Sunday, March 25, 2007


Omar Ibn Sayyid, Moslem from the Futa Tora area of present-day Senegal, was captured in warfare and shipped to Charleston, S.C. in 1806/07, just before the abolition of the slave trade. He spent about 24 years enslaved in South and North Carolina.

There is something about this man's grave and serious aspect that reminds me of my father-in-law, Loti Matipa Mulumbi of Zambia, who died last year aged about 90.

Much has been written and said in recent days (during the bicentennial celebration of the Anti-Slavery legislation in UK) about the need to apologise (to the contemporary descendants of the slave trade) or otherwise to atone for wrongs perpetrated during the era of Transatlantic slavery, two hundred or more years ago.

I'm ambivalent about apologies two hundred years after the event, and I can't authentically identify with those that have been voiced (e.g. by Ken Livingstone, London Mayor), which is not to say that I disapprove of his having done so; I have no grounds for questioning his motives. His motives may be self-serving politics, or sincere regret; who am I to call them into question, who hardly knows his own?

What this brings up for me is a need to search my own heart for evidence of my own exploitativeness, bigotry and blindness to the oppression I visit on others, and their consequent suffering. Such evidence is elusive: as soon as I turn the searchlight of awareness on it, it scurries away loathsomely, like cockroaches when the light is switched on.

I am ever conscious of my own ingrained racism, notwithstanding my marriage of over 35 years to an African woman, my wife Berlina, and our having three children of mixed racial heritage. The best I can say is that I am aware of it, and how it operates. I wish I could honestly say that I have purged it, but that would be less than the truth; one can apologise from a position of incomplete truthfulness. "Sorry" is not always the hardest word.

No comments: