Custom Search 1
Patrick Vernon's picture
Patrick Vernon
Britain now needs an official inquiry into legacy of slavery

TALKING POINTS: Chiwetel Ejiofor, left, and Michael Fassbender in 12 Years A Slave

AS PART of Steve McQueen's Oscar acceptance speech for the film 12 Years A Slave he carefully stated "I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today."

Although commentators, the media and politicians on face value will feel comfortable with these words, the expression “endured slavery” has a major significance to black people in Britain. The emotional legacy of the enslaved past impacts the black community today in terms of our behaviour, cultural norms, parenting, relationships, lifestyle choices and in how identity is projected and received.

Also there was no formal apology or any form of restorative justice to recognise this painful history.

The late MP Bernie Grant recognised this legacy hence his life-long campaign in demanding reparation for people of African descent as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade.

Since his Early Day Motion back in 1993 and the debate in Parliament during 2007 Bicentenary a number of key factors have to start to shift 400 years of defensiveness from the establishment. The Legacies of British Slave –Ownership project run by University College London (an online database which provides details of British people who received £20m compensation for slave plantation owners and their intermediaries in 1833) has highlighted key beneficiaries such as the family of David Cameron.

The research team is now under taking further research on the economic, cultural and social legacy in society of how the beneficiaries from slavery spent and accumulated further wealth.

The successful Mau Mau High Court action in 2013 and the forthcoming lawsuit from Caribbean countries under trade organisation CARICOM is also starting to generating interest on the current legacy of enslavement.

However, more importantly the film 12 Years A Slave has given permission for a potentially mature dialogue for British society to be honest and open about the horrors and the consequences with the black community.

It is in this context where there is a real opportunity to revisit the narrative of enslavement as opposed to slavery and the broader racial, gender and class inequalities in Britain today. The family history of the black and white people is intertwined with our shared past of the history of slavery and colonisation.

Maybe if there had been sugar or cotton plantations on mainland Britain as opposed to the Caribbean or South America the truth and reality of enslavement would be received differently today. Instead we have a national amnesia or using selected memory i.e. Africans on the continent were the important players in this inhuman trade which exonerates any pain or guilt for anyone connected with the trade.

Since the abolition of slavery in 1833, 12 Years A Slave now provides a real opportunity to have our own truth and reconciliation process using the Ubuntu principles that Archbishop Desmond Tutu used during the Commission he chaired in South Africa after Apartheid.

It would be great to have a Royal Commission similar to be the recent one that was established in February this year by David Cameron looking at the impact of the Holocaust. This Commission would be representatives from a whole range of stakeholders such as community representatives reflecting the diversity of the black community, politicians, policy makers, faith, academics, professional bodies, trade unions and clinicians. The Commission would report to Parliament and look at legacy of enslavement in society today across a number of policy areas (e.g. education, mental wellbeing and health, economic development, criminal justice, foreign affairs, culture and heritage).

The achievements of Steve McQueen in winning the Oscar as the first black British film director is a major achievement for us all but the film, like Sol Campbell’s recent comments about institutionalised racism, still raises the issue that we still have a long way to go for equality and parity of esteem for people of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain.

Facebook Comments