Don’t get me wrong. We definitely have a quarrel with the British merchants who grew rich by submitting human beings to the living hell of the slave ships and the relentless labor of the plantations. And it seems quite reasonable for descendants of slaves to seek an apology – and reparation – from the British Government.
I’m talking about Jamaicans – the descendants of the folks who were left behind when most of the slave owners went home to their white wives and children in England or Scotland.
As for those Jamaicans whose families came to Jamaica long after slavery was abolished, merchants from China and the Middle East, indentured servants from India and Europe, civil servants, professionals, businessmen and businesswomen from various countries… What on earth do they have to do with slavery? Why are they being targeted?
The people I am here to defend are the descendants of the slave owners. Yes, you and me. Most Jamaicans, regardless of color, have some of that slave-owner blood flowing through our veins. Chances are the “whitest” Jamaicans have a slave or two in their family tree, and the darkest Jamaicans have ancestors that once owned slaves. So where do you draw the line? Who gets to curse and kill whom?
Make no mistake; slavery is vicious, monstrous, ungodly. Even today slavery of one kind or another persists. Is this intolerable in a supposedly civilized world? Yes, it is. Must we put an end to it? We must.
But it is self-defeating to brood over the fact that some of our ancestors were enslaved.
It is not a badge of dishonor to be descended from slaves. At some time in history everyone’s ancestors were slaves. The Egyptians enslaved the Jews. The Romans enslaved most of the people in the known world – and so on.
And Jamaicans need not be ashamed of the slaves in our background. The people who were most likely to be enslaved in Africa were prisoners of war. So to be a slave probably meant you were a warrior, or the wife or child of a warrior, captured when the fortunes of war turned against you.
What’s so bad about being descended from warriors?
It is self-defeating to brood over the fact that somewhere back in our family tree there were slaves. It is demeaning to complain about the hand that fate has dealt us. History resounds with tales of former slaves and the children of slaves who overcame all obstacles to achieve prominence and respect.
And now that slavery is almost a couple of centuries behind us, let’s not separate ourselves into the seed of the enslavers and the seed of the enslaved.
I realize that some Jamaicans were more fortunate than others, inheriting land and privileges that once belonged to the slave owners. Was that unjust? Terribly.
I know of instances where one son was considered “legitimate” and enjoyed all the perks that his family could provide while another son of the same father was considered “illegitimate” and grew up in poverty and deprivation. That’s not just unjust. It is heartbreaking. We can all empathize with the disowned son, watching his brother drive by with that “other” family while he walked barefoot over the sharp stones and choked on the dust kicked up by the passing car.
And I know of little girls brought up as quasi-domestic servants by richer relatives, obliged to wait hand and foot on more privileged cousins. Think of how such a child must have felt as she dressed her cousin and sent her off to some social affair to which she could never have been invited.
But I believe (and hope with all my heart) that such wickedness is in the past.
I also know of the sons and daughters of less-fortunate Jamaicans who rose to positions of wealth and social prominence. Some became doctors, some lawyers, others government ministers. Jamaican men and women of today are not necessarily defined by their parents’ social class. As Maya Angelou says, “like the dust (they) rise.” And if their confidence offends you, Mr. or Mrs. Snob, that’s just too bad. You have to deal with it.
As for those of us who may have suffered from injustice, why not let bygones be bygones? Why not try to resist the understandable temptation to harbor bitterness and resentment? Let’s find reasons to like each other, not to hate and kill each other.
In the words of Bob Marley, “ One love, one heart… Let’s get together and feel all right.”
George Graham is a Jamaican-born journalist and author who has worked as a reporter in the Caribbean and North America for more than half a century. He lives in Lakeland, Florida. His books, “Hill-an’-Gully Rider” and “Girlie: A Love Story,” are available at http://stores.lulu.com/georgeg.