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Opinions of Friday, 1 December 2017

Columnist: Kwadwo Agyapong Antwi

What black people get wrong about slavery

I am no historian, but I find the notion that white people ought to bear the brunt of history, with regards to the transatlantic slave trade, very hypocritical, absolutely disingenuous and frankly laughable! Let me explain.

The slave trade was exactly what its name implied: COMMERCE. Any commerce has two critical agents: buyers and sellers, and the last time I checked, white folk did not play this dual role in Africa; they weren't moving from village to village to capture slaves themselves. Slavery was not a black or white affair; it was a black AND white affair! Black Africans, acting as merchants, and profiting massively from the trade, were an essential component in perpetuating the cycle.

For some clarity, slavery was a feature of African society prior to the coming of the Europeans. There is some evidence that suggests that some African cultures treated their slaves better than the Europeans, but even within those societies, the fate of a slave wasn't always rosy.

There are records of African kings chopping off the heads of thousands of slaves to celebrate the death of prominent people. Slaves who looked exactly like them. But did the people at the time find such practices reprehensible? Not really. For you see, we have the hindsight of knowledge and our collective consciousness has fundamentally changed.

When the British Parliament abolished slavery in 1833, African kings and merchants were on record to have petitioned the Queen of England, through her subjects, to revert the Act: so they could continue selling their own people! Many of these black merchants continued the trade, albeit illegally, years after its abolition. Do white people need to feel remorse for the sins of their ancestors? Definitely! But so do we!

There seem to be some inherent hatred that black people harbor towards one another, irrespective of where we find ourselves in the world; be it in the America's, Europe, Asia or Africa. It seems the only time we embrace our identity and the spirit of togetherness is when we collectively oppose a different group.

Whereas we take delight in blaming others for our predicament, we have largely been responsible for much of our fate, throughout history. In the words of William Shakespeare, "The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings".

Don’t you think we should learn to love ourselves first, if we expect respect from others? As Martin Luther King Jr. puts it, "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools" Reactions to the reported modern slave market in Libya, right here on African soil, adequately portrays my sentiments.

The typical "politically correct" reaction goes like this, "Arabs are very mean and racist towards black people. They deserve our collective indignation and detestation". Without equivocation, what's happening in Libya is a barbaric activity that belongs only in medieval times. It deserves unconditional condemnation by anyone who considers themselves human.

However, blaming Arabs solely for the practice, without understanding the deeper causes, becomes a serious infraction of logic. Here, as in the transatlantic slave trade, the real 'slavers' are greedy black African leaders whose corruption and lack of empathy towards their fellow citizens, pushes our youth to make such dangerous journeys. Therefore, blaming only Arabs is like shooting a fellow black person in the morning and attending a Black Lives Matter rally in the evening.

Today, the remnants of the transatlantic slave trade still exist in our political and economic structure, a structure which transfers billions of dollars of our wealth to foreign lands annually. The thousands of young Africans who perish each year, trying to cross the Mediterranean to seek greener pastures in Europe (this time not in chains), is a direct result of the neo-slavery perpetuated by the same African elite, who are reminiscent of the merchants of yore.

It's been more than two centuries since the transatlantic slave trade was abolished. Isn't it time we confine it to the history books and tackle the menace of neo-slavery, as a means of enhancing socio-economic development of Africans? Maybe we can take inspiration from the Japanese, who rose from the ashes of World War II, broken, humiliated and in despair, to build one of the most advanced societies the world has ever seen.

Or take the Chinese, just a couple of years ago they weren't regarded this highly by the West. But today, the streets of Europe are teeming with Chinese tourists, who inject billions of dollars into Europe's economy. It's difficult to disrespect a people when you need their money, no matter how yellow, green or white you are. The same cannot be said of those whose governments are jumping from country to country in search of aid, whilst at the same time stashing millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts! Money's stolen from the very people they are elected to represent! Respect, like freedom, is never given. It must be 'taken'. It must be earned!

Take the United States for instance: it took over a century after the signing of the emancipation proclamation, which abolished slavery, for racial segregation to be delegitimized, and for black Americans to be granted the vote.

Today, more than 50 years since Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to declare his dream to the world, black Americans still face discrimination on many fronts. Clearly, there's a critical missing piece in "the fight”, and methinks that this critical piece is the absence of love and empathy within black communities around the world.

The problem is not with the colour people! It's with what the colour represents, what it is associated with, and it remains our ultimate responsibility to change the perception of what it means to be black.

The writer blogs on economic, social and political issues at www.thinkingWityou.wordpress.com. Follow him on twitter @ Kwadwo_aa