Slavery ought not to be treated flippantly

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Caribupdate Weekly, Editorial

May 11, 2017

We have no doubt – none whatsoever – that when the National Heritage Month Committee conceived of the idea of organizing a “reenactment of slavery’’ on River Antoine Estate, as part of this year’s Heritage Month, the committee was well-intentioned. The problem, though, is that good intention by itself is not always sufficient, especially when you are dealing with a sensitive and traumatic issue such as slavery in which millions of people lost their lives. Simply put, what occurred during the transshipment and forced employment of Africans was sheer brutality and genocide.

Slavery’s after-effect is still impacting the sons and daughters of Africans here in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and elsewhere; they still suffer personal injury through acts of racism and discrimination because of their skin colour; and their societies remain burdened by centuries of inadequate reinvestment and development by our slave and colonial masters, who benefitted from the free labour enslaved Africans.

Lawyer Jerry Edwin was the first to raise a public outcry against last month’s slavery reenactment. “It is very difficult to accept that not a single person on the National Heritage Committee realizes that genocide is not reenacted,’’ he said. “The victims do not imitate the tragedy. Slavery was not an event.  This was a crime against humanity.’’

Many have attempted to defend the National Heritage Committee’s slavery reenactment; almost all, in the opinion ofCaribupdate Weekly, are off the mark. The comment, posted online by one person, said: “I honestly believe that part of the reason for black people’s problems today is our insistence and discomfort with wanting to deal with the subject and shame of slavery.’’

Another online commentator said: “Jewish survivors tell their story every day. They don’t shy away from it. We should not!’’

A third argued that Edwin’s protesting of the slavery reenactment “smells of fear’’, adding that slavery and tourism go hand in hand’’. And, a fourth suggested that, “perhaps it is time to embrace the history of slavery’’, and to “do as the Jewish peoples do’’.

All the comments, in our view, emanate from a misunderstanding of the position taken by staunch modern-day anti-slavery activists and protestors like Jerry Edwin. Their stance on the issue has nothing to do with “fear’’ or “discomfort’’ or “shame’’ of slavery. Fundamentally, it is about the flippant manner in which too many African descendants in Grenada, the Caribbean and the rest of the world appear ready to treat the genocide of slavery.

So, while we concede that the Heritage Committee’s idea was well-meaning, we do not believe that any aspect of 400 years of slavery can be given justice and the due intention it deserves, and be of high educational value, by throwing a few school children together on River Antoine Estate as part of a worldwide celebration of “Heritage Month’’.

One writer, responding to debate here in Grenada, recommended that prior to embarking on an exercise like the reenactment of slavery, local officials should have “consulted historian, sociologists, psychologist and archaeologist who have spent their entire career writing and looking at the psychological impact of slavery on the African people’’, adding that “to stage a play or story about slavery is appropriate; but it must be researched and produced from a contextual and holistic frame of reference’’.

Caribupdate Weekly completely agrees with the above comments of the writer. This is how the Jews approach any issue having to the do with the holocaust – whether it’s the setting up of a museum, the establishing of a monument, the staging of a play or the filming of a Hollywood movie.

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