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.
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.