It is not a matter of begging, it is about justice!
Chairman of the Task Force on Reparations Professor Pedro Welch has scoffed at a suggestion made by prominent businessman Andrew Bynoe that blacks need to “stop begging” for an apology and reparations from whites for slavery.
“I do not want any apology from any white Barbadian and I will speak for my children, grand children and great grand children who will never want an apology from white or any other colour or race,” said Bynoe, in a strongly letter to Barbados TODAY this week that has also drawn the ire of Pan Africanist David Comissiong.
Pointing out that the first slaves in Barbados were white, Bynoe was adamant that in the same way white descents have moved on with life, blacks needed to do the same. And he said he had taught his children and grandchildren as much.
“Stop begging! Nobody owes us anything. It’s a brave new world,” he said in his letter, in which he described the call for blacks to carry the chip on their shoulders as that of “weaklings”.
“Slavery done. Do I hear the English asking the Romans to apologize for their occupation of Britain and the enslavement of the inhabitants?” Bynoe insisted.
However, Comissiong has immediately fired back at the black businessman telling him: “Do not insult black people with your uninformed comments, and desist from trivializing the extent to which black people have built the modern western civilization.”
Comissiong, who is a social activist and a practising attorney-at-law, also said it was “tragic” that Bynoe and many other black people really did not understand the issue of reparations, neither were they prepared to admit to their ignorance nor make an effort to inform and educate themselves.
He went on to explain that “reparations start from a premise that a criminal act was committed against our ancestors”, one, which he added, was “in fact, the most heinous criminal act imaginable that constitutes a crime against humanity.
“If we the descendants of those ancestors fail to demand reparations we would implicitly be sending a message to ourselves and to the world at large that we do not consider our ancestors sacred beings imbued with inalienable rights deserving of respect and justice,” Comissiong added.
It was in response to a call made by Barbados’s Ambassador to CARICOM, Robert “Bobby” Morris, for an apology from local whites whose ancestors had benefited substantially from the institution of slavery, that Bynoe had issued his call for blacks to stop wasting time and to simply get on with it.
Asked by Barbados TODAY to explain why he felt the victims of slavery were not in need of an apology, the owner of Carlton & A1 Supermarkets told Barbados TODAY an apology was unnecessary since the time of slavery had long past.
He also argued that blacks were also guilty of selling other black people into slavery.
“Let us start from where we are,” Bynoe said.
“But even apart from that, as I have said, the first slaves in Barbados were white people. So I am one of those who wants to look forward, who wants to get on with it.
“That [slavery] is the past, and though that past, to some extent, has conditioned black people, I think it is time we grew up and took our own destiny in our hands. We have it,” Bynoe told Barbados TODAY.
He also warned that unless black Barbadians cultivated “a self confidence” and were prepared to “use their brains”, then they could be asking “the new arrivals from China” to say sorry within 25 years.
“I cannot understand historian Robert Morris and some other politicians who continue to promote and infuse a mendicant mentality as a substitute for effort, to improve the black people of Barbados,” he said.
“We have to stop begging. We have to believe in ourselves. We have to put to use the good education that we benefit from,” Bynoe insisted, while deeming it ironic that when Barbadians go overseas they did not take “that kind of attitude with time and they do very well”.
“So why is it that we would have a group of people in this country who continually raise this matter in this way, to beg either for reparations or to beg someone to say sorry?” he asked.
However, historian Pedro Welch has also sought to make clear to Bynoe that neither he nor any of the other members of the reparations committee “are not begging anyone for anything”.
On the contrary, he said they were engaged in a fight for justice, adding, “We have to reach the stage where Afro-Barbadians are as resourceful as anyone else.
“That is part of the repair . . . Reparations is not about asking for money. It is a matter of ensuring that we repair the damage that was done to our people’s psyche,” argued Welch.
Recalling the history of the slave trade, the retired lecturer in History at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies noted that even though blacks came out of enslavement in 1838, they were made to pay a penalty for another 100 years because the franchise was discriminatory.
He also pointed out that as recent as the 1950s black people were still suffering from deprivation at the hands of the planters and merchants, who controlled state power in Barbados.
“In the 1950s few children wore shoes to school, their parents could not afford to buy shoes. In many cases food was simply biscuits. So when I hear people say that we should not ask any questions, I point out the inequities of the time. I smile at that because it shows a total misunderstanding of issues.”
In further support of the demand for justice, Welch pointed out that from emancipation to the present, there was never a moment when the former enslavers ever expressed any notion of regret for the past.
The historian also took a direct swipe at Bynoe, saying while he lauded his achievements as a businessman, Bynoe needed to acknowledge that there were many others who did not have the “push” he had to succeed.
“You need someone to push you and I understand someone assisted him … [and] all I can say is, he got a push.”
Welch also recalled a recent visit to Jamaica by British Prime Minister David Cameron, during which he donated millions of dollars to construct a prison for deported Jamaicans and suggested that they forget slavery.
However, unlike Cameron, Welch said: “The Jews do not forget the holocaust. These people who ask blacks to forget and stop begging are insulting the ones who are not begging for anything. We are putting a case to the people so that they can see for themselves what damage was done. That is what we are saying. Every area of black life was touched by the institution of slavery.”