At their annual meeting Quakers have agreed they will make practical reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and economic exploitation. They took this decision after hearing powerful evidence about Lancaster Quakers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who profited from the enslavement of people. They also heard about the personal experience of racism of some of their own members. Quakers summarised their thinking in a statement they call an epistle which will be shared with all Quaker bodies nationally and locally, so they can consider how to respond with practical and meaningful action. It states: "Britain Yearly Meeting resolves to build on our decision last year to be an anti-racist church, working with partners, including churches and faith groups, to look at ways to make meaningful reparations for our failings." Read more. Read the full epistle here.
During the ceremony marking Barbados’s historic transition to a republic, Prince Charles referred to the “appalling atrocity of slavery”, describing the period as the “darkest days of our past” and adding that, moving forward, the “creation of this republic offers a new beginning”. Though this was welcomed by some as a bold statement, it stopped short of an apology and was felt to be a missed opportunity to make amends, on behalf of all that he represents, for the impact of slavery, a system in which Britain played a leading role. Britain’s entire infrastructure, and that of all its institutions, was built off the backs of enslaved black people.
As the legacy of slavery continue to violently reverberate across generations of black people, any form of apology or reparations from the crown or the British government have yet to be received. Writing in the Independent, Nadine White says: "There’s more work to be done in truly escaping the grips of colonialism and reclaiming a sense of black identity, above and beyond the brutal corridors of our past, even if that aspect of the journey will forever be included in the story. Those who benefit from the plight of black people, whether inadvertently or otherwise, ought to take responsibility because simply stating facts isn’t going to cut it. That cannot buy bread."
Read the full article here.
I Will Repay is a Church and Reparations webinar series from Churches Together in England examining British engagement with reparations for descendants of enslaved and colonised African peoples. The Racial Justice Advocacy Forum (RJAF) partners with the National Church Leaders Forum (NCLF) and Movement for Justice and Reconciliation (MJR) to facilitate leading Black Christian voices on the various aspects of reparation and its implications for both church and government. It has three core aims:
Session 1: ‘I will repay: the Church and Reparations’ will be on Wednesday 6 October 2021 at 7.30pm, will explore the theological rationale with Professor Robert Beckford, Eleasah Louis, Rev. Ronald Nathan and Dionne Gravesande. Six more sessions will follow. More details and how to book can be found here.
The Jesuit Conference of U.S. and Canada, an order of the Catholic Church, has announced the goal of raising $100 million to benefit the descendants of enslaved people historically owned and sold by Jesuits. The money will go toward a new 'Descendants Truth and Reconciliation Foundation' created by the church in partnership with the GU272 Descendants Association, a group of descendants of enslaved people who were sold by Jesuits in 1838.
Fr. Tim Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference said: "Jesuits have always known our history of slaveholding, but it was not until 2016 that we met the descendants of Jesuit slaveholding and that completely changed our understanding of this historic sin. I think for a church which preaches forgiveness and reconciliation, this is an incredible opportunity to model what true reconciliation is." The ultimate vision of the foundation is to raise $1 billion. The Jesuit network is committed to raising the first $100 million.
Read more here.
At an extraordinary meeting on March 2 Bristol City Council voted in favour of a motion for "Atonement and Reparations for Bristol’s role in the Transatlantic Traffic in Enslaved Africans", becoming the first city outside London to do so. The cross-party motion passed by 47 votes to 12 and was the result of a grassroots campaign dating back many years.
Cllr Cleo Lake said in the meeting: “Reparations, as I hope was made clear in this motion, does include but goes beyond monetary compensation. The contribution of African civilisation, culture and people versus how we have been treated is one of the world’s great paradoxes". She added later: "I want to be very clear this is not about rewriting history, but rather about casting a bright light on it. Instead of clinging to comforting myths about Britain’s heritage, let’s face up to the reality of our history – let’s talk about it – and let’s learn from that to create a better future for all of us.”
Mayor Marvin Rees acknowledged the complexities in conversations around race, class and social immobility and spoke of the need for discussions around reparatory justice to be attached to real policy. He added: “I’m not just a mayor, I still experience the world as a black man and, even within this organisation, I experience the consequences of having black skin. Race does not disappear just because we want to wish it away.”
Read more here. Watch a recording of the meeting here.
Two major British firms have pledged to make payments to representatives of black people, as well as those of other minority ethnic backgrounds, as they seek to address their founders’ roles in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.The pub chain and brewer Greene King and the insurance market Lloyd’s of London both revealed on Wednesday evening that they would be making the reparations.
Greene King CEO Nick Mackenzie said: “It is inexcusable that one of our founders profited from slavery and argued against its abolition in the 1800s.” He added that the firm will “make a substantial investment to benefit the BAME community and support our race diversity in the business”.
Lloyd’s of London said it would “invest in positive programmes to attract, retain and develop black and minority ethnic talent”, as well as providing “financial support to charities and organisations promoting opportunity and inclusion for black and minority ethnic groups”.
Records of British slave ownership archived by researchers at University College London (UCL) show that founder members of both Greenes and Lloyds owned slaves and were compensated as part of the Government bail-out of slave owners in 1833. The slaves received nothing.
Read more here.
MJR trustee Dr Joe Aldred, interviewed in Christian Today about the #BlackLivesMatter protests has said he welcomes "this simultaneous combustion of racial justice consciousness. The nerve that George Floyd's public slaying by a police officer - while his colleagues looked on even as passers by protested - was a historic one made tender by the enduring injustice that has been gnawing away at black people's patience for years - centuries, even."
"In my view, this devaluing of Black life has its roots in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, chattel slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and Jim Crow laws. Black people who live in 'Western' societies understand this through experience and observation to a lesser or greater extent, which mean this was a fire set to blaze and simply waiting for a match to ignite it. Many white people seem unaware of the heightened resentment black people have towards the racism that blights so many black lives in a world that moves to the tune of whiteness."
Turning to the complicity of Western Churches in "the history of the practice of racism", Dr Alred states"any acknowledgement of that complicity needs to go deeper and further than being stirred by the current incident of George Floyd's killing and the Black Lives Matter-led protests that have so effectively channelled the raw emotion of exasperation, grief, anger and demand for justice." Characterised by the Biblical notion of repentance, which calls for a "high price of giving up and restoring what has been stolen", he continues, "Churches need to take this opportunity, not by any means their first, to look deep into their souls and reckon with their history concerning black people; then act in a spirit of reparatory justice. Racial injustice is a systemic issue in society and in the Western Church. The Church must call for systemic solutions that match the seriousness of historic and contemporary racial injustice."
Read the full interview here.
In what is believed to be the first payment of its kind, Glasgow University is to pay £20m in reparations to atone for its historical links to the transatlantic slave trade. In what has described as a “bold, historic” move, it has signed an agreement with the University of the West Indies to fund a joint centre for development research. The University discovered last year it had benefited financially from Scottish slave traders in the 18th and 19th centuries by between £16.7m and £198m in today’s money. Graham Campbell, who became the city’s first councillor of African-Caribbean descent in 2017, welcomed the agreement. “Our mutual recognition of the appalling consequences of that past – an indictment of Scottish inhumanity over centuries towards enslaved Africans – are the justifications that are at the root of the modern-day racism that we fight now. This action is a necessary first step in the fight against institutionalised racism and discrimination in Scotland and the UK and for the international fight for reparative justice.” Read more here and here.
For the first time in more than a decade, a debate has taken place between lawmakers in Congress on the original sin of the United States – the enslavement of 4 million Africans and their descendants – and the question of what can be done to atone for it through reparations. There was fiery debate between those who argued reparations would damage the relationship between white and black Americans, and those who said it was imperative to achieve justice. Read more here and here.
At least the issue is being debated in the US. Here in the UK it would appear to be still a long way off.
This recent article in the Church Times looks at how a diocese in New York is reckoning with the legacy of slavery. Importantly, it goes on to comment on a "reluctance" on the part of the Church if England to talk about this issue here in the UK.
In the USA in 2006 all the Episcopal Church’s dioceses were called on to investigate and report back on the part they had played in slavery and its aftermath of discrimination and segregation. New York diocese created a Reparations Committee to collect and document its findings. These come as a shock for many: “We have a huge bit of our history which has been lost and forgotten — sometimes intentionally. Most people think of slavery as entirely a Southern matter, so they’ve been surprised to find the extent of slavery in New York State”, the Bishop of New York, the Rt Revd Andrew Dietsche. The Reparations Committee went on to propose a three-year programme of lamentation, repentance, and apology, and reparation in the diocese to explore the weight of human suffering caused by slavery and give an opportunity for black and white Christians to grieve together.
In one church’s weekly liturgy, the congregation acknowledges before God “the pervasive presence of racism in our country’s origins, in our institutions and politics, in our diocese and its churches, and in our hearts”, and goes on to repent of “the many ways — social, economic, and political — that white supremacy has accrued benfits to some of us at the expense of others.” Midway through a Year of Repentance and Apology Bishop Dietsche says it is too early to to know what reparations might mean for the New work diocese "but apology without cost to it or action would be empty,"
In the UK in 2006 the Church of England's General Synod issued an apology for slavery but, unlike the Episcopal Church, little more has been done, symptomatic of “a collective, deliberate amnesia about slavery in Britain” according to Dr Duncan Dormer, General Secretary of USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). Several universities have begun to look into their links with slavery and they, with the churches, are "well placed to take the lead in this discussion ... The universities have the advantage of discipline in searching for truth, and churches — in theory — start from the premise of priority of relationship. My concern with reparations more widely is that you can send money as if that is enough, but still continue oppressive patterns of relationship. the primary concern has to be relationship.” Read the full article here. (A recent USPG conference also addressed this issue. Read more here.)
The question MJR would ask is this. Is the CofE, are any of the churches, ready or willing to take up this challenge?
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