Friday, 29 August 2014

The Black Cultural Archives In Brixton #RayRecommends

Today I visited the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, a fascinating insight into some notable African and Caribbean descended men and women in Britain. 
Calling these people "survivors" is an understatement
After reading through the archives and browsing through books such as Staying Power (The History Of Black People in Britain) by Peter Fryer, Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams, Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire. Also, the testimonies about the experiences of slaves in Britain such as Mary Prince and Olaudah Equiano. It's hard not to feel how severe the injustice is, not just in this particular part of history, but in the re-telling or in this case, the convenient- under-telling of this colonial shame in History classrooms to this day. 
Eric Williams
There were many slavery abolitionists (white and black) who campaigned for hundreds of years and this shouldn't be overlooked, but anyone studying economics should be under no illusion that slavery was abolished not only because of slave rebellions and the slave-owners difficulty in sustaining their slaves with housing, food, clothing, education etc. Many of them were dying from disease and ill-treatment or rebelling and ending up whipped and shot to death. Capitalism needed to adapt new systems. 

The idea of building factories and cramming people in sweatshops is the re-modelling of what is still a despicable example of human exploitation, which we, in the west are still pedalling as a viable economic system. We still live in a society where money is valued higher than life. The most direct example of this is in the food industry,we're being poisoned (nutritionally and psychologically) by the corporates but that's another story, just follow "March Against Monsanto" on facebook.

Anyway, I digress, I firmly believe that teaching black history and colonialism is a minefield, particularly if you're Conservative (or as I call them, Preservatives). Look head on at this history with just an ounce of compassion and it's unjustifiable, the idea that "well that was the mentality of the times" doesn't cut it. (Read Chinua Achebe's essays in 'Education Of A British Protected Child' for an eloquent take on this)
I walked out of the Black Archives Museum today feeling let down by the education system in England. I remember my history teacher at my secondary school in Muswell Hill describing the English as having "the greatest history in the world", he barely skimmed over slavery with an insensitive naivety. He sat on the desk with a diagram of the insides of a trans-atlantic slaveship projected brightly behind him as he said, with his chin held too high, "slavery was bad but at least everyone is equal now".

That is the failure. If every young person in the country had access and meaningful engagement with history, which is accessible at the Black Archives Museum, I believe we would be working towards a cultural shift for better understanding of each other. I think there would be less undermining of each others pain, still raw beyond plantations, unlawful deaths in police custodies, random-stop and searches and the backward connotations of black skin and poverty.

After all, history offers perspectives.

Visit the Archives, the exhibition on black women in Britain feels too brief but there's still a wealth of information to take away and do your own reading on.
Mary Seacole
Here are more blogs and facebook pages I have found equally educational. 

People Of Colour In European Art -

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