Amina Taylor |Reparation groups’ sidestep of British Gov’t could be ace move
CARICOM nations could be on the verge of delivering a political master stroke. In announcements that have been shockingly ignored by great swathes of the media, the national reparations commissions will be sidestepping the British government and making formal demands for reparations from institutions that directly benefitted from the slave trade in the region.
The shift in strategy to pursue individual organisations and bypass the British state is an incredibly interesting one. It is understood that official letters demanding institutional reparations will be sent out at the end of 2023.
It seems the case of the Trevelyan family, spearheaded by the US-based BBC journalist Laura Trevelyan, has sparked an idea whose time has come among reparation bodies. Earlier this year, in this very column, I wrote of the complexities of the decision by the Trevelyans to hand over £100,000 to the reparations organisation in Grenada, the seat of the family’s slave holdings.
The Trevelyans, a British aristocratic family, had laid bare its personal association with enslavement in the Caribbean, owning and operating six sugar plantations on the island of Grenada. In 1835, the family received £26,898 in compensation from the British government for the abolition of slavery a year earlier. This sum would be around £3 million in 2023’s conversion.
Over 40 members of the family signed an official letter of apology which reads in part, “We, the undersigned, write to apologise for the actions of our ancestors in holding your ancestors in slavery. Slavery was, and is, unacceptable and repugnant. Its damaging effects continue to the present day. We repudiate our ancestors’ involvement in it.”
ROLE OF THE MONARCHY
While individual families who benefitted from slavery might do well to ready their cheque books, there is one family in particular who should be preparing their own reparation strategy. I speak, of course, of The Firm, aka the British royal family.
Marking the first anniversary of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II just weeks ago, the new monarch, King Charles III, has had a bulging in-tray, heavy with issues concerning countries of the Commonwealth. There is, of course, the immediate business of nations wanting to officially remove him as head of state (step forward Jamaica, big up yourself!) and a wider discussion about the very role of the monarchy in an era of multi-polarity. But the drumbeat of reparations has beaten closer to the palace than at any time before.
In developments earlier this year (which I also wrote about here), Buckingham Palace announced it will allow research looking into the British monarchy’s historical involvement and investment with the transatlantic trade in Africans to take place.
The historian heading the research, Dr Brooke Newman, from the Virginia Commonwealth University, has added important new information to the existing files on the clear links between the Crown and the profits they made from the trade in enslaved people.
The furore caused by Dr Newman’s book, The Queen’s Silence, looking at the monarchy’s role in the trade in Africans and its modern lack of atonement, clearly demonstrates that ‘a hit dog will holler’.
There’s a clear path between the profits from the business of dealing in enslaved Africans and today. Dr Newman writes, “There is no doubt that the centuries of investment in African slavery, and the slave trade, contributed hugely to building the status, prestige and fortune of today’s royal family. The profits from the slave trade, and from the industries built on the labours of enslaved people, in turn funded the expansion of the empire, which generated vast further wealth for Britain and its royal families.”
It was satisfying to watch those who disagreed with even the idea that the British Crown could have dirty hands in this matter, twist themselves into pretzel shapes to deny the facts.
MORE UNIFIED STRATEGY
In an interview with the press in Grenada, Arley Gill, a lawyer and chair of the island nation’s Reparations Commission, said, “We are hoping that King Charles will revisit the issue of reparations and make a more profound statement, beginning with an apology, and that he would make resources from the Royal family available for reparative justice.”
I’m doubtful this will take place willingly, but some well-placed pressure might see the reparations needle being pushed in the right direction.
The reparations discussions have for too long been a fringe conversation, where the usual right-wing vitriol and dismissive narrative took centrestage. I can usually predict the same tired arguments of ‘No one alive now has anything to do with slavery, so why should we suffer?’. Or my favourite, ‘this, simply perpetuates a victim mentality from black people’.
It’s as if these folks have conveniently forgotten how capitalism works. How easily they fail to remember that building generational wealth is much easier when you don’t have to compensate those who did the actual work.
By utilising a new, more unified strategy, this fresh approach from national reparations committees may have breathed renewed breath into the discussions. The records are available. We know who was paid what by the British government after the 1807 act of parliament that abolished the trade in enslaved Africans. Detailed papers are available at The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery (located at UCL) that show the British government paid out £20 million to compensate some 3,000 families that owned enslaved people for the loss of their “property” when ownership of Africans was abolished in Britain’s colonies in 1833. This would be approximately £16.5 bllion in today’s figures.
I, for one, can’t wait until those official letters start landing on company doorsteps across the UK. This isn’t about letting the British government off the hook, it’s about using lateral thinking to re-energise the reparations conversation. The fallout will be massive, the hand-wringing and racist talking points reignited, and I am here for all of it.
Amina Taylor is a journalist and broadcaster. She is the former editor of Pride magazine and works as producer, presenter and correspondent with Press TV in London.