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Yes, you read that right. In order to appease slave owners, the British government borrowed 20 million pounds in 1833 to pay former enslavers for their financial losses, a sum that represented 40% of Britain’s national budget.
The Bank of England continued using taxpayer dollars to pay reparations to descendants of slave owners and corporations until 2015, according to a fact check from USA Today, which used sources from the British National Archives.
Britain participated in the transfer of over 3 million Africans, a number some say was much higher, to various colonies in the Western Hemisphere between 1640 and 1807. By 1807, Britain passed the Slave Trade Act, outlawing the trading of human beings. Slavery itself wasn’t abolished in Britain until 1834. The Slavery Abolition Act finally outlawed the practice, by using taxpayer funds to compensate former slave owners.
Decades later, the U.S. government did the same, using taxpayer money to provide reparations to former slave owners for their lost “property.”
Most Americans don’t support reparations for Black people
The United States has a history of paying reparations to other groups while denying Black descendants the same dignity and justice. If White slave owners were provided reparations, why is the idea of repairing the harm done to Black Americans so unpopular?
Despite a few U.S. cities and states taking steps to address some form of reparations for American descendants of enslaved Africans, opposition to direct cash payments for Black Americans is pretty much a bipartisan affair.
According to a 2021 Pew Research Center poll, nearly 70% of Americans believe Black descendants of the enslaved should not receive reparations.
Broken down by race, 77% of Black Americans support reparations, while only 18% of White Americans support it. And when it comes to political parties, over 90% of Republicans and 49% of Democrats oppose reparations for Black Americans.
It seems denying Black Americans what is owed remains one of the few things our nation’s leaders agree on.
Governments slow to pay as former colonies demand justice
The hypocrisy of Britain, a major exporter of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the U.S., a major importer of the same, remains on full display. Chattel slavery was more brutal than other historic forms of the practice because it made slaves out of descendants and their offspring, creating an intergenerational cycle of servitude.
Yet no concrete movement to provide reparations to Black descendants has taken place in either country.
In fact, when the British Treasury informed the public in a since deleted tweet that it ended payments to descendants of slave owning families in 2018, it appeared to frame the event as a success.
Backlash quickly ensued as average citizens learned their hard-earned money was going toward already-wealthy descendants of slave-owning families and corporations that were involved in the centuries-long practice.
“Britain stood out among European states in its willingness to appease slave owners, and to burden future generations of its citizens with the responsibility of paying for it,” Kris Manjapra wrote for The Guardian in 2018.
Now, some former British colonies are taking action to force individuals and corporations to pay reparations. Barbados has signaled it’s coming to collect from British politician Richard Drax. The Tory MP for South Dorset met with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley late last year.
Barbados became a republic a year ago after removing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. Now, the nation is leading the push to gain reparative funds from those still benefitting today.
Ultimately, restoring dignity and providing reparations to Black descendants of enslaved Africans will require the full participation of the governments who orchestrated it.