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Reparations: What next?

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Fri Sep 20, 2013

The Regional Reparations Conference, held here on Monday and Tuesday of this week, and its impactful public opening session last Sunday, turned out to be huge successes. The turn-out and participation by the Vincentian public and the wide representation from the Caribbean and Caribbean communities in the diaspora, despite the relatively short time to organize the Conference and to mobilize for it, gives validity to the observation that the time is right for such an undertaking.{{more}}

We must therefore commend the foresight, vision and commitment of our own Prime Minister in taking the initiative to make this long-standing claim of the Caribbean people, a firm item on the agenda of regional governments. Tribute too to the role of Professors Beckles and Shepherd, the latter giving a particularly significant gender perspective, Barbadian Culture Minister Stephen Lashley and, of course, the legendary entertainer Bunny Wailer, in taking the message to the people.

For more than a century, many Caribbean nationalists have kept the idea alive. Fittingly, praise was bestowed on the Rastafarian movement for keeping the reparations flag flying. It must also be remembered that, at least in the eastern and southern Caribbean, long before the Rastafarian movement made the social impact that it has today, it was the Pan-African, Black Power and leftist movements which kept the flames burning and spread the consciousness, especially among the younger sections of the population.

We therefore must always remember the contributions of a long line of Caribbean patriots from Marcus Garvey down through Eusi Kwayana of Guyana, NJAC of Trinidad and Tobago and the late Maurice Bishop of Grenada, Tim Hector of Antigua, Rosie Douglas of Dominica and George Odlum of St. Lucia. Right here at home too, the claim for reparations and the injustice done to the native and African populations was a constant theme of the Forum Movement with the deceased Eddie Griffith, Kerwyn Morris and Jim Maloney never failing to draw them to the attention of our people.

Now that the Conference has concluded, where does the Reparations movement go next? The Communiqué issued following the deliberations made some pointers about the future. In the first place, there was the establishment of a semblance of structure, with the election of a Chairman of the Regional Commission, in the distinguished person of Professor Hilary Beckles, a major advocate of Reparations in his own right, and Vice Chairs Professor Verene Shepherd, and our own Chair of the National Committee, Jomo Thomas. This must be accompanied by ensuring that each national Committee is functional.

Significantly, there is recognition that in order for the reparations claim to have validity, there must be widespread and deep education of our people on the issue. Thus the Conference agreed that all CARICOM countries “should mandate reparations education” in the curricula of all schools in the region. In carrying out this mandate, it must be recognised that the reality is that many of the teachers in the region have limited knowledge of the subject, hence there is a need for education of teachers themselves in order to prepare them for the task ahead. We may here suggest further, that in addition to formal teachers, efforts be made to get noted and experienced fighters for the black cause throughout the region to share those experiences with students.

In order for the claim for reparations to succeed, there is an herculean amount of work to be done. It is one thing to shout loudly, but the case requires thorough preparation and must have overwhelming public support. There is, quite naturally, varying perspectives within the movement itself, so it is important that there is continuous dialogue and patient persuasion to arrive at a common consensus. There must be respect for the views of others, even when they are in disagreement with the very idea of reparations itself. Importantly, it is vital that we do not entertain narrow views which suggest that there is no room for others of a different race in carrying our claim forward.

Finally, all governments need to be constantly reminded that the people must be an integral part of this and that civil society organisations must be given the necessary support in helping to spread the message. The hard work has only just begun.

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