Only if former slave-owning countries, institutions and descendants were willing to come to grips with the dark, demonic past of slavery, reparations might have been easier. Only if. “In 2013 Caribbean Heads of Governments established the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) with a mandate to prepare the case for reparatory justice for the region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are the victims of Crimes against Humanity (CAH) in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid (CRC, para.1). In 2014 Ta-Nehisi Coates (USA) wrote “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic, making clear that until the United States reckons with its “compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
This writer agrees with CRC (2013), Coates (2014) and Kelly Brown Douglas (2020) in the call for reparations. However, Douglas’ argument is telling, in that she says unless faith communities address the issue of reparations, they themselves will not be whole-“As this is true for the nation in general, it is likewise true for faith communities…” (Douglas, 2020, para.3).
In Grenada and the Caribbean, we should acknowledge the complicities of some faith groups and Christian personalities and demand reparations from their inheritances and descendants respectively.
One way we can begin the process is by engaging in a renaming initiative. The reason is that names have significant psychological, social and theological impact on people. And name change was a major tool that former slave-owning colonizers used to disorient and mentally destroy our ancestors. It is only fitting to begin there as part of the church’s gift to the reparation process.
From a psychological and social perspective, a rebranding and renaming often follow a business entity who may not be performing well. From a theological perspective, we see in Genesis 17:5 for example, where God changed the Hebrew Abram’s name “exalted father” to Hebrew ‘Abraham’ meaning “multitude.” Ultimately, the literal meaning of Abraham means “Exalted father of many nations or multitude.” See also from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28) and Simon to Peter (Matthew 16:18–19)
This renaming initiative could see faith groups leading the way by affirming and helping its members and those in the community to search for their African and indigenous people’s ancestral connection and adopting ancestors’ names if so desired. The same should be done for our communities’ name as well.
I encourage our Grenada and Caribbean faith groups to consider this initiative. It is biblically and theologically sound, and contextually and morally just.
Rev Vonnie James, Grenada Baptist Association