African Canadians want pay, not plaques

Publié le par hort

They need to pay'
Call for reparations in Canada being met with silence and refusal
June 30, 2007
Royson James
City columnist

HALIFAX–Minutes before the official ceremony to unveil a new 24-foot steel and bronze sculpture in front of the North Memorial Public Library here, the gospel choir is warming up. Home-town boy, award-winning African Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke has flown in from Toronto for the event, calling the sculpture a "memorial and a beacon – the recollection of the triumph and struggles of so many people from this part of Halifax."
But Denise Allen, a descendant of black Nova Scotians whom the city of Halifax forcibly removed from their century-old seaside homes in the Africville neighbourhood in the late 1960s, is not celebrating. My great-grandparents owned four houses in Africville and they bulldozed the homes while my great-grandmother was visiting my mom in Preston," she hisses, as if the desecration were yesterday. "They moved them out of Africville in garbage trucks and put it on the news for the whole world to see." Allen has the title deed to her mom's home. She wants compensation – reparations.
Hurts run deep in north-end Halifax, the nexus of the city's black community. Within earshot is the social housing that substitutes for the homes once owned by a community that has existed here for hundreds of years – some say before the white man came. The "R" word is often tossed around when the topic is Africville and Nova Scotia, a province with the largest recorded continuous black presence since the 1780s, before Confederation. And like everywhere else where reparations are sought for wrongs against people of African descent – slaves transported to and subjugated in the West in what the United Nations has declared a crime against humanity – the reaction has been silence and refusal.
Allen has presented the case of Africville to the UN. The world body sided with the city's black community in 2004, ruling that Canada must pay reparations. Parks Canada's response was to designate Africville an historic site. During a break in a conference this week marking the 200th Anniversary of the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the British empire, U.S. reparations expert Ray Winbush toured the huge swath of waterfront lands that blacks here once occupied. All that's left is a marker, a sundial and a list of the names of the families who were expropriated between 1968 and 1970 to make way for industrialization.
Allen, and others such as Victor Carvery, 58, who camped out with brother Edward on the site for two years to protest his lost property, calls the marble marker "the tomb." In his presentation that night, Winbush, author of Should America Pay? marvelled that African Canadians have not rallied behind the black Haligonians to demand reparations, as an increasing number of groups are doing worldwide, especially in the United States.Seeking reparations is a controversial movement by aggrieved communities attempting to get financial and other compensation for historical wrongs.

In 2002, a CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll showed three in four African Americans want restitution from corporations that were complicit in the slave trade and slavery. Desired compensation ranges from money to the establishment of scholarships for slave descendants. One of America's largest banks, Wachovia, was the first to disclose complicity and profits derived from the slave trade by banks and companies it may have acquired to form the current institution. J.P Morgan and others have followed. Opponents say the wrong was committed long ago and citizens today can't be held responsible for past sins; payment to blacks opens a Pandora's box of compensation to all aggrieved ethnic groups; Africans themselves sold some of the slaves captured in the trade; and reparations will further inflame race relations.
Winbush dismisses these claims.There is no time limit on reparations, says the Morgan State University professor. That would be an invitation to continue past practices: Delay and deny until the victims die off. Many groups, including Jews, Japanese (internment camps), Chinese (head tax) have received compensation. The U.S. awarded $1.2 billion to Japanese Americans. Segments of all oppressed peoples at one time aided their captors or oppressors. That doesn't negate the need for redress of past wrongs. "Reparations are inevitable," Winbush told the delegates. "It's a global struggle from Denmark to Australia and America. Should Canada pay? Yes."
How much, is another question. U.S. calculations have reached in the trillions of dollars. Moderate claims, including one in 1968, mentions $400 billion. American lawsuits have proliferated. U.S. Congressman John Conyers now has the backing of 22 colleagues for a bill he's introduced repeatedly since 1989, asking Congress to set up a commission to study reparations. Cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee have done one better, requiring corporations that do business with the city to disclose all ties they or their predecessor companies had with slavery and the slave trade.
Britain, the kingpin in the slave trade, is the most exposed. Canada's culpability would be significantly less, as slavery wasn't entrenched in the economic machinery of plantations. But there is a bubbling movement to do some accounting. Groups like the Chinese and Japanese have earned apologies and reparations, says Clarke, a writer and professor at University of Toronto. Why not Africans? "Because Canadians want to deny our complicity with the racist construction of North America. Canadians enjoy being able to say, America is the land of slavery, racism, segregation and we are the land of the Underground Railroad, true freedom and equality."
Indeed, even among Africville residents, there is no unanimity, a fact that has a slowed progress. the Carvery brothers mentioned earlier? A third brother, Irving, has opted to negotiate with the government, seeking housing instead of reparations.As the gospel choir sings and black Haligonians welcome the public art that memorializes their history, listening to Clarke read his poetry, Allen can barely conceal her contempt. "They need to pay, not provide plaques."

Publié dans African diaspora

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