The sitting-duck royals will soon be in firing line in the slavery reparation game
BRITISH journalist Laura trevelyan has left her job as the Americabased anchor of BBC World News to campaign for reparations across the Caribbean, but particularly in Grenada, where her ancestors owned 1,000 slaves on their six sugar plantations.
Laura has given back £100,000 as a gesture — it’s her own money, good for her. however, given the size of the gigantic fortune the trevelyans must have accrued in the 19th century, isn’t that a rather small amount? As a sugar lump sum, it is not very impressive. As a token it is a trifle — particularly as clever, rich and prosperous families such as the trevelyans tend to stay clever, rich and prosperous for ever.
the whole business of reparations for those whose ancestors were enslaved is gathering momentum both in America and over here, putting the sitting- duck royal Family in the firing line.
But is it right to make history apologise for itself? And for innocent heirs to pay for the sins of their fathers? Whatever the wrongs and wrongs of the situation — after all, there are no rights — the clamour for reparations is growing bigger by the day.
slaving was unforgivable, but so were many things in times gone by. should England reparate the descendants of the scottish families pushed off their land during the highland Clearances? Not heard a batsqueak about that, particularly as some of the land grabs were financed by compensation received by British slave owners from the British government when slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Once you start, where do you stop?
Meanwhile, some might argue that slaughtering Native Americans
and pushing tribes off their ancestral lands and into reservations is a crime that can never be compensated. in the 1940s, the American Congress established the indian Claims Commission in an effort to settle all claims by tribal nations. they wanted their lands back, but were given money instead — is that fair?
And how can Germany atone for the holocaust? You can’t say they haven’t tried. the Luxembourg Agreement was signed in 1952 and, since then, Germany has paid more than £70 billion in compensation, much of it used to build the infrastructure of israel.
recently, they agreed to pay almost £1 billion for homecare and compensation for holocaust survivors living around the world in 2023, yet not everyone is happy. some believe that to accept the money means to forgive the Nazis — for in the reparation game, nothing is straightforward.
history is full of the weak and disenfranchised being bullied — and worse — by the powerful and the highly motivated. Yet in these febrile times, it is not what was done to you that matters so much, but who you are.
Descendants of black slaves are being encouraged by people like Laura trevelyan to press their case for financial compensation, while others with cause for complaint are overlooked.
trevelyan was recently challenged about her family’s important role in the irish Famine, where her ancestor sir Charles trevelyan was the English official in charge of famine relief.
infamously, he shipped corn that could have saved the lives of many thousands of starving irish people to England instead. Are the trevelyan family going to donate £100,000 to the irish as a heart-warming gesture and an admission of their cruelty and culpability? Watch this space.
in her new job as a roving advocate for reparative justice, trevelyan insists she does not have a white-saviour complex and hopes to assist in campaigns to secure apologies and financial reparations from former colonial powers — ding- dong, paging Great Britain.
she has been heartened by King Charles’s remarks about being ready to talk about the legacy of slavery and was disappointed when the then Earl and Countess of Wessex cancelled their trip to Grenada last year. this was following the demonstrations that dogged the Prince and Princess of Wales on their Caribbean tour.
WHERE is Charles going with this? Blithering and hand-wringing his way right into a monstrous crisis in which the royal Family are going to be blamed for everything, i suspect.
the issue of reparations is a fastevolving situation, legally untested but fraught with high emotion. it involves an unholy stew of guilt, race, blame, history, accountability and atonement; it asks us all to search our consciences for what is right and what is just.
Yet there seems to be no allowance for the fact that we are harking back to a time of different standards and dubious morality. since those brutish days, humanity has evolved and improved; society, education and enlightenment have made us better, kinder people. When is the punishment for the past going to stop?
You only have to look to san Francisco to see what the reparations future holds. Progressive city leaders there have elected a reparations board and are enthusiastically reviewing plans to compensate each eligible local resident who is descended from a slave with a £4 million lump sum.
the panel is also hoping to introduce a guaranteed annual income of £80,000 for qualifying recipients and also offer them homes in the san Francisco area for only a dollar per family. the urge to compensate so lavishly may well be an honourable one, but who is going to pay for all this apple pie in the sky?
Ultimately the public, of course. Yet it seems deeply unfair that people who were never slave owners now have to give money to people who were never enslaved — and this is just the beginning.
One wishes Laura trevelyan all the best as she tours Grenada, sprinkling her spoonful of sugar to help the reparations medicine go down. But where do we go from here? Nowhere good.
Is it right for innocent heirs to pay for the sins of their fathers?