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REPLY 1 From: "clapperton mavhunga" <email@example.com> Reading Felix Riedel's post, I am worried that the definition and historical contexts of "slavery" are being reduced to meaninglessness through "deconstruction." I am coming to a point in my career where I wonder if "de-essentialization" is not a political instrument to reduce Africa-related "being" into such abstract entities, even as other continents and countries, the very same from which a lot of the critics here come, are busy "essentializing" their own "beings"--as Americans, Britons, Germans, etc. Perhaps it is because I find Terence Ranger's least-explored notion of "the usable past," and I am tempted to wonder if there are statements about Africa that those who study it for nothing other than intellectual curiosity and career choice can make that are proper to them, on the one hand, and those that Africans must make, in very essentialist and performative ways that can help the continent own its problems and possibilities, on the other. The phobia I have for "de-essentialization" stems not from its academic fecundity as such, but the negative work it may do to harm certain work necessary for the positive future of the continent. Each time there is discussion on this list, things are going well until we get to these key questions of positionality, between those who hail from Africa and those abroad who see the importance of articulating an essentialist view of Africa that has the intention of creating necessary ingredients for a home-grown, not outside-driven, future, and those who are into "deconstructing categories," for whom knowledge is an end in itself. It is these performative aspects that I read into the responses given here. On the one side, the vilification of Africa and the parceling out of culpability, in which Africans are allocated a very high stool, serves to exonerate the American South and blames it on the Brits, Arabs, South Africans, in Riedel's reading. Something more is happening: by showing 'domestic slavery' in Africa, a universal pretext is created that de-essentializes slaving, slavery, or enslavement from its "Western," "transatlantic," and trans-Arabic specificities into a general way of life to which nobody is exempt. "We're all bad guys, we all had our bad moments and good luck." I have no position to take (yet!) on reparations, my attempt at the present being much more on stimulating innovations among the rural youth of Africa, where I see their mobilities as repositories of amazing initiative. However, I will say this: Ranger's notion of the "usable past," just as in the way African nationalists cherry-picked their pasts for performative repertoires to depose colonialism, is being used in this thread to create exceptions to slavery that cannot be said for the Holocaust, for example. Anytime anyone tries to deconstruct the Holocaust they will be labeled anti-semitic. Anytime anyone deconstructs slavery it is excellent scholarship. I find the readiness to de-essentialize anything African to be interesting too because it is often led by Africans themselves. Or those of African descent. And so recently I have concluded that perhaps I am ignorant about the source of their convictions and wisdoms and have been stocking up to read their work. I do not want to rush to endorse the flag that has been hoisted to their masts: Afropessimism. I think that term is used to describe those for whom nothing good can come from Africa as much as those who criticize the status quo with a view to redeeming it because of the positive hopes they have for Africa. I would also like to understand more what is at stake in severing the Pan-African link between the black diaspora and Africa in a time of mobile technology and DNA and the likelihood certain reconfigurations might take place--who gains and who loses from this transformation from outward mobility as severance to mobility as transgeographic connections. It is this latter point that makes me want to wonder whether my own generation of scholars should still be focusing on the issues that defined Garvey, Du Bois, Rodney, Cesaire, Nkrumah, or Gates for example, or whether the time may have come for a new avant garde that seeks to re-examine the longer trajectory of mobilities beyond just grievance, mourning, and restitution, but also expanding on mobility as a resource for the engineering of Africa into a new age. Clapperton Mavhunga, Assistant Professor Program in STS, MIT, firstname.lastname@example.org REPLY 2 From: "Asar Imhotep" <email@example.com> Greetings Felix, I find many of the arguments against reparations illogical and without merit. Trying to compare the current Mediterranean with the old Roman empire is methodologically unsound; primarily because the old Roman empire no longer exists as a political entity. This is not the case for the United States. The United States is treated just like a corporation that exists like a human being, with all rights and risks, that lives as long as the company (country) lives. So the African-American slavery perpetrator still exists to this date and continually grows fat off of the free labor of its former enslaved people. The horrid conditions that many AA's find themselves in is a direct result of enslavement and Jim Crow. The best argument has been presented by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 2001. The link and article is below: Asar Imhotep http://www.asarimhotep.com http://www.africawithin.com/karenga/ethics.htm The Ethics of Reparations: Engaging the Holocaust of Enslavement Maulana Karenga CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, LONG BEACH Extracted from a paper titled "The Ethics of Reparations: Engaging the Holocaust of Enslavement," at The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N'COBRA) Convention, Baton Rouge, LA, 2001 June 22-23 The struggle for reparations for the Holocaust of Enslavement of African people is clearly one of the most important struggles being waged in the world today. For it is about fundamental issues of human freedom, human justice and the value we place on human life in the past as well as in the present and future. It is a struggle which, of necessity, contributes to our regaining and refreshing our historical memory as a people remembering and raising up the rightful claims of our ancestors to lives of dignity and decency and to our reaffirming and securing the rights and capacity of their descendants to live free, full and meaningful lives in our times. But this struggle, like all our struggles, begins with the need for a clear conception of what we want, how we define the issue and explain it to the world and what is to be done to achieve it. There are several ways to frame and approach this important issue or rather different aspects to one larger project: (1) the legislative dimension as with the Conyers Bill, H.R. 40 and local and state bills and resolutions; (2) the legal as N'COBRA and the Harvard group are doing; (3) the political by which there is mass organization to support the project; (4) the economic which is the major focus of all the above efforts; and (5) the ethical initiative which I wish to engage in this paper. Our contention in the Organization Us is that the ethical dimension is the first and most fundamental dimension of the reparations issue and that unless that is engaged and successfully pursued, the issue of reparations will appear to lack moral grounding in the court of national and world opinion, and thus, will be cast as a claim unworthy of support on any other level. In consideration of the issue of reparations as essentially and foremost an ethical issue, it must above all be framed in ethical terms. Therefore, the struggle for reparations begins with the definition of the horrendous injury to African people which demands repair. In other words, to talk of reparations is first to identify and define the injury, to say what it is and is not, to define its nature and its impact on the one(s) injured. Unless this is done first and maintained throughout the process, there is no case for reparations only an incoherent set of claims without basis in ethics or law. This is why the established order works so hard to define away the historical and ongoing character of the injury. This is especially done in two basic ways. First, the injury is distorted and hidden under the category of "slave trade". The category trade tends to sanitize the high level of violence and mass murder that was inflicted on African peoples and societies. If the categorization of the Holocaust of Enslavement can be reduced to the category of "trade" two things happen. First, it becomes more of a commercial issue and problem than a moral one. And secondly, since trade is the primary focus, the mass murder or genocide can be and often is conveniently understood and accepted a simply collateral damage of a commercial venture gone bad. A second attempt of the established order to deny the horrendous nature of the injury and its essential responsibility for it is to claim collaboration of the victims in their own victimization. Here it is morally and factually important to make a distinction between collaborators among the people and the people themselves. Every people faced with conquest, oppression and destruction has had collaborators among them, but it is factually inaccurate and morally wrong and repulsive to indict a whole people for a holocaust which was imposed on them and was aided by collaborators. Every holocaust had collaborators: the Native Americans, Jews, Australoids, Armenians and Africans. No one morally sensitive claims Jews are responsible for their holocaust based on the evidence of Jewish collaborators. How then are Africans indicted for the collaborators among them? Although there are other ways, the established order seeks to undermine the factual and moral basis of the African claim for reparations, these two are indispensable to its efforts. And thus, they must be raised up and rejected constantly, for they speak to the indispensable need to define the injury to African people and to maintain control of it. As Us has maintained since the Sixties concerning European cultural hegemony, one of the greatest powers in the world is to be able to define reality and make others accept it even when it's to their disadvantage. And it is this power to define the injury of holocaust as trade and self-victimization and make Africans accept it, that has dominated the discourse on enslavement in America. Our task it to reframe the discourse and initiate a new national dialog on this. We have argued that the injury must be defined as holocaust. By holocaust we mean a morally monstrous act of genocide that is not only against the people themselves, but also a crime against humanity. The Holocaust of enslavement expresses itself in three basic ways: the morally monstrous destruction of human life, human culture and human possibility. In terms of the destruction of human life, estimates run as high as ten to a hundred million persons killed individually and collectively in various brutal and vicious ways. The destruction of culture includes the destruction of centers, products and producers of culture: cities, towns, villages, libraries, great literatures (written and oral), and works of art and other cultural creations as well as the creative and skilled persons who produced them. And finally, the morally monstrous destruction of human possibility involved redefining African humanity to the world, poisoning past, present and future relations with others who only know us through this stereotyping and thus damaging the truly human relations among peoples. It also involves lifting Africans out of their own history making them a footnote and forgotten casualty in European history and thus limiting and denying their ability to speak their own special cultural truth to the world and make their own unique contribution to the forward flow of human history. It is here that the issue of stolen labor and ill-gotten gains which is seen as important to the legal case can be raised. For in removing us from our own history, enslaving us and brutally exploiting our labor, it limited and prevented us from building our own future and living the lives of dignity and decency which is our human right. At this point, it is important to stress the role of intentionality in the Holocaust. Again, discussion of the Holocaust as a commercial project often leads to an understanding of the massive violence and mass murder as unintended collateral damage. Thus, to frame it rightfully as a moral issue rather than a commercial one, we must use terms of discourse which speak not only to the human costs, but to the element of intentionality. It is in this regard that Us maintains that maagamizi, the Swahili term for Holocaust, is more appropriate than its alternative category maafa. For maafa which means calamity, accident, ill luck, disaster, or damage does not indicate intentionality. It could be a natural disaster or a deadly highway accident. But maagamizi is derived from the verb -angamiza which means to cause destruction, to utterly destroy and thus carries with it a sense of intentionality. The "a" prefix suggests an amplified destruction and thus speaks to the massive nature of the Holocaust. Clearly, it is issues like these and the ones discussed below which require an expanded communal, national and international dialog, which precedes and makes possible a final decision on the definition and meaning of the Holocaust, and the morally and legally compelling steps which must be taken to repair this horrendous past and ongoing injury. Therefore, in the context of holocaust, it is clear that reparations is more than receiving payments. Indeed, in the Husia, the sacred text of ancient Egypt, we find a concept of restoration, i.e., healing and repairing the world that is appropriate in discussing the reparations project. The word is serudj and it is part of a phrase serudj-ta, meaning to repair and heal the world making it more beautiful and beneficial than it was before. This is an ongoing moral obligation in the Kawaida (Maatian) ethical tradition and is expressed in the following terms: (1) to raise up that which is in ruins; (2) to repair that which is damaged; (3) to rejoin that which is severed; (4) to replenish that which is depleted; (5) to strengthen that which is weakened; (6) to set right that which is wrong; and (to make flourish that which is insecure and undeveloped. Again, then, an expansive and morally worthy concept of reparations as repair and healing requires more than monetary focus and payments. Regardless of the eventual shape of the evolved discourse and policy on reparations, there are five essential aspects which must be addressed and included in any meaningful and moral approach to reparations. They are public admission, public apology, public recognition, compensation, and institutional preventive measures against the recurrence of holocaust and other similar forms of massive destruction of human life, human culture and human possibility. First, there must be public admission of Holocaust committed against African people by the state and the people. This, of course, must be preceded by a public discussion or national conversation in which whites overcome their acute denial of the nature and extent of injuries inflicted on African people and concede that the most morally appropriate term for this utter destruction of human life, human culture and human possibility is holocaust. Secondly, once there is public discussion and concession on the nature and extent of the injury, then there must be public apology. One of the reasons we rejected the one-sentence attempt to get a congressional apology is that it was premature and did not allow for discussion and admission of holocaust. In addition, as the injured party, Africans must initiate and maintain control of the definition and discussion of the injury. No one would suggest or contemplate Germans superceding Jewish initiatives and claims concerning their holocaust, nor Turks seizing the initiative in the resolution of the Armenian holocaust claims. The point here is that Africans must define the framework for the discussion and determine the content of the apology. And, of course, the apology can't be for "slave trade," or simply "slavery"; it must be an apology for committing holocaust. Moreover, the state must offer it on behalf of its white citizens. For the state is the crime partner with corporations in the initiation, conduct and sustaining of this destructive process. It maintained and supported the system of destruction with law, army, ideology and brutal suppression. Thus, it must offer the apology for holocaust committed. Thirdly, public admission and public apology must be reinforced with public recognition through institutional establishment, monumental construction, educational instruction through the school and university system and the media directed toward teaching and preserving memory of the horror and meaning of the Holocaust of enslavement, not only for Africans and this country, but also for humanity as a whole. Here it is important to note that the first holocaust memorial should have been for Native Americans who suffered the first holocaust in this hemisphere. And we must address their holocaust concerns and claims, as a matter of principle and with the understanding that until and unless they receive justice in their rightful claims, the country can never call itself a free, just or good society. Fourthly, reparations also requires compensation in various forms. Compensation can never be simply money payoffs either individually or collectively. Nor should the movement for reparations be reduced to simply a quest for compensation without addressing the other four aspects. Indeed, compensation itself is a multidimensional demand and option and may involve not only money, but land, free health care, housing, free education from grade school through college, etc. But whether we choose one or all, we must have a communal discussion of it and then make the choice. Moreover, compensation as an issue is not simply compensation for lost labor, but for the comprehensive injury - the brutal destruction of human lives, human cultures and human possibilities. Finally, reparations requires that in the midst of our national conversation, we must discuss and commit ourselves to continue the struggle to establish measures to prevent the occurrence of such massive destruction of human life, human culture and human possibility. This means that we must see and approach the reparations struggle as part and parcel of our overall struggle for freedom, justice, equality and power in and over our destiny and daily lives. In the final analysis, this requires the bringing into being a just and good society and the creation of a context for maximum human freedom and human flourishing. Indeed, it is only in such a context that we can truly begin to repair and heal ourselves, our injuries, return fully to our own history, live free, full, meaningful and productive lives and bring into being the good world we all want and deserve to live in. Copyright 2001 Dr. Maulana Karenga