Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Open Letter by The Equiano Society's Arthur Torrington To Anti-Slavery International


The Trustees & Directors
Anti-Slavery International
Thomas Clarkson House
The Stableyard
Broomgrove Road
LONDON, SW9 9TL 10 JUNE 2007

Dear Sir/Madam

I write about my concern that Anti-Slavery International’s (ASI) promotional material is causing misunderstanding among many people of the main issues and legacies of transatlantic enslavement. For example, one of your Fact Sheet ‘Slavery Past and Present’ has a picture showing white sailors taking black Africans below the deck of a slave ship. References to the enslavement of Africans, and British involvement are closely associated with your publicity. There is even a tendency for some White commentators to say or imply that we should not be bothering too much about the stories of the past that give details of African enslavement, but that we should be working to abolish modern slavery. I often hear this as organisations and individuals commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Abolition Act.

This is serious matter because very many African and African Caribbean youth today do not know the history and legacies of the enslavement of their ancestors. For decades the British education system has excluded such studies from the national curriculum. This year, the Government has taken action to address the issue.

I know that some Black organisations and individuals are not happy with some of Anti-Slavery International’s promotional and fundraising material, but are reluctant to write to you, because of the respect that others have for the good work that you do. But, this is done at the expenses of portraying negative images of Black people, and giving the wrong impression to British society. Your material closely associates African enslavement and modern slavery. Whereas, legacies like the consequences of colonialism, poverty in the Caribbean and Africa after 1838, racism, exclusion, racial discrimination, etc do not receive as many column inches in your publicity. You have ensured that your publicity material features more prominently throughout the bicentenary of the 1807 Abolition Act.

Slavery existed worldwide before Africans were enslaved and taken to the Caribbean and the Americas. That institution was maintained in different forms in many pre-15th century civilisations and cultures. In fact, it goes back thousands of years. But, we should not equate transatlantic enslavement conducted mainly by some Europeans with what is happening today. Your promotional and fundraising material tends to give the impression that modern slavery/trafficking has its history in transatlantic enslavement, whereas this is not really so, and may be misleading. It is evident that capitalism and human greed drive the actions of men and women who conduct slavery and trafficking today. Modern slavery, trafficking, etc are also present within Eastern European, Asian, Chinese and other nations, so why do African people almost always feature in your promotional material? Is it that the images of suffering black African people raise more money for your organisation?

I am asking Anti-Slavery International to reconsider how its promotional material is presented.

Yours faithfully

Arthur Torrington

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