I recently watch the documentary on BBC2 called ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners’ and it stirred something in my soul but not as expected.
Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners revealed another aspect of the slave trade that I was not aware of. When slavery was abolished. £20 million, (the equivalent of £16.5 billion today), was paid out as compensation to the owners. Not only that, following the abolition, slaves were forced to work as ‘apprentices’ for a further 4 years before they could move on to the next stage of freedom.
Not a single enslaved man, woman or child received even a penny for the backbreaking toil they endured almost every day of their lives, or for the loss of mothers and fathers, children, brothers and sisters caused by the callous separation of families. There was no compensation for the brutality exacted against them, or for the violent sexual assaults on enslaved women by their slave owners.
I was listening to LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) the other day and they were having a discussion about the Holocaust. I remember one caller came on and basically expressed the sentiment that the Jews should just ‘get over it’ and move on now and this sent the host into a state of anger, frustration and rage at the fact that someone should have the audacity to say that. How can you expect anyone to get over such an act? Yet, countless times throughout my life, that is the sentiment that is hurled at Black people who try to discuss the effects of slavery…..get over it.
We Don’t Need Reparations
When I look at Black people in the Caribbean now, understanding the scale of dehumanising that we went through at the hands of slave owners, I am extremely proud of what we have managed to achieve. The fact that we have managed to build communities based on love and togetherness and have found a way to enjoy life as much as we do, is reason for celebration.
As far as I see, no, we don’t need reparations from the European, Africa and the Arab countries that were involved in slavery. It would be a noble gesture for humanity, but we don’t need it. As a matter of fact, these countries should look to us for an example of conflict resolution. Maybe if more of these countries shared the spirit of Caribbean people, the world wouldn’t be engrossed in as many wars and acts of vengeance as it is today. Maybe they would be more inclined to forgive, move on and enjoy life.
I think as human beings, as a global community, reparations is an important step if we are to move forward with any dignity and integrity. Not so much financial reparations, but more an acknowledgement of the level of evil that was inflicted on Black people during the slave trade. Until this is acknowledged, we as a global community will not be able to move forward. The world continues in many ways to portray Black people as less than human. You only need to look at the recent behaviour of police in America to see that perceptions of Black people are still in need of reparations.
The strength and courage of the enslaved Africans is immense and worthy of celebration. To have survived through centuries of that level of torture and come out not focused on vengeance and hatred but on love and forgiveness is also highly commendable. I am in support of the campaign for reparations, but not from a financial perspective but an emotional and psychological one. Repairs need to be made to the image of Black people which to this day is still distorted and a complete misrepresentation of the race, and I think that begins with a full acknowledgement of the scale of damage done during the Atlantic Slave Trade.
You can can catch Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners on BBC iPlayer