Mr. Blair’s Regrets

By Linda E. Edwards

Tony BlairSo Mr. Blair regrets that Britain participated in the Atlantic Slave Trade. How gracious of him. I wonder, though, why his regrets, as if he is declining an invitation, was not addressed simultaneously in The Times, The Guardian, and The Independent. These are the papers created and sustained by profits from slavery. Why address it to a paper in the Black community?

It seems to me that the direction of the regrets should have been a universal call to all British institutions that profitted from the Slave Trade: the shipbuilders of Liverpool, the banks of London and Scotland, the insurers, the manufacturers of cheap good used to trade for humans- they should all be called upon, not only to express regret, but to straight up apologise, and to take corrective action for the ill-gotten profiteering from the Atlantic Slave Trade. The slave trade gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, so the profits were spread pretty far, and have continued to multiply expoentially, while every year the G-8 countries get together and hold a pity-party for Africa and agree to dole out a pittance- many of whose publicly made pledges are not honored later.

Africans of the diaspora are not idiots.

In 1838, when slaves were finally freed in Trinidad, Jonas Mohammed Bath, head of the Mandingo Society, wrote to the monarch pointing out that the Mandingoes who had purchased their own freedom, were owed the six hundred pounds each that the slave owners were compensated for each slave freed. He was laughed at in Truinidad for so doing. Who ever heard of compensating a slave for having to purchase himself and his wife and child as well as other members of his community?. In any case the letter was written in Arabic, which no British monarch ever read, and Bath never got a reply, but the money was never paid either.(Documented by Prof. Carl Campbell of UWI Journal of Caribbean Studies)

So Mr. Blair’s regrets are just words. Actions speak louder. What will Britain, the United States, France, Spain, Holland, and Denmark do about the depredations of their sailors into the cultures of Africa, into the population of Africa, which lost an estimated fifty to a hundred million people, its ablest bodies? What will new world countries like the USA, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and the Caribbean nations do to erase the evil legacy of slavery, where in every country named, (including the European ones)the people of the African diaspora occupy the lowest rung of the economic ladder?

What will Britain do about the people of Diego Garcia and other islands of the Chagos Archipelago, whose African population was forcible removed less than thirty-five years ago, to make way for an American base on Diego Garcia? What will Mr. Blair do to get the British Museun to return the Benin Masks stolen more than a hundred years ago from the Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria? These are all slave related questions, because they apply to people of African origin, and the attitude to Africans engendered by the slave trade led to these subsequent actions – a total contempt for the welfare of the people of Diego Garcia, and a brazen theft of sacred African artifacts.

No, Mr. Blair, you can regret not going to a party that you were invited to. There was no RSVP on the bills of lading that took my ancestors away from their sacred homelands. Regrets are not enough. Our colonial masters taught us the language well enough for us to understand a watered down non-apology when we see it.

What of the long term effects of racism on the psyches of both those whose ancestors were made slaves, and those who profitted from the evil trade? Will regrets address and amerliorate those issues?

11 thoughts on “Mr. Blair’s Regrets”

  1. Linda, don’t forget for England to return the Hope Diamond to the people of South Africa! The queen carries it around proudly on the royal sceptre… me (and many other’s) a way of rubbing it in our faces that they pillaged the lands of our forefathers.

    Also, don’t forget that some Europeans were not the only ones to benefit from the African Slave Trade. On the East coast of Africa in ports like Zanzibar (correct my spellingi if I’m wrong) thousands of slaves were taken to the Arabian penensular in conditions similar or worse than those of their West coast counterparts.

    Let’s go even further back. Some Africans benefited from the slave trade as well. Egyptians enslaved Hebrews and to a lesser extent, people of Nubia.

    But truly, today, while the scars of a time past remain, we cannot hold the decendents of slave masters responsible for what their forefathers’ actions. We can only ask that they recognize the wrongs done and make every attempt that the attitudes of the past do not rekindle today.

  2. Dear Riaz, it is believed that the word ‘slave’ came from the word ‘slav’ for the Slavonic people of Northern Europe whom the Romans enslaved and brought back to Rome. All Old World continents had slavery in one form or another,including debt slavery which still exists today. Japan enslaved a large number of Korean women, the Jews were slaves in the factories of Hitler’s Germany- Volkswagen and BMW profitted from their free labour. The Atlantic Slave Trade was the only example of people going to a place solely to raid other humans and sell them for profit, so that the buyer could make further profits. THIS IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE FROM ANY OTHER SLAVERY. Both in volume of people taken, and long term consequences for world society, the Atlantic Slave Trade stands apart from any other in its viciousness. There are princesses of the royal houses of some Middle Eastern kingdoms whose African features are still maintained. The immediate former Saudi Ambassador to Washington, would be a light skinned Afro-Trini if he was born to us. It is because of the Atantic Slave Trade that African features are despised for life except in sports and entertainment figures.

    That makes it different.

    England returned a few years back, the sacred braid of hair of aFirst American Chief, and the bones of another were exhumed in London, and given a state funeral procession before it was shipped back to his people to be buried in sacred ground, but the treasures of Africa are seen in a different light. Britain even returned the Elgin Marbles, trasured Greek artifacts stolen by Lord Elgin, but Africans are deemed incapable of taking care of their treasures (That was the reason given for the theft of the Benin Masks. They went to London for safekeeping)

  3. Linda, thanks for the lesson on the origins of the word slave. But I’m sure the Egyptians had their own word for it as did the Japanese and the Arabs and other peoples who had forced labour and did not share Latin as a root language.

    I have no arguement that by far the level of slavery inflicted upon the peoples of Africa was worse than any other in history and that it’s effects are still felt today. But that does not lessen the individual suffereing endured by others of non-african heritage nor should I hold someone, such as Tony Blair, responsible for what happened decades before he was born. Sure, he benefits from it today but that does not make him responsible. I don’t want to get into the whole topic of compensation because that’s a long, long discussion.

  4. Do you think people have a right to profit from ill-gotten gains?

    If a man stole your property and gave it to his children, are his children entitled to the property? Can the children continue using the property and claim they are not responsible as it was not them who had stolen it?

  5. Heru, I completely understand your point. But, I haven’t yet seen an attempt or viable solution right the wrongs. That’s probably because if we go to right every wrong that was ever done in the world, it would be a monumental task. Look how complex it is…if I have a car and a man stole it from me. He gave it to his children who scrapped it and sold the parts and use the money to start a spare car parts business. Their children continue that business but now they use legitimate channels. The business grows to a point where the business goes public and people from all over buy shares in the business. Now I am long dead and my only surviving relitives are my gread grandchildren. How can they be compensated? I really don’t know but I would not want my great grandchildren to hold a grudge against a shareholder of that business.

    Now assume that business is the only one in society (for simplicity) If the powers that be deceide to take that business and liquidate it and share up all the assets to my great grandchildren, yes they would be given what is theirs. Even though they didn’t bring the business to the present state, and they are only owed the value of the car, they are entitled to most or all of it because it is compensation to them for their loss and the money was made using their assets. But it’s more complicated. What if the business employed everyone. Then unemployment comes into play and from there it’s a domino effect.

    Similarly, on a world scale…take all the wealth of countries that benefitted from slavery and give it to African nations that suffered along with the decendents of slaves in the West. Then these countries whose assets have been divided will become 3rd World. But then the world economy will go into ruin because the countries that have been compensated will not have the infrastructure ready to take the place of their predecessors. Maybe a better way would be for Countries like England, Spain and the U.S. to slowly give these countries financial paymeent over the years so that an overnight artificial boom does not occur… I said, I don’t know but I would like to see a viable option if anyone has one.

  6. Riaz, not a single African reparations group has asked that the ill-gotten gains be stripped from the thieves and given to Africa,or Africans. In fact, most have said openly that they do not want money, but a willingness to eliminate the debt structure to the World Bank would help. Education programmes that allow African children access to technology at less than exorbitant prices would help. Right now, a tremendous amount of research is going on in Mauritania and Mali as well as other Saharan nations to rescue old books that were buried to be hidden from raiders.Support for this, and for publishing those books that Africans were writing before the salve trade, would help. It would help if all New World Africans knew that Africans were writing in Arabic, In Mali, in Timbuctu, in MAuritania, and that the University of timbuctu was regarded in the thierteenth century as being on par with Oxford. Those 100 million people ripped out of Africa caused many institutions to decline.Further research on the long term effects of brutalizing people as a cultural and legal system would help. Support for the land reform policies of African nations, rather than the constant condemnation in the British and American media would help.

    Now, when Mandela took over in South Africa, aftr the Rev. Leon Sullivan led a boycott of South Africa that was almost total, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held hearings on the attrocities committed against African Indigenous people by whites, including the Doctor of Death who attempted to feed anthrax he got from the US government to African people in chocolates and other goodies. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission required that those who had done attrocities, admit to their actions and apologize. Many did, some did not. Those who did not, were the only ones tried for their crimes against humanity.

    Now, my family’s peoplewere granted lands in Willianmsville and Hardbargain, as Free Blacks in 1815, some of that land passed illegally into the hands of others through the trickery system of paying the taxes for you. My non-lettered ancestors did not all understand that if someone paid the taxes in their name on your land for twenty-one years, it became their land. So, many of my ancestors lost their land. We were done in twice. Now I am not about to launch a fight to get all the squatters in Williamsville off my family land, or prove that they bought it legally, but if some of my younger relatives want to start a fight, I will help fund it. Wrong is wrong, and continued wrong could never be put right.

    When you consider the tremendous effort invested in lies about Africa to justify stealing their gold, forcing converts to Christianity, inducing chiefs and their wives to come aboard ship to parley and sailing off with them in all their regalia, to make them slaves in the new world, you will understand that Africans do not forgive this easily. Mr. Blair apparently did not understand this either. That’s it why his tone was one of regret., not contrition for his country’s very active role in dehumanizuing the people of an entire continent. In parts of Europe, children remember, because they are told, injustices that happened to their people four hundred years ago. Jewish people do not forget their slavery in Egypt, and that was 2000 years before the Atlantic Slave Trade began.

    Africans are the only people expected to forget and move on. Yet daily in places where Africans live, and are not in power, the indignities pile up, including police shootings of unarmed people, one on the morning of his wedding, in New York, last week.

    The Commonwealth as well as other participatory nations need an international symposium on the consequences of the Slave Trade, and to apologise for it, publicly, openly, wthout reservation. That would be step one, and the 200 th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade (March 2007)would be a good place to start.

    When the Jew, Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, he was the treasurer of the master’s household, the book-keeper. Atlantic slavery, because it was practiced by unlettered brutes from Europe some of whom were dumped in the Americas to pretend to be gentleman farmers, was vicious in the extreme. Few Africans in the New World earned important positions while they were slaves.
    Thus the American President, Thomas Jefferson, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, kept his own children by Sally Hemmings as slaves. She secured their freedom and hers in his will.He penned “All Men Are Created Equal, All Men Are Created Free”, but non-white people were only 2/3 of a man.Only slavery could have given rise to such absolute rubbish. If a person is only 2/3 human, you, the president of the fledgling republic caled the USA would bed down with her? Did he also sleep with the cows at Monticello?, his farm in Virginia, or a pet Chimpanzee?

    Now, I have given you a long s third lesson on slavery. Hopefully, someone in Mr. Blair’s office who monitors his negative press will also bring this to his attention.

  7. Linda, all that you say as solutions make sense but none of these developed nations nor the World Bank are willing to do it. I beg to differ with you on the point that “not a single African reparations group has asked that the ill-gotten gains be stripped from the thieves and given to Africa,or Africans”. I have heard much more than one say that they want physical payments from the governments of these countries. I only regret that I did not note the names of these organizations. But, I will concede that they are PROBABLY very small groups that don’t carry much pull amongst the larger community.

    I don’t think Mr. Blair or any other European could ever understand the true effects of slavery on the peoples of Africa. Look at it this way, (I am not bringing up a long gone article to start a completely different forum) in your article ‘Indians are at it Again!” many people who commented, saw indo Trinidadians as complaining over nothing while the indo-Trinidians saw legitimate complaints. Similarly, some afro-Trinidadians saw themselves as the victims of racist behaviour while the indos didn’t see it. You only see it when it affects you in some cases. So to expect Blair to understand the full effects of this is an almost impossible task. Africans and the decendents of African slaves should not be expected to forget what happened. If we forget, we are doomed to repeat our past mistakes.

  8. Point noted. In Blair’s England, a young Jamaican scholar, Stephen Lawrence, was attacked and murdered at a bus-stop about seven years ago, by a group of white skinheads. Stephen’s friend called for help. When the police came, they questioned him as if he was the murderer.. The five white youth who did it are still free. The Commission of Inquiry into the events found tremendous police racism in the conduct of the investigations. A number of police reforms were instituted as a result of the Lawrence case. Paki-bashing was at one time, a favorite sport of street toughs in Mr. Blair’s England also. Recently there was a report that two hundred young African boys had disappeared from greater London within the last few years. Some were murdered, one was found floating in the Thames. The writer pointed out that if these were white children, a hue and cry would have resulted.

    So, Mr. Blair’s England is at the heart of the sorry mess.
    You should read reports of the police attempt to cancel and nullify the Notting Hill Carnival_ The largest peaceful rallying of diaspora people in Europe.
    Yet all he says is that he regrets? That is almost as bad as Mr. Bush declaring some time ago that America had won in Iraq.

    When people make such inane statements, thinking people must hold their feet to the fire, on behalf of all humanity.

  9. Riaz Alli, if you are not a descendent of those who were caught up in the international commerce in human kind for over three hundred years, I fail to see the relevance of your comment about not holding Toney Blair responsible. That is equivalent to me arrogantly postulating that I will not hold German Leadership of tomorrow respopnsible for what their forefathers did to European jews. Your cultural prism, perhaps, prevents you from making abstract connections that are automatic for those directly descended from the victims of this international holocaust. But please, can the transparently facetious utterings about Blair not having any responsibility because he was not alive then.

    Blair and every other Briton are inheritors and beneficiaries of an extremely lucrative estate that was constructed on the backs of African peoples. Can the inheritors of a lucrative estate write off liabilities against said estate purely on the basis that they were not alive when it was being constructed? I think not. Africans have to cease pandering to these kinds of disguised or comaflaged anti-African comments and conclusions and nail them for what they are. This kind of warped or skewed reasoning mostly surfaces in attempts to either minimize the oppression of Africans, or maximize the negatives of Africans. Let’s stop pandering to them and identify them for what they represent.

  10. Hi Keith. As I said in another comment (in a different topic in this Blog) that I, belonging to one race do not always see the injustices placed upon another race or ethnic group. The same way, Tony Blair knows a wrong was done but he cannot begin to comprehend the full impact. Some people (many I think) do not have the mental capacity to see a point of view other than their own, which may be the case of Blair (along with a few billion people). \

    So, yes, I ammend my point of view, Blair is responsible, but only to the point that he, as the leader of one of the countries that benefitted from the slave trade has the power to begin the process of compensation. I say “begin” because it cannot be resolved in his or our life times.
    But I still hold that people born today had no control over what their forefathers did a couple hundred years ago.

  11. Latest addition to the international section: Mr. Blair states to immigrants in Britain, “if you don’t like it here, go home.” Similar sentiments like those I expressed in a piece addressed to the Vice President of India, on behalf of the “Indians”, not the Indo-Trinis, which inflamed the news-blog community. How I wish I could read the comments of the community that is bound to be disgruntled by these remarks. Mr. Blair and I have that in common: living in a “new” place means adjustment to their values, in order to cope.It means contributing to the development of the total society, not transplanting a little enclave of the “homeland” into the metropole, and doing only for your own. At the same time, some adjustments need to be made also, by those who were there all along. In TnT we have no such people to cloud matters. Just who come first and who come last.

    Perhaps Mr. Blair read my piece? Ah, vanity!

    Europeans who go to other countries and try to create little bits of their homeland in those places, including the urge to religious conversion of the “natives”, and “gated communities” need to heed the same advice. (One should not need a visa to live in certain sections of Valsyn or Glencoe.)

    Meanwhile, on of the senior bishops of the Church of England is a former Pakistani named Mohammed. He was a contender for the seat of Canterbury that went to The Most Rev. Rowan Williams of Wales.I wonder what he thinks of Mr. Blair’s comments?

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