Mayor Of London Sadiq Khan supports plans for a potential British Slavery museum in London.
A British slavery museum is the idea of the Fabian Society, which has published a report by Capital Gains. The report said: “Unacceptable levels of racism towards London’s black and minority ethnic population could start to be addressed with a new British slavery museum to commemorate the country’s colonial past.”
Sadiq Khan via Twitter said: “Acknowledging Britain’s role in the slave trade is key to challenging racist ideology and deepening our understanding of the past. That’s why I’m backing @thefabians proposal for a British slavery museum in London.”
The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool has since reached out to Sadiq Khan via Twitter, expressing interest in the proposal for a similar museum in London.
MP for Tottenham and regularly outspoken commentator on such race issues David Lammy then spoke out in favour of the slavery museum, extolling the virtues of education on the subject.
This museum would follow in the decolonising footsteps of Liverpool opening The International Slavery Museum on 23 August 2007, a date doubly significant as the annual Slavery Remembrance Day and the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade. Some people do not recognise the importance of these dates illustrating the hiding of history in Britain.
The proposed plans have already brought about great discussion as to whether a museum in London would really challenge the pervasive legacy of slavery that we continue to brush under the carpet.
Positives of a Black Slavery Museum
In our generation, it seems that not many young people go to the museum, as it is a place that can be described as archaic and not very interesting. With the technology we can have at our fingertips, the world can be our oyster. Remarkably though, in the age of information, many people are still blind, deaf and dumb to the atrocities of slavery. Some of the accounts from slavery range from callous acts as inhumane as rape, children sold into slavery, men separated from the home and birth names discarded to take on that of the slave owners, to list just a few.
As of the American centric history of slavery, people are still ignorant to much of black British history and our role in the slave trade. Therefore having a slavery museum in London can rehabilitate our historic role fundamental to our position in the world. Africans were still enslaved until the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which freed over 80,000 people who were legal property of Britain’s slave owners. This act then provided for the compensation of 46,000 British slave owners to the tune of £20 million, the modern equivalent of about £16 billion. However freed slaves were still required to work 46 hours a week for their former masters for four years after supposed liberation. Slavery was not dead and buried as soon as acts were passed; the pervasive notion of humans being traded as commodities was foundational to the empire’s strength and enabled powerful families to retain their position.
Constant access to information can make us distant and desensitised to an issue. A museum can provide a place to understand and experience slavery as a tangible lived experience of human beings, through artefacts and recreations via other mediums, such as movies, pictures and writings of the time. This cannot be recreated fully just through a solitary screen.
A Black slavery museum could create jobs, generate income and revenue which in turn could provide more money to services if the infrastructure is set up in such a way. Also, it could be a place where black excellence is housed with other small businesses sharing the space, championing greater access to black-owned products, black-owned business and black centred thinking. Hopefully, a museum will encourage a new wave of interest and a confrontation with Britain’s uncomfortable past, rather than make our country a place where we aim to erase race as an issue entirely.
The above tweet reiterates some of the mentalities surrounding slavery, as it is reduced to a “chip” on a shoulder, an “inconvenience” the black community keep bringing up. The shoulders of many of the black population were heavy with physical labour and intensified with mental and emotional degradation. It cannot be undermined as a grudge or an unearned sense of entitlement, but rather it is Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.
Joy DeGruy coined PTSS and describes it as “When we look at chattel slavery, we are not talking about a single trauma; we’re talking about multiple traumas over lifetimes and over generations,”. “Living in black skin is a whole other level of stress.” A museum could make this history more accessible for all and assuage misplaced feelings of anger and guilt; fear after all is only bred through ignorance.
However, does a museum for the past actually work to alleviate those traumas or would it actually serve only to entrench this narrative of gripe and grievance, for those who already believe it to be true?
We have Black History Month so why a museum?
Black History Month is marked in the UK for the whole of October, where the achievements and creations of black people are celebrated. BHM in Britain is very much in its infancy but serves to add to the minute positive appreciations of blackness. The museum will not add to this, rather it will highlight the horrors of the slave trade, which were barbaric, inhumane and a true African holocaust, otherwise known as “Maangamizi“
Instead of a museum, more money could be poured into Black History Month, to speak of narratives beyond the chains, whips and fields on which black bodies rested upon. It is time to be victors of our destiny, curators of our future, and remove the chains mentally of our past, that hold the community like a vice grip.
In Black History Month there are common famous names that rest in our present vernacular such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks. Interestingly upon further analysis, they assimilated to the order of the day for equality.
We could not dare to add Nkrumah, Garvey and even Gaddafi. Perhaps they are too outside of the civil discourse surrounding black politics as they remained revolutionaries at their core, refusing to bow to the game of equality.
British Freedom fighters such as Darcus Howe are unknown to the general public, instead, are known to a select few in the community. Originally from Trinidad, Howe arrived in England as a teenager intending to study law. He became a British broadcaster, writer and member of the British Black Panthers central to Black British civil liberties campaigning.
We need to also give light to other narratives, give empowerment to black history as written by its British actors, in all their forms, not de-platform those that espouse politics and narratives not as acceptable. Having the museum could enable us to do that, by giving light to people such as Darcus Howe to develop a more British centric narrative of those who fought for the freedom of the black body in the United Kingdom.
Is Sadiq Khan right?
Sadiq Khan’s plans to open a slavery museum would be money ill-spent. We do not need another slavery museum. Sadiq Khan Former MP of Tooting interestingly went to my secondary school Ernest Bevin College, and I wonder growing up in such an area if he has actually comprehended what black people need. Black youth need a tangible positive future because we cannot change the past.
We need youth clubs and organisations to encourage the rebirth and renewing of the black family. We need affordable housing and more money pumped into the education sector to empower the next generation. What will the museum do, other than creating some jobs and make it a place where people can come to see the extent of the horrors? If the museum goes ahead, it must champion an entirely British centric narrative and make it the focal point of a wider cultural centre of Black Britishness investing in the future.