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HomeWorldSlavery: An Apology

Slavery: An Apology

LIVERPOOL - England - Presented to you on this fair day is an unequivocal apology for slavery.

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Ladies, gentlemen and non-binaries, thank you for your presence here today. I want to make a complete, unreserved and very, very public apology for something I didn’t do. This may seem a whimsical, even bizarre thing to do, but let me explain.

Chattel slavery, as an institution, is an abomination. It allows one human being to own another; and for the slave to be bought and sold, worked, punished and even killed at the owner’s convenience. Now, I want to make it clear that I am not interested in chattel slavery just anywhere. No, I am interested only in the transatlantic slave trade, principally in the eighteenth century, when the slavers were Europeans and the slaves were Africans. I hear that Africans enslaved each other, and they were enslaved by Arabs, during the same period. But let’s not muddy the waters unnecessarily with pettifogging, pedantic whataboutery. So far as I’m concerned, slavery is a black and white issue.

Baker and natives
Explorer Samuel Baker among native Africans. Created by Neuville, published on Le Tour du Monde, Paris, 1867

It has come to my attention that the organisation I run was once involved in the trade in human flesh. I am not too clear what the degree of involvement was, but no matter. I am disgusted by what my long-distant predecessors did. That their actions were not, at the time, viewed as either illegal or immoral is no excuse. Their conduct should, and must, be measured against the yardstick of our enlightened era. As such, they are found to be wanting. Very wanting indeed. It is impossible to exaggerate the depravity of the slavers, and of all the people who, however inadvertently, helped them. I abhor bigotry in all its forms and so, reluctantly, I must expose these crimes as a precursor to repentance.

Slavery in Africa. The Treaty, vintage engraving.
Slavery in Africa. The Treaty, engraved illustration. Journal des Voyage, Travel Journal, (1880-81).

At this point, I want to salute the graceful and dignified example set by German firms, such as Deutsche Bank, ThyssenKrupp and Mercedes-Benz, who have acknowledged and apologised for their activities during the Third Reich. Still, I have to be a little bit critical and say that they have not apologised very much recently. After all, you cannot apologise too often or too sincerely. But we must keep a sense of perspective. The transatlantic slave trade was infinitely worse than anything done by the dictators of the mid-twentieth century, and rivalled only by the horrors of British, French and Dutch colonialism. On that, I think, we can all agree.

I also want to pay humble tribute to the valiant activities of young blacks, here and in America, whose lively protests have bought the suffering of their ancestors to international attention. Before then, I would say there had been a conspiracy of silence in Britain about slavery. It just disappeared from our national story. I defy you to find a single word about slavery in any history textbook before the millennium. This is disgraceful. How can we expect people to apologise, if they don’t know what they have to apologise for? That certainly applies in my case. I call on the government to make slavery studies a core part of the school curriculum, in primary and secondary schools. It will give our young people a fair and balanced view of our national history, and that cannot be a bad thing.

Detail of Victoria Memorial
Sculpture on the wall of the Memorial of Queen Victoria in Calcutta

It goes without saying that I will be making reparations to the descendants of these poor slaves. I will not, of course, be using my own money. That would be inappropriate. After all, it is the organisation which is at fault, so the organisation will pay. I have not bothered to ask permission from the owners – taxpayers, shareholders, trustees, whatever – as they are sure to agree with me that generous reparations are morally imperative. As for the form the reparations will take, I will of course be guided by the present-day victim-descendents of slavery. Still, I am sure they won’t mind taking on board a tiny, tiny idea from my PR people, who suggest elite scholarships with my name attached. After all, it worked a treat for Rhodes and Fulbright.

Now, some unkind souls have suggested that this is just a stunt to draw attention away from my underperformance in my job. This is unfair, unworthy and a gross slur on the good name of the organisation. I would happily apologise for any anything I have done, as well as the things I haven’t. However, by common consent, I have nothing to apologise for. As the great Frank Sinatra put it, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, But then again too few to mention.” Precisely. And if anyone says otherwise, they will get a nasty letter from my very expensive and litigious firm of solicitors.

Vintage map.

The great thing about being against slavery is that it is très chic. It’s not quite as fashionable as trans-activism, but it’s pretty good. Provided I am not been too stingy with the reparations, I am almost guaranteed acres of appreciative coverage, both in print and in social media. It’s a bit tough on women, I suppose, who have been dismayed to find that they have become totally unfashionable. But there you go: if you can’t read the room, you shouldn’t be allowed out by yourself. As for the blind or deaf, or those in wheelchairs, their causes might be more urgent and needy; but for them, the door is over there, and they can check out their white privilege as they leave.

It may be that organisations, like Anti-Slavery International, might come knocking on my door to ask for my help. If they do, I will refer these muckraking busybodies to my PR team, who can be relied on to kick any unwelcome proposal into the long grass. After all, will helping anti-slavery zealots get me an agreeable invitation to a tropical paradise in the Caribbean, to open some building with my name plastered all over it? It will not. What’s more, dealing with modern-day slavery could upset a few people I might want to do business with. No, leave well alone. Live and let live, that’s what I say.

colonial homes

Some God-botherers recently reminded me of some words of Jesus, to the effect that it’s better to do good works in secret, so as to store up treasures in Heaven. Well honestly, in this day and age, who takes seriously the views of a scruffy little Jewish peasant who lived 2,000 years ago? And in any case, Jews don’t count, not then, and certainly not now. No, publicity is the name of the game now. And if we can lay our hands on some slave-produced knick-knacks which are languishing in some dusty museum somewhere, we can get some great photos of me handing them back. What happens to these knick-knacks after they’ve been repatriated? Well, who cares? I certainly don’t.

Now, in conclusion, I want you to take a moment to admire the delicacy of my feelings, my high moral tone, the noble quiver in my voice as I describe the vile crimes of my predecessors, and the omniscient way I can scrutinise the past and come up with judgements that are free of bias and misunderstanding. I want you to appreciate the fact that I am the first person in my organisation to understand how evil the slave trade was. My ethical values are so astronomically high, I must be one of the finest human beings who ever lived. My predecessors, moral imbeciles one and all, either turned a blind eye to slavery, or viewed it as perfectly acceptable. How else can we interpret their silence on the matter? But then, what else can you expect from a bunch of sexist, fascist, imperialist, homophobic, transphobic and colonialist men?

Thank you for your kind attention. My people will pass amongst you now, with handouts and publicity material. The handouts are filled with facts and figures which have been compiled by the best historians money can buy. I told these historians to leave no stone unturned. They have laboured mightily in the archives, and come up with all the dirt I could wish for, and more. The more mud I can throw at my predecessors, the better I look. I am already planning an international tour of apology. After that, can a book about my apologising be far behind? With any luck, I can milk this for years to come.

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