Emancipation Day should be about freedom, not victimhood

Today in Britain is Emancipation Day. It commemorates the implementation of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834, which ended slavery throughout the British Empire. For the fourth year running, a demonstration was held in London, featuring hundreds of (mainly) black people, dressed in traditional African attire or 18th-century slave costumes. They gathered at Windrush Square in Brixton and marched to the Houses of Parliament.

But this was no celebration. Emancipation Day is no longer about remembering the slaves who were emancipated on 1 August 1834. Instead, the march demanded ‘holistic reparations for Africans both at home and abroad’. Esther Stanford-Xosei, a ‘reparationist’ and spokesperson for the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee, stated that Emancipation Day was about ‘restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition’.

Activists like Stanford-Xosei believe that black people still suffer from the history of the slave trade. For her, remembering Emancipation Day involves wallowing in victimhood. She even claims that, as a result of slavery in the past, black people today suffer from a long list of neuroses. This includes ‘inter-generational trauma’, ‘post-traumatic slave syndrome’, ‘post-colonial syndrome’ and ‘inter-generational Stockholm syndrome’.

This victim mentality underplays the fact that black people fought for, and won, their freedom. (While conventional wisdom has it that slavery was ended by well-to-do white campaigners, it was the revolts of the slaves in the colonies that forced the elite’s hand.) Reparationists also appropriate the language of the Holocaust with the ‘Stop The Maangamizi’ chant (Swahili for an African ‘Hellacaust’). Rather than a celebration of black people’s fight for freedom, Emancipation Day is now about chaining black people to the past.

The idea here is that black people will be unable to carve out their future unless the British government is brought to its knees, made to apologise, and compensates black people for the mistreatment of their ancestors. My dictionary states that ‘reparation’ means ‘the action of making amends for a wrong one has done, by providing payment or other assistance to those who have been wronged’. Yet, the activists who gathered in Brixton today have not been wronged by slavery – they are demanding reparations on behalf of people who are long dead.

This is victim politics at its worst. Black people are in the position they are today because their ancestors demanded freedom and equal treatment. This modern demand for victim status is an insult to history, and perpetuates a patronising and divisive worldview.

Courtney Hamilton is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @MrCDHamilton

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