Why Don’t “We” Talk About Slavery and Colonialism?

A few weeks ago a friend and I were chatting about how slavery and colonialism are discussed…or not.  I saved the conversation (you’ll see why at the end of the convo, which is reproduced below), and (I guess), because it’s Black History Month I’ve decided that it’s an appropriate time to post it.  I also just felt like posting this now…much of my writing and blogging in particular is done when it feels right to me…when I have distilled my thoughts and am prepared to share them.

Every February there is this discussion about whether Black History Month is necessary or appropriate.  Among the jokes and critiques are asking what happened to White History Month and pointing out that “we” got the shortest month.  Ha.  Well I’ve gone back and forth personally about the necessity of having this time set aside…but I’ve decided that some things are so important yet so glossed over and forgotten that we all have some necessary and critical catching up to do.  If that means that we need to have a nationally designated and internationally recognized month then so be it.  I’m unapologetic about this.  Yes, black history is important. The contributions and achievements of black people are too often, and quite simply and thoughtlessly, not considered.  And here I don’t mean thoughtless in a deliberately callous or willful ignorant manner (though that does happen too); I say thoughtless to mean lacking actual awareness about the lack of consideration and dismissal of the history of a large segment of this country and world.  Insensate.  

As for the discussion about whether countries like Jamaica need to celebrate Black History Month…well this is one cold I’m glad wi ketch from farrin.  Yes, Jamaica and Jamaicans need to take the time to learn about and understand the history of the majority of its people.  While I don’t think that our motto is a myth there is no denying that a majority of the population is black and that there has been a history of action and inaction that disproportionately and negatively affected (continues to affect?) that majority.  (The motto is “Out of Many One People” for those who don’t know.) 

Recently I’ve picked up an undercurrent of stunning ignorance about our own history…about Jamaican,Caribbean, African, and black history.    Not just that one hasn’t read that book or taken that class, but a deeper, more widespread lack of knowledge.  Listen, I do not know everything but I know quite a bit and I’m working on knowing more; there are definite deficiencies that I need to address.  What little I know has already had profound impacts on my life so I can’t imagine not knowing.  Or why someone would not want to know.  Ignorance is not bliss.  I keep saying it!  Plus ignorance has deep and deleterious consequences.  I think that it is ignorance that, for example, has Jamaicans wondering why we needed to help our Haitian neighbours post-January 12.  And, by the way, understanding your history does not mean that you need to become an apologist…nor is it an excuse for laziness or a basis upon which to mount a blame game.  Knowing is necessary for simple reasons (like being able to truly understand the society we live in and how best to address our problems) as well as for more complex things (like why CARICOM is important, especially now, even in the face of the failure of the Federation + what exactly is happening with China throughout the Caribbean and Africa).  I have also picked up on an undercurrent of shame.  Not shame from being ignorant or late in knowing something, but a shame because of our history, almost a denial really.  This shame and the ignorance can affect your psyche, your understanding of yourself and your self-worth, your place/role as a person and citizen.   Your very being.  Don’t  do it to yourself; it’s a disservice.  Free your mind. (Do not bus’ out with that En Vogue song, don’t do it…oh.)

So, without much more from me here’s the conversation from an early morning in December 2011 (before theJamaicaelection and all of that business with the Queen and country too).  I am AC and my friend is CM:

[CM]  Watching a guy on Morning Joe promote his book “A Convenient Hatred.”  

Talking about how Jews have been demonised throughout history and that no other group has suffered as much as Jews have — talks about blacks, catholics and Muslims with this comparison.  

Do you think it’s because we don’t have as many intellectuals consistently speaking / writing about the consequences of slavery / colonialism why it just slips by under the radar?  

There seems to be a kind of disconnect where any Jewish intellectual considers it his/her duty to talk about their burden, but it’s only black “extremists”, or ppl perceived as such, ever take up our rallying cry.  Or is it that black intellectuals don’t have access to the kind of audience

[AC]  I wish I had an answer.  Because I share your annoyance.  

One thing though is that a lot of black people don’t like to talk about s[l]avery while the Jewish tradition (I think) is an oral one. They tell their stores at their celebrations.  Slavery was what 500 years ago now? We’re supposed to be over it now -_-

As for colonialism, I don’t think enough intellectuals truly recognize how harmful it was, or that it can be considered a new manifestation of slavery. And again, we — black people — don’t talk about the ills of colonialism.  I mean there are Jamaicans – some jokingly, some definitely not – who wonder about & push a return to being a Brit colony.  

And then there’s this little issue of the Queen still being the ceremonial & legal head of state. We haven’t even shed that vestige yet & I wonder if subconsciously & actually we have not come to terms with what slavery really did to us as a people or what colonialism did, and continues to do.  

Is like see & blind, hear & deaf.  And if you talk and ask for stor[i]es from older people who may have known a slave or what it was like ‘back then’ because they experienced it or a family or community member did, you’re told not to dwell in the past, don’t make those things hold yuh back etc…

[CM]  I definitely see your point, it’s viewed as almost embarrassing to think back to slavery and admit that it has an influence on us today.

And that’s one of the reasons I mentioned colonialism. I think there’s too little current discourse on the present day effects of colonialism. I mean just think about what J’ca has gotten for exporting all that bauxite since the 60s.  I tell you though, the one argument, I can’t even deal with is the argument about returning to being a British colony.  

It’s something I find so asinine that I can’t articulately argue against it. It makes me see red.  In particular, when people our age posit it. It’s one thing when old people talk about it, but if I went to high school with you, I don’t want to hear it.

[AC]  Raas.  I see middle-aged people posit it too.  I too see red. I just can’t wade through the fog in my brain to argue against it coherently.  

Definitely agree lacking discourse on colonialism. Sometimes it’s almost an apologetic thing – “sorry we have to talk about what hundreds of years of rule, no self-governance, shadeism, nepotism, missing bits of history taught in schools, and ineffective bureaucracy has done to us but…” 

I may have to blog this

[CM]  Me too. I literally kinda frass out when I hear people say that so I don’t even bother engage them lest I start stutter or summn. Re colonialism, it’s certainly more recent than the holocaust. Obviously, there’s little comparison between that and what happened in Germany. But, just like the holocaust drives the Jews, why aren’t we using it to drive us? It’s a more subtle victimisation but the consequences are undeniable.

I think you should 🙂

[R-LE] Agreed & agreed. 

Haha I’ll think about it

So, why don’t we talk about slavery and colonialism?

8 Responses to “Why Don’t “We” Talk About Slavery and Colonialism?”
  1. G says:

    I can’t intelligently comment on current Jamaican affairs, but I will make one observation.

    If it wasn’t for Britain’s previous colonial attitude, there may still be slavery in Africa today. Britain led the way in ending slavery in the world, finally ending it in Africa around the 1930s. I’d argue the spirit of freedom sparked by the American Revolution helped lead Britain to that end, but I digress.

  2. Cee Jay says:

    Have you not heard – let it go, that slavery thing took place a long time ago. So what if you went on a boat ride against your will. Hey, you are out of the jungle, see you now have access to water, electricity, a/c, housing, credit, cell phones, iPads, SUVs, designer clothes, to name a few luxuries. Get over it … move on …

    Really now, have you seen any real effort at teaching black children about their history? Don’t even get me started with that subject called social studies which is neither fish nor foul. Hodge, podge, mish mash of essentially history and geography. Worse yet Black History month which churns over the same old movies each year and no resources being spent on research for new movies; docu-dramas or documentaries, interviewing seniors who have our history in their stories and memories, etc.

    No, I should say, thank you Lord for PBS which from time to time presents and discusses the uncomfortable issues surrounding slavery and the life of black people, oops Afro Americans. In this neck of the woods some of use still use the non politically correct term – black people. A reflection of our total lack of awareness.

    Good thing – interestingly in Barbados, they are trying, in some small way, to increase awareness of our history as a people in schools and this is usually done during February. Highlights of the activities undertaken at the primary through to secondary schools are presented in the news. A start, yes.

    However, I still think that the general consensus is that we as a people should get over it!

    • nejedc says:

      discussions about the impacts and slavery is very important and part of rebuilding our families, communities and economies. we also have to think about the use of the word ‘foreign’ because some of us in foreign through colonial history never consented to be being raped, stolen, and trafficked through a barbarian system that affected many non-white in the world.

      the bit about the motto in jamaica, only one people seem to be doing the resistance work, while the others seem to be relishing in the problems with including slavery terms, associations being closer to white, straight hair, and that associated nonsense is rampid in the islands.

      we in foreign, love our jamaica as well.
      we love our history.
      and our history even teaches not to use that word foreign.

    • nejedc says:

      we need to talk about the impacts of slavery and colonization on our black families. this helps to reconstruct from colonial residue.

      we should also examine the use of the word foreign because our history shows that many of us did not even consent to foreign.

      let’s work together, black jamaica is jamaica.
      lot’s of beneficiaries of colonial residue.

      we do better when we know better.
      others don’t do better even when they know better.

      discussions about slavery and colonization allows us to see what we want nothing to do with.
      good topic.

  3. I like how people like to say that slavery was a LONG time ago when it was abolished only a little over ONE century ago. My Great Grandparents are the children of slavers and my Grandparents were effected by Jim Crow laws. And I myself and like others are under a new regime called Private Prisons. Wake up people. Things will never change when you cast aside threats. Thus has been children of Africa’s weakness regardless was country you live in.

  4. And I would like to add that everyone LOVES to tell Africans to get over slavery but no one dares to tell Native Americans to get over wiping out over 70% of their civilization or tell people of Jewish faith to get over the Holocaust. Or even today to get over 9/11. No, the real problem is that certain type of people WANT us to forget so they can feel less guilty. It’s about preserving a good legacy or image. History is written by the victor and we won’t be defeated!

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