Written by: Steph Hernandez
So today I read an article from Aljazeera America regarding 14 Caribbean nations bringing a lawsuit against France, The Netherlands and Britain for their roles in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
It was announced last Friday 27th Sept at the United Nations General Assembly that… “The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity – a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean – ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples… The European nations must partner in a focused, especial way with us to execute this repairing.” said Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves.
These CARICOM nations have a huge battle on their hands taking on these European nations. However, will their endeavours prove futile?
I’m asking a very valid question here playing devil’s advocate and as a Caribbean daughter currently living in the UK who explored the legacy of colonialism in my Literature and Sociology degree and final year thesis – ‘The Presence and Absence of African Women in Literature’.
I’ve seen and experienced much of the colonial legacy both in the UK and in the Caribbean… racism, colourism – a good description HERE, economic deprivation, “mental slavery” (think Bob Marley lyrics/ Marcus Garvey – Black Star Liner movement and escaping this) and other socio-economic/ political disadvantages.
The Post-colonial theory and theorists highlight much of the colonial and imperialism legacy discourses which have affected us and our Diaspora, and analysing how we can progress. Some of the issues discussed through these colonial discourses would be for example: loss of cultural identity e.g. loss of mother languages, religion, heritage etc; economic standing; social structure etc…
Michel Foucault, a key French philosopher and discourse thinker believed that the relationship between power and knowledge are used as a form of social control through societal institutions. Enter “Colonialism”/ “Imperialism”!
Martinique-born writer and philosopher Frantz Fanon, a staunch anti-colonialist who was influenced by Marxism and other notable thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Aimé Césaire, explores racism and dehumanisation as part of colonialism in his book ‘Black Skin, White Masks’. He uses psychoanalytic theory to analyse and explain the notions of dependency as well as inadequacies people of colour endure in a “white” society, due to the colonial effects.
If you get a chance, please read the award-winning Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s play, ‘Things Fall Apart’, which delves into repairing some of the effects of colonialism on how Africans were depicted.
So with the Post Colonial theories explained… let me take you back a bit to the most successful slave revolt in history – the Haitian Revolution… I obviously learnt about the Haitian Revolution and Toussaint L’Ouverture as a schoolchild in the Caribbean, though not in the UK. I wonder why?!… think what Fanon and Sartre said…
However, something I learnt a couple years ago after watching a documentary by well-known African-American cultural writer and educator, Henry Louis Gates Jr.; was that Haiti had to pay reparation money to France in 1825 for their freedom as loss of wealth from slavery. You should have heard the cuss words that came out of my mouth on hearing the sum of 150 million Francs, even my ancestors would have flew out the graves to slap me on my language!
View the Henry Louis Gates documentary HERE
No bloody wonder Haiti is one of the most deprived nations on the planet! All in the original name of freedom from slavery and this is what their legacy is in return. It sickens me to my core, to say the least! Do you know what this figure is in today’s money? Try this for a number… £19,241,354.67 GBP. And that was meant to be repaid over 5 years. And the funny thing is that Haiti had to take a loan from their colonial masters of 30 million Francs to even make the very 1st payment! *more expletives under my breath*…
So now back to my original question at the start of my blog… Do the CARICOM nations have a huge battle on their hands taking on these European nations? Will their endeavours prove futile in gaining reparation? My reply is…. Hmmmmm…
Why?! Well, when certain countries sit on the globalised seats of power and wealth, the rest of the world doesn’t stand much of a chance. Also, many of these Caribbean nations (if not all) are completely reliant on hand-outs/ bail-outs, exports/ imports from their former colonial masters; and funds from the World Bank (guess who sits at that board table?!) who continuously describe us as “developing” countries. Say no more…
It’s quite ironic though that the 14 Caribbean nations have employed the services of British law firm Leigh Day, who had a successful win of $21.5 million on behalf of hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government as they fought for their country’s liberation during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Martyn Day, a lawyer at the firm, states in The Associated Press in back in July… “I think they would undoubtedly want to try and see if this can be resolved amicably… But I think the reason they have hired us is that they want to show that they mean business.”
Well I for one will observe how this plays out, and what sum of reparations they are seeking and how it will be spent if they win. However, I think it should all start with a global apology from those European nations for their roles in the Slave Trade. This has never happened.
However, an even greater and more effective form is for the African Diaspora to forgive, heal and progress its mental and spiritual self on the road to REAL emancipation and a legacy of development, lead by ourselves.