Hilary Beckles recalls when he was a child that “it was normal to see a 15-year-old white boy on a horse driving 100 black people to work on the plantation”. Such social and economic legacies of slavery are inescapable in Barbados, a former British colony. In the UK, however, they have been “brushed under the carpet”, says Sir Hilary, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies.

In response to the Black Lives Matter campaign, British business is fumbling to come to terms with its historic debt to millions of Africans who were systematically enslaved and abused for profit. A long-running push for reparations, whose Caribbean leaders include Sir Hilary, is gaining traction. To correspond even modestly with the profits generated by trading in slaves and their products, compensation running into many billions would be needed...

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