Why slavery era enchains us still

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Why slavery era enchains us still

Post by jafrikayiti » Sun Apr 15, 2007 5:17 pm


Why slavery era enchains us still

A legacy of slavery is the self-hate among blacks across the globe
Apr 14, 2007 02:30 AM
Royson James

"I learned more about my history in the last month than I did my entire life"
– A black broadcaster on the BBC, March 25, 2007.

Travelling the past two months between Toronto, Ghana and Britain has reminded me that we know precious little in Canada about the origins of our black citizens, and think about it even less.

Such is the virtual invisibility of their lives – crime reports notwithstanding – that blacks themselves know little about how they got to this country, their real names, and the genocidal historical forces that continue to shape their lives.

The fact that most blacks in the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean cannot trace their family tree beyond a few branches that end in a slave ship on the Atlantic speaks to this blotting out of a people, in history books and in our minds.

Here's what they taught me at school in Jamaica in the late 1950s and 1960s, even as America burned with racial upheaval, a few hours north: "Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica in 1492. He arrived with the Nina and the Pinta."

The Arawaks and Caribs beat Columbus to the West Indian colonies. But I don't remember ever being asked to think about who they were or what happened to erase their very presence from the islands.

"Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love," we sang at independence in 1962. I was Jamaican. No thought of an ancestral home off the island; little word of slavery and life on the plantations – except oblique references to the Maroons and Cudjoe and the killing of Annie Palmer, the white witch of Rose Hall.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968, I got my first lessons in racism. I listened dumbfounded to radio clips of his speeches. Where had I been? Why didn't I know any of this?

The only exposure to Africa was not as the motherland but as the jungle, home to Tarzan and Jane, savages and witch doctors. And when I was about 19 and a fellow worker at Grand & Toy told me that there were glorious African kings and sophisticated African civilizations before the white man arrived, it threw me for a loop.

They didn't teach me that. They taught me about Vasco da Gama and the heroic pirates and Captain Morgan and Drake and the Queen. We celebrated our captors.

Independence brought a dramatic change in the curriculum. My younger cousins learned much more Jamaican history. The abolitionists Nanny of the Maroon and Sam Sharpe were celebrated, meaning the history of slavery was starting to be heard.

But Africa was still a foreign continent, not home, not Mama Africa – not until Bob Marley started drumming that into our consciousness.

I went "home" for the first time on March 14. I visited the dungeons that probably imprisoned my forebears on the coast of Ghana. I stood on their compacted bones and blood and waste and flesh – in the dungeon. That night I stood on the shore where they last set foot on African soil. I watched and listened as the mighty waves of the Atlantic crashed against the rocks at Cape Coast, as they surely did the day the slavers shipped my ancestors into a life of unspeakable hell.

The last coffle of human cargo was legally captured and brutally transported 200 years ago. Slavery itself was abolished just over 170 years ago. So, let's see, that would take me to my father's father's people.

Yet, a number of readers have emailed to say, "That's ancient history. What's the big deal? Get over it and move on. Neither the enslaved nor the slavers are alive to accept or give apologies and reparations, so why the fuss?"

There's been other reactions.
"Your people are better off now than before the British came."
"Your people were the ones to sell out their own to the British."
"Slavery was normal in those days."
"Arabs enslaved Africans long before the Europeans."
"Concentrate on the millions in slavery today."
There is a bit of truth to each of the above, some more than others. This is what I have learned.

A lot of history is myth-making. It is retold and interpreted by those with a lot to gain by perpetuating current traditions and beliefs. Recorded history has little to do with truth, at least the truth of the victims of empire-building.

But the study of history should not make us comfortable or reinforce dogma, stereotypes and myths. It should ennoble and equip, educate and inform.

Take, for example, the enslavement of Africans for the economic wealth of Europe and its American colonies. It is easy to dismiss this state-sanctioned murder of millions as an ancient anomaly.

But when something this drastic and deadly occurs for so long and is backed by such forceful legal authority and institutional might, when a race of people are so manifestly subjugated and diminished and dehumanized, the telling of the story isn't pretty. So it is better to suppress it and erase it.

So, why talk about slavery?
Frankly, because so many of us didn't get that lesson in school. Yes, we know blacks were slaves in the southern U.S. somewhere, Alabama and Mississippi. Slavery in Canada? Wash your mouth out.
European history tells of the exploits of the colonizing British, French and Dutch and Portuguese and Spanish, but little of their crimes.
A brochure marking a march of penitence through London last month puts it this way:

"Most people do not recognize the depth of England's involvement with the slave trade and the simple fact that this barbaric practice generated the wealth that created the industrial revolution in England. Involvement in the slave trade was seen as a respectable occupation in London during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was in London that businessmen made millions from the financing of the slave trade."

What's the impact today of African enslavement?
The most enduring legacy is racism.
When noble, brave Europeans challenged the slavers and conscience pricked the heart, the mind concocted all manner of perverted theology to rationalize the abomination. Slavers worked in league with priests to portray the African as less than human – a savage whose servitude was an improvement on his uncivilized and pagan existence in the dark jungles of Africa.

The church was in league with commerce in a devilish deception that spawned an enduring racist ideology embedded in the human psyche.
Even abolitionists sometimes assented to the slavers' notion that blacks were not fully human, while arguing that they do feel pain and therefore shouldn't be enslaved.

Supposedly, blacks were not as intelligent as Europeans. African culture and religion were primitive and needed to be replaced by European customs.

And just about everyone ate it up. So much so, that the legacy abides with us in racist attitudes and stereotypes that are nearly impossible to erase.

Consider this entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1810, regarding the enslaved African: "They are strangers to every sentiment of compassion and are an awful example of the corruption of man left to himself."
And this from the man who freed the slaves in America, Abraham Lincoln, in 1858, six years before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation:
"There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality ... . And, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favour of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

Most of us, black and white and brown and yellow and red, are victims of this ideology – lies masquerading as observable truth; stereotypes repeated often enough to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What's the specific impact on blacks?

Self-hate is almost as rampant among blacks across the globe as hatred from others. In Africa, some women risk their health by bleaching their skin. Ask someone from the Caribbean about the tensions that arise over the shade of one's skin. The concept of "house niggers" and "field niggers" remains a dividing force.

Studies show black children will mostly choose white dolls over black dolls, and will overwhelmingly pick a white doll as the more "beautiful."
Africa is considered a place of problems – of wretched children with flies on their faces. Many black people in the West, whose ancestors obviously got here by way of a slave ship, are offended to be called Africans.

Anyone who thinks slavery ended long ago and people should just move on is blind to the ravages of the institution still raging in the human soul. In 2007. In Toronto and every society on the globe.

Why the need for an apology over the slave trade?
Because "sorry" breaks down walls and melts anger. It's been proven to be a good first step toward reconciliation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, put it this way to those questioning the Anglican Church's unreserved apology for its role:
"This important anniversary, when we recall both the shameful history of the slave trade and its modern legacies, presents us with an opportunity to open up that past to the healing power of Christ."

Slavery is such an old institution, why blame Europeans?
Slavery itself is nothing new. Egypt's enslavement of the Jews is a clear feature of the Old Testament. Rome had slaves. What's different about the African slave trade, first carried on by Arab traders, is the sheer enormity, length and breadth of the enterprise, and the human degradation and racist policies needed to sustain it.

Shouldn't the Arabs also apologize? And what about the African chiefs who sold their own people?

Both should. In fact, some African nations and chiefs have already done just that.

One caveat. African chiefs weren't selling out their own people, any more than the Danes, Germans, French or English were selling out their own in any of their brutal wars.

Africa is not a country; it's a continent. And in the days of slavery, it wasn't even a collection of nations, but a collection of ethnic groups, tribes if you wish, that had internecine conflicts.

Prisoners of war were made slaves in Africa – but not in the industrial, power-corporation way of the Europeans.

There is no reason to discard and erase this history, except that it makes villains of so many.

It's a story that has all the Hollywood ingredients: greedy slave traders, pirates on the open sea, unscrupulous sea captains, cruel masters, seditious slaves bent on freedom, revolts and dangers at every turn, "traitorous" Europeans assisting Africans to secure freedom.
More people ought to be telling this story.

It may be the only way to prevent contemporary manifestations of slavery from matching the historic lows of the maafa, Africa's Holocaust.

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Post by Barb » Mon Apr 23, 2007 5:53 pm

I visited friends on Long Island and met a man from Ghana who is spending six months on sabbatical with my friends. I could not help but notice the rather prominant long vertical scars that covered his face. I asked my hosts if they knew what had caused the scars on this fine, witty, wonderful man's face. My hosts explained that there was a tradition in his tribe going back to slavery times. As a way of protecting babies from the slave traders, the babies are scarred. Unblemished slaves brought a better price, so scarred children would be less attractive to the slave traders. Each branch of his tribe has their own traditional ways of scarring the faces of their children, so that one can tell from looking at the scars which branch someone belongs to.

I do not know if this is still being done, but 50 years ago, obviously, this was still being practiced. Slavery is a long time gone, but this is certainly a chilling example to me of how the impact lingers.

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