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Slavery reparations again

Caribbean slave descendants, some of whose ancestors worked for David Cameron’s distant family, are calling for an apology and billions of pounds in reparations

OK.

The group is ready to sue in the courts and has hired Leigh Day, the London law firm that last year won £20 million for Kenyans tortured by the British during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s.

This month it will unveil a list of 10 demands for Britain, France and Holland, including funds likely to total billions, an apology, and assurances slavery will never be repeated, The Telegraph can disclose.

This isn’t going to get anywhere in law.

“You can’t have it both ways,” said Prof Shepherd. “Your society was developed. You are enjoying a lifestyle because of the blood, sweat and tears of people in the past.”

“It is a question of priorities,” said Lord Gifford. “And this needs to be added to the list of priorities.” He called on Mr Cameron to be inspired by his ancestry to “take a lead” on making amends.

And that’s why, because you cannot have it both ways.

If you have indeed done something bad then you can indeed be made to pay restitution. But the amount of that is determined by what would have been the situation if you had not done that bad thing. You’ve got to make people whole again.

And in the absence of the slave trade those Jamaicans would be in Ghana (for example), and be rather poorer than they are. However vile the slave trade was, however appalling the treatment of their forbears, they themselves are better off than if it had not happened.

What reparation?

64 thoughts on “Slavery reparations again”

  1. Agreed
    But in any case, if one’s going to redress historical injuctice one needs to redress historical injustice. Who’s going to be liable for the reparations?
    In the days of the slave trade the vast majority of Brits had no say whatever in British government policy. It was a country run by its upper classes for the benefit of its upper classes. The descendents of the majority have no more. responsibility for the slave trade than modern Jamaicans have complicity in it by now being the Jamaican government.
    If you want to open this can of worms, there’s a few groups in the UK would have grounds for reparations from it’s government on historical grounds. Dorset for a start.

    Of course, if Jamaica wants to come after the descendants of the UK governing classes of the time, they should be offered every assistance. Especially Cameron. Nothing would be more amusing.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    The problem is the same with the Kenyan money – it is our money collectively but no one’s money in particular. More specifically, it is not Cameron’s money. So he does not feel the hurt if he splashes out. Just as Blair can make airy specious apologies because he is not apologising for anything he did.

    I expect they will get the cash in the end.

  3. Offer the reparations in the form of one-way tickets to, a dwelling in, and citizenship of, the slave ancestor’s African country.

  4. Let’s nett off against the costs to the Royal Navy in enforcing Britain’s unilateral ban, including all the lives lost, plus the benefits to those who weren’t enslaved because of the ban, plus reparations from West African governments for selling slaves.

    Comes to zero by my calculation.

  5. Wonder why they are not going after Saudi Arabia who enslaved millions of Africans over several hundred years – answer – they did not allow male and females to mix so no descendants exist.

  6. As I understand it, the basis of the action is not the current condition of inhabitants of is poor. It is that in the past a “crime against humanity” was committed, for which there is no statute of limitations. So it wouldn’t matter if Jamaica was now as rich per head as Lichtenstein.

    I’m pretty doubtful (to say the least) as to how far they’ll get. But the current wealth of Jamaicans probably isn’t really a factor.

    Compare, say, a Suddetan German who was beaten up by the Czechs, half starved in a concentration camp, separated from family, lost their property and dumped in Germany post war. Czech Rep would probably win a case bought by her descendants. But “Germany is richer than Czech” might not be the best argument.

  7. Without taking sides here, I can’t see any intellectual justification for this statement:

    “And in the absence of the slave trade those Jamaicans would be in Ghana (for example), and be rather poorer than they are. However vile the slave trade was, however appalling the treatment of their forbears, they themselves are better off than if it had not happened.”

    You seem to assuming that Ghana (for example) would still be as poor, or nearly so, sans slavery (and associated colonialism). Why?

    Presumably it’s nothing to do with being sub-Saharan Africans?

    By coincidence, this is recent: http://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1xcjbi/did_colonialism_and_the_slave_trade_really_lead/

    Not the final statement for sure, but a more informed view.

  8. No matter what we think now, in those times slavery was perfectly legal. When it was outlawed, the British government via the Royal Navy was zealous in stopping it, probably quite illegally, on the high seas. But might was right then as it is now. There must be no reparations. The vile Mau Mau should have received nothing either.

  9. If reparations should be paid it should surely be by the descendants of the Africans who traded the slaves in the first place.

  10. Presumably, though, they will be seeking restitutionary damages rather than normal tortious damages – if somebody was unjustly enriched by the wrong they inflicted on you, you are entitled to an account of their profits as why should they profit from a wrong.

    Difficult to see how it could work, though,when the only people adversely affected have been dead for hundreds of years; their descendents are mixed with descendents of slave owners; almost all profits would be impossible to trace; the UK government did not itself profit; the African states involved are basically broke; and the Caribbean states themselves did profit from the labour of slaves.

  11. @MattL

    Wiki:
    “From 1857, estates worth over £20 were taxable but duty was rarely collected on estates valued under £1,500. Death duties were introduced in 1894”

    Missed the boat?

  12. Bloke in Central Illinois

    “You seem to assuming that Ghana (for example) would still be as poor, or nearly so, sans slavery (and associated colonialism). Why?

    Presumably it’s nothing to do with being sub-Saharan Africans?”

    Is there any evidence that Ghana would be more prosperous than it is now if the Europeans hadn’t colonized it for a while?

    Seems just as likely that they’d be even worse off if they had been left alone. Ethiopia was never colonized and it’s not exactly an economic powerhouse.

  13. No living Jamaican was a slave. They are entitled to nothing.

    Luke said, ‘It is that in the past a “crime against humanity” was committed, for which there is no statute of limitations.’

    Death is the statute of limitations. People cannot be guilty of something somebody else did.

  14. “Is there any evidence that Ghana would be more prosperous than it is now if the Europeans hadn’t colonized it for a while?”

    There’s no evidence either way as it’s pure speculation, though it is unlikely a state called Ghana with the same geographic boundaries would have come into existence.

    But why assume that it would be poorer? There’s no basis for that assumption that I know of. As the link pointed out, there were many states and political systems pre-slavery.

    And Ethiopia was colonised. Read your history.

  15. Gareth is correct. The British did not enslave people. Some British businessmen owned ships that transported slaves (after they had been enslaved by an African) from Africa to America (including Carribean islands); so did businessmen of other nationalities, both before and after Britain outlawed trading in slaves.
    Incidentally there has been no slavery in Britain since “time immemorial”
    So the lawsuit has no merit.

  16. Gamecock

    “Death is the statute of limitations. People cannot be guilty of something somebody else did.”

    Cannot be guilty, I agree, but the argument here is about liability/money. You can be required to disgorge a testator’s ill gotten gains that are bequeathed to you, however blameless you are.

    (I can’t actually see them winning, I’m just saying what I understand the case to be. I also have no idea how/if reparations for historical crimes against humanity are assessed.)

  17. Luke -” I also have no idea how/if reparations for historical crimes against humanity are assessed”

    They aren’t.

    This is just trolling the white man in the hope of more free money. Unfortunately their race card has expired.

    Nobody demands repamarations from African or Moslem states because they would just laugh at them.

  18. Well, it’s impossible to give a definitive answer to the “would Ghana be poorer or richer without colonialism” question. But one way of looking at it is: “how has Ghana performed between the arrival of white people and now”, and “how did Ghana perform in any equal time interval prior to the arrival of white men”.

    You don’t have to be a white supremacist to answer the question honestly.

  19. It’s also entirely possible – if indisputably thoughtcrime – that some of the slaves, perhaps even all of them collectively – were better off economically than without slavery. Slavery is completely indefensible on the grounds that it is a grave violation of human liberty, but if it actually made those of its victims who lived to have descendants better off than they would otherwise have been, there really is no prima facie case.

    I suspect those parts of Africa that got plundered for their population could actually make a better case for reparations.

  20. Bloke in Central Illinois

    “I suspect those parts of Africa that got plundered for their population could actually make a better case for reparations.”

    That’s even more problematic because the Africans who stayed behind were the ones who sold the slaves to the Europeans in the first place.

    The lawyers won’t bother with them because they don’t have any money, but morally they’re at least as culpable as the Europeans are.

  21. John 77
    “…The British did not enslave people. Some British businessmen owned ships etc…
    Incidentally there has been no slavery in Britain since “time immemorial”.”

    Up to a point, Lord Copper. The Royal African Company was founded by Royal Charter and given a monopoly of African trade, including slaves. The Duke of York, later James II, was a major shareholder. So it’s not completely clear cut.

    And Lord Mansfield in Somerset’s case did not hold that there had never been slavery in Britain – how could he know? He held that there had never been any law that authorised it. He therefore held it to be illegal in Britain. If he believed there had never been slavery, it is odd that he freed his great niece in his will, if only as a precaution.

  22. Steve, I agree for practical purposes. I can’t think of a country that has not lost a recent war that has paid reparations.

    I just don’t know for sure how courts would react, or whether some country has some statute that would get this off the ground.

  23. @ Luke
    Try reading what I said.
    There has been no slavery in Britain since “time immemorial” which means longer ago than anyone can remember and was first determined as before 1189. There are no laws authorising it in England because it had abolished (or, implausibly, died out) well before the Normans arrived so no written laws deal with the subject.
    The monopoly granted to the Royal African Company only affected trade within the jurisdiction of the English crown so if the Dutch or Portuguese wanted to ship slaves from Angola to Brazil why should they care two hoots?

  24. @bloke in germany

    ‘You don’t have to be a white supremacist to answer the question honestly.’

    No, but you have to be a very suspicious character to ignore the history of Africa, the kingdoms, statelets and trading nations, the Empire of Mali, Zimbabwe, the diplomatic relations between African kingdoms (including kingdoms in the area of Ghana), Portugal and the Vatican pre-1600, the employment of Portuguese mercenaries in the army of Benin – which itself could raise about 100,000 soldiers at short notice along with all the planning and bureaucracy that that entailed…

    And the destruction that followed.

    In fact, I’d venture that if you put the question into black and white (!) terms, and then leant towards the white – yup, that might work.

    Of course if you attempt to look at the history of Africa in non-racial terms, you’ll get a much more interesting and nuanced view.

  25. John 77, I know what time immemorial means.

    But you’re not reading what I said. I am disagreeing with your comment that there was “no slavery.” Had you said little, insignificant, nugatory, I’d have agreed. I’d also have agreed if you’d said “insignificant even at the height of the slave trade, and the courts quickly squashed the attempt to gain acceptance.”

    But “none” can’t be true if it needed a major court case to decide Somerset should be released. And why did Mansfield manumit his niece? I suggest he knew more about 18th C slavery in Britain than either of us.

  26. @ Luke
    Slavery was legal in the West Indies where Mansfield’s great-niece was born to a slave and so by West Indian custom she was deemed to be a slave; Lord Mansfield did not manumit since he did not own her but ” When Lord Mansfield died, he carefully recorded in his will that Dido was a free woman” (ww.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/people-and-places/the-slave-trade-and-abolition/slavery-and-justice-exhibition-at-kenwood-house/)
    There were some foreign slaves owned by foreigners in England because there were no laws dealing with the subject: some chose to stay with their masters; some, like Somersett, ran away. Slavery, as an institution, did not exist but many, probably most, slaves did not realise that they could just walk free and some did not want to do so because they were better off than the homeless poor.

  27. Trade with the Americas brought maize to the African continent. I can’t remember the source but as a crop it replaced less productive cereals like sorghum leading to a quadrupling of the subsaharan African population between the 1600s and colonization in the 1800s. The benefits of colonization (infrastructure, health, trade) further increased the population. So does the west get credit for the people who would not otherwise have been born if Africa had been ignored?

  28. We all know what will happen – the Government will shovel some Danegeld to the raiders and the problem will go away for a few years. After all, it isn’t their money but the grief and bother is. Honestly, having to answer questions about this at dinner parties is SUCH a bind.

  29. So Much For Subtlety

    Doug – “But why assume that it would be poorer? There’s no basis for that assumption that I know of. As the link pointed out, there were many states and political systems pre-slavery.”

    Because they sold slaves. For money. The slave trade represents many things, but one thing it does represent is a massive flow of money into Africa from the rest of the world. Thus making Africa richer.

    “And Ethiopia was colonised. Read your history.”

    Briefly. But then virtually everywhere was. The places that did best were the places that were the least African.

    Doug – “No, but you have to be a very suspicious character to ignore the history of Africa, the kingdoms, statelets and trading nations, the Empire of Mali, Zimbabwe, the diplomatic relations between African kingdoms (including kingdoms in the area of Ghana), Portugal and the Vatican pre-1600, the employment of Portuguese mercenaries in the army of Benin – which itself could raise about 100,000 soldiers at short notice along with all the planning and bureaucracy that that entailed…”

    Why? All of that is largely irrelevant. Zimbabwe? Come on. What has that got to do with the slave trade? And the employment of Portuguese by Benin? What relevance does that have?

    However I do notice that you ignore the second largest slave state in the history of the human race – the Sokolo Caliphate. Why is that?

    “Of course if you attempt to look at the history of Africa in non-racial terms, you’ll get a much more interesting and nuanced view.”

    Well after you. Your view is not non-racial, it is just the usual childish “White people are evil! Black people are innocent” colouring book version of African history. Hence it is not either interesting or nuanced.

    In the African scale of things, the Atlantic slave trade just was not that important. Vastly more slaves were held locally and the trade did not amount to much – 12 million slaves, taking a large estimate, over three or four hundred years is thirty to four thousand per year. Africa was undergoing a population explosion at the time due to the importation of new crops from the Americas and West. With their population going from its long term average of about 50 million to where it is now. Apart from a few states on the coast, they probably did not even notice the Atlantic slave trade.

  30. Hmmm!

    Yes let’s unwind history and destroy our entire world of civilisations in the process.

    As a Briton, starting with the Axis powers and rolling back to the vikings, I reckon I should be in for compensation-funded life of luxury. To hell with that, what about the Romans?

    Is there any country in the world that couldn’t make a case against half-a-dozen other countries for rape, pillage and ignoring or going against human rights? (It’s rehetorical, don’t bother searching for one).

  31. @So Much For Subtlety

    I think (I may be wrong) you’ve totally missed my point. Whether African countries would be richer or not now without the slave trade (and concomitant colonisation) is pure speculation, absolutely no evidence either way. To speculate on this requires a hell of a sight more conversation than ‘Whites OK, Africa a basket case’.

    I wasn’t commenting on the effects of the slave trade.

    I made no mention of white, black, green, yellow or brown slavers. Not interested. Seriously, where did you get the idea that I am ranting against the whites?

    Sokolo Caliphate…? I was using examples from before the slave trade on the west coast ramped up (pre-1600) and you use an example post-1800? I just wanted to suggest that before the slave trade (especially on the West coast) there were sophisticated political systems and wealthy kingdoms.

    The slave trade might well have had minimal impact on Africa, or (as in the link I posted) might well have had a large effect – especially with its knock on effects. That’s a discussion for a different day.

  32. “before the slave trade (especially on the West coast) there were sophisticated political systems and wealthy kingdoms.

    Here’s a question. Given these sophisitcated political systems & wealthy kingdoms. And that Africa has had about half a million years start on Europe, missed out on an ice age or three, has a continent rich in mineral sources, has a climate permitting year round cultivation unbroken by harsh winters, where’s the starships & galactic empire?

  33. Let’s face it, post colonial guilt in our political class is a rich mine for anybody with a dark enough skin
    I heard a Kenyan pastoralist complaining that he could no longer find pasture for his herds, using his people’s traditional wisdom. This must be due to the carbon put into the atmosphere by white capitalists, so he would like his compensation now please.

    I thought it remarkable that he was listened to at all until I discovered that the Church of England really does have a campaign for ” Climate Justice”!!!!

    You can’t blame them for trying when our ruling class and intellectuals are as daft as that.

  34. If South Korea can go in just 50 years from a peasant economy shattered by war and partition to a global economic powerhouse, it is fairly obvious that West Indian and African poverty has precisely fuck all to do with something abolished a century and a half ago.

  35. @Bloke in Spain

    “And that Africa has had about half a million years start on Europe”

    Unless you know something I don’t, the best estimate for the age of the human race is between 150,000 and 200,000 years.

    Apart from that…very whiggish question :-).

    Not falling for it, mate. I’m far too cynical to be a whig.

    And besides, you’d have to back up all the assumptions you are making in that question. I’ve pointed out one that’s wrong, there are others.

  36. “Read your history.”
    .
    This is Black History Month in the USA. I always smile when I hear that. There is no black history. There is only the history of Africans after their encounters with others.
    The history of blacks is written in English. It can’t be black history if it is written in English!

  37. Doug
    500,000, 150,000, 50,000…
    When you’ve achieved bugger all, it really doesn’t matter does it? If you don’t invent the diary or the pencil, you’d hardly have anything to write under what “I did this millenium”, would you?.

  38. I think it helps if you think of slavery as ‘doing someone a favour’ as in, ‘Can you do me a favour, mate? That cotton needs picking.’

  39. I think it helps if you think of slavery as ‘doing someone a favour’ as in, ‘Can you do me a favour, mate? That cotton needs picking.’

    M’lud, I think it helps if you think of a mugging as “doing someone a favour” as in, “Can you do me a favour mate? My wallet needs filling.”

  40. @Bloke in Spain, 11:20am
    “Here’s a question. Given these sophisitcated political systems & wealthy kingdoms. And that Africa has had about half a million years start on Europe, missed out on an ice age or three, has a continent rich in mineral sources, has a climate permitting year round cultivation unbroken by harsh winters, where’s the starships & galactic empire?”

    🙂
    You win the internet.

  41. Let’s see… We have people who have never been slaves demanding money from people who have never owned slaves to compensate them for the slavery they’ve never experienced and the damages they’ve never incurred.

    That’s called being “on the mooch”.

  42. Don’t you mean “serfs”?

    Some peasants were freemen within the feudal system. The “yeomen” and “husbandmen”.

    Villeins were not, of course, but they still were not slaves – either in the classical sense or the modern understanding. They had property rights (although they rarely had much property) and could not be sold. Albeit, they were tied to the land (although were free if they stayed in a borough for a year and a day) and stayed with it if it was sold.

  43. We have people who have never been slaves demanding money from people who have never owned slaves to compensate them for the slavery they’ve never experienced and the damages they’ve never incurred.

    What he said.

  44. @ Gamecock
    Which definition?
    Villeins were free to marry whom they choose, to earn money of their own outside the days when they worked on the land of the lord of the manor, to attend church or not; the church forbade the Lord from making them work on Sundays and holy days; they could even own some property. The parallel with sharecroppers is closer than that with plantation slaves. There is no parallel with domestic slaves.

  45. Read an interesting piece a few years ago (wich I can’t be arsed looking for) by an African American. He wrote about his embrace of African American culture and identity, with the emphasis on the African part, pride in his African heritage, supporting the reparations movement, learning about proper black African history instead of all the white Eurocentric crap he’d been fed at school, etc etc.

    And then he visited Africa.

    And concluded that the place was bloody awful, that the people there had nothing in common with him, that he was not in any meaningful sense African (so stopped calling himself it), and that he was extremely grateful that his ancestors had, albeit unknowingly, gone through such terrible hardships so that his generation might benefit from civilisation and wealth.

  46. Prof Thomas Sowell on slavery and reparations therefor:

    Thomas Sowell: The people made worse off by slavery were those who were enslaved. Their descendants would have been worse off today if born in Africa instead of America. Put differently, the terrible fate of their ancestors benefitted them. If those who were enslaved were alive, they would deserve huge reparations and their captors would deserve worse punishments than our laws allow. But death has put both beyond our reach. Frustrating as that may be, creating new injustices among the living will not change that.

  47. @Doug
    OK so I read what’s at your Reddit link & apart from a great deal of comfortable PC waffle, what do i learn? Europe hasn’t done much about developing Africa. But no explanation why Africa hasn’t developed itself.
    Now across the Atlantic there’s another set of cultures. The people only turned up there 6000 years ago. They first populated two continents & by the time the Spanish arrived & devastated them with disease, they’d totally independently worked themselves up to a level of technology not far short of the Romans. Not bad considering the absence of a suitable draught animal meant they’d invented but not been able to utilise the wheel. Few hundred years more & it might have been them discovered Europe.
    So what was Sub-Saharan Africa doing for those 6000 years? Where’s the pyramids, the temples, the paved roads? Where’s the canal & dykes? Where’s the hundreds of thousands of square miles of land visibly changed by the hands of men?

  48. Unmentioned in all this is the Elephant In The Room: There’s plenty of documentation around substantiating the sordid role black Africans played as full accomplices/abettors in the slave trade. Just ask Prof. H. L. Gates of Harvard (if you can catch him in between incidents of being brutalized by white policemen, that is).

    So why aren’t the Caribbean folk going after billions from any black African nations/tribes/clans? For one, they know the Africans will tell them to fuck off with much ado. And two, the two most powerful weapons in their arsenal won’t work on black Africans… white guilt and political correctness.

  49. This is not about law, or justice, or history…

    It’s about cash. Cold, hard cash.

    And people on the mooch.

  50. If anyone should pay reparations it is the government in Moscow whose idiotic doctrine set almost the entire African continent back decades in the post-independent period from which they are only just beginning to recover. Never mind where Ghana would be without the slave trade, where would they have been without Nkrumahism?

  51. So Much For Subtlety

    Doug – “I think (I may be wrong) you’ve totally missed my point.”

    I think you’re wrong.

    “Whether African countries would be richer or not now without the slave trade (and concomitant colonisation) is pure speculation, absolutely no evidence either way. To speculate on this requires a hell of a sight more conversation than ‘Whites OK, Africa a basket case’.”

    It is not true that there is no evidence either way. There is no proof either way. But we do know that Africans were paid. Which means the slaves were worth more to Europeans than Africans could expect to squeeze out of them in terms of labour. So it is a net addition of value.

    But given that Whites are OK, wherever they are in the world, and Africans are not, everywhere in the world, the discussion needs to start from that.

    “I wasn’t commenting on the effects of the slave trade.”

    Looks like it to me.

    “I made no mention of white, black, green, yellow or brown slavers. Not interested. Seriously, where did you get the idea that I am ranting against the whites?”

    I agree. Clearly.

    “Sokolo Caliphate…? I was using examples from before the slave trade on the west coast ramped up (pre-1600) and you use an example post-1800? I just wanted to suggest that before the slave trade (especially on the West coast) there were sophisticated political systems and wealthy kingdoms.”

    You were throwing out every two second sound bite you could think of. Regardless of dates. Zimbabwe? It is actually the other way around – slavery seems to have driven the growth of larger and more sophisticated kingdoms

  52. john77
    February 17, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    @ Gamecock
    Which definition?
    Villeins were free to marry whom they choose, to earn money of their own outside the days when they worked on the land of the lord of the manor, to attend church or not; the church forbade the Lord from making them work on Sundays and holy days; they could even own some property. The parallel with sharecroppers is closer than that with plantation slaves. There is no parallel with domestic slaves.

    =========================

    How would you know? Your characterization of the condition of slaves is abolitionist propaganda. MOST slaves were treated as part of the the owners’ family. There are plenty of stories of slaves being given guns by their owners.

    Visit Latta Plantation if you are ever in Charlotte. You will get a more realistic view. Indeed, the slave house there is nicer than the house my father grew up in in rural Kentucky. If the slave couple had two children, they lived quite well. If they had 20, it got very crowded.

    America knew by the mid-19th century it was time for slavery to end, but quirks in the tax system kept it from happening. Compensated emancipation, as done in Europe, was not possible in the U.S., because the government’s money came from . . . slave owners. Had we had an income tax then, things likely would have turned out quite differently.

  53. @ Gamecock
    Villeins are simply not comparable with domestic slaves. Name me even two parallels (NB working for the Lord of the Manor can be equated to payment-in-kind of rent so it is unsound to equate it to unlimited work on demand by a domestic slave).

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