Our Readers' Opinions
August 8, 2014
Emancipation but no Reparations or compensation for black people

by Maxwell Haywood Fri, Aug 08, 2014

Black people as property

It has been 180 years since Black people in the English speaking Caribbean were “emancipated” from chattel slavery by the passing of the Act for the Abolition of Slavery by the British parliament in August 1833, which took effect on August 1, 1834. It took another four years for “full emancipation” to occur, which it did in 1838 when the apprentice system ended. All of this took place at the same time the indigenous people of the Caribbean region were experiencing genocide by the same European slave-owning class.{{more}}

A great people of Africa, who once had great civilizations in Africa and had shared their genius with the rest of the world, and who are the ancestors of all Black people in the Caribbean, including St Vincent and the Grenadines, were reduced to a miserable and inhuman state of living by the military power, racist mindset and insatiable and economic greed of Europe. In 1834, the enslaved Africans, forced to work in the Caribbean, mainly under British control, were emancipated from that dreadful system of chattel slavery in which they were used as property.

At the time of emancipation, compensation for the slave-owner was paramount. Compensation or reparations for the enslaved Black people was never on the agenda. Black people were property owned by white slave-owner,s so only the slave-owners were granted reparations for owning and enslaving Black people.

The idea that human beings, in this case Black people, could be used and owned as property is one of the most exploitative practices that human beings have ever committed against other human beings. This means that enslaved Black people were treated as if they were animals or machinery in the industrial establishment of the enslavers. Black people had absolutely no right to dignity, justice, peace, stability, and the fruits of their labour. They had no right to rule their destiny. They could be sold at any moment.

Emancipation of Black people from chattel slavery in 1834 meant that those who owned Black people as their property were paid large sums of money to free Black people. One would think that if anyone was to be paid it would have been Black people who were captives on slave plantations in the Caribbean. This is on top of the fact that these slave plantations were enormously lucrative business for the white slave-owners, but misery and destruction for enslaved Black people. Black people got no compensation but they had to give additional years of apprenticeship.

Modern inequality in our own society and between our society and other so-called developed societies emerged from chattel slavery. This inequality, which was in full effect during chattel slavery, has been sustained to a large extent, leaving in its trail much illiteracy, ill-health, sub-standard housing, poverty, unemployment and under employment, limited economic diversification, high debt levels, and weak economic infrastructure. Black people were ravaged and this left them in much poverty and vulnerabilities in contemporary times.

Chattel slavery was comprehensively destructive of Black people’s freedom to create wealth and to benefit from it. They should have been fully rewarded for their hundreds of years of enslavement. However, that was not to be! The slave-owners had different intentions, which were to compensate themselves while Black people remained in conditions not fit for human beings. In addition to not receiving compensation, Black people were not even provided with the required resources to address their change in status from being enslaved to being free people. It was like being thrown in the deep end of a pool without the skills to swim. The result could have been fatal. It is the resilience of Black people that have gotten them to this point in 2014 demanding reparations for this crime against humanity.

Emancipation and the slave owners

The huge injustice committed against Black people was reflected in the compensation package and reparations given to the former slave-holders. The British rewarded slave-owners the grand total of £20 million at the time of emancipation starting in 1834. Today that amount is worth £200 billion. Dr. Hilary Beckles, chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, and Principal and Pro-Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados, in his book “Britain’s Black Debt” called this compensation package paid to the slave-owners a “a huge stimulus package.” That “stimulus package” was really needed by Black people, not the slave-owners who got filthy rich by owning Black people as property.

The Slave Compensation Commission was established in Britain to carry out the compensation package. It calculated the monetary price of Black people and what was due to the slave owners. It carried out a very organized effort to compensate slave-owners. The project to compensate the slave-owners was quite extensive and urgent in its implementation. Thousands of slave-owners were compensated in a process that took few years to complete, an astonishing feat when seen in the context of numbers and time-frame. The Slave Compensation Commission presided over 45,000 claims from slave-owners, and over 30,000 monetary awards were distributed to those with slave-owning interests in the Caribbean.

Slavery was so important to the British society that the entire country was profoundly affected by emancipation of enslaved Black people. Emancipation was seen as an attack on the slave-owners. So they demanded compensation. The Abolition Act of 1834 allowed for the slave-owners to get compensation for emancipation of slaves. But slaves who did all the work got nothing.

Emancipation was seen as a threat to the financial system of Britain. Emancipation meant there would be no more slavery, which meant that the profits from slavery were threatened. Slave-owners considered it a sacrifice to them when they agreed to emancipate Black people from chattel slavery. The humanity of the enslaved was not the focus. The interests of the slave-holders were what counted most. Emancipation was seen as a threat to the welfare of many people in Britain. Thus they argued that they must be compensated if slavery stopped.

There was a big concern about the negative impact of emancipation on the estates of slave-holders. Free labour was now unavailable. They were not concerned about the positive impact on Black people but only how it would impact on the slave-owning society. It was seen as an injustice for emancipation to take away slaves from their owners without adequate compensation. But it was never seen as an injustice for slaves not to have received full compensation for all the free labour and human destruction during slavery.

Looking ahead

The current efforts of CARICOM and others to get reparations for Black people must be commended, promoted and supported. We know that gaining monetary and social reparations is not going to be an easy walk in the park. But hopes are high because that journey has been revived and complimented by the political will of Caribbean governments, with St Vincent and the Grenadines in a leading role..

Dr Hilary Beckles said in his speech to the House of Commons, Parliament of Great Britain on July 16, 2014: “This 21st century will be the century of global reparatory justice. Citizens are now, for the first time since they were driven into retreat by colonialism, able to stand up for reparatory justice without fear. Their claim, their just claim for reparations, will not go away. Rather, like the waves upon our beautiful shores, they will keep coming until reparatory justice is attained.”

[email protected]