Sunday, October 28

To Celebrate or to Regret

“Slavery has without doubt poisoned the relationship between Europeans and Africans completely” That controvercial comment was just one of many heartfelt statements expressed in the raw at a well attended debate held in Stockton-on-Tees last week to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.

More than 100 people took part in a vociferous verbal exchange, chaired by broadcaster Tony Baker, that lasted for over two hours at Stockton Arc to consider whether or not the landmark legislation of 1807 was a cause to celebrate or regret. The event was part of Black History Month, a national series of events.

The debate laid bare the deep-rooted sense of injustice felt by black people to the entire issue of slavery which many in attendance felt had shaped a two-tier world in which white people had denuded Africa and the Caribbean of both their citizen’s independence and their wealth. In turn, it had created, many at the event felt, a rift between people that was immensely difficult to bridge.

Erskine Grant, a member of the Northern Complainant Aid Fund which fights racial and sex discrimination cases, sat on the panel of four experts. He argued that slavery had poisoned relationships and perpetuated ‘ideologies’ about black people which persisted to modern times. He said: “Black people still face extreme discrimination in this country. Ideologies still exist in this country today. Deep down inside, it comes out in the most hideous way.”

Fellow panellist Julien Kotze, a researcher at Durham University, had earlier argued the abolition was a cause for celebration, saying: “It took a long time and very, very serious work from several devoted individuals to start this (abolition) process. These individuals spent their lives doing this. Human nature is such that shifts do not take place immediately, but it does take place. That, for me, is cause for celebration.”
Linda Ali, a researcher on Black History and an executive member of the Set All Free committee, had a different take on it: “We haven’t won the struggle as yet. Far too many people remain in a state of slavery today. We still have work to do.”

Wendy Shepherd, project manager for the charity Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Street, lifted the lid on slavery of a different sort – the immoral or illegal abuse of people, particularly youngsters. She said: “Let’s not think that the UK is not part of the slavery of modern day human trafficking.”

The debate sparked an incredible amount of audience participation with panellists at times being reduced to mere bystanders in a dialogue that waged across the auditorium. Those who had turned up to watch the debate argued with great passion about their experiences and views of the legacy of the slave trade which continued to dog black people. One person recounted how this week she was the victim of racial abuse on the streets of Stockton as she hurried to a meeting – one member of a gang of three white men shouted “run, nigger, run” as she passed by.

Another participent decried the only written accounts of the slave trade as being written from the “white man’s perspective” and failing to grasp the full horror of the persecution of slaves. One audience member called on people to dispel the myth of “slavery mentality” which he believed was dragging people down. Another recognised the need to create positive change – “We need to leave a legacy for our children that Is better than what was left for us”.
The thorny topic of recompense for the financial, moral and emotional impact of slavery was hotly contested, with Linda Ali arguing: “We don’t want cheques paying out to Tom, Dick and Harry. That’s not what reparation means. Reparation means going back and helping to restore and repair the countries affected by the slave trade – the Caribbean and Africa.”

Large corporations were criticised for propagating repression in modern times and exploiting labour to feed capitalist greed in the West.

Event organiser Sade Sangowawa, Managing Director of Cultures, aided by a well known Publicist later called for a celebration that people had acted in the first place to bring about the abolition of the slave trade. But, she added: “For me, the biggest issue is what does that mean? There are no chains, no whips, hence it is not so obvious and it becomes very easy to overlook or ignore. As a black person, it is very, very hard to succeed. It is a struggle and it is a fight.”

A second debate at Durham University in Stockton-on-Tees in May 2008 will examine 'The role of Black people in modern day British society' . Details to follow.

1 comment:

june said...

Is that you in the pic wearing the yellow tie Peter?