For the Guardian and thousands of British institutions, the fundamental equation is this: if we can inherit wealth and benefit over centuries from compound interest, do we not also equally inherit responsibility?

After all, the tentacles of this history do not stay neatly in the past. 

Chattel slavery left two fundamental legacies. 

The first is inequality: there are the organisations and dynasties who have benefited from the wealth generated from slavery, to which we must now add the Guardian; and in contrast, the communities who have suffered and continue to suffer because of the crimes against their ancestors and the economic system built on the back of their enslavement.

*****The Canonization of Sarah Baartman: Tafa Fiadzigbe, from 2022. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist*****

The second is the idea of a hierarchy of race, and the stereotypes associated with people of African heritage that were invented and propagated by the enslavers and the lobbies that emerged around them. 

These ideas outlasted slavery and infected our culture, our language and, to an extent, our subconscious.

Associations with these abhorrent ideas today do not conjure any positive feelings – quite the opposite. 

But both guilt and pride are solipsistic emotions that have no place in any adult reckoning with the past.

****UNTITLED: Martin Cudjoe, charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 206 x 121 cm, 2022. Courtesy of the artist*****

 It is our addiction to regarding our history as a great repository of pride and other comforting feelings that led historians and others to forge (in all senses of that word) a national story in which slavery, empire and imperial violence were either pushed to the margins or airbrushed out completely.

……However, a genuine reckoning with the past involves having a different relationship with history. 

It involves engaging with the parts that do not inspire, nor entertain, nor uphold the values that we celebrate today.


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