Forgive slavery, forget reparations
Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah,
I have been an ardent supporter of the Rastafari call for reparations, ever since becoming a Rastafarian 30 years ago. In recent years, especially after attending the 2001 United Nations Conference Against Racism in Durban, I became one of the leading Jamaican spokespersons on reparations, and part of the large international group calling attention to the crime of African enslavement in the Americas and the still-existing trauma that resulted across the diaspora.
Recently, I joined the persons criticising the 'non-apology' but 'sincere regret' for slavery given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, that has resurrected the issue.
But, something happened recently that causes me to henceforth cease my call for reparations and apology from descendants of our former enslavers. Indeed, I propose that we descendants of slavery forgive our slave-masters and forget about reparations.
Turn the other cheek
I know this will seem shocking to many, but I see that as Jesus of Nazareth recommended, I should forgive those who did us wrong and even 'turn the other cheek' if necessary.
This enlightenment came after a meeting with a white Jamaican friend with whom I have been doing business happily for more than 10 years. As we chatted, waiting for a document to be copied by his assistant, he took up my copy of The Gleaner and read the Letters Page. Two letters caused him to comment explosively: "Apologise? For what?" and "Black apology for slavery? Hogwash!" (December 11, 2006). His angry agreement with the opinion that whites today have nothing to apologise for, and that Africans bore greater responsibility for our enslavement, caused me to start my customary reply when confronted with these arguments.
But, I suddenly realised that the relationship with this friend of mine who, like many other good friends of mine, just happens to be white, would change immediately if he and others like him were made to pay any form of compensation to people who happen to be black, just because centuries ago his ancestors were not as humanly loving to black people as he is today.
Nothing remains in that friend today of the mentality of hatred and inhumanity that enslaved my ancestors. The good business relationship I have with him, and many others, would immediately change for the worse. Instead of the successful inter-racial relationships that all Jamaicans enjoy with each other, a barrier would spring up between us all and what little harmony exists in this beautiful island would disappear.
I realised that, in the same way, the good relationship Jamaica has with 'white' countries would also change from pleasantries to resentment and anger.
Yet, if I was to forgive and forget, shrug off the weight of my tragic, bitter ancestral heritage and move on as if it never happened, I would be better able to keep building even more and better relations with people of all colours and races to help to achieve the global unity that I have been claiming will come when reparations level the economic playing field.
Frankly, I don't think we will ever get reparations, certainly not on the ways we are demanding. Countries are already paying reparations anyway, in the form of loans, grants and project funding, both here and in Africa. The philanthropy and generosity of the European Union and the U.S.A. are well known in Jamaica.
Wealthy descendants of enslavers led by such international figures as Bill Clinton, Malcolm Forbes, Bill Gates, Bono, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Madonna among others, are publicly showing their commitment to correcting some of the ills that remain in Africa after slavery and colonialism.
Maybe if we forget about reparations, others will surprise uas by similar generosity inspired by their recognition of responsibility; however, many generations removed they are from personal guilt.
Our claimed desire to repatriate to Africa is not apparent when reggae-rich Rastas who have been there on their musical travels still remain living in Jamaica, contributing to development of schools, hospitals and communities (not forgetting the construction, real estate and car sale businesses), rather than moving to settle in Africa. The leadership they could inspire in less economically privileged Jamaicans for repatriation with reparations, as well as the support they could give is not evident, but those who have been there clearly prefer to stay here - perhaps with good reasons.
This leads me to see that I should have other priorities than reparations at this time. I see that Jamaican descendants of slaves should campaign for true reparations such as the eradication of malaria, HIV-AIDS and other diseases that keep Africa undeveloped. I and I should campaign for debt relief and large-scale investment (such as China is making in Africa). I and I should join international movements against genocidal wars, desertification and human rights abuses, especially against women. I and I should be the loudest voices seeking fair prices for African crops, minerals and labour. By joining these movements, led almost exclusively by whites, we would bring pressure and funding to improve Africa and correct the wrongs of slavery.
'Peace' and 'One Love' is the basic philosophy of the Rastafari culture spoken by almost every Jamaican, including our Prime Minister. I now believe that I should exercise this belief fully and not partially, especially regarding the crime of slavery. Loving my 'enemies' (black and white) is not just good Rastafari thinking. It is the basic foundation of the Bible; the Christian rule book by which Emperor Haile Selassie advised I to live.
By all means I will never forget I ties to Africa's great history, cultures and religion, nor ever cease striving to make it a better, greater continent and home whenever time comes to return to my roots. But from now on, I will forget about the ills of slavery, and forgive those who participated in the negative past that brought I to this beautiful outpost of Africa.
For after all, Jah mek ya. I would not have found Jah if I had not been born in Jamaica.
That prize alone is enough to make I herewith forgive and forget everything.
PEACE and ONE LOVE.
FAIR USE NOTICE:
This site may at times contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml