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posted 13 Dec 2013, 10:49 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 13 Dec 2013, 10:59 ]

Rawle Boland
I remember vividly my intro to the early demands for reparations for slavery, now viciously attacked from the honourable ranks of UWI’s self-styled public intellectuals (Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, Wednesday November 27).

The campaign for Mandela’s release was organised with Germanic precision. Members were allocated slots for vigils outside South Africa’s London Embassy, near, ironically, Nelson’s Trafalgar Square.

On a brutally cold morning, I wasn’t best pleased to be there for 3 a.m. sharp! Cursing the closet racists I rashly imagined were responsible, I stamped the frozen pavement, in vexation and a futile quest for warmth.

And then bam! In my 20/20 vision, bacchanal began. Worse, police were throwing colleagues, as QRC’s Peter Minshall famously once was, into a police van. At its door stood a man, as Peter did heroically, calmly interceding with the bemused Bobbies, for their cat-straddled irritants.

Lord Anthony Gifford

And then it hit me! As suddenly as I had figured, on an earlier occasion, that the strange white man hollering me, pleasantly, at London’s Holborn Station was Peter, my old school colleague, I realised that this other white man by the Trafalgar van was Lord Gifford, QC, of whose massive reputation as an international human rights barrister, I knew. This seemed particularly amazing, given his ancient aristocratic ancestry.


And then I stood and wondered! If Lord Gifford could be doing his bit, freely, in the cold, what was my complaint? After all, campaigning for a black apartheid prisoner was obligatory on me, not the likes of Lord Gifford, I reasoned irrationally.


And then I met the good Lord! By the usual happenstance, this was through mutual friends, Richard “Dick” Hart, the renowned lawyer and historian, and Chris “Cleston” Taylor, a successful north London builder. Both had sharpened their political teeth with Norman Manley on Jamaican anti-colonialism.


Thereafter, it was no more Lord Gifford, two bags full Sir; it was Tony. This was encouraged by his endearing habit of sitting on the floor, when there wasn’t a spare chair, wherever. Of course, his kind invitation to accompany him to the Old Bailey, dictated the resumption of the usual “Sirvice” and formalities.


In his passion to right wrongs to the Third World and its peoples universally, reparations for slavery was his priority in university lectures and elsewhere. With me, it was preaching to the converted, having spurned a tutor’s suggestion to study under the ornate ceiling of the Codrington Library of Oxford’s All Souls College, built from the massive compensation to Caribbean slave-massas on emancipation.


It came as no surprise, when Tony became a citizen of Jamaica. Phenomenally energetic, he shuttles between there and Britain, where he heads, following the retirement of the pioneering Trini, Master Leonard Woodley QC, the London chambers they shared with the late Desmond Allum, SC. Despite a punishing schedule, Tony, bless him, has remained at the forefront of the campaign for reparations.


Dr. Eric Williams
Now, at the mere mention of slavery, as Dr Williams recalled in 1955, unrepentant white supremacists turn blue, until, of course, they take the dreaded do-not–argue DNA test and discover their African ancestry. This comes as no revelation to the intelligent ubiquitously, who accept that the human race originated, indisputably, in Africa.


Of course, given their experience of slavery and the quasi-enslavement of indentureship, be they Black, Chinese, Portuguese, Syrian, Indian, or NOTA, our people should support the case for reparations, whatever form these may take. But will they?


Well, their voices in unison on this ballistic issue are still to be raised, even as some and I stand firmly for reparations, being strangers to the Rienzi complex, he having changed his name from Deonarine to pass for white. Others, of course, who know not what they do in their frenzied delusion, are frantically pooh-poohing the campaign, as Afrocentric naivety.


What is shocking, firstly, is that their objections rely on the thesis that British slavery in Trinidad was shorter and nicer than elsewhere. This echoes a doctoral thesis, of the kind foreseen by Dr Williams, in 1955, as not worth the paper it is written on, because that argument is tantamount to defining rape by its length and the extent of its violence. No such thesis would be conceivable elsewhere, other than, possibly, the mid-Pacific.


Shocking, secondly, is their subscription to the European self-serving claim that Africans sold Africans into slavery, so it was their fault. Such ignoramuses are clearly strangers to the sociological discoveries that because Africans, captured by Africans in strife, became part of their captors’ family life, the concept of slavery was as alien to them as any European alien.


Shocking, thirdly, is that the anti-reparations argument comes from the bowels of indentureship, quasi-slavery, if not slavery, in all but name. No descendant of slavery, against reparations for the indentured, some cruelly and deceptively ensnared, could be embraced by Blacks, who welcomed, with relief, the elevation of an Indian sister and mother as their Prime Minister, until shaken by her demeaning and sectarian prostration, at home and abroad.


Shocking, fourthly, is the blindness to the ties that bind the displaced in this place. For instance, high caste names like Maharaj or the wilder phonetic Maraj of the more challenged, were ingeniously adopted to float the boat of indentureship. Slaves had been in a similar boat, by force. Whence came my family name through New Grant?


Shocking, fifthly, is their criticism of the ex-US slaves, released there and in the environs by Britain in1816, for ignoring the plight of slaves elsewhere in Trinidad before emancipation, an assumption based on the dubious premises that they knew of their plight, or could do anything about it. Are such chattering charlatans even aware that it was the progeny of those buffalo soldiers, who first paved the way to our independence, so that they could enjoy its fruits?


Shocking, above all, is that if our Neanderthals knew of the enslavement of their forebears, they would kneel with us beside the overgrown and forgotten Belmont cemetery of free Africans. They would holler with us to Britain & Co, like Gandhi in South Africa, “Is we time now!”


Well, I have news for them; the brothers and sisters in India will. Because in 1841 it was conservatively estimated by Sir Henry Bartle Frere that there were about 9 million slaves, not quasi, in India’s smaller population then. Some, sadly, remained enslaved, even after their purported emancipation under Britain’s Indian Slavery Act of 1843. Season’s Greetings!