Facing up to our past #BlackLivesMatter

As a white British person, it is impossible for me to fully understand the struggle that black Americans have faced through the centuries. It is impossible for me to begin to feel the weight of oppression, injustice, and prejudice that black Americans have endured down the generations. It is impossible for me to truly feel the pain and suffering of those whose daily existence is a struggle against white privilege. It is why I have hesitated writing anything publicly until now. Yet saying nothing is, in some way, to collude with the very forces that black Americans are fighting. Those of us who are white and British can be allies to the BAME community, in the US, UK and around the globe but we can only do so by listening. We must listen to the stories of black men and women; we must open our hearts to what they are saying and do what we can to amplify their voice. We cannot, must not, try to direct and lead this struggle. We have interfered too much already.

As Christians we need to understand the role that the church has had in supporting slavery down the centuries. Christian abolitionists may have worked to end the abhorrent practice yet the church, including the Church of England, has been involved in and benefited from the trafficking of men and women from Africa to North America and the Caribbean during the years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. An excellent starting point for this is an article by Richard Reddie, which can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/abolition/church_and_slavery_article_01.shtml

Our nation too was built upon the miseries of the Empire, which brought wealth to the British Elite and enslavement to Black people on British plantations. Although the Church of England has apologised for its involvement in the slave trade there has never been a formal apology from any British Government. Restitution has never been made by either. Though those who whose slaves were freed were paid ‘compensation’ by the government in the 1830s and British taxpayers only finished paying off these loans (the equivalent of £300bn in today’s money) in 2015.

Let’s listen and read so that we might begin to understanding the racism that still runs through societies at home and abroad, so that we might begin to acknowledge our white privileges and the deep prejudices our society holds and that we might begin to face up to our nation’s history and finally make a formal apology and restitution to the descendants of those our ancestors enslaved. Only then can meaningful dialogue and healing begin to happen.

Man of Sorrows by Vincent Barzoni

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