Vol. XXIV, Issue 2 (Spring 2017): The Fourteenth Annual Amistad Lecture
 

 

BOARD:

Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor
emeagwali@ccsu.edu

Walton Brown-Foster
Copy Editor
brownw@ccsu.edu

Haines Brown
Adviser
brownh@hartford-hwp.com

ISSN  1526-7822

REGIONAL EDITORS:

Olayemi Akinwumi
(Nigeria)

Ayele Bekerie
(Ethiopia)

Paulus Gerdes
(Mozambique)

Alfred Zack-Williams
(Sierra Leone)

Gumbo Mishack

(South Africa)

 

TECHNICAL ADVISOR:

Jennifer Nicoletti
Academic Technology, CCSU
caputojen@ccsu.edu

For more information on AfricaUpdate
Contact:
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1615 Stanley Street
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Table of Contents
 
Editorial: Professor Gloria Emeagwali (Chief Editor)

Professor Hilary Beckles: 14th Annual Lecture on the AMISTAD - The Global Reparatory Justice Movement, 21st Century Enlightenment and the Legacy of the Amistad



Editorial

It is a great honor to introduce on behalf of the Amistad Committee of Central Connecticut State University- comprised of Professors Olusegun Sogunro ( Education), Beverly Johnson (English), Dann Broyld (History), Fumilayo Showers (Sociology) and Gloria Emeagwali, myself (History)-

Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles, our Distinguished Keynote Speaker for 2017. Professor Beckles is President of the University of the West Indies, a university system that consists of three campuses, located in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

Professor Beckles attained his doctorate at the University of Hull, UK. and has attained honorary doctorates from the University of Glasgow, Brock University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, and the University of the Virgin Islands. He has published thirty one books, and about one hundred scholarly articles, on the subject of capitalism and slavery, the struggle for emancipation and freedom, decolonization and its challenges, uprisings such as the Haitian revolution, and sports. Dr. Beckles is Professor of Economicand Social History. He is also a playwright, having created eight plays on the subject of legendary Caribbean heroes and sports persons.

Professor Sir Beckles is also an active athlete and ardent cricketer. His insights into the game of cricket and its history are well quoted, and from time to time, generate spirited discussions in the region. In his capacity as an administrator, he has pioneered several programs including Cricket Research Studies, a first for the region. We are honored by his presence - and his formidable intellectual capabilities and achievements.

Professor Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor, Africa Update

The Global Reparatory Justice Movement:21st Century Enlightenment and the Legacy of the Amistad

Delivered by:
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles
Distinguished Scholar and Vice - Chancellor (President)
University of the West Indies
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Central Connecticut State University

This Amistad moment we commemorate and celebrate is important because of the critical lessons to be deduced from the discourse. I wish to highlight and comment upon the philosophical and political principles involved in the case. First and foremost we must recognize that the Africans who stood their ground in defense of human dignity forced the court, and wider civil society, to comment on the immorality and other issues surrounding the legality of individuals’ ability to buy and sell human beings. They forced the nation to discuss the western practice by which the classification of humans as property and real estate had been normalized.

The court, torn and tortured by the hegemonic power of economic interest over social morality, agreed that persons illegally enslaved have a right to resist their oppressors. This principle is important from the point of view of ethical philosophy and jurisprudence. It integrated the experience of enslaved African people in the Caribbean, Europe and the United States, and forged a unified Atlantic cultural space that promoted conversations about justice, morality and ethnicity. Critically, the conversation showed how these ideas ran into conflict with the belief that chattel slavery in each jurisdiction was in the “the national interest”.

The text of the Amistad case is considered a classic commentary on the globalization of ideas that gave rise to the practice of racial slavery that dehumanized, debased, and commodified African peoples. The Africans aboard the ship, Amistad, were allegedly owned by Spanish investors. The case began with the legal effects of the British abolition of their trade in enslaved, enchained, black bodies, and invoked in the final instance the popular, official jurisprudence of the American criminal justice system. It brought together the legal and philosophical premises of the modern western world in order to test the notion of black freedom as both an existential ideal and a national threat. A former president of the slave-based USA argued the case for the captives, and by extension the oppressed and the enslaved throughout the nation. This fact alone has powerful symbolic significance for our time. Very important messages emanated from the moment. Within this context, and against the background of the economics of stealing humans, and the politics of social healing, I celebrate all of you here in this distinguished university for taking these matters seriously. By so doing you are sustaining the importance of the idea of human freedom and engendering conversations across boundaries of age and ethnicity. You are calling for a future that stands in contrast to the historical legacy of assaulting human dignity and liberty as a public good.

Reparatory justice is a theme that has always been at the centre of my consciousness, even if in a subliminal sort of way. If you are born into a racialized society that has known ethnic slavery and colonial oppression, and you are historically conscious, the issue of pursuing justice for the victim is always somewhere within your imagination. That my ancestors were stolen from Africa and enslaved and enchained in the “islands”, locate me as a “shipmate” of the Amistad folks. Amistad for me, therefore, is more than a ship of horror. It is a social metaphor. My family survived the slavery holocaust in the Caribbean, and by the mid-20th C found themselves in Britain, laboring for the descendants of the very people who had stolen them from Africa. The movement from the plantation fields to the industrial factories – Barbados to Birmingham – was therefore a continuum in the plunder of a marginalized and oppressed people.

I take a moment here to pause. One of my uncles came to this City of Hartford and gave 50 years of labour. He too was a part of the globalization of my family’s labour. I was the first member of my immediate family who took the decision to leave Britain and to return home to the Caribbean diaspora. I wished to live as an empowered citizen and to have a strategic base from which to participate in this global debate and movement. Reparatory justice for me, then, is an issue within this migratory circle across diasporas that began with the trade in enchained ancestors as a crime against humanity.

What do we, as citizens, scholars, and students have to say and do about this current moment in our journey? You might very well say that there is no moral moment in history, and that there is an ongoing cycle of oppression and exploitation that cannot be defeated. But the narrative I wish to promote, and feel passionately about, tells the history differently. What we know is that it took all of the 19th C to eradicate chattel slavery from this hemisphere. It took millions of people, from Alaska to Argentina, to uproot the evil that had been an hegemonic economic system and societal base for over four centuries.

We celebrate the Haitians. They were first, in 1804, to legally replace the institution of slavery and deny its universality by putting in place something humane and more globally desired. They paid a dear price for this seminal intervention, and continue to be targeted within the global white supremacy order for turning the modern world the right way up. It took the Danish, British, French, Dutch, Americans, Spanish, and the Portuguese the rest of the 19th C to follow the Haitian lead, and to illegalize the evil. Between 1804 and the 1880s, the anti-slavery forces, rooted in black resistance, battled against empowered slaveowners and their stakeholder government supporters. It was a battle that enveloped all of the 19th C. Millions of people, morally dedicated and politically focused, determined that the modern world should not be based on the criminal institution called chattel slavery. In this cause, thousands perished but millions have benefitted. Then it took all of the 20th C to establish constitutional civil and human rights for the descendants of the enslaved peoples. In all the countries of this hemisphere, it has been a grand and epic struggle to establish for black folks the rights and privileges white folks had always assumed to be their heritage. Now we have stepped into the 21st C. What will be the struggle of this long epoch? I believe this 21st C is going to be the era of reparatory justice. I believe we are on the cusp of another major movement in human rights thinking and acting within the western world. It is finally universally accepted that the genocide committed against the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and Americas, and the chattel enslavement of millions of Africans, constituted crimes against humanity. What we have been told by our finest jurists and philosophers is that we should not harden our hearts to this history; that we should not conceptualize, tolerate and absorb this criminality as a distant norm, but that we should treat it as a pressing matter for contemporary reparatory justice. They have said that post modernity must atone for it, and learn important lessons from it for 21st C harmonious global living.

The world is also entering its third phase of global commercial engagement. We are now looking at each other, across culture contours, and realizing that there are no remaining obvious places to hide on the planet. Cultural boundaries have been breached, and there are no physical frontiers, no unseen spatial worlds. We effectively have a unified global community, and those who have benefitted from crimes against humanity are being called to be accountable, and asked to discuss the moral implications and legal basis of those benefits. There is no cave to run into for those who committed crimes and wish to avoid justice.

Communities in the colonized and plundered world that have been assigned to endemic poverty and social depravation in post colonialism are all asking for reparatory justice. They are not prepared to endure this 21st C against the background of the plunder and pillage of their ancestors’ labour and economies. In other words, the racialized colonization that led to genocide and chattel slavery is now seen as a criminal enterprise, and those who benefitted from the enterprise are called upon to repair the damage.

There are some important milestones along the way to be recognized. I made mention of Haiti, the first nation in the modern world to place in its constitution, that all humans are socially equal and that slavery is forever abolished. The colonizing enslaver, France, having suffered a military defeat at the hands of the enslaved, could not accept the new political and constitutional reality without seeking reprisals and reversals. With their European and American allies they surrounded Haiti with gunboats and forced it by threat of military invasion to pay reparations.

Consider this. The moment is 1825. There is jubilation in Port au Prince. The Haitians are celebrating the 21st anniversary of their national independence and sovereignty. The French government sends an emissary to say to the President that the slaveowning nations will not recognize the independence of the country until it pays reparations to former slaveowners. The Haitian President and his government believe they have no choice but to comply. Not officially recognized by any nation in the hemisphere, they were effectively politically and economically isolated. Each society in this hemisphere is built upon chattel enslavement; the Caribbean nation is the only place where freedom is constitutionalized.

The Haitians decided that if the price to pay for official membership and diplomatic connections to the white ruled modern world, and to be internationally recognized is to pay reparations, so be it. The government agreed to pay 150 million gold francs to the French government as reparatory compensation for slaveowners’ loss of property. Therein lies the first case in modern history that represents an inter-government reparations claim. Imagine, if you will, the Haitian government in which most officials, including members of the Cabinet were formerly enslaved, forced to agree that a commercial value would be placed on all citizens in order to compute and make the reparations payment. This was precisely the calculated demand of the French government. It was intended to politically humiliate and economically humble the Haitians.

The French reparations intention was clear. The Haitians were to pay full compensation for the loss of all property, animals, enslaved persons, buildings, stocks and bonds. Assets formerly held by French citizens were valued, and these included near 500,000 enslaved Africans. This model becomes the blueprint for other European Acts of Emancipation in the Caribbean. The British government, for example, paid £20 million reparations to their slaveowners for the loss of their human property. The enslaved contributed 52% of this sum by way of four years of “free” labour to former slaveowners after they were “freed”, the so-called period of Apprenticeship. Reparations, then, was very much a 19th C process and philosophy.

We have entered the 21st C and the enormous, unanswered question is this: What about reparations for the enslaved and their descendants? It took the Haitian people over 100 years to pay the French financial reparations. There were moments in the 19th C when up to 80% of the foreign exchange earnings of the Haitian economy was sent to France to pay this debt. The subsequent disintegration of the Haitian economy was authored by the hands of the French government that extracted from the fledgling nation the wealth it needed for national development. Its decent into financial poverty was the intended outcome of French policy.

Jamaica is now moving into the second phase of its constitutional independence from Britain. When the country became sovereign in 1962, 80% of the black people were defined as functionally illiterate. Britain had colonized and extracted wealth from Jamaica for almost 300 years. At the end of this long history of wealth extraction, three quarters of the people were left in a state of educational backwardness. The Jamaican political leaders, like all others in the Caribbean, signed the independence deal without making a claim for reparatory justice. The British State would have responded with aggression if such a claim had been made.

Caribbean governments were keen to be constitutionally free of the tyranny of British and European governments. They were intimidated and had no inclination at the time, as a result, to discuss or promote reparations. The consequence is now clear. They are independent, constitutionally detached, politically free of the colonial scaffold, but trapped in the residual legacy of colonial poverty. There was no economic development model that could have enabled the postcolonial Jamaican economy and society of two million people, built upon extreme infrastructural decay, crippling illiteracy, and massive chronic ill health to become a developed nation within two generations. In effect, most all what Jamaica, and other Caribbean states have been doing with their passion for nationhood, and their commitment to economic development, is cleaning up the inherited enormous colonial mess. In order to give the new citizenship some significant semblance of citizenship, they had to invest heavily in public education, community health and social development. The result has been unsustainable social expenditure, out of control fiscal margins, spiraling domestic debt, and systemic economic decline. This Caribbean scenario is the consequence of national independence paradigms developed without reparatory justice principles.

Imagine this allegory. A woman is married to a tyrant, who is hyper-masculine and brutal in hisrelation to her. She finally finds the courage and confidence, after years of violent oppression, todetach herself from the abuse with her children, and declare herself free and independent. She is veryhappy to achieve this personal freedom, but in the process she disconnects from her share of thejointly accumulated resources necessary to assure her children’s future. In the celebration of her socialmidentity she focused on neither her economic rights nor the financial future of her children. Imagine, furthermore, that the tyrant goes off and remarries, transferring her share of the jointly owned assets to the new partner. Britain joined the European Union and jettisoned responsibility for the legacy ofthe colonial relation. I am sure you will agree with me that this woman was in need of a good familyand human rights lawyer while signing the divorce document.

This is precisely what has happened in the Caribbean. Most governments of the region dashed headlong into the separation from British tyranny. They did not say before signing independence agreements that it was a priority to look at an economic development plan for the next generation. They designed and celebrated independence without reference to the reparatory justice principle, and the result has been what it is. Despite their heroic efforts at constructing the regional future, they have fallen short because the cards they had to play made it impossible for them to be competitive. Caribbean governments have now agreed, fifty years later, to join with civil society in the call for a renegotiation of both Emancipation and Independence around reparatory justice. They have established a Caribbean Reparations Commission to prepare the evidentiary basis for a review of colonial crimes, and to make the research available within the public space. I have been asked to chair this Commission and to coordinate the project with a view to presenting the imperial governments of Europe with a claim for reparations. The context of these claims is to seek justice for the slavery crimes against humanity specifically, and for violent, racist colonization generally.

Reparations, the main stream media have claimed, is about black people asking white people, who are keen to say they have no responsibility for these crimes and their consequences, to pay out premium cash. Leaders of the movement have rejected this claim and have said that it is about the right to justice, and a call for effective development cooperation. The Caricom Reparations Commission is saying to the governments of Europe, look here, there are fundamental moral and legal problems resulting from the refusal to engage the just nature of reparations claim. The European governments, the Commissioners say, need to return to the Caribbean, the scene of their crimes, against humanity and participate in a development strategy around cleaning up their awesome colonial mess.

The black non communicable chronic disease pandemic in the Caribbean is particularly distressing in this regard. While slavery is legally over, and colonization constitutionally on the retreat, the region is now living in the jet stream of their terrible legacies. Seventy per cent of all black people in the Caribbean over the age of 60 have either hypertension, type II diabetes, or both. In fact, if youuse the criterion of non-communicable chronic diseases, the black people in the Caribbean are the sickest people in the world.

This legacy of slavery and colonization has to be confronted and explained. Millions of African people were imprisoned on a group of small islands, defined and managed as chattel property, for five hundred years, brutalized in every way possible, their emotional partners and children sold, sons and daughters raped and kept generally malnourished. Slaveowners extracted from them 20 hours of work per day, producing in the process an inter-generational stress experience. They were fed a daily diet of salted fish and salted pork, and given pounds of sugar to eat as a meal. The medical results should not be scientifically surprising. Slavery and colonization produced a black population with reduced capacity to metabolize salt and sugar; a community that is chronically ill, and a social culture with unhealthy food choices that is inter-generational. This is the circumstance that faces the African Caribbean People.

There is a global media image of African Caribbean people as healthy and athletic. It is an image created largely around high performance in sport, driven by super athletes such as Usain Bolt. But behind this image is an explosion of chronic illness. It is the primary medical contemporary legacy of slavery and colonization. These and such like images and realities constitute the healthcare basis of reparations discourse. Reparatory justice is about confronting these legacies in order to prepare for the future. Since the Caricom Reparations Commission was established, similar agencies have been springing up everywhere. There are existing bodies in the European Union, Britain, USA, Canada, Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica. There are plans to have an agency in India because many Africans were taken across the Indian Ocean into the sub-continent and kept in slavery. Wherever Africans were enslaved, diaspora communities are pressing for reparatory justice. Plans are in place for these reparations agencies to meet in Africa in 2018 in order to advance the global campaign.

Statements of Regret have been issued by many countries and companies that have benefitted from these crimes against humanity, but no apologies have been forthcoming. Young people especially should understand the difference. The Statement of Regret is now a norm, but it is not an apology. Allow me to give you an explanation of the difference. Let us assume that one of you get up from your chair and steps on the foot of your neighbor. Your neighbor is diabetic. The injury becomes infected, and does not heal. In time the injured foot is amputated. You can issue a Statement of Regret. That is, you can say to your neighbour I regret very much what has happened, and you walk away putting the matter behind you. This is a kind moral response. It is a significant statement designed to pacify without payment. It admits to no responsibility for the action or its consequences. Nothing is admittedly owed; there is no accountability for the damage suffered by the victim. An apology, however, is altogether a different declaration. It takes responsibility for the wrongdoing and its consequences. The wrongdoer is prepared to engage the victim with an intent torepair the damage. It seeks to atone as much as humanly possible, and to facilitate the victim’s rehabilitation. An apology, then, is a precursor to repair, by engaging the process of reparations. No government in the western world has issued an apology for slavery and racist colonization with an intent to repair the damage. The Pope, US President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK, and others have issued Statements of Regret. France has issued an apology by admitting that slavery was a crime against humanity, but proceeded to participate in the overthrow of President Aristide of Haiti when he called for reparatory justice.

The demand for an apology, however, is gaining ground globally. It is considered a first step in the atonement process. I believe in the positive aspects of human nature. I am a great believer in the universality of human morality. I believe that human beings are inclined to do the right thing. I alsoknow that economic elites who possess organized political power have always stood in the way of popular claims for social justice. Political power rarely concedes social justice. Reparations have never been paid by economic elites to people who are disorganized, weak in political consciousness, and lacking collective political commitment in pressing their claim.

Reference is often made to the situation expressed by the Jewish community in Europe. They suffered a horrendous holocaust as a crime against humanity perpetuated by the Nazi regime in Germany, and beyond. This connection seeks to draw comparison with the holocaust against the enslaved African peoples, and the genocide committed against the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and Americas. On the island of Barbados, for example, where I was born, the British imported 600,000 enchained Africans over a period of two hundred years beginning in 1627. Atemancipation in 1838 colonial officials reported 83,000 black survivors. Slavery in Barbados, and the wider Caribbean, was also a genocidal experience. Genocide is the result of placing a people in a circumstance so cruel and inhumane that they fail to reproduce themselves. Slavery was Europe’s mass destruction of enslaved Africans in the New World. Today the black population of Barbados is about 280,000 still less than half the number imported.

The Jewish people, in western Europe, have said there has to be justice for the crimes committed against them by the Nazis. They demanded that the German and other European States own the crimes and commit to reparations. There was no legal precedence, no case law, to determine the procedure. There was no jurisprudence; there was no system of legal administration to make it happen. The judges in tribunal were called upon to make it up. When they met at Nuremburg to proceed with the case, they were breaking entirely new ground. Some of them had doubts about their effectiveness. There was no history in litigating such a crime against humanity. Then something remarkable happened. One of the judges said to his colleagues, let’s walk into the desert, because somewhere in it there is an oasis. Let’s go and find it. They proceeded boldly and found the water. The result is that we now have a body of legal thought that serves as a standard in the modern world in respect of addressing crimes against humanity.

A similar approach is required to conceptualize reparations for Africans. The British Parliament discussed this matter in 2007 and came to an extraordinary conclusion. They determined that the crime against the African people is too large to litigate or prepare for a parliamentary resolution. No body of legal thought exists, they said, that can be used to guide reparatory justice for Africans. The crime, they adjudged, is to be left in abeyance. Their technocrats joined in by noting that there is no national or international court with the authority to hear such a case. The truth is that British politicians were not overwhelmed by the size of the crime. They were overwhelmed by the enormity of the wealth they had made from slavery, and the scale of corresponding atonement. They were not afraid to walk into the desert; they were unwilling to share the water.

The United Nations has agreed that reparatory justice has to be taken seriously in this decade dedicated to atonement for the crimes committed against Africans and African descendants. Europe is hoping that a global Enlightenment will not come to guide them. It would be an Enlightenment of an altogether very different kind. Their first so-called Enlightenment produced racialized slavery. Many of us as students were required to read John Locke’s work on concepts of human liberty. How could the leading English contributor to the discourse of liberty, attach his mind and personal well being to the management of African slavery? Locke was the owner of enslaved Africans in the Bahamas. He was also the corporate secretary of the Royal African Slave Trading Company, yet he was the leading English intellectual authority on liberty and freedom within western philosophical conversations. Now what would this second Enlightenment look like? Next week leaders of dozens of US universities will meet at Harvard. These are mostly managers of universities that were built with enslaved labor and sustained by slave generated wealth. The universities in this country, as in Europe, conceptualized slavery, defended, promoted, and invested in it. They were a core part of the political and market economy of African enslavement. For 200 years these were the roles of university administrators, scholars, and students. A question on the agenda will be how can university leaders reverse this terrible legacy and emerge as champions for reparatory justice?

The University of the West Indies, of which I have the honor and pleasure to serve as Vice Chancellor, has three landed campuses. Each was built on a slave plantation. Less than a decade ago it was preparing to build a state of the art medical faculty building on the Jamaica campus. The tractors and bulldozers came in to dig the ground in order to lay the foundation. To the shock and dismay of contractors, bones came up from the ground. It was soon revealed that being excavated was the plantation’s burial site. The bones of enslaved Africans spoke from unmarked graves; their spirits said to us, we are here and we must not be forgotten.

Universities in this hemisphere will have no choice but to confront this specific kind of legacy. Many people are not aware that the Harvard Law School was empowered in its formative stages by an endowment from an Antiguan slaveowner, and slave trader. The School began its prestigious academic journey with cash and land from a Caribbean enslaver. What does this say about Harvard and its relations to Africans today?

The second Enlightenment, then, is expected to be the first. It is expected to right the wrongs of the first. Students, faculty, and persons who believe in the collective goodwill of humanity will be hoping and planning that their university will lead by saying that this greatest crime of the modern world has to be addressed. Academia cannot continue in this century with a 20th C sense of amnesia,utilizing the empty rhetoric that says let us forget, archive it, and move on. The erupting bones of our ancestors will not allow us to move on without reparatory justice.

Where official voices and literary records are proving insufficient, unmarked graves are yielding their truth. A moral issue is driving the legal right, and I sincerely hope that all of you here today will find a way to be a part of this epic journey. Let us all walk into the desert because somewhere out there is the water we need. Let us go boldly into the bright light and find it.

Thank you.
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles
Vice Chancellor
The University of the West Indies