26 March 2007

Can We Apologise For Slavery?

There has been a lot of debate, both on blogs and in the media about the merits of an apology being issued by someone in a position of power, say Tony Blair, for the role that Great Britain had in the international slave trade.

There have been quite a few arguments against apologising, most have some merit as far as I can tell, but some a just plain wrong: "There is no point in apologising for slavery because as everyone else was doing it" and the flip side to that "there is no point in apologising because no one else has." Er nope that won't do - that is the sort of argument used by a small child trying to excuse their bad behaviour because it was as part of a group. Notwithstanding the other arguments about apologising not doing so because of them others is unacceptable we are responsible to ourselves and our behaviour should be led by our moral compass not what other people/nations are doing. As far as I see it, it matters not one whit whether or not France apologises for its role in the Slave Trade or the Vatican expresses regret for the damage done by the Crusades, because they are/were not responsible for what Britain does/did.

Most of the arguments I've seen are against apologising, mainly on the basis that if you are not responsible for the wrong deed or the person(s) who committed them then you can't apologise for it as it is meaningless as you have not made the decision not to do that again or realise that what you have done was wrong as you didn't do it. I can see the merits of this argument, it narrows down the circumstances where an apology can be given but it does have thought.

What if you have benefited from the deed, should you apologise then? Many are arguing in the case of slavery that we, this present generation have had no choice in accepting or rejecting the benefits that the slave trade gave Britain and it's not if we are likely to start rejecting those benefits even if we could seeing as they have been subsumed into the fabric of the country. I don't think you can apologise in this case cos it does smack of hypocrisy.

What no one has mentioned though is shame. I feel ashamed that my country was involved in the slave trade, that it allowed it to happen and made money from the trafficking of people, I don't think I can apologise for what was done to the Africans by British Slavers because I could not have influenced it but I do feel regret, sorrow, and shame that it was done.


  1. There is no point. Unless you can show me someone alive today that was captured by slave traders, taken across the ocean, and sold into slavery in England or America or any other Western Nation. What was done 150 years ago was done 150 years ago. Nothing can change that today.

  2. I'm with the Lazy Iguana. Nothing more to add !

  3. I feel ashamed that people were involved in the slave trade. I can't say that I feel as if I have enough of a British identity to feel ashamed for my country having done something.

    Actually, I'm not sure ashamed is the right word, I think I feel perplexed, confused and thoroughly disorientated that anyone could ever have thought that slavery was 'o.k.'.

  4. Chaps, Iggy - Palace Fan I know what you are saying.

    Clair - It's matter of identity and how we identify I think, having lived in the States I've become quite proud to be British but something like Slavery knocks the wind out of that. It doesn't change anything though - I am ashamed that the British were involved.

  5. I am neither ashamed nor proud, from an American point of view. I had nothing to do with it. It was a different time.

    Now if you bring up the fact that many black people in the States had to wait till the 1960s to get equal rights - that is embarrassing. There are many people still alive today that can remember having to go to the black school, ride in the back of the bus, drink from the black water fountain, and being barred from "white only" establishments.

    Did England ever have that bullshit? And how rampant is racism?