Verene A. Shepherd | Reparation – economic wealth for all
On August 1, 2019, Jamaica will join the rest of the current and former British-colonised countries in the Caribbean to mark the 181st anniversary of ‘full free’ – that day in 1838 when our enslaved ancestors, especially those told to wait until 1840 for their freedom, signalled to the British colonisers that they saw through the scam that was the apprenticeship system and would no longer stand for a delayed freedom.
Indeed, a few colonies bypassed the apprenticeship system, but only because they already had all the control over labour that they needed.
However one looks at it, the Emancipation Act was a racist act. It was accompanied by planter compensation based on a calculation of the value of ‘property’ – our enslaved ancestors’ bodied. ‘Property’ was not entitled to compensation, and so the newly freed got “nothing but freedom”, in Eric Foner’s words.
Despite a landless Emancipation; despite having to endure a post-slavery period marked by injustice and racial discrimination; despite being brutalised in the search for justice and the chance to actualise their freedom, our ancestors never gave up the search for true freedom. At every step of the way, the ruling classes placed obstacles in their way, dividing and ruling to eradicate African unity to ensure their power and keep colonialism in place; and some fell for this strategy.
In this Decade for People of African Descent, we, their descendants, must struggle against this part of our history and endeavour to forge unity, peace, security and economic wealth for all. Of course, the post-colonial legacies of inequality, social injustice and structural discrimination threaten to destabilise our efforts, but we must never give up.
Let us find a determined will to take the best of the past for the future in the name of those who suffered in the cause of Caribbean emancipation: Bussa, Nanny Grigg (Barbados), Sally Bassett (Bermuda); Charlotte, Angelique (Dominica), Chief Takyi, Samuel Sharpe, Dugald Campbell and Eliza Whittingham (Jamaica), Adelaide Disson, Roo and Bastian (Trinidad and Tobago), and so many more.
Professor Verene A. Shepherd is director of the Centre for Reparation Research and member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.