Global Legacies of Slavery on this International Day of Remembrance

Edward colston statue

Today marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. One of the darkest chapters in human history saw men, women and children be victims of the transatlantic slave trade.

Every year, on 25 March, this International Day of Remembrance offers the opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system and how the legacies still impact people today.

I recently attended Ceyda Karamursel’s informative lecture on the subject, which I will summarise: From Edward Colston To Zubayr Pashha: Global Histories and Legacies of Slavery.

The transatlantic slave trade

The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in history and the most inhumane. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, up to 17 million slaves were transported against their will, trapped and shackled on slave ships. Millions didn’t make the voyage, and more died soon after arrival. Most of the people who were enslaved and transported came from Central and West Africa, changing the course of their history forever.

The first people to engage in the transatlantic slave trade were the Portuguese. In 1526, the Portuguese made the first slave voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. Other Europeans followed suit. The British, French, Dutch, and the Danes became major slave-trading nations.

In Britain, cities such as Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and London were major beneficiaries of the slave trade making profits from tobacco, sugar, cotton and the financial sectors that sustained them.

Exporting the plantation model

Even after Britain abolished slavery in 1838, it continued to benefit from slave-produced cotton from America. Slavery, interlinked with colonialism and imperialism, created similar structural models of the plantation model oppression, violence, exploitation, race-based value extraction and capital accumulation in other parts of the world. The US-UK coalition steered world politics to protect slavery and export the brutal large-scale plantation model to other parts of the world such as Egypt and Sudan.

The long lasting legacy of slavery remains

Historians of slavery have made comparisons between the practices of enslaved labour regimes and today’s labour practices. Structures such as life and health insurance plus credit originate from the era of slavery. Punishing bank practices and regulations still affect a large part of the population.

Who do we remember and why?

In the western world, the legacies of slavery endure in many different forms. Widespread protests took place in the UK, and around the world, in the summer of 2020 which culminated in the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Edward Colston was personally responsible for the enslavement and movement of 80,000 people from the west coast of Africa to the Americas. It brought great wealth to him and to Britain. The symbolic meaning of the toppling of the statue in Bristol is important when talking about the memory and legacy of history. Especially when the British Prime Minister described the toppling as “thuggery”.

The lasting impact of racism and prejudice

The United Nations General Assembly, via Resolution 62/122, calls for the establishment of an outreach programme to mobilise educational institutions, civil society and other organisations to inculcate in future generations the “causes, consequences and lessons of the transatlantic slave trade, and to communicate the dangers of racism and prejudice.” This International Day also aims to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

Dr Ceyda Karamursel ends her lecture with: “Legally speaking, slavery does not exist but its traces, its ghosts very much continue to exist to this day.”

Watch the full lecture by Ceyda Karamursel From Edward Colston To Zubayr Pashha: Global Histories and Legacies of Slavery.

Rachael Woodroffe is a SOAS Digital Ambassador currently studying a distant learning online Masters in Global Corporations and Policy. Rachael lives in the South West of England and works full-time in Corporate Affairs alongside her studies.

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