Apologise? What for?

As you have surely not missed, it’s the 200th anniversary of Britains abolishment of the slave trade and questions are currently being raised as to whether Britain should apologise for its brutal involvement in the slave trade.

I think it’s excellent that we are now confronting this issue and that it’s being widely discussed. 

I think the whole historical truth of slavery, the gross systemic abuse of human rights, should be implemented into the school curriculum.  Our children should learn about our involvement with the abhorrent slave trade in relation to current society. And our children should also be aware that it still exists – in the form of people-trafficking, the sex-slavery of young women and children, gangmaster systems  and to a lesser degree but immoral just the same, the very dehumanising cheap immigrant labour that we all benefit from.  Madeleine Bunting writes an excellent article about modern day slavery in The Guardian.

As to the controversy over whether as a country we should officially apologise for slavery, well I know that current generations are not directly responsible and many people believe we shouldn’t be held accountable for the “sins of our forefathers”.  Fair enough at face value.

slave-gold.jpg But let’s realise that current society, all of us, still benefit from the legacy of the slave trade.  Much of the wealth that we enjoy today was built on the slavery that went on back then. Read here for a fuller picture.  It’s not comfortable reading.

I think an apology should be made.  An apology followed by action.  And I mean real, hard-working action.  Not some patronising slave memorial built to clear the “white” conscience but which only serves to antagonise and rub the salt in deeper.  Action against modern day slavery.  Action against racism…and the silent, unspoken practise of blacks still being treated as second-class citizens.  Action against gross inequalities, discrimination and injustices in the workplace, in education and in society.  And the implementation of a comprehensive education programme.  It must start with our children. 

Maybe an apology will help heal divisions and improve race relations.  Maybe not.  But an apology will be utterly meaningless without appropriate action ensuing.


5 responses to this post.

  1. We are having the same debate back home. Should John Howard apologise to the “stolen Generation” (aboriginal children taken from their home in the hopes or civilisation and education). I think we should apologise but sometimes things can go on to far.

    My boyfirend is German and is alwasys upset that he is still held accountable for World War 2 even though he wasn’t there. I know it was a terrible thing, but he wasn’t there. Should he be reminded and reprimanded all the time for something his ancestors did (sometimes under duress)?


  2. I absolutely agree with you that the current generation of Germans should not be held accountable for what the fascists did in WWII.

    The difference is that the Germans didn’t since avert their eyes to the horrors of their history. They faced up to it and took responsibility. They confronted it, acknowlegded it and apologised. And they continue to learn from it…in school education and in government policy. They also paid out billions in compensation. I think they have the right to move on now, but always learning from it.

    My point about the slavery is that the British government hasn’t yet officially apologised. I don’t believe that we as individuals owe any apologies. But it is worth pointing out we are actually still benefiting from the slave trade and that’s what many people aren’t aware of. And it’s still a sorry fact that blacks are still treated like second-class citizens.

    I hear what you’re saying. Where do we draw the line? There are lots of things that colonial Britain owe apologies for. And it’s the same for most nations/Empires, whatever. And of course, it’s not feasible to demand apologies for the entire history of oppression by Empires and nations.

    But it’s not unheard of for nations (and religions…ie catholics) to make formal apologies for past oppressions. The legacy of the slave trade is felt today in the form of racism and discrimination against the black communities. A collective official apology in this case would be an act of humility, a recognition of what occurred and it might just help build much-needed bridges.


  3. I agree, Earthpal. Spain has much to apologise for, too, but the Spanish of today are not the Spanish of the discovery of America or those who planted their boots all over Europe. I am sure today’s Spanish in their immense majority repudiate those actions that made Spain one of the most hated countries in the world of then.

    What counts is today. But, alas!, countries keep doing today what they did long time ago. They must apologise today for what they do wrongly today.

    Unconfessable interests are to blame, I am afraid.


  4. Greed is to blame and today it still manifests itself within the UK. npower, for example are currently trashing a local beauty spot in Oxfordshire with their waste. Worst still, they’re using the courts to stop people protesting about it!! More;


    These arrogant *^”$:#’s have to be stopped.


  5. Hey Jose, yes, you’re right. What counts is today. And today’s generation shouldn’t be held accountable but a collective apology from our representatives can’t hurt. And then we need to learn from it and make efforts to eliminate todays inequalities and injustices.

    Hi Matty. That’s terrible what they’re doing in Oxfordshire! And to actually try to silence the protestors is a gross violation of their rights.


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