I’ve spoken/ written a bit about this 200th anniversary year elsewhere – see ‘Slavery – Q and A‘ in the ‘Articles section’ for fuller thoughts and the text to a short ‘testimonial speech given at the Brtitish Museum – but, for here, just a couple of things…
One, being of direct African descent whose family were not involved in the trade, either as victims or abettors, slavery was never a part of my story, and as such , I do feel that those UK black folk who are descended from the Americas should have main ‘dibs’ on this matter. Having said that, we are all global Africans and therefore should all have an interest in this issue, not least because its legacies continue to affect relations between us (til now, there are no direct flights, and so little economic business, between Africa and the Caribbean. A bit strange, no?)
Secondly, what a glorious opportunity this year presented for our licence-fee BBC to film SI Martin’s delightful, rumbunctious novel ‘Incomparable World‘. This book is set in the little-known sizeable black-British London community of the 1780s, its numbers enhanced by ex-slaves from the Americas who won their freedom often by fighting for the British in the American War of Independence. You have white and black Covent Garden low-life in there, a la Hogarth, walk-on parts for famous black historical figures of that time, the Equianos and the Ignatius Sanchos, with sharp, character portraits from the time, as it were. Rather than all these white benefactor lovefests, like the Wilberforce ‘Amazing Grace‘ (or ‘Amazing Disgrace’, as it’s being called. I had to say no to the pre-screening of that, when I saw the cast list), here was a chance to present something about this period where black people were fully-rounded human beings, and to give some great parts to black actors. But no, the lazy, ignorant, liberals in our TV and Filmland probably haven’t even heard of it.
Thirdly, I do recall that in the mid 90s there was a move, in certain UK Black circles, to try to start an ‘African Remembrance Day’, in which the commemoration of slavery would feature. But various people said, ‘Oh, slavery’s old hat. Why bring that up?’ and the Day never got off the ground. But as soon as it became clear last year that Blair and the Queen were going to be involved in this whole abolition business, these same folk rushed to get in there, which leads me to my main point. It would be the biggest travesty, the most dishonouring slur, if this year has white – white charity, blacks’ desire to make an impression on powerful whites – at its core rather than black. So many of us living in the West still have white people at or near the centre of our beings, our head space, something that I guess began with slavery and really needs to change if we are to regain full psychic health and ease of being. We have ease of walk, a lot of us, but not true ease of being.
To give an example of what I mean: I was appearing on a certain TV show a while back, and a prominent black personality was also on the show. At one point, the white presenter asked me, ‘what does the black community think of such-and-such?’ and, after trying to undermine the notion of a monolithic community, I answered the question as frankly and truthfully as I could, as I always do. After the show, this black person was angry with me for saying whatever things I’d said to a white person and a mainly white TV audience. ‘You Africans, ‘ this person said, ‘you’re so naive about white people. We’ve been dealing with them for 500 years…’ You hear this kind of talk a lot from so-called radical, but actually deeply white-minded blackheads, the same ones who are irked with me for calling this site ‘the blessed monkey’. I explain elsewhere on this site why I call it that but suffice it say that I only remembered years after I first decided to ‘brand’ my affairs with this name that ‘Monkey!’ was an epithet some whites use on black folk. Now was I going to change a long-cherished idea because of what some eight year-old kid once said to me on the playground, or what some other person I probably don’t respect might think? Of course not.
Ease of being, please. You should have yourself at your own centre, not even black, and certainly not white. Not least because we owe it to some others who never had the chance. It’s about time.