October is Black History month in the UK and so far as a black British woman, I have done feck all to celebrate this… and pretty sure changing my cover photo on Facebook to Mr T from the A Team doesn’t count. I used to have t-shirt that said “Black is Beautiful” in bold across the front… but my mates took the piss outta me so it subsequently doubled up as nightwear. (Part time warrior of fighting the power!) So in order to tune into my ‘blackness’ and give respect and a wee nod to my race, I thought I would throw some words in the direction of the black slave trade that took place from the 16th century through to the 19th… or more importantly… my rage when it’s masked and trivialized with a fairytale ending.
Now stay with me people!!
Since the day I was a born my father has regaled me with stories of how ‘his brother’s and sisters’ were STOLEN from Africa and BROKEN by the white man’s whip! Ever since my dad held me aloft above his head when I was child and said “Behold the only thing greater than yourself”, a line ripped from Alex Haley’s book “Roots” which tells the story of a young black slave Kunta Kinte. For my mother to turn around and tell him to please stop talking nonsense and to put her baby down!
My dad is the kind of man who will have zero interest in the television, until a black actor walks across the screen and then he’s all of a sudden reaching for the remote control to record and series link the whole damn thing! He is so proud of being black that I feel almost Michael Jackson black next to him! Even though the old man loves to bang on about how “the white man will never tell the black man HIS-tory!” prompting me to roll my eyes so hard I get dizzy… he has instilled in me the smarts and the understanding of knowing enough about my history and my culture to make me hold my head a little higher. If it was left to popular culture and the lack of readily available books growing up in the 90s, I would be clueless.
Two things sparked me to discuss slavery aside from it being Black History Month… the first was the celebration of Columbus Day in the US a little while ago that basically pissed me off. There is no doubt Christopher Columbus was a great explorer, but he also was a giant asshole who inspired the trans Atlantic slave trade allowing men to think they had the right to OWN others. The guy rocked up to The Americas and said “Hi… I own this land now... oh AND your ass. Totes soz!” It’s like a stranger knocking on your door… you welcoming them into your home… for this random to say “So thanks for the tea and biscuit… your home is quite delightful… BUT this is my house now!” And people celebrate this man!! Fucking genius.
The second reason for wanting me to mount my highest horse, was because I recently saw an interview with the cast for the movie “12 Years a Slave” starring the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. A film that tells the horrific and heroic true story of Solomon Northup born a free black man in America but was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery. The film has been called out for being very harrowing and uneasy to watch due to it’s true nature to actual events, and the cast of the movie all say that yes it maybe uncomfortable viewing… but it’s real. There is no need to sugarcoat something as heartbreaking as slavery with a typical Hollywood ending, as a huge injustice would have been served.
And it is sugarcoating that I find most people like to do when confronted with unsettling moments in history. Whilst my best friend was on her honeymoon she visited a plantation house in Jamaica that was owned by a slave master who apparently was deemed ‘nice’ because he treated his slaves really well!! Excuse me what?! So my friend being very outspoken as it is, left feedback with the tour company to say that although the day trip was very pleasant, there is no need to lie to people about the actualities of slavery. Claiming a slave owner was ‘nice’ is like claiming a Nazi soldier to be compassionate to a Jewish person they just captured, beat and tore from their family with zero happily ever afters.
I know that was then and this is now for all those who like to tidy away brutal historic facts in a pretty little box… but how the hell can you move forward if you have no intelligent concept of your past no matter how grizzly?! Discussing slavery doesn’t mean I hold malice against all white people for the atrocities of my ancestors… nor does it mean I am trying to harness sympathy over something from centuries ago. It simply means that talking about my history is vital in trying to figure out the makings of me.