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.