Yesterday, there was a program on BBC 2 titled Britain’s forgotten Slave Owners, a well researched Documentary by David Olusoga , a British-Nigerian Historian and Broadcaster, who explored the price of the abolition of slavery.
If you live in the UK, you can still catch up with it here,on iPlayer, although there are other ways of watching it, even if you are not UK-based.
Amongst the dizzying, harrowing, gut-wrenching details of life on the slave plantations, one glaring fact in particular stood out for me, and I’m sure for many other people who watched it the same is true.
That when slavery was abolished in the United Kingdom overseas territories in 1833, some 40,000 British Slave owners got the equivalent of £17 billion in compensation for the ‘loss of their property’, whereas the slaves or families of slaves got nothing. Hearing the scale of this ‘settlement’ was staggering.
But, here’s the thing. Even if you factor in the fact that this occured close to 200 years ago, is it honestly possible to claim that such a financial windfall didn’t or hasn’t had a bearing on the social and economic disparities between Africans and black people (and their descendants) on one hand, and white people in Britain on the other?
Considering the deprivation and lack of money in black, ethnic minority and African families which I have seen, sometimes up close, in the last 30 years, I find it pitiful when some snooty ***** go around noses held high claiming such economic deprivation is the fault of Africans themselves, as if there weren’t other major factors at play. I just can’t believe the brazenness of their ignorance/misinformation .
Yesterday, the tools of economic and social repression against Africans and Black people was overt slavery and the poisonous ideology which falsely claimed that Africans were not human; today the tools of economic and social repression come less overtly, in the form of prisons/ jail – which disproportionately imprison black and ethnic minorities, mental health sectioning, entrapment (where lame excuses are found to implicate innocent young men who are just trying to survive) and harrassment (how the FBI and secret organisations harassed Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and even Nelson Mandela), police brutality and killings of black people, easily available drugs – which were introduced into black neighbourhoods to encourage addiction, criminal records that make it difficult for young black men to get jobs or advance in life, discrimination in education and employment, barriers that act to discriminate against black people getting loans, land grabs by corporations in Africa, corruption by short-sighted, stupid and greedy black politicians who are complicit in the ransacking of their own lands, racist immigration policies, and such like – all convenient and cheap tools of hate, racism and white supremacy.
Put simply, life for the average young black man is not so much easier today than it was 200 years ago, be they in Lusaka, Lilongwe, Brooklyn, Toronto, Sydney, Beijing, Dubai, London or Amsterdam.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not just a rant out of general frustration.
I know how much my own father struggled 20 years ago – when he was trying so hard to build a viable business side by side with educating his people; so I know that at least 20 years ago life for the black man wasn’t much different. I also know – from first hand accounts told by my late grand-mother, my old aunties, many in their 70’s, and my own mother who is now 67- how much my own grand father struggled over 50 years ago, and so even that far back, little had changed for the plight of the black man. They may not have been in shackles as slaves, but they were ‘excluded’ from advancing and developing, even in their own countries.
Much more importantly, given all the educational opportunities, I know how much I and many others who have been fortunate enough to have an education have struggled….
Today, almost everyday I come across stories of deprivation, stories or pain, stories of hardship among black families, and something inside tells me it can’t possibly all be accidental. All these people can’t possibly be invalid, unintelligent chimp-like creatures lurking the earth. They can’t all be daft animates. When I ask other Africans (and predominantly white pastors of mixed race churches) whether the black people they know elsewhere abroad are struggling in the same way as the people I know, the answers universally are in the affirmative. The black man continues to struggle, just like his ancestors toiled in the plantations 200+ years ago.
I admire the long-suffering and resilient Jewish spirit, how through force of the spirits of their leaders, faith, political connections and other ways they fought to have the age-old atrocities and the holocaust against their peoples recognised. And I wonder, whether the Africans I know, many of them descendants of slaves – most from lands affected by slavery … or their successors, will ever find rest in some sort of reparational comfort, or at least in societies with no institutional obstacles purposely placed in their paths to impede their progress.
I also wonder whether a European or American leader will one day emerge, who will be brave enough to acknowledge that an atrocity of grave proportions was committed against a whole people, and too little too late has been done to make amends.
Under this brown skin, living in this body, breathing this european air, preoccupied by these African thoughts, feeling these feelings, and encountering people from all walks of life, I can tell you assuredly that I will never in my right mind, have any respect for any person, institution, country or outfit that oppressed and continues to oppress their ethnic minority / black populations. To me they are no different to the slave owners David Olusoga reveals.