Unfinished business of slavery

Unfinished business of slavery

A third revolution for the USA


Friday, September 25, 2020

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The United States of America was a colony of Britain from 1607 to 1783. Historians can say whether chattel slavery practised in North American and the Caribbean during British colonial rule was carried out anywhere else in the history of mankind in the same cruel and inhuman way succeeding generations of black people from Africa were made to suffer.

The continuing assertion of white supremacy inherited from chattel slavery to deny equal rights and justice for black people haunts the USA like an albatross around the neck of the nation. The pervasive racial disparity in law enforcement, with the unlawful killing of black men by white policemen, ultimately exploded with the war of George Floyd's neck for a forcible reminder that black lives matter – the nation's unfinished business.

The first revolution for freedom was the War of Independence from Britain - 1775 and 1783. The war did not decide the issue of slavery in the United States; it took another 82 years until the mid-19th century for the second USA revolution to resolve the difficult and fractious relationship with black citizens and to prevent the nation from falling apart.

The second revolution was the civil war and the abolition of slavery. Dr James McPherson, professor emeritus of history at Princeton University, identified what he called “a defining time in our nation's history: The Civil War is the central event in America's historical consciousness”. While the revolution of 1776-1783 created the United States, the Civil War of 1861-1865 determined what kind of nation it would be, “…whether this nation, born of a declaration that all men were created with an equal right to liberty, would continue to exist as the largest slaveholding country in the world”.

A third revolution? The present sporadic outburst of violent racial conflict across the country foreshadows a third revolution as the war of George Floyd's neck, similar to the long and bloody wars of the two earlier revolutions in which so many died for the ultimate purpose, a country where black, brown, red, and white people are born free and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The special rapporteur's report to the United Nations General Assembly August 21, 2019 addressed “contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and racial intolerance, and the human rights obligations of member states in relation to reparation for racial discrimination rooted in slavery and colonialism”.

A Caribbean perspective

Caribbean countries have increasingly come under the hegemony of the USA, reducing the influence of European countries in the region. Jamaica and other Caribbean nations in Caricom share with the USA a common history of black people being forcibly brought from Africa to the colonies and sold to work on plantations in chattel slavery under British colonial rule. The demand for restorative justice for the black people of the USA resonates with the people of Caricom -- all black, making the UN's recommendations for ending racism a matter of common concern. We wait to see how the 2020 US election will address this common concern. If they look good, we will look good.

Putting appearances aside, the people of Caricom countries who retain the British queen as their head of State have the unique constitutional right to seek redress at their highest court for the enslavement of black people under British rule. The loss of a similar opportunity for the black people of the USA left them partially free, still protesting police brutality, and dominant racism for human rights obligations after two revolutions. A lopsided democracy remains that the national Government must correct to prevent further bloodshed and to maintain the respect of Caribbean people and the global standing of the USA.

Frank Phipps, QC, is a member of the National Council for Reparation. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or frank.phipps@yahoo.com

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