The legacy of slavery : Two centuries of forgetting. For The World Students Society - that's an unhelpful indifference to the past.

AT Tate Britain, in London, a crowd gathers in front of a painting. The Death of Major Peirson, 6  January 1781, shows a black soldier avenging the killing of a British Officer during the French invasion of Jersey.

The painter used this man to ''symbolise the fierce loyalty of the empire'', explains the curator. This shows that the artist could rely on public naivety, he suggests, for Britain at the time was ''deeply involved in slave trade''. 

 '' If we can be proud of the best moments in history ..... we must reflect on the worst.''

PERIODS of reflection come and go. The killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, in 2020, prompted soul-searching about race around the world, including in Britain.

Activists in Bristol toppled a statue of Edward Colston, a slave-owner, and dumped it in the harbour. The largest ripples have since come from institutions looking at their own pasts.

In January the Church of England pledged to spend Pound 100 million [$127 million] to ''address past wrongs'', after admitting it had invested in the transatlantic slave trade.

In March, the Guardian apologized after '' discovering ''  it was founded with profits from cotton picked by slaves. Universities, banks, museums, and others have done similar things.

In February the Trevelyan family, whose ancestors part-owned slave plantations, apologized and said they would pay Pound in reparations to Grenada.

Such acts remain exceptions, however. Britons' attitudes to their country's past are shifting a bit, but as a whole they show little interest in re-assessing it. Polling data mostly suggests indifference, including over the nastiest aspects.

When asked by pollsters about the empire some Britons, especially older ones, used to express pride. Today people mostly shrug, although a few [ 16% according to one survey in 2020 ] call it shameful.

Reckoning with the legacy of slavery can sometimes be seen as a duty for an elite who cemented their ancestral homes with profits with African blood. A poll in April found that 44% of Britons thought that the royal family whose ancestors monopolised the early slave trade through the Royal African Company, should pay reparations to some sort.

Yet few think the country as a whole, or businesses and other institutions that benefited from slavery, should do so.

It is rare for the topic of slavery to be tackled nationally. Take the Demerara uprising of 1823, when British colonists brutally suppressed a non-violent uprising of 10,000 slaves in what is today Guyana.

One of the resisters, Quamina, was strung up for so long that a colony of wasps built a nest in his abdomen and took to flying in and out of his jaw. The incident sparked outrage in Britain and helped to invigorate the movement for the abolition of slavery in the colonies.

YET today most Britons only know of Demerara as the sugar they spoon into their coffee, not the uprising. Its 200th anniversary, on August 18th, was likely to attract scant public notice. 

Such apathy sets Britain apart from other imperial powers. In December the Dutch government  apologised for that country's role in slavery and set up a fund to raise awareness of its legacy. 

Portugal's president, Marcelo Rabelo de Sousa, said in April that his country should accept responsibility for the slave trade.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture. In contrast the prime minister, Rishi Sunal, is nore circumspect. '' Trying to unpick our history is ...... not something that we will focus our energies on,'' he told Parliament in April. 

Instead the history is picked at in places like the Tate Britain Cafe, over coconut pandan doughnuts and pork-and-fennel sausage rolls.

Younger Britons are somewhat more involved. A survey in 2021 found that 86% of English schools reported teaching pupils aged 11 to 14 about the transatlantic slave trade. But only 13% said they taught the legacies of slavery ; a far cry from how German students routinely discuss the impact of the Holocaust.

In '' Bridgerton'', a historical series popular among the young, black actors are cast as Georgian aristocrats. To some that is empowering. But the white-wasing of slavery adds to a community held assumption that it was mainly an American problem.

The World Students Society thanks The Economist.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!