Niambi Hall-Campbell | Remixing our views on reparation

The following article is republished from The Gleaner and was written on March 31, 2024 by Professor Niambi Hall-Campbell Dean.

Spectators listen to Dutch King Willem-Alexander who apologized for the royal house’s role in slavery and asked forgiveness in a speech greeted by cheers and whoops at an event to commemorate the anniversary of the country abolishing slavery in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

In November 2024, I had the pleasure of travelling to Ghana to participate in the African Reparations Conference hosted by the African Union Commission and the Government of The Republic of Ghana. It was an inspirational event with people from across the Continent and the African Diaspora merging in one place, at one time, with one mission: reparations and reparations now!

As the chair of The Bahamas National Reparations Committee, I was asked to present at the conference under the topic, “Reparations as a catalyst for social change”. Sir Hillary Beckles, chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, has defined reparations as “the process of repairing the consequences of crimes committed, and the attempt to reasonably remove debilitating effects of such crimes upon victims and their descendants”. I wanted to use this topic, therefore, as an opportunity to view change as a remix, a call to invoke the spirit of the Jockeys (DJs) whose ingenuity emerged from the Caribbean to create new genres of music that although birthed within the imaginations of African-descended people are now seen simply as popular music.

I wanted to use the DJ’s ability to change the way we hear sounds that may be familiar in a new way, to work like a Dub poet, and re-envision how, 10 years after the establishment of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, we perceive reparations and the social changes that we wish to obtain through them. What I came up with were three distinct perspectives with which to remix our views on reparations and expand the narrative. Each remix includes a question proposed to all within the reparations movement to ponder, not necessarily for me to answer, and an action step that one can take to move us all closer to the changes we wish to see. This piece outlines the first and may be the most pertinent remix for us to explore.

The first remix is what I have termed as Reparations as personhood – rooted in the purpose of reparations to remove the debilitating effects of the crimes visited upon brown and black bodies through the genocide of the native peoples of the Caribbean, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and the debilitating effects of the subsequent colonisation. Reparations as personhood is a concept that was birthed in me before I really even knew what the reparations movement was and was highlighted in my first visit to Ghana as a graduate student living in a guest house outside of Legon.
Walking to campus every day, my colleagues and I made friends with the neighbourhood Rasta, Rasta Frankie. He would accompany us along our daily walks to campus but he would always want to go the long way around. One day we asked him, “Ras Frankie, why you does go the long way around all the time instead of just walking through the neighbourhood?” and he replied by telling us that if he were to walk the most direct path we would never get to school because he would have to stop and hail everybody along the way especially since he was walking with foreigners and they would think that he was no longer speaking with them because he thought he was too good for them, or as we say in the Bahamas, “get rich and switch.” 


In that moment and many more moments before and to come, I was made aware of the sameness of us as a people because it is just as important in The Bahamas to be seen, to be acknowledged. It is not uncommon for someone to walk into a room and announce “see me here!”. I used to wonder if this propensity to be known to speak loudly, to wear flashy things and attract attention was a rejection of a past in which one had to be invisible to stay alive but this interaction with Rasta Frankie, walking on the streets of Legon, dispelled this notion. This sameness this, “nkonsonkonson”, allowed me to understand that we as a people want to be seen because we inherently embrace an Ubuntu philosophy. We want to be seen by other people because our humanity is known through people. Reparations that is embedded with a Ubuntu philosophy is the process of repairing our personhood. It is the way in which we can collectively call “See me here!”, the way in which we can be seen.

The question here then is what happens to a people who were never meant to be seen, whose bodies were to be consumed but whose names were erased? A people whose voices were choked out never to be heard and whose very existence was safer if invisible?

Bahamas-born author and historian Kris Manjapra in Black Ghost of Empire outlines how the manifestation of this type of erasure in history:

“To ghost someone is to ignore them, to see through them, and to look past them. To ghostline a people’s history is to systematically ignore the meaning of their collective experience, generation after generation, century after century…, is the cunning practice, adopted by whole societies, of “unseeing” the plundered parts, and “unhearing” their historical demands for reparative justice.

Not content with merely outlining the problem, Manjapra suggests that reparations can be used as a tool with which to bring back structure to that which they tried to eliminate.

“Reparative justice demands ways of retelling the past that detect the voices previously consigned to the archival void; and of rewriting history in ways that matter to those voices and that make those voices matter to us … The ghosts in our history demand reparative action – diverse practices of reparations, restitution, and redress – by all of us standing on the ground of slavery and by the ruling order built upon it. Through reparative action, based in the will to truth and peace, not the will to power, we can all help one another become more human or, perhaps, more than the humankind we have known.”

This suggestion that reparations can help us to become more than the humankind we have known, is what I mean when I say reparations as personhood. Reparations remixed as more than the popular notions of a payout to include definitions that help us to restore ourselves. Reparations as a tool to help us see the fullness of our humanity first within ourselves and then within each other.

Niambi Hall-Campbell Dean is chair of Bahamas National Reparations Committee. 
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