Explore some common questions and popular misconceptions about reparations.
Reparations describe how an individual, group or society attempts to remedy a wrongdoing or crime. Reparations are not just financial compensation and they can also include – but are not limited to – formal apologies, return of colonised land and artefacts, restitution of civil rights and processes of memorialisation.
Reparations, in this instance, are expected to come from countries and institutions that benefitted from genocide, chattel slavery and settler colonialism in Caribbean countries.
The reparations process is decided by those who suffer(ed) from the harm and damage caused by chattel slavery, colonialism, and genocide. This also includes descendants suffering ongoing violations inflicted from the legacy of these crimes. Societies determine the steps to be taken through community-led dialogue, discussion and collaboration.
The transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans and its legacies of colonisation and genocide are incalculable atrocities and irreparable crimes. We believe, however, a good place to start in reckoning with the negative impact caused is analysing the socioeconomic damage inflicted on each country and the ways this damage continues to hinder prosperity.
Former colonial powers are reluctant to apologise formally for their role in the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans as many believe this will incur culpability and may pave the way for an obligation to pay financial reparations. Instead, they sometimes offer expressions of “regret” or “deep sorrow,” which doesn’t go far enough to redress the harms caused.
While there are global examples of reparations and processes of reparatory justice, it is important to point out that processes are highly context-specific and there is no “one-size-fits-all.” We can, however, learn a lot from these examples and you can read more in our Dive Deeper section.
Common arguments against reparations
Although not all citizens of the former colonial countries are direct descendants of enslavers or beneficiaries of chattel slavery, this legacy still benefitted these economies, institutions and countries as a whole. So even those who benefitted indirectly have a responsibility to engage with this issue.
Less time has passed since the abolition of chattel slavery than the length of the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans. Additionally, the impact of chattel slavery is still felt today as intergenerational trauma, economic disparities, health crises and systemic inequalities are a daily reality in the Caribbean. Reparations are a matter of urgency.
This line of argument is highly simplistic and ignores colonial origins. Colonialism left Caribbean countries over-exploited and significantly depleted, meaning these newly independent countries needed to borrow heavily to provide basic services such as housing, health and education. What’s more, some former colonies were forced to pay European colonisers leading to more debt and dependency.
The Repair Campaign amplifies the call for former colonial powers to acknowledge their role in the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans.
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