Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nicolette Bethel on Abolition of the Slave Trade

Back in December, Nicolette Bethel at Blogworld wrote a couple of really interesting posts on the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and why it is important for us to commemorate that event today. She writes . . .

We know slavery was bad. We know it’s an indelible part of our history. But it’s over, and it has been in our country for almost two hundred years. So why should we commemorate Abolition, when it didn’t actually erase the institution of slavery or free the slaves?

The short answer is that it marks the beginning of a process of emancipation that involved all parties — the slaveowners as well as the slaves. The long answer is that Abolition created a culture that provided the foundations of the one in which we live today. If we begin with the question about who enslaved whom and when that ended and who ended it, we begin in the wrong place. We already know those answers, and we tend to use them to justify weaknesses and cast blame. The commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery, however, allows us to approach the institution in a different, and, it’s hoped, more constructive way.

Currently, we’re taught to consider the institution of slavery as an unrelieved victimhood, with the Bad White Oppressor and the Poor Black Oppressed — Simon Legree, for those of you who still remember Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Uncle Tom, Topsy, and company. But what we overlook is that the real institution was far more complicated. The slaves themselves struggled for their freedom from the moment of their capture, and their activity in that struggle for freedom contributed to importantly to the Abolition movement. The slave-owners, on the other hand, were not all greedy and cruel, and several engaged in the education, religious and otherwise, of their slaves. Not all people of colour were slaves, not all white people were slave-owners, and not all slave-owners were white; some, like the Fox after which Fox Hill took its name, belonged to the group of people known as Free Coloured People.

So we have to approach this bicentenary of Abolition in a spirit of openness. We need to understand the processes of emancipation that began with/led up to/culminated in the passage of the Abolition Legislation through the British Parliament in 1807, and to recognize that those processes must continue; for two hundred years later, we are still not entirely free.
Be sure to read the remainder of Bethel's reflections in her post On Abolition as well as her post On Commemorating Abolition.

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At Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 3:14:00 PM EST , Blogger Nicolette Bethel said...

Thanks for the links, Dan!

At Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 6:35:00 PM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

You're welcome!


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