Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Thursday, August 23, 2007

William Wilberforce on Africans

Today being the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, I thought I ought to really put up a quote from William Wilberforce about enslaved Africans to mark the occasion. The quote I found, for some reason, has not recieved a great deal of attention so far during the official British bicentennary commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade, but I found it to be quite enlightening when it comes to how we might want to remember Wilberforce. As Marika Sherwood notes of Wilberforce in After Abolition:

'He held racist views, for example believing that "negroes' minds are uninformed and their moral characters are debased...their notions of morality extremely rude," while African kings had two great vices, "personal avarice and sensuality."'

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At 8:27 pm, Blogger Gajendra said...

One could add worse than that about Wilberforce, such as the fact that towards the end of his life he regarded the abolition of the slave trade as only a minor achievement in comparison to his successful campaign to force the East India Company to allow missionaries unfettered access in India in 1813.

Yet there is a reason why there is a focus on Wilberforce, and that is simply that he and the way he is presented allows the establishment in Britain to once more present a linear narrative in which Pax Britannica was a force for good, and so conveniently ignore the fact that Britain and its empire was built on rapine and plunder.

The sad thing about this skewed commemoration of the past, though, is that it erases those that fought against slavery and were black from the pages of history. As the former slave William Prescott wrote (and who is also quoted by Tristram Hunt in the Guardian today) 'They will remember that we were sold but they won't remember that we were strong. They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave'.

Perhaps, we should all read some more CLR James in order to remember.

At 9:32 am, Blogger Snowball said...

'Amen to that', as Wilberforce would no doubt have said.

Cheers comrade.

At 3:15 pm, Blogger Kris said...

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