Stand Up To Racism national co-convenor Weyman Bennett (left) speaks at the meeting with David Denny (far right) (Picture: Socialist Worker)

Anti-racists gathered at Soas university in central London on Tuesday evening as part of a tour with Barbadian reparations activist David Denny.

David spoke alongside Marcia Rigg—whose brother Sean died in police custody in south London in 2008—and Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) national co-convenor Weyman Bennett. The meeting was backed by the university’s Unison union branch. 

SUTR’s tour is demanding reparations from South Dorset Tory MP Richard Drax whose family set up the first slave plantations in Barbados. It has already visited Dorset, Bristol and Manchester.

David described how the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804—led by slaves—made it the first independent state in the Caribbean and spread rebellions to other countries. “These battles created the conditions for the abolition of slavery,” he told the meeting. “The British government wasn’t responsible for our emancipation.

“My organisation is demanding immediate reparations from Richard Drax because up to this day he still owns a plantation and plantation house in Barbados. On that plantation are people who are still working and living in very bad conditions harvesting sugar. 

“We’re also concerned about what’s happening in Haiti—people are being forced to pay reparations for their freedom. They’re still paying France to this day for it.”

David described how slave rebellions and workers’ struggles have contributed to the fight for reparations in Barbados and across the Caribbean now. “In the 1980s across the Caribbean there was a strong case made, especially by the Rastafarian community,” he said. “By the 1990s the case for reparations was taken to the Caricom group—they were able to convince their member states to join the reparations battle.

“This created the conditions for member states to set up task forces or commissions, whose main objectives were for government agency task forces to organise education around the issue.”

David said the battle against Drax can’t be fought just by people in Barbados. “We’re depending on students and workers here to stand by us in solidarity,” he explained.

Marcia spoke about police brutality and deaths in custody. “You cannot turn on the news without hearing about misogyny, rape, murder, sexual harassment, within their working place,” she said. “Black men are seven times more likely to die following police restraint, but racism is not being addressed in any investigations.

“It’s modern-day lynching. This isn’t just a black issue, but it disproportionately affects black people. And when the country was in mourning for the queen and the very state that enslaved us, we were protesting on the streets after Chris Kaba was killed by police.”

On reparations, Marcia said, “No amount of money can ever pay us back for our enslavement. But it can help with material things such as hospitals, education to help us build back up our countries.”

Weyman told the meeting, “When I was at university in the 1980s there was no information about reparations. We now know who benefited from slavery. Some £20 million was paid—not to the people who were exploited, but to slave owners. And we didn’t stop paying that until 2015.”

Weyman linked the current fight against racism to the Tories’ brutal attacks on refugees. “Their focus isn’t on the post-Covid or cost of living crisis, or excess deaths because people can’t turn their heating on,” he said. 

“Instead they’re talking about small numbers of people arriving in boats because they have no safe passage. They know what they’re doing. We know the government is using a strategy of divide and rule to break us.

“The strikes at the moment and SUTR’s mobilisations on 18 March is what we’re about. Demonstrating can bring as many people together to say we won’t be divided.”

Jefferson Bosela—a family member of Chris Kaba who was shot last September by cops in south London—also sent a statement to the meeting. 

In the discussion people spoke about linking the fight against racism with struggles against sexism and LGBT+ oppression. And there were debates over revolution, Pan-Africanism, and how to win reparations and fight racism.

One speaker who works in the NHS said, “I feel a lot of what is spoken about since the Black Lives Matter movement is tokenistic. I know it’s important not to be defeatist, but it can start to feel a bit hopeless.”

Another attendee asked, “Are we in a position to demand reparations. We need to empower ourselves to regain power to be able to do that. There’s still people living in counties drawn by colonial borders. We need to fight the core issue of exploitation of black people in the continent—not seek salvation here.”

Weyman replied, “There’s always something you can do—resist. Resisting collectively is the most powerful thing. And it matters how well you’re organised. We need to build a moment by people from below.

“If we don’t fight we lose every single time. I want to see a revolution—where the 1 percent are at the bottom and the rest of us are looking down at them.”

For information about SUTR’s March against racism on 18 March go to facebook.com/StandUTR

Where else is the tour happening?

Thursday 9 March—Hackney, east London. 7.30pm at the Halkevi Centre, 31 Dalston Lane, Hackney E8 3DF
Saturday 11 March—Liverpool. 2pm at the Quaker Meeting House, 22 School Lane, Liverpool L1 3BT
Sunday 12 March—Brighton 2.30pm at Brighton Friends Meeting House, Ship Street, Brighton BN1 1AF
Tuesday 14 March—Brixton, south London. 7pm at Brixton Library, Brixton Oval, London SW2 1JQ

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