Thursday, March 29, 2007

Oversimplifying the history of abolition?

Today's issue of Ethics Daily has run an article that helps us to look at the history of slavery and abolition in a more nuanced way.

Close reading of history should make us wary of the broad-brush approach, in which an over-simplified reading of the past shapes our understanding of the present. For instance, there is a strong case for saying that Britain should just apologize for the trade, rather than patting itself on the back for abolishing it. Put that way, it's like a mugger wanting to take credit for stopping hitting his victim.

But what does "Britain" mean? Conditions on the plantations of the Caribbean or the Americas were little different in degree from those in some of Britain's burgeoning factories and mines. Was it in Jamaica or Manchester that small children had their ears nailed to tables for minor breaches of discipline? Manchester, actually. So are the descendants of these white, British slaves responsible for Britain's slave trade?

We are entitled to both our heroes and our villains, but we have a responsibility to see the issues as clearly as we can.
Click here to read the rest of the article.

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