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COMBATING MODERN DAY SLAVERY
by Arlington Trotman delivered at the Scottish Churches Racial Justice Conference, 16 June 2007, Blantyre

Legacies and outcomes
Sociologists have often commented that it is impossible to oppress anyone without also oppressing or dehumanising oneself. The Transatlantic Slave Trade has had a lasting impact through its legacies for all people who were connected with the enslavement, both African and European, enslaved and ‘free’.
From 1450 to 1850 12.5 million Africans (conservative figure) were removed from their homelands on the African Gold Coast. Europe, Britain particularly in the latter half of the period, obtained great oceans of wealth and considerable power through the proceeds of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It was the most brutal exploitation of human beings in the battle for economic wealth.
Modern slavery in all its forms can be traced as one legacy of the transatlantic trade. It can be seen in people, countries and societies where slaves and descendents of the enslaved now live, and where traders and their descendents benefited in some way. They reaped the harvest as slave traders, plantation owners, merchants, industrialists with businesses based on slavery, or even as consumers of products made by the use of slave labour, and history has her own fuller story to tell. 

History
History is often told in a way that promotes white British abolitionists, whilst hiding the villainy and brutality of the enslavers. Africans and people of African descent were always then seen as poor victims never participating in securing their own freedom. Hence the prevailing culture of dependency.
But from the start, Africans resisted the trade, engaged in rebellion after rebellion, threatened mutiny on ships and insurrections on plantations: 
  • Armed resistance led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in 1791 on the Saint Dominique (Haiti today) led to the French abolishing slavery in its empire, to the defeat of the British, and the creation of the first African Republic.
Sam Sharpe in 1831 in Jamaica instigated a successful rebellion, which has been shown to have led in 1833 the British to abolishing slavery in British colonies. Sharpe and his colleagues were brutally put to death as a consequence.
  • Quobna Ottobah Cugoano,Mary Prince, Olaudah Equiano, all played a vital role in the abolitionist movement in Britain
Scotland and the slave trade
Individual slave ship captains and Scottish families like the Macauleys and firms in Glasgow achieved great wealth, even helping to fund the building of churches.

Scottish abolitionists
Though Scotland never had slave trading ports, many Scottish people joined the abolitionist movement. By the passing of the Act in 1807 and the eventual ending of the Slave Trade and Caribbean chattel slavery in 1838, the legacies we now witness were well established.

LEGACIES

Cultural
British and European cultural history reinforced ideas of moral and intellectual inferiority in the philosophical works of thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Hume, Buchez, Herder, Smellie to name a few, all of which shaped our education in which current attitudes have been formed.

Emotional and psychological
Many of the emotional and psychological legacies relate to colour prejudice and the superiority/inferiority complex. The belief was advanced that Africans and their descendents were morally and intellectually inferior to their White counterparts and therefore more suited to enslavement.
Many institutions, insurance companies like Lloyds and Barclays Bank, Guy’s hospital, listed buildings in London Bristol and Liverpool, museums, libraries and universities were all established with proceeds from the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Colonial
Enslavers pitting Africans against each other on the plantations and ensured that whole families not only carried their names, but some strove to impressed in order to secure better treatment. Africans on the plantation learned to hate their fellows according to gradations of skin colour, and this prejudice still exist today, especially among Caribbean people.

Denial of fundamental rights
Chattel slavery meant that Africans were the property of their so-called owners. They were deprived of freedom, their names, culture and rights.

Economic and political
The Transatlantic Slave Trade was an exercise in economic, political and military power, created and sustained by a white elite which promoted the notion of African inferiority and white European superiority. Economic greed and power underlay the pathology that justified enslavers’ inhuman treatment.

Educational and subversive
The Transatlantic Slave Trade emphasised the notion of African physical prowess and minimized its intellectual capacity. Ideas of African cerebral inferiority took root and have been maintained ever since through political, social and economic systems administered by descendents of enslavers. In March 2006, Frank Ellis, a professor at the University Leeds, caused outrage during an interview on ‘race’ issues when he allegedly suggested that white people were more intelligent.
Unlearning historical philosophical and cultural falsehoods through sharing the authentic story - so often a characteristic methodology of reflection on the Jewish Holocaust - is preventative of injustice and constructive of new more inclusive human interpersonal and international relations.

Religious
The Church played a role in chattel enslavement, and was complicit in the enslavement of African people in a number of ways: as traders, owners, plantation managers, businessmen and financiers who were involved either directly or in the industries using the products from plantation slave labour. Churches profited and some can attribute their fine buildings to the trade.

Domestic
Much has been said and written about the apparent breakdown of African and African Caribbean families in the UK and USA. This disintegration can be traced back to the Transatlantic Slave Trade where, over centuries, families were socially and mentally/emotionally dehumanised and torn apart; siblings, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters were all separated.
The situation did not improve during chattel enslavement in America and the Caribbean since marriage was not encouraged among enslaved people and cruel and whimsical slave masters destroyed any permanence within families by the regular sexual abuse of the women.

Institutional – Racism and Poverty
An enduring legacy has been racism, and there is little doubt that racism lies at the heart of all else. There is no shortage of material on the subject, yet very few writers focus on the role of slavery in the germination and dissemination of racist ideas.
Poverty in Africa and among many of its descendents in the Disapora continues to blight generations of people. Generally 70% of continental Africa lives below the poverty threshold. The exchange of goods in the ‘triangular trade’, which assisted the process of it becoming the norm of poverty today, saw England producing textiles and manufactured goods, which, along with rum and tobacco obtained from New England would be traded in Africa not only for slaves, but critically also for local natural wealth such as gold and silver.

Trafficking in human beings
Trafficking in human beings is one of the worst forms of exploitation. It is done for sexual purposes, (40,000 women trafficked into World Cup 2006 in Germany) bonded labour, and actual selling and buying of human beings as subservient or as payment of debts.

Asylum seeking and smuggling of people
People smuggling and asylum seeking is very often the result of unfair international trading arrangements which continue to impoverish Africa, preventing them entering the market place with local produce, which victimise the poor.

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome can manifest itself through enslaved people having witnessed violent or traumatic events such as brutality in enslavement. Some are affected more than others and the impact is not necessarily dependent on proximity to the trauma. Dr Joy De Gruy Leary[1] looked at the symptoms of PTSS and compared these with the experience of black people today. Black life has continued to be viewed as cheap and expendable both in Africa and the Diaspora, with scenes of death and destruction on the continent often treated with indifference. Some people of African origin have internalised this apparent disdain for their heritage resulting in the upsurge of so-called ‘Black on Black’ or lateral violence and other maladies.

Mental slavery
Mental slavery continues to be reinforced both by the negative images and attitudes which are used to characterise Africans and descendents, and the positive ones which promotes all things white European as the norm. Such images and attitudes are consistent with the principle used chiefly to justify chattel slavery: that the African is inferior, non-human, a ‘thing’, and the white person is superior in every respect.
Just as abolitionists were courageous and just in the struggle to end the Transatlantic Slave trade, so must similar values be applied justly and courageously today in order to abolish slavery’s numerous legacies. It is a task for all people who are unified under God.



[1] Joy De Gruy Leary Ph.D., Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, Uptone Press, (Milwaukie, Oregan: 2005), p. 6.

 

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