Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah, Contributor
I have been an ardent supporter of the Rastafari call for reparations, ever since becoming a Rastafarian 30 years ago. In recent years, especially after attending the 2001 United Nations Conference Against Racism in Durban, I became one of the leading Jamaican spokespersons on reparations, and part of the large international group calling attention to the crime of African enslavement in the Americas and the still-existing trauma that resulted across the diaspora.
Recently, I joined the persons criticising the 'non-apology' but 'sincere regret' for slavery given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, that has resurrected the issue.
But, something happened recently that causes me to henceforth cease my call for reparations and apology from descendants of our former enslavers. Indeed, I propose that we descendants of slavery forgive our slave-masters and forget about reparations.
Turn the other cheek
I know this will seem shocking to many, but I see that as Jesus of Nazareth recommended, I should forgive those who did us wrong and even 'turn the other cheek' if necessary.
This enlightenment came after a meeting with a white Jamaican friend with whom I have been doing business happily for more than 10 years. As we chatted, waiting for a document to be copied by his assistant, he took up my copy of The Gleaner and read the Letters Page. Two letters caused him to comment explosively: "Apologise? For what?" and "Black apology for slavery? Hogwash!" (December 11, 2006). His angry agreement with the opinion that whites today have nothing to apologise for, and that Africans bore greater responsibility for our enslavement, caused me to start my customary reply when confronted with these arguments.
But, I suddenly realised that the relationship with this friend of mine who, like many other good friends of mine, just happens to be white, would change immediately if he and others like him were made to pay any form of compensation to people who happen to be black, just because centuries ago his ancestors were not as humanly loving to black people as he is today.
Nothing remains in that friend today of the mentality of hatred and inhumanity that enslaved my ancestors. The good business relationship I have with him, and many others, would immediately change for the worse. Instead of the successful inter-racial relationships that all Jamaicans enjoy with each other, a barrier would spring up between us all and what little harmony exists in this beautiful island would disappear.
I realised that, in the same way, the good relationship Jamaica has with 'white' countries would also change from pleasantries to resentment and anger.
Yet, if I was to forgive and forget, shrug off the weight of my tragic, bitter ancestral heritage and move on as if it never happened, I would be better able to keep building even more and better relations with people of all colours and races to help to achieve the global unity that I have been claiming will come when reparations level the economic playing field.
Frankly, I don't think we will ever get reparations, certainly not on the ways we are demanding. Countries are already paying reparations anyway, in the form of loans, grants and project funding, both here and in Africa. The philanthropy and generosity of the European Union and the U.S.A. are well known in Jamaica.
Wealthy descendants of enslavers led by such international figures as Bill Clinton, Malcolm Forbes, Bill Gates, Bono, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Madonna among others, are publicly showing their commitment to correcting some of the ills that remain in Africa after slavery and colonialism.
Maybe if we forget about reparations, others will surprise uas by similar generosity inspired by their recognition of responsibility; however, many generations removed they are from personal guilt.
Our claimed desire to repatriate to Africa is not apparent when reggae-rich Rastas who have been there on their musical travels still remain living in Jamaica, contributing to development of schools, hospitals and communities (not forgetting the construction, real estate and car sale businesses), rather than moving to settle in Africa. The leadership they could inspire in less economically privileged Jamaicans for repatriation with reparations, as well as the support they could give is not evident, but those who have been there clearly prefer to stay here - perhaps with good reasons.
This leads me to see that I should have other priorities than reparations at this time. I see that Jamaican descendants of slaves should campaign for true reparations such as the eradication of malaria, HIV-AIDS and other diseases that keep Africa undeveloped. I and I should campaign for debt relief and large-scale investment (such as China is making in Africa). I and I should join international movements against genocidal wars, desertification and human rights abuses, especially against women. I and I should be the loudest voices seeking fair prices for African crops, minerals and labour. By joining these movements, led almost exclusively by whites, we would bring pressure and funding to improve Africa and correct the wrongs of slavery.
'Peace' and 'One Love' is the basic philosophy of the Rastafari culture spoken by almost every Jamaican, including our Prime Minister. I now believe that I should exercise this belief fully and not partially, especially regarding the crime of slavery. Loving my 'enemies' (black and white) is not just good Rastafari thinking. It is the basic foundation of the Bible; the Christian rule book by which Emperor Haile Selassie advised I to live.
By all means I will never forget I ties to Africa's great history, cultures and religion, nor ever cease striving to make it a better, greater continent and home whenever time comes to return to my roots. But from now on, I will forget about the ills of slavery, and forgive those who participated in the negative past that brought I to this beautiful outpost of Africa.
For after all, Jah mek ya. I would not have found Jah if I had not been born in Jamaica.
That prize alone is enough to make I herewith forgive and forget everything.
PEACE and ONE LOVE.
A REBUT TO THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE:
THE TRUTH ABOUT REPARATIONS
Blessed Love Sister Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah:I am Empress Marina Blake, Legal Counsel and member of the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (“EABIC” or the “Congress”), also known as the Bobo Shanti Order. I had occasion to read your article entitled “Forgive slavery, forget reparations” after it was recently resurrected by Bobo Greg.
I have also been reading the on-going comments in your e-mails regarding this issue and am perplexed by the position you have taken and, indeed, find that position troubling. Sister Makeda, the issue of reparations requires a more nuanced discussion than is suggested by your article and subsequent comments. Accordingly, in the interest of moving from confusion to clarity, and in keeping with my duty as counsel for the EABIC and in perfection of love, I submit the following points.
The first argument advanced in your article and in your comments indicates that your “white” friend and others like him (the leading families in Jamaica) would suffer hardship if they were required to pay reparations. In fact, in your e-mails you reiterated that the burden of reparations would fall squarely on the shoulders of some of the named “leading families.” Unfortunately, this line of reasoning founders on errors of both description and prescription.
The call for reparations is to governments and multinational corporations, not to individuals. It is a call for compensation from those who provided the legal regime that permitted Black people to be enslaved. Therefore, it is naïve to argue that an individual white person is not responsible and, therefore, should not be required to pay.
Racism is a group practice, not necessarily an individual one. Thus, payment for reparations would come out of the taxes of a country and be borne by all the citizens of the country. Thus, in pitting reparations against the personal interest of a few “leading Jamaican families” you embrace a false dichotomy. Indeed, the personal responsibility of certain individuals or corporations and the collective responsibility of various governments are not contradictory truths, but rather the indispensable halves of a complex whole.
Furthermore, a demand for justice is not based on the willingness or ability of those paying to pay; rather, it is based on the right of the recipients to be compensated for crimes committed against them.
The second point in your article overlaps with the first. You state that your white friend had no remnants of hatred and inhumanity that his forebears may have possessed. Once again, you appear to have missed the point. When slavery ended, its legacy lived on in the impoverished condition of Black people, as well as in the wealth and prosperity that accrued to white slave owners and their descendants.
In particular, the legally enforced discrimination against the descendants of slaves persisted well into the 1960’s in the United States. White people continued to receive unearned advantages on the basis of their whiteness and white advantage continued to be passed down from generation to generation. Although the social situation in the United States and Jamaica may have differed, the contours of the problem are the same. White skin was an advantage and Black skin was a disadvantage.
In that connection, your white friend’s present attitude toward Black people is irrelevant. The fact remains that your white friend had an advantage because he was white. It, therefore, makes no difference whether an individual white person or his or her family was a slave owner. The system that was put in place through slavery and discrimination against Blacks, as well as the mindset that was cultivated as a result of that system, benefited all white people. Thus, ALL white people are beneficiaries of stolen labor and unpunished criminal acts.
Your third point is similarly interwoven with your two previous points and is similarly unpersuasive. Here, you state that the successful inter-racial relationships that all Jamaicans enjoy would suffer if Blacks persist in their demand for reparations. Essentially, you are concerned that Black’s people demand for reparations would impair the achievement of social harmony in Jamaican society, as well as between Jamaica and “white” countries.
Your concern is misplaced and misguided. Sister Makeda, how much are you willing to sacrifice for “peace” between you and your “white” friends? In fact, peace that comes out of a denial of oppression or diminishment of suffering is a false peace and does not lead to redemption. There can be no peace without justice. His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Sellassie I, stated: “The proper administration of justice requires a research for truth.” Alas, Sister, there is no greater agony than bearing the burden of injustice inside you. Black people should not be required to give up their rights in order to achieve “peace.” Indeed, this argument is inverted. When a victim is fighting back against his attacker, peace should not be sought by asking the victim to surrender; rather peace should be sought by asking the attacker to cease his attack.
Another point made in your article urges Black people to follow the example of Jesus and forgive those “who did us wrong.” This advice would be much easier to follow if white people had stopped doing wrong to Black people. On the contrary, white people continue to practice their white supremacy ideology through a variety of practices, some of which are so subtle that Black people cannot even discern them. Black people know something is wrong, but they don’t quite know what. So they continue to toil under an oppressive system which devalues them and teaches them to take a low view of themselves and accept their subordinate status. Sister Makeda, there can be no forgiveness without repentance and atonement; no reconciliation without restitution. Forgiveness can only come after the wrong has been made right.
Your separate point that “reggae-rich Rastas” remain living in Jamaica, even after traveling to Africa, is unfair. To use this point to negate a genuine interest in Rastafari to repatriate to Africa is to ignore the ability of the past to leverage its impact on the present. For generations, Black people have been socialized to believe that Africa was a barbaric, uncivilized and underdeveloped continent, racked by poverty and disease.
This indoctrination is difficult to overcome, notwithstanding a person’s exposure to Rastafari culture. Moreover, in visiting Africa, one will see wrenching poverty, such as is not seen in the West, thereby reinforcing the negative image of Africa we have been given. What is obscured, however, is the causal connection between the slave trade, colonialism, and imperialism on the one hand, and the wretched conditions in many African countries, on the other hand. That is to say, Africa’s underdevelopment is a direct result of the slave trade and other European and American actions.
Therefore, the reggae artists who travel to Africa will suddenly have pause about “returning home.” This reaction, however, can be overcome through a re-learning of African history, with all its great Empires before the arrival of the white man. In this way, we can instill pride in Black people and create in them a love for Africa, coupled by a willingness to work in restoring Africa to a place of respect in the world.
You made some lesser points in your article and your e-mails which I will address briefly. For one, you state that there are countries that are already paying reparations. This statement is grossly incorrect, as a matter of fact. (I would be interested in seeing the proof in support of this statement). Next, you mentioned the large-scale investments being made in Africa by China.
Forgive me if I am not as enthused as you are regarding China’s involvement in Africa. China is not exactly known as the paragon of human rights virtue. Moreover, there is that small matter of Tibet. Forgive my sarcasm and skepticism. Sister, Makeda, you also made a point that “you would not have found Jah, if you had not been born in Jamaica.”
This statement is actually quite scary. Is this an endorsement of the slave trade? Are you claiming that we would not have known God had we not been captured, brutalized and enslaved and brought to the West? I fear your statement is quite misleading and, in the wrong hands, presents an enormous opportunity for mischief.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the most shocking statement made in your article, however, is that “Africans bore greater responsibility for our enslavement” than did whites. This statement was supposedly uttered by your white friend and it appears that he has convinced you of the correctness of his position.
Indeed, Sister Makeda, if the agents of the white supremacy system can so confuse you, imagine how much more effective their propaganda is on those who have not had the benefit of an education which allows them to question, to critically analyze and parse through complex information and issues? In any event, I would like to address the issue of the culpability of Africans in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and their percentage of guilt.
In the area of tort law, there is a theory know as joint and several liability in which multiple parties may be held liable for the same bad act. After responsibility is determined by the fact finder in a trial (whether the judge or a jury) and monetary damages are assessed, the theory of joint and several liability operates to apportion each party’s degree of culpability and, hence, each party’s monetary liability. For the purposes of this discussion, let us say that total damages from the effects of enslavement of Blacks are assessed at $100.00. Let us further say culpability has been apportioned at whites, eighty percent (80%), and African, twenty percent (20%). Therefore, whites will pay their share and Africa will pay its share.
However, Africa, too, was a victim under the Trans Atlantic Slave System and beyond. Africa was occupied, colonized, robbed, pillaged, carved up and the people reduced to second class citizens in their own land. Accordingly, white Europeans and American would still owe Africa for that loss and would, thus, have to pay reparations to Africa. In sum, even if you factor in Africa’s degree of responsibility for the slave trade, Africa has still suffered a net loss, which must be paid by the enslavers and colonizers. Moreover, as Diasporians, we have the power to forgive Africa its share of culpability and, indeed, we should, in the interest of promoting unity among Black people worldwide. In particular, our decision to forgive Africa its transgressions against us should be treated as an internal matter, a family affair in which the opinion or voice of no white person will be heard.
It is ludicrous to suggest that Africans are more culpable, or even equally as culpable, as whites for slavery. No African viewed me as subhuman; no African wants my further subordination; No Africans made the kinds of money that Europeans and Americans made; No African invented the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. In fact, many times the participation of Africans in that system was compelled through fear of death or capture.
Indeed, Voltaire was correct in his observation when he said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Sister Makeda, your article and e-mails seem to indicate that whites have you absurdly believing that Africans are more responsible for the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade than were they. As a result of that absurd belief, you have published an article asking Black people to give up their right to compensation for the greatest generational theft and wrongs ever committed in the history of the world. That request is an atrocity against Black people.
Once again, Sister Makeda, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Sister Makeda, you ask us to relinquish our rights to reparations and, instead, rely on the charity of our oppressors. The wisdom of that argument escapes me. Furthermore, this is an issue of justice, not one of charity.
Sister Makeda, I understand your weariness and even your diminishing hope. The issue of reparations is complex, overwhelming and exhausting. However, though the problems seem intractable and the challenges insurmountable, we must press on. We will not get what we deserve simply because we are right, we must fight. Indeed, unless we fight, we cannot win and once we fight, we cannot lose. We may suffer many defeats but we will never be defeated. His Majesty, himself, declared “We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.”
Additionally, I am reminded of a statement by Mahatma Ghandi when his little group faced off against the soldiers of the English occupiers of India. Ghandi said: “First they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they attack us, then we win.”
Sister Makeda, I am afraid that we cannot take your advice and forgive slavery and forget reparations. The Bobo Shanti Mansion’s commitment to Black people’s rights is whole, complete and total and we use every opportunity to renew our call for Freedom, Redemption and International Repatriation through the “I am the I am” the Most High God, Jah Rastafari.
Marina M. Blake (Empress Marina)
Attorney-at-Law and Legal Counsel to the
Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC/Bobo Shanti)
Law Offices of Blake & Associates, P.C.
65 Broadway – Suite 714
New York, NY 10006