GET ON BOARD! Reparation train is on the move
R. Rose
September 17, 2013

GET ON BOARD! Reparation train is on the move

A new chapter in the colourful history of the Caribbean was ushered in on Sunday afternoon with the historic opening of the Regional Reparations Conference. So moving was the occasion and so determined were the major organisers to make an indelible mark on history that, in the process, the name of the venue was informally changed from Victoria Park to “Freedom Park”, on the initiative of featured speaker, Professor Verene Shepherd of Jamaica.{{more}}

This indicated that the reparations claim is not merely some cheap money-grabbing gimmick, as some would have us believe, but an integral part of the continuation of the decolonisation experience. It is part of the unbroken chain put in motion by the steely resistance of our forebears and continued right through the efforts of the anti-colonial leaders of the Caribbean, the Garvey movement, right up to our claims of today. The Black Power movement of the late sixties and early seventies and the Rastafari and progressive, left movement, all have contributed to where we are today by embracing the reparations concept either directly or indirectly.

The conference itself will conclude today, Tuesday, so we are not in a position to assess its outcome, merely to hope that the populist, all-inclusive nature would not be allowed to dilute serious discussion and plans for the way forward. However, if we are to judge by Sunday’s impressive opening, we can say that the train is definitely on the move. The presence of a wide cross-section of not only our people, but prominent representatives from our sister Caribbean territories, spoke for the significance of the moment. These include brothers and sisters from non-English speaking countries, a testimony to our common history.

Hats off to our Prime Minister’s vision and determination to serve as a catalyst to re-energize the regional anti-colonial movement, and no praise is too high for the magnificent contributions of Professor Shepherd, Barbados’ Culture Minister Hon Stephen Lashley, standing in for his own Prime Minister, national Reparations Committee chair Jomo Thomas, and the female ‘Master’ of ceremonies, Jennifer Richardson-Herbert.

Professor Shepherd’s presentation was especially poignant, going beyond the mere numbers to relive the horrors of the human experience our forebears had to endure. It was particularly touching when she could relate Vincentian experiences, connecting those who profited from the evil trade in human flesh and the victims of their crimes. She also emphasized strongly the heroic resistance of the slaves and in particular, the role of our women in struggling against slavery and colonialism. So much for the fallacy peddled by the colonialists that our women were passive creatures!

Many of our people were being exposed to such information for the first time, as our educational system has hidden all those facts unearthed by Professor Shepherd’s probing searchlight. It is now left to the local committee, our educators, including those of us with a presence in the media, to continue the process.

Most importantly, Sunday’s events have seriously embarrassed those who have tried to befuddle our people with all kinds of nonsensical attacks on the reparations claim. But this is not about gloating over their discomfort; we need all aboard the train. Those who confuse the age-old clamour for reparations with individual claims of perceived wrongs are misguided; the problem is that they help to misguide less discerning folks. As Jomo Thomas pointed out, we must patiently engage in dialogue and discourse, seek to convince the doubting Thomases, yet give a firm rebuff to backward ideas which, as all Sunday’s speakers pointed out, merely serve the interests of those who have benefitted from our blood, sweat and toil.

Sunday, September 15, 2013 will be forever etched in the annals of our history. The presence of so many eloquent representatives of the African and indigenous people of our Caribbean, clearly put to rest the foolishness that reparations is about Ralph Gonsalves or cheap politicking. The late Eddy Griffith would have been proud to witness such an event. Those of his political successors do disservice to his memory in refusing to not only get aboard, but help to direct the reparations train. One cannot aspire to leadership, of whatever sort in the Caribbean today, and not subscribe to, and enthusiastically embrace the common struggle of our people for justice, for restitution, for reparations.

Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com-mentator.