I find it hard, in fact almost hypocritical to wish a Happy New Year, not just to friends and family but to people in general, knowing that 2022, like most of the years preceding it, will not be a happy one for the vast majority of people on this planet. Those who have
cornered most of the world’s resources have the wherewithal not just to survive, but to actually increase their massive wealth, come hell or high water, climate change or political change, Gamma, Delta or Omicron. I can only extend my best wishes for our collective survival and that we will find ways and means to sustain and develop our collective struggle against injustice.
So, forgive me for beginning my 2022 writings on the age-old issue of race and the demand for reparations for those who have suffered for centuries and still must endure the legacies of colonial rule, genocide, slavery and dehumanisation. It is not a welcoming topic, but we must face reality.
A few news items globally have triggered me off in this direction. As I write, the international news agencies are all gung-ho over the news of a US$ 40 billion compensation settlement, actually an “agreement in principle” for victims of racism against Canada’s indigenous people. We shall come to that later.
Then there is Australia where the genocide against the indigenous aboriginal people was so massive that for a long time Australia had a “white Australia” policy. Cricket Australia is now beginning to acknowledge the role of its Aboriginal people in the development of the game there (see story on Page ).
Coming right back to the Caribbean there is the continuing tragedy in Haiti with another assassination attempt against its President and a legal battle looming as those rattled by the role of UWI vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles in advancing the reparations cause are using UWI administrative machinery to pursue their campaign against him.
First, Canada, where revelation after revelation of the remains of young innocent victims of a system which tore indigenous children from their families, roots and culture, which dehumanised them, have severely embarrassed this “bastion” of democracy in the Western Hemisphere and laid bare the collaborative role of state and church in the genocide and deculturization of the native peoples.
The remains of thousands of daughters and sons of the Native Peoples have been discovered in mass graves all over Canada. These young children were forcibly taken from their parents to be “educated” and “Christianised” in foster homes, only to suffer a life of unbearable suffering, discrimination and sexual abuse, finally ending in mass graves. The survivors have been speaking out about their experiences and pressure has grown on the Canadian authorities for reparations. The agreement in principle is one step in that direction, though it has a long way to go by way of compensation. Monetary recompense alone cannot address the centuries-old damage.
The same is true in Australia where the Aboriginal peoples were, as in Canada and the USA, murdered and then shunted off to so-called “reservations” in some of the most remote regions. Not just those countries alone, mind you. This is in essence what was done in Dominica and our own SVG, on the so-called “Carib reservations”. We are no strangers to the practice.
Haiti is a prime example of how a proud people, enslaved away from their homeland, retained the courage and found the wherewithal to defeat the armies of one of the West’s famed military generals, Napoleon Bonaparte, abolished slavery and set up the first Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere. More than 300 years later, Haitians are still suffering from this act of self-emancipation.
All this leads to the justified demands of victims of genocide, slavery, colonial rule and capitalist exploitation for Reparations. It arises deep in the bowels of our experience and existence, and in spite of differences among us remains a just cause around which hundreds of millions can be mobilised and our unjust societies reordered.
In this venture it is important that not just our physical capital, but our intellectual capital be harnessed as well. This is where people like Sir Hilary Beckles, Professor Verene Shepherd who heads the Caribbean Reparations Commission and our own Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves have been making their mark.
But, as in the fight against foreign occupation, in the struggle to abolish slavery, in the battles to end colonial rule and to reclaim independence, there are always people in our midst who seek to divide us and divert our focus away from the essential tasks.
I must confess that I do not have knowledge of the essence of the ongoing dispute between Sir Hilary and his UWI bosses, led by the representatives from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. But there is no doubt in my mind that his advocacy on the reparations and racism issues are issues behind the challenges. Our years, old or “NEW”, will never be “happy” until we resolutely unite to beat back the distractions and keep our focus on ending injustice and racism, whether in Canada, Australia, Europe and the UK or in the Caribbean.
Reparations must remain at the centre of our cause.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.