Innocence is a Privilege and a Luxury

British merchants profited from the slave trade while outsourcing its legacy of trauma, resentment and racial tension. Slavery was enacted thousands of miles away, in Africa and America. Only the money and the cotton flowed in and out of Britain. It was a society untroubled by widespread racial friction or suspicion up until the 1950s and 60s, because, until then, it had few ethnic minority communities. 

By contrast there were huge numbers of slaves in the United States, perhaps as many as 4 million, 13% of the population at the time of emancipation[1]. Those who benefitted from the slave trade had to witness the misery it caused. In these circumstances, innocence is a sort of privilege, because ordinary people were complicit in slavery’s systems, just by living ordinary lives.They badly needed ways to justify it. They had most need of blessing. This must have been traumatic enough, before we even get to the experience of the enslaved. 

Both the slavers and the enslaved were immigrants, so the apologists couldn’t claim the superiority of being the “true” Americans. Instead they had to turn to the even more pernicious ideas of racial science. These ideas were not necessarily American in origin, but there they found fertile ground and were nurtured with what seems like a fevered urgency.

All this is deeply damaging both socially and psychologically. American culture, an immigrant culture, is a very young tree. It has grown up and around this enormous wound at its base, one that contradicted its own founding principles in the 1791 Bill of Rights. 

The USA is a traumatised and dysfunctional society, deeply divided along racial lines, scarred by the memory of awful racial crimes, riven by alienating distrust, bitter resentment, and paranoid fear born of an unprocessed guilt.

And then you add in the guns.

But Britain is not like this. Britain is not America. 


[1] According to various websites, Wiki, etc. I’m such a scholar!

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