Home / General / Jamaica: Another Nation That Should Be Grateful to the West

Jamaica: Another Nation That Should Be Grateful to the West



Slaves in Jamaica

David Cameron visited Jamaica this week. Presumably, the farmer’s pig farmers locked up their stock for the duration. Anyway, Cameron went full Cass Sunstein in his speech to the Jamaican Parliament, telling the nation to get over slavery and focus on all the great things the British brought the island.

David Cameron has called for Jamaica and the UK to “move on” from the deep wounds caused by slavery but ducked official calls for Britain to apologise for its role or pay reparations.

Speaking to the Caribbean country’s parliament, the prime minister struck a defiant note as he spoke of his pride that Britain had played a part in abolishing the “abhorrent” trade, without highlighting its historic involvement in the transfer of slaves from west Africa and ownership of slaves in the Caribbean.

He called for the two countries to “move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future”.

His trade trip to Jamaica, the first for 14 years by a UK prime minister, has been overshadowed by the issue of slavery. Cameron was warmly received by a military band playing God Save the Queen on arrival at the airport and received a hug from the country’s prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller.

Reparations obviously are controversial and could be problematic, although given the amount of wealth the British stole from the island, one could argue for them on a number of levels. But to not apologize over slavery? Why? Oh yeah, because David Cameron is a massive jerk.

But hey, Sunstein would be proud because of yet another gift from the western world to a developing nation!

The UK is to spend £25m on building a prison in Jamaica so that foreign criminals in the UK can be sent home to serve sentences in the Caribbean.

More than 600 Jamaican nationals are in UK jails but cannot be deported because of Jamaica’s poor prison conditions.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced the deal as he began a visit there.

Importing Africans to work on brutal sugar plantations, holding Africans under colonialism until 1962, and now building them prisons to incarcerate Africans. It’s gifts all the way down!

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  • Gareth

    Without slavery, none of the present-day Jamaicans would be Jamaicans, would they? This goes a bit beyond the old argument over the horrors of colonialism versus the benefits of development. You can make an argument that the entire nation of Jamaica is an abomination that should never have existed, but it’s a bit strange hearing that from Jamaican MPs.

    • Really?


      That’s your argument here?

      Slavery was OK because now we are a nation? That’s what they are supposed to say?

      • Gareth

        It makes total sense for individual people to deplore slavery, even if they’re Jamaican. But “Jamaica” collectively deploring slavery is a paradox.

        • Not in any meaningful way. And it’s an utterly bizarre point to be making.

        • Lost Left Coaster

          Does your argument extend to other nations born from the ashes of horrific violence? As in, those nations cannot later deplore that violence, because without it, they would not then exist as a nation?

          Can you think of any others that might apply to? Or are you just picking on Jamaica for some reason?

          • Gareth

            Some non-Aboriginal Australians seem to think the colonisation of Australia was evil, which confuses me in the same way. I suppose if they were born there and are only staying because they can’t find a job in another country, it makes sense.

            • The colonization of the Americas was a pure evil and I wish it had never happened.

              I don’t see how this is somehow a strange argument. That I happen to have been born into it does not mean it is an argument that should not be made.

              • Gareth

                Right, but I think you’re more consistent. I don’t think you have any particular pride in being an American, or would have any objection to living in England instead.

                • Untrue. I would not want to live outside the U.S. permanently. Maybe for a year, as I did in 1996-97 but not longer. I am American to the core. When I was a finalist for a job in Calgary, I was thinking very seriously about whether I want to live even that far from the U.S. Of course, I didn’t get it so I didn’t have to make that choice.

                • postmodulator

                  I’m curious what goes into that. I don’t have any particular sense of pride at “being an American,” and I don’t think I’d have trouble living in Canada indefinitely — if I didn’t hate cold weather.

                  You know that Bill Hicks joke about loving America? “I dunno, I guess my parents fucked here?” In my case even that isn’t true.

                • CD

                  Is there any reason why pride in a country requires living in it, or requires taking a providential view of its history?

                • Warren Terra

                  Possibly you’re confusing national pride with familiarity or comfort. I for one would have a hard time living in many places based on issues of cultural diversity, education levels, oppressive religiosity, etcetera. But that’s not a national pride thing – I suppose I identify as American, but I’d much rather live in coastal British Columbia than in rural Mississippi, for example.

                • Gareth

                  Sorry for the assumption, Erik, but that does surprise me.

              • Lager Lout

                “The colonization of the Americas was a pure evil and I wish it had never happened. ”

                Please state what you believe a feasible alternative would have been.
                This ought to be interesting.

            • Lost Left Coaster

              To delve into the history of the nation-state is to delve into a history of many evil doings. No nation is clean. Deciding where to live based on the cleanliness of its history is a dead end.

              It’s a very stunted view of history and justice indeed to look at one’s own home and decide that everything must be hunky dory because, after all, I was born here. The entire history of colonization and slavery is okay, because it eventually resulted in me.

            • brownian

              I’m a Canadian-born Canadian living in Canada. I deplore the colonization of the Americas, including Canada.

              To which country should I move so that I’m no longer a paradox threatening to unmake the universe?

              • J. Otto Pohl


                • brownian

                  I’ve spoken with a few Congolese when I briefly lived in East Africa; my French is nowhere near good enough to get by.

                • Malaclypse

                  There needs to be an addendum to Poe’s Law – call it Otto’s Corollary – where nobody can tell if something is dry wit or obtuseness.

                • Bill Murray

                  many can tell, Mal. it’s just that opinions differ in approximately equal amounts on which is correct

              • Gareth


                • brownian

                  Did you pick that country at random, or…?

                  I mean seriously, why the hell would I go to England?

                • Gareth

                  I’ve been to England, it’s good.

                • brownian

                  Ha-ha, okay. It’s on my bucket list.

          • I assume that LLC is talking about Israel (and maybe other nations too, but we’re a pretty classic example). I’ve always been keenly aware of this fact, because I personally would not exist if it had not been for the Holocaust: my father’s parents were born in different countries, and would not have met if they hadn’t fled Europe for Palestine in the late 30s. (Also, my grandfather’s first wife might not have died of electrocution while cleaning their house if she’d lived in a country with better infrastructure. So, you know, that’s another tragedy I owe my life to.)

            I’m rather fond of existing, and nevertheless I manage to be really fucking angry about the Holocaust. I’m pretty sure I’m not being inconsistent or hypocritical.

            • brownian

              For similar reasons of contingent existence, I guess I must cheer the Nazi and then Soviet occupation of the Baltic states.

              • joe from Lowell

                My dad’s ancestors come from Ireland, but according to the test, my genes came from England.

                What do you suppose that means?

                I know: a jolly English farmer moved to some empty land in Ireland, and his neighbors were just, like, super-friendly.

                I’m going with that.

                • Ahuitzotl

                  or you might want to have a word with your mother about paternity …

              • William Berry

                Way to miss the point, brownian.

                Your “similar reasons of contingent existence . . . ” is pretty much the opposite of what Abigail is saying: “I’m rather fond of existing, and nevertheless I manage to be really fucking angry about the Holocaust.

                • brownian

                  I didn’t miss the point, but you’re right that my comment sure reads as if I did.

                  I meant to convey agreement with Abigail: that similarly, I can deplore those occupations while recognizing that my existence is contingent upon them, and specifically because they were deplorable.

                  Awful writing on my part. Mea culpa. Sorry about that, Abigail, and others.

            • Gareth

              Ta-Nehisi Coates had a light-hearted interview about his “genius” award. He said that given the opportunity, he wouldn’t shoot Hitler because he couldn’t say what the absence of the Holocaust would do to Jewish identity.

              • 4jkb4ia

                If given the opportunity, I would shoot Hitler. But I am not sure if this would mean that the colonists in Palestine were sacrificed instead of the Jews in Europe.

                (Well, at that time, it was Palestine. No one doubted that. I suppose EY is the Zionist politically correct thing to write.)

          • But for the Holocaust, there would be no state of Israel. A dank! for Hitler

        • DrDick

          You have descended into new depths of stupid and morally repugnant arguments. Must be a glibertarian.

    • Lost Left Coaster

      You can make an argument that the entire nation of Jamaica is an abomination that should never have existed

      You could make that argument. Luckily no one is making that argument. Some people are mature enough to condemn the history of slavery, and Cameron’s refusal to own up to British responsibility, without extending it to be a bizarre, nonsensical blanket condemnation of Jamaica and Jamaicans.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Not true, many Jamaicans such as Marcus Garvey have made exactly that argument. The Garveyites claimed that they were Africans and as such shoud return to Africa. The idea of negating the diaspora has had strong supporters in and from Jamaica. One can disagree with the back to Africa strands of Pan-Africanism out Jamaica such as the Garveyites and the Rastafarians, but their viewpoint is a legitimate one.

        • Lost Left Coaster

          Okay, excellent point, but I’m going to defend myself with my use of the present tense in my comment to at least point out a condemnation of the existence of Jamaica does not seem to as prominent in the present day criticism of the Cameron visit and contemporary British/Jamaican relations. Nevertheless, I missed a pretty important strand there, thank you.

        • Incidentally, Garvey was also strongly anti-union and worked with employers against unions at times because he thought such struggles were a distraction from what really mattered for African peoples.

        • DrDick

          The Rastafarian movement was also linked to this idea.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      True, the vast majority of the population are descended of the survivors of the some one million African slaves brought to the island by the British. Absent the slave trade they wouldn’t be Jamaicans. They would have been Ghanaians and members of other African nations rather than part of the Black diaspora. But, given the historical strength of various Pan-African movements out of Jamaica such as the Garveyites and the fact that Rastafarians refer to the place as Babylon it appears that a lof of Jamaicans have indeed viewed the nation as an abomination that should never have existed. Instead, they have identified themselves with Africa.

    • Tyro

      Actually, Jamaicans are descendants of the small fraction of slaves who survived the death camp like conditions of Jamaican sugar plantations. So I think the current residents are certainly in their rights to ask for apologies on behalf of the countrymen who were never able to even have descendants to become Jamaicans.

    • joe from Lowell

      This is like saying that a person who was conceived during a rape can’t condemn rape.

      • postmodulator

        For many descendents of slaves, this is also the literal argument.

    • dp

      Great point. They got Red Stripe and reggae, what else do they need, amirite?

    • matt w

      Ooh Gareth, let me blow your mind: Without slavery, nobody who’s currently alive would even exist! Because what with the butterfly effect and everything, there’s no way that that particular sperm would have met that particular egg. You are only alive today because of slavery! And the Holocaust, if you were born after 1942 or so. So we should all get down on our knees every day and thank heaven for slavery and the Holocaust.

      Or we could not be assholes.

  • brownian

    “Dear America:

    It’s not too late to say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’.



    PS. Don’t worry about the tea; it’s surely ruined by now. But those back taxes would be nice.


  • He called for the two countries to “move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future”.

    Because nothing says “I’m a privileged slab-headed creep” like a pasty pig’s head porker telling poor black people to get over slavery, already.

    Prime Minister David Cameron announced the deal as he began a visit there.

    What a kind and considerate human being.

  • David W.
  • Lost Left Coaster

    Is there anything more disingenuous than “celebrating” Britain’s role in ending slavery without, you know, acknowledging that it was their own slave trade that they were ending? It’s like, yes, it’s good you ended the slave trade. But that was not a heroic action. That was yours to end, not someone else’s.

    • Malaclypse

      Shorter Cameron: “Why won’t people praise me for the fact I no longer beat my wife?”

      • CaptainBringdown

        That pretty much nails it.

      • Ken

        “I stop beating my wife, and do they say ‘Oh, there goes that great guy who stopped beating his wife’? No.

        “I deplore slavery, and do they say ‘Oh, there goes that great guy who deplored slavery’? No.

        “But f*ck one pig….”

    • ajay

      Is there anything more disingenuous than “celebrating” Britain’s role in ending slavery without, you know, acknowledging that it was their own slave trade that they were ending? It’s like, yes, it’s good you ended the slave trade. But that was not a heroic action.

      History FAIL!
      Wikipedia’s quite good. Look up “West Africa Patrol” and “East Africa Patrol” and go from there…

  • Warren Terra

    Cameron has his own family history in Jamaica: he is a direct descendant of people who got wealthy off of human misery on that island. Moreover, his ancestor was compensated by the British state when slavery was abolished on Jamaica. This little detail – that slaveowners received reparations, and ex-slaves or their descendants did not – has become a major point of discussion with Cameron’s trip to the scene of his family’s crime.

    If Cameron weren’t such a smug entitled (pig-porking) prick, some of these issues might have occurred to him before he boarded the plane.

    The CBC’s As It Happens had a good interview on this in Tuesday’s episode.

  • Fnarf

    Sugar slavery was the worst of the worst. During the harvest when the work was heaviest the slaves would sometimes be worked literally 24 hours a day until they dropped dead, because it was cheaper to buy new ones off the boats waiting in the harbor than to rest the ones you had. I think they lasted about a week or so before dropping dead. Many others died during the incredibly dangerous work, of course.

    Just one of the many ways that Britain’s wealth was based on brutality, theft, and slavery, even after slavery was “abolished” there.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      Jamaica’s mortaity rate for slaves was about 3-3.5% above births during the 18th century. This is very high, but Barbados was considerably worse at 4-5% a year in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. By 1834 there were only 82,000 surviving slaves on the island, less than a quarter of the number imported.


      Kenneth F. Kiple, The Caribbean Slave: A Biological History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 106.

    • Were there many slave uprisings?

      I’m thinking having a bunch of pissed off people standing around with machetes isn’t good for life expectancy if you’re an overseer.

      • Unless someone subjected them to a regime of physical and mental torture so that they’re afraid to even think of looking at a white person funny.

        I’m thinking that kidnapping people, beating and raping them when they resist (or just for the hell of it), shoving them in the cramped, stinking hold of a boat for months on end and (if they’re lucky) hauling them up on to the deck every so often and whipping them so they leap around to get their circulation going, and of course more beatings and assaults once they reach their new and completely strange destination, would do the trick.

    • But … this takes the argument that slavery couldn’t have been that bad because slave owners would have been careful with their investments and blows it to tiny smithereens.

      • Well….I think that for those sugar planters, it was so little an investment that the slaves could just be killed off. They were so rich that it didn’t matter. There is some truth to the argument that for North American slave owners, the slaves had to be treated well enough to keep them alive since even wealthy cotton planters were middle class compared to Jamaican sugar planters. And slave owners really did try to calculate how hard they could work the slaves without actually killing them, much as they tried to calculate the growth of cotton. It’s still inhuman but there was a calculation to be made there.

        • #NotAllSlaveOwners.

          • I mean, it’s not an argument I really want to be pushing because obviously a lot of slave owners killed their slaves just out of spite or hatred and because it can be significantly overplayed and made to say that slavery was not a horrible system. And of course that’s just not true at all. But the point about investment calculations isn’t entirely untrue either.

            • There’s a lot of real estate between “being careful with” and “murder.”

              I feel confident in saying that working people until they’re almost dead, torturing them to make them compliant (or just for fun) or even subjecting them to the stress of slavery isn’t being careful, as anyone currently uses the term.

              However, a system that says “Eh, just throw it away, we’ll get a new one,” makes it impossible to argue that they were careful, where someone might weasel around when discussing similar, but marginally less brutal systems.

              As an aside, I wonder if you ever come across similar justifications for the way workers are treated in sweat shops?

              • No, I’ve never really seen it put that way, I guess because the language of human rights means that you can’t really talk openly about sweatshop workers like you could in 1860 with slaves. So what happens today is that the sweatshop workers are “given opportunities to improve themselves” by working 16 hour days in factories that fall on them.

                Don’t disagree with your other points.

            • wengler

              Don’t forget all the eugenics experiments that were done to get heartier human livestock.

        • Manny Kant

          And after 1808, cotton planters couldn’t import slaves from Africa anymore either. Although I suppose Virginia and the Upper South acted to some extent as a slave breeding ground to provide extra slaves for the Deep South. In the Upper South, having healthy slaves to sell down the river actually was a major part of the economy, so treating slaves reasonably well right up to the point where you sell them to cotton planters in Mississippi probably was a thing.

    • Vance Maverick

      What, no “Brown Sugar”? ;-)

      I like Erik am one of those Americans Gareth can’t understand, who identify deeply with the country and also know it has grown to what it is on a diet of blood.

      • Yup, American cultual imperialism is imposed on its own people too. And being born between imaginary lines on a piece of paper shouldn’t mean squat to any rational being.

        Fortunately I wasn’t well socialized, & can enjoy some of our culture while still hating everything else about this nation descended mostly from the lowest scum of Europe.

        I could easily live in Canada or Western Yurp though. (“Easliy”, if anyone would like to bankroll me.)

        • I suppose if I just had to go live in Provence or Tuscany I could suffer the hardship.

          • Scotland: Go for the beer. Stay for the bagpipes and haggis.

            • Warren Terra
              • I like haggis. I’m okay with bagpipes. I love Scottish ale.

                All joking aside, Mrs__B and I both lined up jobs in Edinburgh and were ready to jump in 2008. After 8 years of W, the thought of living through the McCain catastrophe was too much.

  • ajp

    I disagree philosophically with the concept of reparations. Or rather, I think it’s a poor way of framing the issue that needlessly lends itself to conservative attack.

    Let’s look at the United States-I agree that we should do more for our African American population, but not because they were enslaved by some of our ancestors (not mine though, my family came here from Western Europe around the turn of the 20th century). But rather because they suffer severe structural inequalities. Now, they suffer those inequalities *because* of the legacy of slavery and its aftermath. And white Americans and their ancestors benefitted from the labor they stole and keeping the boot on their next over the next century and a half after the civil war. But if there were no structural inequality, if we had magically solved it somehow, reparations would be silly. If African Americans had the same outcomes as white people, the same level of wealth, the same rate of imprisonment, then reparations would be silly.

    Why can’t we just find a different way of framing it? Massive monetary transfer to African Americans because they’ve had the white boot on their neck for years and still do. Make it explicit that we are focusing on the here and now, rather than the past which conservatives always say when “reparations” are mentioned. Reparations are for the *legacy of slavery* that African Americans still suffer and white Americans still benefit from, not slavery in and of itself. Reparations, nomenclature-wise, seems imprecise or too open to attack.

    • Warren Terra

      In theory and in general I think yours is the sensible approach, but in the case of slavery in the British Caribbean it’s important to point out that reparations have already been paid: to the former slaveholders. This adds some perspective and makes the refusal to pay reparations to (the descendants of) slaves look rather worse.

      • ajp

        You’re right, of course. I’m mostly thinking of a Coates article from last year? that this reminded me of. What I remember is a lot of caterwauling among even liberals I know that seem to miss the point. Common complaints: *my* ancestors didn’t own slaves, or *my* ancestors didn’t come here until 1920 so why should it come from my tax dollars? Or why can’t we move on from history? Etc. I think these are distractions. We should do more for our African American population *regardless* of our history, because they are disproportionately getting shafted *now.* Whether it’s because of slavery or little green aliens from Mars doesn’t change the fact that they’re our fellow citizens and our collective responsibility.

        Not that I’m arguing that an understanding of history and the root causes of inequality are unimportant, I just don’t like the framing.

        And in the case of direct descendants of slave owners or people whose families have inherited wealth originally built on the back of slave labor, I do agree with an additional tax levied upon them, on the grounds that that wealth is unearned.

        • Warren Terra

          *my* ancestors didn’t own slaves, or *my* ancestors didn’t come here until 1920 so why should it come from my tax dollars?

          This argument always pisses me off. My ancestors came here in the teens and twenties, but were dirt-poor Jewish immigrants and as such didn’t really get accepted into mainstream society until at least after WWII. So what? They chose to join a society that had a bunch of moral debts owing, accepting that obligation along with the benefits of becoming American.

          And that’s even before you start asking whether their descendants unfairly benefited from living as White-skinned people in America, especially after Jews eventually stopped being anathematized.

      • Manny Kant

        Haiti was forced to pay reparations to former French slaveholders for decades, as well. I think the US was the only wholly uncompensated emancipation in the New World.

        • Oh, the traitors in defense of slavery managed to compensate w/ the lives of a couple hundred thousand real Americans.

    • erick

      I dont think conservatives are going to suddenly agree with that if you simply change some smantics. In case you hadnt noticed they tend to spend a lot of time denying that “African Americans have had the white boot on their necks for years and still do”. After all John Roberts said racism doesn’t exist anymore remember.

      • ajp

        I guess you’re right, it’s mostly a personal squabble. Let’s say that there were no slavery and African Americans still had the same economic and criminal justice outcomes. Would they be any less deserving of “reparations”? I just feel that we owe our fellow humans help out of misery regardless of whose “fault” it is. Not that history isn’t important, it’s just that the logic troubles me somehow.

        • Bill Murray

          Let’s say that there were no slavery and African Americans still had the same economic and criminal justice outcomes. Would they be any less deserving of “reparations”?

          They would be “deserving” (I hate it’s use in this fashion) of programmatic efforts by the our state and Federal governments to improve the economic and criminal justice outcomes. Reparations are a separate issue than these outcomes, and are not envisioned (at least by me) as a compensation for these outcomes, but as compensation for the specific crime of kidnapping and slavery abetted by our state and Federal governments.

        • joe from Lowell

          Let’s say that there were no slavery and African Americans still had the same economic and criminal justice outcomes. Would they be any less deserving of “reparations”?

          For a oppressed population to have the same outcomes as the dominant population would require something to happen. So, if there actually were those outcomes, it could only be because there were already reparations of some sort.

          • djw

            That’s more or less what I took to be TNC’s central point. We can’t seem to stop inventing new systems of plunder, so maybe let’s try to inaugurate a process of moral accounting to see if we can’t break the habit. Or, to put it more succinctly, we tried not-reparations, and it was an unmitigated disaster.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              We can’t as humans break the habit. Systems of moral accounting have been around for a lot longer than the US. I go to one every Sunday morning. Despite lots of sermons and prayers it has yet to convince the Ghanaian government to be morally acountable.

    • heckblazer

      That the damage is active an ongoing is actually the point Ta-Nehisi Coates makes in his case for reparations, and the main purpose for his call to get an accurate accounting of the damage done. Though you have a good point too that this frame can distract as opponents will paint it as moocher blacks just looking for a check.

      Out of curiosity I was curious what African Americans would get if we paid them back their ancestors’ lost (stolen) wages plus interest. My extremely crude calculations produced $3 million each.

      • postmodulator

        Another crude calculation tells us that if we make the payment in one lump sum, we are on the hook for $125 trillion.

        I’ll check the couch cushions.

        • Gareth

          I always thought the simplest slavery reparations would be the minimum wage, paid weekly, for life. That’s the modern equivalent of 40 acres and a mule.

    • joe from Lowell

      Reparations are so implausible from the perspective of practical politics that you have to assume the people arguing for them see a value in the conversation distinct from the implementation of the policy.

  • greatdoubt

    When I was in college, I was against reparations because of the “my family wasn’t here, why me” argument. No longer.

    Reparation are right regardless of that because it is a debt of the USA, not of individuals. When a corporation settles a large lawsuit, it gets paid out, and whoever the shareholders at that time were lose those profits. They don’t say, how dare you! I wasn’t a shareholder at the time!

    You are a citizen, you pay taxes to help pay the debts, regardless of when the debt was incurred.

    Please help me to propagate this as it is really common sense, but not common.

  • greatdoubt

    joe, I do indeed believe there is a value in discussing them quite apart from the practicality of implementing them now. We need to move the overton a ton.

  • j_kay

    But didn’t you know you have to not even think about criticing on vacation ;-). Like Shrub and his record vacations. ;-)

    That’s a change from he to worry about LiberalDems, of course. I can’t remember it was Kenyans or Indians, but he was classy to somebody.

    Douglass, an ex-slave, said it was the biggest mass rape and theft of family knowledge ever. And a big problem with reparations’ that they’d have to come after Native Americans, who’d get the nation first…

  • ajay

    Indeed the wounds of colonialism run deep in Jamaica. See the results of this poll a few years back…


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