It is the fact that the histories of slavery and empire are becoming mainstream, and that young people are entirely comfortable with the reality that “profit and suffering” were at the centre of both, that appears to disturb the authors and the government whose agenda they have so faithfully served. Determined to privilege comforting national myths over hard historical truths, they give the impression of being people who would prefer this history to be brushed back under the carpet.
The historical illiteracy and internal inconsistencies do not stop there. The report argues that young black people should reclaim their British heritage. Which is exactly what black British people have been doing, by recovering the contributions of their ancestors to British history and culture. Yet the report crudely characterises those struggles to bring marginalised black figures and communities into the mainstream of British history as “token expressions of black achievement” – a poisonously patronising phrase.
Well, yes. Except “black britons” are, roughly enough, 3% of the current population. Given that in 1945 the black population was some 8,000 to 10,000 people the current number is roughly equally divided, 1.5% of total population each, between afrocaribbeans and black africans – all of whom are British.
Meaning that the ancestral connection with slavery for black britons is roughly equally divided between those whose folks were selling peeps to the wipipo and those peeps who were sold to the wipipo. It’s gonna be difficult to have a single experience out of that really.