EDITORIAL: Our forty acres and a mule

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In an attempt to atone for and rectify the enslavement, mistreatment and outright murder of generations of African-Americans, the United States government agreed in principle to give each former slave ‘Forty acres of land and a mule.’  We guess that this was supposed to salve the consciences of the erstwhile slave owners, and of course, give the newly-freed slaves a jump-start in a new life of freedom and property ownership. This is the first (1865) concrete gesture by slave owners anywhere in the world to make amends and right the great evil that was slavery. Not that any amount of money could ever compensate Africa, Africans and the slave descendants of Africans for four hundred years of the capture, trans-shipment and enslavement of black Africans. It is one of the darkest stains on the pages of human history, and one that cannot be easily erased.
But the difficulty of the undertaking should not deter or proscribe America and the European colonial powers from making a serious and concerted effort to give the former colonies that once held slaves our “Forty acres and a mule”. In other words, make reparations! And make reparations now!
Consider. It must have been quite unnerving to the white planters in America when Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, in collaboration with the black leadership, made that rather generous promise to the newly-freed slaves. And, yes, it was actually quite a generous promise. Never mind that it was the morally correct thing to do!
According to the great American historian and luminary, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in his insightful work, THE TRUTH BEHIND ‘40 ACRES AND A MULE,’ “The promise was the first systematic attempt to provide a form of reparations to the newly freed slaves, and it was astonishingly radical for its time, proto-socialist in its implications. In fact, such a policy would be radical in any country today: the federal government’s massive confiscation of private property – some 400,000 acres – formerly owned by the Confederate land owners and its methodical redistribution to former black slaves.” Hmmm!
Clearly, the increasing calls and drumbeats for reparations is not such an outlandish and far-fetched notion after all! Not that Spain, Portugal, Belgium, France and England could find the money to pay the descendants of the people that they once brutalised and enslaved, and yes, outright murdered. Seems, after centuries of unbridled greed marked by the rape and rip-off of the people and countries that they once enslaved, these countries are, for all intents and purposes, broke! Talk about karma being a witch! But the fact that they have had to go begging for financial bailouts (Greece and Italy included) and have had to impose austerity measures is of no import, and it certainly does not absolve them of their solemn responsibility to rectify the great wrong inflicted on us.
With that in mind, it was quite heartening to hear and see our prime minister at the United Nations eloquently and passionately make the case for reparations. And he did it by looking the guilty parties square in the eye. We suggest that in so boldly making the case for some movement on reparations as well as climate change, the WTO ruling, help with hurricane aid and the need for a new calculus vis a vis financial borrowing, PM Browne acquitted himself well.  By the way, all the notes struck by the PM had to do, in some way or the other, with the colonial powers and America, ripping off and taking advantage of the poor and dispossessed people of the Caribbean. Seems, on so many levels, they are responsible for the plight in which we find ourselves. Clearly, they owe us, and the case for reparations cannot be overstated!
Of course, we are equally pleased at the herculean efforts of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission with leading lights like King Frank-I Tafari Francis and Dorbrene O’Marde carrying the torch. In fact, in addition to his other, shall we say, ‘higher’ cause, (wink, wink) nothing so moves the King like the struggle for reparations. We also salute the opening of the Centre for Reparations Research at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, and the powerful keynote address delivered by Samia Nkrumah, the daughter of the late president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah at that grand opening. Congratulations are certainly in order to professor Verene Shepherd, the head of the reparations effort and studies at UWI, for bringing this dream to fruition. Hats off as well to professor Sir Hilary Beckles, the highly esteemed Vice-Chancellor of UWI, for his terrific leadership and speeches championing reparations.
Meanwhile, since we are in the business of shedding light and giving a voice to the issues, we think it best to list the 10-point plan of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission. After all, no discussion of reparations would be complete without a broad overview of the areas of emphasis in the effort. So here goes: “Full formal apology, repatriation, indigenous peoples development programme, cultural institutions, public health crisis, illiteracy eradication, African knowledge programme, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and debt cancellation.” Hmmm!
Clearly, the Reparations Support Commission has covered all the bases, and we will give them all the encouragement and support that we can. We are also gratified at the fact that the impetus for our “forty acres and a mule” is being spearheaded by us. History is apparently repeating itself and we are taking the lead for our just due, much like black leaders did in 1865. Our forty acres and a mule! It is an idea whose time has come!
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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