Cultural Wars, Assimilation & Appropriation: why Britain is different

Of course, we’ve been heading towards complete cultural assimilation ever since America became the dominant power in the world: at least since the 1920s and the rise of cinema, and consumer capitalism. Now, however, we are not just being sold attractive material products and aspirational living. Social Justice theories and movements, Critical Race theory, Black Lives Matter, grew out of the unique stresses and injustices of American society, history and cultural. Similar issues already exist in the UK, but are significantly different. 

All British school children learn how British slavers had established a lucrative triangular trade between Britain, West Africa and the US and Caribbean, that saw manufactured goods transported and sold in Africa in return for slaves, then slaves sold in America in exchange for sugar, tobacco, and other valuable raw materials.

The UK undoubtedly benefitted from any profits made from this trade. Rich men spent their money in Britain and endowed institutions of which they approved. I’m not sure how much the nation’s prosperity relied on these moneys, though. No doubt, there were port duties and other customs levies to be extracted on slave-tainted cargoes, but I don’t know when systematic taxation on business revenues was introduced. Income tax was an invention of the late 1700s/ early 1800s.

It is very unclear how much advantage ordinary British citizens ever derived from the trade. For centuries, governments levied taxes to pay for specific state enterprises like paying for the army and navy through a specific conflict. The idea that governments should have responsibility for the welfare of its citizens and should collect tax money to plough back into this obligation, is very new, probably post-dating the abolition of slavery in 1833.

British society has always been notoriously unequal, so the majority of Britain’s population are likely to have gained relatively little. It seems unfair to blame the exploited sailors on slave ships for the trade. They were paid a minimal wage, took whatever work they could get to avoid starvation, were worked until their bodies were broken and then cast off without any means of support. How much can you blame African foremen of slave teams?

British nations may have been able to capitalise, in more recent times, on a general prosperity that may have been established at the time of slaving. The government may have been able to fund infrastructure and institutions that benefit the general population: roads, hospitals, but it is extremely difficult to trace slave money into these projects, and, in any case, this would make absolutely all who used them equally complicit, including Brits of Afro-Caribbean heritage and the most vociferous Social Justice activists.

Maybe we should all refuse to use the roads.

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