Introduction: Reparations



Welcome to the 30th issue of The Funambulist! With it, we’re finishing our fifth year of publishing the magazine — and what a time to do so, amidst the global Black uprising! We hope that this issue dedicated to the question of Reparations can contribute in a humble way to the extremely rich conversations about strategies to adopt in the international(ist) front against settler colonialism and anti-Blackness. When we decided to dedicate an issue to this question in late 2019, it was supposed to be complemented by a monthly lecture series in Saint-Denis (Paris northern banlieue) about this same topic. We were able to organize the first one in March before the others were cancelled by the global COVID-19 pandemic. This first lecture, entitled “Repairing Ourselves, Collectively” was given by Paris-based activists Hajer Ben Boubaker and Dawud Bumaye. The rhetorical question used as a premise of their talk is also the premise of this issue: “Can Reparation occur without the one who committed injustice?” Answering yes to this question, Hajer and Dawud described how communities who have a common experience of colonialism and of its sustained logics today in France, can organize communitarian means of solidarity and material resources.

Reparations, as they are commonly understood — especially in the united states where “40 acres and a mule” were deceivingly promised to formerly enslaved Black people in 1865 — involve the perpetrator of the harm done. Whether the latter are individuals or the State, some activists have elaborated roadmaps for such a process to be engaged. The most compelling we’ve encountered during the preparation of this issue may have been the community accountability process outlined by community organizer, survivor Leila Raven to our colleagues of a u.s.-based leftist magazine, whose editorial team includes the person who raped her. Her refusal to replicate the punitive logics of carceralism, her choice to never publicly name the person involved, and her dedication to describe the path that needs to be followed in order for accountability to occur (for this specific case involving these specific people) appears to me as a paradigmatic example of reparative justice — insofar that it is self-determined and works for her. The lack of a satisfying response to this process from the people involved, on the other hand, is symptomatic of the fact that one cannot wait for this kind of reparation to occur in order to have means to repair themselves.

As the Cases Rebelles contribution to this issue shows, states, in particular, often use memorialization — or rather, a simulacrum of memorialization — as a claimed form of reparation. The innocuous dimension of these initiatives is sometimes admitted by themselves. Cases Rebelles mention the Nantes mayor proudly affirming that memorializing slavery does not consist in looking for culprits, an obvious deflection of responsibility in a city built by the wealth accumulated from the slave trade. Similarly, on October 17, 2001, for the 40th anniversary of the seldom-acknowledged massacre of over 200 Algerians by the Paris police during the Algerian Revolution, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë inaugurated a plaque commemorating the bloody event with these words: “This plaque targets no one.” When one reads the plaque (that has been augmented by a small artwork last year), one can only see how this is true: “To the memory of numerous Algerians killed during the bloody repression of the peaceful march of October 17, 1961” — no one from President De Gaulle or Prefect of police Maurice Papon, to the thousands of police officers deployed is even named.

More recently in France, the report put together by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy about the repatriation of thousands of looted objects and artworks from French museums to their homelands on the African Continent or in the Pacific, generated a narrative that revolves around the good will of the colonial State. This Funambulist issue, on the contrary, favors the narrative that emerges from the conversation with Hawaiian activist Edward Halealoha Ayau in its pages. With 30 years of experience in repatriating Hawaiian kūpunas (ancestors) from colonial institutions around the world to give them a proper burial, he is in position to tell these museums and universities that “the question here is not whether they’re coming home, it’s when.”

Reconciliation is another commonly associated concept to that of reparations. Too often, it is understood as a bargaining means from states that desperately want to “move on” from their settler colonial past and present history. How else to understand the well-known “Truth and Reconciliation” Commissions — i.e. “we’ll trade you some truth for reconciliation” — implemented in the settler colonies of South Africa in 1996 (as discussed by Tshepo Madinglozi in this issue), Australia in the early 2000s and Canada from the later part of that decade. However, reconciliation does not always necessarily involve the colonial State; rather, it can occur between colonized groups whose bone of contention between themselves is deeply linked to the colonial structure. The example to which I constantly return to is when I think about true decolonial reconciliation happening on July 17, 2004 in colonized Kanaky (more commonly known under its colonial name, New Caledonia).

After the assassination of the two leaders of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) — Jean-Marie Tjibaou and Yeiwéné Yeiwéné by another Kanak leader, Djubelly Wea in Ouvéa on May 4, 1989 following the controversial signing of agreements between the FLNKS, the settler Right, and the French State —  Wea was also killed by Tjibaou’s bodyguard and Kanaky was consequently deeply traumatized by these three violent deaths. The respective tribes of the three men (Tiendanite on the Great Earth, Tadine on Maré island, and Gossanah on Ouvéa island) began a 15-year-long silence with each other. In 2004 nonetheless, the families of the three men undertook a customary path (“chemin coutumier”) to reconciliation that culminated in the travel of most members of the tribe of Gossanah ceremonially asking for forgiveness, and receiving it in the tribe of Tiendanite on July 17, 2004 in a profound and moving historical moment. Jean-Marie Tjibaou, Yeiwéné Yeiwéné, and Djubelly Wea were killed, because of French colonialism, and this custom of forgiveness (coutume de pardon), like all true acts of reparation, although far from erasing the past, constitutes a real moment of decolonization. May you find many more such examples of revolutionary, decolonial reparations throughout this issue. I wish you an excellent read.