Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A Short Reading List

The last play I saw in an actual theatre was Juliet Gilkes Romero's 'The Whip'. It was excellent, which makes me miss going to the theatre even more, and I've thought about it a lot since. One of the things it did was draw parallels between slavery and conditions in British factories at the same time (early 1830's). The issues are complex but at a very simple level one of the things I took away from that play is that a society that allows slavery was never going to treat it's own poor well, and that a society that treated the poor as badly as Britain did in the 19th century (and before, since, and still) wouldn't have to make much of a stretch to justify slavery.

Reading The Fortunes of Captain Blood recently (written in 1936 - a century give or take since the action in 'The Whip') was an unexpected shock for it's casual acceptance of the slave trade. It bought the past uncomfortably close - to my grandparents generation, and in the weeks since I've seen a few books I really want to read. I'll be waiting for most of them to come out in paperback, but together they look to be having some important, and undoubtedly overdue conversations.#

The first is Emma Dabiri's 'What White People Can Do Next' - which I'll buy as soon as it's back in stock in my local bookshop. Dabiri has always been interesting to listen to, and I'm hearing a lot of good things about this book which makes it a good place to start.

I heard about Empireland from Liz Dexter's review in Shiny New Books and put it straight on my wish list. It's a book I think I've probably been looking for for a good decade and more. Leicester is the kind of multi cultural city that makes it clear to me that any formal education I had at school on the subjects of empire and colonialism fell well short of what it would be useful to know and understand. 

Following Sathnam Sanghera took me straight to Alex Renton's 'Blood Legacy' about reckoning with his family's history of slave owning. This comes out tomorrow (from Canongate) and reading about it was another shock. It turns out that there were something like 46,000 registered slave owners in Britain in 1833 - when a quick google tells me the overall population was estimated at about 13.9 million. If my maths is right that was 1 person in every 302 owning other people.

Consider their families who would directly have profited or been supported by that slave labour, the people they employed off the back of that money, all the people involved in making the slave trade work, all the people directly profiting from selling goods produced by slave labour... I can only conclude that very few of us will not have ancestors who fall into one of these categories. I should have understood the scale of this before now, but I hadn't.

And finally another twitter thread which I didn't book mark and now can't find) lead me to 'Mr Atkinson's Rum Contract' by Richard Atkinson which looks like it covers something of the same territory (I'm also specifically interested in the history of Rum, so there's a lot recommending this one to me). 

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