Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Abolition

At the moment, the BBC are running a series of programmes about the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago. It poses some interesting questions and as a result, there's a discussion in the UK media at the moment about whether the UK should should formally apologise for its part in the slave trade. Some people are even saying that reparations are somehow appropriate.

From a gay point of view, reparations would set a nice precedent wouldn't they? Gay people suffered enormous persecution in the UK until 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised. If reparations are payable for the slave trade, reparations should also be payable to all gay people to compensate us for the errors of history too. But who pays for all the reparations? Most of us do, because most of us are taxpayers.

I've got a better idea. How about we all accept that history can't be altered, that everyone's ancestors will be guilty of something if you go far enough back, and instead spend time worrying about how to address today's important issues!

7 comments:

close encounters said...

GB, I don't think it's reasonable to consider discrimination against gays, and slavery together ...

Monty said...

I am with you GB...there comes a time when you just need to accept the past and move on! I can understand people wanting apologies or reparations if it has directly affected them.

Anonymous said...

Must agree with close encounters - slavery was about the systematic expropriation of labor power which in present value terms is enormous. Homophobia rarely if ever involved that kind of extractive exploitation. The issue of reparations is one of recognition rather than redistribution. I don't think financial reparations are the right answer but had to say I don't agree wtih the comparison.

Bill said...

I tend to agree with you GB. As for the 'expropriation of labour' I don't think that's strictly true; the vast majority of slaves were sold by African tribal leaders so although the whole trade was outrageous there were (however unpalatable it may be to contemplate) both sellers and buyers in both Africa and the Caribbean and the American colonies (later the US). Incidentally, and on a slightly different topic, one thing I didn't know until recently was that 'transportation' of criminals to the American colonies occurred until the War of Independence and it is only after this that transportation to Australia began, when the new US was no longer an avaialable destination.

Much more important would be to try and ensure that present day slavery in parts of Africa and indenturwed labour in places like India is ended.

Anonymous said...

Good point but I don't think the presence of a seller is exculpatory - there are lots of people who sell child pornography, but that doesn't absolve buyers of responsibility for their actions.

On another note, I love this blog. GB should write a book, just not about slave reparations.

Humming Bird in Hyde said...

My great grandparents were brought by the British to work the sugar plantations from Nepal...it was sad, but we have moved on...it's time to move on..what's worrysome are those poor sailors held captive and what's for dinner?

gaylondoner said...

I think much of the debate in the UK media that you referred to, GB, missed the point of the apology for slavery. The media (BBC, the Times etc) seemed to think that it would an apology would serve to let people of African descent feel at peace or to somehow give a rhetorical sense of restitution or justice. Of course this left many Brits claiming that they shouldn't have to apologize for what's in the past, for the sins of their fathers (and well they shouldn't).

But the real reason that activists ask for such an apology is because of it's contemporary effects - because of slavery's very real psychological legacy, which is present today in all kinds of internalized inferiority, subconscious prejudices, institutional discrimination, etc. These biases are very powerful ones, and they stem directly from the systematic, government-sponsored dehumanisation of Africans over the past few centuries. Activists see an apology as a recognition that such a powerful legacy continues to exist in our society, which is a significant stp towards destroying it.

The parallel to an apology to lgbt folk here is a strong one, since we too have also suffered from a legacy of prejudices, biases and internalized inferiority...albeit for very different reasons, it was nonetheless promulgated and perpetuated heavily by government in the recent past. An apology for that could only help communities come together, surely?

Reparations are a different issue, and I'm not sure where I stand on those, but I definitely see the value of an apology if only to help healing and ensure future reconciliation and understanding.