I submit the following for publication as an “open letter” to Professor Pedro Welch, chairman of “Barbados: Slavery and Reparations Task Force”.
I wish to offer a few comments, and queries, regarding the task which you and SRTF colleagues have undertaken. Firstly however, I need to make clear a few critical points, which I hold dear amongst my personal, foundational beliefs:
1. Slavery, in all its forms, is an abhorrent aberration of one’s humanity.
2. Ditto, racism, in all its forms. I cannot conceive of a true, practising Christian, who can blithely pursue his daily life, whilst carrying either in his bosom.
3. I make no excuses for tribal or cultural practices and customs, in any country, which on examination, are found to be an opaque veneer for equivocation. Like four to five-year-olds in the sub-continent, making blocks, instead of going to school. Or the 800,000 unfortunates in Mali.
4. The principle of reparations, and their precedents, are indeed well-founded, but still have parameters, both legal, and those prescribed by common-sense.
5. Common-sense is perhaps the most valuable human blessing/attribute. However, it is certainly not common to all, and it also has the disconcerting habit of sometimes abruptly leaving the scene of many a burning issue under discussion.
To the above, I also need to append some personal specifics:
I am a fifth-generation of an indentured-servant, one John Webster, a passenger recorded on the manifest of the second English vessel, the William and John, to touch our Holetown shores. My antecedents habitually lived in St. John, and were widely known, and often scorned, by epithets such as “Red Legs”, “Backra Johnnies”, and “Poor Whites”. Poor me!
To add some further “seasoning” to the stew, if you will, in recent times I have found that my grand-dad on my mother’s side, was a man of some colour; that I have in the course of my years, “discovered many wonderful blood-relatives of varied “shades”, who have enriched my life.
The icing on da cake, is that I am happily married to a lovely Welchman Hall lady who is well-and-truly “sunburnt” — to a turn! Voila! I therefore speak as one presumably “qualified” on at least two counts (being partially-coloured); and also as the descendant of a white-slave. Hmmm, it only now strikes me that I just might be in line for a “double-dipping” bonus! Wow!
With these foundations in place, I ask a few questions which naturally arise, as your committee now “moves forward” to achieve your goals. I am sure you will deal with these fairly, but I also ask your indulgence for gentle treatment, since I have never darkened the Hallowed Corridors of any tertiary institution.
1. What are your goals? If more than one, please prioritise. 1 (b) Any time-lines, to aid a steady progression to success?
2. How will you quantify any specific claim, for any form and extent of suffering/ damages/loss/ occasioned? This passes my feeble understanding, but I assume that as SRTF is now officially established that before accepting such responsibilities, this has already been established as not being an impossibility; a child of caprice; of “irrational exuberance” or anything similar? Rather, something of rational, measurable calculation; feasible? And capable of overcoming any legal defence it might meet with?
3. If the defendants cannot, or will not, settle up? What then? Lock them up? (In need, please access our agreement with the UK, whereby they lock-up and feed British criminals found guilty in Bim courts, so as not to strain Dodd’s slim resources).
4. How shall you divide-up the loot, with all other islands/similarly-afflicted peoples, fully considered? Will the recipients be restricted only to those of the CARICOM tribe, or more equitably, shall include those in the Central and South-America, the Pacific, and other nether parts of the world?
5. Assuming SRTF does settle the issue in (4) above: How shall we share-out the proceeds, right here in BIM? Surely, some salve will need be given to individuals, such as me? Or will all be handed-over to Government, to be used in its “wisdom”?
6. What is the status of the SRTF, at law? Is it able to hold real property? Is SRTF in fact, a legal person? Can you really sue — or be sued? Hmm, no, I’m not planning to sue, if you and your colleagues, exclude “Red-Legs” like me, from a share of any fattened calf! Rest easy. I just need to know if to take this all seriously. If not so qualifying, I’d suggest that the committee be more appropriately referred to as a steering committee. “Task”, without “Force” — well, I dunno!
7. I note that the raison d’√™tre, as mentioned in the press, includes the fact that the CARICOM HOGS folks, have given it some form of “blessing”. The jury may be still out on the relative merits of this, based on HOGS’ past performance, but I note with alarm, a further suggestion, to create a federation of all reparation committees all over the Caribbean. Really?
It strikes me very forcefully, that you, and your counterpart SRTF’s in other islands, might just find yourselves in adversarial positions. Or at least, having differences in opinion, as to who gets the choicest parts of the said fattened calf. If one accepts the need for such a regional body, why not let it start-off the whole she-bang, and set guidelines which all will accept?
This will, presumably, allow each island’s committee, to proceed smoothly with the nitty-gritty, and avoid an awful, distracting ruckus, which will inevitably ensue if each island committee has the task of quantifying the “bill”; creating the rules that will govern the game; and the sharing-out — all simultaneously.
Remember, how much “fun” we had as kids, when someone started a board-game, then made-up the rules as one went along?
The next HOGS, could if so minded, assign in five minutes, the task of setting-up the “federation”, to the CARICOM secretariat. As to how many months, years, or decades might then pass before this sees the light of day, is an entirely separate matter.
8. I adverted to the expectation that you shall be fair to me. I also ask that you apply an equal measure of equity, to the matter of quantifying what value, if any, the committee might find on the other side of the reparations “balance-sheet”, if you will.
I therefore draw your attention to the small matter of according a value, if any, to the following assets (or to avoid rancorous discussion, let’s just refer to these as “attributes”) which the English, Dutch, Spanish and French might just have left-behind, when they departed. These include, but are not at all limited to: the English language, reading ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, literature, music, Christianity
Jurisprudence, democracy, educational system, medical sciences, sciences of all, manner and kind, pipe-borne water, road network, engineering, architecture, ships, shipping, airplanes, air travel, communications, in all forms — radio; cell; LL, TV, (ad naseum). On second thought, add TV to what “they” still owe to us!
While this latter task is beyond my meagre faculties, I am sure that the committee will be fair enough, to accept it as the justified “other-side-of-the-coin”; to square-up its collective shoulders, and to manfully deduct the sum-value of such attributes, as a “discount” against the committee’s sum on the reparations side of the equation! I have no idea, which sum might be the greater, but trust that it will nonetheless be done, and done well and fairly at that. Caveat venditor, perhaps?
Bearing in mind the faint echo of what I yet recall of my Cambridge H.S.C. economics — something about “applying limited resources capable of alternative uses” — and viewing the huge talent and brain-power now massed at those Imperial /Colonial gates: I now throw caution to the wind, and ask the obvious:
Given the state of our economy, our society, our parlous fiscal state, the whole global mess all around us, (of which we are an inescapable fellow-traveller) — given all these, Sir, is this really the best use we can make of such assembled talent?
I also direct your attention, to another equally if not more important matter: that of removing those current expressions of modern-day slavery that persist as we breathe. I offer only one example, the above-mentioned, pitiful 800,000 people in Mali, whom the United Nations officially regard as still captive in “family groups” — “servants for life” — appendages to their wealthier countrymen, but beyond doubt, condemned to slavery of the modern kind. Spare a thought, for our fellow-Africans, perhaps? Do something?
As a person of undeniable ability and integrity, I wish you God’s blessings, strength, and especially, stamina. Your SRTF colleagues are evidently blest with a wide variety of talents, but I trust that no political baggage will be allowed on the journey.
BTW: May I posit to you professor, that the single greatest, over-riding issue which SRTF will confront, is one so obvious that it is easily over-looked. As these lovely islands were originally inhabited by the Siboney, the Arawaks, the Amerindians, and the Caribs, it naturally follows that all reparations made and coming into our hands, shall first be shared amongst those remaining folks who comprise our own “first peoples”.
Just as your initial press release quotes, as a basic justification, the reparations accorded the Aussie Aboriginals; the NZ Maoris etc. N’est pas? It follows therefore, that we people of colour, shall have to be satisfied with the crumbs, as these folks are entitled to the first bite at the cherry — if not the whole cherry.
Oh dear, what a lovely dream ’twas! But it’s time for me to rise — and face today’s realities.