May 15, 2006

Bristol To Apologize For Slavery?

More apology/reparations/groveling desired, this time from the English city of Bristol:
For generations Bristolians have gloried in the beauty of their city, with its graceful Georgian terraces, grand public buildings and honey-coloured churches. But this week they face a decision that has split the city - whether to apologise for the cruel trade that paid for so much that makes it beautiful.

The front page headline in the Evening Post, Bristol's local newspaper, was in no doubt. 'It's time the city said sorry' it shouted last week. But there is no consensus on the issue; on the contrary, the debate is stirring up anger and upset.

'Bristol was one of the main ports involved in the trading of slaves taken from West Africa to British colonies in the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries, and most Bristolians were involved in the slave trade in one way or other,' said Dr Gareth Griffiths, director of the city's British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. 'Local people supplied the labour and provisions for the slaving ships; they created the goods that paid for the slaves and they bought the spoils from the ships when they returned.'

Griffiths is the inspiration behind this week's Apology Debate, at which leading historians, politicians and other public figures will argue whether the city should apologise. It will then be thrown open to a vote. 'The issue is particularly resonant in the lead-up to next year's 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade but emotions run particularly high in Bristol,' Griffiths said.

. . .

Kofi Mawuli Klu, chair of the Pan-Afrikan Taskforce for Internationalist Dialogue, agrees that Bristol has failed to honestly come to terms with its role in the trade. 'The story of enslaved African peoples must be remembered, retold and reinterpreted. Only then can we come to terms with the fact that, although the trade ceased 200 years ago, the descendants of the slave trade in Bristol still live in mansions while the descendants of slaves remain in poverty,' he said.

Toyin Agbetu, of Ligali, a non-profit voluntary organisation dedicated to challenging negative representations of the African British community, said that an apology by Bristol would encourage honest engagement with the past. 'An apology is just a beginning,' he said. 'As well as an apology, there should be re-education, reparation and a rewriting of history.'

Bristol City Council is refusing to be drawn on whether it is likely to deliver the apology but Professor AC Grayling, who will be chairing the debate on Wednesday, hopes they will not. 'An apology like this is futile gesture politics and a navel-gazing distraction from the much more important issue of how much slavery goes on, unrecognised and unheeded, across the world today,' he said.

The issue of who should do the apologising, and to whom, is a contentious one. 'Morally this is an incredibly complicated issue,' said Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society. 'Africa itself was the main perpetrator of slavery; the continent is deeply implicated as a buyer, catcher and seller of slaves. What is really important is the lasting damage done to the psychologies of black people.'

That, he believes, is the issue at the core of a lot of Africa's problems today. 'What needs to happen is something much deeper than an apology,' he said. 'There needs to be a coming together of all the countries involved in slavery and its global legacy needs to be discussed.'

All of those in the debate, however, agree on one point; it is when a people no longer feel the need to ask for an apology that their wounds can be judged to be healed and their self-confidence restored. . .


Blogger fido said...

Why should we apologise for the crimes of people long dead, also I take it that the arabs of north Africa will apologise for the slave raids from the former "Barbary Coast" that their ancestors made into Europe?

For more on this check out:

Mon May 15, 11:05:00 AM  

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