May 21, 2007

Jamaica to UK: Pay Us Slave Reparations!

Jamaica’s Leaders Urge A Regional Drive to Demand Slave Reparations from Britain

Jamaica’s cash-strapped political leaders see a cash bonanza in their future – an avalanche of slave reparations from Britain. They're beating the drum for a Caribbean-wide reparations effort; and they’re telling ordinary Jamaicans that slavery’s legacy is indeed the source of their troubles.

UPDATE: See Thomas Lifson's comments on this article at The American Thinker.

By David Paulin

The slave reparations movement has brought together a motley bunch over the years, from jive-talking hustlers to erudite professors of everything from black to postcolonial studies. Now, an entire country is angling to cash in on the reparations racket. In Jamaica, political leaders are beating the drum for a local and regional campaign to convince Britain to provide compensation for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. They’re telling Jamaicans that the legacy of slavery is indeed the source of their troubles. A hotbed of leftist politics, the former British colony has a population of 2.7 million that’s of overwhelmingly African descent.

"We owe reparations to ourselves and our ancestors,” Rupert Lewis, a lecturer in government at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, told a gathering of school children in Kingston, the capital. The occasion was part of activities associated with Jamaica’s commemoration of Britain’s 200-year-old Abolition of the Slave Trade Act adopted March 25, 1807. The case for reparations is being made with lectures and the documentary film “The Empire Pays Back.”

In Jamaica and elsewhere, reparations advocates portray Britain and even Western civilization in the worst possible light. Awkward details that fail to advance their narratives are skipped over or ignored. Professor Lewis, for instance, apparently failed to make an important point to his audience of school kids: Their African ancestors may have owned slaves, and participated in the slave trade.

Jamaica’s call for reparations started making local headlines in early February, when reparations advocates called for a state-backed reparations initiative ahead of bicentennial commemorations over Britain’s abolition of the slave trade. Parliament subsequently took up the issue, holding lengthy discussions on reparations over three consecutive weekly sessions. “Pay Us For Slave Labor," trumpeted a front-page article in The Observer, a popular left-leaning daily in Kingston; it suggested that the reparations quest was morally equivalent to the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. In the United Nations, Jamaica spearheaded a resolution commemorating the 200-year anniversary of the slave trade’s abolition. Now, a Parlimentary committee is studying the reparations issue, which Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has backed. The issue has yet to attract media attention outside the Caribbean.

Jamaica promotes itself as a vacation paradise of sunshine and reggae, a place Jamaica-born music legend Bob Marley summed up with his hit song “One Love.” But the overwhelming majority of ordinary Jamaicans have faced a grittier reality over the years -- high unemployment, soaring national debt, and one of the world’s worst murder rates per capita. Many deaths are caused by “tribal” political violence that’s exploited by politicians in the two main political parties, and in particular by those in the People’s National Party, the more left-leaning of the two parties. The violence dates to Prime Minister Michael Manley's failed "democratic socialism" in the early 1970s, when politicians used gangs to rustle up votes. Over the years, Manley’s party has played the race card to win elections against the weaker and whiter Jamaica Labor Party.

What do ordinary middle-class Jamaicans of African origins think? Not surprisingly, many blame unaccountable and elitist political leaders for the country’s mess – not its legacy of slavery and colonialism. They point out that Jamaica’s decline started after it was granted independence in 1962. Part of the problem is a loss of values, many say. They also note that counties such as The Bahamas are doing well, despite legacies of slavery and colonialism under Britain.

While middle-class and pro-American Jamaicans line up at the U.S. Embassy to apply for visas, members of the anti-American elite look for scapegoats for Jamaica’s troubles; and of course the biggest scapegoat of them all is the malevolent United States. Some even claim that Jamaica’s raging HIV/AIDS epidemic was caused by a virus created in the United States by a government lab to control black populations worldwide.

"In the medium term, the goal is to mobilize all those who have been working in the (reparations) field for a long time, and to sensitize those who have dismissed the work of the movement for lack of knowledge," explained Jamaica’s minister of tourism, entertainment and culture, Aloun Assamba, a government spokesperson.

In Jamaica and elsewhere, the reparations movement was energized by the United Nation’s racism conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001; that was the infamous UNESCO-sponsored event that equated Zionism with racism. It also offered tacit support to the idea of slave reparations.

Curiously, reparations advocates demand reparations only from rich Western nations. Yet they never mourn over the millions of black Africans who disappeared into the Muslim slave trade. Nor do they regularly condemn the slavery that persists in Africa. They’re silent as well about modern forms of slavery such as human trafficking, which even has been a serious problem in Jamaica.

Obviously, slavery does not seem to bother them as much as all their frothing would suggest. Why motivates them? Some are obviously racists. All are unreconstituted leftists: Slave reparations for them are simply a means through which they can achieve the Marxist redistribution of wealth they still dream about. In recent years, though, they’ve adopted a post-modern form of Marxism. Some call it “cultural Marxism.” In its lexicon, the villains are no longer capitalists and the bourgeoisie.

Now the villain is “white male privilege.”

“Africa underpins a modern experience of (white) British privilege,” asserted a positive review of “The Empire Pays Back” in The Guardian of London by Cambridge University senior lecturer Richard Drayton. The documentary was produced by Jamaica-born producer Robert Beckford, a lecturer in African Diaspora Religions and Cultures at England’s University of Birmingham.

Britain’s monstrous historical theft, of course, can be remedied by redistributing wealth from whites to the ancestors of black African slaves. “These (reparations) proposals are not intended to be divisive or confrontational, but rather form part of a process to heal the wounds of the past,” explained Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Stafford Neil, during Durban’s racism conference.

No matter that few if any whites are around anymore who have any connection whatsoever to the slave trade; yet they’re cast as oppressors because of their skin color. Reparation advocates also distort the realities of the ancient slave trade, says Ohio State University Professor Robert Davis. “We cannot think of slavery as something that only white people did to black people,” observed the author of “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). The book recounts how Muslim slavers off North Africa’s Barbary Coast enslaved one million or more white Europeans between 1530 and 1780 – a number greater than Africans enslaved during the same period. Why is the enslavement of white Europeans ignored? It fails to fit into the scholarship favored today – that history is all about European conquest and colonization, Davis observed.

Accordingly, Britain gets no credit for leading international efforts to end the profitable transatlantic slave trade – and even using its worships to stop it. Britain is portrayed in the worst light possible. Whatever it did, it was too little, too late. And reparations advocates who claim Britain's prosperity is founded upon slave labor overlook the obvious reasons for that prosperity: Political and economic life are organized around a democracy and free-markets. Dedicated leftist, of course, can be expected to overlook such things. And this includes Jamaica’s leftist rulers who ambivalently embrace free-markets and look for their inspiration to Cuba and Venezuela – two places where you won’t find any of the 2.6 million members of the Jamaican Diaspora living or even receiving any of that high-quality Cuban medical care.

If Jamaica hits the reparations jackpot, it may face a knotty question in respect to individual payouts: Many Jamaicans of African ancestry who have light complexions discriminate against those with darker complexions. This raises the question of whether individuals with darker complexions should receive the biggest payouts. Unfortunately, Jamaica has never attempted to eliminate its version of “Jim Crow” with the kinds of anti-discrimination policies and laws implemented decades ago in the United States.

Interestingly, the newspaper cheering on the reparations campaign often has a poisonous anti-American tone; yet The Observer is published by Gordon "Butch" Stewart – a white Jamaican who heads the Caribbean’s iconic Sandals and Beaches resorts. They depend on American tourism.

How Big A Payment?

The Observer’s article “Pay Us For Slave Labor” quoted New York University sociology Professor Dalton Conley as saying reparations in America would involve “transferring about 13 per cent of white household wealth to blacks,” giving an average two-adult black family about US$35,000. In Parliament, on the other hand, an Opposition member proposed a one-time payout of US$77.4 million for the island’s decaying and poorly performing primary and secondary schools. Jamaica’s Rex Nettleford, the former long-time vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, favors worldwide reparations along these lines.

During the United Nations General Assembly’s commemoration of the slave trade’s abolition on March 26, Nettleford said in his keynote address that reparations advocates weren't looking for a "handout." He nevertheless urged countries “enriched by the heinous crime of the slave trade” to make “serious investment” in the “countries that suffered, preferably through the education and preparation of their young to enable them to cope with the inheritance of a continuing unjust world.”

Nettleford is a darling of Jamaica’s ruling government and leftist intellectual class. However, popular radio show host Wilmut “Mutty” Perkins lampoons him as a pompous and verbose academic, completely out of touch with ordinary Jamaicans. Few are likely to have grasped his tortured and barely coherent speech in the General Assembly that was riddled with sentences like this:

“What we have learnt from history will have sharpened insights about ourselves in the process of cross-fertilization which is the great art of humankind’s ‘becoming’ out of the dynamism of the synthesizing of contradictions.”

During the nearly two years I lived in a middle-class neighborhood of Kingston, Nettleford was a familiar presence in the news media – ruminating on Washington’s malevolence and the Caribbean’s legacy of slavery and colonialism, which are among the most popular subjects at the University of the West Indies. What I best remember Nettleford for, however, is a comment he made to a well-regarded Jamaican journalist, who subsequently related Nettleford’s off-the-record remark to me: “It’s not that I hate white people, but I love black people.”

While Nettleford blames rich white nations for an “unjust” world, he overlooks the world created in Jamaica by his boosters in the ruling People’s National Party. Since Manley’s era, Jamaica’s political culture has been defined by politically aligned “garrison communities.” Gangland leaders or “dons” maintain Stalinist political conformity, deliver votes to local politicians, and serve as “community leaders.” They also oversee illegal activities such as the booming drug trade.

Six years ago, this Faustian arrangement was put in the public spotlight during the funeral of a “don” known as Willy Haggart. A big and gaudy event in the style of gangland funerals, it was held in the National Arena – traditionally a site for dignified state funerals. However, it was no ordinary gangland funeral: The orange colors of the People’s National Party were on display. And occupying front-row seats were three senior elected officials, the most prominent being Finance Minister Omar Davies and then Transport and Works Minister Peter Phillips, now minister of National Security. They were paying their respects because Haggart was an influential “community leader” in their districts. Davies remains finance minister in a country many outraged Jamaicans have begun to call a "failed state."

Declining Values

Apart from corrupt and irresponsible political leaders, there’s the issue of declining values over the years – what some Jamaicans describe as “downtown” values replacing “uptown” values. Conservatives, for instance, note that most births are now out-of-wedlock, with the rate having increased after Jamaica’s independence. Over the same period, Jamaica’s “dance hall” culture has become increasingly popular with its glorification of criminality, disrespect for women, and homophobia. Recently, a newspaper columnist observed that “the word ‘vulgar’ has all but disappeared from common parlance in Jamaica.” Clergymen complain of the low-life atmosphere at gangland funerals in which young women parade about in skimpy attire as politicians occupy front-row seats.

Most middle-class Jamaicans, who are a conservative bunch in respect to their values, are shocked and upset. But some members of the intellectual elite such as Carolyn Cooper, a lecturer and cultural expert at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, resolutely defend dancehall’s violence and hate-language. It merely reflects, she wrote, “the struggle of the celebrants in the dance to reclaim their humanity in circumstances of grave economic hardship that force the animal out of its lair.”

The world of Carolyn Cooper and others in Jamaica’s alienated intellectual class is a world apart from ordinary middle-class Jamaicans. Members of the well-connected elite have secure jobs in government, politics, and maybe the private sector. Conversely, members of the middle-class worry about unemployment, violent crime, or whether their remittance checks will arrive on time. Remittances are Jamaica’s No. 2 source of income after tourism.

Most middle-class Jamaicans look to the West for inspiration and identity – not to Africa or Cuba or Venezuela. They prefer Western-style clothing and give their kids English names, while many members of the leftist elite – including Cooper and Nettleford – dress up in African-style garb. And while academics like Cooper and Nettleford regard themselves as former slaves and members of a persecuted racial group, most middle-class Jamaicans regard themselves as individuals.

The blame-it-on-slavery argument becomes even more absurd when Jamaica’s dysfunction is contrasted against the prosperity enjoyed in The Bahamas. A former British colony, it also has a legacy of slavery. Yet it has no crippling debt, no history of serious political violence, and no serious crime. It has one of the region's highest per capita incomes of $19,000 – nearly five times more than Jamaica's. Credit agencies like Standard & Poor’s give The Bahamas stellar marks. There is no Bahamian Diaspora.

Why is The Bahamas a success? Its political leaders and voters look forward, not backward. They unashamedly look to America as an example, and have embraced business-friendly policies and a low-tax free-market philosophy. Recently, the “darker” and more left-leaning ruling party suffered a stunning election defeat, despite having presided over an expanding economy and unprecedented development boom. Good management and honesty in government – not race – were the main issues in the election campaign.

In The Bahamas, the bicentennial of the slave trade's abolition got circumspect coverage in local papers, and it was consigned to the inside pages. In Jamaica, in contrast, The Observer ran a chest-thumping front-page article in which Prime Minister Simpson Miller paid lip service to reparations and told school children to honor their slave ancestors by respecting one another. "My request for honoring them is that for every child that is raped and is left to soak in the rapist's semen and her own blood, you are perpetuating, Mr. Rapist, the action of the slave master."

And so, then, Jamaica’s political leaders have a new scapegoat: Black people are poor because white people are rich. Slave reparations will remedy this. Ultimately, though, it’s an argument that’s likely to produce only more dysfunction in Jamaica, along with a new generation of angry Jamaicans. And this will be a problem for countries to which increasing numbers of Jamaicans will immigrate: Violent gangs with Jamaican origins have over the years established stakes in America, Canada and Britain.

Criminality aside, an odd fact has emerged in respect to Jamaica since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. In varying degrees, the overwhelmingly Christian nation has had ties to at least five of six terror plots and attacks with connections to the Caribbean. The deadliest was London’s suicide-bomb attacks nearly two years ago; they killed 52 commuters and wounded about 700. The deadliest bomber of was Jamaica-born Germaine Lindsay, a 19-year-old Muslim convert.

Jamaica’s links to these plots and attacks was first observed by The Big Carnival blog. Later, Diane Abbott, a long-time member of the British Labor Party’s radical fringe, echoed her concerns in a newspaper column that referred to an ongoing trend of young black men converting to Islam and taking up jihad. “These young men obviously need something to believe in. And radical Islam gives them this,” wrote the British-born daughter of Jamaican immigrants in The Observer.

Abbott never considered that these young men might have been primed by the anti-American and anti-Western worldview spewed by the intellectual elite in Jamaica and Britain. Perhaps it’s time that Jamaica's political leaders adopted a forward-looking worldview and lived up to their country’s motto: “Out of Many, One People.”

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