Peter Josie’s ‘Reparations Conference’
Reviewed by Claudia Eleibox
Peter Josie's newest title, Reparations Conference, comes on the heels of UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles' announcement this week that the Universities of Glasgow and the West Indies are in discussions for reparations from the former worth £200 million in cash and in kind to Jamaica (see page 8).
Beckles has been spearheading dialogue about reparations justice for slavery in the Caribbean for a long time and in July 2014 proposed a reparations agreement to the British House of Commons. Beckles also divulged in February this year at a Caribbean Reparations Commission press conference that the British government only finished repaying the loan for slavery abolition in 2015. His role has been vital in any consideration of Caribbean reparations justice, despite the many naysayers on the matter.
Reparations Conference is what I believe Josie hopes to happen to at least launch productive consultations on reparations and perhaps to lead Saint Lucia where Beckles is headed.
The book is a work of fiction describing the anticipation and excitement of the country leading up to the first ever communal discussion about reasons why past colonizers should redress Caribbean slavery and its after-effects. Josie outlines the details of the conference and the reasons behind the choice of location, the audience invited, the selected panel and how the idea came into public consciousness. The reparations conference was planned for months and promoted through all media, its final hurdle being a rainy morning on the scheduled date.
All in all, apart from the CARICOM Reparations Commission activities in Saint Lucia, including a Youth Rally in 2016, there has not been an event quite like what Josie proposes in his book. He sets a tone of overall inclusion and non-discrimination by bringing both common and unorthodox perspectives of reparations justice into his characters' speech and conversation.
The central figures in Josie's imaginary conference are Toney Grant, the reparations committee's chairman, Mary Morgan who represents teachers past and present, John Sandy who speaks for trade unionists, Andy Charles or Ras Lion, the Rasatafarian population's assignee, and Anna Leon for the country's students. My personal favourite is Mary Morgan who secretly has a more rational idea for a case for reparations justice than the Rastafarians who birthed the concept. She knows it would not sit well with Saint Lucians but she is bold nonetheless. Mary Morgan also reminds me of my mother too, obviously because she is a witty schoolteacher.
Flipping through the pages, the reader is not always burdened or angered by the brutality of slavery as throughout the entire conference the chairman keeps pushing the crowd to mediate a tangible plan for a way forward, although a few characters are clearly bitter, some even insisting on a Marcus Garvey approach to justice.
The conference is a day long and gets more and more crowded as the day progresses and people hear about it over the radio. Some come in at the eleventh hour hoping to voice their contribution. It is everything the organisers hoped for and more. In the end, Toney Grant has a solid case to deliver to the government encompassing everything the island deserves from reparations justice, and it is plausibly what would happen if Josie's idea came to life.
Of course—like anyone else who reads something they did not write—there were parts I enjoyed and others that I just did not fancy. I wished that there was more Lucian brokenEnglish and a small fight, but Josie covered all his bases with effective security measures and an authoritative chairman. Josie does describe the novel as an amateur attempt but his experience in politics and with other leaders in the island's social affairs inform this book and the possibilities if such a conference was ever a reality. All in all, I believe Josie has the blueprint for a local reparations catalyst right in the pages of his book.