The absence of coverage of the event in traditional U.S. media is no surprise. I assiduously follow Mottley on social media, so I saw the announcement when it was made in Caribbean news outlets.
As Barbados Today reported on Monday:
Don Rojas, the Vincentian-born Director of Communications and International Relations for the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW)[ …] and a former press secretary for slain Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, said Mottley will join President of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in addressing the conference, which is organised around the theme, “Global Africans Rising, Empowerment Reparations and Healing.”
IBW said Mottley has emerged as “a major figure in the Caribbean advocating for stronger ties with the African Union and a global emphasis on reparatory justice with Africa playing a more active role.”
The Jamaica Observer had the same wire report.
“Once Vice-President Francia Marquez from Colombia confirms, we will have a formidable trio of leaders embracing the cause of reparatory justice as the ‘human rights issue of the 21st Century’, as proclaimed by Professor Hilary Beckles (vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies),” Daniels added.
I was not surprised that an invitation was tendered to the newly elected Black vice president of Colombia, Francia Márquez. Jesús Rodríguez interviewed Márquez for Politico in January and she plainly expressed her position on reparations.
After a career as a social activist for Afro-Colombians and climate justice, Francia Márquez Mina decided to run for the vice presidency — and won. Her next goal: getting global superpowers to pay reparations.
RODRIGUEZ: There was a lot of chatter in the United States, around 2019 and 2020, about the topic of reparations for African Americans descended from enslaved ancestors. But many non-Black Americans have allowed the conversation to fall by the wayside (though some local initiatives have moved forward). How do you keep that conversation alive?
MÁRQUEZ: Given that we’ve seen so many acts of violence in the United States against Black people, such as with George Floyd and so many others who have died at the hands of police violence or racism, I think it’s an issue that should be top of mind. Sometimes it comes up as a trending topic, but then it becomes muted, and it’s hard [to keep it alive] if there’s no political will from the government to acknowledge and move policies forward with concrete actionable steps.
From Colombia, we’ve put forth these discussions on the global agenda, and we hope that the United States and other countries will join in that fight so that we’ll be able to achieve a solution. … Now, reparations doesn’t mean, as many who oppose them have claimed, that people have to take money out of their pockets to give it back to those who have suffered. It means that the state will take up a set of transformational policies that will lift up these communities that have lived through a history of violence.
RELATED STORY: We should be discussing reparations for slavery. Beware those with a right-wing agenda
Hazel Trice Edney, editor in chief of the Black-centered Trice Edney News Wire, also reported on The State of the Black World Conference. She spoke with Dr. Ron Daniels, president/CEO of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW21), the organization that is hosting the event.
This will be the fifth State of the Black World Conference, but this one – to be held at the Baltimore Convention Center – will be the first with such broad reach, he said. Key highlights include:
- Ghana President Nana Addo Danka Akufo-Addo; Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley; Former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson; and Grenada Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell are among top level international leaders expected to interface with academics, activists U. S. Black leaders.
- A national and international town hall meeting will focus on building the U. S. and Global Reparations Movements.
- There will be a special tribute to Maurice Bishop, the assassinated leader of the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada. Grenada Prime Minister Dikon Mitchell has been invited to lead that tribute.
- National Urban League President Marc Morial will host a global Black leadership summit, reflecting on the approximate 100 days since the 118th Congress has been dominated by Republicans in the House of Representatives.
- Black Women’s Roundtable Convenor Melanie Campbell, president/CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, will co-facilitate a global Black women’s summit breakfast along with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who is the current lead sponsor of HR40, the reparations bill. The honored guest will be Colombian Vice President Francia Marquez.
- DaQuan Lawrence, a Graduate student in African Studies at Howard University, will be in charge of outreach to university/college students and community based young leaders.
- The event will close with a keynote speech and final charge by Dr. Julius Garvey, Global Pan African advocate/leader, the son of Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr., the famous activist, orator and author.
Registration information and more about the conference can be found here.
In the Caribbean, reparations conversations have often focused on Haiti given its current poverty, and the enormous price Haitians had to pay to France for their freedom from enslavement. Last year there was an in-depth take on this ugly history in The New York Times from the writing team of Catherine Porter, Constant Méheut, Matt Apuzzo and Selam Gebrekidan.
The New York Times spent months sifting through thousands of pages of original government documents, some of them centuries old and rarely, if ever, reviewed by historians. We scoured libraries and archives in Haiti, France and the United States to study the double debt and its effect on Haiti, financially and politically.
In what leading historians say is a first, we tabulated how much money Haitians paid to the families of their former masters and to the French banks and investors who held that first loan to Haiti, not just in official government payments on the double debt but also in interest and late fees, year after year, for decades.
We found that Haitians paid about $560 million in today’s dollars. But that doesn’t nearly capture the true loss. If that money had simply stayed in the Haitian economy and grown at the nation’s actual pace over the last two centuries — rather than being shipped off to France, without any goods or services being provided in return — it would have added a staggering $21 billion to Haiti over time, even accounting for its notorious corruption and waste.
For perspective, that’s much bigger than Haiti’s entire economy in 2020.
Check out this two-minute AJ+ recap of the sordid story:
Often overlooked in the reparations discussion are the French Departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe. There are not many articles in English about either of them; however, journalist Maddy Crowell’s 2018 story for The Atlantic is still relevant. Much like in Haiti, it was slaveholders who got the reparations, not the people who were formally enslaved.
A memorial for the slaves of Guadeloupe has become a flashpoint for still-unresolved social and economic grievances.
Not unlike Puerto Rico for America or Anguilla for Britain, Guadeloupe is France’s modern colonial problem. Guadeloupeans have French passports, can travel freely within the European Union, and can vote in French elections. (In the last presidential election, Guadeloupe’s abstention rates were higher than 60 percent.) Outside of the classroom and outside of the cities, Creole is the unofficial language. Guadeloupeans follow the French legal and political system; in school, they learn from the same curriculum as students in mainland France.
But few in Guadeloupe enjoy a quality of life comparable to that of mainland France. Although Guadeloupe receives 972 million euros from the EU each year, its youth-unemployment rate has hovered around 50 percent for decades. Much of the local economy is still controlled by békés, [descendants] of white French slave owners who received reparations from the French government after 1848 after losing their livelihoods.
The discontent black Guadeloupeans feel towards France dates back to the 1950s. In those years, a number of black Guadeloupeans, Martiniqueans, and French Guianans, emigrated to mainland France in search of work. But many returned home, disenchanted by the lack of opportunity. At the same time, violent anti-French separatist groups began to form, headquartering in Guadeloupe. Support for them grew through the 1960s and 1970s. Spray-painted local Creole slogans like “French Assassins” and “Frenchmen Out” appeared in Pointe-a-Pitre. In 1980, after setting off 15 bombs over nine months, the Guadeloupe Liberation Army issued a warning to all white French people on the island to “pack their bags and leave.” The French government began to panic, and enforced new laws for all its départements: Anyone who threatened the “territorial integrity” of France was subject to arrest. Undercover police began heavily surveilling suspected activists, forcing many into exile.
Meanwhile, reparations issues for former British Caribbean colonies have also been in the news, with a focus on former slaveholder families, most recently the Trevelyan family.
‘My forefathers did something horribly wrong’: British slave owners’ family to apologise and pay reparations
The Trevelyans were shocked to see their name in a slavery database and a journey to Grenada confirmed the continuing impact of their grim history
An aristocratic British family is to make history by travelling to the Caribbean and publicly apologising for its ownership of more than 1,000 enslaved Africans. The Trevelyan family, which has many notable ancestors, is also paying reparations to the people of Grenada, where it owned six sugar plantations.
Last weekend, the family met online and agreed to sign a letter of apology for its enslavement of captive Africans. Forty-two members of the family have so far signed and more signatures are expected.
In 1835, the Trevelyan family received £26,898, a huge sum at the time, in compensation from the British government for the abolition of slavery a year earlier. The enslaved men, women and children received nothing and were forced to work a further eight years unpaid as “apprentices”.
This four-minute clip from BBC tackles the issue and features BBC reporter and Trevelyan descendant Laura Trevelyan, who made the initial donation to begin the process.
In November 2022, Bajans made British Member of Parliament Richard Drax the first slaveholder descendant targeted for reparations.
The government of Barbados is considering plans to make a wealthy Conservative MP the first individual to pay reparations for his ancestor’s pivotal role in slavery.
The Drax family pioneered the plantation system in the 17th century and played a major role in the development of sugar and slavery across the Caribbean and the US.
Countries in the Caribbean community (Caricom) have been campaigning for the payment of reparations by former colonial powers and institutions which profited from slavery. This is the first time a family has been singled out.
Among the plans being considered are that 17th-century Drax Hall is turned into an Afro-centric museum and that a large portion of the plantation is used for social housing for low-income Bajan families. There is also a recommendation that Richard Drax pays for some of the work.
Said David Comissiong, who is Barbados’ CARICOM ambassador:
“Drax is fabulously wealthy today. The Drax family is the central family in the whole story of enslavement in Barbados. They are the architects of slavery-based sugar production. They have a deep historical responsibility. The process has only just begun and we trust that we will be able to negotiate. If that doesn’t work, there are other methods, including litigation.
“Other families are involved, though not as prominently as the Draxes. This reparations journey has begun. The matter is now for the cabinet of Barbados. It is in motion. It is being dealt with.”
RELATED STORY: Caribbean Matters: Reparations for slavery movement targets Conservative British MP Richard Drax
Discussing reparations can make some white people uncomfortable, or even angry; they feel they had nothing to do with slavery or its lingering impact in today’s world. Many reject the concept outright. Pew Research has collected some data on responses here in the U.S.
This was not a survey of Caribbean residents or of the nations that enslaved them, but I think it likely reflects an overall picture of racial attitudes, both for and against, in both groups of nations.
Join me in the comments to discuss, and for the weekly Caribbean News Roundup.
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