Two anniversaries. Niether of which Mr or Ms Average gives a hoot about, to be honest.
The 50th anniversary of what was then the European Econonic Community, or 'Common Market'. Even the BBC can't really pretend enthusiasm, though they're doing their best ('The story is that Brussels is forcing Britain to give up its beloved imperial measurements - ounces, pounds and stones, feet and inches, miles and acres, and others. Is it true ? Well, yes, but it doesn't matter.')
The other - the anniversary of the 1807 decision to make the slave trade illegal, something which should be a cause for celebration. For, as David Conway at Civitas writes :
Rightly understood, what the occasion commemorates has the potential to promote, among the diverse citizens of this deeply fractured and divided society that Britain has now become, is a true sense of community and of their common humanity, and pride in their British citizenship.
Sadly, however, and perhaps all too predictably, in our politically correct climate, a true opportunity to promote social cohesion has been missed by the government. Indeed, more than that, it has chosen to mark the occasion in a woefully tendentious way that distorts the event and its significance, and makes of the occasion something divisive, indeed, positively racist.
For what the government has chosen to do in the official literature it has produced about the bicentenary is to focus solely on the British transatlantic slave trade that ended on 25 March 1807 by being made illegal. It presents that trade as a prime case of racism on the part of whites towards blacks, going out of its way to minimise the role white British Christians had in ending the slave trade.
The government in the post 7/7 world have rightly placed more emphasis on what unites Britons than on what divides them. But at an anniversary like this all the old liberal guilt kicks in. Remember, these people were at university in the 60s/70s/80s. George Lindo is still in prison, Linton Kwesi Johnson on the stereo, Blair Peach has just been martyred. Slavery is a bad thing that whites do to blacks. The fact that slavery had been a world-wide institution from antiquity, that all races and nations practised it and all at one time or other provided slaves (the name itself comes from the (white) Slavs), and that a unique British contribution to world history was to have kicked off (and robustly enforced with what was then the world's strongest Navy) the world-wide abolition of 'the peculiar institution' - off the radar.
This was a missed opportunity by the government. What it could and should have said about the event being commemorated, something that would have fostered social cohesion rather than resentment and feelings of victimhood, was just how ubiquitous slavery was in Africa at the time it became opened up to Europeans in the early sixteenth century; also how deeply implicated both Africans and Arabs were in its practice in Africa; and just how crucial and instrumental was the role Britain played in putting an end to slavery on that continent, in so far as an end to it has been put there, which, sadly, is less than complete.
To have dwelt on these aspects of the event whose anniversary is being commemorated would have made, or could, have been used to make, all Britain’s citizens appreciate just what a great country they are citizens of and how glad and appreciative they should feel to be citizens of it. Instead, what we have got is the white British being portrayed as villains, or beneficiaries of villainy, and black and other least well-off ethnic minorities here being portrayed as victims, or as suffering from the legacy of slavery, which is a divisive distortion of the truth.
The African slave trade was - and still is - a bad thing. But it is reasonable to suppose that some good came out of the evil. David Conway finishes with a quote from Keith Richburg, who echoes the comment of Muhammad Ali on his return from Zaire - 'Thank God my grandpappy got on that boat !'
Daily Mail article about Wilberforce's forgotten colleague Thomas Clarkson.
Race and Slavery In The Middle East.
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