Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Peter Espeut | MULTIPLE REPARATIONS OWED

Published:Friday | February 21, 2020 | 12:33 AM
Participants at the Centre for Reparation Research special seminar, ‘Emancipation Process as Crimes Against Humanity’, at The University of the West Indies in June 2019.

Reparation is an ancient theological concept whereby persons who have committed sins, or who have benefited from the sins of others, must perform some concrete act to expiate their own sin or the sins of others. The need to make reparation for sin is the basis of the assignment of a ‘penance’ to the forgiven sinner during the process of the Roman Catholic sacrament of reconciliation. It is the basis of the Christian doctrine of Jesus dying on the cross, shedding his blood in atonement and reparation for our sin, and all the sins of the human race.

This is the principle behind the claim by the descendants of the formerly enslaved people of the Americas that they are owed reparations for the sins committed against their ancestors, the consequences of which remain today. It is a travesty that under the British, the former slaveowners – the perpetrators of slavery – were compensated for the loss of their emancipated property to the tune of £20 million sterling, while the victims of slavery received no compensation whatsoever for the loss of their freedom, their homeland, and their birthright.

To pay the compensation to those who had immorally claimed to ‘own’ other human beings, the British government borrowed the £20 million sterling; that loan was only fully paid off by British taxpayers on February 17, 2015, five years ago this week. It is an even more profound travesty that many of those British taxpayers were descendants of the enslaved, who by the sweat of their labour and through their taxes, helped to compensate the enslavers of their ancestors.

Now that the loan has been repaid, several of those immigrants to the UK are being deported back to the locus of their slavery.

DESCENDANTS DUEREPARATIONS

In my view, stated in this column which I have been writing in this newspaper for over 27 years (this week is my anniversary), the descendants of those enslaved in Jamaica are due their own reparations; and if to pay it the British government has to borrow money and take another 180 years to pay it back, so be it!

As is their wont, Jamaican politicians on both sides have jumped on the bandwagon, and have made the case that the owed reparation funds should be used to pay off Jamaica’s national debt, which, per capita, is among the largest in the world. When the British government granted Jamaica independence in 1962, we did not inherit even one dollar of national debt. It is our own home-grown politicians who have racked up that humongous debt all on their own!

I have been consistent, in this column, in my claim that the Jamaican people are owed additional reparations – to be paid by our own politicians and political parties – for how they have wasted our independence, borrowed us into penury, destroyed the value of our currency, and devalued the majority of the Jamaican people by offering us substandard education.

If the Jamaican government is owned any reparation money by the British, it is to compensate for how we were structurally underdeveloped by centuries of colonialism.

I call on those who lobby for reparations to make a distinction between reparations for the sin of slavery (owed by Britain to Jamaican black people), reparations for the sin of colonialism (owed by Britain to the Jamaican people), and reparations for the sin of poor governance and corruption (owed by Jamaican politicians to the Jamaican people).

We must not allow Jamaican politicians – or UWI academics – to confuse the issues, and thereby steal the reparations money owed to the majority of Jamaicans by the kingdom of Great Britain, whose economy and infrastructure was built from the profits of slave-grown sugar and coffee.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and theologian, and is dean of studies at St Michael’s Theological College.