Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This 'commemoration' farce

Sunny Hundal - Guardian CiF

The real heroes were the slaves who rebelled and fought back and tried to bring some dignity to their people.

At the slavery abolition bicentenary yesterday, Toyin Agbetu from Ligali disrupted the proceedings by striding into the middle of the event and shouting for the Queen to apologise properly. The Guardian
has an account here.

The Archbishop had just delivered his main address and the service had moved on to "confession and absolution". But the reading was stopped in its tracks by Mr Agbetu's outburst: "You should be ashamed. We should not be here. This is an insult to us. I want all the Christians who are Africans to walk out of here with me!"

... After what seemed an eternity, Mr Agbetu was shuffled towards the quire, in the direction of the exit. But he pointed at the Queen and yelled: "You, the Queen, should be ashamed!" The monarch did her national duty by remaining icy calm. Mr Agbetu was now directly beneath the prime minister.

He turned to face him and Mr Blair glared back. The thousands of guests watched in hushed anticipation, wondering what would come next, wondering if Mr Agbetu might even leap on him. Instead the protester screamed: "You should say sorry!"

I've had my run-ins with Ligali before, when I accused them of stoking up tension over the Lozells riots by asking for a boycott of Asian businesses. So I'm not necessarily a fan, shall we say.

But in this case I think his sentiments and actions were justified. This so-called commemoration of 200 years since the abolition of slavery has been a farce for two reasons.

Firstly, over the word "sorry". It is completely right to point out that while the current generation of Britons had nothing to do with slavery. But the monarchy, as an institution, did so directly. The parliament did so too directly, until someone could not face their conscience and decided to ban it despite lots of opposition.

Pointing out that "lots of others did it too", as Simon Jenkins and Melanie Phillips have done over the past week, is a playground argument. The fact that some Arabs and Africans were also involved does not negate the facts: that it was overwhelmingly practised by whites in America and western Europe; and that it was driven by deep-seated racism that saw Africans as sub-human primates that could be used and abused at will.

Instead, we get people trying to take the moral high ground by pointing fingers at others in an effort to undermine British complicity. It's pathetically tragic. I expect that from Melanie Phillips but not Simon Jenkins, whom I hold in high regard.

The "commemorations" are also a farce because they seem to be more about canonising William Wilberforce than actually remembering the horrors of what happened.

Frankly, I couldn't give a rat's arse about Wilberforce. The real heroes of ridding the world of slavery were the slaves who rebelled and fought back and tried to bring some dignity to their people. You know, the people who actually died trying to change the course of history ... remember them?

Lester Holloway has written a spot-on sarcastic editorial asking why a film about slavery, Amazing Grace, can only stomach one black man in the cast.

It is like making a film about the German Holocaust and only showing good Germans, while excluding any images of the Nazis, or of Jews suffering in concentration camps. The story of Anne Frank told a story from the personal viewpoint of a Jewish victim, and Steven Spielberg's Schindlers' List did not flinch from exposing the frightening realities of the Nazi campaign of genocide.

The poster for Amazing Grace reads: "One Voice Changed the Lives of Millions." Perhaps one day we will get a flick told from the point of slaves themselves, called Amazing Resistance. We won't hold our breath.

I'm not surprised many British African-Caribbeans are annoyed. Yeah, I get it, white people don't want to watch a film where whites are the baddies.

But this absurd obsession with Wilberforce only points to one thing: the establishment is still having trouble dealing with the horrors of slavery. This whole state of affairs has been a complete farce and I, for one, am glad Ligali showed it for what it was.


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