The Slave Trade and Sugar
Barbados Today journalist Kareem Smith writes: “Most Barbadians between the ages of 18 and 35 are aware of the key details of the transatlantic slave trade. Our ancestors toiled after being kidnapped from their West African homes, stripped of their dignity and forced to work on sugar plantations under backbreaking conditions as the property of Britain’s bourgeoisie.
“This barbaric and brutal form of human trafficking, murder, torture, and rape made rich men of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. They amassed huge fortunes, which laid the foundations for multi-generational wealth. Young Barbadians now know that over time, those ill-gotten fortunes were considered so glorious by the slavers that the island was commonly referred to as ‘Little England’ and regarded as an almost perfect model for the trade.
The Emancipation Statue standing in Bridgetown, Barbados, symbolizing the breaking of the chains of slavery at the moment of emancipation
“That was just the start of a period of unspoken atrocities, which lasted for more than 300 years. It continued well beyond the 1807 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and the formal abolition of slavery by colonial assemblies in the Caribbean in 1838.
“The slave trade was, of course, endorsed by the British royal family. Along with other wealthy British families, British royalty played its part in this most despicable form of capitalism. The Barbadian, a Bridgetown newspaper that was published from 1822 to 1861, reported an 1824 proclamation by King George IV, asserting that the ‘Slave Population…will be undeserving of Our Protection if they shall fail to render entire Submission to the Laws, as well as dutiful Obedience to their Masters.’
“Slavery’s legacy is underdevelopment and dependency. This dependence ran so deep that when Britain responded to the diminishing returns from its colonial project with the ‘gift’ of independence, Barbados was compelled to accept the British monarch as their own. We also inherited the Westminster system of governance, the British Privy Council as the final Court of Appeal and many old laws, including the criminalization of same-sex relationships.
“After gaining independence, Barbados created systems that could help to lift up the average Black citizen, who was invariably descended from slave ancestors. Everyone was given access to education, healthcare and free school meals. A social security scheme was established under the first prime minister, Errol Barrow.
“Even so, Barbados retained some admiration for the British royal family in the years immediately after independence. That has now diminished, as young Barbadians learn about their history and that of the West Indies. In fact, many have even questioned Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s decision to invite Prince Charles to be guest of honour at our republic celebrations. A young lawyer tweeted: ‘Is he coming with reparations?’
“What the British royal family represents is uppermost in the minds of Barbados’s youth as they think about real self-determination. Fifty years on from independence, a more educated and aware class of Barbadians is able to identify the glaring deficiencies of a society that suffered 400 years of oppression.
“There is an overwhelming acceptance that now is the time to begin a process of deeper social reform, to write a new constitution and enshrine a system of governance and social order that reflects who we are as a people and addresses the historical struggles that define us.
“That is why the ten-point plan outlined by the CARICOM Reparations Commission makes sense. It offers a ‘path to reconciliation, truth and justice’ for victims of the slave trade, beginning with a full, formal apology from various European governments. It also suggests plans for psychological rehabilitation, debt cancellation, the eradication of illiteracy and the transfer of technology from the Caribbean’s former slave masters.”