‘Sorry, is all that you can say?’ Caricom says to UK expressing regret is not reparations

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Reparations is the key to both moral and fiscal restorative justice says Caribbean States.

When protests surrounding the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd came to the banks of the United Kingdom, challenges around the country’s long history of racism and slavery became local. Between the calls for racial justice were also demands of reparations for descents of Anglophone Caribbean slavery by the British empire.

Caricom reported that “the death of George Floyd in the United States has prompted a sweeping global reassessment of racism and the financing of the slave trade.

As London percolated with protests in June, calls mimicking US shouts of “Black Lives Matter” escalated when demonstrators pulled down the statue of 17th Century slave trader, Edward Colston. The slaver was a remembrance of the key role that the UK played in the chattel slave system in the US and the UK.

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In 2018, the British government announced that it completed paying off an 1824 loan taken out by the British Government for a £20 million sterling silver restitution to British slave owners for its financial losses from the end of slavery in 2015. At the time the money was borrowed, it was 40 percent of the treasury’s annual income.

In response to protests, The Bank of England and Lloyd’s of London Insurance released a public apology for their critical role in the British slave trade in the Caribbean.  

“We are sorry for the role played by the Lloyd’s market in the 18th and 19th Century slave trade – an appalling and shameful period of English history, as well as our own,” Lloyd’s said.

“Recent events have shone a spotlight on the inequality that black people have experienced over many years as a result of systematic and structural racism that has existed in many aspects of society and unleashed difficult conversations that were long overdue,” added the insurance company that brokered some of the most lucrative insurance contracts during that time.

Barbadian historian, Hillary Beckles, called Lloyd’s apology a “public spectacle” and a “press relations exercise” that “does not fly with the people who were victimised.” Beckles also serves as the chair of Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM’s) Reparations Committee launched in 2017. 

Since the launch of the The Centre of Reparations at University of West Indies campus, Jamaica, Beckles says that Caricom is focused on “repairing the awful material and psychological legacies of underdevelopment.” Beckles says that if the UK does not comply, the committee will take their case to the International Court of Justice.

African American organizations in the United States have been the foremost group demanding reparations. Last year, testimonies were heard at a House hearing examining the proposed reparations bill, H.R. 40. The bill has yet to move forward.

Kaia Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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