The social and economic impacts of slavery are still dreadfully evident in the prevalence of “poverty, underdevelopment and consistent institutional racism” affecting Barbados and other former slave societies.
This is the sobering assessment of University of the West Indies Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, who underscored the need to continue the fight for reparatory justice, even if it takes the entire 21st century to be realised.
During an episode of HARDtalk that aired on the BBC hours after the conclusion of local Emancipation Day celebrations, Sir Hilary slammed former enslavers for attempting to determine the form that reparatory justice should take.
Sir Hilary contended that such discussions should consider that the tragic and exploitative legacy of enslavement was the foundation upon which British wealth was founded and continues to this day.
“The British came here in the 1620s. The following decade, the British said all black people on this island, and those coming here in the future will be classified as non-human. They are going to be classified as non-human real estate in chattel,” Sir Hilary recalled.
“It took us all of the 19th century to outroot slavery from the world. The Hatians first in 1804, through the English, the French, the Dutch and ultimately the Portuguese in Brazil. It took 100 years to end slavery, then it took us another 100 years to convert freedom into civil rights.
“It took us all of the 20th century to get civil rights, if it takes us all of the 21st century to have reparatory justice, generation by generation the struggle goes on,” vowed Sir Hilary, who is chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission.
During the interview with Journalist, Zeinab Badawi, Sir Hilary expressed concern about countries attempting to deliver reparatory justice through settlements, such as the case of Germany, which provided US $1.34 billion in aid for their role in the 20th century genocide that killed tens of thousands.
This, Sir Hilary argued, is an inappropriate discussion given that the impact of European exploitation is “all around us”.
Furthermore, in the case of Barbados, the celebrated academic noted that the 166 square mile island was a laboratory for the development of slavery that was eventually replicated throughout the Caribbean and North America.
“The poverty, the underdevelopment, the consistent institutional racism, the white supremacy, all of those structures that made the systems work are still here,” he said.
“European governments prefer to say ‘we regret very much what we have done and that is the end of the conversation.’ Reparations says ‘we apologise for what we have done, now let us work together in partnership and work through the consequences of what we have done.’
“So reparations is really a partnership relationship that may lead to development, but the important thing, it leads to the elevation of those who continue to suffer the harm. We don’t necessarily want to be locked into a discourse around settlements. We want to speak about the process of reparations, the development consequences,” Sir Hilary added.
He however stressed there is no need for all oppressed black people to speak with one voice on the form that reparations should take given the “tremendous intellectual diversity” within the black world.
“We [in the Caribbean] want more schools, we want public health infrastructures, we want to have systems to allow development to become more endemic in our societies and that is the focus of our reparations,” Sir Hilary maintained. (KS)