Under the rubric of Black Lives Matter (UK limited) it is time that the objective of the discourse and movement is swiftly moved on from felling statues and begins to confront the political, moral and historical injustice consequences of the terrible reality of West Indian enslavement. Caricom – the 20 member association of Caribbean states (all but two Haiti and Suriname were former British colonial territories) have since 2104 submitted a Ten Point Reparations programme to the EU and specifically the UK Government. Before laying out the details of the Caricom document that needs much greater popular support allow me to indulge my personal/political reflections.
My partner of 40 years from Barbados can trace her mother’s family back to enslavement (but not yet to Africa) all of whom either as chattle-slaves or low wage labour worked the land on a Drax plantation in St John, Barbados. The Drax family through James Drax was the first to introduce chattel African enslavement in 1650 in Drax Hall, Barbados (the Hall is still there ). His brother William established a huge slave property in Jamaica again Drax Hall (still there) while Henry Drax (an 18th century MP for Dorset) established the St John plantation. The Drax family had a keen interest in protecting the West Indian plantocracy with a very long line of members of parliament. Indeed Richard Drax currently sits on the “family” seat in Dorset as a backbench Tory member. Some statues live.
Barbados is per capita one of the world’s centre for diabetic amputations after centuries of harmful diets of heavily imported salted fish, starches and sugar. My partner’s mother a wonderful woman who after years of night school left the fields, lost half a leg (below the knee) and her left foot. Aunt Shirl went blind and lost both legs. The grandmother who helped raise my wife was wheel-chair bound for over 30 years. My partner with hypertension had a triple by-pass three years ago and my eldest son is already a diabetic. I want to expose these details so that when the 10 points declaration is raised in which the Caribbean public health crisis is brought up be assured black lives do matter.
Point 5 of the Caricom Reparation Commission declaration states:
“The African descended population in the Caribbean has the highest incidence in the world of chronic diseases in the forms of hypertension and type two diabetes. This pandemic is the direct result of the nutritional experience, physical and emotional brutality, and overall stress profiles associated with slavery, genocide, and apartheid. Over 10 million Africans were imported into the Caribbean during the 200 years of slavery. At the end of slavery in the late 19th century less than 2 million remained. The chronic health condition of Caribbean blacks now constitutes the greatest financial risk to sustainability in the region. Arresting this pandemic requires the injection of science, technology, and capital beyond the capacity of the region.”
There is so much more. Below is a summary of the proposals submitted and asserts that these several actions could constitute Crimes Against Humanity
The Caricom Reparation Commission asserts that European Governments:
- Were owners and traders of enslaved Africans and instructed genocidal actions upon indigenous communities
- Created the legal, financial and fiscal policies necessary for the enslavement of Africans
- Defined and enforced African enslavement and native genocide as in their ‘national interests’
- Refused compensation to the enslaved with the ending of their enslavement
- Compensated slave owners at emancipation for the loss of legal property rights in enslaved Africans
- Imposed a further one hundred years of racial apartheid upon the emancipated
- Imposed for another one hundred years policies designed to perpetuate suffering upon the emancipated and survivors of genocide
- And have refused to acknowledge such crimes or to compensate victims and their descendants”
Some of us may still need reminding of the atrocities and injustices perpetrated in the Caribbean.
When Columbus “found” the archipelago ( and the figures are only for the island chain) there was an estimated 4 million Taino, Carib or Arawak indigenous people. By the time Cromwell sent in his troops in 1665 there were an estimated 2.5 to 3 million (Caricom figures). Today there is less than 30,000 across the 30 plus island archipelago.
Caricom estimates an approximate total of 10 million Africans were imported as enslaved labour in around 200 years. At Emancipation in the 1830s (later in French territories and Cuba) the figure was less than 2 million. More precise figures for Barbados indicate a total African population of 660000 (from 1650 -1807) with 84,000 left in 1834. That is genocide in Holocaust dimensions.
This long Caribbean (the sea of the Caribs) chapter in European history with Spain in the vanguard followed by France, England then Scotland, Wales and Ireland joining in plus Denmark, and the Netherlands all have to answer to history and begin the process of healing.
Here at home Scotland with a historically long list of around 30 major enslavement investors and another several thousand 2nd tier participants will need to address the Caricom concerns. There are challenges to overcome. Why should we socialize the blame and reparations when it was private gain that lead the charge supported by pro-enslavement Westminster Governments? When enslavement has to be compensated in some form, then what about shameful imperial commercial activity in other distant parts of the Empire. There is quite a catalogue: Edinburghs wealth and the Opium trade, the Scottish military were hardly angels in India even the “good guys” around Owen and New Lanark found their cotton on slave plantations. One of the most critical rationales for the Scottish nobility and its associated bourgeoisie agreeing to the 1707 treaty was the opportunity offered to get new world wealth into old Scottish pockets urgently, through any means having been excluded prior to 1707. While Scotland seeks its own road to some form of anti-imperialist sovereignty it must come to terms with its own historic commercial-imperialism.