Sunday, 24 September 2017 04:39:36 (AST)
 

Opinion

10 reasons reparations for black Vincentian slavery is a bad idea

Black slaves guarded by their indigenous askari (soldier).

By C. ben-David

 I have said in the past – and I’ll repeat again – that the best reparations we can provide [Black Americans] are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed” (Barack Obama, August 2, 2008).

 

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In a controversial pamphlet that appeared in many American college newspapers in 2001, highly published author and Guggenheim Fellow, David Horowitz, lists “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery are a Bad Idea for Black People — And Racist Too” that generally apply to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) as well. Though the reparations movement was always dead on arrival in the United States, as the opening quote from Obama suggests, and moving at a snail’s pace in the Caribbean, it is still high time Vincentians heard a counter-narrative to polemical prattle from Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of SVG, and Mr. Jomo Thomas, Speaker of the SVG House of Assembly.

For the sake of argument, if nothing else, here is my heavily borrowed adaptation of Horowitz’s points:

  1. There was no single group responsible for slavery. African slavery was well established long before the post-Columbian trans-Atlantic trade in human cargo. This foundation was the springboard, beginning in the early 16th century, for Africans and Arabs to attack, capture, enslave, and transport captives to coastal holding facilities from whence they were shipped here and elsewhere in the Americas. But even at home, Chatoyer, our so-called “national hero,” is reputed to have owned slaves, a common practice in many places in the New World long before Christopher Columbus landed in The Bahamas in 1492. Are reparations to be extorted from the descendants of all these disparate people, too? Equally important, the Atlantic slave trade and the institutionalisation of Caribbean bondage, as heinous as these now seem by contemporary moral and legal standards, were protected by private-property contract law, not crimes against humanity, when they were carried out. The Holocaust, to which Black slavery is speciously compared by reparation supporters, breached even the racist Nuremburg laws of Nazi Germany, which is why it was carried out with such secrecy.

 

  1. There was no single group that benefited from Black slavery. The claim for Vincentian reparations is premised on the false assumption that only White people benefited from slavery. The fruits and legacy of slave labour created wealth not just for White people in Great Britain and SVG but for Black slavers in Africa, and Black and mixed-race Vincentians as well, some of whom also owned slaves. Even the descendants of slaves benefited from the infrastructure and other development that slavery brought with it, including access to land and a diverse array of vocations. The long-term result is that per capita GNP of SVG is now higher than most of the West and Central African countries that exported slaves to our country. How many of our Black people would gladly accept repatriation — one of the laughable demands of CARICOM’s 2014 “Ten Point Action Plan for Reparatory Justice” — to their ancestral homelands?

Arab slave traders and their captives.

  1. Only a small minority of White Vincentians and hardly any in Great Britain ever owned slaves. On a per capita basis, actual slave owners in Britain and SVG were far and few between. Why should the descendants of those who had little association with slavery, as well as the millions of Black people now living in Great Britain who migrated there from the Caribbean and Africa, owe a “full formal apology” — the most important CARICOM demand since it carries with it the full weight of contemporary legal liability — to Black Vincentians? Why also should the millions of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia who now live in Great Britain be held accountable for the sins of long dead Englishmen?

 

  1. SVG is today a multi-ethnic nation, many of whose citizens have no direct or indirect connection to slavery. Most of the slave owners who actually lived here soon returned home to Britain, often after their estates proved unprofitable or fell into bankruptcy. Since Emancipation in 1838, waves of free Blacks, East Indians, Portuguese, and poor Whites from Barbados, people with no connection to or direct benefit from slavery migrated to SVG as indentured or free workers. Why should the descendants of these people, along with more recent migrants from Syria, Lebanon, Taiwan, and China, plus white retirees from North America, be implicated in the reparations movement or, worse still, seen as benefiting from the unproven “legacies” of Vincentian slavery.


A sample of our Vincie ethnic and racial calaloo paying homage to our British heritage.

 

 

  1. The historical precedents used to justify the reparations claim do not apply. The historical examples generally invoked to justify the reparations claim are payments to: (1) Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, (2) Japanese-Americans interred during WWII, (3) African-American victims of racial experiments at Tuskegee University, and (4) Aboriginal children forced to attend Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Black slavery reparations would be the only known case of compensation to people who were not immediately affected as individuals. Any comparison to the Holocaust is particularly outrageous because its goal was to murder as many Jews and other “undesirables” as possible as quickly as possible, a criminal offense under German law, while the aim of slavery was to keep as many Black people as possible alive so they could breed as much as possible and have their productive labour exploited as much as possible under what was a perfectly legal system.

 

  1. The reparations argument is based on the unfounded claim that the people of SVG and the country as a whole continue to suffer from social pathologies and economic adversity directly caused by slavery. No evidence-based attempt has been made to prove that Black people now alive in SVG have been adversely affected by a slave system that was voluntarily terminated by Great Britain nearly 200 years ago. But there is plenty of evidence that the allegedly historically-determined hardships visible today are ones that tens of thousands of Black Vincentians were able to overcome. Our Black middle- and upper-class form a prosperous cohort that keeps on growing in size and wealth. Much of this growth has occurred over one or two generations as a result of hard work, innate intelligence, and ambition. The Black middle- and upper-classes in the diaspora are even more prosperous: Black West Indians in America have average incomes equivalent to the average incomes of Whites (and nearly 25 percent higher than the average incomes of American-born Blacks). How is it that slavery adversely affected one large group of descendants but not the other? Doesn’t this say that extant social and economic adversity are a product of self-inflicted, poverty-enhancing, life-style choices like single motherhood and indifferent parenting, a trait identified by the Prime Minister as adversely affecting our well-being as a people, and character flaws such an unwillingness to “get up and get,” a negative trait pointed out decades ago by Sir James F. Mitchell? These personal traits are certainly exacerbated by the comparatively poor economic conditions and meagre opportunities for advancement in our country that only tiny geographical size and a lack of valuable resources can actually And why does the presence of the adverse effects of slavery vary so much from one ex-slavery Caribbean country to another if not because of different post-slavery social and economic conditions?

How can any government or tribunal be expected to agree with demands said to be rooted in a slave system that disappeared 20 generations ago based on unsubstantiated assumptions and no hard evidence? Or should we — the court of public opinion — the British government, and any manner of civil or criminal court, blindly accept, without any supporting evidence, Prime Minister Gonsalves’ (post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy) assertion that, “… the legacies of underdevelopment which exist today … are undeniably [my italics] traced to native genocide and African slavery?”

 

  1. The reparations claim is just another attempt by greedy politicians and radical intellectuals to control the minds Black Vincentians by collectively labelling and falsely stigmatising them as hopeless losers unable to overcome the adversity of a system of bondage that ended so long ago. This sense of grievance and entitlement is neither a constructive nor healthy message for Black and pretend-black leaders to be sending to our people. To focus our passion and energy on what some long dead White people — with the direct help of thousands of Black Africans without whom the slave trade could never have flourished — did to our ancestors nearly 200 years ago will re-victimize us with a crippling sense of inadequacy. As for the politicians, their beggar mentality is surely a post-slavery affliction.

 

  1. Reparations to SVG have already been paid. The hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure development, direct aid, trade and tariff preferences on agricultural products, and migration opportunities since the end of slavery have more than compensated for any material loss our people may have suffered because of slavery.

 

  1. What about the debt we Black people owe to SVG? Slavery existed for thousands of years in most societies before the Atlantic slave trade was born. But in the 225 years of its existence in SVG, there was never an anti-slavery movement in the world until white Christians — Englishmen and Americans — created one. If not for the righteous anti-slavery zeal and military power of white Englishmen and Americans, the slave trade would not have been brought to an end. Meanwhile, slavery is still alive and well today in several African countries. Where is the gratitude of our pro-reparation leaders for the gifts of freedom, past and present, including our democratic laws and Constitution, not to mention a world-class system of education (currently being dismantled in the name of a bogus “education revolution” for whose deficient legacy concerned parents should be suing the government), Great Britain has bequeathed to us? Who could deny that Black people in SVG are far better off in every possible way than their counterparts in much of Africa, including countries that were never colonised by European powers?
  2. The Caribbean reparations movement is an attempt by Black politicians to scapegoat the former European colonial powers for what are their own homegrown shortcomings. There is no better way to hide the many failures of contemporary leadership — the continued impoverishment of so many people; high unemployment and underemployment; poor medical care, treatment, and health outcomes; inadequate infrastructure (including filthy schools full of mold and broken windows); sky-high indebtedness; high crime rates; etc. — than to blame them on the sins of our British colonial masters. Why is SVG still a relatively poor country by global standards? Slavery. Why is the country so much in debt? Slavery. Why is there so much sexual abuse? Slavery. Why can’t a bright young woman with 10 subjects find a job? Slavery. Why are there so many young Black men in prison? Slavery? Why did I butt my neighbour’s husband? Slavery.

What is the solution to these seemingly intractable problems? Reparations, including “debt cancellation,” another outrageous CARICOM demand meant to absolve our leaders of the sin of profligate spending only meant to keep them in power.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com

IWN Conversations

9 thoughts on “10 reasons reparations for black Vincentian slavery is a bad idea

  1. Well said. Well done, C. ben. Excellent-as-usual research and presentation. When I wrote in The News newspaper, I said this about reparations: “We are too busy looking forward to the past, hanging our future and aspirations on the past; two hundred plus years in the past.”

    Of your ten points, one was righter and better than the other but #7 is the raison d’être of reparations. Followed closely by #10.

    (To be sure: raison d’être; “A purely political reason for action on the part of a ruler or government, especially where a departure from openness, justice, or honesty is involved” – OED.)

    • C. ben-David says:

      I appreciate your remarks about looking back rather than looking ahead. This piece only scratches the surface and will be followed by at least 10 more that deconstruct each of the 10 points of the CARICOM manifesto.

  2. Ricardo Francis says:

    I must say that I am in agreement with this text. However, I will add that the Ralph Gonsalves of the world, do not want their apple carts to be rattled and turned-over, so they block, oppress and suppress anyone and I mean anyone who has the potential to do so.
    St. Vincent and the Grenadines has the legitimate potential to be a very wealthy nation that does not have to carry water in a basket. The leaders of yesterday and today, and I mean ,currently, lack the political determination to embrace and or accept that there is a different reality than the one, currently existing.
    They blame the colonial masters but they are our new masters without physical ropes and chains, to promote an agenda that advance their own personal benefits and to those who support this version of events. Better days shall come with the right Leaders.
    Ricardo Francis, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Waiting and in the Making.

    • C. ben-David says:

      I know your heart is in the right place but totally reject your assertion that, “St. Vincent and the Grenadines has the legitimate potential to be a very wealthy nation.” Ain’t so and will never happen for reason I have shown and will continue to show in my Argyle airport series.

  3. Lostpet says:

    Oh yeah? Well what about…uuum…Then there is…..ah…You forgot… well,… Damn, well we just have to get those whites because Hillary and other liberals say we should, as long as we vote right we will be better-off! The whites of today must be at fault somehow! Our PM says so…Yes! that’s it! See I knew I had positive proof!

  4. Vinciman says:

    Ben-David, I too thought I would borrow a few paragraphs slightly adapted to fit your presentation and subsequently your persona from “P Knight rebuffs Anatol Leopold Scott”, to lend a little something by the way of a comment.

    “It simply boils down to this. You have added nothing-complementary sound or anything new to this debate and from what I have gathered from your efforts, your contributions are refractory and all be it “oppressive in characteristics”.

    You hurriedly mouth off his views, his outlook, and [consequently] assume his characteristics. What is the point then? In the [end], it turns out that most of them (European bourgeois historians, apologists and the likes, including the “demented and intellectual unstable” David Horowitz) must be the greatest liars in the world. However, you believe them anyhow, and disbelieve or for that matter disagree with Jomo Thomas, Hillary Beckles, Ralph Gonsalves and the likes, and scoff at the reparation movement in such a distasteful, apathetic and dreadful manner, what a shame. Moreover, the real historical movement, the real movement going on before your very own eyes, exists somewhere else for you.

    Nevertheless, the actual historical movement that is taking place at present, particularly in SVG, has the correct “praxis” (reflection and action), the correct method, the correct framework that brings to the fore the necessary fundamentals that answers to the questions on reparations and redress. “… for lands stolen, for genocide and forcible deportation of the Garifuna people and for enslavement of Africans in St Vincent and the Grenadines”, whereas your commentary as put forward in this article and subsequent others, again lies with inaction, is stagnant, backward and completely useless”.

    In closing C. ben-David, likewise Mr Anatol Leopold Scott, “…Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances of their own choosing, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language…”

    The call for reparations for African genocide and slavery will not be obstructed, confounded, and or debunked by the likes of a C. ben-David or a Horrible-Witz and the likes. Those who carried out, and those who benefited from the despicable and heinous criminal acts against Africans at home and abroad, will have to answer eventually, as is well understood in the world of Karma, which is also a Truism.

    • C. ben-David says:

      Vinciman, pa u bin? I actually missed you! Welcome home! Please join us on Facebook.

      Please see the link above to a piece by distinguished Harvard U. scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. which you should read for your enlightenment.

  5. C. ben-David says:

    I regret that I forgot to reread this essay by an acclaimed Harvard University professor, a Black man of unimpeachable academic credentials and reputation, before I posted my 10-point piece:

    Ending the Slavery Blame-Game

    By HENRY LOUIS GATES Jr.
    APRIL 22, 2010

    New York Times

    THANKS to an unlikely confluence of history and genetics — the fact that he is African-American and president — Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage.

    There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime. Perhaps the most vexing is how to parcel out blame to those directly involved in the capture and sale of human beings for immense economic gain.

    While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.

    For centuries, Europeans in Africa kept close to their military and trading posts on the coast. Exploration of the interior, home to the bulk of Africans sold into bondage at the height of the slave trade, came only during the colonial conquests, which is why Henry Morton Stanley’s pursuit of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871 made for such compelling press: he was going where no (white) man had gone before.

    How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.

    Advocates of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in “Roots.” The truth, however, is much more complex: slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike.

    The African role in the slave trade was fully understood and openly acknowledged by many African-Americans even before the Civil War. For Frederick Douglass, it was an argument against repatriation schemes for the freed slaves. “The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia,” he warned. “We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave trade than to stay here to work against it.”

    To be sure, the African role in the slave trade was greatly reduced after 1807, when abolitionists, first in Britain and then, a year later, in the United States, succeeded in banning the importation of slaves. Meanwhile, slaves continued to be bought and sold within the United States, and slavery as an institution would not be abolished until 1865. But the culpability of American plantation owners neither erases nor supplants that of the African slavers. In recent years, some African leaders have become more comfortable discussing this complicated past than African-Americans tend to be.

    In 1999, for instance, President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin astonished an all-black congregation in Baltimore by falling to his knees and begging African-Americans’ forgiveness for the “shameful” and “abominable” role Africans played in the trade. Other African leaders, including Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, followed Mr. Kerekou’s bold example.

    Our new understanding of the scope of African involvement in the slave trade is not historical guesswork. Thanks to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by the historian David Eltis of Emory University, we now know the ports from which more than 450,000 of our African ancestors were shipped out to what is now the United States (the database has records of 12.5 million people shipped to all parts of the New World from 1514 to 1866). About 16 percent of United States slaves came from eastern Nigeria, while 24 percent came from the Congo and Angola.

    Through the work of Professors Thornton and Heywood, we also know that the victims of the slave trade were predominantly members of as few as 50 ethnic groups. This data, along with the tracing of blacks’ ancestry through DNA tests, is giving us a fuller understanding of the identities of both the victims and the facilitators of the African slave trade.

    For many African-Americans, these facts can be difficult to accept. Excuses run the gamut, from “Africans didn’t know how harsh slavery in America was” and “Slavery in Africa was, by comparison, humane” or, in a bizarre version of “The devil made me do it,” “Africans were driven to this only by the unprecedented profits offered by greedy European countries.”

    But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time. Slaves were the main export of the kingdom of Kongo; the Asante Empire in Ghana exported slaves and used the profits to import gold. Queen Njinga, the brilliant 17th-century monarch of the Mbundu, waged wars of resistance against the Portuguese but also conquered polities as far as 500 miles inland and sold her captives to the Portuguese. When Njinga converted to Christianity, she sold African traditional religious leaders into slavery, claiming they had violated her new Christian precepts.

    Did these Africans know how harsh slavery was in the New World? Actually, many elite Africans visited Europe in that era, and they did so on slave ships following the prevailing winds through the New World. For example, when Antonio Manuel, Kongo’s ambassador to the Vatican, went to Europe in 1604, he first stopped in Bahia, Brazil, where he arranged to free a countryman who had been wrongfully enslaved.

    African monarchs also sent their children along these same slave routes to be educated in Europe. And there were thousands of former slaves who returned to settle Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Middle Passage, in other words, was sometimes a two-way street. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent.

    Given this remarkably messy history, the problem with reparations may not be so much whether they are a good idea or deciding who would get them; the larger question just might be from whom they would be extracted.

    Fortunately, in President Obama, the child of an African and an American, we finally have a leader who is uniquely positioned to bridge the great reparations divide. He is uniquely placed to publicly attribute responsibility and culpability where they truly belong, to white people and black people, on both sides of the Atlantic, complicit alike in one of the greatest evils in the history of civilization. And reaching that understanding is a vital precursor to any just and lasting agreement on the divisive issue of slavery reparations.

    (See the full piece at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23gates.html )

  6. Everyman is a king says:

    The people of SVG should remove that white woman aka the Queen of England as head of state of SVG. That white woman do not care about Black people of Svg. White people wouldn’t have let a black woman be head of state of their country after colonialism and slavery. It’s time for Black people to remove the Queen of England as head of state in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Reparations now!

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