Theology Thursdays: The New Reparations Paradigm by Shelley Moorhead
First and foremost allow me to give all honor, praise and thanks to the God of Creation and His Anointed; the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the great, mighty and benevolent God who has not abandoned us in the lands of the great captivity, but whom in this dispensation of time has allowed us once again to tread that great and holy land of our fathers.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Special Committee, other distinguished representatives of Member States, experts, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters.
Allow me to first extend my great appreciation for this body’s commitment to uphold the right to self-determination of peoples which remain under colonial domination. Moreover, I am thankful and grateful for the opportunity to address the committee on the agenda item of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
As history records, from 1666 to 1917, Denmark owned and occupied the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, the now U.S. Virgin Islands. For more than 175 years Denmark was actively involved in the institution of African slavery, resulting in the displacement of many thousands of men, women, and children who were forced to labor on the islands’ plantations.
Un-repaired by the sale of the Danish West Indies in 1917 to the United States, Virgin Islanders have yet to recover from the cultural, political, and socioeconomic underdevelopment imposed by the era of Danish colonization and slavery. Furthermore, the neo-American colonialism imposed by the transfer has inflicted yet greater obstacles to the realization of self-determination. These and many other long-lasting handicaps predominate today and continue to impede the growth and development of Virgin Islands society.
The emergence of critical Virgin Islands issues before the world’s body of nations comes at a time when the U.S. Virgin Islands is poised to explore its self-determination. Our territory’s resolve to define an existence beyond the post-transfer – yet still colonial environment, today is evident in various local initiatives. The Committee for St. Croix Self Government has succeeded in bringing attention to the many disparities the colonial constructs have left in place. Meanwhile, in effort to establish an identity separate and apart from the limitations imposed by the territory’s political status, the Legislature appears again to be steadily approaching yet another constitutional convention.
Our predicament is not unique, as the curse of European colonial domination has not left one stone unturned. Many of the remaining non-self-governing territories carry the same burdens and exist under similar, if not the same circumstances. The people of the United States Virgin Islands, prior to their purchase by the United States in 1917, were subjected to the rule of 6 separate European colonial powers. It is safe to assume that there is little that Virgin Islanders have experienced that the territories gathered here today have not. Everyone here representing territories which remain under foreign domination can look at the present day United States Virgin Islands and easily identify with people you represent.
Having introduced a new reparations paradigm that not only addresses the process of repair for descendants of the enslaved Africans, the ACRRA model in the United States Virgin Islands also initiates the repair of European society and the eradication of the colonial mentality which, via the institution of slavery, allowed for the dehumanization of African people and the elevation of one race of people above another.
For this reason, allow me to expand the discussion even further, and to not simply focus on the existing socioeconomic, sociopolitical conditions in the United States Virgin Islands, but to present solutions that while implemented in the U.S. territory, are today applicable in the remaining non-self-governing territories. Although I come this day to speak on the agenda item of the United States Virgin Islands, I come also with a message for both the colonizer and the colonized. Whether you are dominated today by a foreign colonial power, or whether today you maintain political, social, or economic dominion over others, or whether your colonial dominion is the news of yesteryear, I come today to extend a new paradigm for international reconciliation and repair, and to introduce to the United Nations a 21st century prototype for how colonizer and colonized can progress past historical challenges to cultivate relationships that allow future generations to flourish.
Allow me to do so using a precedent set by the United Nations when it was established in 1945. The founders of the United Nations used biblical prophecy as the principle impetus for the establishment of the body. Isaiah the second chapter and the fourth verse provides the ultimate solution for war among nations and represents the cornerstone of United Nations philosophy.
“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
With the very precedent established by the United Nations, allow me also to draw from the historical text to find answers to the many questions left unanswered by the bewilderment of the trans-Atlantic African Slave Trade and the subsequent subjugation of colonized throughout the world.
Bear with me as I seek to consult our UN-sanctioned reference material. And, as I do so, and furthermore, as this text was used in the justification of the establishment of the United Nations, let us not mistake my comments for religious; but rather let them carry the same significance embodied in the profound illustration marked with these words and which lies just outside this building.
Our reference material:
“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:
And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.
Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.
But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
The LORD shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.
And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the LORD shall lead thee.
Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee:
And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever.
The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;
And the LORD shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you.”
28th chapter of Deuteronomy abbreviated
Mr. Chairman, my training has compelled me to first discern these things spiritually, not militarily, politically, or economically. The latter components perpetuate the problem if not placed in the spiritual context.
The ACRRA Hypothesis:
The problems plaguing African descendants in the Caribbean and other colonized people around the world are spiritual.
As a scientist forms a hypothesis and then conducts his experiment in a laboratory. So we, guided by the spiritual reality, used our UN sanctioned reference material to research and form our own hypothesis.
We in the Virgin Islands reasoned that Denmark was not responsible for the enslavement of the Africans brought to the Danish West Indies. We were not brought into slavery by the Danes, but delivered into captivity by our God.
This then shifted the entire paradigm. We were to blame for our own predicament. The burden of slavery had been removed from Denmark’s feet.
Much like the murderer or rapist who commits his crime and becomes angry at the police officer, jailer, or corrections officer; we too had misplaced our blame, as it was our own infraction that resulted our foreign dominion.
We had to look inwardly rather than externally for the reasons and for the solutions. When we realized our problems were spiritual, it compelled self-made repairs. We had to first repair our relationship with the God who jailed us.
“And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee,
And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:
And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee.
30th chapter of Deuteronomy abbreviated
Without this paradigm shift, the problems will continue to self-perpetuate.
We, however, who have experienced all of the above and more, and experienced them for much longer than most, and therefore suffer chronically from their effects -- we must take a more comprehensive view of what reparations must mean for us.
We must ask not only that reparations be made for specific acts, or that restitution be made of specific properties; we who have been such monumental victims are obliged to also ask: What sorts of system, capitalist as well as pre-capitalist, with their values and world outlook, made this long holocaust possible; and what must be done to transform these systems into some other kind where holocaust could not be inflicted on us? Unless we address and effectively answer that question, our quest for reparations would be flawed and incomplete. We must therefore look into the nature of the old existing global order and see what needs to be done to change it for the better.
Let me note that reparation is not just about money: it is not even mostly about money; in fact, money is not even one percent of what reparation is about. Reparation is mostly about making repairs; self-made repairs, on ourselves: mental repairs, psychological repairs, cultural repairs, organizational repairs, social repairs, institutional repairs, technological repairs, economic repairs, political repairs, educational repairs, repairs of every type that we need in order to recreate sustainable societies.
For the sad truth is that five centuries of holocaust have made our societies brittle and unviable. And as the great Marcus Garvey warned over 50 years ago, if we continue as we are, we are heading for extinction.
More important than any monies to be received; more fundamental than any lands to be recovered, is the opportunity the reparations campaign offers us for the rehabilitation of Black people, by Black people, for Black people; opportunities for the rehabilitation of our minds, our material condition, our collective reputation, our cultures, our memories, our self-respect, our religious, our political traditions and our family institutions; but first and foremost for the rehabilitation of our minds.
Let me repeat that the most important aspect of reparation is not the money the campaign may or may not bring: the most important part of reparation is our self-repair; the change it will bring about in our understanding of our history, of ourselves, and of our destiny; the chance it will bring about in our place in the world.
Now, we who are campaigning for reparations cannot hope to change the world without changing ourselves. We cannot hope to change the world without changing our ways of seeing the world, our ways of thinking about the world, our ways of organizing our world, our ways of working and dreaming in our world. All these, and more, must change for the better. The type of Black Man and Black woman that was made by the holocaust -- that was made to feel inferior by slavery and then was steeped in colonial attitudes and values -- that type of Black will not be able to bring the post-reparation global order into being without changing profoundly in the process that has begun; that type of Black will not be even appropriate for the post-reparation global order unless thoroughly and suitably reconstructed. So, reparation, like charity, must begin with ourselves, with the making of the new Black person, with the making of a new Black World. How?
We must begin by asking ourselves: What weaknesses on our side made the holocaust possible? Weaknesses of organization? Weakness of solidarity? Weaknesses of identity? Weaknesses of mentality? Weaknesses of behavior? If we do not correct such weaknesses, even if we got billions of billions of dollars in reparations money, even if we got back all our expropriated land, we would fritter it all away yet again, and recycle it all back into alien hands.
In April 2005, in my capacity as the president of the African-Caribbean reparations and Resettlement Alliance and the recognized head of the Virgin Islands Reparations Movement, I headed a delegation of Virgin Islands leaders who traveled to Denmark to discuss with Danish officials the issue of reparations. Delegates include Virgin Islands Congresswoman, Donna M. Christensen, Virgin Islands Senator Usie Richards and Senator Terrence “Positive” Nelson, and Dr. Carlyle Corbin, minister of state for external affairs – office of the governor of the Virgin Islands. Also attending, from Dimona, Israel, was Dr. Moriel McClerkin, the executive director of the Martin Luther King/SCLC – Ben Ammi Institute for a New Humanity, an organization dedicated to conflict resolution and the implementation of peace and reconciliation formulas throughout the world.
It must be noted that profound spiritual direction has been provided to ACRRA by the Martin Luther King/SCLC – Ben Ammi Institute for a New Humanity in our effort to conduct this Virgin Islands experiment. The Martin Luther Kin g/SCLC – Ben Ammi Institute for a New Humanity exists under the auspices of the African Hebrew Israelite Community of Jerusalem. The African Hebrew Israelites represent the largest organized resettlement of African descendants from the global Diaspora back to the African continent. With thousands in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and U.S. the African Hebrew Israelites have succeeded in establishing an environment free from hatred, abuse, corruption, drugs, Black-on-Black crime and the immorality plaguing societies around the world. Today, the Hebrew Israelite Community is known the world over as the “Village of Peace”. Coined “An Island of Sanity” by the Israeli media and “The Miracle in the Desert” by the U. S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the Hebrew Israelites have proven to be the vanguard for a truly progressive development into the 21st century.
When we embarked upon the reparations initiative, we were certain it would serve as a working, 21st century model for how the colonizer and colonized of yesteryear could progress past former tribulations to cultivate relationships that allow future generations to flourish. As projected, the Denmark–Virgin Islands example our organizations have created is already charting unprecedented social evolution and leading the way for renewed relationships throughout Europe, the Caribbean and the world.
The talks in Denmark have resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding which establishes a Joint Task Force on Reparations. The agreement is the first between the Danes and Virgin Islanders which directly acknowledges the inhumanity of 250 years of slavery and colonization. The effects of this document, however, are far more reaching. It is the first accord of its kind between organizations in Europe and the Caribbean directly acknowledging that descendants of enslaved Africans “have suffered economic, psychological, social and emotional harm” as a result of the European institution of slavery.
On May 4th, 2005, working with Virgin Islands Senators ACRRA and the Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands made legislative history, as a landmark resolution passed into law in the former Danish West Indies became the first ever of its kind by a former Caribbean slave colony, in which present day African descendants have organized to officially seek redress from a past European colonial power.
Bolstered with the strength of a recent legislative resolution, ACRRA and the Virgin Islands Reparations Movement are now introducing to the world new formulas for international repair and reconciliation.
Finally, it must not be the desire of African descendants in the West, and other colonized people, for Europe to fall so that we can rise. A now repaired people must be the vanguard of reconciliation and repair and use these new formulas to usher in the long-awaited era of “peace on earth and goodwill to men.”
It is my prayer that we might in the near future have the opportunity to expand further the discussion on decolonization to encompass applied and practical spiritual solutions to these historical problems which continue to plague nations today. It is also my prayer that the ACRRA / Virgin Islands model might be a light on the path to the absolute eradication of the colonial idea which is yet still firmly planted in the minds and on the many shores around the world.
Shelley Moorhead is the President of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance (ACRRA). You may contact Mr. Moorhead, and the ACRRA, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Editor's note: The above is a statement by Mr. Shelley Moorhead, President of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance, given on the occasion of the convening of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization (6/16/05)
Thursday, June 23, 2005