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When Boris Johnson insisted “We’re all in this together,” there was a collective sigh of cynicism as most of the UK population were painfully aware of the chasm between the wealthy elite, like our privileged PM, and the rest of us, who just get to choke it down. The Dominic Cummings scandal was a blatant opportunity to rub our noses in it and force us to accept the grotesque inequality for which this Tory Government is emblematic. We cannot allow time, distance and distraction to let the Herd Nerd Cummings off the hook; each time this tactic works for Johnson it places him and his cronies another notch above and beyond the law, public scrutiny and accountability. The Black Lives Matter protests are still ongoing as the rage has not been satiated by Johnson’s convening yet another inquiry. The PM must be dragged kicking and screaming to a full apology for his racist remarks as well as – fire Cummings. However, it’s not only the wealthy elite that must finally come to terms with Britain’s racist past, because we were all in it together!
The guilt of gold might hide a less than glittering past. Families of the rich, even those no longer so fortunate who know a direct ancestor had money, should summon the courage to determine the source of that wealth. As Slave Owner Colson’s statue was toppled in Bristol I cheered, however, an ominous curiosity took hold: had a similar figure cast a shadow over my own family. It’s fine to say you support ethnic diversity; refugees are welcome; that Black Lives Matter and you are disgusted by prejudice, I even have two sisters and a brother who are half Ghanaian, but would I dare to look on that registry of people who were compensated for their loss of exploited humans in bondage? My surname as a child was “Court” taken from the French “A’Court;” there was also mention of a Baron, a tell-tale sign of privilege that bothered me in this regard. I looked up “Court” – the first person listed was “Charles Ashe A’Court Esq.;” that he was related to the Baron I was told of just confirmed my worst fears: 174 poor souls on St. Kitts!
I am not pure; I feel deep shame, as kith and kin are found to blame.
It was not right; it was not me, but Slavery’s injustice I must now see,
Acknowledge history, our bloody past; Reparations must come at last,
Black Lives Matter is not a game; A scream of rage, collective shame!
There is no question in my mind that I was meant to know this wretched fact about my ancestry, to feel the torment of guilt over a reality I had trouble processing, but perhaps that was the unique importance of my discovery. I don’t doubt that many more people would find a similar connection if they dared to look among the names listed on UCL’Legacy of British Slave-Owners website. The impression I got from the program where David Olusoga highlighted the database of claimants uncovered by UCL, was that slave-ownership was not confined to the super rich. It was possibly as ubiquitous as the modern day pension pot and acquired for much the same reason; slaves were considered a sound investment at the time. As horrific as that statement might sound, it is the bedrock of our prosperity as a nation and we have reached a point where we need to come to terms with it. Perhaps a few more of us should dare to seek the truth with the well deserved shame, sadness and regret that it bestows.
The teaching of British history requires a radical review with text books rewritten to reflect the truth and the BBC investing in a lot more of the type of programming championed by David Olusoga in his documentary ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners.’ This reality check would help both young and old to grasp the grisly truth of our colonialism and what building the British Empire realistically entailed for those we conquered. Honesty in our education is key to a fuller understanding of our virtually universal collective indebtedness to the countries and people we once plundered, exploited and enslaved. The realization that we all share a portion of this guilt would help us to realistically reframe what we so disingenuously call “Foreign Aid” as if we as former colonizers were benevolently dispensing largesse among the needy out of genuine compassion when in reality we have yet to compensate for the past. It would be far harder to justify trying to eliminate or exert conditionality on this money if it was recognized as debt repayment.
“After the abolition of slavery, Britain paid millions in compensation – but every penny of it went to slave owners, and nothing to those they enslaved. We must stop overlooking the brutality of British history” writes Kris Manjapra in a Guardian Article entitled, “When will Britain face up to its crimes against humanity?” He tells us that, “On 3 August 1835, somewhere in the City of London, two of Europe’s most famous bankers came to an agreement with the chancellor of the exchequer. Two years earlier, the British government had passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which outlawed slavery in most parts of the empire. Now it was taking out one of the largest loans in history, to finance the slave compensation package required by the 1833 act. Nathan Mayer Rothschild and his brother-in-law Moses Montefiore agreed to loan the British government £15m, with the government adding an additional £5m later. The total sum represented 40% of the government’s yearly income in those days, equivalent to some £300bn today.”
Manjapra writes, “You might expect this so-called “slave compensation” to have gone to the freed slaves to redress the injustices they suffered. Instead, the money went exclusively to the owners of slaves, who were being compensated for the loss of what had, until then, been considered their property. Not a single shilling of reparation, nor a single word of apology, has ever been granted by the British state to the people it enslaved, or their descendants. Today, 1835 feels so long ago; so far away. But if you are a British taxpayer, what happened in that quiet room affects you directly. Your taxes were used to pay off the loan, and the payments only ended in 2015. Generations of Britons have been implicated in a legacy of financial support for one of the world’s most egregious crimes against humanity.”
So why is so little known of this transaction? The writer explains that, “The fact that you, and your parents, and their parents in turn, may have been paying for a huge slave-owner compensation package from the 1830s only came to public attention last month. The revelation came on 9 February, in the form of a tweet by HM Treasury: ‘Here’s today’s surprising #FridayFact. Millions of you have helped end the slave trade through your taxes. Did you know? In 1833, Britain used £20 million, 40% of its national budget, to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire. The amount of money borrowed for the Slavery Abolition Act was so large that it wasn’t paid off until 2015. Which means that living British citizens helped pay to end the slave trade’.” That fact is truly sickening and needs to be rectified. The article stated that, “The tweet, which was hastily deleted, had the stench of British historical amnesia and of institutionalised racism.”
This Guardian article goes on to report that, “A few days later, the historian David Olusoga wrote: ‘This is what happens when those communities for whom this history can never be reduced to a Friday factoid remain poorly represented within national institutions’.” Manjapra elaborates, “This is how we know the scale of slave ownership of the so-called plantocracy, the super-rich of their age: men such as John Gladstone, the father of prime minister William Ewart Gladstone.” The sums were massive and the names well known, “The Gladstones were paid £100,000 – the modern equivalent of about £80m – in compensation for 2,500 men, women and children they regarded as property. Also in the records of the Slave Compensation Commission are the ancestors of George Orwell, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Gilbert Scott and David Cameron – all owned slaves and received compensation.” We are told that, “All of this information is publicly and freely available” on the UCL project’s website.
Manjapra notes that, “Someone at the Treasury wisely deleted the tweet within hours. Yet its inaccuracy shows what happens if we as a nation focus on abolition but stay largely silent on the centuries of slave-trading and slave-owning that predated it. It is what happens when those communities for whom this history can never be reduced to a Friday factoid remain poorly represented within our national institutions.” Manjapra criticizes our focus on the white liberators that marginalizes the heroic struggle of the oppressed as in one major uprising he documents. “Shortly after Christmas 1831, an audacious rebellion broke out in Jamaica. Some 60,000 enslaved people went on strike. They burned the sugar cane in the fields and used their tools to smash up sugar mills. The rebels also showed remarkable discipline, imprisoning slave owners on their estates without physically harming them.” This civilized humanity was met with excessive violence by the British Jamaican Government, who killed, “more than 540 black people in combat, and later with firing squads and on the gallows.”
On my first Trans-Atlantic passage aboard sailing yacht Hurricane bound for Recife, Brazil, I would have crossed that horrific grave yard of the middle passage without any knowledge or realization of the unspeakable body-count lying in the depths below. In the frustration of the windless doldrums, slave ships judged how many to sustain and who to sacrifice as worthless! At 21 I was too busy being initiated as a Shellback for ‘crossing the line’ (the equator), enduring the macabre tradition of honouring King Neptune while we remained becalmed. The windless doldrums prompted the jettisoning of live “cargo” to reduce the weaker mouths to feed and water on the grisly passage to a violently oppressive life of servitude. Still in blissful ignorance if the truth, I sailed from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, South Africa, without the slightest understanding of what apartheid meant as a reality for the oppressed majority. The UK education system sustains the propaganda of Empire; this must now change for the British to learn humility and humanity.
The British are unforgivably slow to learn humility and humanity. In a Skwawkbox Article entitled, “Unite’s Beckett slams ‘disgrace’ of Labour’s abstention on ‘Windrush’ Immigration Act – pays tribute to 6 MPs who stood against it and pledges to renew their fight,” it documents that the wrongly maligned Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and his closest allies were among the rebels. The celebration of Windrush Day this week should not be allowed to wash away proper acknowledgement of the injustices that were suffered by the Windrush Generation or indeed obscure similar prejudice experienced by our citizens from other parts of the commonwealth. The Canary report that the London Mayor has demanded change, “Sadiq Khan: Windrush legacy must see end to ‘Hostile Environment’ for immigrants.” The Guardian Article, “The Windrush review is unequivocal: institutional racism played its part” states that, “Inspector Wendy Williams pulls no punches in her assessment of the ‘hostile environment’ policy – and the anguish it caused.” I would like to see Columbus Day renamed ‘Atonement Day!’
Some nights ago I watched “Sitting in Limbo – pre Watershed version,” described by the BBC as, “A shocking drama inspired by the Windrush scandal. After 50 years in the UK, Anthony Bryan is wrongfully detained by the Home Office and threatened with deportation.” At the beginning of the film it said that, “In 2012 David Cameron’s Coalition Government formed a Ministerial team that became known as the “Hostile Environment Working Group.” Theresa May, functioning in her role as Home Secretary back then, is shown at a podium announcing that, “the Government will soon publish the Immigration Bill, which will make it easier to get rid of people who have no right to be here.” For Jamaican Anthony Bryant and so many others like him who were brought to the UK from the Caribbean as children shortly after WWII, it was the beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare that almost saw him separated from his family and illegally deported. The film made me weep and I felt deeply ashamed of being British.
The film ends with Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech to the nation in which she said, “This year marks the seventy years since some of the first to arrive in the UK aboard the Empire Windrush. The London Evening Standard carried a photograph of the Windrush steaming past the White Cliffs of Dover; above it was the headline ‘Welcome Home.’ The fact that Britain has always been their home makes the treatment that some members of the Windrush generation experienced in recent years so very wrong. It should never have happened and we are putting it right.” This film could not have been aired at a more opportune time, because those who do not belong to targeted minority ethnic communities need to understand why the protests on our streets are not just in solidarity with ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the US, but in recognition of the racial discrimination that is ongoing and very real here in the UK. Right before the film’s credits went up the following disgraceful details appeared on screen:
• In April 2018, it was revealed that in 2010 the Home Office destroyed the landing cards of thousands of Windrush Immigrants.
• Later that year the Home Office admitted that they were responsible for wrongly detaining at least 850 people between 2012 and 2017.
• In 2019, 83 members of the Windrush Generation were confirmed to have been deported, despite having the right to live in the UK.
• At least 13 of these people died before the Home Office acknowledged the mistake.
• The Home Office revealed in May 2020 that there had been1275 applications to the Windrush Compensation Scheme. Of these, only 60 had received any compensation.
• On the 1st June 2020, Anthony received an offer of compensation for just one part of his application: unlawful detention.
Although she was belatedly forced to apologise to the Jamaican Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, at the Commonwealth Summit that she would have much preferred not to attend, in defiance of damning reports on the Windrush scandal fully exposed in the press Theresa May remained determined to dodge any accountability. With a cowardly elitist arrogance, that was to become the Tory norm with regard to totally ignoring justified calls for resignations, she adamantly refused to step down as PM: unashamedly allowing Amber Rudd to fall on the sword that should have pierced her truly gutless frame! In contemptuous disregard for their wanton abuse of public trust, members of the Tory Party have perfected the art of dishonourably clinging to the power and plunder bestowed on them by prestigious Government appointments.
On occasions when the BBC and right-wing media are unable to discredit or drown-out a serious scandal and a token gesture of remorse becomes necessary, but removal from a key Ministerial role will be considered purely temporary in any Tory Government; Patel’s clandestine meetings with Israeli officials while ‘on holiday’ did not stop Johnson from appointing her Home Secretary. When ‘Failing Grayling’s’ gross incompetence costs the tax payer millions in misspent funds, he wasn’t removed in disgrace and it didn’t exclude him from being offered another chance to squander the budget. If a Tory Minister makes openly racist remarks no apology is required; to the Tories forcing the public to tolerate your obscenely abusive insults is a classic sign of strong leadership! When the PM or any Tory Minister is caught out telling blatant lies in parliament; they just double-down on the deception; as Boris Johnson seeks to emulate his political hero Donald Trump, accountability has become a relic of past integrity and British gentility.
Sign the Petition: “Windrush: never again” appealing to Boris Johnson and Priti Patel – Home Secretary to, “Implement and accept all recommendations from The Windrush Lessons Learned review, and do more to protect survivors so this never happens again.”
We seriously need to draw a line in the sand; the ongoing ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, like a bright beacon of hope, are showing us the way. Fearless individuals are letting this Government know that we are not afraid to take to the streets in protest, despite the infection risk that Covid 19 might pose. We have shown that we will defy the order to send children back into schools that the Government’s shambolic policy dictates despite lack of the necessary preparation to prevent the spread of infection in overcrowded classrooms. We can and we must resist being forced onto crammed public transportation with protective masks an afterthought. We can and we must resist being forced back into unsafe work environments and coaxed into mass gatherings and taking reckless risks on beaches or in parks. The Government should start to worry now as they must realize there will be significant pushback from here on in; those outdoor street protests are a lot less risky that running the gauntlet of packed public transport to get to work.
The increasingly outraged public need to maintain this strong momentum of protest because it will make Governance impossible without serious concessions. We need to see more than just the removal of a handful of offensive oppressive statues; real “heads must roll” starting with the unelected puppet master who arrogantly broke the rules he help draft to constrain the rest of us: Dominic Herd Nerd Cummings has to go. Cummings should never have been allowed to defy the select committee requirement to answer questions that might unravel a few of the illegal anomalies that have warped UK voting since he targeted the British public with weapons grade PsyOps in campaigns of disinformation and downright lies. To then reward this criminality with a privileged position literally controlling our UK Prime Minister was an outrage. I can only hope that if he is ousted, in a fit of narcissistic ego-driven revenge, he might decide to drag this entire corrupt Tory Government down with him by exposing details of the Covert 2019 Rigged Election.
We must demand that the chaotic era of Trump inspired racist and misogynistic insults, constant lying and zero accountability will no longer be tolerated. The hidden segment of the recent Public Health England Report on disproportionate deaths from Covid 19 in the BAME community must be released in full to satisfy the reasonable demands of so many “Black Lives Matter” protestors. Most of the Windrush victims remain uncompensated; many of the Grenfell Tower survivors have not been rehoused and no one has really been held responsible for either of these scandals, despite the decimation of the London Fire Service being the direct result of Boris Johnson’s staggering incompetence as London Mayor. But why stop there? Before the December vote there was the “Russian Report” that Johnson insisted on keeping under wraps; what might that reveal about foreign influence and the dodgy money that helped leverage this corrupt Tory Government into power? This alone might open up the possibility of a far wider investigation into the Covert 2019 Rigged Election.