In September 2015, then UK Prime Minister David Cameron visited Jamaica on state business and announced to our parliament that Jamaica needed to move on from slavery. In the 180 years since the abolition of chattel slavery in the British Caribbean, the United Kingdom has never even officially apologised for their role in the fundamentally racist and exploitative institution. Instead, they have lauded themselves for their so-called role in ending its prominence. We know that it was our enslaved black ancestors who put up the real resistance to slavery. They rebelled time after time, and made slavery wholly unprofitable for their oppressors.
In the time that slavery was profitable, the United Kingdom reaped massive dividends from it. Cities in the United Kingdom, such as Bristol and Liverpool, were built almost wholly on the revenue generated from slavery. The UK was at the forefront of the industrial revolution because of the massive economic cushioning the profits of slavery provided. Following the abolition of slavery, the UK government took out a massive loan to compensate slave owners for their ‘loss’. It took them until 2015 to finish repaying this loan, ironically the same year of David Cameron’s ‘get over slavery visit’.
UK opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has made it clear that he believes Jamaica is entitled to not only a formal apology for slavery, but also economic reparations. He speaks of trade deals preferential to Jamaica, investment and unconditional development assistance. It is all good and well for him to speak about these things, but he needs to do more within the UK political landscape to advance this cause.
Likewise, we can all speak of the need for reparations but what form would this actually take? The regional body, Caribbean Reparation Commission, has outlined a ten point plan of what reparations would entail. Briefly the plan is: a full formal apology, repatriation, an indigenous peoples development programme, cultural institutions, public health reformation, illiteracy eradication, African knowledge programme, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and debt cancellation. Most of these points are in need of further development and clarification, but nevertheless a good foundation on which to build.
The National Commission on Reparations, established in 2009 by the Government of Jamaica, has defined their cause as “the demand for reparatory justice from Britain for native genocide, African enslavement, deceptive Indian indentureship, other colonial injustices, and the continuing legacies of colonialism.” In 2016, the body officially demanded to start the reparation process with Britain. It is unknown if they have received a formal response as it seems the UK is busy continuing its injustices against Jamaica and the wider region. The Windrush deportation crisis serves as a brutal reminder of our people’s continued exploitation and dehumanisation at the hands of the British State. Thousands of West Indians, the majority of them Jamaicans, were incentivised to settle in Britain to aid in the post-war reconstruction. Fast forward to the present, the Home Office has burnt all records of their arrivals and proceeded to deport these elderly citizens, claiming them to be illegal immigrants.
It is necessary for Jamaica, and all of the anglophone Caribbean, to stand firm in the face of the empire and demand compensation for the injustices we have suffered and continue to suffer. The idea of reparations may seem fanciful to us now, but we do well to remember how fanciful the idea of freedom must have seemed to our ancestors. To stand back from this struggle is to submit to continued subjugation.