By Kehinde Andrews
Historian David Olusoga recently brought the legacy of British slave ownership in Britain to the BBC. During the two part documentary he explored how the Maafa was a central part of building Western capitalism, providing the labour and resources upon which today’s wealth is founded on. The industrial revolution, which is so raved about in British textbooks simply does not happen without the murder and exploitation of African flesh. African enslavement was so profitable that it built entire cities like Liverpool and Bristol, and furnished the expansion of the ‘great’ city of London. Even those industrial cities, far from the coast, like Birmingham have their hands soaked in the blood of the enslaved.
Britain built its wealth off the dehumanisation of Africans. The centuries of forced an unpaid labour are a debt that should hang like a millstone over the collective conscience of the nation. However, when enslavement was ‘abolished’ in 1833, the benevolent British government did not turn to the emancipated and offer even a token of support for the damages we had suffered. They instead instituted a system of apprenticeship, which essentially extended enslavement and paid out the equivalent of £17 billion to compensate the losses of the slave-owners. Imagine for a second the barbarity of that act. Centuries of abusing a people in unimaginable ways, and then treating the abusers as the injured party.
One of the best things about the documentary and also the ‘Legacies of British Slave Ownership’, research project behind it, is that it sheds light on this often neglected moment in history. If you are interested you can trace where all of that £17 billion went, and link it directly to the wealth of their descendants in the present day. That wealth was used to solidify the wealth of thousands of families, which has been maintained today. For anyone who wants to argue that slavery is in the past, and should have no bearing on what happens today, consider that the researchers estimate that the wealth exploited from enslaved Africans accounts for between 10 and 20% of current GDP of Britain today. That is between £180 and £360 Billion that was built directly off our backs. As Malcolm explains, the West is only rich because of the debt that it owes to us, and it is high time that reparations were paid:
If you are the son of a man who had a wealthy estate and you inherit your father’s estate, you have to pay off the debts that your father incurred before he died. The only reason that the present generation of white Americans are in a position of economic strength…is because their fathers worked our fathers for over 400 years with no pay…We were sold from plantation to plantation like you sell a horse, or a cow, or a chicken, or a bushel of wheat…All that money…is what gives the present generation of American whites the ability to walk around the earth with their chest out…like they have some kind of economic ingenuity…Your father isn’t here to pay. My father isn’t here to collect. But I’m here to collect and you’re here to pay.
Make no mistake, the plight that we find ourselves in as Black people today is the direct consequence of the brutal oppression of enslavement. In fact, without the Maafa we wouldn’t even be in the West, striving for rights as second class citizens. The legacy of enslavement is clear both for those who benefitted and those who did not and it is time that restitution is paid in full for the damage wrought on our people.
On Saturday 1st Mosiah (August), there will be a march for reparations starting in Windrush Square, Brixton. The Rastafari Movement are also organising a rally, starting in Windrush Square and heading to Kennington Park. Forget all the practical questions about where the money should go etc, and march on the principle that Britain owes a debt to its Black population. The nation was built off our backs, and yet we are still subject to viscous discrimination. The debt is long overdue, and it is time that we claim it! Reparations Now!