The Collective Amnesia of Colonialism

I am supremely grateful for the opportunity to debate some of the most significant issues of our day. A first for me was to perform in such an environment as Question Time. I learned a lot about live television and communication. One of the points that I made that has attracted the most attention was on the African Diaspora, the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Colonialism. I mentioned this to firstly illustrate the reality of people of colour living at the time, what they have been through and deal with until this day.

My point to the Liam Neeson question was simple; although it could be argued that it was not racist and that he would have done the same to a white man or any other group the reason I felt the need to go into such details was because I think people particularly in the West should be ashamed of the African Holocaust. For me the fact that he thought about doing this shows that he was in no way conscious of what most Africans deal with on a day to day basis. Constantly being looked at as dangerous criminals despite the fact that scientifically speaking most likely to commit a rape or serial murder in the USA is a Caucasian man.

The children of slavery have never received reparations from anywhere in the West and are currently socially, economically and politically castrated. When I talk about ‘collective amnesia’ my heart is saddened because it is obvious that people in the West do not remember the contribution of these slaves to the empire, which is probably at the heart of xenophobia across Western civilisation. Despite the Civil Rights Act (1964) in the US outlawing segregation in schools, the Voting Rights Act (1965) giving all black people the vote public, the Fair Housing Act (1968) banning discrimination in housing places or jobs, we were still at the bottom of the pile with most opportunities going to other marginalised groups i.e LBGTQ, women etc. Instead of receiving compensation for their 400 year indentured slavery this was given to the slave owners. For me I would argue that capitalism as we know it is built on the enslavement of Africans.

The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their when slave-ownership was abolished in British colonies in 1833. This figure represented a gigantic 40 per cent of the Treasury annual spending budget and, in today’s terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5bn. Just a few of those individuals to have befitted include: Prime Minister, David Cameron; former minister Douglas Hogg; authors Graham Greene and George Orwell; poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. The biggest single payout went to James Blair an MP who was £83,530, the equivalent of £65m today, for 1,598 slaves he owned on the plantation he had inherited in British Guyana. John Gladstone received £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) for the 2,508 slaves he owned.

For me racism is not calling someone a name; it is a system by which one group controls another and limits them politically, economically and socially – therefore controlling and limiting their potential life chances.


Eunice Olumide will be appearing at the Aye Write Festival, Saturday 23 March.

Comments (15)

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  1. Broughton Spurtle says:

    University College London’s ‘Legacies of British Slave Ownership’ project is a really useful tool for quantifying the where and the how-much of slavery in the UK, even after it had supposedly ended. The Broughton Spurtle followed the money hyperlocally in Edinburgh’s douce New Town here in 2013:

    Sir Geoff Palmer did so citywide for Edinburgh World Heritage last year:

    1. Jock Tamsonofabitch says:

      Geoff Palmer is a RACIST, make no bones about it.

  2. Tony Slaven says:

    What we have to remember about this question is that Liam Neason is an actor publicising his latest draby – drab film. He’s a “luvy” who probably couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag!
    Because he has played this same part in his last twenty odd films means that we don’t have to believe this is him in real life. His equalities reputation may have taken a hit but the pounds/euros he has trousered means he can put the cosh away till his next rape avenging episode needs a helping confession to, stir up the media and the rest of us, is due.

    1. Tam Dean Burn says:

      There’s no need to denigrate actors generally with the ‘luvy’ tag for Neeson’s nonsense, Tony.

    2. Jock Tamsonofabitch says:

      ‘Slaven’ What an ironically apt name.

    3. William Davison says:

      Neeson was an amateur boxer with the All Saints club in Ballymena in his youth, so I think he probably could punch his way out of a paper bag. This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the article.

  3. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Thank you, Eunice. Your contribution to that bloody, awful programme, was outstanding.

  4. Zelator1947 says:

    A v ery accurate and enlightening (for some) contribution Eunice. This has been pushed under the carpet for too long and needs to be brought to the surface of our society to fully understand, and make proper reparation for this evil to the families of slaves. I am aware of the historical money that was paid to the families of slave owners, and how they still benefit from this to this day. Shame on them! Oh and thanks for the websight Broughton Spurtle.

  5. Tam Dean Burn says:

    A great piece of writing Eunice and well done for entering that pit of reaction that BBCQT has become. I missed you as I cannot stand watching it now. One thing though- I don’t think it’s helpful to compare with “other marginalised groups” as it’s working class black women and LBGTQ groups that are going to be amongst the most marginalised.

  6. MBC says:

    What a dignified and articulate lady. This is a long overdue debate. People are not taught imperial history or any other kind of history. The economic engine that supplied the capital for 19th century industrialisation was generated by the Caribbean sugar trade sweated out of Africans.

    Atlantic slavery in the British colonies began around 1650 and was finally abolished in 1834. (Not 400 years). The trade in slavery was abolished in 1807. But the institution itself had to wait another generation. The reason compensation was offered was in order to get slavery abolished sooner rather than later. The franchise was not extended to most males until 1885. Tories controlled government. There was a partial extension in 1832 which enabled the election of sufficient numbers of Liberal MPs to get legislation passed to at least abolish the institution of slavery with the sweetener of compensation added. If compensation had not been added it would have taken another 30-50 years of constitutional change to get a House of Commons with enough non-Tory members to get slavery abolished, probably without compensation. Would that really have been better? What price freedom? These were the hard political realities the abolitionists faced. I hear people complaining about this compensation but that was realpolitikk. Would it really have been better to wait another 50 years? The common people in Britain had little say.

    I wish that people had more idea of their social history. The wealth of today’s financiers was built on the back of poor white people’s labour too. Granted, they did not face the lash and were technically free. They could have walked out of the factories that sweated their labour any time but to what? They were economically bound to grinding poverty and appalling living conditions that were worse than the plantations where slaves at least had little gardens they could cultivate, and better housing with more outdoor space. In Glasgow families of ten lived crammed together in single rooms in dark tenements, eating, sleeping and cooking in the same room and often with only one bed between them. Tenements were ‘ticketed’ in an effort to control numbers and disease. That meant that there was an official number that the council allowed to occupy a tenement which was displayed outside and police came and checked the numbers nightly and threw out extras. If somebody was dying the others had to vacate the bed to let them die in peace and once they were dead they were laid out on the kitchen table until they could be removed to their pauper’s grave. No cooking could take place until the corpse was taken away (or it would go off quicker) so neighbours brought the family cooked food. At least in Jamaica there was breathing space.

    Capitalism is shit. Yes, we need to know our history. But we need to identify clearly who the perpetrators of the people’s oppression were. And it’s not the ordinary people of Glasgow and Motherwell.

  7. Jock Tamsonofabitch says:

    When she talks about ‘Africans’ suffering is she referring to the white South African farmers being tortured, raped and murdered RIGHT NOW by black South Africans? Cos practically nobody else is:

    Or is she referring to the fact that Africa has some of the world’s biggest MODERN slave trade hubs…but it’s not white people selling people (as it was black people selling other tribes into slavery in Africa):

    Or is she talking about black slave owners in the USA?

    Or is she talking about white slaves in the USA/world (oh no, NEVER mention that, cos only black people have the monopoly on victimisation in the West!)?

    I am TOTALLY EFFING SICK of this plea for free money from black people. This whole stinking ‘feel guilty for being white, and give us money’ dross is in the process of being imported from America, where it has done a lot of societal harm and , for one, WILL NOT feel guilty for being white and WILL NOT feel bad for something myself or my ancestors (more likely to be slaves than to own them) |DID NOT profit from. White liberal guilt and self-loathing is a MENTAL ILLNESS. FLL STOP.

    I do love how the RACIST Ms. Olumide pretends to care about white ‘victims’ of their own participation in slavery! Laughable, as is erroneously conflating the UK and USA experience of slavery and how the two separate places were built. Scotland quite simply DOES NOT HAVE the same experience with black slaves being imported and forced en masse to build the place like America did. You’re rubbing my nose in NOTHING, woman, and NEVER WILL. JAM IT. I could go on, but why bother? I am only a working class white man, after all, so my opinion counts for nothing next to a racist, rich supermodel-cum-racial-agitator.

    1. I published your comment just to let the world know what a disgrace you are.

      There are examples of people writing anonymously because it gives them some freedom to speak, in your case its just absolute cowardice.

  8. Alf Baird says:

    Let’s also not forget the three internal colonies of the UK, and the several millions of their peoples who, often indentured as well as impoverished, were forced to flee to the four corners of the world over much of the past 300 years. And lets not also forget the continued colonisation and oppression of these three internal colonies by the anglo saxon elite, as the UK turns on itself. Scotland itself remains a colony and is still treated as such.

    1. “Anglo Saxon elite” – borderline ethnic diagnosis. Yellow card warning. Racist posts will be removed and commentators banned.

  9. SleepingDog says:

    David Hayman presented a two-episode documentary on BBC recently called Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame, which contained an apology from Scottish historian Tom Devine that he had not questioned the silences on Scotland’s involvement in slavery by historians earlier in his career. Devine later edited the collection Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection, in which he wrote that Scottish histories avoided, ignored, or mentioned slavery in passing, or covered abolitionists, this collective amnesia continuing until about 15 years before the book was published in 2015. An earlier documentary presented by Hayman covered the support given by Scottish shipbuilders (blockade runners) and allied interests to the pro-slavery South in the USAmerican Civil War.

    As an economic system, capitalism amplifies economic inequality unless a political system overrides this (historically, I doubt if any have, and the slave owner compensation is a striking example); and commodifies labour (or extracts free labour in the form of ‘women’s work’). Some of the proceeds of slavery were invested in the industrial revolution and banking, and so on. So I find the article’s argument persuasive.

    I think we need to view the Scottish Enlightenment as something of an intellectual failure, in that due to its reactionary nature, it never fulfilled its potential to rethink human nature and society from first principles (the French had a more revolutionary attempt). We should not be making the same mistake again today.

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