Has the time now come for serious discussion about reparations?
Certainly former Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez feels the question should be raised.
Angered by Brent Symonette’s comments about race in The Bahamas, Mr Gomez put the matter squarely back on the abuses suffered by the ancestors of black Bahamians – and said that there is a need to talk about race in The Bahamas, but that we should be talking about reparations.
Reparations is a perennially thorny issue, and one that has surfaced again in recent times internationally.
In the US, the discussion has renewed after scholar Ta-Nehisi Coates testified before Congress on the issue. It’s become a talking point in the Democratic candidate race too, but will it ever be more than a talking point?
During the last PLP government, a committee of no less than 22 people was formed to explore the issue of reparations. There were pastors and businessmen, journalists and poets, historians and educators. An action plan was promised – and the Bahamian government endorsed a ten-point plan in 2014 with CARICOM heads of government to seek a formal apology, some form of debt cancellation and reparations from former colonisers such as Britain, France and The Netherlands. Little has been heard since. That seems to perpetually be the case when the topic comes around.
Committees form. People talk. Nothing happens.
There are practical concerns of course as to how reparations should work. Who should pay for the harm caused by racial subjugation of the past – and who should be compensated? For example, while Britain might be held to account for those subjected to slavery under its watch, what of the 7,000 or so slaves freed by the Royal Navy from slave ships intercepting the trade in the 19th century who were resettled in The Bahamas? Who is to account for those reparations?
It’s complex – and anyone holding out for their share of land or their lump sum of cash is more than likely to be left waiting. And waiting.
Are there better ways to benefit descendants of slaves? Britain might well be seeking new trade discussions if Brexit goes ahead – could such debate be part of that? Package benefits for Bahamians such as agreements on education in the UK, or investment into the country in health or schools that will benefit future generations. Perhaps seeking more tangible benefits that will help people to thrive and use that to close off the past is the way – rather than another round of meetings that go nowhere.
The slave trade was absolutely an injustice, and injustices should be paid for – the question is not whether such reparations are deserved, the questions is what is the best way to deliver to lift the descendants of slaves as a whole?
We’d love to think there is a chance of real progress on the issue – but experience shows that is less than likely.
The faces of tragedy
The pictures told the story. As each of the victims of the fatal helicopter crash in Abaco was identified, so too did we see the pictures of the youngest to have lost their lives.
Vibrant photos of young people doing what they should – enjoying their lives and living it to the fullest. Filled with laughter, having fun – it makes the disaster all the worse. They had everything to live for, the world at their feet – and instead it was all snatched away in a horrific moment.
Our hearts go out to the families of the victims. No one should have to suffer such a loss, and for so many families to do so is truly a tragedy.