Today (Tues 2nd March) an Extraordinary Full Council meeting will take place to debate Bristol’s historic involvement in Afrikan enslavement and reparations needed. Green Councillor Cleo Lake is bringing a motion on the issue, alongside Labour Deputy Mayor Asher Craig. The motion calls on the Mayor to support a ‘reparations plan for Bristol’ and publicly call for a national All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on the issue. (see below for FAQ on reparations)
Between 1689-1807 Bristol ships, funded by Bristol Merchants carried 500,000 enslaved people from Afrika into forced labour oversees. In the 1730s about 40% of Bristol’s trade was made up of the inhumane trafficking of people.
Green councillor Cleo Lake, who is tabling the motion said:
“I think it is necessary for institutions such as Bristol City Council to publicly support the process towards reparations, understanding that this goes beyond diversity and equality agendas and schemes of work. Naming reparations can in itself also help Afrikan Heritage communities to galvanise awareness towards their own reparations plan. There is so much to do to repair from this horrendous history both from an Afrikan Heritage perspective and within wider society. Today is a historic moment where we can go some way towards what must be done to atone and repair from the past so that we may heal as a city and deliver a far better future. Bristol is an international city and I hope that there will be international dialogue, action and positive repercussions as a result of passing this motion.
“Bristol played a leading role in trafficking and enslaving people, so as a city we now need to play a leading role in being honest about that and calling for systemic change. We want to see a national All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to be part of a process of repair. The Inquiry should look at the harm done from Afrikan enslavement and decide on the reparations now needed.”
“Reparations is not a paycheck for the descendants of people who were enslaved – it is a process outlined by the UN which looks for ‘holistic repair’. This can include public apologies, social justice initiatives, education or cultural projects, commemorative ceremonies, affirmative action and much more.”
“I worked with African Heritage communities, community leaders and other politicians to develop this motion and it is something I know many people in my community care deeply about. I know that today’s meeting will show that strength of feeling, with many residents and activists coming forward to submit statements of support. I just hope that councillors and the Mayor will listen and support it. If Bristol is to succeed in addressing racism and inequality, we have to be honest about our city’s true history and it’s legacy. ”
FAQs: Reparations for Afrikan Enslavement
Bristol Green Party Councillors
“Why are reparations for Afrikan enslavement important in Bristol?”
Bristol merchants grew rich through Afrikan enslavement and this legacy is still with us – not only in the buildings that surround us, but also in the rife inequalities of wealth, power and opportunity across our city. For example, black African young people are persistently disadvantaged in education compared to their white peers, according to the Runnymede Trust.
Our present is affected by our history. Between 1689 – 1807 Bristol ships, funded by Bristol merchants, carried 500,000 enslaved people from Afrika into forced labour overseas. Many people died on the ships. Those who survived were branded, separated from their families and deprived of their humanity and culture.
In the 1730s about 40% of Bristol’s trade was made up of inhumane trafficking of people. The impacts of enslavement and colonialism on our city and communities can still be seen today – as can the racism and inequity that still prevail.
“What are we calling for?”
Across the country we need a process of repair by looking at the harm done from historic enslavement and the reparations needed. We need a national conversation on the reality and impact of Afrikan enslavement, which so few of us learnt about in schools. We need to understand the human cost of our country’s involvement in enslavement and how this impacts the lives of people today. Only then will we be able to repair some of the ongoing harm from our past.
The Green Party has this year committed to seeking reparations for enslavement, becoming the first major national party to do so. In Islington and Lambeth, Green councillors have already successfully brought motions calling for their Council to support reparations.
In Bristol, Green councillor Cleo Lake has been working with community groups and other parties to call for Bristol to face up to its involvement in enslavement. She has worked with Labour Deputy Mayor Asher Craig to put forward a motion to Bristol City Council, calling for a Bristol City Council commitment to reparations. This will be voted on 2nd March 2021.
Bristol’s reparations motion calls for:
The full motion can be found here>>
“Are reparations a pay-check to the descendants of enslaved people?”
No. ‘Reparation’ is actually a legal concept defined by the UN which calls for holistic repair. It can include public apologies, social justice initiatives, education, cultural projects, commemorative ceremonies, affirmative action and much more. There are some cases where reparations has included some form of economic compensation, but reparatory justice is far wider than that.
Reparations are not simply a long-overdue ‘pay cheque’, but a process of holistic repair. We do not have the answers as to exactly what reparations should look like – that’s why what we are calling for is a process of repair which hears from many of the voices in our communities that have been impacted and are often not heard.
“All this happened years ago, isn’t it time to move on?”
The enslavement of Afrikan people who were treated as sub-human ‘chattel’ to be owned, used and discarded is a crime against humanity with long-lasting consequences. As a society we should accept that all crimes against humanity should be marked and that those who lost their lives should be remembered. And most of all that we must acknowledge and learn from the past to be able to move forward.
Afrikan enslavement continues to have direct consequences today, including racial discrimination and structural inequalities. If we are serious about addressing these issues, we cannot just pretend that the past did not happen. Instead, we need to be open and honest about our past, including acknowledging who paid the price and who benefitted from enslavement.
“Britain led the way in abolishing enslavement, isn’t it time others to take some responsibility for what happened?”
It is true that some people in British society helped to bring about abolition. But they were not the only ones – for many years the stories of enslaved people who resisted and fought for abolition have been marginalised.
Many British people, businesses and organisations also resisted abolition. When the abolition act came into force in 1833, Britain had been involved in the enslavement of Afrikan people for over 270 years. In 1837 the Slave Compensation Act was passed, which compensated those who benefitted from enslavement for their lost income. The £20 million paid in compensation at the time was not fully repaid by British taxpayers until 2015. Bristol’s plantation owners and merchants received over £500,000 in compensation which would be worth up to £2,036,000,000 today.
Afrikan enslavement was a transatlantic trafficking of people. It involved governments, communities, businesses and institutions all over the world. But to focus only on what others should be doing to make amends is to forget the important role that Britain played, and the ongoing consequences this has today both globally and nationally.
A note on language
“Why don’t you use the words “slave trade” or “slave” ?
The language we use is important. We have thought carefully and consulted on the words we use in this document. They may change again in the future as we continue to listen and learn.
We avoid the term ‘slave trade’ as it implies a peaceful two-way exchange of equal ‘goods’. It does not adequately describe the forced capture and exploitation of people for economic gain. Instead, we use the term ‘enslavement’ or ‘Afrikan enslavement’ or in some contexts ‘trafficking of enslaved people’.
The term “slave” is a passive term which describes the individual as a passive victim, rather than a person with their own identity and agency who was en-slaved against their will. Instead we use the term ‘enslaved person’.
“Why do you keep spelling Africa wrong?”
You could in fact argue that ‘Africa’ is the wrong spelling as it was changed upon the arrival of Europeans who substituted the ‘K’ for a ‘C’. Today the use of the letter ‘K’ signifies Afrikan unity and the importance of a shared political language and is used widely by the campaigners who have spent many years fighting for reparatory justice.