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Be Fair with David Cameron

Published:Thursday | October 8, 2015 | 10:00 AMDevon Dick, Contributor

Last week's visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron to Jamaica begs for fairness. Sections of the Christian community assumed that his visit was to promote a homosexual cause and engaged in a pre-emptive strike of denunciation and protest. However, Cameron did not mention one word along that line.

Christian charity also demands we treat our guests with hospitality. There are courtesies to be extended to our visitors. Since he is our guest, certain protocols should be followed. It would be better to do such protest at United Nations function or in Britain but not while he is our guest. There was no need to flex muscles.

The Christian community could see Cameron as an ally because in 2011, according to a BBC report, he said the United Kingdom was a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in that speech at Oxford, he called for a revival of traditional Christian values to counter Britain's moral collapse. That was a courageous speech in the context of a secular Europe.

 

Do not be disagreeable

It does not mean that Christians cannot disagree, but we should not be disagreeable. In 2007, there was the Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering in Ghana at which the first person of African origin to be general secretary, Jamaican Neville Callam, was installed. After the tour of one of the famous slave sites, there was a worship service at which many European countries apologised for slavery but the British Baptists would not. However, later that year, they made a U-turn and apologised for slavery. The British Baptists feel so liberated by such action that they are planning to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the apology with tangible fruits of repentance. Give Cameron time to come around. He has started by saying that slavery was ugly and reprehensible.

Cameron, however, misspoke when he said Britain led the fight against slavery. Do not blame him because that is what he was taught. Blame his educational system. It is hardly likely that Cameron has read Richard Hart's Slaves who Abolished Slavery (1985). He perhaps has never heard that the Sam Sharpe-led resistance was the catalyst to the end of slavery.

In 2010, I presented a paper at a Sam Sharpe Conference, Regent's Park, University of Oxford, England, and a fellow presenter who is born to Jamaicans said she was never taught about Sharpe in British schools. What of poor Cameron? He was not taught that Britain was greatly enriched by underdeveloping the West Indies.

 

Change the tactic

The Jamaican proverb says there are many ways to kill a dog than hanging. The tactic must change. Fortunately, the Hilary Beckles-led reparations is on the ball in seeking development reparations in the areas such as education and health. Advocates of reparations must agitate for the British educational system to reflect what happened during slavery and how it ended. We must educate the Caribbean diaspora in Britain about slavery and reparations. We should enlist British churches and civil society in this just cause. We should invite Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour leader who lived in Jamaica for two years, to speak, since he is willing to apologise for slavery. We must also seek for the repatriation of documents about our story which are in Britain and are not here, where they should be.

Perhaps we could have asked Cameron fairer questions, such as 'Since the owners of the ex-slaves were compensated £20m for the loss of the services of the enslaved, do you feel that the enslaved should have been compensated also?', and depending on the answer, then he could be asked, 'Do you think a debt is owed to them?'

The time is apt for more conversations on reparations, but let's be fair to all.

• Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.