The fight between history and modernisation. Is there room for both?

[History Series]

As Great Britain begins to address historical slavery in a more meaningful way, will the Royal Family face the same scrutiny?

The killing of George Floyd at the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin on the 25th May 2020 sparked Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the world. In the UK, protests were held from Cornwall to Shetland.

The anti-racism demonstrations protested against systematic racism. Attendees reported a “different moment”. Imarn Ayton, a coordinator of London’s BLM protest on the 6th June, expanded on this when she said, “The difference we are seeing is people are no longer prepared to be ignorant; they want to educate themselves.”

Possibly the most iconic moment of the UK protests came from Bristol. On the 7th June, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down. One protestor pushed his knee onto Colston’s bronze neck, and demonstrators then rolled the statue through the city before it was thrown into the harbour.

Under Scrutiny

Since summer, the city’s Colston Hall has been renamed Bristol Beacon and the Colston Tower is now Beacon Tower. Two of Bristol’s streets, which were renamed after Colston in the Victorian times, hopefully will be returned to their original names. In June, the Labour Party announced that all statues in their councils across England and Wales would be studied for links with slavery and plantation owners. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, also announced the capital’s landmarks would be analysed and any with connections to slavery would be removed. Manchester Council similarly revealed all the city’s statues would be reviewed.

It would seem an acknowledgement of Britain’s history is underway. But, as statues are taken down, streets are renamed and plaques are removed, the living descendants of those who owned and monopolised the slave trade for 150 years have not been scrutinised.

During the 1560s, Queen Elizabeth I formalised the Royal Family’s involvement with the slave trade through partnering with John Hawkins and renting him a 700-tonne navy ship, Jesus of Lubeck, to be used to transport enslaved people. Queen Elizabeth I backed three of Hawkins’ voyages and later knighted him.

In 1663, King Charles II granted a charter to the Company of Royal Adventures into Africa (later known as the Royal African Company) giving exclusive right to purchase enslaved people from Western Africa and transport them to British colonies. Before being transported, these people were branded with D.Y. for Duke of York, or R.A.C.E. for Royal African Company of England on their shoulder or breast. In total, Britain forcibly transported 3.1 million African people to its colonies.

By Hannah Lingard: Political Columnist

The current Royal Family are yet to acknowledge their ancestors’ fundamental role in the slave trade. In 2007, Kofi Mawuli Klu, the joint coordinator of Rendezvous of Victory, called for Queen Elizabeth II to formally apologise for slavery at the 2007 bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. This did not happen. In fact, the Queen had previously refused and stated that slavery was “not a crime against humanity or contrary to international law at the time”.

In 2016, Nalini Mohabir and Jermain Ostiana, the creators of #NotMyPrince, called for Prince Harry to “co-conspire in [their] decolonising vision” and “atone for the royals’ institutional role in slavery” prior to his second royal tour of Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados and Guyana. Once again, the silence was deafening.

It has been cited that apologising for slavery might constitute grounds for financial reparations. Professor Chinweizu argues that “the most important aspects of Reparations is not the money the campaign may or may not bring; the most important part of Reparations is our Self-Repair … we need to move to … a new global order that is cleansed of negrophobia”. 

This is at the core of the #StopTheMaangamizi movement who aim to establish the All-Party Parliamentary Commission for Truth and Reparatory Justice with the British State and society. If 2020 was the start of a “different moment”, then 2021 must be the year the monarchy accepts and apologises for their family’s crucial involvement in slavery. To fully address the horrors of Britain’s history and to move to “a new global order”, no stone can be left unturned.

MACKAYAN: 2020: the year britain started looking at its past.

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