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Noted Writer Confronts UK for Reparations Failures

A. Hirsch (left) at book event

Writer Afua Hirsch doesn’t shy away from difficult questions and recently wrote about one she posed 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 nation. However, 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. The minister explained, The UK cannot apologize because it might make England liable morally, ethically and legally. “In other words,” Hirsch concluded, “Britain won’t use the language of apology out of fear this might pave the way for reparations.” So, the debate about reparations has conveniently been branded extreme and unrealistic by those who don’t want to pay them. When Prince Charles, heir to the throne, recently thanked members of the Caribbean community in Britain for their contributions to society, Hirsch, who is of Ghanaian descent, 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 discussions 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.”

Hirsch’s 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 (1952-1962). Reparations in 2018 were denied to survivors because of the length of time elapsed and a three-year time limit on such claims.

Hirsch writes for The Guardian newspaper. Her book On Race, Identity and Belonging was published in 2018.

SOURCE: Global Information Network

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