IIn Jamaica, we often use the word “respect” when we greet or separate ourselves from other people, no matter who they are or where they come from. We say this word because we mean it. We respect you as a person because we are all created in the image of God, and we seek to show your appreciation for your worth. The word respect does not mean that we always agree with that person; it is simply an acknowledgment of their humanity and their value.
Much noise was made about my supposed snub from the Duchess of Cambridge because of a manipulated two-second clip taken out of context. I have nothing but respect for Catherine as a person, and treated her with that respect and cordiality, as evidenced by many other photos and videos of our interaction. I have no quarrel with the Duchess herself, the people of the United Kingdom or the government.
The most important issue at stake is the current global reality that our institutions have created over centuries. We all know the history of wars of conquest, slavery, subjugation and colonization. We are all familiar with the extraction of resources and the exploitation of land and labour. Sadly, too many of us don’t know that it was the slave masters – not the slaves or their descendants – who received reparations after slavery ended and the plantations collapsed. We know many of these things; and we all know in our hearts that these things were, are, and always will be wrong.
We in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) are united across our myriad national, political, ethnic and regional differences in the belief that the issue of reparations must be taken seriously. We have studied the subject extensively, organized conferences and written white papers on the need for reparations and how to practically implement such a policy in the 21st century.
What we need now is for the West, especially the UK, to seriously engage with us on this issue. And it’s not just lip service that we need. Not only do flowery words and nifty symbols not appease us, but actionless words will also offend us. We need leaders in civil society, politics, and the monarchy to not only acknowledge historical exploitation and its consequences, but begin to take concrete action to address it.
The work has already been done. The Caricom Reparations Commission has presented a clear 10-point action plan with a concrete plan to create justice. The leaders of this commission and the region are ready to commit in good faith to this plan and put in place a framework to move forward. I sat on this commission and I am proud of the work that was done. But this work was done by Caricom alone and the reality is that it takes good faith on all sides if we really want to get the justice that we all know deep down is needed.
We in the Caribbean can no longer do it alone. And it’s not just something our diaspora can lead. It will take bold leadership in the UK and indeed the Western world to have the bravery, humanity and political courage to stand up and campaign for the issue of reparations.
I am heartened that Barbados and now Jamaica are taking steps to become truly independent by removing the Queen as Head of State and becoming republics. However, this is only a step, and we must not rest on our laurels. Our friends in the UK should be under no illusions that because these steps have been taken, the road to justice is now over. Far from there.
The evils of slavery cannot be forgotten. Nor can one forget the wealth gained by a few – including the wealth gained by the institution of monarchy. Indeed, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a unique opportunity to define their own issues and pleas. I hope this visit to the Caribbean will stir their emotions and thoughts, and as they ascend, they will refine the perspective of monarchy with a view to building a fairer and fairer global society.
To condemn slavery without action, as Prince Charles and Prince William did, is not particularly bold, nor does it show courage. I hope this rhetoric is a beginning and not an end to their journey on the issue of reparations and justice.
When we in Jamaica say respect, we mean it. We respect you. We respect Prince William and Catherine. We respect the British people. We respect your leaders. When you visit Jamaica, we are polite to you. We are cordial to you. We give you the time of your life on vacation. We laugh with you. We mourn with you. All we ask is reciprocity by taking our advocacy seriously, and that together we can right historical wrongs and reset the political, economic and social system for future generations.