The recent visit to Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas by Kate & William (Duchess & Duke of Cambridge) has revived the debate of reparations to former UK Caribbean colonies by British in relation to the systematic abuse (incl. slavery) of African-Caribbean people from the 17th to the 20th century.
Some opponents to reparations claim that Britain owes the former Caribbean colonies nothing. Such deliberate ignorance is far from a convincing argument.
For over 70 years the political class in the UK and Caribbean have deliberately steered clear of the issue of any recompense for the former’s past atrocities.
If you take Jamaica, the ruling class had long seen to it that slavery and post slavery abuses was reduced to footnotes in the classroom or in media circles. African-Caribbean empowerment was shunned.
Jamaica’s Reparation Avoidance Scheme
The issue of reparations has long been ignored or down played by the Caribbean political class. Most Jamaican parliamentarians since the 1990s – with the exception of government member of parliament, Mike Henry – have kept their distance from the issue. Whatever some MPs are saying now about the need for reparations their remarks seem opportunistic.
In 2019, BBC World Service hosted a forum in Kingston, Jamaica where Kamina Johnson-Smith (Jamaica’s foreign minister) showed lukewarm interest in the case for reparations.
Pan-African academics, media commentators and historians have done stellar work in keeping the fight for amends – over the African-Caribbean slavery atrocity – in the public eye despite pushback from multiple angles.
The work of the Rastafarian community as well as cultural messengers such as Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer, Mutabaruka, The Abyssinians and Peter Tosh devoted their craft to equal rights and justice.
With such wimpish efforts by Jamaica governments and their Caribbean counterparts for reparations, it is no wonder that the British government and the royal family have chosen to ignore the issue.
One reason for this show of contempt by London is that British governments do not react to such critical or historical reports and lobbying led by academics. Especially those from former colonies of a certain shade.
A lot of excellent work has been done by the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) led by the likes of Professors Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd.
British public opinion generally has a short attention span so when it comes to atrocities that happened 70-200+ years ago and not on their watch, many Brits will just brush off the issue of reparations as some left-wing drivel.
British governments have a long track record of not owning financially to any horrific actions of their past; even if it meant compensating their own citizens.
But what powerful British political figures will do is react if such criticisms is fronted by high profile figures such as celebrities.
Historically one of the most ineffective lobbying groups in the UK has been those from the Caribbean.
Celebrity Influencing Works on Serious Issues
One of the criticisms I have long had about certain UK black-related issues that harm the African Caribbean community (immigration, police harassment) is the lack of public support from high profile figures from its community. Many choose to stay in their high-flying career lane and not publicly speak out, or only do so if the issue affects them personally or professionally.
I have seen first-hand back in the 2000s how UK governments ministers and senior civil servants would go into meltdown if celebrities took up certain cause that embarrassed the State, especially if cause is covered fairly by the Daily Mail or Sun newspapers.
Our ancestors post 1830s did not have the platform, the resources and to fight for reparations. Slavery may have been abolished in the 1830s but the abuse and racism of the black population continued right up to the 1960s.
Today, the African-Caribbean community has the resource, we have people in places of influence. We just need some of them to show up.
That’s why celebrity figures are needed to come out and become ambassadors for the reparation cause. These celebrities can open the political and financial doors that has stayed shut to the academics and Caribbean-friendly politicians.
We have seen celebrity figures campaign passionately and successfully for numerous humanitarian issues going back to the days of US civil rights movement.
That is one reason why certain major charities and NGOs appoint celebrity-type figures to senior PR/ambassadorial roles.
The power of social media today is immense and the CRC has to do a better job at developing a larger following on such platforms. Here again is where high profile figures can help. Having just under 1000 followers on Instagram is not a promising sign.
It does not help the Caribbean case though when – during Kate & William’s appearance at Trench Town, Jamaica – the likes of sports stars Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce and footballer Raheem Sterling were being evasive on the issue of reparations when asked by broadcaster Anthony Miller.
Too many has never truly understood the magnitude of the atrocities, the racism committed by Britain through its colonial functions up to the 20th century.
Caribbean slavery did not have film footage and audio recordings, unlike subsequent atrocities in the 20th century, to make our case to the public simpler. We do not even have blockbuster Hollywood movies of that period which tended to focus on European figures like Henry Morgan.
But we have greater access to documented evidence of the slavery period, we have the stories passed through word of mouth and journals. We have evidence of the shackles, the bones and the riches the British attained from this period.
The government approved history books used in schools/higher education during that aftermath paid more attention to the exploits of British and European figures in the Caribbean. So we knew everything about Horatio Nelson and nothing of William Johnson (friend of Samuel Sharpe).
I am always baffled at how passionate my African-Caribbean cousins are about the events in the Bible, a collection of stories scribed thousands of years ago in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Yet the majority of us show little passion in knowing what happened to our direct ancestors from 1660s to the 1960s on the same soil many of us are walking on today.
Mia the Merciful
The one Caribbean political figure today that has that star quality to gain access to the global corridors of power for reparation is Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados.
But for now, Mottley has just started the 2nd term of her premiership. That is why there is need to some UK based or Caribbean high- profile figures to take up this ambassadorial role and support Mottley who has been steadfast behind the reparations cause.
Right Time Come
The African-Caribbean community has long accepted that to get anywhere on the global scene we have to work 10-1000 times harder than others. Hence, the push for reparations from Britain and their European allies was never going to be straightforward.
The way Germany has bobbed and weaved to avoid accepting full responsibility in Namibia (1904-1908) for their genocide of the Herero, Nama, and San peoples is symptomatic at how Europe has handled compensation for the abuse of Africans in Africa and the Caribbean.
Caribbean slavery and its colonial offshoots happened over 4 centuries ago to African-Caribbeans. Too early for their descendants to just walk away and not maintain the pressure on Britain.
The case for reparations from Britain is still relevant. This is not some insurance claim with a cut off time period for payment. It took the Brits 400 years to come to their senses and even then, they paid their own over £7.6 billion in today’s money, gave some indentured Indian servants land and (for revenge) kept the African majority landless and penniless.
In the US certain states and institutions have taken steps to delivery their one unique reparation package. The is something the UK can learn from rather than turning their noses up at our demands.
The cause for reparations needs better messaging, wider reach and globally recognised ambassadors to get meaningful outcomes from Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. And Brussels too.
In the end, it does not even matter the race, colour or nationality of such potential reparation high profile ambassadors. The more support we can get from that elevated field the better chance of positive outcomes that benefits African-Caribbean people today and for generations to come.
- eligible for scholarship from Episcopal Diocese of Long Island
- signed a bill allowing taxpayers to voluntarily donate to a slavery reparations fund
- vote to limit reparations makes eligibility difficult, narrows slavery’s impact, experts say
- Nothing is Foreign, CBC
- Examples of paid adverts of runaway slaves in the 19th century
“SWIFT, a Wakee, to the Rev. THOMAS SIMCOCKES, marked T S on right shoulder.”
- 1820 Almanac of slaves, stock in St Elizabeth, Jamaica
- 1829 Almanac of slaves stock, slaves and properties in Clarendon
- legacy 25 years on – the image that saved thousands of lives
- World Question 2019: The cannabis industry, reparations for slavery, crime – the big issues debated in Jamaica.
- pay Namibia €1.1bn over historical Herero-Nama genocide
- $100m in reparations to descendants of enslaved people
- Reparations for Japanese American Incarceration