International Day for Reparations is marked on 12 October. What does that mean for us in the Caribbean, the birthplace of the triangular slave trade? In an era of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are presented with an opportune moment to further examine this contentious issue in a special one-on-one conversation with Sir Hilary Beckles, chaired by Andy Knight.
Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the Caricom Reparations Commission and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, is advocating a high level Caribbean reparations summit geared to turn European and British apology into solid action. On Sunday 11 October at 11am, we hosted a one-on-one online conversation with Sir Hilary via Youtube and Facebook.
Andy Knight, former director of the Institute of International Relations at the UWI St Augustine campus, will engage Sir Hilary on the subject. According to Knight, “The George Floyd Moment”, displayed on television for all the world to see, was a 21st century ‘lynching’ of a 46-year-old black man by four Minneapolis police officers. As Floyd begged for his life, one white police officer knelt callously on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. That grown black man called out for his mother (who had died two years earlier), repeating the phrase “I can’t breathe” – which has now become a familiar refrain not only in the United States but all over the globe; representing the asphyxiation of opportunities that black people around the world have had to endure for over 400 years.”
Prof. Knight believes that Caribbean people are misguided in thinking that events such as the Floyd murder do not relate to us in this region. He continues, “Sir Hilary Beckles in his excruciatingly detailed empirical study, ‘The First Black Slave Society’ connects the dots for us between the ‘Black Slave Code’ of the 17th century which legalized “whiteness” and the ideology of white supremacy which has endured to the present day, perpetuating structural and systemic racism and global apartheid. Unless we understand how that history of slavery has led to our modern day discriminatory and segregationist thoughts and practices, we will fail to confront adequately the foundations of anti-black racism or to make a convincing case for reparatory justice. Beckles in his research and writing uncovers that systemic barbarism of the British colonial slavery project and, combined with his advocacy, helps us make a solid case for reparations.”
“The notion of Reparations divides people because we all have different ideas of what it might actually mean,” says Marina Salandy-Brown, founder and director of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. “However, most Caribbean people recognise the harmful legacy of colonialism; we live with its effects in every aspect of our lives, and as everyone agreed in our recent, very popular festival panel discussion on Caribbean leadership, our post-colonial leaders and citizens are not winning in our struggle to sort out the mess.”
This discussion on reparations is one of the Big Idea talking points the NGC Bocas Lit Fest has been offering during 2020 to marking our 10 year anniversary.