Slave Trade Legacies, Reparations and Risk Allocation

By Fernne Brennan.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Shortly put, “Risk is the possibility that something undesirable might happen.” Behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance (the original position) are human participants in the social contract who ‘agree’ to pursue a particular enterprise by allocating the possibility of these undesirable outcomes. The veil of ignorance presumes equality of person, value and participation, and equality in terms of the burden of risk on individuals. In our social contract ‘good’ or ‘bad’ outcomes are primarily based on individual luck or chance. Risk analysis enables us to tell a different story about the social contract, one that locates behind this veil of ignorance an institutionalised system of risk-taking behaviour that rigs risks against those least able to manage the fall-out (Dahan and Dine, 2003). This paper utilises the literature on risk analysis to answer the question: how do we resolve the call for reparations for the legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (TAST)?

TAST legacies on its descendant human victims with its contemporary and continuing inequalities remain in Europe, the Caribbean, the Americas and Africa. Despite the global platform provided by the UN World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (2001) to draw attention to the slave trade as a source of contemporary racism against people of African and Afro-Caribbean descent, and national commemorative events marking the abolition of the slave trade since 1807 and linking wealth creation in Western Europe with the destruction of human beings and societies in Africa and the creation of European Chattel Slavery (Blackburn, 1997), scholarship attests to the issues that surround the failure to obtain reparations. Treading in treacle are the recurring themes for and against the case for reparations that include the nature of the claim, the relevant parties, the amount of compensation and the question of causing.

Missing in this metanarrative (Walvin, 2008) is a conceptual framework based on an analysis of risk. This paper uses risk analysis as a paradigm that seeks to inform us about the hidden inequalities in liberal democracies plagued by a racism that has its roots in the TAST, the project provides a justification for why we should unearth these inequalities by locating their historical and institutionalised context and offers a tool through which to consider how to reallocate risk through reparations.

Keywords: Race, Institutional Racism, Social Capital, Trade, Caribbean, Export Zones, Risk, Reparations, Women

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 10, pp.117-126. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 619.298KB).

Fernne Brennan

Senior Lecturer in Law, School of Law , Human Rights Center, Univeristy of Essex, Colchester, Essex, UK

Expertise in Slave Trade Reparations where she leads a team of international experts examining the question of reparations for the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Following a successful conference in at Brunei Gallery with the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), the Centre for Commercial Law Studies (Queen Mary University, London), the School of Law (Essex) and the Human Rights Centre at Essex, an Expert Advisory Group is developing collaborative projects in this area. Apart from work on a collection entitled: Colonialism, Slavery, Reparations and Trade: Remedying the ‘Past’? edited by F. Brennan and J. Packer, Fernne has developed using a website designed by colleagues at the University at Essex which can be found at www.essex.ac.uk/reparations. Her publications in this field include Race, Rights Reparations: Exploring a Reparations Framework for Addressing Trade Inequality’, Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy 2009, ‘Time For a Change. Reforming WTO Trading Ruler to Take Account of Reparations’, in J. Dine and A. Fagan (eds.) Capitalism and Human Rights (Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2006) and ‘Are Reparations for Slavery Justified?’ Human Rights Global Focus Group, International Human rights Foundation, India, Volume 2, Number 1, March 2005, pp. 5-17.

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