‘Seh Yu Sorry!’ Royal visit to Jamaica sparks protests and calls for slavery reparations

“While expressing regret, Prince William stopped short of an apology.” Emma Lewis (Global Voices) reports on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent Caribbean tour. Quoted by Lewis, Robyn Miller, a Jamaican public relations practitioner, summarized why Jamaica needs an apology from the British: “Here it is from Prof. Verene Shepherd. An apology has three dimensions: 1) You take responsibility for your actions 2) You commit to non-repetition 3) You commit to reparations.” Lewis writes:

On March 22, when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his wife Catherine (“Kate”), stepped off the plane on a windy afternoon at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, the ensuing commentary was about much more than the Duchess’ daffodil yellow designer dress — but they would have, no doubt, been briefed on what to expect.

A wave of controversy had been steadily building as the royals embarked on a regional tour to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee year. Even before they arrived, protesters were gathering outside the British High Commission to call for an apology for the British royal family’s support of slavery — which ended in 1830 in Jamaica — as well as reparations for the wrongs committed under colonial rule.

The first leg of the royal tour of the Caribbean began in Belize, a Commonwealth country in Central America. It had gone fairly smoothly, although a protest by Indigenous peoples caused a change in the royal couple’s schedule. One British writer observed: “Q’eqchi Maya community in Belize had land stolen from them by the crown. This year they were told they HAD to let the royals visit & couldn’t protest, by the very group that won’t return the land; of which William is a patron!”

Meanwhile, in Jamaica, the body language in a photograph shared by health administrator Wayne Chen sparked considerable comment from Jamaican social media users. It showed the Duchess of Cambridge flanked by Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith (left in the photograph) and the opposition People’s National Party‘s (PNP) representative, Lisa Hanna, after the airport arrival. [. . .]

The local protests were based on an Open Letter to William and Kate, published on March 20 and composed by the Advocates Network, which campaigns “for human rights and good governance to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people of Jamaica and to transform lives.” The letter was signed by 100 Jamaicans [including the author of this post]:

“We see no reason to celebrate 70 years of the ascension of your grandmother to the British throne because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, have perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind. Her ascension to the throne, in February 1952, took place 14 years after the 1938 labour uprisings against inhumane working/living conditions and treatment of workers; painful legacies of plantation slavery, which persist today. During her 70 years on the throne, your grandmother has done nothing to redress and atone for the suffering of our ancestors that took place during her reign and/or during the entire period of British trafficking of Africans, enslavement, indentureship and colonialization […]

We will, however, celebrate 60 years of freedom from British colonial domination. We are saddened that more progress has not been made given the burden of our colonial inheritance. We nonetheless celebrate the many achievements of great Jamaicans who rejected negative, colonial self-concepts and who self-confidently succeeded against tremendous odds. We will also remember and celebrate our freedom fighters, including our National Heroes, who bravely fought against British tyrannical rule and abominable human rights abuses. We welcome you to join this celebration.”

Attached to the letter, which was handed over to a representative of the British High Commission by Professor Rosalea Hamilton and Patricia Phillips, was a list of “60 Reasons,” including documented atrocities under slavery. Among the many protestors were members of Jamaica’s Rastafarian community, academics, musicians and entertainers. [. . .]

During the Royals’ brief visit to Montego Bay on March 23, a leader of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society said that the monarchy “owes us millions, billions and trillions of dollars” [. . .].

During a photo op at his office on the second day of the royal visit, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the Duke and Duchess that Jamaica is considering “moving on” towards abandoning the monarchy and becoming a republic, as Barbados did last year. [. . .]

[. . .] However, the hoped-for apology did not take place during Prince William’s speech. While expressing regret, he stopped short of an apology. [. . .]

Read full story at Global Voices.

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