There are times you look at the headlines in a newspaper and you see something that makes you say to yourself: “He said that?”
I am referring specifically, this time, to seeing a headline in one of the Jamaican papers that said that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, told Jamaicans and others in the Caribbean to “move on”.
Cameron was essentially responding to the demand for reparations for the transatlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism.
So, thank goodness for the Internet, I sought out the text of Cameron’s speech to the Jamaican Parliament, an honour that the Government of Jamaica bestowed on the UK Prime Minister in which the said Cameron used to deliver his insult.
And there it was, in the text of his speech, the words that should not have been said.
“That the Caribbean has emerged from the long, dark shadow it (slavery) cast is testament to the resilience and spirit of its people. I acknowledge that these wounds run very deep indeed. But I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future.”
The visual that enters my mind’s eye is one of this White man patting the head of a Black child: “There, there…now let’s move on, shall we?”
You would think that at this level, and in these times, the speech writers would have been a bit more careful about how they write these things…the language that is used, to ensure that the gross paternalism that lies herein are dispensed with. Not so.
But then again, if you want a message sent clearly, what better way to send it. If Cameron had said: “Look, we all agree that slavery was a bad period. And yes, we in the UK got wealthy from it. But, you know what? Forget about reparations. It’s not going to happen.” The message would be clear and probably less insulting. At least we would know where we stood.
As an aside, last week I talked in part about Stephen Harper’s “old stock Canadians” remark. Clearly this was a signal that Harper believes there are at least two kinds of Canadians – those who are White and those who are not. The latter includes First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
The similarities between the essences of the languages these two Conservative prime ministers use should not be ignored. Indeed, it is not unlike the language and essence of the leading Republican presidential candidates in the United States.
In advance of Cameron’s visit, Sir Hilary Beckles, the well-known and well-respected Barbadian historian and the Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission wrote, in an open letter to Cameron, “You owe it to us as you return here to communicate a commitment to reparatory justice that will enable your nation to play its part in cleaning up this monumental mess of Empire.”
The letter continues: “We ask not for handouts or any such acts of indecent submission. We merely ask that you acknowledge responsibility for your share of this situation and move to contribute in a joint programme of rehabilitation and renewal.”
Cameron’s answer, as you have no doubt heard by now, was to pledge an aid package to the Caribbean nations that include the building of a new jail in Jamaica.
Here again, Cameron demonstrated his lack of sensitivity. The common answer many of these northern countries have to Black activism to generations of racism and racial discrimination is to put such activists and others caught in this maelstrom in jail.
Governments, I suppose, have to act with a certain amount of caution. This is true certainly of the Caribbean nations that, under CARICOM, have committed to seeking reparations, especially from the UK. Nevertheless, it would, I believe, be a consolidating move should Jamaica, for one, move up its schedule to declare itself a republic as a way of distancing itself from this paternalistic enclosure and push on ahead with its and the Caribbean’s reparations-seeking agenda. It certainly would be an appropriate response to the insult and, indeed, decline the “aid” that has been offered. Unfortunately, the decline of the aid will not happen and planning is underway to begin the jail-building process.
It should be noted that in the same speech, Cameron, in his offer of this package, noted: “Let me be clear. This £300 million is not soft loans. Not tied aid. It is cash grants. It is up to you in this room and in the region to decide how best to spend it on the things that your country needs most.”
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