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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2007, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Q&A: Your questions about the slave trade
Patrick Vernon answers your questions on the bicentenary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade.


Q: Britain seems to get all the blame for the slave trade. Many other European American and African countries were involved and black Africans and Arabs got rich as well. Why is this fact of history almost always ignored?
Michael, Lincoln

A: That issue has never been ignored. This is always the first question that is raised to defend an indefensible position and to transfer guilt to African countries, tribes and Black people in Britain.

Britain did not start the slave trade, this was the Portuguese and the Spanish, but Britain was at the heart of its management, control and legalisation and reaped financial reward.

Not to mention the rape, molestation, murder and torture of men, women and children over a 400-year period.

It is a pity that this nation cannot show some respect, recognition and humility to black people of the past and today and be honest about its involvement.

Q: Do you feel there should be an equal concentration, especially in our schools, upon the East African slave trade, which was conducted for centuries by Arab traders?
Ed, Canvey Island, Essex

A: The Arab slave trade also requires further examination and consideration, not only in schools but also in those countries involved.

The Middle East needs to take equal responsibility and to have an open debate, like the one that is happening now in the UK.

Q: Maybe if slavery still existed, the Rwandan genocide would not have occurred. Money, for slaves, would be too tempting for the corrupt black Africans. When will black tribes apologise for their treatment of their own neighbours?
Anon, UK

A: Slavery was an act of genocide and dehumanisation affecting over 20 million Africans over a 400 year period.

The Rwandan genocide is linked to the aftermath of slavery; namely colonisation and how Europe has successfully played off different tribes and ethnic groups.

You are right, blood is on everyone's hands, but the reality is that those tribes and individuals involved in the trade had a minor role compared to Britain and other European powers.

Those tribes need to, and some have, recognised their role and have apologised at different events and programmes in Africa over the last three decades.

The question is when will the British government, individual companies and wealthy families who profited come to terms and accept their own individual responsibility in this matter.

Q: Was Sam Sharpe more important to abolition than William Wilberforce?
Dean Franklin, Darlington, UK

A: We cannot ignore the role of William Wilberforce in the abolition movement which ended the slave trade in 1807.

However, Sam Sharpe played a crucial role in lobbying and organising a rebellion against slavery in Jamaica in1831.

His subsequent hanging by the plantation-supported militia was an act of defiance and bravery that influenced parliament and the 1833 Act which emancipated African slaves in the British Caribbean.

In 1975, Sam Sharpe was made a national hero in Jamaica to reflect his contribution in challenging and fighting for the freedom of black people.

Q: Don't you think that making so much of a slave trade is going to cause more problems? Aren't the majority of people disgusted that politicians like Ken Livingstone are jumping on this bandwagon?
Rick, Scunthorpe

A: Ken Livingstone has apologised because he knows that this country is in denial of its past and thus we are not honest in our relationship with the black community.

The only people I see jumping on the bandwagon are apologists who defend and actually have the audacity to transfer their guilt to black people about the African involvement in the slave trade.

Q: History is long and complex. Many events and actions from centuries ago affect our prosperity and lifestyle today. How are we to decide who should apologise for what?
Phil Gale, Oxford, UK

A: Historically there has been a long record of apologies, reparations or compensation to the Aborigines, Native Americans and to Jewish people, for example.

With regards to the transatlantic slave trade, France is the only country in Europe that has apologised.

In the UK, the Church of England and the City of Liverpool have also apologised. The apology should have come in 1807 when the slave plantation owners were given 20m in compensation.

But an apology is still worth doing if this country is prepared to come to terms with its past and can be honest enough to recognise that a mutual healing process needs to take place.

Q: Does Mr Vernon think that this anniversary is being used by some black people as a vehicle for their own prejudice?
Paul Lewis, London

A: Remember that the major focus of this commemoration is about the role of abolitionists, particularly William Wilberforce, and the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

Although Wilberforce should be recognised for his deeds, these fell short of abolishing the entire system of slavery which continued up to 1833.

Of course there will be some manipulation of the truth, but the bicentenary year does not reflect the underlying and historical issues which create an unequal power relationship between black and white people in Britain today.

Q: How is it that the slave trade has a current effect on individuals' culture, lifestyle, health, educational achievements, family, and gender relationships? Do you not think black people are able to shake off this legacy like other societies which have been able to transform themselves over time?
Karl, Bridgwater

A: Black people are generally proud of their heritage and the achievements that they and their ancestors have made, but the legacy of the slave trade is present in Britain today. There are differentials in education, health, housing, and opportunity, reinforced by our class system. Unlike other ethnic groups or societies we are still influenced by the trauma of the most heinous exploitation of mind, body, culture, soul and natural resources. But we have survived and are here to warn humanity to learn from its mistake.




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