Back Pay For Slavery

The principle of reparations was established long ago in the 1833 Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies.  But there was a catch to the Act.  Not much different in essence from the original sin of catching Africans for enslavement in the Americas.  Reparations were to be made to the perpetrators of human trafficking, not to the victims.

This is how the Act opens:  “Whereas divers Persons are holden [held] in Slavery within divers of His Majesty’s Colonies, and it is just and expedient that all such Persons should be manumitted and set free, and that a reasonable Compensation should be made to the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves for the Loss which they will incur by being deprived of their Right to such Services . . . ;”  etc, etc.

Laura Facey Cooper monument

This is a classic example of the diabolical mindset of ‘wicked white people.’  Slaveholders were legally entitled to the services of their slaves and therefore had a right to ‘reasonable Compensation’ for loss of service.  The enslaved had no such rights or entitlements.  They were freed with nothing in their two long hands; just like that rather sad-looking couple trapped in a basin of water in New Kingston’s ‘Emancipation Park’.

When I talk about ‘wicked white people’ I don’t mean specific individuals who have done me personal wrong. I’m not speaking about singular acts of evil.  It’s a far bigger issue.  What concerns me is the collective crimes against humanity committed by gravalicious people who consider themselves absolutely entitled by God and nature to dominate the world.  In many instances, these self-proclaimed rulers just happen to be white.

Crocodile dance mask from the Torres Strait Islands in a current exhibition at the British Museum

In the age of colonial conquest, ‘wicked white people’ as a special interest group committed crimes of unapologetic horror.  They ravaged  other people’s bodies, souls, lands and histories; they vandalised sacred objects and then locked them away in ‘museums’ – those cemeteries of other people’s culture.  ‘Wicked white people’ invading and stealing, stealing, stealing without conscience.

I know I’m going to be accused of racism for exposing ‘wicked white people’ to public scrutiny in this way.  But that’s just another ploy of ‘wicked white people’ and their collaborators to perpetuate mental slavery.  It’s racism to talk about racist behaviour.  But actual racist behaviour is not racism.  It’s just human nature.  What an irony!


Justice versus expediency

So let’s say instead that ‘nice and decent’ white people agreed that it was “just and expedient” to set the enslaved free. But the yoking of justice and expedience in the Act for the Abolition of Slavery reveals the central philosophical and practical dilemma at the heart of the emancipation enterprise.

Justice seemingly puts emancipation on solid moral ground.  Expedience erodes all claims to moral authority.  It was expedient to emancipate enslaved Africans because plantation slavery had become an expensive proposition.  The substitution of beet for cane turned West Indian sugar into a rather sour deal.

After centuries of mostly verbal outrage – incessant talk, talk, talk about ‘wicked white people’ – we, the collective victims of transatlantic slavery, must finally decide to take legal action in the largest class-action suit in the history of the world.  This is a truly wonderful idea. Not the wishy-washy, everyday sense of ‘wonderful’, meaning simply ‘great’; it’s the mind-blowing, original meaning of the word: full of wonder.

Five hundred years after the rape of the body and land of the original inhabitants of this part of the world; five hundred years after the violent uprooting and enslavement of millions of Africans, we, their descendants, both native and immigrant, must lay claim to rights of reparation.


In the sweet by and by

For many Africans in the Diaspora, it is in religion that we find hope for reparations.  The Christian religion seems to recommend long-term investment in the celestial stock market. The concept of reparations has best been expressed in pious hymns like this:  “In the sweet by and by I’ll have a mansion so bright and so fair, won’t it be glorious when I get there in the sweet by and by?”  God will repair the breach.  God is the ultimate Human Rights Arbitrator.

Then we have those Africans who want hard cold cash in the here and now.  Think of the title song from the movie The Harder They Come:  “They tell me bout the pie up in the sky waiting for me when I die.  But between the day you born and when you die, they never seem to hear even your cry.  So as long as the sun will shine, I’m gonna get my share, what’s mine.  The harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all.”

That’s an excellent anthem for the Reparations Movement, the Garveyism of our times.  It’s the same kind of daring that made Marcus Garvey conceive the Universal Negro Improvement Association and Communities League:  a global movement of African peoples who see themselves as having a shared history and a common destiny.

And don’t think it’s a joke.  With derisive laughter cynics like to say, ‘when you get the money you can check me.’  But the Jews got compensation from the Germans; Japanese-Americans got compensation for the atrocities committed against them.   Why not Africans? I’d like to know what, exactly, our National Commission on Reparations is doing about it.

If you think that after five hundred years it’s now too late for reparations, just remember Psalm 90:4 in which David, himself a Jew, converses with the Supreme Arbitrator:  “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past.”  Come to think of it, all we’re really talking about is half a day’s back pay.

High-Science Spirit Travel

Flying with Spirit Airlines requires a rather firm grasp of science.  You need to know both basic science as well as the higher science of mystical communication.  First of all, you have to be very good at maths.  But with Spirit, you don’t really have to bother with subtraction and division; it’s all about addition and multiplication.

As a high-school student, I once won a prize for maths.  Admittedly, that was a long time ago. Still, I can’t believe how easily I got caught by the bait-and-switch pricing policy of Spirit Airlines. Miss Brown, my maths teacher at St. Hugh’s, would be quite ashamed of me.  But I take comfort in the fact that so many of the passengers I interviewed on my recent trip to D.C. were just as easily fooled as me.  It couldn’t be that we are all bad at maths. There must be something more to it.

Spirit Airlines is branded as ‘the ultra low cost carrier of the Americas.’  That double-edged sword, ‘ultra,’ is the first clue to penetrating the mysteries of high-science sprit travel.    The Latin word ‘ultra’ basically means ‘beyond.’  So the primary meaning of ‘ultra low cost’ is cheap, cheap, cheap.  Nickel-and-diming customers to the nth degree!

But ‘ultra’ also suggests the rather appealing idea of going beyond the ordinary.  It conjures up the spirit of luxury and excess, particularly some rare and precious commodity that has exceptional value.  Of course, in this sense of the word, ‘ultra low cost’ is a fundamental contradiction in terms – like an expensive bargain.  All the same, it was the illusion of a great deal that caught me.

Pay $37 in taxes!

I would never be tempted by the infamous $9 fare that Sprit Airlines dangles in front of naïve customers.  It’s just too good to be true in the long run.  Some other passenger has to be subsidising my $9 fare. It’s the same reason why I didn’t get caught in those pyramid ‘investment’ schemes that carried down so many greedy people:  From Cash Plus to Cash Minus.  In my maths book, nothing plus nothing equals nothing.

Bait and switch

But a return fare of US$695.00 from Kingston to Washington, D.C. isn’t nothing.  It sounded like a viable proposition.  That’s the kind of fare I was expecting from American Airlines.  Alas, I foolishly passed up their fare of US$812.00, thinking it was too high, only to be faced with the prospect of paying over $1,200 two weeks later.

So I decided to buy the supposedly ‘ultra low cost’ ticket.  That’s just the bait.  The switch comes right after.  And what a whipping!  As far as I can tell, Spirit Airlines was the first to start charging for checked luggage.  They got away with it and so last year they started to charge for carry-on bags. But it’s not a straightforward calculation. Spirit has turned the paying of baggage charges into a high science.

In an overly optimistic 2010 article posted on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, titled “Why the Sprit Airlines Baggage Fee Won’t Fly,” Bill Taylor argued that, “This decision reinforces Spirit’s reputation as a company so desperate for revenue that it will do whatever seems expedient – no matter how much it confuses or infuriates customers.”

Spirit’s baggage charges are, indeed, infuriatingly confusing.  This is where the maths skills come in handy.  There is a range of costs depending on when, where and how you pay:  online; by phone; at the airport; within 24 hours of your flight; before 24 hours; international or domestic etc. etc.  If you pay $59.95 to join the $9 Fare Club you get preferential treatment.  If you are not a member of that elite group, you pay through your nose and every other orifice.

Seat selection is also a science.  Aisle, middle and exit row seats attract different costs. When I booked my ticket on-line I could choose from among four price options.  I let the computer assign my seat at no extra charge.

Spirit has also reduced the weight limit of checked luggage from 50 lbs to 40, catching out even some of their valiant frequent flyers who are not aware of the new policy.  One poor woman complained raucously about having to pay $53.00 for one piece of checked baggage.  She was charged $25.00 for the extra 10 lbs.

Potty fee

When I discovered that I was limited to 40 lbs, I weighed my suitcase.  It turned out to be 15 lbs.  That would leave space for only 25 lbs of content.  I told my sister to select some of her clothes for me to wear because I was taking hardly any. And I travelled with a small case that weighed 5 lbs.

In D.C., I bought a lightweight suitcase at a thrift shop for the princely sum of $5.00. It was vintage Sears.  My sister insisted that I take it home immediately to be aired.  She had no intention of driving around with it. I lovingly washed down my ‘grip’ which made the trip home in one piece.

If I’d taken American Airlines for $812.00, I would have been entitled to 1 checked bag (50 lbs), 1 carry-on and seat selection at no extra cost.  I would have gotten water and juice on the flight.  The equivalent service on Spirit would have cost me $1,111.00:  base fare $695; baggage costs to the tune of $332; seat selection $60; refreshments $24.

  I won’t be surprised to hear that Spirit Airlines is charging a toilet fee.  There must be a cost to process human waste.  And since the airline prides itself on charging customers for only what they use, passengers will be allowed to take their own potty on board.  For a fee, of course, to cover the cost of fumigating the aircraft which will be full of you know what.

Flying on the ‘Duppy’ Airline

Once upon a time, our national airline was branded as ‘the little piece of Jamaica that flies’. These days, it’s the piece of Jamaica that has flown into the eager arms of Caribbean Airlines. Yes, I know we’re supposed to be celebrating the merger as a happy marriage. This is regional integration at its best, we’re told.

But I can’t help feeling that this arranged marriage is not an act of pure love. Air Jamaica appears to have been sold off as an unattractive, pauperised bride. And her father – not ‘Butch’ Stewart, but all of us taxpayers – have had to fork over a rather high dowry to Caribbean Airlines for the privilege of taking her off our hands.

I used to be a devoted Air Jamaica customer. The airline completely understood the Jamaican psyche. It accommodated all of our bag and baggage. Air Jamaica is the only airline I know that took head luggage and finger luggage. I once saw a woman on a flight with about five hats on her head. And so many of us took on-board so many more bags than the regulation one piece of hand luggage! We obviously had decided that these extra bags were quite legitimate finger luggage.

My loyalty to Air Jamaica didn’t blind me to the many failures of the carrier – though I must say straight off that the airline’s safety record has been impeccable. That’s the most important thing. And no other pilot in the world can land a plane more gently than an Air Jamaica aviator.  The recent crash of the Caribbean Airlines plane in Guyana is instructive:

It was the hauling and pulling, particularly during peak holiday seasons, that taxed the loyalty of even the most faithful Air Jamaica passenger. One Christmas, after being ‘batter-bruised’ by excruciatingly long delays, my sister, Donnette, came up with a wicked analogy to vent her frustration.

Flying with Air Jamaica was like being in a relationship with an abusive man. You stay because you are so committed to the idea of commitment. You become a co-dependent. Now that Air Jamaica no longer flies to Baltimore/Washington, my sister has been unwillingly emancipated.

‘Dig-out-eye’ season

Last month, as I tried to get a flight to DC, I was forced to consider the alternative carriers. My first ‘choice’ was American Airlines. They now have the monopoly on the best routes out of Kingston.  But they do not have a monopoly on safety.  Like that Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane that overshot the runway, an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 crash-landed in Kingston almost two years ago in similar rainy circumstances:

Because I was booking late, the American Airlines fares were extortionate. I hadn’t realised that summer is ‘dig-out-eye’ season and I was not prepared to pay over US$1,200 for an economy-class ticket. So I was forced to contemplate the brave new world of ‘cheap’ air travel.

I first tried AirTran and got a quite decent fare from MoBay to DC and back to Miami. But I couldn’t understand why the fare from Miami to MoBay was almost double that of the entire outward route. Guess why? The return flight was via Chicago! So that was the end of that.

I next checked out Spirit, the notoriously cheap airline. I had never flown with them, but I knew their reputation. One of my friends, who owns a nursing agency in Maryland, tried to get a Jamaican employee to take a flight on Spirit. The woman turned up her nose and imperiously declared, “Mi naa fly pon no duppy airline.” The casual wit of so-called ‘ordinary’ Jamaican people is remarkable.

I decided to take my chance on the ‘duppy’ airline. I was going to DC for several reasons. Indigo, a seductive book written by one of my former students, Catherine McKinley, was going to be launched at the Smithsonian and I wanted to be there to celebrate the occasion. Catherine had come to the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, in 1987 as an exchange student from Sarah Lawrence College and her talent was obvious even then. Catherine lovingly documents the meandering story of one of the world’s most valued pigments, the bluest of blues.

My friend Beverley East, who offers creative-writing workshops in her ‘Writer’s Lounge’ in DC, was hosting a book party for Catherine and asked me to introduce her. Beverley is a much-in-demand graphologist who wrote the best-selling Finding Mr Write: A New Slant on Selecting the Perfect Mate. She’s also the author of Reaper of Souls, a novel based on the Kendal crash in which several members of her family perished.

Discovering Rastafari

I was also going to participate in a round-table discussion on ‘Discovering Rastafari!’, an exhibition which has been mounted at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum for the last four years.

Curated by resident anthropologist Jake Homiak, the Discovering Rastafari! exhibition has attracted huge crowds. Dr Jahlani Niaah, a UWI colleague who is on a fellowship at the Smithsonian, completing his book on Rastafari masculinities, had invited me to the round table.

Quite frankly, I was one of the naysayers who had objected to the curator’s use of the exclamatory ‘discovering’. It imaged that presumptuous fiction of finding the peoples of the Americas who were not lost, like Columbus. It also turned Rastafari into exotic creatures on display. We didn’t manage to have the formal conversation Jahlani had planned; but I did revisit the exhibition.

I also wanted to stop over in Fort Lauderdale for a family reunion. My paternal grandmother was a Dowdie, and the clan was gathering there. So I needed to make a multi-city booking. But because Spirit doesn’t offer that option online, I had to speak to an agent. I discovered that some of them specialise in misinformation. And that’s just the start of a rather long tale of woe. Suffice it to say, I took my maiden voyage on the ‘duppy’ airline and the spirits rode me all night.