The most recent example of mass slavery, and the dominant experience in the Americas (including the USA) has been of black slaves with white slave masters. But if you look at the history of slavery, a different picture emerges – many of the slaves caught up in the Atlantic slave trade were enslaved and sold by black kings.
And there were white slaves too – Vikings made an industry out of taking slaves. Even the very word slave supposedly has origins in the defeat and enslavement of Slavic peoples.
Let us scratch the surface of those slave masters, slave traders, and those who enslave people and we find bad people. Those who fought against slavery were good people. There are also those who accept the prevailing conditions of their society and we can label these as neutral people.
If we judge people on their behaviour, we have good, bad, and neutral people (in their attitude towards slavery) and we don’t have any “but cases” (such as the British West Africa squadron or Mary Faber) to confuse things.
Doesn’t this make more sense than to use the colour of the dead stuff that keeps the squishy bits on the inside?
A fair few videos are popping up at the moment responding to a description of the Bamber Bridge incident. This post is mostly adding a few points from the British perspective.
US military authorities insisted that local British authorities impose a colour bar
The British pubs co-operated and stuck up signs saying “Black troops only” – which is obviously not what the US authorities wanted.
Well of course they did – under what kind of authority do the ‘US military authorities’ have to impose a colour bar? They are after all nothing more than guests in the country, so of course British pub owners would interpret it “perversely”.
It is nice to think that this is an indication that the British of the time weren’t racist. Wrong of course – Bamber Bridge is just a couple of hours away from Hartlepool where according to legend a ship-wrecked monkey was hanged for being a French spy. The British regarded themselves as better than anyone else (so just like everybody else then), but the presence of non-whites was very low especially in a small town without a port.
And besides, the British were told to be nice to visiting US troops and nobody mentioned that it wasn’t supposed to apply to non-white US troops. And of course there is sympathy for the underdog.
What Happened Afterwards?
At least the videos I’ve seen neglect to mention what happened after the incident. Except to say that many of the black troops were court-martialed.
But what also happened was that the general in charge (Ira Eaker) placed most of the blame on the white officers and MPs, merged the unit with other trucking units, and purged the new unit of racist and inexperienced officers. Which is supposed to have improved things considerably for black troops.
It is easy to assume that the British attitude during the incident means that the British aren’t racist. The fact is that black people were relatively rare in Britain during WWII and were most likely concentrated in the great port cities rather than a small village in rural Lancashire.
Immigration of black British from the colonies was strongly encouraged after the war, and with their arrival racism reared its ugly head. I would argue that the racism in Britain against black people was never quite as bad as in the USA, but I’m white, so what the hell do I know?
A while back something popped up on my Facebook stream claiming that Pushkin (Alexander Pushkin – the Russian poet) was black as a way of saying “look at all these incredible things blacks have done”. I don’t have a problem with that. I might just question the logic of classifying Pushkin as black.
Of course I also question the use of the colour of the dead stuff that keeps the squishy bits on the inside, to divide people into arbitrary categories. But we’ll gloss over that for now.
Pushkin was at least partially black because his great-grandfather (Abram Petrovich Gannibal) was black; that’s one sixteenth. So he was also 15/16ths white. Can someone be both black and white (presumably without stripes)? Of course the racists amongst us were the ones who set the standard for excluding people from the privilege of calling themselves “white”. And just to irritated the bigots, it pleases me to declare that Pushkin was white; and to avoid making those who look to trumpet the accomplishments of black people foolish., it also pleases me to declare that Pushkin was black.
Which is ridiculous of course, but that’s kind of what I feel about the whole obsession with skin colour anyway.
And finally, take a look at Abram’s bio – he’s probably more accomplished than his descendant Puskin.
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