES

His LITTLE BIT the whole to own.”

 

From “The Kasidah of Hji Abu el-Yezdi”, as translated by Sir Richard F. Burton