4 Reasons Why I Won’t Stop Talking About Slavery

Estimated reading time: 6min

martinique-206916_1920 (1).jpg

One of the most frustrating things to hear as an Afro Caribbean woman and direct descendant of enslaved people is the “just move on already” or “stop living in the past” whenever I or another black person brings up the subject of the transatlantic slave trade.

A lot of people want to dismiss this part of history and pretend that we’re living in a perfect society where things like this are not relevant anymore. Although this type of response is logical (no one wants to talk about such horrible events), but it’s also harmful to our collective consciousness, and a privilege that many of us cannot access.

So let’s dive into the 4 main reason why you won’t see me stop talking about slavery anytime soon.

1. Slavery wasn’t that long ago

One of the biggest arguments I often hear is that we should stop talking about slavery because it was in the past and those times are long gone.

However slavery in the transatlantic slave trade was only abolished in 1848 in my island, Martinique, and even later in places like the US (1865 with the end of the civil war) or Brazil (1888), which really isn’t that long ago, if you really think about it. As a simple example, I know for a fact that one of my great great grandmothers was enslaved. That’s only 5 generations back in my family tree. This is recent history.

Furthermore, when the subject of important moments in the history of the world comes up, it feels like most people want to talk about the most glorious events where big breakthroughs were achieved by western powers. This partial narrative reminds me of the saying that speaks on how history will always glorify the hunter until the lion gets to tell his side of the story.

For example, I still hear people talking about the industrial revolution, the American revolution or the French revolution in all of their glory, which all happened during the times of slavery, but no one wants to talk about the Haitian Revolution (where they kicked the French out and scared the sh*t out all the slave owners in the rest of the Americas).

If this time period is so crucial in our collective history, why not talk about the other side of the coin, the darker side of our past?

Why can’t we talk about one of the most horrible crimes against humanity that was committed at the same time as these other ‘great’ achievements? To me it seems like a pretty important thing to talk about. Which brings me to reason #2 why I keep bringing up the subject.

2. Slavery is still a taboo subject

Most of us still need to learn how to have real conversations about this topic. And I’m not talking about the types of conversations where one person accuses the other of being responsible for all of the tragedies of the past and consequences in the present, or the other types of conversations where one person tries to downplay or dismiss the real significance of this 400 year long passage in our history.

I’m talking about real, honest, open conversations based on the values truth,recognition, love, compassion, and forgiveness.

You can’t erase slavery (even though some have tried to do it in the textbooks). So you need to learn how to deal with it.

My guess is that whenever you hear the word slavery in a conversation, you get an awkward feeling of not knowing what to say, where to look, or how to engage with this subject without getting in trouble (no matter what racial group you affiliate yourself with).

For descendants of enslaved people, it’s usually a feeling of anger or overwhelming sadness that takes over. For white people, maybe it’s guilt, or shame, or wanting to detach oneself from this part of history.

Either way, there’s a lot of room for improvement in these dialogues. We need to learn to talk about taboo subjects in a respectful, constructive way.

So instead of running away from sensitive conversations, I suggest that we keep trying and start engaging in those conversations from a healthier perspective. Remaining present to our feelings, acknowledging them, taking personal ownership over them, and slowly working towards our collective healing.

I understand that it can get awkward or painful, but avoiding this subject won’t make our society better. It’s like trying to pretend someone is not bleeding after you’ve just seen them get stabbed. It doesn’t help. You need to get them to a hospital so they can heal. And speaking of which…

3. We haven’t healed yet

The ‘we’ I’m talking about stands for both our collective as humans, and particularly ‘we’ as in the African diaspora.

I understand that unless you’ve been directly affected by the transatlantic slave trade through your lineage, this might be hard for you to understand, but just for a second, please try to put yourself in our shoes. When we look at our past, slavery is THE single most significant event of our history and it is PAINFUL.

If you’re not of African descent, what do YOU think about when you think of your own history? I’m going to take a guess that most of you won’t have a point of reference imagining your ancestors in chains, treated as disposable commodity for centuries. And having a different frame of reference is a huge privilege.

Even today, for many of us when we look at our present, we are still seeing the impact that these 400 years of dehumanization have on our daily lives.

When we look at ourselves, we see the internalized racism, the glimpses of hate towards our own skin tones, hair textures, and other physical attributes that serve as a reminder of which category of people were deemed unworthy of respect, dignity, or love.

In our families, we see our continued struggle to unlearn what has been passed down, we try to repair broken family ties, we attempt to strengthen our foundations after centuries of not being able to rely on these structures because we knew they could be broken at any time.

In our societies, we see the police murdering that look like us, African countries still struggling to recover from the 400+ years of exploitation through slavery & colonization, and then the current neo-colonizations.

And then we see our brothers and sisters, and even ourselves facing countless discrimination as we’re told that we still. aren’t. enough.

The experience of being black and of enslaved people descent today is often an unpleasant one.

And it all ties back to the trauma that is ingrained in our history and our DNA thanks to this horrible passage in the history of the world. Slavery can’t be forgotten.

4. And lastly, slavery should not be forgotten because it is still present today

According to Alliance 8.7, it has been estimated that about 40 million people are enslaved today (Datta).

40. MillionsToday. You read that right.

This number includes different types of slavery such as sex trafficking, forced labor, child labor and more, with the common factor being that these individuals are “being exploited and completely controlled by someone else, without being able to leave” (antislavery.org).

So even though we tend to talk about slavery in the past, specifically as the institution that lasted 400 years against people of African descent, it is very much still a part of our present and it needs to end. ASAP.

Now, I think that in order for something to change people need to first be aware of it. And then talk about it. And finally take action towards fixing it.

So when I choose to bring up the topic of slavery, I am making sure that we never forget the harm that was done to the African continent, the people of the African diaspora, and the world as a whole through this horrific and long lasting system.

And I am also reminding you that this type of dehumanization STILL. EXISTS. TODAY.

Remember this:

Until all of us are free, none of us are free.

So, with all of that said, next time you think about telling someone to move on and stop talking about slavery and the past, just don’t.