Prince William’s Regret Over Slavery Isn’t Enough
Updated: Mar 30
Prince William danced in the Garifuna village of Hopkins, Belize. The Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) are descendants of an African-indigenous population. UNESCO recognized their language, dance and music as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The recent visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas brought to the fore the sustained demand for slavery reparations.
It was not expected. But why not?
British people -- and I am one -- are experts at ignoring what they do not deem appropriate; British officials, the same. When pressed on reparations, government and monarchical representatives make similar comments -- indeed sometimes the same words – not on reparations but on slavery:
The Duke of Cambridge spoke of his “profound sorrow” over slavery during a speech at a dinner in Jamaica. Prince William said slavery was abhorrent, “should never have happened” and “forever stains our history”, reported BBC News (March 25).
Prince Williams’ father, Prince Charles, acknowledged the “appalling atrocity of slavery” that “forever stains our history” as Barbados became a republic, according to The Guardian (November 30, 2021). He did not demure from reflecting on the “darkest days of our past” as he looked to a bright future for Barbadians.
Prime Minister David Cameron, addressing Jamaica’s parliament, said slavery was “abhorrent in all its forms”. Cameron acknowledged that “these wounds run very deep” and that Britain’s role in wiping slavery “off the face of our planet” should be remembered, reported BBC News (September 30, 2015).
Cameron added: “I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future.”
It is as though they are reading from the same playbook.
The Duke of Cambridge spoke of “sorrow”; he did not say “sorry”.
“Some will be disappointed about that. But ‘sorry’ would have been a different order of magnitude, carrying with it acceptance of responsibility and opening up the question of financial compensation. Hardly surprising then that Prince William didn’t go that far. That would be a job for government, not royalty,” wrote BBC News.
Yes, that is a job for government because the call for reparations is not going to be silenced with time.
Before Prime Minister Cameron traveled to Jamaica, a Number 10 official spoke about reparations to BBC News:
“This is a longstanding concern of theirs, and there is a longstanding U.K. position true of successive governments in the U.K. that we don’t think reparations are the right approach.”
Cameron urged Jamaica to “move on”.
In the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian (June 8, 2013), Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Reparations Commission, said:
“Reparations, or the concept of repairing damage, is based on the search for a higher level of humanity and is intended to lay the foundation for healing the human family.”
Sir Hilary warned that there is a lot of work to be done since European governments consistently had refused to give apologies.
“Europeans first have to acknowledge a crime has been committed. Most of the countries have not admitted slavery was a crime against humanity.
“You have to admit responsibility and admit to the damage,” said Sir Hilary, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies.
Born in Barbados, Sir Hilary dedicated his Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide (2012) to Trinidad and Tobago’s Father of the Nation, Dr. Eric Williams, who wrote the classic, Capitalism and Slavery, his doctoral thesis completed in 1938 at Oxford University.
Williams’ book challenged Britain’s claim that the slave trade and slavery had been abolished for humanitarian rather than economic reasons. The Guardian (January 23) reported:
“The capitalists had first encouraged West Indian slavery and then helped to destroy it,” he writes. In the early 19th century, slave-owning sugar planters in the Caribbean British colonies enjoyed a monopoly on the supply of sugar to Britain because of an imperial tax policy of protectionism. Williams argues: 'When British capitalism depended on (sugar and cotton plantations in) the West Indies, they (the capitalists) ignored slavery or defended it. When British capitalism found the West Indian monopoly (on sugar) a nuisance, they destroyed West Indian slavery as the first step in the destruction of West Indian monopoly.'
“In great detail, he lays out the wealth and industry that was created in Britain, not just from the slave plantations and in the sugar refineries and cotton mills, but by building and insuring slave ships, manufacturing goods transported to the colonies – including guns, manacles, chains and padlocks – and then banking and reinvesting the profits.
“It was all this wealth created by slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries that powered the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, Williams argued. And it was this economic change that meant the preferential sugar duties – which artificially pushed up the price of sugar in the U.K., a deliberate policy that had once so suited the many wealthy British families involved in the slave trade – came to be seen by 19th-century industrialists as an ‘unpopular’ barrier to free trade, low factory wages and global domination.”
Written in 1938, British publishers shunned Capitalism and Slavery. Fredric Warburg, who had published Hitler’s Mein Kampf and would publish George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, rejected it out of hand. Any suggestion that the slave trade and slavery were abolished for economic and not humanitarian reasons ran “contrary to the British tradition,” Warburg told him, adding, “I would never publish such a book,” according to The Guardian (January 23).
In 1944, Capitalism and Slavery was published in the United States.
No major British publisher touched the seminal work for 26 years after its completion, although excerpts of the thesis were published in 1939 by The Keys, the journal of the League of Coloured Peoples, a British civil rights organization whose members included Trinidadian writer and journalist, C.L.R. James, who had taught a young Williams in Trinidad, and nationalist Jomo Kenyatta, later to become Kenya’s president and prime minister.
Two years after Williams became the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Andre Deutsche, a small but influential British house, published Capitalism and Slavery in 1964. The book went through numerous reprints until 1991. On February 24 of this year, Penguin Modern Classics published the United Kingdom’s first mass-market edition, which became a bestseller.
Britain’s Role in Slave Trade
Britain was at the heart of the lucrative transatlantic trade of millions of enslaved Africans for more than 200 years.
According to ship’s records, an estimated 12.5 million people were transported as slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean to work in often brutal conditions on plantations from the 16th century until the trade was banned in 1807.
In 1833, Britain emancipated its slaves. It took out significant loans in order to pay £20 million – 40 percent of its national budget – for compensation to 46,000 slave-owners for “loss of human property,” according to NBC News (December 26, 2021) and BBC News (September 30, 2015). Due to the large amount of interest generated by the loan, British taxpayers did not pay off the debt fully until 2015, reported NBC News.
Reparations for slave-owners . . .
As the descendant of African slaves in the Caribbean and of East Indian “indentured servants”, ie. slaves, in Belize, formerly British Honduras, I find this to be outrageous.
Calls for reparation for slaves are as old as emancipation. CARICOM (Caribbean Community) raised a call in 2014 from its 15 member states and five associate members representing 16 million people. It renewed the call in July 2020, according to an opinion piece in Aljazeera (July 19, 2020).
Sir Hilary said that the plan would set out areas of dialogue with former slave-trading nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, according to The Guardian (March 9, 2014). He dismissed claims that the Caribbean nations were attempting to extract vast sums from European taxpayers, insisting that money was not the main objective. Sir Hilary said:
“The British media have been obsessed with suggesting that we expect billions of dollars to be extracted from European states. Contrary to the British media, we are not exclusively concerned with financial transactions. We are concerned more with justice for the people who continue to suffer harm at so many levels of social life.”
CARICOM’s 10-point plan was as follows:
1. A full formal apology for slavery from the governments of Europe;
2. A repatriation program to resettle descendants of the more than 10 million Africans who were taken forcibly to the Caribbean;
3. An indigenous people’s development program to begin healing for the genocide of the native Caribbean population;
4. The establishment of cultural institutions such as museums and research centers;
5. A program to remedy the public health crisis of African descendants in the Caribbean, which has the highest global incidence of hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Regional health experts and historians say that this correlation is related directly to the nutritional experience, physical and emotional brutality and overall stress profiles associated with slavery, genocide and apartheid;
6. Programs to eradicate the high levels of illiteracy that stem from slavery;
7. The establishment of an African Knowledge Program;
8. Psychological rehabilitation program;
9. Technology transfer:
10. Debt cancellation.
Unlike government, British academia seems to be taking or moving toward action.
The University of Glasgow, one of the oldest in Britain, acknowledged its links to historical donors who benefited from the slave trade and promised to raise £20 million over the next 20 years to research slavery and its impact around the world, according to The New York Times (August 24, 2019).
It is believed to be the first attempt by a British university to establish a program of restorative justice.
Sir Hilary described it as a “bold, historic” move, according to The Guardian (August 23, 2019). The university signed an agreement with the University of the West Indies to fund a joint center for research.
The announcement came three years after the university in Scotland commissioned a report on its connections to those who might have benefitted from the proceeds of the slave trade, according to The Times. The study, published in 2018, found that the school, established in 1451, had received bequests and gifts in the 18th and 19th centuries from people involved in the slave trade that were worth as much as £200 million today.
The report is believed to be the first of its kind in Britain, according to a university statement.
The authors recommended raising awareness about the university’s historical links to slavery with exhibitions. Along with the center to study slavery and its legacies, they also suggested a scholarship for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, and a professorship for research of slavery and reparative justice, reported The Times.
The University of Cambridge convened an inquiry in 2019 to advise the Vice-Chancellor on historical links with enslavement and on the legacies of those links, according to the university (May 15, 2020).
“The two-year inquiry will explore University archives and a wide range of records elsewhere to uncover how the institution may have gained from slavery and the exploitation of coerced labor, through financial and other bequests to departments, libraries and museums.
“It will also investigate the extent to which scholarship at the University of Cambridge, an established and flourishing seat of learning before and during the period of Empire, might have reinforced and validated race-based thinking between the 18th and early 20th century.
“The Advisory Group is expected to deliver its final report to the Vice-Chancellor in 2022. Alongside its findings on historical links to the slave trade, the report will recommend appropriate ways for the University to publicly acknowledge such links and their modern impact.”
Prime Minister of Antiga and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, wrote to the Master of All Souls College at Oxford University seeking reparations for what now amounts to tens of millions of pounds as a result of “hard labor” of enslaved people on Antiga and Barbuda, reported Caribbean National Weekly (April 7, 2021).
In a letter of April 6, 2021, Prime Minister Browne stated that Christopher Codrington III’s 1710 bequest, which built All Souls College now-famous library, was generated mainly from the labor of slaves on “granted” land.
Browne pointed out that the Codrington family gained considerable wealth from the proceeds of plantations and slavery on Antiga, principally a “grant” of 500 acres of land in 1674, which was named Betty’s Hope, and a further 400 acres that was “granted” subsequently.
The Antiga and Barbuda Prime Minister proposed that the College should repay its debt to enslaved persons on Antiga and Barbuda, who were the real source of benefit to All Souls, by:
a. Contributing to the higher education of the people of Antiga and Barbuda through postgraduate scholarships to the College for eligible Antiguans and Barbudians;
b. Direct donations to the Five Islands (Antiga) Campus of the University of the West Indies, which was established in September 2019
In an immediate response, All Souls College thanked Prime Minister Browne for his letter and advised that it is investigating academic initiatives in relation to the Codrington legacy”, according to Caribbean National Weekly (April 7, 2021).
Four years previously, Oxford’s All Souls College attempted to begin to redress the legacy of slavery by agreeing to begin an annual scholarship scheme, funding one graduate from a Caribbean nation to study at Oxford as well as a £100,000 five-year grant for the theological institution in Barbados, Codrington College, named for its founder, reported The Guardian (November 10, 2017).
United Nations Report
It is time for governments to stop ducking the issue of slavery reparations.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet released a report on racial injustice in June 2021 that included support for reparations, according to NBC News (December 26, 2021).
“But several countries, including the U.S, and the United Kingdom, were notably absent from the discussion when the topic was raised during the U.N. General Assembly in September.”