Monday, November 27, 2006

Apology for Slavery

Today (Monday 27th) British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, will express "deep sorrow" for Britain's role in the slave trade. Kofi Mawuli Klu, from Rendezvous of Victory and Philosophy professor, AC Grayling (read Grayling's article which made me contact him) discuss whether this is enough or if he should make a full apology. Listen here.

I'm pleased to say I set up the discussion for yesterday's Newshour, after reading the Observer's front page, and Tristram Hunt's opinion piece. Both speakers were very convincing: AC Grayling with typically British sang froideur, and Kofi Mawuli Klu with African effusion. You can read the "expression of deep sorrow" at the New Nation website, a story which will probably be their biggest scoop in yonks. I'm not exactly sure where I stand on the whole slavery apology thing.

What exactly does an apology mean? How does an apology for centuries-old wrongs affect us today? There was Andrew Hawkins who went to the Gambia to apologise for one of his antecedents, a notorious slave trader. What did it achieve? Either way, I'm yet to be convinced that it matters whether black people receive apologies, official or unofficial.


Unknown said...

Arabs, from time immemorial, have been Earth's most voracious slavers. Many black Africans were enslaved and many black Americans owe their present locations to these people.

I've just finished reading 'Arabian Sands' by Thesiger, an account of his travels in Arabia between 1946 and 1950, in which slavery was still a very large part of life as last as that. It continued for a few decades after that, even!

When are they going to apologize?

I agree, it accomplishes absolutely nothing, except the effusive, touchy-feely, kumbaya inanity that is the modern West's ever-increasing pathology.

Jeremy said...

1. As I said in my post on Wilberforce recently, slavery is a much bigger (purely numerically) problem now than it was during the British Empire, with an estimated 27 million slaves around the world today (the figure is probably much larger). This perspective is needed, if we are not to continue to delude ourselves that our times have progressed any since the Victorians, or indeed the Elizabethans.

2. An apology is something one human being does to another. Both have to be alive to do it. Therefore it does not make sense to apologise for a past event or to dead people. Rather than seeing the expression of 'sorrow' as falling short of a full apology, a more intelligent interpretation of Blair's remark is that sorrow is all that there can be (blimey, moi defending Tory Bliar - what next?)

3. It would be more meaningful still if an expression of sorrow over slavery were linked to a renewed campaign against trafficking and modern day slavery. For example, Nigeria is choc full of what are the equivalent of bonded slaves - poor relatives who work as servants for low or no wages. What is being done about this?
4. Nigeria has yet to come to terms with the wounds of slavery - witness the continuing legacy of the Osu outcasts amongst the Igbos (the equivalent of the Dallits - forced to live apart, not allowed to marry out, get political office etc etc). While it is very easy for Nigerians/blacks to point the finger and demand reparation, the complicit historical reality needs to be unpacked - especially in terms of how Nigerian children are taught about slavery (are they taught about slavery?)d

Anonymous said...

@ Nkem, How does an apology for centuries-old wrongs affect us today? That is a very interesting question! How does an apology of a living soul rectify the harm done by hid/her forefathers?

My view is that those clamouring for apology have a psyco-issue that need to be address, for them to be able to value themselve whether an apology is made or not.

Can we actually forgive on somebody else's behalf? I'm not very convinced. What's the point then?

Kush said...

I think sometimes the desire to express contrition by a nation can almost acheive more healing the the actual apology itself. The desire would mean the nation is willing accept onwership of its wrongs and to make amends where neccesary. As you can see from Tony Blair's non apology and the surprising upcry 'no apology required in my name' the UK has a long way to go...