Confronting the awful legacy of slavery
Slavery was an acceptable idea of the ruling ages.

In this space yesterday we made the point that the "tentacles of enslavement remain with us".

We argued that "much of the ignorance, poverty, inequity, indiscipline, and depravity which plague the [Jamaican] society ... have ancestral roots in that period [ending in the 1830s] when some felt it their right to make others their property".

We insisted that "what we cannot and must not do is deny or suppress our history".

Yet there are those who disagree — who believe that Jamaicans are better off forgetting the past.

But then, how will our children know who they are without understanding where they are coming from? If they don't know who they are, how will they progress as a unified, progressive, prosperous people?

It's obvious that Jamaicans and their leaders need to go beyond 'mouth talk' to developing relevant education programmes in schools and communities so citizens of all ages can get an understanding of how the past made them who they are today.

Let's appreciate that not all Jamaicans exited plantation slavery deprived, impoverished, disenfranchised. A distinct minority, mostly white and mixed race, were privileged — owners and managers of slave plantations, merchants, propertied.

However, the great majority, all black, who gained freedom from slavery in the 1830s, were penniless, landless, with only the rags on their backs. They were also illiterate, poorly socialised, with no clear idea of the road ahead.

In the immediate aftermath of the freeing of slaves, the ex-slave owners were compensated for loss of property. Historians say Jamaican ex-slave owners received more than £5.85 million — a huge sum in those days — from the British Government for loss of their human property. Across the British Caribbean that compensation came close to £20 million.

The ex-slaves got nothing.

Also, as was pointed out in this space yesterday, those who stayed on to offer their labour on the plantations were required to pay rent from their meagre wages.

Such facts and much more form part of the argument for reparation.

But also, at the local level, Jamaicans must not lose sight of the link between the hopelessly impoverished who exited slavery in the 1830s and those barely able to survive in today's slums and squatter communities. Please do not get us wrong. We are not here arguing that all ex-slaves remained at rock bottom. Obviously, there were those who lifted themselves against all odds, through hard work, endurance, and incredible initiative.

Sadly, the great majority missed out. And today's Jamaica is reaping the whirlwind from the inbuilt injustices and inequalities. The fruits are manifest in crime, savagery, indiscipline of every sort, and ignorance at an appalling level.

How are those inbuilt injustices to be corrected? We often emphasise the need for people mobilisation to achieve unity of purpose, across political lines, from the grass roots to the top, in order to bring crime under control.

But crime as it exists in Jamaica today can't be divorced from the many other debilitating socio-economic problems. They are all intricately linked. And together, they all require that mass mobilisation of society, inclusive of sensible social programmes and comprehensive public education.

Crucially, our problems won't be resolved overnight, but over time. It's past time to get started.

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