Editorial — 10 August 2019
University of Glasgow reparations – truth and justice

The University of Glasgow, in Scotland, must be congratulated for acknowledging the debt the Europeans owe to the African slaves of the Caribbean. It was on the backs of slaves and from the rape of the resources of Africa and the Americas that the Europeans got most of the capital to build their great economic success story.

Last year, on November 25, 2018, the Jamaica Gleaner (online) said that UWI Vice Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles, had reported that a United Kingdom university, the University of Glasgow, recognizing “that Jamaican slave owners had adopted the University of Glasgow as their university of choice and that £200 million of value was extracted from Jamaica and the Caribbean,” was planning to make reparations.

A few days ago it was announced that the university had committed to pay 20 million pounds in reparations for slavery.  Emily Woods, in the story “Glasgow University commits to ‘historic’ £20m slave trade reparations deal”, in the magazine Holyrood (online at holyrood.com), said that in 2016 the university acknowledged that it “received some gifts and bequests from persons who may have benefitted from the proceeds of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries and formed the History of Slavery Steering Committee, which produced a 2018 report with recommendations.”

Committing to pay 20 million pounds in reparations completely overrides the university’s hedging about the source of the funding it received in the past, so we don’t have to withhold on declaring that the university is deserving of praise for its honor, and its respect for truth. This commitment represents a drop in the bucket compared to the full value of the wealth the Europeans extracted from the labor of the slaves, but its symbolic worth is immense.

It is not likely that many other parties that benefited from the slave trade and slavery will be honorable, like the University of Glasgow, and jump in line to pay their share of reparations. The Europeans have many arguments against reparations, most of them racist or ignorant. But there is one reality they cannot escape, and that is that the Europeans used the labor of the slaves, and the natural resources of Africa and the Americas, to build their countries.

It is from this wealth that they found the resources to pay for the research that led to the combustion engine, the light bulb, the telephone, and other developments. The call for reparations is about truth and justice, not revenge. The call for reparations is about helping the nations that had their resources sucked out; it’s about accessing some capital to invest in their development. As Sir Hilary Beckles said last year, “We are not on the street corners asking for handouts. We are looking for partnerships and development.”

The 20 million pounds could never cover the past debt, but the symbolism is significant: it will reverberate in every corner of the European world where there are people who still feel that their success and dominance derive from congenital intellectual superiority over people of color. That is a complete untruth.

All the races of the earth have contributed to the advancement of mankind. Civilization did not begin with Greece. There were great civilizations in China, and India, and Egypt, and Arabia, and Mali, and Ghana, and Zimbabwe, and Mexico, and Central America, and Peru.

A prominent British historian, Dr. Hakim Adi, in an online story at www.bbc.co.uk, “Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade”, said that there are strong arguments that Africa’s economic and social development was ahead of Europe’s before 1500, and that it was “gold from the great empires of West Africa, Ghana, Mali and Songhay that provided the means for the economic take-off of Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries…”

The peoples of Asia, in China and Japan, weren’t victimized by slavery or genocide, nor were their material resources stolen, so they were poised to take advantage of the technological developments that had slave labor as their source, and the rape of Africa and the Americas.

If we took the vast wealth the Europeans accumulated during slavery and their invasions of Africa and America, and today handed that wealth over to the peoples of the countries of Africa and Indigenous America, the growth we would see in African and Indigenous economies wouldn’t stop, though that growth would surely be more considerate of the environment.

The idea of reparations for the wrongs the Europeans did to the children of Africa is not new. Don Rojas, a celebrated West Indian journalist, intellectual and business executive, in an online story at ibw21.org, traces its roots to the great early twentieth-century liberator of the children of Africa in the New World, Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

In his presentation on August 21, 2017, “Reparations and the Legacy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey”, which he delivered at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit, Michigan, on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the birth of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, on August 17, 2017, Rojas said that at its height, Garvey’s movement — the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), “had over 3 million dues-paying members, with chapters all across the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Central America.”

Rojas said The Negro World, the UNIA’s newspaper, had a “weekly circulation of over a half million copies at its peak”, more than all the “other important black newspapers of the time combined”, and that he had a following that included “Elijah Poole, who later became the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam”, and the parents of Malcolm X.  Malcolm’s father headed a chapter of the UNIA, and his mother “was a regular correspondent for the Negro World.”

Rojas said: “Close to 100 years ago, Marcus Garvey argued the case for reparations for the crimes of slavery and colonialism when he said back in 1919…’We are asking that you hand back to us ‘our own civilization’. Hand back to us that which you have robbed and exploited us of in the name of God and Christianity for the last 500 years.'”

Under the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, slave owners in British colonies were granted 20 million pounds for losing their slaves when they were emancipated, but the slaves themselves, the victims of the institution, didn’t get anything.

According to sources on a Wikipedia page on the topic (49 citations), Guyanese president, Bharrat Jagdeo, told the European nations in 2007, “Although some members of the international community have recognized their active role in this despicable system, they need to go (a) step further and support reparations.” The Guyanese parliament set up a reparations committee in 2014 to further this cause.

It is also stated on that Wikipedia page that Antigua and Barbuda called for reparations at the UN in 2011, and that in 2016 that country’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, called on Harvard University “to demonstrate its remorse and its debt to unnamed slaves from Antigua and Barbuda.”

“In 2012, Jamaica revived its reparations commission … to consider the question of whether the country should seek an apology or reparations from Britain for its role in the slave trade … Also in 2012, the Barbados government established a twelve-member Reparations Task Force, to be responsible for sustaining the local, regional and international momentum for reparations … In 2013, Sir Hilary Beckles, in the first of a series of lectures in Georgetown, Guyana, ‘urged Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to emulate the position adopted by the Jews who were persecuted during the Second World War and have since organized a Jewish reparations fund,'” stated one section of Wikipedia.

Today, we say thanks to the University of Glasgow, for showing respect to us, and for telling the truth to those Europeans in denial, and for agreeing to be a partner in our future growth. As Sir Hilary Beckles said, reparations payment is not about handouts:  “We are looking for partnerships and development.”

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Deshawn Swasey

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