Reparations: the Black Salvation of the EU

by Dia Alihanga

On June 19, 2020 the European Union recognised slavery as a crime against humanity.

How did the assassination of George Floyd lead to this EU resolution? How should crimes committed during the colonial era be dealt with given the systematic looting of African cultural heritage and natural resources that took place after the abolition of slavery? This article aims to put into perspective the sequence that led to this significant advancement, while it also draws a table of its limits as well as its hopes.

The coronavirus crisis has brought about a profound challenge to the very meaning of our existence : health, economic and political crisis, are issues that the world will still have to deal with in the coming month. In the midst of all of it, the assassination of George Floyd pointed out the structural violence of the neoliberal system of oppression. This has led to an unprecedented uprising with revolutionary potential.

The future seems uncertain for some observers, but for numerous others these symbolic earthquakes are necessary to change the world.

Now, the Black Lives Matter movement should go beyond the question of police violence and racism in northern societies to question the foundations of capitalism. For instance, Reparations for the damage caused by colonial slavery was the main demand of a Black Lives Matter movement in Nantes. At the same time, all over Europe, various acts involving the destruction of statues by militants of anti-racist and anti-colonial movements are calling into question the foundations of the colonial system, which generated the wealth of Western nations.

Aime Césaire said that this system continues thanks to the racist beliefs we have inherited from the colonial power structure. Historically, the end of slavery coincided with the establishment of forced labour in Africa and the adoption of the 13th amendment in the United States of America. The amendment stipulated that slavery was prohibited — except when it concerned individuals guilty of crimes. This amendment still perpetuates the deprivation of liberty and has vast consequences on the individual and collective health of African descendants in the United States and the world.

We are seeing outcry when self-reparation actions occur, such as those observed in the ultra European departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The destruction of the Victor Schoelcher statue in France has sparked strong opposition from the head of state. The same scenario can be observed in countries such as Great Britain and Italy, with the latest positions taken by the mayor of Milan.

These upheavals affect the whole planet to such an extent that the protests have now become global, with official reactions and large popular demonstrations appearing on the five continents: even the African Union is requesting an official UN declaration to deal with anti-black racism. In Paris, African activists intended to recover a work of art kept at the Musée du Quai Branly, believed to be originally looted from members of their family and tribe during the colonial era.

Likewise, Black Lives Matter wraps up the global protest against police brutality and racism, so that the world is currently on the verge of a radical paradigm shift that could help transform the power structure.

Given that neoliberal oppression is linked to the roots of colonialism, Europe must also re-humanise the continent, which has suffered the oppression of slavery and colonisation by taking responsibility for reconnecting it to the “civilised” world.

European societies will either fully recognise the humanity of people of African and other non-European descent, or Europe as a continent will fail to integrate them as part of its population.

How can we talk about black lives, colonial slavery and reparations without mentioning Africa?

Before even starting the implementation of the Reparations principle at the heart of the recognition mechanism, the so-called “aid” to African countries should be considered as a decentralised reparations mechanism. This is necessary in order to avoid the organised and systematic theft of the wealth and resources of a state by its leaders, which Gregory Ngbwa Mintsa called ‘Patrimonicide’.

Far from Africa, a revolution is underway in the USA. This revolution has already had an impact on European nations and other nations across the world. Will the recent recognition of slavery and colonisation as crimes against humanity have an impact on African nations? We can only call for it. This poses the problem of repairing the multidimensional damage caused by colonial slavery, which has been made more and more visible by the Black Lives Matter movement since the assassination of George Floyd, but it is even more symbolic in the incarnation of this fight.

A great black man calling his mother, as one implores God for salvation, in a final moment pushes us to say to ourselves that perhaps salvation is in women. And why should it not be so?

Why should we not use other mythological references in our political struggles? Why should we not think that salvation could look like Isis, goddess of the Nile Valley, wife and sister of a great black man, also murdered by asphyxiation before being reborn thanks to the work and courage of the goddess. Indeed, the time for other metaphors has come.

Assa Traoré, leading the fight in Europe to demand justice for the death of her brother, or Priscilla Ludosky leading the fight for justice for the working class in ecological transformation are sure signs that the coming revolution will also be Afro-feminist.

Many wish to avoid the debate over reparations. They fear that any symbolic reparation will be accompanied by violence, which could transform this quest for justice into a true Nemesis: causing the Western world to burst into flames. But the planet is already on fire: the time for a global change in direction is already underway and cannot be delayed. DiEM25’s Green New Deal for Europe makes clear that a just transition must prioritise climate reparations and confront ‘crimes of colonial plunder and resource extraction’.

A global Green New Deal, as advocated by DiEM25 and the Progressive International, must include Reparations as a significant part of our quest for social, economic and ecological justice. If we admit the antique symbol of  justice — the goddess Maat — to be the goal that we are trying to reach through the very healing process we are going through, we also have to accept that our main issue is to reintroduce the type of sensitivity Isis embodied within our deeds.

This piece was a collaboration between Dia Alihanga, Mame Faye-Rexhepi and Brice Montagne. Image by Anita Faye : “not yet free”.

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