The 15 nations of the 41-year-old Caribbean Community are seeking a meeting with European countries which practiced slavery. They want to talk about reparations – compensation for the multitude of wrongs inflicted during that abhorrent era. Caricom, as the group of nations is called, has hired a British law firm to pursue the claim and intends to raise it in the United Nations.
The time is now.
The issue of reparations has gradually been emerging as a matter of concern for peoples whose forebears had to endure slavery and who themselves have been living with the consequences of that harsh legacy. In fact, it was raised in Congress by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who, in January 1989, sponsored the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. He was not even calling for reparations, just a study, but it has gained little traction – even though he has re-introduced the measure at every Congress since then.
It is not possible to deny the costs of slavery.
Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed regret in 2007 for the “unbearable suffering” which the then British Empire caused. In 2010, then French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of the “wounds of colonization.”
Similar high-sounding words can be expected. In fact, Caricom is also demanding a formal apology. However, what is needed is not verbal contrition but the same currency received from enslaving our people: money. The former slave owning nations have all benefited immeasurably from the free labor of slaves. The slave-owners practiced genocide against African people and uprooted many millions from their homelands, transporting them to the so-called “new world” to toil in their fields.
The United States and Europe would never have become what they are today without the proceeds from the rape, genocide and wholesale exploitation of people from Africa. One big difference is that the descendants of American slaves live in America; those of Europe live in far-flung lands. But the consequences have been the same: destruction or near-destruction of cultures, an entrenched system of economic exploitation and a socialization process whose evil goal has been realized in the self-hatred, self-negation and racial rejection among many of the descendants of slaves.
It is not too much for them to demand a commensurate share of the wealth which their ancestors’ labor and blood created for their “masters.”
Indeed, the world’s formerly enslaved peoples must now come together and present a united demand for reparations. The plan by the Caricom leaders to take their case to the United Nations presents just such an opportunity.