Statement of the Research Problem
Although there is significant literature on the issue of reparations for slavery and to a lesser degree colonisation and their legacies, much of the scholarly literature is concerned with arguments in support or opposition to reparations or the historical factors which give rise to contemporary calls for reparations. Whilst such scholarship is quite voluminous, little attention is paid to the history of reparations activism. In fact, where such research exists it concentrates on reparations historiography of US based movements and advocacy in support of reparations with no recognition or regard to the fact that reparations has been an ever present demand and goal in African Diaspora politics in Britain, not just in recent times, but also historically. Knowing the history of what has been previously done or attempted to effect or secure reparations is essential to evaluating whether or not reparations goals are achieved or not, and other ways of evaluating and measuring success. At the same time, not taking account of the history of activism towards securing reparations denies the academic community and the rest of society the opportunity to be truly informed about some of the social contexts, dynamics, politics, and richness of knowledge production in reparations movements.
This study contends that some of the most radical critiques and understandings about dominant ideologies and power structures, such as slavery, colonisation, capitalism and racism as well as progressive visions of social change, have emerged from those active in reparations movements which seek redress for or dismantling of such power structures.
The link between such knowledge(s) and praxis/action on reparations is woefully absent in scholarship on reparations in general and social movements in particular.
This study therefore seeks to problemetise whose knowledge and voice(s) are heard on reparations as the voices of those who are actively organising in pursuit of reparations are more often than not marginalised. As a corrective, this study examines the issue of reparations activism from the perspective of those in the UK, more generally, and London more specifically who have done various actions to effect and and/or effect reparations. It therefore follows in the path of scholarship in North America which has also began to examine the US based [African] Reparations Movement through the prism of those activists that have been active in such a movement. For example, reparations activists in the leading reparations coalition in the US, N’COBRA, have led in this approach to scholarship ‘through the eyes of the movement.’ (1)
In their study of historic and modern social movements for reparations in the USA, law professors and members of N’COBRA, Adjoa Aiyetoro and Adrienne Davis conducted ground breaking research; the first study to research the movement from within the movement, otherwise known as ‘insider research’. Emic and etic, in the discipline of anthropology and the social and behavioural sciences, refer to two kinds of field research done and viewpoints obtained; from within the social group (from the perspective of the subject) and from outside (from the perspective of the observer). Insider or emic research describes projects where the researcher has a direct involvement or connection with the research setting and investigates how local people think, how they perceive and categorise the world, their rules for behaviour, what has meaning for them, and how they imagine and explain things. Such research changes the gauge by which one can measure reparations movement’s effectiveness and outcomes.
Aiyetoro and Davis maintain that examining reparations ‘through the eyes of the movement’ changes the gauge by which one can measure the movement’s effectiveness and outcomes thus far. It also shifts attention away from the legal, policy and doctrinal questions that have dominated the literature on the ‘case for’ or feasibility of reparations. So, rather than focusing solely on whether a specific legal result has been obtained, i.e. financial compensation through litigation or legislative action, a social movements approach also questions how ordinary people develop a common oppositional consciousness and mobilise to confront what they perceive to be historical or contemporary injustice .
As African American historian Robin Kelley explains, such an approach is “more interested in the historical vision and imagination that has animated the movement since the days of slavery.” (2) Contemplating reparations in this way, as a social movement, poses a compelling set of other questions than simply whether or not reparations will be achieved and is concerned rather with the reparations movement’s complex, and at times competing, set of actors, institutions, and ideologies that, have been underexplored in the sociological, historical and legal literature. It concludes that conceiving of reparations as note merely a legal or political claim but as an international social movement sheds light on the context and factors leading up to the contemporary resurgence of reparations activism. In addition, such an approach provides an alternative lens through which to assess the efficacy, success and goals of the international Social Movement for African Reparations (ISMAR) as shaped by activists within the UK.
Part of the challenge of assessing the duration and purpose of reparations activism is that there is a lack of visibility and almost no recognition of a pre-existing movement which comprises actual organisations, networks and leading individuals and spokespersons. This means that wider society outside of the various networks of reparations activists and other movement actors is deprived of gaining accurate insights into the genesis, evolution and purpose of the ISMAR, and the central role that activists based or influential to organising processes in London have and continue to play in advancing the cause and movement for reparations.
As a well known reparationist, I am well placed to embark on such a study. I have been integrally involved with the ISMAR for the past thirteen years and have a key role in the founding, development of and particpation in the organising processes of several reparations social movement organisations and coalitions. These include the African United Action Front (AUAF), The Global Afrikan Congress (GAC), PARCOE, (Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe), Black United Front (BUF), the interim Nationl Afrikan Peoples Parliament (iNAPP) and now the Global Afrikan Peoples Parliament (GAPP). (3) Social movement researchers, Kevin Gillian and Jane Pickerill argue that it is a growing trend for researchers and academics, both emerging and established, to openly take on an activist-scholar identity.
(1) The study by Aiyetoro and Davis, ‘Historic and Modern Social Movements for Reparations: The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) and its Antecedents’ is one of the few to do so.
(2) R.D.G. Kelley, ‘A Day of Reckoning: Dreams of Reparations’ in Redress for Historical Injustices in the United States: On Reparations for Slavery, Jim Crow and their Legacies (Michael T. Martin and Marilyn Yaquinto eds.); (Durham & London, Duke University Press, 2007) at p. 203.
(3) A Reparations activist, the term was used by the late Professor Ali Mazrui, academic professor, and political writer on African and Islamic studies and North-South relations) in his speech ‘Global Africa: From Abolitionists To Reparationists’, Inaugural Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola Distinguished Annual Lecture (6 December, 1993), at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association of the United States held in Boston, Massachusetts, December 4-7, 1993. The speech can be found in African Studies Review, vol. 37:3 (December 1993) pp. 1-18.