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The West Should Pay Reparations For Slavery

Should there be a broad programme of reparations – not just financial compensation, but acknowledgement of the crimes committed and the lasting damage caused? Or would this just worsen social tensions by reopening old wounds?

Video coming soon.

They are the crimes for which no one has ever made amends. The transatlantic slave trade enslaved between 10 and 12 million Africans. Historians estimate that 15 to 25% of the men and women packed into the slave ships died before they reached the Americas. The only people ever to be compensated? Slave owners and traders, to make up for their lost earnings when slavery ended. Today, generations later, the white majorities in the US and former colonial powers including the UK continue to benefit from the wealth generated by slavery. The descendants of enslaved Africans continue to suffer poverty and prejudice. Millions still face discrimination and limited access to education and jobs. Some say that only a broad programme of reparations – not just financial compensation, but acknowledgement of the crimes committed and the lasting damage caused – can begin to make up for the atrocity of slavery and bring an end to the systemic injustice millions of people still face.

That would be a disaster, critics of reparations say. The whole idea is flawed. These were crimes committed by and to people long since gone. The costs would cripple economies and hurt the people reparations would supposedly help. Tensions between community groups would only worsen and some on the Right would use reparations as a rallying point to criticise already vulnerable and economically weak minority groups and countries. And good luck finding consensus on constructing a system to decide who gets what; no one would be happy and social tensions would only worsen. Instead of looking backwards, we should all focus on fighting racism now. We have enough pressing problems with discrimination in 2019. Let’s not make them worse by opening old wounds.


Speakers For The Motion

Kehinde Andrews

Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University and author of The Psychosis of Whiteness

The UK's first professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University where he led the establishment of the first Black Studies programme in Europe. He is the Chair of the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity and editor in chief of Make It Plain. He is the author of Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century and The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World.  

Esther Stanford-Xosei

Reparations activist and lawyer

Reparations activist who is currently completing a PhD on the history of the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations in the UK. Identifying as a ‘new abolitionist’, she serves as the Co-Vice Chair of the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe. As a descendant of Africans enslaved in the Caribbean, her activism seeks to remember the historic and cultural ties between diaspora communities and their African motherland.
Speakers Against The Motion

Katharine Birbalsingh

Headmistress and co-founder of Michaela Community School in London

Headmistress and co-founder of Michaela Community School in London. Author of two books including To Miss with Love, based on her blog describing her experiences teaching at an inner-city secondary school. The book was chosen as Book of the Week and serialised on BBC Radio 4. Her mother is Jamaican and her father is Guyanese; she is a descendant of slaves, slave owners and indentured labourers.

Tony Sewell

Educational consultant and CEO of the charity Generating Genius

Educational consultant and CEO of the charity Generating Genius, which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to study Science and Technology at top Universities. He helped to set up the Science, Maths and I.T. Centre in the department of education at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies. He is author of Black Masculinities and Schooling: How Black Boys Survive Modern Schooling. Since 2015 he has been a member of the Youth Justice Board, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice. Born in London to Jamaican immigrants, he is a descendant of enslaved Africans.

Emma Dabiri

Social historian and presenter

Social historian, presenter and teaching fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She is one of the BBC’s Expert Voices and was listed by the corporation as a broadcasting star of the future in 2017.  As well as presenting a number of BBC documentaries on television and radio, she has hosted BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review and Front Row. Her debut book, Don’t Touch My Hair, was published in May.


Speakers are subject to change.