Orville Taylor | Reid right but reads wrong
The enslavement of Africans by the Western Europeans is perhaps the worst tragedy in modern history. Nothing, including the complicity of continental Africans, the horrific treatment of other enslaved Africans by their peers during slavery, or the agreements by escaped Africans such as our Maroons to return their kin to the slave masters reduces the obligation that England owes us regarding reparation.
My position as a reparationist has been publicly known before my entry into media some 14 years ago. Against dissenting voices, including some from my university, I've pushed black pride, 'Africentricity' reparations and recognition of the stains of plantation life, long before it was fashionable and certainly before my primary place of employment, the University of the West Indies, created a centre and made reparations its official position.
This column stood with then opposition member Mike Henry in 2006, noting the irony that the least melanised legislator was the lone voice in the wilderness. And in 2007 when we were commemorating the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade, there was scant national excitement. Thankfully, my colleague and friend Verene Shepherd was one of the drivers, and I participated in many of the activities, including the awesome ceremony to honour our ancestors at Kingston Harbour.
Not being an armchair academic behavioural scientist, my years of work outside the university made me understand even more profoundly that the deep socio-psychological pathologies caused by plantation slavery are with us today, and that's why I wear black constantly.
In my book, Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets, the chapter 'From Columbus to Bogle' outlines how plantation slavery became a lasting legacy that colours contemporary relations. More than 30 years after my first industrial relations matter and my group of public-sector students, I am more convinced now that the incomplete socio-psychological Emancipation process affects our contemporary human resources practices and policing among others. The legacy of slavery still pervades all walks of life on this island, and this includes the former plantation that houses my offices and classrooms.
Plantation theory and history is compulsory for all my graduate human resources management students because it is not simply history. it is a set of factors that have continued to influence us today and tomorrow. This explains why 60 per cent of Jamaicans are work averse or disengaged, as well as accounts for the antipathies that employers and workers have.
We might have got nominal Emancipation 150 years ago. However, we were enslaved for twice that period. As my younger exuberant colleague Ahmed Reid reminded us last week, there are two books that this column has kept pushing like Bongo's grass cart to my readers. These are Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams and Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. I thank him for furthering the cause by endorsing these texts because all hands are needed on deck for the struggle to have an effect. It is sinful that one could even think that reparation is not an entitlement.
Without the enslavement of Africans and the international division of labour created with the Caribbean as a hub, the British empire would never have become what it is. At the height of the Industrial Revolution between the late 1700s and 1800s, Jamaica was one of the single largest contributors to British gross domestic product.
In the wake of Emancipation, former slave owners were compensated for doing the right thing and freeing the human beings whom they forcibly kidnapped or kept in servitude. How much money should a human trafficker get today for liberating his captives? Some human-trafficking victims do not consider themselves as being trafficked and might have participated in luring or entrapping subsequent victims. Does this make the traffickers less responsible? And if the kidnapper fathered children with the women he had abducted, does he owe them their freedom? Is he obliged to take care of them? Or in a worst-case scenario, can he compensate the primary victim and call it quits?
Slavery was a historical nightmare. The economists can quantify its impact. However, for us who try to understand human behaviour, the scars are deep and lasting. Slavery was a deliberate attempt to strip an entire race of its humanity, instil self-hate, and institutionalise a sick sort of sado-masochism among black people. We hate ourselves and kill our peers.
Slavery, both physical and mental, was the antithesis of interracial cooperation. It prevented the thousands of black people on and off the plantation from understanding their commonality of purpose. In that context, many of the uprisings by enslaved Africans here were thwarted by other Africans. Examples are the 1739 Maroon treaty, which Queen Nanny opposed but Cudjoe and others signed. This misguided truce pitted those freedom fighters who escaped human trafficking against their relatives still enslaved.
Among the enslaved victims on plantations, we failed to see the larger picture. Thus, Sam Sharpe was betrayed by his peers. In the 1760 Tacky Uprising, which Shepherd calls the War, he was snitched on by other Africans. In the post-Emancipation period, Paul Bogle was handed over by other African descendants. The failure of Garvey's early 20th-century black unification campaign, the 1960s persecution of Rastafari, and the attempts to purge black consciousness by our black government are functions of the residual plantation influence. Our political tribalism is the plantation heritage still at work.
Finally and regretfully, academics are not immune to the divisive influence of the plantation. In that context, I place the misguided critique by my younger colleague last week.
In my column of June 24, 2018, I merely acknowledged the irrefutable historical fact: "By the way, we do know that our own West Africans did conspire to sell us to the Europeans." This was a disclaimer for our detractors who might want to suggest that we reparationists ignore this. Nothing in my column suggested that it was "an accepted practice", nor was my comment a "sweeping generalisation". My recognising that Africans did play a role in enslavement does not mitigate the Europeans' obligation to pay reparations.
My column was about the less-known dark history of some nations in the World Cup because had Reid read, he would have seen my myriad commentaries regarding the very same points he reprised. In fact, nothing was said about England because I have been flogging that horse since he was in school.
Our mental emancipation is still incomplete, but I recognise that Reid and I are on the same side.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.