In this article Elliot Ross says Scotland should take responsibility for the major and highly lucrative role it played in the transatlantic slave trade. He refers to a recent BBC documentary, Slavery: Scotland's Hidden Shame, which followed the publication of a major book. It gave a thorough and critical expose of an aspect of Scottish history that has often been ignored or else reduced to little more than a footnote beneath grander and more comfortable narratives about Scotland's distinctive scientific and intellectual contributions to modernity. Recent emphasis on Scottish participation in the abolition of slavery and the slave trade has come at the expense of a proper understanding of the ways in which Scottish institutions and elites were enriched by chattel slavery. This "structural amnesia compounds the original injury and extends the contempt for black life that made the transatlantic slavery economy possible to begin with." Read the full article here.
MJR is about addressing legacy of both colonial enslavement and industrial exploitation. One of the most significant events in UK history affecting the latter was the Peterloo Massacre of August 16, 1819 in Manchester when 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators were charged by cavalry resulting in 18 deaths and over 700 severe injuries. Described as “the most important political event ever to take place in Manchester.” by the Guardian (founded as the Manchester Guardian as a direct outcome), the 200th anniversary of Peterloo will take place next year. Many events and activities are being planned to mark the anniversary (more information here) and MJR is helping plan one of these: a special commemorative service at Manchester Cathedral on July 7. More details to follow.
Also marking this anniversary is the Mike Leigh film 'Peterloo', now on general release in cinemas. The film tells the story of the context and build-up to the events of August 16, 1819, and of the day itself. It gives a telling insight into the conditions of the working classes and comparative ease and wealth of the factory owners and landed ruling classes that resorted to drastic measures to hold onto their power. Many reformers and commentators of the time compared the plight of the working classes to that of the enslaved, referring to 'white slavery', and a number of abolitionists were also involved in the struggle for worker's rights. The film leaves the viewer to draw their own parallels with modern-day Britain. Recommended for those who wish to learn about an important piece of our history, which, like the truth about enslavement and colonialism, has been conveniently neglected.
In this article in today's Independent, Deana Heath, senior lecturer in Indian and colonial history at the University of Liverpool argues that the school curriculum must stop whitewashing the British empire and start being honest about the subjugation and exploitation of millions of people.
Heath says his students come to him having been educated through a school history curriculum that focuses almost entirely on English political and religious history, and knowing “practically nothing about empire and its legacies – including in Britain. The histories they have studied and texts they have read were virtually all about or by white men, so they also know nothing about the history of women or the histories of people of colour, either.”
Referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s recent proposals that British school children should be taught about the history of the realities of British imperialism and colonialism, Heath says this would “begin to redress the phenomenal gulf between academic history and the English school curriculum.” Criticism of Corbyn's proposals from people such as Jacob Rees-Mog is based in a "state of denial about empire" and demonstrates “a profound ignorance about British imperial and colonial history, particularly about the impact of empire on not only the colonised but also the colonisers as well.”
Heath's students’ experience has been that being able to interrogate difficult histories, such as that of empire, has given them “a much better understanding of themselves and their place in the world”. Which is, surely, what education is supposed to do.
Read the full article here.
On a visit to Ghana this week Prince Charles will acknowledge Britain's the role in the “most painful chapter” of Ghana’s historic relations with Europe, as he speaks of the “appalling atrocity” of the slave trade in a landmark speech.
Speaking of the “unimaginable suffering” which left an “indelible stain on the history of our world”, he will argue that Britain must take responsibility for ensuring the horrors are never forgotten. Read the full article here.
MP David Lammy has commented on a new report into Stop and Search by the Stopwatch Coalition which found that black people in England and Wales are now nearly nine times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched for drugs. He described Stop and search as an “ineffectual” practice and an “integral cog in a racially disproportionate” criminal justice system, citing his own memories of being stopped and searched as a 12 year old. “Many years later, the fear and embarrassment of the first time I was stopped and searched for a crime I did not commit remains with me. We must stop stigmatising black men, and search for more intelligent, long-term solutions to the problems that foster criminal activity in the first place.” Read the full article.
In a visit to Bristol this week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said schools should teach children about colonialism, slavery and the legacy of the British empire, and give greater weight to the “immense contribution” black Britons have made. He also unveiled plans for an Emancipation Educational Trust, which would educate future generations about the impact of slavery and “tell the story of how slavery interrupted a rich African and black history”. Local civil rights activist Paul Stephenson, who played a central role in the Bristol bus boycott in 1963, should be as well known to British schoolchildren as Rosa Parks. Read more here and two opinion pieces here ("Corbyn's right") and here ("Thank you, Jeremy Corbyn – what you said about colonialism was spot on.").
An AQA GCSE sociology textbook that describes Caribbean men as "largely absent" from family situations has been withdrawn by the publisher. The main criticism is that this statement is made without any social or historical context.
Tamu Thomas from ‘Motherhood Reconstructed’ commented: ”I couldn't imagine what it would feel like if you were a black child, sitting in class and reading a statement like that. I do acknowledge that the number of families with absent fathers is higher in the black community, proportionally. But when something is put forward as fact like that without explaining the historical reasons why that might be the case, without any context, that's really dangerous. If we had an educational system that actually studied and analysed the black experience, including the impact of the slave trade and racism in society, it would be different.”
Read the full article on the BBC website.
In this article Paula Akpan laments the selective version of British history she was taught at her school. "...that I had to go looking for significant moments in black British history suggests to me that I had been kept ignorant." In school she learned about the US Civil Rights Movement, Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and found herself wishing for such movements and heroes in her own country. This focus on racial tensions and struggles elsewhere "relieves this country of accountability".
Akan says she and many others have had to discover the history of black people in the UK for themselves through social media, discovering books such as Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race and David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History. Olusoga traces this history back to Roman times, confronting the idea that black people only came here in the 50s, and states: “The denial and avowal of black British history, even in the face of mounting documentary and archaeological evidence, is not just a consequence of racism but a feature of racism.”
Read the full article here.
Dr Robert Beckford is delivering a lecture "Is God a white racist? 'Woking' Gospel music in Britain" at Manchester Metropolitan University on Wednesday October 10, 5-6:45pm.
"How might we meaningfully reflect on the church’s complicity with racial terror in the Caribbean? And what is the role of British gospel music in articulating the memory of slavery, its continued impact and its overcoming? Entangling ideas from theodicy (the problem of evil), pentecostal epistemes (prayer, singing) and Christina Sharpe’s “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being” (creative and critical cultural production) this practice-based presentation explores the sources for a new urban ’social gospel music’ genre."
Admission by ticket only. Book here. Part of Black History Month 2018.
The University of Glasgow has published a comprehensive report into the institution’s historical links with racial slavery.
The study acknowledges that whilst it played a leading role in the abolitionist movement, the University also received significant financial support from people whose wealth at least in part derived from slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries. Read more here and an opinion piece by Afua Hirsch here. Download the report here. Read about a call for other universities to follow Glasgow's lead
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