by Melissa King, a student of History and Religion in London
Remembering Genocides in the Modern Era
When we speak about genocides, it appears that the most unknown or “forgotten” genocides worldwide tend to be where the victims are not Caucasian.
THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE
WHAT HAPPENED: EUROPEAN POWERS SYSTEMATICALLY FORCIBLY REMOVED OVER 12 MILLION FROM THE WEST AFRICAN COAST AND TRANSPORTED THEM ACROSS THE BRUTAL ATLANTIC OCEAN ON LARGE OVERCROWDED SHIPS TO THE AMERICAS IN A PROCESS OF INSTITUTIONALISED SLAVERY WHICH LASTED FOR OVER 400 YEARS.
The picture above shows how the enslaved peoples were literally seen as no greater than “cargo”. They were chained in to this position for 6 weeks, until they reached the shores of the Americas. Chained to the floor, they lived lying down, relieved themselves lying down, ate (when given food) lying down.
The Atlantic Slave Trade has also been referred to as the Triangular Trade as demonstrated by the moving dot; Europeans sailed to the West African coast and abducted Africans to take to the Americas to sell them in to Slavery, who would forcibly be made to work on plantations to make goods to be sailed back to Europe to sell on.
FACTS OF THE SLAVE TRADE
- 1807 Slavery Abolition Act, outlawed the practice of the Atlantic Trade
- Despite the 1807 act, 8875 illegal ships sailed holding millions of slaves from the African coast to the Americas between 1807-1866
- The total number of slaves accounted for since the beginning of the Triangular trade who were transported between 1514-1866 is 10,645,118
- The proportion of males enslaved was greater than females, however 21% were children [slavevoyages.org]
- 1/3 of African souls sold in to slavery died on the boat [Saving Souls, Hilary Beckles, p.xx]
The Atlantic Slave Trade was the largest modern genocide we have ever seen: [I would advise readers here to read this segment out loud, you may get goosebumps as I did writing it].
“When the poor slaves, whether brought from far or near, come to the sea-shore, they are stripped naked, and strictly examined by the European Surgeons, both men and women, without the least distinction or modesty; those which are approved as good, are marked with a red-hot iron with the ship’s mark; after which they are put on board the vessels, the men being shackled with irons two and two together.
… When we reflect that each individual of this number had some tender attachment which was broken by this cruel separation; some parent or wife, who had not an opportunity of mingling tears in a parting embrace; perhaps some infant or aged parent whom his labour was to feed and vigilance protect; themselves under the dreadful apprehension of an unknown perpetual slavery; pent up within the narrow confines of a vessel, sometimes six or seven hundred together, where they lie as close as possible.
Under these complicated distresses they are often reduced to a state of desperation, wherein many have leaped into the sea, and have kept themselves under water till they were drowned; others have starved themselves to death, for the prevention whereof some masters of vessels have cut off the legs and arms of a number of those poor desperate creatures, to terrify the rest. Great numbers have also frequently been killed, and some deliberately put to death under the greatest torture, when they have attempted to rise, in order to free themselves from their present misery, and the slavery designed them.
-Antony Benezet [Quaker Abolitionist], A Caution to Great Britain and Her Colonies (1766) in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano p.268
I wish to tell the tale of the man who wrote this autobiography, Olaudah Equiano. Usually when we think about those who changed history we think of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, to name but a few. They all gave so much to our world. When we speak about the abolition of the Slave Trade, names that usually pop to mind are William Wilberforce as one example. But have you ever heard of Olaudah Equiano?… No? I will explain…
OLAUDAH EQUIANO (c. 1745 – 31 March 1797)
Equiano was captured and taken away from his family in West Africa at the tender age of 11, and despite all odds, freed himself from slavery at the age of 21. This is his story.
And here for his arrival to the Americas.
Equiano was a pioneer in instrumenting abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain.
His main contribution for the abolitionist cause was his own story; his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano which was published in 1789.
This account is only a snapshot of the horrors of this brutal genocide which expanded over hundreds of years.
HOW DOES THIS HAVE AN AFFECT TODAY ON OUR SOCIETY:
What remains of the Atlantic Slave Trade is institutionalised racism, prejudice and intolerance which is reflected in UK society:
- 37% of black men in the UK are on the police’s national database, whether they have been found guilty of a crime or not (compared with 13% of Asian and 9% of white men)[http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/apr/10/black-in-london]
- In 2015, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities were the most likely to be in ‘persistent poverty’, followed by Black African and Black Caribbean communities.[http://www.irr.org.uk/research/statistics/poverty/]
- As of March 2015, 5 per cent of White people, 13 per cent of Black (African or Caribbean) people and 9 per cent of Asian people, of working age and eligibility (16-64), were unemployed. [http://www.irr.org.uk/research/statistics/poverty/]
I think moving forward from this, requires education on the part of those in power, employers and the like and general societal attitudes at large, to not approach BAME issues with a defensive and protective attitude (for example: but it’s not my fault that the Slave Trade happened) – believe me, people do say that. Rather, creating a larger understanding of not only what are facts of the past, but also opening eyes to our societies in the here and now, to promote and grasp “equal opportunities” in the true sense of the phrase, and to not hold on to misconceptions, pre-conceived ideas or stereotypes. Make it a mission to break down these barriers, if we all did this collectively, society would be a much fairer and just place. So maybe in the future we can have full conviction in saying “Never Again” will we see such social injustice, which as we have seen can lead to full scale genocide.