Reparation demands the urgency of the nowSunday, August 01, 2021
The pressing mandate of reparation is this generation's sacred duty. We must reaffirm the dignity and integrity of our ancestors, who were enslaved, and of ourselves, their proud and determined descendants. Our task is impatient of debate and we must present a united front in this just cause.
Now is a time for unqualified progress for, and unity of, our people. Indeed, now is a time to shape a world that knows, claims and sustains equity, equality, justice, and prosperity for our people, for all people, and for all time.
To succeed at this, we cannot postpone the responsibility we have to remove the confusion around the anatomy and treachery of a catastrophic four centuries of enslavement of our ancestors. We contend now, with a complex and too often painful reality of Africans and African descendants around the world, a direct consequence of the “unhappy regime” of chattel slavery and its concomitant philosophies of dehumanisation and systemic discrimination.
Now is a time for absolute clarity, and past time for resolute action to achieve reparatory justice.
As Jamaicans, we must reckon, and tackle frontally, the reality, that the mechanisms of enslavement continue today, in all its forms, including defamation and discrimination, which have ultimately retarded our people's attainment of equality, equity, recognition, justice, and development.
It must be acknowledged that even in countries which, like Jamaica, are predominantly black, the descendants of enslaved Africans experience indirect discrimination and related dysfunctions.
Indeed, we live a paradox. We Jamaicans are, at once, a people who are strong, proud, hospitable, creative, intellectually gifted, resilient, militant, determined, and successful; while, conversely, we are a people who have retained social inequalities, as well as neocolonial and colonial values, structures, and systems. This reality has been with us for far too long. We must fully embrace all the characteristics of our ethnicity and assure equal and equitable treatment for all, irrespective of class, cultural expression, and creed.
It is for this reason that my ministry, on the direction of our prime minister, Andrew Holness, has set about making recommendations for revising the dress and grooming requirements for schools, and also those which govern access to public institutions, such as hospitals.
Let me be clear: There can be no barrier to accessing public services based on a hairstyle or antiquated dress requirements which have no basis in law, and which are remnants of our colonial past. These imposed “guidelines” are not reflective of our identity, nor are they responsive to modern trends, or even our tropical climate, or the vagaries of climate change! We are intentional in completing this aspect of the work of our independent nation, particularly as we prepare to celebrate our Diamond Jubilee in 2022.
We must peel back all the layers of our oppression and free ourselves of them. This is the work that we continue in earnest today. It is a time for action, it is a time to repair and to restore.
Our efforts are underpinned by the National Council on Reparation which is housed in my ministry. Among its many initiatives geared toward raising public awareness and fostering dialogue around the issue of reparation is a conversation webinar series focusing on the state of the black race and developing the road map for the way forward. We have, through these means, begun working more closely with global partners on the African continent, in the United States and in the United Kingdom, and engaged the global space and citizenry around this cause.
In May, nation leaders Prime Minister Holness and Cyril Ramaphosa, president of the Republic of South Africa, led the dialogue on Africa Day, and on July 15 the discourse continued with a panel that spoke to the theme 'Dissecting Race: Defamation, Discrimination and Development'.
The webinar's panel included distinguished speakers and activists such as Mr Benjamin Crump, whose tireless battles to secure justice for Afro-descendant families, including American George Floyd, are sadly, well known to us all. Other panellists were Ms Jasmine Rand, law professor and international legal consultant and attorney, and UN Fellow, Ms Ikram Warsam. They were joined by our own Jamaican experts and activists including Mrs Laleta Davis Mattis and Mr Bert Samuels (chair and deputy chair of the National Council on Reparation, respectively) and the council's Nattecia Bohardsingh, herself as UN fellow. A summation of the discussions was provided by Alando Terrelongue, minister of state in the Ministry of Culture.
At the webinar, I pledged, again, my fervent determination to lobby for reparation in every corridor of global power. My statements to this effect have been in the public sphere and broadcast on international media. I wish to reiterate my call, no, my demand for compensation to the Jamaican descendants of enslaved Africans who were victims of the Ma'afa, the most cruel, inhumane and sustained system of oppression ever visited upon a people. I wish to clarify that the damage to us, though truly incalculable in monetary terms, can only begin to be expressed in the trillions!
While we argue for reparation, we must, simultaneously, agitate for a redesign of socio-economic policies and modalities at the local and international levels, to address the hardships and inequalities we face as a result of the historical and persistent plunder of the continent and its people.
In this, the remaining three years of the International Decade for People of African Descent, we hasten on to achieving its objectives of recognition, justice and development. We owe it to our children and all those who come after them, to work tirelessly to end the disparities which exist, be it with respect to access to high quality education, health care, housing, and justice. We dedicate ourselves to community development, economic advancement, high educational achievement, and recovery of our story and cultural memory.
We reject the labels of our people as inherently bad, predestined for poverty, incarceration and undereducation, or even that we are marked from birth for an early death at the hands of each other, the State, or owing to a lack of access to quality health care.
We also repudiate the notion of inevitable suffering of high death rates from the latest form of discrimination — 'Vaccine Apartheid' — in continental Africa and here in the Caribbean and Latin America, where millions of enslaved Africans were shipped during the transatlantic trade in Africans.
Reparation demands the urgency of the now! We must pursue the most effective frameworks to set our people on a highway to sustainable development and prosperity.
We must eliminate elements of discrimination embedded in our laws, public policy and institutions. We take note of the current discussions, if not resistance, in the USA regarding the ethos of the related critical race theory which calls upon us to contend with our history in this way. We must confront derision of all things African and African-centric — from religion, to cultural expressions, educational content, and language. We will invest in a transformative developmental agenda of the people, for the people.
I present this most urgent challenge to Jamaicans, and further urge us to reflect, dialogue and support our common mission. I also invite all Jamaicans to become part of the coalition against worldwide racial discrimination of the people of African descent. We must work to achieve what our reggae prophet Peter Tosh refrained “equal rights and justice.” We will work to erase the dilemma of the African collective.
We will never forget the unparalleled horrors of the transatlantic slave trade in Africans — a heinous crime against humanity. We will not allow the eyes of the world to be averted from the stain of the bloodshed of our brothers and sisters — we say their names; nor will we allow the cries of the children left behind to be ignored.
We demand justice within the decade — in terms that we articulate. There must be no settling of this debt or discourse 'that is about us — without us'. We sound the clarion call for restorative justice. The United Nations Human Rights Council has joined the call for global action to make amends for racism against people of African descent and we welcome the statement of UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who, on Monday, June 29, 2021, called on states 'to stop denying and start dismantling racism and to listen to the voices of the people of African descent'.
We say a luta continua (the struggle continues) and the victory is assured.
We say 'Let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.'
We say reparation now!
—Olivia “Babsy” Grange is Jamaica's Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport
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