History Debunked on Nigerian Statue Celebrating Black African Slave Trader

Quite honestly, I’m sick and tired of posting pieces about racial politics, especially from a perspective that could be seen as anti-Black. I’m very aware that, as a whole, the Black community in Britain is poor, marginalised and suffers from poor educational performance, a lack of job opportunities. And I’m very much aware of institutional racism. Black and Asian friends and relatives have changed their names from their exotic originals to something more White British to get job opportunities. I’m also very much aware how the Tories are exploiting the issues around Black identity politics to drive a wedge between the Black community and the White working class in order to dominate both and drive them further into poverty, starvation and despair. But these issues are important. There is a real strain of anti-White racism in what is now being presented as anti-racism post-Black Lives Matter. It’s in the shape of Critical Race Theory, which parents are challenging in American schools. It’s also in the bad, tendentious history pushed by David Olusoga. One of History Debunked’s videos is a debunking of the claim by Olusoga and Reni Eddo-Lodge about a supposed lynching in Liverpool. This was of a sailor, who was chased into the docks. But instead of the innocent victim of a violent and prejudiced mob, the Black sailor instead was a vicious thug, who was part of a gang that had started a fight with Scandinavian and Russian seamen, and who had responded to the intervention of the rozzers by shooting two policemen.

A few days ago Simon Webb, the main man of History Debunked, put up the video below commenting on a statue in Nigeria to Efunroye Tinubu. She was a merchant in the Abeokuta region in the 19th century who traded in tobacco and slaves among other commodities. Through this she became extremely wealthy, enough to acquire a private army and act as kingmaker in Nigerian tribal politics. She also has a square in Lagos named after. There is, Webb says, absolutely no shame about her and her wretched trade. Rather, I think the Nigerians are proud of her. And she had absolutely no qualms about selling Black peeps. When she was hauled before a court on a charge of slave dealing after selling a boy, she cheerfully admitted it, saying she had a large household that needed to be fed well. When we went to war against the Nigerian city states involved in the slave trade, she announced that she was prepared to do anything for Britain, except give up slaving.

Webb uses her to attack the ignorance and hypocrisy of the present anti-racist iconoclasts, the people who tore down Edward Colston’s statue and wanted Rhodes’ removed, but say nothing about African participation in slavery and its memorialisation in statues like this. He is particularly scathing about David Olusoga, who produced the documentary last week on the Beeb about the controversy surrounding the felling of Colston’s statue. I didn’t watch it, but my parents did. According to them, Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, came out of it very well. I’ve been extremely impressed with his handling of what is a very delicate affair, and I hope he seeks election as an MP. Olusoga comes in for criticism as he was born and raised in Nigeria, but while he’s glad that Colston’s statue was torn down, he has nothing to say about Tinubu’s.

There does indeed seem to be a concerted effort to blame the blame for the Black slave trade firmly on White Europeans and Americans. In Bristol this was shown by the motion proposed by Cleo Lake, the Green councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy mayor, who is also head of equalities. This called for reparations for slavery to be paid to all ‘Afrikans’, including both Afro-Caribbean folk and Black Africans. I sent an email to both of them stating the objections to this, the foremost of which is that it was Black Africans that did the actual messy job of raiding and enslaving. So far I have received no reply. I doubt I ever will.

I think this attitude partly comes from W.E.B. Dubois, one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement. Dubois wanted equality at home for Black Americans, and freedom from European imperial domination for Africa. It was Dubois who first described the slave trade as a ‘holocaust’. In Britain, I was told when working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum that West Indians and Ghanaians didn’t get on, because the Ghanaians looked down on Afro-Caribbean people as the slaves they sold. This was certainly what Caryl Philips, the Black British writer, found when he visited Ghana a few decades ago, even though the country was trying to encourage western Blacks to migrate there.

I think the acceptance of the Black African participation in the slave trade is changing. A little while ago I posted a piece about a Ghanaian journalist and broadcaster on their television networks, who had made documentaries about this issue. I believe the traditional chiefs in both countries are coming under increasing criticism to acknowledge and apologise for their participation in the transatlantic slave trade. There’s also been friction in Ghana between Black Americans and Ghanaians about the memorialisation of the slave trade at one of the old slave forts. The Americans would like the whole building used as a monument to the slave trade, But the fort is the locus for a number of different social functions, including the local market and so the local peeps definitely don’t want this to happen.

Black African involvement in the slave trade was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary back in the 1990s, back when the channel was still worth watching. I think Tinubu was mentioned there. I recall there being some discussion about a female Nigerian slaver, who made the trip to antebellum America to negotiate slaves of slaves over there. This aspect of the slave trade had been withheld from the Black Americans, who came to visit the slave sites in West Africa. The result was literally shock and horror. Some of them reacted with screams, wails and tears, and you can understand why. All their dreams of Black brotherhood and common victimhood at the hands of White racists were suddenly dashed. I mentioned this one day at the Museum to a Black historian with whom I was working. He told me that in the Caribbean, their mammies told them very clearly who sold them to whom.

But it seems to be completely absent from the consciousness of Black Brits. When the BLM mob was tearing down Colston’s statue, a reporter asked members of the crowd how they felt about it. One of them, a young man, said simply ‘I’m Nigerian’. Of course, the answer to that is ‘But you sold them to us!’ But the reporter didn’t say that, and the Nigerian young man clearly didn’t connect his nationality to the sale of Black slaves to people like Colston.

I’ve posted pieces by History Debunked before, and the usual caveats apply. He’s a Torygraph-reading man of the right who believes in racial differences in intelligence. Some of his facts may well be wrong, such as his claim that the government didn’t encourage Black migration to Britain. But here he cites both an article on Tinubu on the website, The Black Past, and a book on her published in Nigeria by Oladipo Yemitan, Madame Tinubu: Merchant and King-maker, (University Press, 1987). I’m reasonably confident, therefore, that he has got his facts right.

I strongly believe that we should resist the oversimplification of the history of the slave trade into virtuous, wronged Blacks, and evil, racist Whites. All racism and enslavement has to be condemned, even if it makes the self-proclaimed anti-racists uncomfortable. If we are to have racial justice, it must be founded on good history.

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One Response to “History Debunked on Nigerian Statue Celebrating Black African Slave Trader”

  1. Brian Burden Says:

    I suppose you could draw an analogy between the Africans who rounded up other Africans for sale and the European and American slavemasters who purchased and exploited them on the one hand and, on the other, the Channel Island police who helped round up Jewish residents for the occupying power and the nazi personnel who manned and operated the death camps. It’s a matter of degrees of guilt. Without slave owners and the final solution, there would be no call for slave traders and Jew-hunting police. After the war, if I remember rightly, Ernie Bevin visited the Channel Islands and was pretty brusque with resistance workers who presented him a dossier of collaborators. It’s thought he took the view that cutting a swathe through the islands’ establishment and police force was not the best road to post-war reconstruction.

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