No man must ride your back

Raffique Shah
Sunday, April 1st 2007

SlaveryLAST week the world’s conscience drifted back in time, some 400 years, to the barbaric transatlantic slave trade, and to the bicentennial of its formal abolition in 1807. What I read and heard of apologies sans reparations, of manufacturing heroes and liberators while ignoring those who really fought to free themselves, I found nauseating. I noted, too, that the hypocrisy of the descendants of the slavers was matched by the hypocrisy-or ignorance-of those whose forebears were victims of slavery. It’s all a charade designed to distort history, to extort money from those who have no obligation to pay for the sins of others, and to play the blame game.

Lest I am misunderstood, although frankly I don’t give a damn, let me say that the African slave trade was the most degrading, murderous, barbaric display of man’s inhumanity to man in history. Not that it was the first time man enslaved man. From the dawn of history the strong have always imposed their will on the weak, the wealthy on the poor. In almost every society, at some point in its history, slavery was accepted as a way of life.

In ancient Africa, powerful rulers and tribes imposed their will on smaller ethnic groups, and even within tribes the powerful enslaved the powerless. Before Europeans started their slave trade, Arab traders made African slavery part of “commerce”. Every continent-America, Asia, Europe-and more than a few island states engaged in subjugating man in the worst possible way-enslavement.

In fact, slavery is a thriving business today. It happens here in Trinidad and Tobago. You don’t believe me? Think of orphans who are shunted from “family” to “family”, only to be abused, to have their freedoms and rights seized, to be treated like animals.

Sometimes we only discover the truth when tragedy strikes. Think, too, of how many among us, mainly the wealthy and the strong, enslave our own. Maids and other household employees, children who labour in fields or in businesses for little or no compensation-what are they but slaves? And don’t even mention illegal migrant workers here and elsewhere in the world. In Europe, the flesh slave trade is thriving, as young women, some mere children, are seized from East Europe and held captive in the flesh markets of London, Paris, Berlin…

Even as we mark the 200th anniversary of the law in Britain that prohibited the enslavement of Africans, the world around us is not free from slavery. Still, for sheer barbarism there is nothing to compare with what transpired when Europeans discovered “black gold” in Africa, an almost inexhaustible supply of free labour for their many plantations across their newly-acquired colonies.

Those who dare to compare African slavery with Indian indentureship do not know their history. The conditions under which captive Africans were brought to the West were beyond a sadist’s imagination. I shan’t even bother to describe the atrocities those ten-million-plus Africans suffered. Those who don’t know should read up on the horror known as the Middle Passage.

Today, 400 years after the fact, we see members of British royalty, government ministers and politicians pretend to atone for the sins of their ancestors by symbolic gestures. In Africa itself, where that epoch in the continent’s history was largely forgotten, many governments have jumped on the bandwagon. These are people who looked down their noses at the descendants of slaves.

I know. I lived for a while in England in the 1960s and saw the way Ghanians and Nigerians (among others) treated their West Indian “brethren”. It was similar to the treatment meted out to the descendants of indentured Indians by “real Indians” who came directly from the sub-continent.

In lionising William Wilberforce as the great liberator of slaves, Britain is excluding the tens of thousands of slaves who fought to free themselves, some using their bare hands, others crude weapons, and most sacrificing their lives in the process.

Toussaint and Dessalines and Daaga are forgotten men. But Europe will always make heroes of their own, and hardly would you hear a word of condemnation of Queen Victoria or Hawkins and Drake.

Similarly, my Afro-brethren completely ignore the harsh truth that many among African royalty played a nasty role in enslaving their own. It was they who captured hapless, poor people from the continent and sold them to the slavers.

The latter hardly went into the towns and villages gathering slaves. They merely collected them at trading posts-already shackled and waiting to be taken into the living hell that was the Middle Passage. So while the Europeans were culpable for the atrocities they inflicted upon millions of slaves, so too were their many African “suppliers”. It is why I refuse to recognise the likes of the Ooni of Ife.

We can only truly emancipate ourselves when, in remembering the past, we stand strong, refusing to bow or bend to anyone. That way no one, not even our own, can ever again ride our backs. Or enslave us.

5 Responses to “No man must ride your back”


  • Raffique is right in that no man should ride the backs of others, including women. One of the terrible legacies of the Atlantic Slave Trade for those of us living in the west, is the fact that capitalism is based on exploiting others for the smallest possible output. Children, women and immigrants are the new cargoes of slaves..

    Within capitalist states there is a heirarchy of people that usually puts white male business tycoons on the top, followed by others in a sort of pecking order. The wives of these tycoons also wield power, and power moves downwards in smaller and smaller amounts, to the darkest skin color which also is often the least informed- who have the least power. It also descends sexually. Those dark skinned females- whether of African, Asian or Amerindian descent in the west, have the least power. This is a direct legacy of slavery in the west. In other parts of the world- British India, Africa, Europe, the salve and the master looked like each other. There may have been tribal differences or caste differences, but essentailly they looked alike.

    Because of Atlantic slavery, those who consider themselves white have better advantages than those who do not. Hispanic migrants to the USA from the poorer south of the Americas, often have mostly Amerindian blood, but they are encouraged by Hispanic leaders to list themselves as white. It helps in job applications, housing, which school your child gets into, all kinds of things. When I look at these people, I see the Indio-Afro mixture of Hugo Chavez. I see what could be pure Mayan faces, but they are encouraged to look upon themselves as white. Similarly, South Africa conferred honorary white status on Japanese business people, in order to do business with them, and Japan, having successfully enslaved both the Koresan sex slaves and the Chinese, accepted that they were in fact a white nation-they met the standards of development and enslavement. They are still the only non-white member of the G-8.

    Closer to home, all of the Americas is infested with racism/colorism.
    Many a white man sees a non-white woman as a plaything, even today, but a white woman is a person for marriage. In Brazil, where the majority of the population is of African origin, the poorest of the poor are Africans. Now if they were lazy, as modern social commentators are fond of saying, the sugar economies of the American South, the Caribbean and South America would not have depended on their labour nor given rise to the industrial revolution. Something else is afoot here. That something is a deliberate economic policy, practised by many Capitalists systems, of keeping a labour force uninformed and poor for the very reason that they are needed as cheap labour. Think of the exploitation of women in the old Juman Garment Factory system, think of the women working all over the world in sweat-shops. Think of the old Indo-Trinidadian woman whose job in the cane fields was as water carrier- the lowest paid, and sweeers of streets follow this pattern also. Women are cheaper. Sometimes they include free sex, and any children.. well, its their children.

    All of these are legacies of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Whoever gets on tops, tries to ride the backs of those under them. Child laboutr laws were imposed on Britain in 1832, just around Emancipation. Children of the poor were slaves then, they are slaves still. This way of thinking is so ingrained in people of the Americas, that we look constantly for new people to exploit. Chinese workers who are now imported to Trinidad- do we have such full employment that we need to go halfway around the world to bring labourers? Or is it the old idea that if they are far from home, they are homeless, disoriented and the overseers have their documents, so they have to “do what I say, and accept the wages I offer.” Americans could have built the Panama Canal with African American labour from the south, instead, they recruited in Jamaica and Barbados mostly. Cruise ships today are run on slave labour. Anyone with a conscience who takes a cruise would tell you that.

    This is what modern thinkers about the Atlantic slave trade know: The Church, Catholic and Apostolic profitted from it. The monarchs of Europe profitted from it. The monarchs of Africa and Asia profitted from it. American presidents profitted from it. Merchant seamen form Holland, France, England, Scandinavia and the Americas
    profitted from it.

    Unless these countries of Europe and the Americas, who created the market for Africans to sell, which led to a lot of wars within the African continent that destroyed their culture and depopulated entire regions; are willing to look at their previous action, and present policies designed to keep dark skinned people out of their countries by tough immigration laws, while they continue to mine those countries for minerals; with trade treaties that put the bulk of the money into the pockets of European and North American countries, unless they are willing to re-examine the inequities in these trade agreements, apologies ring hollow and are wasted words.

    Britain could begin by rmandating that the British Museum return the Benin Masks to the Kingdom of Benin, in Nigeria from where they were stolen more than a hundred years ago.

    An act of contrition requires some demonstration of penitence. Without that, I am sorry, we are sorry, are hollow words.

    All Africans and non-white peoples must remember that substituting pidgin English or French Patois for their indigenous languages gave the master control, and alienated the people who were younger from their ancestral culture. They were taught this pidgin English by controlling cultures.
    If the Ooni of Ife is to be ostracized by Raffique Shah, so should Her Britannic Majesty, Elizabeth 11; Pope Benedict X1V, the Queen of Holland, the King of Spain and the President of France as well as the American President. The foundations of their empires were built on Atlantic slavery, while we were happily taught to sing “God Save Our Gracious King,” and to line up and wavw flags when they came visiting.

  • Prudence Young-Gordon

    This response was so well articulated that… me… a person of strong opinion, have to say thank you for getting it all correct, Thank you.

    I will just say the same thing in a dissimilar way and end up with the same answer.

    Again Thank You, Linda Edwards, well done.

  • I am always in agreement every year when this time comes around and such comments are made. I agree with these comments. No amount of apology will ever heal the Negro nation.
    I have been to Ghana to Elmina Castle and to the river of the “last bath” where the slaves had their last bath before being taken to the castles. No written experience can begin to capture anyones imagination of what I saw and felt there.
    I have been around the Cape and all over Ghana and seen the aftermath.
    There is so much to write that space cannot afford. I am in the process of a Spiritual Vigil not only to Ghana but also the Congo and other parts of Africa. Not a money making event or an event for the cameras. If we have to know, we have to go and see and feel. We the children of the slaves have to go and see where our ancestors came from and what they endured. Only then can we appreciate.
    Once I have completed my writings it will be posted on the net.
    One of my main aim is to the Negro Youths. An impact has to be made.

  • Hello Again. I strongly admonish EVERY BLACK PERSON. Young and Old. Whether light or dark skinned, Please and I strongly stress this as it will give an insight as to why the NEGRO race or BLACK race are in the position that we are in 295 years after the Willie Lynch letter since 1712.
    Study it carefully and understand how our foreparents were broken like horses. It was a process designed to last for thousands of years AND it HAS.
    Slaves were made NOT born.
    Once you have read and understood the process used down the line for hundred of years. Maybe just maybe we can start to undo what has been done to us.
    quote” Pay little attentionto the generation of the of original breaking but CONCENTRATE ON THE FUTURE GENERATION.
    It is all there for us to read.
    We have to mentally break free of this MAKING OF A SLAVE.

    I once again admonish you to read that letter. Go to the internet and print off a copy.
    The time has come. Let us being the CHANGE. Stop the killing of each other you young BLACK MALES. We need our race and heritage to continue.
    It is not by wiping out our race that we will do it. We have to Undo what has been done for 295 years.

  • In order that the WRONG message is not conveyed. After reading the letter the point is to BEGIN to correct our thinking. It is NOT an excuse to cause VIOLENCE to any RACE.
    THE perception that the world has of BLACK people has to change. WE are NOT barbaric. We are an intelligent race and we have always been since we were taken in chains.
    We were not WARLIKE. We were not THIEVES or DRUG takers.
    We are from a proud people.

    As for Amazing Grace stop singing it. We were never Wretches and never will be. The slaver who composed that did it for himself.

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