Fri | Mar 22, 2019

Bert Samuels | Convert Hillel rage into reparation demand

Published:Wednesday | April 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM

No matter what side of the fence you found yourself on with the Hillel Academy slavery assignment story, and no matter what your ethnicity, we should all commit to making our collective assignment the compensation for the brutality of transatlantic slavery.

For those who missed out on the controversial history assignment which immediately collided with massive social media pushback it is worth repeating one of the questions here:

"Your opinion: The justification for the enslavement of African people was their lack of civility. Discuss your chosen punishment type as a demonstration of European civility."

This question, in particular, evoked the most rage. It touched the raw nerves of many descendants of enslaved Africans here. It resurrected our memory of, and brought into sharp focus, the fact that chattel slavery is classified as the worst example of man's mistreatment of man in recorded history. We are still not comfortable with movies or documentaries that repeat our horrific past. Most of my friends confess that they cannot "bear fi see the brutality; it makes me feel to resort to violence against ... people".

Post-traumatic slave syndrome is a proven epidemic left in the wake of 300 years of enslavement here. Intergenerational transfer of the effects of three centuries of dehumanising treatment has left in its wake a complex and lasting inferiority complex in the Jamaican population. So, the "anything too black no good" or "I need to bleach my skin and straighten my hair to look good" is alive, as is the disregard for our right to life and to access equal opportunity in some post-slavery societies.

As painful as it may be, we have to face up to the horrors of the past. Our pain must be transformed into a rallying call to action. The stark reality is that we are a nation whose beginning on August 1, 1838, was founded on landlessness, illiteracy, and 100 per cent unemployment. We had to leave the plantations without compensation. The reparation cause is, therefore, morally, socially, and economically justified.


Making the claim


Unlike the Tainos, who faced genocide, we are still here to make the claim. The wealth of the ancestors of those Europeans who benefited from our enslavement, including the payment of 20 million pounds to the planter class, is traceable and flourishing in Britain.

We must move from the evils of slavery to the call for its redress. Professor Emeritus Frederick W. Hickling, a noted and experienced psychiatrist, has diagnosed that our population suffers from as a consequence of the past, which haunts the present an extremely high level of personality disorder.

Interestingly, he diagnosed those who enslaved us and were comfortable in unleashing the punishments referred to in the Hillel assignment as themselves suffering from mental disorder. He made the point in a recent lecture that one of our first governors, Sir Henry Morgan, a buccaneer and a thief, knighted by the monarch of England, was the one who "set up the society in Jamaica that then led to the development of this high level of personality disorder in our people".

In short, we are a nation full of victims of post-traumatic slave syndrome.

I invite all those who were enraged by the Hillel assignment to assign themselves to our cause in the reparation movement.

The Parliament of Jamaica threw its bipartisan support behind the movement for compensation in 2015, and so have CARICOM nations that severally wrote letters of demand for redress to their respective slave-owning European nations.

We have no excuse to remain silent. We shouldn't allow the social media furore over the Hillel Academy assignment to simply die down in apathy after a nine-day pain. The ancestors have spoken in the voices of their descendants, and we must now rise up and answer their call. Reparation now, we seh!

- Bert Samuels is an attorney-at-law and member of the National Council on Reparation. Email feedback to and