Thursday, Dec 13, 2018
HomeDiplomatic NotesA wrong that should be righted

A wrong that should be righted

One of the more intriguing debates in recent times has been the debate about reparations. In order to address the issue, we must begin in Africa and examine the slave trade and colonial exploits from centuries ago until now. Is this a legitimate question? Is it unreasonable to discuss? My answer is a resounding yes. We should not forget or dismiss historical wrongs and simply say let’s move on, it’s a new day all is forgiven. There must be acknowledgement of the gross injustices that have occurred and an honest examination of how these injustices can be corrected.

Why should there be reparations? First of all, colonial powers roamed the world and took advantage of populations, gained enormous wealth, established thriving countries and economies on the backs of innocent black people who had done nothing to deserve the injustices they incurred. A clearly flawed ideology of white supremacy disadvantaged and subjugated Africans (not exclusively, as the same happened to Indians, Asians and others) to the point that their lives were altered forever in a way that has disadvantaged them and made it impossible to truly exist on the same plane. I believe this wrong should be righted. The only question is how can it be done fairly, and without wreaking havoc on the former colonial powers realizing that the current residents of these countries are not directly responsible for what happened in the past.

The Bahamas is not the only place where this question arises, but the answer for The Bahamas could serve as a template for the answer in other parts of the world. In the case of The Bahamas – mainly African slaves were transported here and made to work for the benefit of Western kingdoms. Kingdoms are supposed to be benevolent and benefit those under its rule but what we saw in the Caribbean was malevolent rule where slaves worked for no pay, families were torn apart, abused physically and sexually and were subject to the most horrible and deplorable conditions imaginable. Eventually the error of this philosophy and practice was exposed and slaves were freed, but there was a tremendous toll on the former slaves that still impacts the generations that followed.

The first example where a former colony successfully rebelled against its colonial masters was none other than Haiti, but the interesting aftermath of that rebellion was that the colonial masters then demanded that the freed colony pay them reparations that essentially made it impossible for them to survive as a nation. Such an historic and egregious wrong cannot and should not be simply forgotten but should be addressed with a view to achieving an equitable and fair solution.

In the case of The Bahamas (and most of the Caribbean) the “offending” party would be the United Kingdom. Britannia once ruled the world and the sun never set on the British Empire. It achieved great wealth and success on the backs of Bahamians and has never been made to pay for the wrong inflicted on the current population (the original population does not exist) made up mostly of the descendants of former African slaves. I believe the offending kingdom owes The Bahamas some form of reparation although money would not be the best answer.

I believe there has to be something more strategic and sustainable.

A part of the answer may be the forgiveness of debt but the other part of the answer should be in strategic opportunities for the descendants of the aggrieved parties. For example, education and business are the two things that can generate equity where it has not existed before. Free education and business incentives allow the descendants of the aggrieved parties to be empowered beyond the current generation and established with tools to reverse the historic inequities that are sure to persist unless there is something tangible done about it.

Without reparations the colonial powers are absolved of generational atrocities and the former slaves are asked to compete on a level playing field that is not level. You cannot effectively compete in a race where one party starts out with a 75-meter lead in a 100-meter race. There has to be a corrective element and a restorative element. I am sure this is an unpleasant topic for the former colonialists, but I believe it is a right discussion that must take place if we want fairness and justice.


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Paying it forward