“I don’t say that giving us money would make it all right,” Willie Thompson, the 78 year old Jamaican told The Telegraph, “What’s happened has happened already. But I think it is on the side of justice that we deserve something. I am an African descendant, [and my grandmother] came here with the chains on her feet, on a slave trade ship [over 180 years ago]”.
It’s not only that Africans arrived to the Americas centuries ago, but how they arrived, and of course, the horrific mental, psychological and physical circumstances their descendents endured ever since. The reparations debate thrives in the United States, and now a coalition of 14 Caribbean states, including Jamaica, are campaigning for reparations from Britain behind their massive role in the African Slave Trade.
The group is represented by a regional organization called CARICOM, who’s gearing up to take their case to the courts. Leigh Day, the London law firm that won £20 million for Kenyans tortured by the British during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s, has been hired to assure their victory. This month it will unveil a list of 10 demands for Britain, France and Holland, including funds likely to total billions, an apology, and assurances slavery will never be repeated, The Telegraph reports.
It’s common knowledge that individuals in the US, UK, and other countries amassed obscene amounts of wealth during the centuries the inhuman institution of slavery was carried out. I’ll even speculate that the United States of America would be nothing but a mediocre, mildly prosperous land (if that) filled with descendents of British criminals and indentured servants were it not for centuries of the blood sweat and tears of enslaved Africans. It may be true that there’s no dollar amount that can make up for the horrors our ancestors endured, but participating nations were built, and thoroughly prospered during that soul-crushing era of insanity. Pro-reparations activists argue that financial reparations are more than a reasonable expectation; it’s a bona fide right.
The Telegraph reports that chairman of Jamaica’s reparations committee, Professor Verene Shepherd, said British colonizers had “disfigured the Caribbean,” and it’s time their descendants pay up. “If you commit a crime against humanity, you are bound to make amends. The planters were given compensation, but not one cent went to the freed Jamaicans”.
From the mid-18th century, British merchants shipped more than three million people from West Africa to the Americas, taking the lead in an Atlantic slave trade pioneered by the Dutch and Portuguese, the report continues. About £4 trillion (that’s A LOT of $$) was extracted from the region in unpaid labor alone, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham (which ultimately constructed the modern UK as we know it).
The article explains that in 1833, when Parliament voted to abolish slavery in Britain’s colonies, Earl Grey’s government was supposed to pay out compensation that would come to about £2 billion today. After building an entire empire on selfish and viciously perverted ethics, it’s no surprise that promise was made with fingers crossed behind the back (remember 40 acres and a mule?).
When Jamaica gained its independence in 1962, the island nation was populated by thousands of poverty stricken citizens, 80% of whom were functionally illiterate. Male literacy remains more than four points below the international average, The Telegraph states. To this day, the grossly unjust institution of slavery continues to plague Jamaicans, and millions more descendants of enslaved Africans across the Americas.
Countering arguments that Britain is no longer in a financial position to provide compensation, Professor Shepard declares, “You can’t have it both ways. Your society was developed. You are enjoying a lifestyle because of the blood, sweat and tears of people in the past.”
The coalition is leaning in particularly hard on UK Prime Minister David Cameron, whose ancestors profited royally from being enslavers.
Lord Gifford, a British attorney and reparations supporter urges the committee to stand firm, saying that the slave trade “breached the natural law that man is free”, the report continues. “There is no statute of limitations on a crime against humanity. The claim is soundly based in law.” Resistance persists of course; the opposition insists that the slave trade was legal under British law until 1833.
“It is a question of priorities,” Lord Gifford asserts. “And this needs to be added to the list of priorities.” He called upon Mr. Cameron to be motivated by the horrendous actions of his own ancestors to honor CARICOM’s demands.
Reflecting on a lifetime of toil and history of cultural dispossession, Mr. Thompson told The Telegraph, “The English made a lot of money back then. A lot of money. I think it is fair we to get a bit of compensation for what all our people been through.” Makes sense, given that countless individuals continue to profit from the suffering of the enslaved to this very day.