Image via Getty/ Dominik Bindl
Lloyd’s of London is an insurance and reinsurance market located in London. Founded in 1686, today Lloyd’s takes in billions in profit annually but its foundation, like most financial firms in the Western world, were built on slavery. T.I. is calling on the company to do more than “invest in recruiting more Black, Asian and other minority employees and provide financial support to charities that promote diversity and inclusion,” as the company has pledged. He wants reparations, including 10 percent of the firm’s ownership being given to descendants of slaves. Lloyd’s, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. We don’t need to go all the way to London to implicate others.
Most large institutions, including universities, owe their existence to slavery. Georgetown University has quite the dirty past. Brown University had some thirty board members who owned or captained slave ships and donors who contributed slave labor to help construct the school. The Brown family owned slaves and engaged in the slave trade. Aetna, the nation’s largest health insurer, sold policies in the 1850s that reimbursed slave owners for financial losses when their slaves died. Between 1831 and 1865, two foreparents of Chase Bank accepted approximately 13,000 slaves as collateral, ultimately owning about 1,250. From public and private universities to banks and even churches, America was literally built on the backs of slaves.
The call for reparations is appropriate. Perhaps more urgent, however, is how Black people interact with these institutions today. BMW owes its existence to the Nazis. The company collaborated heavily with the Nazis and an average of 80 slave laborers died at BMW factories each month, during that reign of terror. The Jewish people made sure that BMW invested back into their community and never let the automaker forget its past. Indeed, even as BMW celebrated its 100th birthday, they did so saying on its website that they “operated exclusively as a supplier to the German arms industry” under the Nazis, using “forced laborers, convicts and prisoners from concentration camps” in its manufacturing. Even with the investments and repeated acknowledgements, you’d scarcely find Jewish people driving German cars and that’s the most important lesson to be learned.
How can Black people justify supporting corporations that enabled the rape of our grandmothers? How can we justify enriching those who enriched themselves through the lash of the whip? How can Black people expect our children to respect us if we reward those who’ve gained the power to oppress us through slavery? We can and should call for reparations but we have no honor if we do so while throwing money into the hands of those who’ve dehumanized and lowered us to chattel.