I bought Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book entitled “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” today and, linked to the sessions with Paul Goodwin over the last couple of days, it’s really set me thinking.
Yesterday Paul talked about two different ways of understanding being Black which he described as Afro pessimism and Afro optimism. The first focuses on the development of Black consciousness after slavery when Black people were turned from subjects to objects that could be traded and were outside social life – and that arguably this situation continues today. The more optimistic view focuses on the creative agency of the Black underground in challenging the impact of Neo-Liberalism.
Today at the Black Cultures Archives in Brixton we heard about Britain’s role in the slave trade and some remarkable stories of Afro-Caribbean people who arrived in Britain after 1948, the obstacles they faced and how they fought to overcome them and establish their communities and cultural lives here. We discussed concerns about the Soul of a Nation exhibition at the Tate, linked to institutional racism and the impact of the under-representation of Black people in key positions there. More specifically we talked about their continual failure to address their direct links to the slave trade through the money endowed by the Tate family whose wealth came from exploiting slaves in sugar plantations in the Caribbean.
And I’ve started to read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book that she wrote because she felt her voice and confidence had been snatched away in the cocky face of the status quo and to provide the historical knowledge and political backdrop to anchor readers’ opposition to racism. She describes how because Britain traded slaves to the Caribbean, we saw the money without the blood.
As I wrote the last sentence I hesitated before I wrote “we”, but did so having remembered something a friend said. He spends a lot of time in Germany and commented that he thinks that German people, many of whom were not alive at the time of WW2, have collectively worked to acknowledge the impact of Nazism but Britain, by comparison, has failed to face up to the impact of our colonial past. I was also reminded that Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer all made art works highlighting Germany’s blame for the atrocities of the Nazi period whilst it was still being swept under the carpet. And I was left wondering where the art is that highlights our (British) culpability for the slave trade, and colonialism more generally – and shouldn’t we start taking responsibility for it rather than leaving it to Black people to keep explaining the horrendous impact it has had on their lives?