Blaming everything on slavery will discredit the reparations campaign
THERE is absolutely no doubt that slavery has had a profoundly harmful effect on the state of Caribbean societies and the underdevelopment of the economies of the region. However, we must be careful not to attribute all the social, economic and psychological problems of contemporary Caribbean reality to slavery.
This tendency towards evidential distortion has occurred not by inadvertent thinking or accidental misinterpretation of historical information, but deliberately and it has occurred because of the avarice and desperation which has spawned an attitude of mendicancy among some leaders, mainly political, in the Caribbean Community. The harsh truth is that it is convenient for these political leaders to have slavery as a scapegoat on which to blame everything, because it distracts public attention from their inadequacies and failures.
It is useful to have some exogenous force on which to blame poverty and underdevelopment and if there is no such in reality, then invent one. The ideal distraction is a half-truth since it has some element of truth and some fiction is more effective or more believable than truth. The distortion of slavery as the cause of all our ills is born of a puerile exaggeration of the history of slavery in the misguided belief that it will strengthen the case for reparations and provide support for a claim for a larger amount of reparations. As we have said on more than one occasion in this space, there is a valid case to be answered for reparations. We reiterate our support for the campaign to secure reparations. But we must warn that the campaign for reparations is in danger of being discredited by this tendency to blame everything on slavery.
Slavery was legally abolished in 1834, with full freedom in 1838, over 170 years ago. Colonialism began to recede in the early 1960s — over half-a-century ago for Jamaica and Trinidad. A lot can happen and has happened in the last 50 to 170 years. The further we get from slavery the less credible will be the assertion that current problems are caused by slavery.
To illustrate the danger we are warning against, let us look at the outcome of the recent meeting between the Caricom Reparations Commission and the law firm Leigh Day at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Several areas were highlighted for reparations diplomacy and action. Among the claims made was that slavery was a cause of the paltry state of public health, illiteracy, ethnic self-esteem, broken family structures and technological backwardness.
It is ironic that it is the poor Black people of Jamaica who are the direct descendants of slaves and whose material quality of life is the worst of all classes in Caribbean societies who have become its most outstanding citizens. Let us not misuse slavery to exonerate the failures of the politicians and the sons and daughters of the slave-owners who have failed to develop the Caribbean.