BY NOEL YAXLEY
Should Britain pay reparations for slavery? In recent years this question has come to dominate political discourse and help propel the racial justice movement into the mainstream. During the recent Royal Caribbean tour, Prince William and Kate Middleton were filmed enjoying local cuisine and engaging in a spot of Caribbean culture. But in what was a carefully managed PR campaign, we saw little of the backlash that appeared to greet them in Jamaica. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were met by protestors demanding compensation for the misery that befell their ancestors during the transatlantic slave trade. The couple were accused of benefitting from the “blood, tears and sweat”, of slaves, with local politicians and activists adamant that Britain should pay up.
When it comes to reparations, I think we need to be honest and answer this with a resolute no. As I am about to argue, I feel this would set a dangerous precedent. Slavery is an evil that has plagued every corner of the globe for thousands of years. Since the dawn of civilisation, Africans have enslaved fellow Africans, Europeans have enslaved other Europeans and Asians have enslaved other Asians for the sole purpose of forced labour. And so it has gone, ad infinitum. The trade in human beings is a vile practice that has been repeated throughout the entire course of human history. And as we’re all well aware, the British were once a part of this. But we’ve also been one of its many victims.
Between the 16th and 18th century, over a million white europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold in slave markets off the coast of North Africa. In an essay by the conservative economist Thomas Sowell, “More whites were brought as slaves to North Africa than blacks brought as slaves to the United States or the 13 colonies from which it formed.” If we are to be morally consistent we need to ask Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to get out the chequebook.
If we go further back in time the Vikings ransacked countless English and Scottish villages. On their raids they frequently took slaves. Does this mean we will be entitled to reparations from Norway, Sweden and Denmark for what their ancestors did to ours?
What about the Romans? What did they ever do for us? Well, once they conquered our island they took locals as slaves. So, yep you guessed it, time for Italy to raid the coffers and give us a slice of reparative justice.
Maybe, perhaps maybe, if all these countries agreed to pay up, then we might have the money to pay our (currently) commonwealth cousins in the Caribbean.
Am I being too harsh? Is it ever possible to justify — either philosophically or morally — the financial compensation of the descendants of slaves for the crimes of their ancestors? Well, how do we ascertain who is a genuine descendant? Will D.N.A evidence be required to establish a claim? If so, what is the threshold? What about people like Beyonce whose lineage includes both slave and slave-owner?
If reparations are ever to be justified, legislation has to include a statute of limitations, otherwise, as I hope I have shown, it denigrates into farce. When World War 2 ended the German government granted reparations to the Jewish survivors of the holocaust. Yet this ended when the individual died.
Racial activists have adopted a simplistic and reductive vision of slavery framed entirely through the prism of Eurocentrism. This has been used to score both ideological and moral points against the West to induce a sense of collectivised inherited guilt in white people. It is now being used to derive financial benefit (reparations) and victimhood status for this supposedly white-only crime.
Our fashionable and Eurocentric obsession with the Transatlantic slave-trade acts much in the same was as what Dominic Cummings calls the ‘dead cat’ strategy’ — it diverts our attention from more serious issues happening right now. According to the U.N’s International Labor Organisation there are as many as three times the amount of people forced into debt bondage and indentured servitude today as were captured and sold during the transatlantic’s 350 year life-span. Known as ‘the new slavery’ there are at least 25 million people in debt bondage and 15 million in forced marriage around the world. Generating upwards of $150 billion a year, it turns out people trafficking is far more lucrative than weapons and drug smuggling. According to Siddhartha Kara, economist at the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy “modern slavery is far and away more profitable now than at any point in human history.”
Personally I find the reparations question as old and passé as the practice itself.
Noel Yaxley is a writer based in Nelson’s county. After graduating in politics, he turned his attention to writing. Noel is primarily interested in covering issues around free speech and the latest lunacy in the culture wars. He writes regularly for The Critic magazine and contributes to a number of other outlets such as Reaction and Areo magazine.