Blair to express "sorrow" over slave trade
LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tony Blair will express "deep sorrow" for Britain's role in the slave trade nearly 200 years after the legislation that led to its abolition, Sunday's Observer reported.
However Blair's statement will stop short of a full apology despite pressure from some black campaigners and community leaders, the newspaper said. "I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was -- how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition -- but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever could have happened," it quoted Blair as saying in a statement due to appear in New Nation, a newspaper aimed at the black community.
Blair will also back a United Nations resolution by Caribbean countries to honour those who died at the hands of international slave traders, the Observer said.
The issue has come to a head in the build-up to next March's bicentenary of the Slave Trade Act. An advisory committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has been planning the commemorations, including a solution to how Britain should acknowledge its historic responsibility, the newspaper reported. Government advisers had warned that a full apology could provoke claims for reparations, it said.
What do people think?
Personally, I feel it is high time that a full apology was made. Obviously it won't change history or bring anybody back, but it's a gesture which should have been made centuries ago. It's extraordinary that this has not been done.
Having said that, I don't want an apology to be made which somehow implies that white people should be ashamed. The British government should apologise for its role, but because I am white and I am Britsh, I am no more responsible than anybody else.
Slavery was justifiable in no way whatsoever, but we need some context here. First of all, slaves were interned within their masters' domains, of course, but it was most often in an owner's interest to keep slaves fit and strong. Some of the slaveowners treated their slaves with some degree of humanity. Meanwhile, in Russia serfs were impoverished beyond imagination. They were "free", but it was in nobody's interests to keep them alive. They were left to rot in the mud and die.
In Britain, "free-born" children were working in mines in the early 19th century while the slave trade was still underway. Adults were toiling for 16 hours and earning a pittance. Once again, they were "free" to leave their jobs, but they would soon have been replaced while they starved. It was incumbent upon no rich person to ensure their survival. These people were the masses. None of them benefitted from the enslavement of Africans. Very few white people are related to those who owned slaves, and even those who are can scarcely be responsible for their ancestors.
And lastly, some black campaigners often conveniently forget that most African slaves were sold by African Kings to white slave traders. In other words, they had already been enslaved -- by black Africans. Kidnapping was fraught for obvious reasons and somewhat rare. So, some blacks were also complicit in the slave trade.
The slave trade was a crime against humanity; an unmitigated attrocity which must be recognised and taught to posterity. That includes teaching that the trade was a crime against the sub-Saharan African race, just as the holocaust was against Jews. But it must be kept in context -- and that's what I'm concerned about.
Last edited by Steffica Greles; Nov 26th, 2006 at 01:00 PM.