Devon Dick | We owe our enslaved ancestors
Our enslaved ancestors suffered gross and serious violations of their human rights. The enslaved peoples of the 17th century were considered non-human, with no political rights, no civil rights, no human rights, no economic rights, and were not seen as worthy of Christian education. The enslaved were the property of the masters.
Enslaved persons were beheaded for praying and hosting prayer meetings. Their descendants, such as the Native Baptist, had their chapels destroyed and leaders killed. Even when the British law said slavery had ended, they were not given land, school or church to build on. There was no political machinery for them to participate in the decision-making. They were far from being masters of their own destinies.
Nevertheless, our enslaved ancestors were resilient and used their limited opportunities to make the best of a bad situation. They believed they were capable of understanding God and interpreting scriptures separate and apart from what they were taught by biased missionaries. We owe our ancestors a great debt.
Therefore, we owe it to our ancestors to fight for reparation. The Christian faith makes allowance for reparation for gross violations against humanity. In Luke 19: 1-10, reparation is treated not as an option, but as an obligation. Zacchaeus, the rich chief tax collector who defrauded his own people and was an agent of an oppressive tax system, saw reparation as a must and honoured it. Zacchaeus pledged to give half from his legitimately gained wealth to persons who were impoverished. Zacchaeus pledged voluntarily to give four times the amount he defrauded people. Too often Jamaicans talk about deserving of a second chance and forgiveness as if the Bible does not also teach restitution and reparation for victims who have been grievously hurt by our actions.
We owe it to our enslaved ancestors to agitate for their compensation, because the precedent for compensation was established in 1834 with £20 million given to former slave owners. The victim was further victimised by not getting any monetary compensation or apology. In addition, compensation was given to British missionary churches which suffered damages at the hands of the planter church, the Colonial Church Union.
Martin Luther King, United States civil rights activist and Baptist pastor, said that white immigrant European peasants were given millions of acres of lands in the West and Midwest, which gave them an economic base. But the only immigrants who were enslaved were the Blacks, and they got no lands in USA or the Caribbean. It is a cruel joke to tell the formerly enslaved, who were forcible brought to the Americas, to pull up themselves by the bootstraps when they were not give a boot [#Bootless].
We owe it to our ancestors to agitate for an apology from all denominations and nations who were guilty. There needs also to be an acknowledgement of racial prejudice practised by missionaries in the Caribbean, including English Baptist missionaries.
We owe it to our enslaved ancestors to retroactively affirm the dignity of the enslaved and acknowledge that the attack upon their inherent human dignity was one of the greatest acts of presumptuousness displayed by Europeans.
We owe it to our enslaved ancestors to:
- Biblical texts regarding slavery and reinterpret them using a perspective of liberation.
- Rewrite our history.
- Build monuments and museums as reminders of the tragic past and glorious emancipation.
- Develop welfare-enabling projects to the least among us.
Let's heed the verdict of international jurist Patrick Robinson's comments: "We owe our enslaved ancestors our freedom, and we owe it to them to make the claim for reparations".
- 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.