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Will UK make amends for slavery/colonialism in VI?

E. Benito Wheatley is a Policy Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Center for Science and Policy (CSaP). Photo: Provided
E. Benito Wheatley

As the United Kingdom (UK) confronts the issue of racism in British society and the country's longstanding problem of injustice toward people of African descent, it should not be forgotten that the people of the Virgin Islands (VI) are also victims of Britain’s dark legacy of slavery and colonialism.

The local population is primarily descended from the enslaved Africans brought to the colony to work on plantations by the British via the slave trade. The VI also remains tied to the UK under the political designation of British Overseas Territory that is a modification of its earlier colonial status.

The UK has not made amends for its longstanding wrongs toward the people of the VI. When slavery legally ended in 1834, the UK compensated British slave owners on the mainland and throughout the British Empire for the cost of each person of African descent they owned as a slave. However, no compensation or reparations were paid to the newly freed people or their descendants who were left poor and to fend for themselves.

While some may argue that slavery ended a long time ago, the $20.6 billion borrowed by the UK to pay off British slave owners across the empire was repaid by UK taxpayers only in 2015 after 181 years of installments. No such financial obligation was made to compensate the formerly enslaved people in the VI and elsewhere, or their descendants, for the dehumanisation and loss of life suffered during 200 years of slavery or for their subsequent gross colonial neglect after slavery ended for a period of 105 years in which the VI became the poorest part of the British Leeward Islands Colony.

What makes Britain’s treatment of the people of the VI even more shameful, is that just two years after the UK paid off its debt incurred to compensate slave owners for the persons they enslaved, the UK Government decided in 2017 not to provide direct grants for reconstruction to the VI as an Overseas Territory to help rebuild after Hurricanes Irma and Maria inflicted catastrophic damage to the islands. Even the UK’s offer of a loan guarantee to the local Government on which to borrow for recovery did not materialise.

If the UK is sincere about a positive relationship with the VI, it will make amends with the people of the islands for the dehumanisation of slavery; for not compensating the formerly enslaved people for their enslavement under Britain, while at the same time compensating slave owners for the persons they had enslaved; and for the gross neglect of the people of the islands for 105 years after slavery ended that triggered the Great March of 1949 against Britain.

Furthermore, the UK should explain why the UK Government in 2017 was unwilling to provide direct grants for reconstruction to help the people of the VI rebuild after the devastation of two category 5 hurricanes, when just two years earlier in 2015, UK taxpayers completed repayment of the loan of $20.6 billion that was borrowed to compensate British slave owners for each person of African descent they enslaved.

The VI’s upcoming annual August Emancipation Celebration to commemorate the legal end of slavery is an opportunity for the UK to begin the process of redressing its longstanding wrongs toward the people of the VI. This can begin with offering an official apology for the enslavement of their foreparents and post-slavery colonial neglect, and a commitment to begin talks on how Britain can make the people of the VI whole for its wrongs toward them. Doing so can help the UK and VI move past the long unaddressed issue of slavery and to take further steps in addressing the legacy of colonialism and eliminating its last vestiges on the islands.

25 Responses to “Will UK make amends for slavery/colonialism in VI?”

  • pat (14/07/2020, 12:01) Like (3) Dislike (3) Reply
    Another good read
  • watching (14/07/2020, 12:12) Like (3) Dislike (3) Reply
    Good points raised. I wouldn't be keeping my hopes up for any compensation but its good to point out the injustice and hypocrisies. Unfortunately, some think the UK is the best thing for us.
    • Moneeeey (14/07/2020, 20:38) Like (3) Dislike (1) Reply
      How else can we extort money out of people? Seeing as we can’t get the UK to blindly give us money to rebuild and use responsibly (BVI Airways? VG health clinic? Pier park?) I guess we should play a 200 year old guilt trip card... what’s next?
  • down2earth (14/07/2020, 13:24) Like (3) Dislike (3) Reply
    I know that some British have already read this piece. Have this published in every newspaper in England! Give us an apology and compensation. Let us make this year's August celebration count!
    • there in lies the problem (15/07/2020, 10:13) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
      So you want compensation for your forefathers being bonded into slavery, whipped degraded abused so you can ahve a party this year, you see the problem...or don't you?
    • Meanwhile back in reality (16/07/2020, 02:50) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
      Nobody cares what you think
  • pat (14/07/2020, 15:23) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Thoes racist ppl will not
  • John (14/07/2020, 15:23) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    mr wheatley please do something about cs cline he is an ed.. who wantto see the counry fall into the handsof others with his stupid talk you arw working in england please talk to thematter before thecountry get intodeep hell
  • Whole story? (14/07/2020, 16:21) Like (8) Dislike (5) Reply
    Is this the full story? Weren't the slaves in VI given the land that they lived on? I know that's not nearly enough to make up for years of slavery however it has meant that those slaves became prominent families over here and enabled generations after them to profit. Didn't the UK also offer money after Irma but the Premier refused to give detailed information regarding where it was being spent. It's not unorthodox for someone who is giving money to be told where it is being spent and to whom it is benefitting. If the BVI government was less corrupt, perhaps these sanctions wouldn't be in place? I was born here, raised by BVI parents, I do not expect citizens of the UK to pay reparations to me to compensate for something that happened generations ago by people who neither myself nor them would have even met.
    • @Whole story? (15/07/2020, 10:38) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
      No, your ancestors were some evil, wicked, sick human beings who made the black residences pay the UK for land ownership after enslaving, raping, victimizing and killing off many of them. Please learn the history of these lands... the Whole story!
  • @whole story (14/07/2020, 18:50) Like (3) Dislike (4) Reply
    u sound like u are an intelligent fool ...get from here ....the so called jew get there's all after there had African in slave way before..but justice don't rest till it
  • benito (14/07/2020, 18:53) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    good stand up ...u brothers are doing good hor ur country here and there ...God bless u all both..good work
  • E. Leonard (14/07/2020, 22:16) Like (4) Dislike (2) Reply
    UK slave owners brutalized and dehumanized Slaves. To justify this despicable and deplorable behaviour, they had to dehumanized Slaves. If they were not seen as humans, they convince themselves that it was ok to abuse and exploit them. It was a cesspool situation riddled with hypocrisy, eg, by day the women were viewed as chattel but raped at night. Dehumanizing Slaves/Blacks created White privilege.

    Caribbean slave labour built the UK’s economy and was the fuel that drove the engine that revolutionized its industrial capitalism industry. The only people that didn’t/have not benefited from Slavery were/are Slaves and their descendants. A study by the University College of London (UCL) revealed that the UK borrowed approx £20M to compensate approx 3,000 slave-owning families for their supposed lost of their property. The families of some prominent Britons have received compensation. The £20M loan (40% of UK budget at the time) was paid off in 2015. This means that Blacks in Britain were paying to pay off a loan that was borrowed to payoff slave owners who owned their foreparents.

    It is time to make Slaves and their descendants whole. Paying reparation is not a hypothetical, for both the UK, US and others have paid reparations, eg, Mau Mau in Kenya and Japanese interned by US during WWII. The UK failed to significantly contribute to the VI economic recovery after being devastated by two category 5 hurricanes in September 2017—Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Covid-19 was the most destabilizing event to hit the Caribbean region since WWII; it severely impacted the VI economy, resulting in significant unemployment. Yet the UK failed to deliver any assistance to help the unemployed.

    Moreover, after WWII, UK having been devastated by the war, was bailed out by the US under the Marshal Plan to the tune of approximately $5B. The UK needs to create a Marshal-style plan for its OTs impacted by Covid-19.

  • ReX FeRal (15/07/2020, 09:50) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
  • Big Slick Willie (15/07/2020, 11:33) Like (1) Dislike (1) Reply
    C'mon man. Nobody alive today was a slave nor owned slaves. At the end of the day, if your ancestors were not sold by other Africans and put on boats, you would still be in Africa avoiding malaria and wondering where your next meal would be coming from. Let it go people. It's over. Now concentrate on not hating your fellow islanders.
    • Diaspora (15/07/2020, 18:12) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
      Yes, a few traitorous, self-hating and delusional Africans were complicit in capturing fellow Africans to sell to slave traders so we should not try to rationalize the despicable action of slave traders and slave owners. Does not the purchaser who knowingly buys stolen goods at a discount from the thief just as guilty? What is the defence for brutalizing, dehumanizing, murdering, exploiting and raping slaves? None. The behaviour was inhumane, despicable, deplorable, evil, deceitful, treacherous…….etc. The treatment inflicted by slave traders and slave owners on Slaves is a million raised to the tenth power worst than “bad pay” scoundrels.

      The Slaves were worked and treated worst than Hebrew Slaves but the outcome for the descendants of Hebrew Slaves was much better than that of the descendants of African Slaves.

      Moreover, the descendants of the slave owners like to spout a number of canards, eg, 1)I was not a slave owner and was not around during slavery, 2)no one alive was a slave, 3)I didn’t benefit from Slavery and 4) I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did. Here is a news flash. The slave owners descendants benefited tremendously from slavery and continue to benefit. For example, they enjoy White privilege. Slaves and their labour created personal wealth for slave traders and slave owners and this wealth was transferred to their descendants through inheritance. Slave labour built the UK economy, creating housing, educational, employment, healthcare…….etc advantages and opportunities for the descendants of slave traders and slave owners. What a head start!

      At Emancipation, all the Slaves had was the rags on their broken and wary backs. Slaves and their descendants started the race about 50 metres behind the starting line and they have been trying to catch up ever since. After Emancipation more hurdles were placed in their paths. Other groups who have been abused have received reparation. It is way past time to give reparation to the descendants of African slaves.
    • Comment (16/07/2020, 01:08) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
      We will let it go when you all, give us what you owe, like you did the Jews! Thank you!
  • Political Observer (PO) (15/07/2020, 18:17) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Slavery is the UK’s greatest sin and a permanent stain on its image and humanity or its inhumanity. It is an imprint in its DNA. The UK government with the support of a majority of its citizens supported and enabled the kidnapping and trading of captured West African Slaves. It supported the brutalizing, dehumanizing, abusing, exploiting, murdering, undernourishing, poorly housing and clothing, separating of families, eliminating of religion, and raping (women) of Slaves.

    Slaving trading and slave owning created much wealth for White investors. The blood, sweat and tears of Slave labour fueled the unprecedented growth of the UK’s economy and the seeding of the Industrial Revolution. The Slave trade ended in 1807 but Emancipation of physical slavery didn’t happen until 01 August 1834. However, the Slaves were not totally freed on this date, for they had to buy their freedom with another 4 years of servitude.

    Emancipation completed, the UK borrowed £20M to pay slave owners for their human property. A loan that was paid off in 2015. Doubt if many Black Britons knew that they were paying to payoff a loan that was borrowed to payoff slave owners who owned their forefathers/mothers. Nonetheless, to date neither Slaves nor their descendants have been paid a red cent for the free Slave labor that built personal wealth and the UK economy.

    The UK needs to do the right thing by 1)apologizing meaningfully for its Slavery sin and 2)paying the descendants of Slaves reparation. Reparation does not mean just paying every descendant cash. There are other methods of making the Slaves and descendants whole.
    • Comment (16/07/2020, 01:17) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
      Great information, keep the conversation going. It is time for retribution.
  • Diaspora (15/07/2020, 21:12) Like (1) Dislike (1) Reply

    Slave traders and slave owners made a tidy profit from free slave labour. The fruits of slave labour built the UK economy. And all the slaves got for their blood, sweat and tears were brutalizations, heart aches and more brutalizations. To heap cocobay pun top ah yaws, at Emancipation, the advocates for slave owners got approximately £20M in compensation, along with 4 years of apprentice service for slaves to pay for their freedom. The Slaves and their descendants didn’t and still has not yet even gotten a farthing.

    The £20M borrowed is worth approx £17B today and the debt was retired in 2015; it (£20M) equated go approximately 40% of the budget. This means that Black Britons were paying off a loan borrowed to pay slave owners. The slaves bought their freedom with 4 years of apprentice service and their descendants had to pay off the loan that bought their freedom. Slaves are hopefully resting in external peace but their descendants need to reap the compounded benefits for their exploited labour. The UK needs to make the Slaves whole by paying their descendants reparation. At both sides of the pond, slave labour created tens if not hundreds of millionaires in the US, UK, Portugal……..etc.
  • @Diaspora (16/07/2020, 01:14) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    WOW! Very informative, and I totally agree!
  • wild (16/07/2020, 13:39) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    We want gold bars for our reparations. Then we will leave on the boat of Tarshish.
  • cromwell (19/07/2020, 18:50) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    The £20 million in question was paid to 3,000 British slave owners in 1833. At that time the population of England, Wales and Scotland numbered just over 16 million people. The slave owners in question represented 0.0187% of the population at the time, the other 15,997, 000 people had nothing to do with slavery. Extrapolate those figures forward to today and you will probably find that 99.8% of today’s UK population had nothing to do with slavery, so, why should they be expected to take any responsibility for those terrible times.

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