Noted writer confronts UK for its failure to address reparations

Photo of A. Hirsch (left) at book event.LISA VIVES/PHOTO

Global Information Network

Noted writer Afua Hirsch doesn’t shy away from difficult questions and she recently posed one to a British cabinet minister.

“Why,” she asked the minister, “has England never apologized for the transatlantic slave trade?” Britain, she reminded him, had trafficked more enslaved Africans than almost any other – at least 3 million on British ships.  Yet the most the European country had to offer was “regret.”

“It’s a strange choice of words for playing a leading role in the greatest atrocity in human history,” she said to herself.

He explained: The UK cannot apologize because it might make England liable morally, ethically and legally. “In other words,” she concluded, “Britain won’t use the language of apology out of fear this might pave the way for reparations.”

And so the debate about reparations has, conveniently, been branded extreme and unrealistic by those who don’t want to pay them, Hirsch says pointedly. And when Prince Charles, heir to the throne, recently thanked members of the Caribbean community in Britain for their contributions to society, Hirsch rebuffed the thanks, saying what Britain owes is, in fact, a straight-up financial debt.

As the U.S. debate over reparations gathers steam, similar debates have been taking place on the European continent since the 18th century, she points out. Black people have stated the case in petitions, correspondences, pamphlets, public speeches, slave narratives and judicial claims – advocating in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

“As the French colonial writer Prince Marc Kojo Tovalou Houénou wrote of Benin, Black people ‘cry ‘Reparations!’ without ceasing’. That this cry was deliberately ignored for so long in the past cannot logically form the basis of a denial in the present.”

The Guardian article sparked over 1,000 letters starting with Mary Ruck of Manchester, who wrote:

“Afua Hirsch is right to challenge the shiftless response to the case for reparations. Her argument is fortified by the fact that within living memory Britain, as a colonial power, exploited the forced labor of those in captivity to gain economic advantage.” Ruck was counsel for Kenyans detained during the “Emergency” (also known as the Mau Mau Uprising) from 1952-1962. (Reparations in 2018 were denied because of the length of time elapsed and a three year time limit on such claims)

Hirsch, of Ghanaian heritage, writes for the Guardian newspaper where her article: “The case for British slavery reparations can no longer be brushed aside” appeared this month. An earlier article: “The Racism that killed George Floyd was built in Britain” was published in June. Her book, “On Race, Identity and Belonging” was published in 2018.


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