The problem in my view is that some white folk who learned about all the evil stuff that, for example, the British ruling class did around the world until we all gradually woke up to the fact that it was not sustainable, they think that the onus is on them to redress the balance in some way.
To an extent we did redress the balance – we have given a lot back to the descendents of the folk who had a rough deal before, both in terms of historical reparations and also by inviting many of them to join us as equal beneficiaries of whatever these things are supposed to have given our country. But anyway often it was because of their own leaders that they had a rough deal. We didn’t go chasing slaves in the jungle, we simply bought them in the port from those African leaders that we were trading with, and those guys had only kept their defeated enemies alive so that they could trade them as slaves with us. Once you get into individual details things are not necessarily as cut and dried as people could imagine – for every noble Kunte Kinte you might discover someone much less noble, someone whose most apt description sounds similar to that old fictional African only without one vowel.
I personally don’t come from the ruling class – in all the lines of genealogy I am able to trace I come to miners, before the industrial revolution simple farmers, and on some cases naval people. There is only one line with “blue blood” but it is not legitimate, so I have no claim to be an Earl of Warwick even though I am probably a distant genetic cousin of the earls of Warwick.
As far as the working class of England was concerned, we didn’t get an easier time really because of the things that our elites were doing elsewhere in the world. We were in many cases treated worse than slaves, because a slave is property whereas when a miner keeled over with lung disease the master of the mine called out for the next desparate man in the queue to work in the mine. And such was the lot, I fondly imagine, of some of my ancestors.
On that basis, I should be getting reparations from the Third World at the rate of one Mango a month in perpetuity plus the occasional sexual favour from one of those black ladies you see on all the music videos, which I will pass on anyway in the interests of my family and my soul. But anyway that’s nothing to what I’m owed by the Queen of Denmark for excesses perpetrated during the Viking invasions.
So in short, even though I can say that it was shameful it’s not MY shame that the British, for example, tried to make China a drug addicted slave colony and then smuggled out their tea plants to mass plantations in India and decided we didn’t need the Chinese so much any more, at least we gave back Hong Kong honorably. Certain others didn’t give back Vladivostok, ceded at the same Peking Convention, because they are not leveraged by the same soft conscience that seems to weigh us down. But it’s not MY shame that “we” had a past with China that isn’t glorious but it isn’t MY cost that “we” gave back Hong Kong (I didn’t own any of it anyway) and it isn’t MY pride that “we” gave it back – nobody asked for my opinion about it, they just did it on my behalf and on the behalves (?) of another 58 million entirely unconsulted British people.
2 thoughts on “Slavery and restitution”
You make (what appears to me) a great deal of your faith here on this site and elsewhere. While there is not always a conflict between faith and Juvenalian satire, I would ask you to consider if the remarks about a certain type of favours in the second-to-last paragraph of this original post are Christ-like.
You have the right to publish your views on the general subject. That’s the Internet. And there are plenty of valid critiques that can be made of music videos. But those critiques can be more easily received when structured in a charitable manner and when coming from someone who has more thoroughly examined and considered the evidence surrounding racism in England and North America. Neither self-hating guilt nor smug aloofness are productive in the work of unlearning racism.
Finally, the simple fact is that as long as the “favours” comment above is linked with your name, I will not be able to popularize your site any longer. I find it offensive that I, as an intelligent reader of your blog, am expected to find it humorous.
The other point that too many people overlook is that slavery wasn’t confined to European and American use of black slaves from the African continent and Pacific islands. Slavery is as old as our earliest records. We obviously have no evidence but it could have been a feature of pre-historic homo sapiens groups. To fixate on the slave trade of Europe and America is to take a situation out of the context of the times. Practically all ancient historical societies engaged in the buying and selling of slaves; notably Rome and Egypt. The Africans themselves were not averse to taking slaves. Today, the principle of slavery is anathema to the vast majority of people. In earlier times it was a normal and perfectly acceptable behaviour. As far as I’m aware ,slavery no longer exists and that is “devoutly to be wished” but to live in perpetual apology for a system that you neither agreed with, nor instituted, nor sustained is both unbalanced and unhealthy.
The British could, if they so chose, hold a grudge against the Roman Empire for invading its land and making the indigenous population a subjected people having slaughtered any resistance. All large and powerful empires have behaved very badly towards its conquered lands and the inhabitants of those lands ; Persia ; Rome; Spain; France; Britain; Portugal etc. All these previous empires behaved in ways now deemed unacceptable. It is the nature of power and human beings to dominate wherever possible. It continues now in the form of economic domination (which has replaced the former use of slavery).
The human ego and aggression has ensured that true acceptance and equality has never existed and will never exist. This in my opinion is not a race or colour problem it is a human one. People that are prone to the use of great cruelty and oppression don’t differentiate on colour or race ; there are black people treating other black and white people badly ; there are white people treating other white and black people badly. race and colour only enters the argument when political manipulation is at work. Some of the most horrific massacres have been perpetrated by same race killers.
The following examples whilst not relating directly to the slavery issue, stem from the same impulse to dominate.
This from wikipaedia
Nyamata Genocide Memorial, Rwanda
Date April 7 – July 15, 1994
Target Tutsi population
Attack type Genocide, mass murder
Perpetrators Hutu-led government, Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi militias
The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100 day period from April 7, 1994 to mid-July, an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 20% of the country’s total population and 70% of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda. The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the National Police (gendarmerie), government-backed militias including the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi, and the Hutu civilian population.
This (also from wikipaedia )
The Milltown Cemetery attack (also known as the Milltown Cemetery killings or Milltown Massacre) took place on 16 March 1988 in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery. During the funeral of three Provisional IRA volunteers killed in Gibraltar, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) volunteer, Michael Stone, attacked the mourners with hand grenades and pistols. As Stone ran towards the nearby motorway, a large crowd began chasing him and he continued shooting and throwing grenades. Some of them caught him and began beating him, but he was rescued by the police and arrested. Three people had been killed and more than 60 wounded. The “unprecedented, one-man attack” was filmed by television news crews and caused shock around the world.
Three days later, at the funeral of one of Stone’s victims, two non-uniformed British soldiers drove into the funeral procession. Bystanders, who reportedly thought it was a replay of an attack like that carried out by Stone, dragged the soldiers from their car; the two corporals were later shot dead by the IRA.
To sum up, I would say that the British Empire, like all empires was a power expression of its time and probably less brutal than many other empires that the world has seen.
It has left a legacy of guilt that is, in my opinion disproportionate to its acts taken in the context of the time period in question. As with the Roman Empire there has been a legacy of benefits for the subject people in addition to the cruelty and hardship experienced. We need to view it all in perspective and be willing to move on without the poisons of vindictiveness, retribution and hatred.