There’s an important distinction to be made between slavery and racism.
Throughout recorded history nations have both subjugated other nations and used slaves to work in fields, manufacturing enterprises, homes and to build major infrastructure projects like monuments, walls…
Perhaps the biggest difference between ancient slavery and racism, wars and poverty were once the biggest drivers of slavery. Some cultures even allowed their own subjects to temporarily designate themselves as slaves to pay off debts; and no, I’m not imagining a cosy relationship to their owners. The point is that slaves could be found anywhere in ancient societies, from any group internal or external to the nation. Think of the ‘caste’ system, it was never restricted solely to the Indian subcontinent…
I’m most past examples though, routes existed out of slavery: time passing, money earned, special rewards given to loyal servants; and of course as time passed, wholesale integration of slaves into a nation’s society perhaps as second-class citizens, and an absorption of indigenous cultures by the previous incoming masters.
It all took time.
You’d perhaps think we’ve not had time for the natural order of things to establish itself. But this is not how things have worked from the 18thr century onwards, and will never work again.
In the last couple of thousand years – at least until the 18th century – the term racism wasn’t specifically linked to slavery; indeed the word ‘racism’ itself is only around 120 years old. Yeah, I found that quite surprising.
So whilst slavery seems inextricably linked to imperialism and conquest it’s not the biggest driver.
Will it be enough when the slaver statues are torn down, the streets and public buildings are renamed, the physical remnants of past imperialist glories are defaced and sanitised in boxes?
Concentrating on the superficial leads us down a dangerous path. It engenders antipathy in the minds of those who support and run the government, it increases the increase in the number of ad-hoc (Statutory Instrument/Executive Order) laws designed to further erode our rights.
It’s important to note at this point that I’m not a protester. I’m not militant. I’m not a lot of things, not yet anyway. I hope I’m judged by a lifetime of fairness but we’ll have to see, I’m not done yet.
I tried to buy a copy of ‘Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook’ online last week, found only one place outside eBay which seemed to have stock. A week later my money was returned. I then concluded I should cast my net of learning a little further…
Racism isn’t something that’ll disappear overnight as the statues are either quietly removed or boxed in and newly-minted protesters go back home. It’s more insidious than ‘modern’ slavery, the rise of fascism, and especially of inverted totalitarianism.
We can’t talk about it without awkward silences, we can’t draw attention to it without the perpetrator becoming at least the verbally combative or worse, indignant that we’d challenge what they learned from parents and peers.
Well, actually, we can and we should. Must?
Forget only looking to the past and trying to fix that by erasing it, the fact that right-won’t politicians and commentators are along for the self-righteous ride should be enough to get us thinking.
If you’re not willing to go out into the streets then vote. Vote in whatever way removes the right and the far right as a political and cultural influence. Vote to have anti-racism taught in schools.
Don’t waste the next opportunity you come across to change our future for the better. And don’t, after 4/8 or 5/10 years have elapsed make the mistake of thinking the grass is greener on the side the right occupies, it isn’t. Despite the extraordinarily effective propaganda machines the right use, we can see for ourselves it really isn’t.
And yes, I’m looking.