The racial tension in The USA at the present time is palpable. Ever since the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida USA, the American media has become a conveyor belt for one high profile case after another of young black men and women dying during the process of questionable civilian and police practices, with little to no reprimand of the individuals involved. The perceived lack of justice shown from the American judicial system in tackling the unjust killing of African-Americans has led to subsequent riots, marches and the establishment of the “black lives matter “ movement.
BBC’s Britain’s forgotten slave owners
At a time in which race is a particularly sensitive talking point in the media, there could not have been a more fitting time for the British Afro-Caribbean to resonate with the lasting effects of past exploitation suffered by those living in the African diaspora than in July of this year, on the night on which the first episode of the BBC 2 documentary, “Britain’s forgotten slave owners” aired. It was a two-part documentary that provided an in-depth account of the journey to the abolition of slavery in Britain.
The documentary hosted by historian David Olosaga, detailed not only the way life was for slave owners and their enslaved, but also provided insight into the incredulous amounts of money paid to compensate slave owners as a negotiation with the British government to bring the slave trade in Britain to an end.
Over 18 billion English pounds was paid to over 46,000 owners in compensation, and this is without considering the wealth accumulated during the years of entrapment. This vast amount of wealth gained off of the back of one race directly into the pockets of another, made me wonder why the obvious financial benefits that slavery afforded to Britain and it’s economy are not openly discussed in the contemporary black British conversation?
The documentary was the first I had ever viewed that broke away from the usual narrative of African slavery in the USA, and clearly depicted that although not often spoken of, a vast amount of Britain’s wealth is also built upon the back of this atrocious period of time in black history.
Britain has definitely attempted to place itself as far as possible from it’s colonial past. However, widespread Black British attitude can be found in the list of facilitators in Britain’s ability to shy away from this discussion for so long.
I personally found it difficult to find anyone to speak to who had seen the documentary, and was even more hard pressed to find anyone who had an opinion on the factual information it presented. It was as though we had all been sworn to secrecy about Britain’s part in the slave trade, as if the subject were taboo to mention somehow.
The social contract of post-racialism.
There is often a lack of focus on the structural and systemic nature of racism that requires attention when discussing post-racialism, or lack thereof in British society. Racism (or racialism) is often only addressed on an individual or micro level.
However systemic racism is a concept that works more effectively ‘top down’ than it does ‘bottom up’. For the sake of the length of this post and how long it could turn out to be if I were to fully explained this point, here is a video of activist and Rapper Akala, who shares my sentiments on the issue of systemic racism exactly.
Is Britain’s zero tolerance policy to racism and racial inequality and perceived era of post-racialism that we have in this country, given in exchange for Black Britain’s apathetic attitude towards unresolved issues of colonial days gone by?
I think it is fair to say that many black Brits have gladly, (and some, unknowingly) entered into the post-racial contract of ‘we won’t speak about it if you don’t‘ with British society. ‘Britain’s forgotten slave owner’s’ and the lack of response it conjured solidified this stance for me.
Whilst lounging in the house of British political correctness, polite conversation at the bus stop and buying into Britain’s “slavery was a long time ago” rhetoric, have Black British Caribbeans left our own racial plight, along with the plight of our ethnic counterparts globally, who are still so clearly struggling with the remnants of Britannia’s colonial rule of the waves, be it socially, economically or both, ‘out in the field’?
This Pandora’s box of a documentary was one that the BBC did not mind opening, no matter how damning the evidence. Maybe because they knew a majority of those that it depicted the ancestral history of would not look inside, perhaps?