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LONDON–It’s not just the United States – the United Kingdom owes Black American descendants of slavery reparations, too.
Our two histories are forever intertwined; both countries sit upon a brutal foundation drenched in the blood, sweat, tears of captive Africans and the generations that came after them.
The privilege enjoyed in both nations today is predicated on the original sin and a Black holocaust which has never been accounted for.
So brutal was the history and the system it created, that slavery’s legacy continues to scar our societies in the present day.
The clear necessity to atone for the past – and to need remedy the effects in the present – has been thrust into even sharper focus this year.
Report breaks down what Britain owes for slavery reparations
The Brattle Report, which has proved landmark, was published in July. For the first time it provided a comprehensive breakdown of what Britain owes for its role in slavery. It also shows the importance of taking into account several factors, including unpaid labour and emotional trauma.
£18 trillion was the figure produced by leading experts. They argue that Britain owes reparations to 14 countries, including in the Americas and the Caribbean.
In addition to the Brattle Report, just last month a first of its kind reparations conference was held in London, bringing together experts from around the world with the aim of getting the reparations plan onto the political agenda.
What’s clear from both the Brattle report and the conference is that the reparations movement is growing in popularity and gaining momentum at a grassroots level.
What’s also clear, however, is that our governments both in Washington and London are ignoring, deflecting, and are willfully blind to the calls for reparatory justice.
U.S. and UK leaders ignore reparations movement
Rishi Sunak, the UK’s first non-white prime minister has gone on record against reparations for the nation’s role in slavery. He’s also said that Britain will not apologize for its role in the slave trade. This of course has a practical function as well as an ideological one.
Britain should apologize, of course. But doing so could potentially transform reparations from being a moral question, to a legal one – against Britain. Downing Street does not want this.
Similarly, President Biden has come under fire for not using his bully pulpit to advance the reparations cause despite indicating during his election campaign that he was receptive to the idea.
The best case scenario for many is that it was never really a priority, or ceased being a priority once Biden took office. A more cynical interpretation is that the issue of reparations was revived during the election cycle as a ploy to court Black votes.
Alongside this, the elusive and opaque HR40 bill, which only seeks to study reparations, has in any case stalled, possibly for perpetuity.
Global movement for reparations grows
But although the political class is sitting on their hands regarding slavery reparations, the legitimacy of, and the critical need for reparations, has created a global enthusiasm and energy which cannot be stopped. We’ve seen this before and such history could be a source of hope.
Three decades ago, politicians beyond South Africa who had a vested interested in maintaining apartheid, fought to uphold it. International solidarity movements however, demanding to end it, created such an unstoppable force that eventually those in power had no choice but to concede.
The same governments and politicians who once labeled Nelson Mandela a terrorist, today pretend that they were always opposed to apartheid.
Black Americans inspired civil rights globally
Similarly the success of the American Civil Rights Movement became a watershed moment and provided inspiration not just within the United States but well beyond it.
The steadfast commitment of Black leaders, campaigning for nothing more than the very freedom, liberty and justice they were owed, promised, yet denied, in the face of unspeakable violence, became a global symbol of power.
Like Mandela, Martin Luther King is now revered by those who once prayed for his demise.
The Civil Rights movement provided hope for Irish Republicans, who were also seeking to enshrine civil rights into law as a means to counter the oppression of the British state.
The Civil Rights movement also informed de-colonial movements in Africa, with populations once under the control of European powers seeking and demanding their own right to self-determination.
Could American demands for reparations, despite a lack of movement from the federal government, enjoy similar success and help bolster other reparations movements? I think it’s possible.
Struggle for slavery reparations requires solidarity
States like California could yet make reparations a reality. The California Reparations Task Force has now submitted its final report which could be voted on by the state legislator before the end of the year.
There’s a chance it could pass. Should this be the case, I believe such success, even if imperfect, would be priceless. Immeasurable. A shockwave would reverberate throughout not just America, but the entire world, and bolster the conviction and determination of other global reparation movements.
Not for the first time, Black American political activism could lead an international charge.
This is why it’s critical that we support each other’s movements as best we can, while respecting the nuances and uniqueness of our own individual struggles.
Because, there’s a reason why the near impossible success of the Haitian revolution was scrubbed from mainstream history books.
Global anti-Blackness requires global solutions
Inspiration, determination and righteous conviction at the centre of any critical mass of people, creates a more powerful political force than any lobby or special interest groups could ever dream of.
The powers that be know this. When the reparations wave finally breaks – and break it will- I believe we will see a domino effect globally, which when considering the current stale state of politics, we probably struggle to imagine at this moment.
But, despite the current state of play, I think this could likely be the case when and if reparations are approved in the United States.
White supremacy is a global system which ultimately requires global solutions. Reparations could provide the ultimate means for a better and fairer society. As esteemed UK professor Kehinde Andrews told me recently, “Reparations is revolution.”
Revolution therefore in this sense means nothing more than justice, and justice is the central rallying point for all of us.
For this reason, the rest of us in the diaspora are not just watching events in the United States closely – we fully support and back your fight for reparations and will extend the same solidarity and hand of friendship to any of the extended global family, until we make it happen.
I used to believe that slavery reparations had to happen and be a goal within our lifetime. Now, I’m convinced that what once seemed impossible, is not only possible, but is increasingly vital. We are the change we’ve been looking for, anticipating and working towards.
Richard Sudan is a journalist for The Voice News, Britain’s only Black-owned national newspaper.
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