Tory MP Faces Calls to Pay Reparations for Slavery on Family Plantation in Barbados

I put up a piece a few days ago commenting on a video put up on YouTube by Talk Radio. This featured host Mike Graham and Rod Liddle discussing the compilation of a Dictionary of British Slave Traders by Lancaster and Manchester Universities and University College London under Professor Pettigree. As you could probably guess, this pair of right-wingers definitely weren’t in favour of it. They called it ‘self-flagellating’ and the obsession with slavery ‘imbecilic’. They were of the opinion that it was a move to attack White Englishmen, with Graham fearing that it would lead to perfectly decent people vilified and hounded out of their jobs because one of their ancestors invested all of £5 in the slave trade 300 years ago.

Unfortunately, as I said in my blog piece, this is a real danger. When I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum I was faced with just this problem. I found material that suggested that the ancestors of someone I knew were involved in the slave trade. I was strongly advised against telling them for the reason that they personally were very strongly anti-racist and the news would upset them. I took the advice. I can see real, bitter outrage and anger erupting if someone starts pressing ordinary people, who may themselves be struggling, to pay reparations. Especially if the person demanding the money are richer.

But I also felt that behind Graham’s and Liddle’s outrage was the fear that wealthier individuals may be faced with demands for reparations. And it seems I was right about the very rich facing them. Or at least one member of the very rich. According to today’s Groan, the Tory MP for south Dorset, Richard Drax, has indeed been called upon to pay reparations for the enslaved workers his family owned on their plantation, Drax Hall, in Barbados, between 1640 and 1836. Drax has just inherited the estate and added it to the registry of members’ interests. He is the wealthiest landowner in the Commons worth £150 million. Caricom,the Caribbean Community Reparations Committee has called on Drax to acknowledge the wealth his family made from slavery and pay reparations. The chair of the Commission and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles, said “If Richard Drax was in front of me now, I would say: ‘Mr Drax, the people of Barbados and Jamaica are entitled to reparatory justice… Black life mattered only to make millionaires of English enslavers and the Drax family did it longer than any other elite family.” The Barbadian ambassador to Caricom, David Comissiong, also said  “This was a crime against humanity and we impose upon him [Mr Drax] and his family a moral responsibility to contribute to the effort to repair the damage.”

See: Reparations row MP adds plantation to his register of members’ interests | Slavery | The Guardian

Prof. Beckles is a very respected historian of slavery. I came across his work way back when I was at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, and can recommend his work, though they may be a little too academic for some readers. This story does suggest that while Graham and Liddle presented the Dictionary of British Slave Traders as a danger to ordinary White English Brits, the White English Brits they’re really afraid for are the extremely rich. Like Tory MP Drax. And while I’m afraid that the obsession with exposing past British slavers will lead to the demonisation and embarrassment of ordinary people for events over 180 years and more in the past, I have absolutely got no problem with the rich facing demands for reparations. I do wonder, however, at some of the practicalities. To whom and how can you make reparations for centuries of enslavement and exploitation?

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