Skip to main content
Published on 14 November 2022

The negation of Black women in feminist social contract discourse

The origins of social contract theories are coterminous with practices of Black women's subjugation. Many of the prominent 17th and 18th-century theorists, such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant, were also ardent racists.[1] The debacle does not end there: contemporary social contract discourse continues the erasure of Black women’s needs. As the Jamaican diaspora philosopher Lewis Gordon notes, contemporary theories disregard racial justice as a feature of social amelioration.[2] Social contract theory’s relationship to liberalism is also an issue. Social contract theories arise out of liberal discourse and therefore as the Africa American philosopher Charles Mills shows, are complicit with liberalism's collusion with racism.[3] White feminism has also fallen victim to these discourses. For much of the 20th century, White feminism has negated questions of 'race’. However, all is not lost. Black women have not been silent about their predicament. They have responded creatively to the limitations of feminism with discourses of Black feminism and womanism to rectify the limits of the White feminist movement. Moreover, their foregrounding of intersectionality (‘race’, class, gender) in social analysis and policy offers some hope for the future.[4] Though, for the sake of a more inclusive understanding of the social contract, we must correct this history of neglect.

Retroactive justice

Social contract theory must include reparations for the historic structural injustice of the transatlantic slave trade. There can be no meaningful discussion of social harmony in the West without consideration of the inequality and injustice as consequence of the trafficking, economic exploitation and cultural genocide of millions of Africans during the transatlantic slave trade. Atonement or ‘making right’ this crime against humanity remains a fleeting illusion to be pursued but rarely obtained in British political and social life. In Britain, a collective, selective historical amnesia militates against serious reflection on the continued impact of the trade on the lives of Black women. The national historical lacuna is partly the product of myopic Eurocentric historical studies in schools and universities. This historiography has left few in Britain with meaningful knowledge and understanding of racial capitalism, namely, how, in the 1600s and 1700s, British companies produced sugar, tobacco and cotton in the West Indian colonies on the backs of enslaved African workers. Only after the tragic murder of George Floyd in America in 2019 has the possibility of retroactive racial justice received serious consideration. Within months, British companies, and individuals culpable of profiting from the Maafa (Black Holocaust), were identified and held accountable for meaningful reparations. Some companies and organisations have responded constructively and entered into a process of reflection; the vast majority have not. For instance, at the time of writing the only British institutions to offer an apology and compensation were the University of Glasgow, the Quakers and the Church of England. In contrast, Lloyds of London and the pub chain Green King initially apologised for their unjust enrichment and promised to consider reparations. Neither has yet announced any serious recompense. But what is my role as an African-Caribbean British man in this discussion?

I position myself in this debate as a Black male ally. Allyship does not mean leadership or collaboration but simply a radical commitment to listen, learn and support as directed on the struggle for justice for Black women in Britain and worldwide. Therefore, my contribution to this collection is the product of an ongoing conversation with Black women in the reparation movement on the matter of compensation for the racial capitalism (slavery) and racial terrorism (plantation society) of the British Empire.

This essay seeks to lay down the ‘building blocks’ for gender-nuanced reparations as a social contract for Black women. I begin by filling in the lacuna in British history concerning slavery in the West Indies by outlining the impact of racial capitalism and racial terror and their continuities in the lives of African-Caribbean women in Britain today. Next, I provide a brief history of the reparations movement and highlight the roles of Black women within it. After which, I consider the arguments used to either undermine or support reparations. The penultimate section turns to the limitations of contemporary reparations. I evaluate two recent projects to underline the neglect of Black women in the calculation and categories of the movement. The first is my documentary film Empire Pays Back (2005) and the second is the CARICOM Ten-Point Reparations Plan. I end by pleading for nuanced reparations as a feature of the new social contract.

The continued impact of the slave trade

Black women's bodies in Britain continue to experience the adverse effects of the transatlantic slave trade. Borrowing from the work of the African American historian Ibram X Kendi, Black women's bodies mark them as different or 'stamped from the beginning.’[5] While not seeking to homogenise the experience of all Black women of African-Caribbean heritage in Britain, we can identify general structural factors of ‘race’ and gender, which have social repercussions for all Black women. There exists a continuing relationship between slavery's racial terrorism and contemporary discrimination. Structurally speaking, slavery and colonialism hung on ‘race’ and gender hierarchies shot through with anti-Black systems of brutality, bestiality and barbarity. Within this system, Black women bore the double burden of being breeder women and slave labour: they produced workers for the industrial slave machine and worked hours equal to the enslaved menfolk.[6] As Verene Shepherd reminds us, that racial terror denied Black women agency:

In addition to the abuse of their bodies through an arduous physical field regime as well as severe whipping, enslaved women were open to sexploitation, to a far greater degree than enslaved men as far as the records go. For neither colonial statutes nor slave codes invested enslaved women with any rights over their own bodies, but rather, transferred and consolidated such rights within the legal person of the enslavers.

- Verene A. Shepherd and Ahmed Reid [7].

Not to say that Black women complied with their oppression. Mountains of research data has unearthed the multifarious forms of Black women’s resistances.[8]

White feminists must wrestle with their complicity. The records from plantation society are replete with White women’s condoning of the slave system and the demonisation of Blacks. Lady Nugent, the wife of the governor of Jamaica (1801–1805), makes clear in the journal of her time in Jamaica her negative racialised views of the Africans.[9] Furthermore, White women in Britain benefitted financially from slavery’s racial terrorism. Not only in the general sense of the advantages Britain gained from the overall increased wealth and investment but also as a consequence of being specified investors in all aspects of the trade. Though men received most of the compensation, numerous women were listed among the beneficiaries of compensation after the abolition of slavery in the West Indies in August 1834.

But men were not the only beneficiaries, though they dominated in terms of sums awarded. Women (and not just Elizabeth Barrett Browning), were among the beneficiaries. The Compensation Claims provide a discernible trend of females who were also enslavers, or connected to enslavers, who received a substantial share of the compensation package. Table 3 provides a list of females who were major beneficiaries of compensation for enslaved Africans. Topping the list was Maria Lang, widow of Robert Lang, a West India merchant and enslaver who owned plantations in Guyana and Grenada, received £59,514 or 74 million in today's equivalent. In her will, Lang divided her estate (which included her substantial largesse) among her sons and daughters. Other notable beneficiaries include Elizabeth Winter (nee Pitcher), of Dorset Place, Marylebone, Lee Ter’race’, Blackheath, and Russell Square, London, who received compensation of £25,934. Other women beneficiaries - some of whom were from Liverpool - were Caroline Cachard (nee Devenish) (£3277.65.4 for 60 enslaved in Trinidad & Tobago); Hannah Hammill (£6942.68.1 for 164 enslaved people in St Lucia) and Susannah Lynch-Harper nee Heath, who once lived at 14 Moss St, Liverpool (£124.4.1 for 7 in Jamaica). Interestingly enough, Hammill died in 1842, aged 78, and was buried like a respectable person in the Holy Trinity Church in Liverpool. [10]

But we should not negate the fact that White women also played a seminal role in the establishment and progress of the abolitionist movement in Britain. Though mainstream media and popular culture have emphasised the male figures of the movement, such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, women played a critical role in the 18th and 19th century abolitionism. For instance, the women’s rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) was also an abolitionist. As Lawrence Reed notes, In reply to Edmund Burke’s observations of the French Revolution, ‘Wollstonecraft raised the issue of slavery in no uncertain terms. She stated that previous, unenlightened generations lacked an understanding of the native dignity of man and that they had actioned a traffic that outrages every suggestion of reason and religion.’[11]

The end of West Indian slavery and the advent of British colonial rule did not wind-up the oppression of Black women. A reconfiguration of slavery's double jeopardy through limited access to education, land and opportunity replicated the unequal asymmetric relationships of the slave past. As Kamille Gentles-Peart writes, Black women's bodies were and continue to be colonised:

Discourses around Black women’s bodies remain grounded in colonial thinking. Voluptuousness continues to be used to anchor them at the bottom of social hierarchies, and to codify differences between the colonizer and colonized, ruler and ruled… For instance, the image of the ‘sturdy’ Black woman in the US continues to feed the myth of the always available Black female body, providing a justification for sexual violence against Black women… Ideologies of the thick Black female body have led many to ‘presume that Black women cannot be hurt or raped in the same way that other women can,’ and if they are attacked, they can ‘handle it.

- Kamille Gentles-Peart [12].

Black women’s migration to Britain after the Second World War reconfigured the old colonial hierarchies. Entry into a postcolonial domestic context did not alleviate all the inherited structural limitations faced by Black women's bodies. As Bryan, Dadzie and Scafe demonstrate in their seminal study of Windrush generation Black women in Britain, discrimination in employment, education and housing restricted the opportunities for a generation of women to flourish.[13] The study did not deny that through ‘race’/gender/class struggle, gains were made, but that these gains have to be continually fought for. But what of their progeny? How have women of African-Caribbean heritage fared in the post-diaspora period? Recent studies in employment demonstrate that Black women are least likely to be among the top earners compared with other ethnicities and face discrimination across all areas of work.[14]

Furthermore, half of African-Caribbean households live in poverty compared to one in five White families.[15] Interfacing with healthcare also highlights longstanding inequalities, including being four times more likely to die in childbirth.[16] Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic in Britain in 2019 also underlined the unequal vulnerability of working-class and working-poor Black women to infection and death due to employment, income, housing and access to care.[17] As Lola Okolsie reminds us in the opening foreword to the new edition of The Heart of the ‘Race’: Black Women's Lives in Britain, ‘race’ and gender oppressions continue to plague Black communities in the 21st century:

Black Caribbean and mixed White/Black Caribbean pupils are three times more likely to face permanent exclusion from school… three quarters of young Black men… have their DNA profiles in the Police’s national DNA database… unemployment rates among Black women have continued to be consistently higher than for their White counterparts… most of the children living above the fourth floor of England’s tower blocks are Black or Asian.

Reparations: a history

Reparations seek to repair the social, economic and cultural damage of slavery’s racial capitalism and terror in the lives of Black women. While the primary focus has been financial, the movement is not economically deterministic. Instead, economic recompense is a focal point for a broader discussion and acknowledgement of a multifaceted repair programme.

The demand for reparations has a long history, and Black women have been integral to it. Reparations evolve from the demands of enslaved Africans in the Americas, their descendants and White allies to become a central feature of 20th century Black nationalist and Pan-African groups. Reparation was nuanced by the Rastafari movement in Jamaica, before in late modernity, receiving mainstream recognition as a consequence of support from the United Nations (UN) and national governments in the West Indies.

Before the abolition of slavery in the Americas enslaved peoples sought compensation for the injustice of enslavement. Arguably, a Black woman led the charge for slavery's recompense. In 1782 a Black woman is named in the first written account for reparations. After the American War of Independence, on three separate occasions, an abandoned enslaved person, Belinda Royall, petitioned the governor of Massachusetts for 50 years of unpaid slave labour.18 Reparations discourse is incorporated into the African American abolitionist movement. For example, both David Walker (1796–1830) and Abolitionist Frederick Douglas (1818–1895) called for reparations. In 1892, Walker wrote that Whites must ‘reconcile us to them, for the cruelties with which they have afflicted our fathers and us.’19 Douglas did not use the word reparations but was acutely aware that a debt was owed to enslaved peoples for their plundering by America.20 Reparations as a settlement for enslavement was roundly accepted after the American Civil War but never enacted. General William T. Sherman of the Union Army signed an order to turn over land to formerly enslaved people. While the proposal was never fully established, it became known as the ‘40 acres and a mule’ plan.21 In the West Indies in the late 1900s, the question of reparations emerged in British administrative groups. As June Soomer demonstrates in her study, 50 years after abolition in the West Indies it appears in British circles. John Quinlan, a surveyor from La Clery, Saint Lucia, who addressed the 1897 Royal Commission on conditions in post-emancipation Saint Lucia, advocated for reparations. He states:

These peasants are descendants of the enslaved people that were emancipated 50 years ago. The British government knows perfectly well that they are entitled to just as much consideration as their masters received 50 years ago… are entitled to many hundred thousand. Make your amends Britisher while your chest is overflowing. [22]

African American and African-Caribbean women are present in the foundations of organised reparations movements. A generation after the first abolitionists pursued Black recompense, activists Callie House (1861–1928) and Audley Moore (1898–1997) campaigned for reparations in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively.[23] House created the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association in 1898. As the assistant secretary of the organisation, she mobilised formerly enlisted people to petition the government for ex-slave back pay. Inspired by the early Black self-improvement movement of Marcus Garvey, Moore, from the 1950s, founded and worked for groups such as the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America. Moore was also one of the first to theorise on the diverse approaches to redress and the redistribution of lost income. Caribbean women too have played an important role in the movement.[24] They participated in the first anti-slavery uprisings, and supported Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association in the West Indies and in North America.[25]

Black nationalists carried the movement's goals forward in the 20th century. Marcus Garvey (1887–1940), and the Rastafari movement championed reparations long before it became fashionable for mainstream middle-class Black people to do so. In 1919 Garvey – the father of Black Nationalism in the Black Atlantic – called for the return of all things African that European powers had taken.

But, thank God we have them all now, as such we are asking that you hand back to us ‘our own civilization.’ Hand back to us that which you have robbed and exploited us of in the name of God and Christianity for the last 500 years.[26]

Repatriation to Africa was integral to Garvey's Black recompense. For Garvey, the decolonisation of Africa included securing the continent's resources for Africans at home and abroad. The idea of reparations as repatriation inspired arguably the most enduring and committed African-Caribbean reparations agitation from the Rastafari movement. As Michael Barnett demonstrates in his study of Rastafari and reparations, a subtle form of Black recompense was inscribed in the movement from its outset. Founding members such as Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards (1915–1994) and one of its seminal ‘mansions’ or denominations, the ‘Twelve Tribes’, foregrounded repatriation as a form of self-repair. In this modality, reparation is a ‘self-reliant, self-sufficient’ approach.[27] More direct appeals for financial compensation from the former colonial power emerged in 1964 and 2002. In 1964 a Rastafari delegation petitioned the UN for reparations to finance the return to Africa. In 2002, during Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee tour of the Commonwealth, the members of the Nyabinghi order sued the Queen for repatriation with reparations. The case was eventually dismissed in the Jamaican courts.[28]

In late modernity, Pan-African groups have also pursued reparations as compensation for Black suffering during and beyond the transatlantic slave trade. Conferences on slavery reparations sponsored by African nations in 1990 and 1992 led to the Abuja Proclamation of 1993. Included within the assortment of demands for postcolonial justice, the proclamation also demands that the international community recognises ‘that there is a unique and unprecedented moral debt owed to the African people's which has yet to be paid – the debt of compensation to the Africans as the most humiliated and exploited people of the last four centuries of modern history.’[29] In Britain, in reply to the proclamation. reparations groups were soon established to campaign. For instance, in 1993 in the UK, the Labour MP Bernie Grant was instrumental in establishing the African Reparations Movement (ARM). ARM raised awareness about reparations and demanded the return of stolen African artefacts. A leading light in the British context since the establishment of ARM is the pan-African activist and lawyer Esther Stanford-Xosei.[30]

Additional demand for reparations was made in 2001 at the UN's World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. The conference led to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The action plan included a petition for reparatory justice for the victims of racism.[31] The Caribbean launched its official

movement in July 2013 with a Ten-Point Plan for Caribbean reparations. These demands were followed by an international conference in April 2015 in New York, where representatives from 22 countries gathered for a reparations conference organised by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century. Similarly, in September 2022, the University of Cambridge hosted the ‘Envisioning Reparations: historical and comparable approaches’ conference. The consultation considered global perspectives from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Reparations: a contested space

Reparations are contested. Naturally, many of the benefactors of racial capitalism and slavery's racial terror challenge reparations. Conversely, in opposition reparations activists cite biblical, ethical and moral arguments for reparations. The arguments against reparations fall into three areas. The first is the legal argument. In short, the case goes that slavery was legal, and therefore there is no legal settlement to be made. Yet the fact is that the European ‘chattel’ slavery was never condoned in all of Africa or Britain; consequently, it is false to assume a universal acceptance. The second argument is the universal slavery argument. Here weak parallels are made between chattel slavery and similar forms of enslavement around the world during the 15th and 16th centuries. This argument seeks to represent the transatlantic slave trade as an 'international' business and therefore having no unique status. Yet no historical evidence exists to equate and equivocate African, Mediterranean or Islamic slavery with European chattel slavery in the West Indies.[32] The third argument is the assortment of injustices argument. British history is full of injustices involving land grabs, enslavement and brutality, and the slave trade is just one among many. Therefore, reparations cannot be considered because they would set a precedent that would be impossible to contain. For instance, should Britain sue the Italians for the Roman conquest of Britain or France for the Norman invasion?[33] However, this argument fails to acknowledge the specificity of the reparations case, especially the continued injustices Black people face as a consequence of slavery's creation of racial categories which persist into the present.

For Christians there are biblical precedents for reparations. There are two clear examples of reparations being paid for enslavement. First, in one of the foundational narratives of the Old Testament, the Hebrews are compensated for their time enslaved in Egypt (Exodus 12:35b–36). Similarly, after the return from exile, Jerusalem received reparations for historical wrongdoing. Even though he did not oversee the injustice, King Darius took money from the royal coffers to pay reparations (Ezra 6:1–12).

King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon. 2 A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it: 3 In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be sixty cubits[a] high and sixty cubits wide, 4 with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. 5 Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God. 6 Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you other officials of that province, stay away from there. 7 Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: Their expenses are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. 9 Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and olive oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, 10 so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons. 11 Furthermore, I decree that if anyone defies this edict, a beam is to be pulled from their house and they are to be impaled on it. And for this crime, their house is to be made a pile of rubble. 12 May God, who has caused his Name to dwell there, overthrow any king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem.

The New Testament in not silent on the subject of repay for damage done. Arguably the most important New Testament example is the story of Zacchaeus. On conviction of his wrongdoing, he offers to repay fourfold what he had taken unjustly (Luke 19: 1–10).

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short, he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ 9 Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’

There is a legal and a moral case for reparations. The legal case foregrounds a universal framework in which the West Indian case falls. Mari Matsuda, for instance, has outlined three points for legal recognition of reparation in international law for the UN. They are:

  • the injustice must be well-documented
  • the victims must be identified as a distinct group
  • the current members of the group must continue to suffer harm.

When all three points are met, a platform is established for reparations.[34] However, there is a problem: the non-retroactivity in international law. It is currently not possible to make such retrospective claims against the British state or companies for crimes committed in the 18th or 19th centuries. However, a moral case is not limited by time and space. On the contrary, it appeals to timeless values of righteousness. The moral premise is underpinned by a recognition that slavery was a crime against humanity. Therefore, we must address it on a principled footing.

How much is due: Empire Pays Back (2005)

How much financial reparation is due? What consideration is given to gender? The most comprehensive valuation of reparations appears in my television documentary Empire Pays Back. This economic compensation model of reparations foregrounds monetary redress by tabulating the damage and cost and delivering commensurate financial compensation to the victims. The justification of the model is slavery's economic basis and legacy. Slavery enriched European owners, and underdeveloped enslaved people and their descendants in the West Indies and its diaspora.

Empire Pays Back calculates the amount of compensation due. Note that this amount was based on figures from the time of the film's broadcast and therefore provides us with a sum that in 2023 would see a significant increase. The documentary comprises of three parts. It begins by identifying the individuals, organisations and institutions that benefitted financially from the slave trade. It moves on to calculate reparations based on the compensatory metrics used to determine the amounts due. There are four basic calculations. The final part of the film considers who should pay. The middle section is essential to this essay, that is, how much is due.

The first calculation is to determine the number of enslaved Africans for which we are to claim compensation. Estimates vary on the number of enslaved Africans trafficked into the British West Indies. In the film, our panel of experts settle on the region of four million. The estimate does not include the number of enslaved people who died before being forced onboard ships. Also not included are those who did not survive the Middle Passage – the torturous confined imprisonment during the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. This number was a conservative estimate. The reasons for disregarding these other numbers are that they are harder to quantify and fall outside of the economic exploitation metrics pertinent to this method. The second calculation determines the lost income of these enslaved peoples. The agricultural wage rate for a labourer was £10 per year. Minus living expenses, the total is £200 per year. Adding compound interest over time, the average increases to 1 million pounds per enslaved person. Multiplied by 4 million slaves the total comes to 4 trillion pounds.

The next calculation is for unjust enrichment. Accepting that slavery was a crime against humanity, and therefore profiting from it was/is ill-gotten gain, then benefactors must make compensation. The industry was worth £5 million at its height, a 100-year period from 1700 to 1800. Multiplying £5 million by 100 years and adding compound interest leads to a total of £2.5 trillion. The final calculation is for pain and suffering. Slave narratives and the accounts of West Indian missionaries give voice to the immense cruelty, inhumanity and depravity of the slave system. Using the pain and suffering compensation awards of 2005 (£12,500 per year), for an average of 20 years of forced labour, we end up with a figure of £250,000 per slave. Multiplied by 4 million enslaved Africans, the total is £1 trillion.

All combined, the total is £7.5 trillion. The strength of the compensation model is its underlining of the financial benefit of enslavement to enslavers and the cost of economic repair for the descendants of enslaved peoples. The weakness is that it does not account for variation in the suffering of enslaved peoples. Nor does it consider how the reparations should be distributed or spent. However, at no point is gender taken seriously. While women are included in the calculations, we did not explore how the women’s lives in slavery were doubly affected by ‘race’ and gender oppression. Neither did we consider that at the end of slavery, numerically women outnumbered men. In other words, there is a case that reparations should include a separate category of gender to distinguish the double jeopardy of enslaved women. How this amount is calculated is up for debate, but one metric may be to consider birthing and raising children as an additional calculation.

How to pay: CARICOM

Does the CARICOM plan fare any better? CARICOM is the intergovernmental organisation of Caribbean states, the 15 members of the Caribbean community. The Ten-Point Plan is the birthchild of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, established in 2013 after the publication of Hillary Beckles' seminal text on Caribbean reparations, Britain's Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide. The Ten-Point Plan calls for a formal apology from the governments and rejects the expressions of regret performed by many states in response to their history of violent settler colonialism. Also, for reparations, though no figure is produced, it echoes the earlier Rastafarian call for repatriation to Africa for those who desire it. Next, a development programme for indigenous people who were the victims of European land grabs, exploitation and genocide. The plan also includes a collection of developmental requests, which some critics argue are tangential to the direct causes of the racial terror. These are the funding of cultural institutions, public health and illiteracy eradication, an African knowledge programme, psychological empowerment, technology transfer and debt cancellation.

In sum, the CARICOM plan is more comprehensive, but still, in its demands for repair, gender consideration is mute. An addition to the plan should be specific foci on women’s psychological and educational empowerment and also confrontation with the structural legacies of slavery in employment and healthcare that reduce Caribbean women’s flourishing.

Making Black women visible: gendered reparations as a new social contract

Social contract discussion in the West has a poor record on ‘race’ and gender. Black women’s demands for justice have been marginal to debates on government, consent and equality. While Black women have played a founding and leading role in reparations movements, the movements’ goals have negated specific consideratio

the suffering of Black women. Both the calculations for financial reparations and the categories for compensation disavow specific gender consideration. The omission is unjust as it fails to address the complexity of enslavement and its long-lasting implications for Black women. Therefore, if reparations mark the beginning of a new social contract for Western democracies, it cannot be pursued without serious consideration and specific provision for Black women descendants of the Maafa.


[1] The Color of Equality: ‘race’ and Common Humanity in Enlightenment Thought, Devin J Vartija, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021.

[2] Fear of Black Consciousness, Lewis R Gordon, London: Penguin Books, 2023. See discussion of John Rawls, page X.

[3] Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism. Charles W Mills, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

[4] Can We All Be Feminists? New Writing from Brit Bennett Nicole Dennis-Benn and 15 Others on Intersectionality Identity and the Way Forward for Feminism, June Eric-Udorie, New York: Penguin Books, 2018.

[5] Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Ibram X Kendi, New York: Bold Type Books, 2017.

[6] Slave Women in Caribbean Society 1650-1838. Barbara Bush, West Indies: University of the West Indies 1991. 2009, pp.33–46.

[7] ‘Women, Slavery and the Reparation Movement in the Caribbean.’ Verene A. Shepherd and Ahmed Reid, Social and Economic Studies, 2019, 68(3/4), 31–59, page 35.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Lady Nugent's Journal: Jamaica One Hundred Years Ago, Cundall Frank and Maria Nugent, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

[10] ‘Women, Slavery and the Reparation Movement in the Caribbean’ (see note 7), pages 45 and 46.

[11] ‘The Heroines of British Abolition.’ Lawrence W Reed, 2019, FEE Stories,

[12] ‘Fearfully and wonderfully made’: Black Caribbean women and the decolonization of thick Black female bodies.’ Kamille Gentles-Peart, Feminism & Psychology, 2020, 30, 3. pages 306–323, see page 309.

[13] The Heart of the ‘Race’: Black Women's Lives in Britain, Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe, London: Verso, 2018.

[14] ‘‘Race’ and Gender Differences in the Earnings of Black Workers.’ Marlene Kim, Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, 2009, 48, page 466–488.

[15] Measuring Poverty 2020: A Report of the Social Metrics Commission, London: The Legatum Institute, 2020, p.11.

[16] Saving Lives, Improving Mother’s Care: Lessons Learned to inform maternity care from the UK and Ireland Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths and Morbidity 2018-20. MBR’RACE’-UK, Oxford: Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership and National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, 2022.

[17] ‘COVID-19 and Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Communities: A Complex Relationship Without Just Cause.’ Peter Phiri, Gayathri Delanerolle, Ayaat Al-Sudani and Shanaya Rathod, JMIR Public Health Surveill, 2021, 7(2):e22581.

[18] ‘Belinda’s Petition: Reparations for Slavery in Revolutionary Massachusetts.’, Roy E Finkenbine, William and Mary Quarterly, 2007, Third Series, 64, 1, pages 95–104.

[19] Ibid., page 104.

[20] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave, Frederick Douglas, City Lights Books. 2009, page 58.

[21] Family Money: Property, ‘race’, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century, Jeffory A Clymer, Oxford University Press: New York, 2012, chapter 4.

[22] Report of the West India Royal Commission 1897. Sir Henry Wylie Norman and Sir Edward Grey and Sir David Barbour.

[23] ‘Black women’s Tireless But Practical Pursuit of Reparations’, Ashley D Farmer, Women’s Media Centre, 2022,

[24] ‘Women, Slavery and the Reparation Movement in the Caribbean’ (see note 7), pages 31–59.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] ‘Rastafari Repatriation as Part of the Caribbean Reparations Movement.’ Michael Barnett, Social and Economic Studies, 2019, 68, 3–4, pages 61 and 66.

[28] Ibid., page 67.

[29] The Abuja Proclamation. A declaration of the first Abuja Pan-African Conference on Reparations For African Enslavement, Colonization And Neo-Colonization, sponsored by The Organization Of African Unity and its Reparations Commission, 27–29 April 1993, Abuja, Nigeria.

[30] ‘Afrika and reparations activism in the UK – an interview with Esther Stanford-Xosei,’ Review of African Political Economy, 10 March 2022.

[31] World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance Declaration, Durban, South Africa, 2001, page 165.

[32] The Sociology of Slavery: An Analysis of the Origins Development and Structure of Negro Slave Society in Jamaica, Orlando Patterson, 1st American edition Rutherford NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1969.

[33] ‘Women, Slavery and the Reparation Movement in the Caribbean’ (see note 7), page 53.

[34] ‘Looking to the Bottom: Critical Legal Studies and Reparations.’ Mari J. Matsuda, 22 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. pages 323–399, 1987.