This edition of Reparation Conversations pays tribute to George Lamming, featuring excerpts from the 2014 George Lamming Distinguished Lecture, which was delivered by Professor Verene Shepherd at the Errol Barrow Center for the Creative Imagination, Barbados.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your kind introduction. I feel very honored to have been invited to deliver this important lecture, in the presence of the honoree. His work in a very real sense created a space through which the emergence of the unique Caribbean identity flourished. The lived experiences of our people have been explored through their novels, poems and essays, which have bases in the oral narrative tradition, summarizing our shared history of slavery and colonialism and the resulting identity crises, leaving each of us look inside the castle of our own skin, for the royalty within.
It’s fitting that Lamming has this lecture series in his honor. I, like others who use historical novels to understand the representation of the Caribbean, can really say to him, like Marlon James’ women of the night in the novel of the same name, “thank you for the story that I learned and the history I had to unlearn’ through the discursive lens you have chosen, to see the question of colonialism and its legacies.
The conference, “Reparation, Psychological Rehabilitation and Educational Strategies”, was not only decided in response to the hosts’ request for a conference on the question of reparation, but emerged from my lifelong preoccupation with the question of knowing what it means to be of African descent in a racist Western world.
Although many people in the Caribbean and the Diaspora have only recently paid attention to the issue of reparation for indigenous genocide, Caribbean slavery, deceptive Indian engagement and lingering legacies, the struggle to restorative justice has a long pedigree. The pioneers were the First Nations peoples; and later enslaved Africans throughout the Caribbean, who knew their illegal trapping in Babylon was a violation of their human rights and fought to end the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans and the slavery of movable property .
STARTED TO STRUGGLE
In the immediate post-slavery period, newly enfranchised and imported indentured laborers took up the struggle, applying the ideas of moral economy in their efforts to secure land and decent wages for decent work and political self-determination. Langston Hughes could very well have been talking about justice activists when he wrote in ‘Democracy’:
I have as much right
As the other comrade has
On my own two feet
And own the land
I’m so tired of hearing people say
Let things take their course
Tomorrow is another day
I don’t need my freedom when I’m dead
I can’t live on tomorrow’s bread
The most vocal advocates of restorative justice after the 1930s were the Rastafari, whose demand was for the redemption and repatriation of Africans. They were later joined by individual politicians, NGOs, academics, civil society and finally, CARICOM Heads of Government, who established the CARICOM Reparations Commission, National Commissions, etc. (Jamaica since 2009) and a Prime Minister’s Sub-Committee on Reparations, comprising the Heads of Government of Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and -Tobago to whom the CRC reports. The ten-point plan developed by CRC members sets out the rationale for reparation, identifies victims and perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
TEN POINT PLAN
The Ten Point Plan, framed by the right to development, acts as a blueprint or strategy for seeking redress. Many agree that development pressures have pushed Caribbean governments to bear the burden of public employment and social policies designed to address colonial legacies. Amartya Sen argues in his 1999 book Development as freedomthat overcoming these socio-economic problems is central to the exercise of development and the process of securing that freedom, which otherwise will fall at the feet of underdevelopment.
Rohan Kariyawasam, in his contribution to the collection of essays, Colonialism, slavery, reparations and trade: remedying the past?, argues that while other strategies to address past atrocities might not work – such as the legal route – the right to development framework (conceptualized by Senegalese jurist Keba M’Baye in 1972 and restated in a UN declaration about 10 years later) would facilitate technology transfer and trade agreements. According to him, historical transgressors should be made to invest in the affected countries in technical skills, technology, research and development, education, health and services; and the RTD should be a legally enforceable right to be defended by violators.
I wish to focus on psychological rehabilitation, deemed vital due to the impact of slavery and colonialism on the psyche and behavior of Africans. In his Black skin, white mask, Franz Fanon analyzed the impact of colonialism and its distorting effects, and argued that white colonialism imposed an existentially false and degrading existence on its black victims, insofar as it demanded their conformity to its distorted values. The evidence that this story has inflicted massive psychological trauma on Afro-descendant populations in the Caribbean and in the Diaspora is all around us. Joy Degruy Leary places it in the context of “post-traumatic slave syndrome”.
In our region, we see whitening of the skin, loss of self-confidence expressed by social comparison and ranking in our communities; the denigration of darkness. We maintain our ranking in our school system because we have not got rid of structural or indirect discrimination in education. Yes, colonialism has disfigured us and we must use all the means at our disposal, including a restorative justice program, to rehabilitate ourselves.
Feelings of cultural loss and social alienation have long been expressed by our literary luminaries, especially where they have been writers in exile. Lamming himself would write that:
When I review these relationships, they seem so strange. I’ve always been here on this side and the other person on the other side, and we both tried to make the sides seem similar in needs, wants, and ambitions. But it wasn’t true. It was never true… I’m always afraid of being known… They won’t know the you who is hidden somewhere in the castle of your skin.
The question is: what are the pedagogical strategies that restorative advocates will need to employ? I can’t go into all the strategies, but I will say this: the greatest weapon in this arsenal will have to be culturally relevant/anti-colonial education, especially history education. For the surest way to defeat the reparations movement is to ensure that our children remain ignorant of their past and the legacy of activism around issues of justice and human rights that their/our ancestors stood for. are beaten. Postmodernists ask: Whose story is it told? In whose name? What purpose? But we have to teach/say it, especially if we believe that education is liberation. As President Barack Obama said, “memory is not just about the past; it’s about securing the future”.
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