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Britain's Black Debt Essay

1089 words - 5 pages

The 2013 publication of Sir Hilary Beckles’ historical economic narrative on Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide re-ignited the Reparations debate in the West Indies. There are clear proponents in the form of politicians, governments and regional bodies: Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and CARICOM, and detractors as evidenced by a number of articles and letters to the editor appearing in regional newspapers since the launch of this seminal work. The campaign for reparative justice is not new neither is it exclusive to this region; Chief Moshood Abiola, noted Nigerian Pan-Africanist and the first entry in the author’s ...view middle of the document...

Chapters 1 – 11 set the stage for the debate by establishing the historical, economic, religious, moral and legitimized philosophy that fuelled the drive for colonization and empire building in the region since the 16th century, under the guise of nation building, by the British. Chapters 12 – 15 entertain the development of the current English–speaking Caribbean reparations movement (encompassing the period from 2000 to 2012) and the British anti-reparationist argument.

The author first outlines the diplomatic and international law principles which guide the current thinking on reparative justice. Two issues emerge here, the enterprise of the enslavement of Africans in the new world in the form of chattel slavery was historically unique, and that at the time, in Britain, the laws legitimizing this form of slavery were seen as invalid thus representing a tacit recognition that chattel slavery was a criminal commerce and a crime against humanity.

Beckles next focuses on the genocide of the native Kalinagos of the Windward Islands. The imperialistic world view of the British relegated these indigenous people as uncivilized savages, who would be useful as labourers but in reaction to their legitimate resistance to enslavement, the British resorted to the expulsion of the remaining indigenous people from their islands through military force to such an extent that “between 1492 and 1730, the native population of the Lesser Antilles fell by as much as 90 per cent” (24).

The author then establishes the individual links in most of the subsequent chapters of Part 1, which form the chain that leads from the British trade in enslaved Africans and its system of chattel slavery to the rise of Britain as an industrialized colonial power. Beckles highlights the link that identifies the deliberate, systematic and complete subordination of enslaved Africans through their designation, according to English common law, as non-human and property. Other links that are articulated in separate chapters by the author are the vested interests that all arms of the British state i.e. the monarchy, the legislature, the judiciary and the Church of England, along with the upper echelons of the British society of the day; aristocrats, gentry, banks, insurance companies and even ports and entire cities, had in sustaining and extracting the profits derived from slavery. In this way Beckles references the...

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