Reparations: The invisible damage
Round Table with Oscar
August 30, 2016

Reparations: The invisible damage

Colonial slavery was a political-economic system that made some sections of humankind turn beast, wreaking havoc with the power in their grasp. Consider this British gentleman’s conduct.

When Derby was accused of stealing canes, Thistlewood had him held down and ordered Hector to ‘shit in his mouth’. Likewise, when Port Royal ran away and was caught, Hector was ordered to ‘shit in his mouth and a gag placed over it whilst full’. (Reported extract from the journal of a Jamaican estate overseer, Thomas Thistlewood, in ‘We Want to Become Wise’ p34, Oscar Allen.){{more}}

We have endured a lot of visible damage as a result of colonial slavery. Count the greedy British ‘invasion’, land grabbing, genocide and exile launched against the ‘Caribs’, opening the door wider for full slavery. Add to that the destabilization and rapacious emptying of West Africa, and climaxing in a summit of concentrated extortion of transatlantic slavery and indenture. We can see the historical wreckage in the uneven condition of devalued lives, terrorized landscapes, indecent livelihoods and a continuing transatlantic experience of domination and dependence/underdevelopment. A persistent and virulent imperialism stares us, smiling, in our faces. The present CARICOM reparations movement highlights much of the visible historical damage that requires the redemption of Britain and Europe’s other culprits.

However, the Thomas Thistlewoods and the 200 years of that ugly enterprise have left with us an invisible damage that is not so easy to disclose and to face up to. Actually, we take part in a conspiracy to hide from it. I mean, who wants to remember and reflect on having to eat somebody’s faeces; we don’t even want to call it ‘shit’. But in order to repair the damage, don’t we have to uncover it and disclose it and then diagnose it before we can prescribe the remedial treatment? This is a painful, traumatic, even dangerous process. For the ‘punishment’ that Mr Thistle­wood orders is not really a physical hurt, but a mental, psychological, physiological, and political whipping – a spiritual lynching. Derby, Port Royal and others have their wills crushed, their dignity in the community erased, their utter enslavement under Thistlewood reinforced, their humanity and cultural identity assassinated. They suffer invisible, total wreckage with no visible scars on their bodies. That is why the Jamaican scholar, Orlando Patterson, describes slavery as ‘Social Death’.


We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. (Rt Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jamaica’s 1st National Hero. From a speech delivered in Oct 1937.)

The emphasis on our mental liberation struggle and process is often a gift from Black cultural nationalists like Haiti’s indigenous school, Black internationalists like the Rastafari community, and other Afrocentric partisans. These militants and practitioners, especially from the Caribbean and the North Atlantic African diaspora, recognize our mental enslavement and encirclement and they call us to ‘Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery’ in different, complementary, sometimes conflicting ways.

Frantz Fanon, a Caribbean liberation militant who was active in Algeria’s liberation struggle, identified one source of our invisible damage in the education environment end practices of colonialism. His point of view is startling, though not entirely novel. In an analysis entitled ‘Fanon on Education,’ Walter Rodney saw Fanon as declaring that colonial education was the most violent, racist and oppressive weapon used to dominate colonized people. Fanon, a psychiatrist, disclosed that colonial education sought to uproot and replace the worldview of other peoples. It attacked their mentality, knowledge system, self-definition and capacity to invent their futures in its superior and pernicious and missionary way. The effects on communities it ruled was both lethal and brutal. At the same time it claimed to civilize the benighted natives. Like Thistlewood, it left an ‘invisibly’ wrecked and dominated entity, whose recovery could only come with the intellectual and political overthrow of the dominating power.

Consider our own post-emancipation experience in colonial education by reflecting on a few questions.

Where can we find in our school booklists, material suited to children’s grades, on African civilizations and underdevelopment, as presented by works like ‘The Rise and Fall of African Civilizations’, and ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’?

Which church school curriculum or Bible/Theological college has material and courses that show the salvation role of Africa’s (and Asia’s) peoples and civilizations in the salvation of God’s people?

What choices are our students programmed to make when offered opportunities to study in Addis Ababa, Cape Town, Toronto and Manchester?

Who among us, as leaders or groups, have taken practical steps to beef up our African connections and pay tribute to Africa’s past and future?

While the colonizers were active in reaping wealth from Africa, (and the corporate neo-colonizers too) they have and had educational policies that damage, divide and rule African mentalities and futures. They do that because they know something that we do not yet know about our potential. Frantz Fanon has a valid point about colonial education.

What is to be done about the invisible damage that we suffer in this post-emancipation age? A new and stronger education and mentality emancipation movement must be launched. There is no question about that. A Young Emancipators Movement to recapture and refine the vision of our fore-parents, and to invent the reparatory theory and strategies is needed. Their generation, on our shoulders, can rescue them and us. The invisible injuries must be exposed, confronted and repaired.