Bristol’s Left Certainly Does Care About All Slavery, Not Just Historic Black

As a proud Bristolian, I felt I had to post something about this. A day or so ago History Debunked posted a short video arguing that the left in Bristol had no knowledge of the slavery in the city before or after the transatlantic slave trade. Instead, they were solely concerned with historic Black slavery. They were not aware that Anglo-Saxon Bristol exported enslaved children and seemed unconcerned with the conviction a few days previously of two Slovakians for holding smuggled migrants in effective slavery. Such exploitation isn’t called slavery, but ‘people trafficking’. The thumbnail to his video shows the toppling of the statue to Edward Colston by the BLM mob last year.

Now I have put up some of Simon Webb’s material when it has been about fake history presented as factual Black history. But he does have some deeply troubling opinions. He seems to believe the Bell Curve nonsense, that Asians are more intelligent than Whites who in turn are brighter than Blacks. He feels Enoch Powell has been smeared and misrepresented and put up a video about 1968 as the year everyone was talking about repatriation. This is apart from videos attacking what he describes as ‘the disability scam’. He’s also made some mistakes when talking about African history. He’s said before now that when Europeans reached Africa, they found its people in the Bronze Age. Not so: iron working in West Africa began about a thousand years before it emerged in Europe because of the presence of easily worked bloom near the surface. I can only assume he believes they were in the Bronze Age because of the Benin bronzes, the bronze sculptures made as shrines to the king’s lifeforce. I got the distinct impression that all of Africa’s peoples were using iron before European contact, with the possibly exception of one of the Khoi-San hunter-gatherer peoples in South Africa. So, like many YouTubers across the political spectrum, it’s worth checking his content for yourself.

He’s right about Bristol being a centre of the slave trade in the Anglo-Saxon period. In the 11th century the Anglo-Saxon cleric, Bishop Wulfstan, preached a sermon in the city against it that put an end to it. This is established historical fact, and is included with the display of Colston’s statue at the M Shed museum in the City. In the city continued to be a centre of the slave trade into the 12th century, when a part of visiting clergy hoping to raise money for one of the French cathedrals were warned not to have dinner aboard the Irish ships then in dock. These had a habit of luring the unwary aboard and then slipping off to sale them in the Emerald Isle. David Harris Sacks in his book, The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy 1450-1700 (Berkeley: University of California Press 1991) also notes that in the 17th century White children in Bristol were also kidnapped by ‘spirits’ for sale as indentured servants in the Caribbean colonies. I got my copy of the book when I visited the ‘Respectable Trade Exhibition’ then on display at the City Museum about the city’s historic involvement in the slave trade.

As for the contemporary enslavement of Whites, the local news for the city and the surrounding region has called it what it is: slavery. A few years ago a farmer in Gloucestershire was found guilty of enslaving migrant workers, and there have been other instances of this, including cases where the victims have been people with learning difficulties. In all those cases they’ve been rightly described, at least on the news reports, as slavery.

What is now called ‘people trafficking’, at least as it involved forcing migrant European women into prostitution, was referred to as ‘White slavery’ in the late 19th and early 20th century. Looking through the government reports held in the archives of the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, I found one government document from the first years of the 20th on an international police conference held in London about the issue. It was interesting because it contains many parallels to contemporary people smuggling and sex slavery. Many of the young women smuggled into Britain and then forced to work in brothels today are from eastern Europe. Back in 1904 or thereabouts, the parliamentary report noted that the victims were ‘German’ girls – really Slav women from the territories then ruled by Germany and Austria. There were differences with today as well. These women were mostly smuggled to service migrants to the Latin American nations, which were then experiencing an economic boom. Today Britain seems to be the destination of the women trafficked here, rather than further afield. Also it would be incorrect to describe all of today’s enslaved women as White, as many seem to come from outside Europe, such as Asia.

As far as I am aware, the mainstream left haven’t ignored the plight of such enslaved women. I can’t remember the details, but I have the strong impression that many of the female MPs in the Labour party were very much concerned with the sexual exploitation of smuggled women, at least when it became a national issue a few years ago.

Black Lives Matter, it is true, has an exclusive focus on historic Black slavery. This is because the organisation, along with many anti-racists,, believes that the modern poverty, poor educational performance, marginalisation and racism experienced by western Blacks is due to the transatlantic slave trade. Hence the call for reparations. How far this is true is open to question. The Black American Conservative Thomas Sowell has argued that slavery did not result in the breakdown of the Black family. Indeed, according to him, marriage rates among Blacks following emancipation were slightly above those of Whites as families separated by the slavery masters sought to find each other and solemnise their relationships through the formal marriage. Other Black conservatives have cited statistics to argue that, despite segregation and Jim Crow, the years from emancipation to the 1960s were a time of professional and economic expansion for Black America. They were moving into more jobs, establishing businesses and were catching up on Whites in the years spent in school. Of course, this is part of an ideological assault on affirmative action and state aid, which they believe has acted instead to reverse these gains. The point, however, is that BLM are not interested in slavery as an issue in itself, but only as far as it is responsible for the current problems of western Blacks.

Now I doubt that Black Lives Matter and movements like them are aware of the broader history of the slave trade outside of the enslavement of Black Africans. They’re also not concerned when it’s done by Black Africans to other Africans. Barbara Barnaby, the head of the British branch of Black Lives Matter, condemned the new slave markets opened in Libya. But she did so as part of a general attack on the new western imperialism,, and didn’t mention the other slave markets that have opened in Uganda. The impression I have is that BLM is strongly based on Critical Race and Postcolonial Theory, which are solely concerned with White racism and ignore it and as well as other oppressive practices in non-western societies.

Black Lives Matter does enjoy widespread support among parts of the left, although I think its popularity is waning as time wears on. It’s been hit in America by a series of scandals, must notably surrounding the disappearance of donated money to the tune of millions and the use of some of it by its former president to buy herself five upmarket homes. Several of the protests were in fact riots, in which Black-owned businesses were also attacked and looted.

Black Lives Matter, although highly visible now, is only part of the broad left. And while I believe its members and supporters should be far more aware of slavery as an issue, and that it also involved the enslavement of Whites, BLM does not represent the whole of the left.

I believe very strongly that many on the left in Bristol are aware of its history as centre of the slave trade before it moved into transatlantic, Black slavery, and are definitely still active campaigning against contemporary forms of enslavement, such as people trafficking. Even if it is no longer called ‘White slavery’.

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5 Responses to “Bristol’s Left Certainly Does Care About All Slavery, Not Just Historic Black”

  1. Mark Pattie Says:

    In fact I’m fairly sure Marvin Rees wasn’t particularly a fan of the BLM rioters- and also, as regards the Left supposedly not criticising modern slavery, didn’t a certain then-Labour-now-Independent MP criticise the underground sweatshops in Leicester- contrary to what a certain Telegraph-reading Youtuber seems to think.

    • beastrabban Says:

      I think you’re right. Rees was, to his credit, very even-handed in the way he dealt with the controversy surrounding the statue, even though as a man of colour he hated it. And yes, I do remember that a certain MP for Leicester was concerned about the Asian sweatshops. Contrary to what Belfield said, she had tried to do something about them, but kept being rebuffed by the council.

  2. Brian Burden Says:

    Talking of slavery, Beastrabban, what is your current status vis a vis the Labour Party? To exclude somebody with your erudition and energy strikes me as downright daft. It seems as if in Starmer’s fantasy world members are required to pay their dues and drudge round knocking on doors and pushing leaflets through letter boxes, but as for having any commitment to reform or social justice, or indeed having any thoughts of their own, this qualifies them for immediate suspension!

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for the compliments, Brian. I’m going to have to put up something about this, as I’ve been put on the naughty step. They haven’t expelled me, but I am currently under probation or something like it for 18 months. They decided my comments on my blog were hindering their commitment to fighting racism! Well, if they want to convince people they have a genuine commitment to fighting racism, they should apologise to all the Jews they’ve thrown out because of the anti-Semitism witch-hunt, along with everyone else they’ve smeared. They should also do something about the bullying of BAME members, like Diane Abbott, and start tackling the rising islamophobia in the party. Then people might believe they’re really against racism.

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