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Reparation talks too important to be scoffed at

Published:Thursday | October 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

Great Britain is benefiting tremendously from the lack of consensus and interest among our people - parliamentarians included - in the fact that we ought to receive reparations for the atrocities and injustices committed against our ancestors.

If it is that we were resolute on this simple fact, there would be fewer posts on social media chastising those advocating for reparations and fewer people making reckless speculations about the purpose of Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to the island. Most certainly, the mass rally on Sunday in Half-Way Tree and protest by Emancipation Park on Tuesday would have been for a worthwhile 'cause'- that of Britain taking steps to right the wrongs perpetrated against our people and society.

Princess Anne and Cameron's visits are excellent opportunities for us to put the spotlight on such an important matter to, among other things, educate thousands of Jamaicans, young people especially, who are ever so sceptical about the importance of reparations and, most important, urge that they use the occasion to at least apologise for what Britain has done.

We cannot thrive in a society where the people scoff at talks about reparation and where far too many of us are so unwilling or unable to recognise the harm that was done to our ancestors through slavery. Commendations to Mike Henry, who has been a strident advocate for many years. Reparations must be understood by more of our people. More of us must join this cause to call on Britain and her leaders to do the right thing. Britain must apologise and its government should agree to at least begin a process of righting the wrongs that were done to our people.

Many of us seem to think that the call for reparations is about poverty eradication and development. I'm not certain where that perception has stemmed from, but I sincerely hope it isn't the reckless 'politicks' we tend to engage in every so often. It is true that reparations might have some positive impact on our economy. However, we must take care we do not forget the reasons it is important, which go well beyond monetary compensation (and foreign aid isn't reparation). Reparation is pertinent because we come from a "history that has inflicted massive psychological damage upon African descendants [that] is evident daily in [our] social life" (Hilary Beckles in Jamaica Observer).

prized product

It is important that we understand that while our development has been impeded by, inter alia, the injustices committed against our people through slavery and the systems that currently benefit from said injustice, reparation shouldn't be seen as a panacea for charting a prosperous course for our nation. We can't 'just get over it' when some of the wealthiest people around the world, including Cameron, who, as Prof Hilary Beckles eloquently puts it in an open letter, is "a prized product of this land and the bonanza benefits reaped by [his] family and inherited by [him]."

Sanchez Manning wrote in an article in The Independent on February 24, 2013, that research completed by Dr Nick Draper of the University College of London shows "as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy". This includes Cameron's family, whose great-grand-uncle's son, 'the second Earl of Fife, [who] was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica'.

As my colleague Lorenzo Smith says, we need to revisit our history (perhaps the next emancipendence celebrations could do this in a more meaningful way). We have lost sight as a people; our generation doesn't seem to understand the struggles and sacrifices thereof hence the flippant approach to the question of reparation. "I suppose all of this is indicative of the kind of history we teach in our schools which cause us to think that we should just 'get over it'.

The Jews used every opportunity they could find to talk about the holocaust. Yet we in the Caribbean silence the cry of slavery and are vociferous opponents of reparation.

We must never forget the atrocities of slavery. It must never be brushed aside or scoffed at. It cannot be that one of the greatest revolutions profited from the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors while we are yet to even receive an apology.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth-development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.