Apologies for the slave trade seem justified.

Ed Davey is one of the latest people to advocate apologies and compensation for the slave trade. He has got a point. The trade was evil. Those who profited from it should have been ashamed. As well as punished. This famous painting shows one example of the horrors of the trade.

The Slave Ship
Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhon coming on
Artist J. M. W. Turner
Year 1840

However, there needs to be a serious discussion about who should apologise and/or pay compensation and to whom it is due. Things are not as simple as you might think. Here are some of the issues we can too easily overlook.

Who should apologise and/or pay compensation?

  • The king? On behalf of the royal family, because of their connections with the Royal Africa Company?
  • Rich people? The families of those who made fortunes from the trade?
  • The government? On behalf of the nation because of Britain’s role in the trade?
  • All British people? Because much of the wealth of the nation was built upon the profits of the slave trade?

 What about the exceptions?

  • Poor white Britons? Families who were poor in the past and still are?
  • Losers? People whose ancestors lost what fortunes they made from slaver?
  • Descendants of abolitionists?

Who should receive the apologies or compensation?

  • All descendants of slaves?
  • The governments of Caribbean islands?
  • The governments of (West) African countries?

What about the complications?

  • People of mixed race? Partly descended from slaves, partly from slave-owners?
  • People whose families were enslaved in Africa before the British arrived?
  • Africans whose ancestors profited from the trade?
  • Descendants of Turkish, Arabian and North African slave traders? They were in the trade before Europeans.
  • Turkish, Arabian and North African governments?

What have I said before?

I have posted on related topics before and I have included some discussion of the slave trade in my novel, Highwaypersons, Book II, The King’s Justice.

What else can we do?

Perhaps apologies and compensation are a distraction from the real issue. Surely, what we need to do is right the wrongs of the present rather than those of the past. How about stamping out the slave trade that goes on by other names? People trafficking. The sex-slave industry. Inherited Debt. And what about racism? Would not addressing these things be the best way to pay for the past?