Are Reparations the Path out of Colonization?

Members of the "From Colonization to Reparations" panel. From left to right: Jean-Jacob Bicep, the interpreter and Mireille Fanon-Mendès

Members of the “From Colonization to Reparations” panel. From left to right: Jean-Jacob Bicep, the interpreter and Mireille Fanon-Mendès

Day three of the World Social Forum gave us the opportunity to participate in a meaningful discussion about colonization and reparations hosted by the Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires de France (Representative Council of Black French Associations, or CRAN) and the Fondation Frantz Fanon (Frantz Fanon Foundation). While many of the panel and audience members were native French speakers – from France, Tunisia, Algeria, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Quebec, Canada – the Forum had a translator who helped break down the language barrier and enabled us to participate fully. Engaging with people throughout the diaspora about colonialism is helpful to our grassroots organizing in the United States because it showed us that there are international successes and obstacles that we can learn from.

In the United States, the conversation about reparations is often talked about in terms of forty acres and a mule — a historical promise that was never kept. Unfortunately we rarely think about how reparations can be considered an achievable, present day solution to the lasting effects of slavery and segregation. This belief is challenged by the work of Jean-Jacob Bicep, an European Parliament deputy representing Guadeloupe. He talked about how when he first became a deputy, he was astonished by the fact that there was no official recognition of slavery and colonization. He worked with other members to draft and propose an official recognition of these institutions to the European Union. Even though he found it was more difficult to get other members to sign onto a proposition that included the word “reparations,” the publicity has helped build support for reparations. The discussion helped remind us that reparations have been given to groups that have suffered unlawful seizure of their property in the past, such as Japanese Americans and Holocaust survivors and their descendents. It is not outrageous for Black people across the diaspora to demand a similar response.

Jean-Jacob Bicep discusses his role in the European Parliament and how he is working to provide reparations to Guadeloupe.

Jean-Jacob Bicep discusses his role in the European Parliament and how he is working to provide reparations to Guadeloupe.

The conversation led us to think about why reparations are needed in the first place. Colonization and slavery are two institutions that were necessitated by capitalism, which continues to marginalize Black people in new manifestations — mass-incarceration, police brutality, unequal access to healthcare and inadequate public education. Through the conversation it became increasingly clear that, while reparations are not the only solution to these problems, they are essential in helping our communities combat the historical and continued effects of slavery and colonialism. Participants in the discussion also agreed more deliberation was needed to decide how reparations could be organized and distributed institutionally through policies and practices that provided resources for the development of Black communities throughout the diaspora.

Lastly, the group kept returning to the importance of education in creating an effective campaign for reparations. One impressive challenge organizers for reparations face is that Africans and those in the diaspora have been educated within a system which trains us to think about the conditions of our communities as required or deserved. Some of us continue to have very negative feelings about other members of our communities or do not consider ourselves to be Black or people of African descent. For example, the American education system does not teach African Americans to think about the experiences of Tunisians, Ghanaians or the Sudanese as having any similarities to their own. If we can begin building an education that is inclusive and outside of the current systems of “mental slavery,” we can demand reparations for our historic marginalization.

What do you think about the idea of reparations? How do you think our communities can elevate the topic of reparations from a historical ideal to a present day reality? Let us know in our comments, on Facebook and on Twitter.

by Vedan

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7 Comments

  1. Odia Barker

     /  March 31, 2013

    Discussions of colonization and slavery reparations trigger negative reactions from everyone especially from white people. There is an immediate resistance and distancing from accountability. The automatic defensiveness and presumption of unfairness is upsetting. It’s interesting too because almost everyone will agree that slavery was heinous and ultimately wrong but in terms of agreeing to recompense the atrocities of slavery there is opposition. By agreeing to pay reparations essentially means admitting and accepting responsibility for slavery. Although colonization and slavery reparations are long overdue and just, I can’t shake feelings of indifference. My indifference stems from feelings of resentment because it feels like we (people of color) are asking for charity which I think contribute to the apathetic attitudes of people of color and their participation in the movement. Asking for reparations in itself is demeaning because people of color shouldn’t have to ask for what is owed to them in exchange for years of exploitation of our ancestor’s labor. The act of asking reveals racial and power inequities. The fact that we are still negotiating is a clear indication of the devaluation of blackness. What is it about people of color that is not deserving of restitution? Why must we have to fight and provide reasoning for reparations? I think acknowledging and discussing the feelings that reparations evoke among people of color will validate our feelings of resentment and indifference. It will also equip us in handling these often volatile conversations and inspire us to assist in demanding colonization and slavery reparations.

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  2. Wren

     /  April 7, 2013

    When two gubernatorial candidates sought to disenfranchise Black voters in 1906, Black Atlantans protested and were met with vicious violence that ended in dozens of deaths in the Black community. Coalitions like 1906atlantaraceriota.org fought to bring awareness to what is ambiguously named, if its named at all, The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906. I followed the challenges of that group to have the days in Atlanta history memoralized, a small but not insignificant step to recognition and education on our whole history – but even this small step was met with so much resistance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2UB3cJ-ht8May 2.

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  3. katharine corp

     /  April 7, 2013

    Until every decendent of those abused,violated,and oppressed,no longer suffer in the slightest,attempts at reparations must be made. Or do we as humans make practice of observing suffering,and carry on our way? In re:to reparations,it is one or the other. I myself am not comfortable knowing that others still suffer because of harm BROUGHT to them or their descendants,and without a place to heal or grieve. History is not truly history,as it is intrinsically part of

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  4. katharine corp

     /  April 7, 2013

    History is not just that,history. It is intrinsically attached to our today,so a part of our present. Therein is the suffering from past wrongs…the hurt still viable today. Aren’t we all responsible to eachother,all being human? Some of us having a better lot than others,could easily extend the self without losing a thing. I fully support an initiative of this nature. Singularly or as a group…it’s all over due. So much grief and suffering denied,it’s shameful…bless those who endure.

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  5. MICAHEL

     /  April 26, 2013

    I don’t see why one’s wants to monopolize this cause as one’s own. PLEASE, DON’T QUANTIFY anything, we are not in a store, wanting to get the price of something, this historic HOLOCAUST of black people is definitely a shame for ever and no reparation must be required but giving back the lands and freedom…

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  1. Are Reparations the Path out of Colonization? | Jean Jacob Bicep, député européen
  2. #GlobalSquare reports from the World Social Forum 2013 | 15M Barcelona Internacional

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