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UK Claims that Its Wealth Isn’t From Colonialism and White Privilege. It is.

UK Claims that Its Wealth Isn’t From Colonialism and White Privilege. It is.

To deny this historical reality is not only intellectually dishonest but also perpetuates the ongoing injustices and inequalities rooted in colonialism. It ignores the intergenerational trauma and economic marginalization faced by descendants of those who suffered under colonial rule, while simultaneously absolving the beneficiaries of this system from any accountability or responsibility.

The United Kingdom is seeking to re-write history using the pen of downright deceit. In mid-April this year (2024) during an international finance conference, Kemi Badenoch, UK’s Secretary of State for Business and Trade claimed that colonialism and white privilege didn’t contribute to the UK’s wealth.

Incidentally, Kemi Badenoch, is a Briton of Nigerian heritage, which means that her forefathers could have been victims of slavery. Her birth names are Olukemi Olufunto Adegoke.

She told the conference that the singular event which paved the way for UK’s current economic might is the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This claim is a blatant attempt to rewrite history and ignore well-documented facts. This position is not only ahistorical but also perpetuates the harmful legacy of colonialism by denying its profound and ongoing impacts.

That’s why we the African people must write the accurate history and set the record straight.

Renowned historians have elaborately explained how the UK built its wealth on the back of slavery and racial privilege. Among them is the renowned scholar Dr. Walter Rodney. In his seminal work ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,’ he meticulously deconstructed the myth of European superiority and exposed the exploitative nature of colonialism. Rodney demonstrated how the plunder of human and natural resources from Africa and other colonized regions played a central role in fueling European economic growth and wealth accumulation.

Indeed, one of the most egregious examples of British and European exploitation of Africans was the transatlantic slave trade, which saw millions of Africans forcibly trafficked and subjected to dehumanizing labor in service of European colonial powers, including Britain. As the descendants of Britain's wealthiest enslavers themselves acknowledge, the ongoing consequences of this crime against humanity still harm lives, both in Britain and in the Caribbean countries where their ancestors amassed fortunes through the enslavement of Africans. Some of these descendants have even formed Heirs of Slavery Campaign Group to set this record straight.

The 2023 ‘Quantifications of Reparations for Transatlantic Chattel Slavery’ Report revealed that the UK alone owes $24 trillion in reparations for transatlantic slavery across 14 countries. This underscores slavery’s profound economic impact. The report's methodology, which factors in the wealth and GDP amassed by slave-trading nations, highlights the direct link between colonial exploitation and the accumulation of wealth in Britain and other European powers.

Several major UK banks like RBS, Barclays, HSBC, and Lloyds were deeply involved in the slavery business. Directors and managers of these early banks owned slaves, provided loans to slave plantation owners, and reaped profits from the inhumane system of human bondage. Among them is David Barclay, founder of Barclays Bank. By providing loans to slave traders, he facilitated slave trade. Furthermore, Lloyd's of London, which dominated shipping insurance during empire-building, played a pivotal role in facilitating the slave trade's operations. Founder members like Simon Fraser held hundreds of enslaved people on plantations.   

Even the Greene King brewery and pub chain can trace its origins to a founder, Benjamin Greene, who owned sugar plantations where slaves labored and vehemently opposed abolition efforts in the 1800s.

The University College London's database on British slave ownership reveals that up to 20% of Britain's wealthy families had substantial links to slavery. When slavery was abolished in 1833, the British government paid a staggering £20 million (billions in today's value) to compensate slave owners, not the enslaved Africans themselves.

These examples starkly illustrate how the growth and wealth accumulation of Britain's powerful financial, insurance and corporate institutions were inextricably intertwined with the horrific practice of slavery. The immense profits extracted from enslaved African labor became foundational capital enabling Britain’s ascent on the global economic stage.

In essence, many of the UK's most prominent banks, insurers and companies today were built on the dehumanizing subjugation, sale and exploitation of enslaved Africans. Their prosperity was, and remains, fundamentally interlocked with one of history's greatest crimes against humanity.

Beyond the specific horrors of the slave trade, colonialism as a whole was a system predicated on the extraction of resources and the subjugation of indigenous populations. British colonial rule in Africa, Asia, and the Americas involved the appropriation of land, the exploitation of labor, and the plundering of natural resources, all facilitated by the ideology of white supremacy and the dehumanization of colonized peoples.

The wealth generated through these processes was funneled back to Britain, fueling industrialization, financing infrastructure, and enriching the colonial elite. The very foundations of Britain's economic and political power were built on the backs of colonized populations and the systematic pillaging of their territories.

To deny this historical reality is not only intellectually dishonest but also perpetuates the ongoing injustices and inequalities rooted in colonialism. It ignores the intergenerational trauma and economic marginalization faced by descendants of those who suffered under colonial rule, while simultaneously absolving the beneficiaries of this system from any accountability or responsibility.

Finally, the call for reparations and restorative justice from UK groups like the Heirs of Slavery campaign is a recognition of this historical debt and a demand for acknowledgment and redress. It is a reminder that the impacts of colonialism are not confined to the past but continue to shape the present in profound and measurable ways.

In the face of such overwhelming historical evidence and contemporary testimony, the UK's attempt to rewrite history and absolve itself of economic gains from its colonial legacy is not only misguided but also a disservice to the pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation. It is a denial of the very foundations upon which Britain's wealth and power were built, and a willful ignorance of the ongoing consequences of this exploitative system.
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