Reparations and Justice
WRITING FOR THE Brookings Institution in April 2020, Rashawn Ray and Andre Perry, both American academics, referred to reparations as a system of redress for egregious injustices. The word justice comes from the Latin word “jus”, which means right or law. The main idea behind justice is that those who are wronged receive what is right, fair and appropriate.
In any analysis of human history, one would be hard-pressed to find an injustice more egregious than the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of millions of Africans by Europeans. Notwithstanding the atrocities of genocide and enslavement, the issue of reparations is yet to be resolved. There has been no financial compensation and there has also been no formal apology from the perpetrators of these wrongs. However, the tide in the reparations debate might be shifting given some recent developments in Europe and the United States (US).
In May 2021, Germany agreed to pay Namibia Euros1.1 billion, as it officially recognised the Herero-Nama genocide at the start of the 20th century. Most of these funds will go towards projects relating to land reform, rural infrastructure, water supply and professional training. The German government acknowledged this development as a gesture of reconciliation.
However, it stopped short of deeming the payment as legally binding reparations or compensation, out of fear of setting a legal precedent.
For context, according to a Guardian account, tens of thousands of men, women and children were shot, tortured or driven into the Kalahari Desert to starve by German troops between 1904 and 1908 after the Herero and Nama tribes rebelled against colonial rule in what was then named German South West Africa and is now Namibia. The German government has now agreed to officially call these events genocide.
In the US, a commission, composed of historians and political representatives, recommended that the state of Oklahoma pay reparations in the form of scholarships and direct payments to descendants of the Tulsa massacre. A hundred years ago, Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as Black Wall Street, was razed by a mob of white Americans – with the backing of local political figures and police. An estimated 300 African Americans were massacred, and the entire neighbourhood was burnt and looted. Calls for reparations are growing for Tulsa, as are demands
for reparations for the descendants of the enslaved throughout America.
These developments in Germany, Namibia and the US further legitimise the calls emanating from the Caribbean, particularly among Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries for reparations. This is a cause worth fighting for in the interest of justice and accountability.
Some may argue, and reasonably so, that the genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans took place a long time ago.
They may also claim that the descendants of the perpetrators of these wrongs should not be held accountable for the past wrongs of others. Again, a reasonable assertion.
However, there is no expiration date on justice.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Sam Collier, a pastor, speaker, writer, and host of the A Greater Story.
Collier was speaking about justice, and he eloquently stated that “the moral arc of the universe is bent towards justice”. The core of Collier’s message was that no matter how long it takes, justice always trumps injustice.
Collier’s statement resonated with me because it is my conviction that a world and a society that is void of justice is one that is soulless. In this vein, the fight for reparations is also one for the very soul of humanity.
Finally, developments between Germany and Namibia, as well as the reckoning that is taking place in Tulsa, demonstrate that injustice can never outrun justice. This should serve as added motivation for the champions of reparations.