By Donna Palmer-Smith
With the current political climate with Black Lives Matter being a focus. I thought it would be a good time to revisit an age-old argument which has been discussed in Parliament in the 1800’s by early abolitionist through to today. A demand or appeal to the British government, for the descendants of the Atlantic slave trade to be given reparations and compensation for the abuse the African slaves suffered at the hands of the enslavers, the trade and the lasting affects or legacy that has followed through generations to date.
In fact, I and many others believe that there are at least three separate relevant reasons for compensation and reparation claims for the descendants of slavery that should be individually examined.
The first is as above, for the general horrifying abuse suffered during slavery. The kidnapping, torture, rape, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse and murder of 3 million African children, women and men by British slavers. Many crimes and atrocities authenticated through diaries, ledgers and archives, with millions of crimes going undocumented. Then there was the ridiculous false science formed by various wealthy European and British men of influence such as Blumenbach in 1775 and Thomas Carlyle of 1849, who advocated that black people were inferior to white people, a different species and a call for slavery to continue. Slavery was fuelled by greed, self-interest and a chance to acquire more wealth by the already rich land owing classes and the up and coming middle classes out to improve their lot.
Much of the wealth stolen then, is still in their hands today. Also, the general rape of Africa, of the land, it’s wealth in oil, gold, diamonds, other minerals and resources which are industries still owned by British, USA and other European nations who swindled, stole and dispossessed the people leaving the lasting effects of economic inequality and racism in society today.
The second reason is for the outrageous and appalling fact that the British government paid 20 million (worth between 17 billion – 200 billion in today’s money) to the slave owners and their descendants, without ever paying a single penny to the slaves. This money was to compensate rich and middle-class slave owners, it was paid for from 1833 – 2015, from British tax payers money, without the British publics knowledge until it was recently revealed in February 2018. Which means the descendants of slaves in the UK paid compensation to the rich descendants of slave owners, when our ancestors had already paid with their lives, blood sweat and tears. Which is disgusting, unfair and another form of abuse. The British government should immediately give each descendant of slavery a tax rebate without question.
The third reason is for compensation and reparations for the people affected by the recent distressing Windrush scandal caused by the conservative governments “hostile environment” policies towards immigration in 2012/2013. The scandal did not come to light until 2017/2018. Which may affect some 50,000 individuals, at least 1,275 people had applied for compensation. By May 2020, only 60 people had received small compensation pay outs of an estimated £4,000 each, with only 1 person receiving a pay out of £100,000 and the rest were still waiting an outcome. The UK government paying out just £360,000 in total between 60 people so far. At least 160 people were either wrongly deported or detained by immigration services and treated like criminals. The people affected had legally arrived in the UK on their parent’s passports as children years ago between 1948 – 1973.
People of the Caribbean had been invited to the UK by the British government to re-build Britain after the 2nd World War. They resided in the UK for decades, growing up, going through school, working, raising families and living in the UK as citizens until they were targeted by immigration enforcement of the “hostile environment” policies. People were denied access to public government services such as the NHS, welfare and benefits, they lost the right to continue working in the UK, losing their homes and livelihood deeming them illegal immigrants. These shocked and distressed individuals had to prove their British citizenship through presenting the correct documentation, which many did not have, as the home office/immigration services had destroyed all the old relevant boarding passes and paperwork for the Windrush error.
According to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, many of the Windrush generation may not have applied to “regularise their residency status.” Mainly because they were not aware that they needed to.
On the 29th June 2020, I wrote to my local MP, Conservative, Mr Lewer asking for reparation to be paid to the descendants of African Slaves and the Windrush generation. All the subjects of my concerns in the letter are pointed out in this article. In the letter I pointed out my disgust, feeling physically sick, wounded and appalled at the 20 million from modern day tax payers paid to the slave owners up until 2015. Mr Lewer wrote back advising the “issue had been discussed in Parliament on numerus occasions. It had been the subject of a failed class legal action in the High Court and that the African Reparations Movement UK, which campaigned for reparations, was wound up almost two decades ago.” Mr Lewer went on to advise, “There is no appetite for reintroducing this issue back into Parliament and my primary focus in Parliament is on key issues like education, health, law and order and the post Covid-19 economic recovery.”
I was not asking Mr Lewer to ignore those key and important issues, which politicians continually kick around as a political football, but asking him to include reparation on the political agenda in Parliament. It seems Mr Lewer used those key issues to deflect and minimise my concerns.
You might agree or disagree with Mr Lewer, however, I disagree that there is no appetite for reparation or compensation for the descendants of slavery as there are past, and currently numerous different petitions online covering the aforementioned three reasons in this article. There have been at least two separate petitions on Petition Parliament calling for compensation and reparations for Caribbean and African descendants for the atrocities of slavery and the lasting effects of slavery. Another petition, on Change Org is calling to reimburse black British tax payers for the money paid to the slave owners, and there are numerous petitions calling for compensation for the victims of the Windrush scandal. Also, there are currently Individuals and various organisations in the UK and worldwide campaigning and actively seeking reparatory justice for the descendants of the Atlantic slave trade.
CARICOM represents 15 Caribbean countries and are in the process of taking legal action against the UK and other European countries in pursuing reparations for the enduring suffering caused by the Atlantic slave trade. PARCOE and Stop the Maangamizi are also championing for reparations with the support from prominent individuals who lecture and campaign for the cause like Esther Stanford-Xosei and Glenroy Watson from GACUK who lobbied the government for reparations presenting their demands to Parliament in 2019 on 12th June. I say there is a strong appetite for reparatory justice in the UK and across the globe, as people are still affected today.
A common argument against reparations asks why bring up slavery, compensation and reparation after all these years? We the descendants of slavery should have moved on, into the future and left the past behind. There are a number of reasons why many of us can’t move on without closure. To put it simply, any good psychologist will tell you that in order to attempt to move on and heal from different forms of abuse, you need to acknowledge and confront the abuse in order to have some form of closure, in order to begin a process of healing, with any form of abuse. The freed slaves of the past and the descendants of slavery today have not been afforded those opportunities as a community to heal. The effects and legacy of the Atlantic slave trade has been present in every generation in every country affected since abolition through the historic inequalities in society. It is worth noting that many black individuals, with few white individuals, have gone on a journey of learning and deconstructing the truths about the hidden histories, known as black history, enriching their knowledge as part of their identity development. But as a nation we have lived under a vale of sanitised history about the British empire, with notions of white superiority and black inferiority creating a platform for racist ideology and unwitting racism in today’s society.
The main reasons or argument for reparatory justice or compensating the descendants of slavery is that it is an obvious injustice and it is unfair treatment. It is unreasonable that the UK government clandestinely collected taxes from the descendants of slavery to pay compensation to the descendants of slave owners who shackled and abused our ancestors. It is simply unjust that rich and middle-class slave owners received compensation when the actual slaves received nothing accept continued abuse in the form of apprenticeship following abolition and the inequalities and racism in society today. Voices have been calling for reparatory justice since the 1800’s many free slaves and white abolitionist wrote, campaigned and called for reparations then and right through today.
The UK government paid out 150 million in compensation to victims of abuse and violent crimes between 2017 – 2018. Ex- military service men and women who sustained injury can individually claim between £1,155 – £570,000, through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, depending on the degree of injury. The descendants and victims of the holocaust have been paid reparations for the atrocities and crimes against them. The German government paying out some €71 Billion and USA government paying out $11 million. It is right that communities and individuals are compensated for their suffering or injury, however, to date, despite numerous past requests and campaigns for reparations for the descendants of slavery, nothing has been done. Our pleas fall on deaf ears and are consistently ignored, rebuffed or minimised, whilst other communities are compensated for crimes against them, which is just not fair.
Reparation is about restoration, rehabilitation, re-education, healing and positive changes in society which in turn benefits all. Whilst compensation is about financial recompense for the pilfering of African resources which has contributed to the UK’s wealth and power across the globe today. Undoubtedly the UK government do not wish pay out billions in compensation to the descendants of slavery, even after Tony Blair’s apologies for the Atlantic slave trade in March 2007 and the British tax payer continued to pay compensation for the slave owners up until 2015. It is an injustice, both compensation and reparation need to be arranged.