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Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The lingering legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and chattel slavery in Caribbean societies
World Structure May Not Bring Reparations Justice
By RUPERT MISSICK Jr:
Caribbean’s claim for reparations over “the lingering legacy of the
Atlantic slave trade” is so fundamental to the current world structure
that there may be no real, just way to respond, social anthropologist
and College of the Bahamas professor Dr Nicolette Bethel told The
maintains that Caribbean societies have been built upon transatlantic
slave trading and chattel slavery. It encouraged the slave-owning
nations of Europe – principally Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, the
Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark – to engage Caribbean
governments in reparatory dialogue to address the “living legacies of
dialogue took place on a smaller level recently in one of Dr Bethel’s
classes at COB. She was joined by Dr Gilbert Morris who discussed with
the students, via Skype, among other things, the legal foundations of a
Bethel said she invited Dr Morris to lecture her class because she and
Dr Morris have different positions on the question of reparations.
“The students need to know that scholars don’t always agree and need to learn how to think for themselves,” she said.
of the issues surrounding the debate is the question of whether it is
possible or even realistic to believe that reparations could take the
form of dollars and cents.
Dr Bethel believes the debate should involve both the tangible and intangible.
me, the main point is the intangible, immaterial, and fundamental issue
– that fundamental issue that when crimes are done to human beings and
the world takes note, reparations are paid.
fact that people of African and indigenous descent have not been
treated the same way suggests that the same lie that was invented to
justify the slave trade still holds: that we are somehow less than
human, and don’t rate the same respect.
the monetary side is also fundamental. The modern capitalist world was
built on the forced labour of the people of the ‘new world’ and that
debt has yet to be paid.
than Europe and North America paying back the Caribbean, Caribbean
countries’ debts are being multiplied under the current world economic
system, which, despite all mouthings to the contrary, is in no way
‘free’, unless the ‘free-ness’ is still free, forced, unwaged, underpaid
labour,” Dr Bethel said.
Dr Bethel said that Bahamians have a difficult time addressing the issue of slavery because they were mistaught their history.
have deep shame about that history and we have not faced it or
discussed it. I think this is by design. We imagine that it might be
dangerous to our social relations to do so. Our social relations,
whether we talk about the enslavement and dehumanisation of our past or
not, are endangered. Perhaps one way of fixing that is to re-humanise us
all, and one way of doing that is sitting down and reasoning together,”
Slavery, Dr Bethel said, has created a society in which brutality is still the most accepted way of functioning.
we are not brutalising one another in every way, little and big,
physical and psychic, we wish to brutalise those people on whom we place
the label of ‘brute’ – our poor, our disempowered, the criminals.
institution of slavery dehumanised everyone, no matter what their
origin. The process of beating down the enslaved dehumanised the
enslavers. We have only to look at how we have designed our city and our
public institutions to understand that we don’t really believe in our
full humanity, our people-ness yet,” Dr Bethel said.
While there are many who feel something should happen in terms of reparations, it is doubtful that anything will.
recent reparation claim levied against Lloyds of London in 2004 by a
coalition of Rastafarian groups argued that European countries formerly
involved in the slave trade, especially Britain, should pay 72.5 billion
pounds to resettle 500,000 Jamaican Rastafarians in Africa.
The claim was rejected by the British government, which said it could not be held accountable for wrongs in past centuries.
So, in a perfect world, how should the Caribbean’s claim for reparations be answered?
Bethel says she doesn’t know but feels that the Caribbean’s claim is so
fundamental to the current world structure that there is no real, just
way to respond.
I cannot imagine a perfect world. However, let us look at what the
Caribbean, what the new world lacks: we lack a real, fundamental
connection to and agreement that our humanity is worth celebrating.
we lack is the luxury of spending money on things we deem ‘unnecessary’
but which are critical for the development of democratic and civil
society, and that is what we need now.
fund for the creation of that kind of infrastructure? I don’t know. A
return of all that we have lost – all our ancestral knowledge, our
ancestral civilities? Can they be returned? Can they be rebuilt? Can we
fund the healing that is necessary?
“Even if it is not possible, the gesture, the foundation, the funding must be provided somehow, somewhere, now,” she said.