Review of recent publications

Dr Lorena Arocha

Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

lorena.arocha@hull.ac.uk

Today Dr Lorena Arocha summarises the outcome of her collaborative research project with The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Lorena Arocha, Meena Gopal, Bindhulakshmi Pattadath, and Roshni Chattopadhyay, ‘ “Ways of Seeing”—Policy paradigms and unfree labour in India’, Anti-Trafficking Review, 15 (2020)

In 2019, a collaborative project between the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Wilberforce Institute focused on exploring worker-driven initiatives to tackle exploitation in India. Many activists and organisations generously contributed to the project. In our recently published article, we trace the trajectory of different initiatives to address unfree labour and their impact on workers’ capacity to aspire to and exercise their rights in India. We attempt to understand the dimensions and effects of different ‘ways of seeing’ precarity and exploitation within the larger context of economic policies, social structures such as caste-based discrimination, gender-based violence, and state indifference.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit India, we tried to contact all contributing activists and organisations to find out how lockdown was affecting their work and impacting people already in precarious and exploitative work. Here we spotlight the work of two organisations that contributed to our project – Aajeevika Bureau and Sangram.

Aajeevika Bureau was set up in 2005 and works in the south Rajasthan-Gujarat migration corridor. It offers rural migrant workers not only direct services, support and protection, but also uses advocacy and research to push for legal reform and better policy implementation, building capacity among migrant workers, especially through its efforts to mobilise and organise workers into collectives. Since the beginning of lockdown, they have been recording and publicising cases of stranded migrants, providing and distributing food supplies and other essentials, raising funds through various crowdfunding initiatives, informing migrants and others what services are available, supporting existing structures among rural families to assist in containing the virus and warding against economic collapse, running a helpline, increasing solidarity and collaborating  with intellectuals and other commentators on social media campaigns, videos and webinars and joining forces with other workers’ platforms. Aajeevika Bureau launched a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office to help transport migrants back home in security and dignity, given the chaotic results during the Shramik Special Train scheme.

Thanks to their efforts, we know how employers used the lockdown to defraud workers of their wages, how workers are running into debt to buy food or medicines or travel back to their home states and the discrimination they face when trying to obtain food rations or medical assistance, with fatal results. Aajeevika Bureau also mounts pressure against state government decisions which favour businesses over workers, as with the cancellation of trains in the southern state of Karnataka at the behest of construction businesses, trapping migrants in, or the order by the northern state government of Uttar Pradesh, imposing a 12-hour shift for workers in industrial units. On International Labour Day, Aajeevika Bureau launched a research report, ‘Unlocking the Urban’. In the report, they painstakingly remind us that, though documenting the effects of the pandemic is important, we should avoid short-sightedness and see the crisis as an opportunity for making visible long structural exclusions. Using the twin framings of political economy and citizenship rights, they show how the ‘sedentary bias’ of most public provision policies in India allows central and state governments to make circular migrants invisible.

Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha or Sangram is an organisation which was established in 1992 in Sangli, in the southern state of Maharashtra. It works through a series of collective empowerment groups for socially and economically stigmatised communities, like sex workers and transgender groups. It is a women-led, rights-based network with a firm recognition of the structural inequalities at the heart of what these groups experience, including gender-based violence and discrimination. Sangram emerged at the time of another pandemic, that of HIV/AIDS, and are thus well versed in mobilising these collectives to address public health emergencies.
 
Sex workers and transgender groups have been gravely affected by the lockdown, not only because they have lost their source of income and might become homeless as a result, but their choices are often stark, when return to home states might mean facing violence and ostracism. And yet they were among the first to be aware about the risks posed by the virus and to implement measures to stall its spread as early as February 2020. Unable to access any social welfare scheme or any of the relief assistance provided by the government, they have been left to fend for themselves. Without non-governmental organisations and groups like Sangram, who have been raising funds and distributing food rations and medicines, this collective would have been completely isolated. Sangram is part of other sex workers’ collectives who are mobilising for advocacy purposes and organising webinars to voice in their own words the experiences of lockdown. Without this support, and in the face of campaigns that identify these groups as spreading the virus, isolation, anxiety over the future and hunger are leading to debt and suicide.

As indicated in our article, our pilot research suggests that ‘ways of seeing’ workers and their conditions matter. These ‘ways of seeing’ have distinct results for workers. Never have these been more stark than since the pandemic hit, as demonstrated by what happened to the millions of invisibilised migrant workers in India and reflected in the labour law changes the current government is staunchly pursuing. Paying attention to ‘ways of seeing’ is crucial, as these lead to different dispositions and strategies in challenging and re-imagining workers’ positions and futures.

Combating modern slavery in the Humber

Andrew Smith

Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

a.smith9@hull.ac.uk

Andrew Smith, Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, introduces the first Modern Slavery strategy for this region

To coincide with Anti-Slavery Day, the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership has launched the first Modern Slavery Strategy for the Humber region. This progressive move sets the tone for partnership action over the next three years in combatting this despicable crime.

Modern slavery is a devastating crime, often hidden in plain sight. Exploiters profit from the misery of others by forcing them to work for little or no pay, restricting movement, withholding passports, bank cards and ID documents. Threats, control, and coercion are a common theme in modern slavery, playing on the disadvantage or desperation of others to elicit profit and gain. Trafficking for labour exploitation or sexual exploitation is a common theme across the United Kingdom and we are aware that the exploitation of children by organised crime groups across county lines is on the rise.

Spanning all four local authority areas in our region, this new, overarching strategy brings together statutory and non-statutory partners including law enforcement, academics and health and third sector professionals to give a focused and targeted approach to modern slavery and human trafficking.

Led by partnership coordinator Andrew Smith, whose position is funded by the Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner, a period of consultation helped shape the six robust strategic priorities that spearhead this strategy and speak firmly to would-be exploiters that the Humber region will not tolerate this crime.

Partnership coordinator Andrew Smith said:

‘Protecting vulnerable people, victims and survivors is at the heart of this new strategic plan. Working together in true partnership across all sectors will see us build more resilient communities that are able to deflect and dismiss those looking to exploit them.

Collaboration and coordination are recognised as the most effective way of tackling modern slavery in our communities. Creating a strong partnership approach in Humberside, where different members can bring their skills and strengths to the fight, means we are in a better position than ever before to make lasting change.

The commitment by Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter to fund the

partnership coordinator role and support the creation of our dedicated Operation Wilberforce

police team means that our anti-slavery efforts are now firmly part of daily business.

Using academic research to inform practice is a vital component of this fight, and together with our colleagues at the Wilberforce Institute we aim to integrate the learning from research into our response.’

Dr Alicia Kidd, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wilberforce Institute and Vice Chair of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership said:

‘The Humber Modern Slavery Partnership was established in 2015 and it’s fantastic to see the progress made in those years. This new strategy will be instrumental in ensuring we move forward in providing the most effective, comprehensive approach to modern slavery in our region.’

Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter said:

‘Modern slavery preys on the most vulnerable members of our community. In the Humber area, police and wider partners including the Modern Slavery Partnership are committed to tackling this form of exploitation by collectively raising awareness of modern slavery, encouraging the community to report concerns, supporting victims and those vulnerable to exploitation, and bringing those responsible to justice.’

DCI Chris Calvert, Force strategic lead for Modern Slavery, Operation Wilberforce, said:

‘Although you may not see it, modern slavery exists in our communities and sadly it often goes unnoticed. Vulnerable people in our society are being exploited by organised criminal gangs for their own benefit.

Vulnerable people remain Humberside’s main priority, which is why a dedicated taskforce specialising in modern day slavery and human trafficking offences has been established.

Operation Wilberforce’s priorities are to protect the victims of modern slavery and bring the offenders to justice.

Working with the partnership is crucial to achieving our aims, raising awareness and gathering intelligence, bringing the skills and services of all our partnership agencies to protect our most vulnerable.’

To report a suspicion or seek advice, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or

visit the webpage for further information and advice at www.modernslaveryhelpline.org  

For further information please contact Andrew Smith on 07960 016762 or a.smith9@hull.ac.uk

Summary of author’s recent publications

Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner

Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

e.a.faulkner@hull.ac.uk

Today Dr Elizabeth Faulkner summarizes two of her latest publications.

These recent publications reflect my ongoing interest in the rights and exploitation of children and international law, which emerged out of my time as a doctoral researcher within De Montfort University’s Law School. The first is a collaboratively written journal article which seeks to address the colonial contours of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Last year saw the commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the UNCRC, which was ratified in 1989. This commemoration presented an opportunity to examine and revaluate the epistemologies of children’s rights, their representativeness, and their intellectual utility. The article, entitled ‘The Decolonisation of Children’s Rights and the Colonial Contours of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’ points to the potential for the UNCRC to perpetuate colonial tendencies if accepted uncritically as a global and definitive blueprint for children’s rights. We therefore sought to interrogate the power dynamics and colonial legacy upon which our views of children are formed, the colonial contours of the UNCRC and the decolonisation of children’s rights. References were made to the impact of ancillary protective legal instruments on children to provide a more holistic analysis of the legal architecture underpinning children’s rights.

Conrad and I advocate that we, as academics, need to interrogate the power dynamics that shape the underlying presumptions upon which our worldviews are built on an ongoing basis.  We used a decolonial lens to challenge both the pedagogy and scholarship of the discourse, whilst simultaneously inviting scholars to recognise and engage with the colonial legacies that perpetuate the study of children’s rights. We set out an argument that scholarship on children’s rights needs to be disentangled from hegemonic Western epistemologies if it is to remain relevant.

Indeed, the colonial legacy present within the discourse of children’s rights needs to be challenged  in a multiplicity of ways, from the development and implementation of the international legal framework, to the teaching of children’s rights, to the removing of barriers to scholars from the Global South to participating in the discourse. Such factors manifest as Hokusai’s wave, a wave that suppresses, prevents, and subsequently perpetuates the dominance of imperialist approaches to children’s rights, knowledge and reform.

***

The second publication is a book chapter which analyses how international law seeks to prevent the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and appears in the fourth edition of Professor Trevor Buck’s International Child Law Routledge text, edited by Dr Rajnaara Akhtar and Dr Conrad Nyamutata of De Montfort Law School. The book examines the rights of the child using the global framework of the UNCRC. Through examining both public and private international legal aspects, this interdisciplinary text promotes a holistic understanding of the ongoing development of child law, children’s rights, and the protection of the child. Chapter 8 of the International Child Law text (‘Sexual Exploitation’) acknowledges that the sexual abuse and exploitation of children has occurred throughout human history but did not emerge upon the international agenda until the 1990s. The chapter grapples with the issue of definitions, as the expansion of the discourse since the turn of the twenty-first century has arguably rendered any definition of ‘child sexual exploitation’ as vague and ambiguous. The fact remains that international law does not offer a distinct definition of the sexual exploitation, but the international legal apparatus has sought to address this through the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC). The chapter on sexual exploitation in previous editions had mentioned trafficking, but not explicitly addressed the Trafficking Protocol and its role in combatting the sexual exploitation of children. Although trafficking is frequently perceived as synonymous with commercial sex work or ‘sexual enslavement’, this is not the case. The issue of quantification of the issues and the profits rendered from the sexual exploitation of children are touched upon, as they shape and inform the international action of global bodies that have a mandate to combat child sexual exploitation, such as The United Nations and the Group of 7 (formerly G8). The key difference between global and regional mandates is that regional ones ordinarily involve localized action. Examples of regional instruments include the Organisation of African Unity’s (OAU) African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.

The chapter finds resonance with the journal article above, through highlighting that the discourse of child sexual exploitation ‘is produced by and reproduced by the dominant discourse of childhood in the West, and more specifically, a discourse of female childhood in which female sexuality is constructed within a sexual double standard’. This analysis coincides with the fact that the most active geopolitical region seeking to combat child sexual exploitation is Europe. Moreover, this chapter sought to introduce the emerging critical scholarship upon the issue of ‘modern slavery’ and challenge the assertion of the previous edition that ‘trafficking … has become a modern-day slave trade’.

Podcast: Anti-slavery day, 18 October 2020

Cristina Talens

Director of Risk Assessment Services

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

c.talens@hull.ac.uk

Andrew Smith

Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

a.smith9@hull.ac.uk

Every year since 2010 the 18 October has been designated Anti-Slavery Day. Created by the Anti-Slavery Day Act of that year, a Private Members Bill introduced Anthony Steen CBE, now Chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation, this day provides an annual opportunity to raise awareness of modern slavery and encourage everyone, whether as individuals or as part of their company, local authority, charity or government, to do what they can to root out and address the problem of modern slavery. The purposes of Anti-Slavery Day,  as stated in the Act, are listed here

This year two members of the Wilberforce, Cristina Talens, Director of Risk Assessment Services and Andrew Smith, Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, were invited to discuss the issue of modern slavery for a Good Enough for Jazz podcast.

It is estimated that there are approximately 40.3 million people who are in modern slavery around the world, and about 13,000 of those are in the UK. Modern slavery hides away, manifesting in restaurants, nail-bars, hotels, car washes and private homes, an unseen crime that takes place under our very noses. 

Victims of modern slavery have no typical face. Men, women and children of all different ages, ethnicities and nationalities can find themselves subject to it. But those that are most vulnerable in our society, within minority and socially excluded groups, are most at risk. But what exactly is modern slavery? What are the laws against it and how effective are the laws? How can you raise awareness in your organisation or company around this topic and how can you affect change? For some answers to these question, please visit the podcast at:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1109693/5924176

Summary of author’s recent publications

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

trevor.burnard@hull.ac.uk

Today Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of two of his recent publications.

Britain in the Wider World, 1603-1800 (London: Routledge, 2020)

2020, it now seems clear, is a decisive year in British history, however it ends. It is a year that has seen the disaster of a major pandemic, will probably see Britain’s withdrawal from Europe and possibly even herald the breakdown of the United Kingdom itself. Just potentially, 2020 will see the final end of a process that began as long ago as 1603, when England/Wales and Scotland were joined together through a common monarch, coming together properly in 1707 and being enlarged by the addition of the kingdom/colony of Ireland into a new polity in 1801 called the United Kingdom. 1603 preceded by a couple of years the founding of the East India Company, giving England and then Britain a toehold in India, which became much bigger after Britain’s victory in the Seven Years War in 1763. It was followed by the tentative start of a British Empire in the Americas, begun in a chaotic and disastrous fashion in England’s first settlement in North America, in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. By 1800, that empire, despite the political loss of the 13 colonies and the creation of the USA, was extremely large and world-spanning. My book on how England and then Britain went through this dramatic transformation between 1603 and 1800, one that might be on the verge of finally collapsing, is a British history as written by an historian of the Atlantic world. It explores how the British nation was made in this period and how England/Wales moved from being the pariah of Europe – insular nations devoted to Protestantism and the killing of monarchs – to near global dominance, with a powerful empire and an even more flourishing economy. Britain by 1800 had become a mighty world power and through the Industrial Revolution the richest country in the world, overturning in a few decades China’s millennium-long presence at the top of wealthy nations. I pay particular attention in my book to three things: imperialism, economic growth and changes in gender relations.

Within these three topics, slavery is important, though it is only one of many themes that I cover in this survey of a lengthy period in British history. I deal with slavery here less than I do in other works but I take for consideration Barbara Solow’s famous statement that `it was slavery that made the empty lands of the western hemisphere valuable … [and] what moved in the Atlantic … was predominantly slaves, the output of slaves, the inputs of slave societies and the goods and services purchased with the earnings of slave products.’ America was valuable to Britain because it had plantations and it had plantations due to the work of enslaved Africans. Britain became the most important slavery nation in the eighteenth century. That this was the case makes us pause when thinking about imperialism and the development of settler societies in North America and Australasia. Britain’s movement into the wider world was immensely successful for Britain itself, not least for its poorest inhabitants, who got goods that they wanted from the colonies and could improve their standard of living by moving out of Britain. It came, however, at great cost, including the immiseration of thousands of enslaved people, living miserable lives as coerced workers. The gap between British prosperity and the misery Britain caused its non-white imperial subjects was something that increasingly bothered thinking Britons, not least of whom was a young Hull-born politician and evangelical, William Wilberforce. Born in the triumphal year of 1759, when Britain acquired Canada, Senegal and Bengal, he lived his life in a time when Britain and its empire were important in the world in ways never seen before.

***

‘Terror, Horror and the British Atlantic Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century’ in Robert Anthony, Stuart Carroll and Caroline Dodds Pennock, eds, The Cambridge World History of Violence vol. III 1500-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 17-35

The Cambridge World History of Violence is a path-breaking four volume series, edited by Australian scholars Joy Damousi and Philip Dwyer, which argues that violence was a key driver of history from ancient to modern times. My chapter on violence in the Atlantic slave trade is in the early modern volume, running from 1500 to 1850. It contributes to an intensive, profoundly meaningful and often disturbing conversation about how violence speaks to critical issues such as the problem of civility in society, the nature of political sovereignty and the state, the legitimacy of conquest and subjugation, the possibilities of popular resistance, and the manifestations of ethnic and racial unrest. I start with J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 masterpiece, Slavers Overthrowing the Dead and Dying and connect to a notorious incident in the history of the Atlantic slave trade, from 1781. That incident was the murder of 122 African captives on the Zong, becalmed off south-west Jamaica, in order to make an insurance claim. I use this and other cases of violence in the Atlantic slave trade to argue that one of the effects of that slave trade was the evocation in slaves of the emotion of terror – the apprehension of worse things happening if one did not obey commands. To show how this worked, I analyze James Field Stanfield’s The Guinea Voyage to explore the workings of terror and horror (a related but different emotion to terror) through violence as it operated in the Atlantic slave trade. I conclude with a consideration of how the terror that was involved in the British Atlantic slave trade inspired abolitionists, not least William Wilberforce, though I concentrate in this chapter on Thomas Clarkson and John Newton, to protest against the slave ship as a place of radical disorder, an essentially lawless place presided over by cruel tyrants. Without the revulsion that was aroused in metropolitan Europeans and Americans about the terror that resulted from the multiple acts of violence that characterized the Atlantic slave trade, abolitionism and humanitarianism would have taken a different shape – and possible been less immediately successful.

Two ceremonies of voluntary enslavement

Dr Judith Spicksley

Lecturer in Economic History

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

judith.spicksley@hull.ac.uk

Historians of slavery are very aware that enslavement in the past took a number of forms. One of the more unexpected of these for us today is voluntary enslavement, which presents us with something of a conundrum. We imagine slavery as the most extreme form of legal coercion, and so find it difficult to imagine anyone would enter of their own choice. Yet agreeing to enslavement in return for the means to survive was a well-known practice across many societies in which slavery was accepted in law. Where agreements survive, we can see that there were some differences between voluntary enslavement and its more coercive chattel form, and the idea of contract itself is often cited as a way to distinguish between the two types. Choosing to enter slavery voluntarily might mean that the conditions in which you served were more favourable, and your treatment was better. You may also have signed up for the option to exit unilaterally, that is, without the need for permission from your master. This was often the case with defaulting debtors and usually required payment of the appropriate redemption cost: your outstanding debt; or the provision of a substitute slave. But there was no guarantee of freedom, and during the period of your slavery, however long that might be, you were a chattel slave, and so were any children born to you during your enslavement.

There are examples in which people appear to have used voluntary enslavement strategically (when survival was not directly threatened), while at some periods and in some places such enslavement was illegal.  What is clear is that societies recognised from an early point in time that voluntary slavery presented opportunities for exploitation, and tried to limit them: the decision of a Hebrew slave to remain in slavery in perpetuity in Exodus 21: 6 required him to make a declaration of love for his master before a judge and have his ear pierced as a sign of his condition. It was important to demonstrate as far as possible that those who chose to enter slavery voluntarily were doing so willingly and provide a means whereby the community and the enslaved had evidence of this change in status. As a result, voluntary enslavement had to be a public event, and could sometimes involve a symbolic act, undertaken to signal the changed status of the participant.

In this blog I introduce two medieval ceremonies of enslavement, one in England and the other in Scotland, that mirror the elements in this biblical example. As in biblical law, such events are described through a masculine lens, because women were rarely free to act independently. The process in England is relatively well-known. In the legal code known as the Leges Henrici Primi – the Laws of Henry I – the process of becoming enslaved by choice is clearly laid out. The Leges insisted that any voluntary enslavement had to be undertaken in a court, which in medieval England meant either the hallmoot, hundred or village court, depending on the ‘jurisdictional competence’ of the would-be master in relation to that court.  Equally important was the public nature of the act: the declaration had to be made before witnesses. In addition, a toll was to be paid as physical evidence of the event, to ensure that the subject did not attempt to deny the enslavement later. Finally, the change in status required a symbolic ceremony in which the individual concerned was to ‘take up a sickle or a goad or the arms of slavery of this kind, and shall place his hands and head in the hands of his lord’. (See L.J. Downer, ed., Leges Henrici Primi (Oxford, 1972), 78: 2 and 78: 2c.) In giving his head to his lord, historians believe the enslaved symbolised handing over his mind and his will to the control of his master. But that was not all.  Those men who entered slavery voluntarily committed all children born to their wives after their declaration to a life of perpetual enslavement too.

In medieval Scotland, as in England, the decision to enter enslavement voluntarily was inscribed in law, and in Scotland this action also had to be done in a public court. But the early fourteenth century Scottish law code known as the Quoniam Attachiamenta prescribed a slightly different ceremony: the symbolic tugging of the subject’s forelock as evidence of voluntary subjection. The Latin phrase in question – ‘per crines anterioires capitis sui’- literally translates as ‘through the hair at the front of his head’, but this is usually thought to have referred to a tugging of the forelock.  The law also allowed for the master to recover anyone who had enslaved themselves voluntarily ‘per nasum suum’, meaning ‘through his nose’; this presumably referred to the use of a nose ring. The law was clear about the reason for this.  ‘A free man is able to relinquish his liberty, if he chooses, in the king’s court and in some other courts. But once thus relinquished, it cannot be recovered in his lifetime’.

Unlike the English ceremony, this action of symbolic tugging has gained wider international currency, although current definitions of ‘tugging the forelock’ give no hint of its previous connection with enslavement. Described as ‘a traditional gesture of respect to the higher classes’, it is nevertheless associated with ‘obsequious or overly deferential behaviour’. This appears to have been the intention of the mid-nineteenth century American political caricaturist Henry R. Robinson, whose image of forelock tugging, still valuable as a measure of sycophancy today, satirised the ambitions of Major General Zachary Taylor as he sought election to the American Presidency in 1848. Taylor stood for the Whig Party, and though Robinson was a Whig supporter, he was clearly sceptical about Taylor’s Whig credentials. But what is perhaps more interesting in this context, is that Taylor was a slaveholder and plantation owner himself. As an echo of voluntary enslavement, the continuing relevance of forelock tugging today reveals surprising links between subordinating social practices in our present society and ancient forms of slavery.

Zachary Taylor tugs his forelock in the cartoon from 1848 as he is interviewed for the American Presidency. Image: Library of Congress

Accepting shared blame – offering allyship to the BLM movement

Charlotte Russell

Wiseman Khuzwayo Scholarship PhD student

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

c.russell-2018@hull.ac.uk

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white US police officer in May this year sparked wider and more vocal support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Those supporting the movement have expressed the lack of ‘innocence’ in nations beyond the US. International narrative has indicated the structural racism woven into the fabric of societies worldwide. This has prompted us to examine our role individually and institutionally in building a racism-free UK. That racism pervades throughout our society today, and continues to place Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people at disadvantage cannot be disputed. From education to socioeconomic opportunity, representation in the workplace to beauty norms, racial profiling to healthcare standards, cultural appropriation to covert racism, it is clear that we have a long way to go. What remains less clear is the most effective and appropriate ways to offer allyship to the BLM movement.

While demonstrations of support  are certainly beneficial, many individuals and institutions have been quick to celebrate their role or self-view as anti-racist, or perhaps ‘colour-blind’ (See: Emmanuel Acho: Seeing Colour). But both the human mind and social structures are so innately complex that we cannot reliably declare either to be wholly any one thing. Thus the vocal admission and discussion of our culpability, from a personal to a structural level, is vital in preventing implicit denial of fault in our self-assertion as allies.

Allies wishing to demonstrate anti-racism must be careful not to do so in such a way that we distance ourselves from the reality of ongoing racial inequality and our role within it. Until 2015, the UK were paying off £20M of compensation to 46,000 slave owners for ‘loss of human property’. Tweeting about this, the Treasury framed the present day taxpayers’ contribution to the compensation of slave owners in a positive light, presenting the information in such a way as to encourage the self-congratulation of both the institution and the reader.

This was removed a matter of hours later after an outcry about the details of the payment agreement, which were omitted from the Tweet. Even discounting debates over malintent versus ignorance, this occurrence indicates just how easily our national history can be misrepresented and ‘whitewashed’.  Focusing on abolition whilst staying silent on the centuries of slave-trading and slave-owning which preceded it demonstrates the risk we face when reducing an action which concerns human rights to its bare elements.

The question I feel we as individuals and as institutions should consider is the extent to which our denouncement of racism can achieve tangible change without open discussion of our own culpability in ongoing mistakes. Be it conscious or unconscious, it can only be through ongoing actions that structural racism continues. However, when we examine what admitting this requires, we can see all too clearly the challenges which we face. In admitting to ongoing ‘blame’, non-BAME people risk both their personal comfort and a degree of control over their reputation. In the first instance, individuals feel threatened when the image of themselves as ‘not racist’ is contradicted; secondly admission opens individuals up to scrutiny of their imperfections, not only in the past but the present. We are far more vulnerable in admitting these uncomfortable truths than we are in vehemently denouncing racism or declaring that we will now be anti-racist moving forward. Thus we see non-BAME people appearing far more comfortable with denunciation of racism which is in some way distanced, in their view, from their own lives. But to raise and discuss these same issues as having been committed, allowed, or unquestioned by themselves leads to far more personal and social vulnerability. It is human nature to avoid this risk and discomfort, but to do so maintains a firm barrier to social progress.

At the Wilberforce Institute, we seek to learn from historical slavery and related humanitarian crimes in order to reduce their existence today and in the future. What we can be sure of is that in seeking to address these issues we have to continue to question the stereotypes and assumptions that are embedded in our culture, and provide a platform in which admission of ongoing mistakes is exemplified and normalised. We must be open not only regarding the reality of the past but of the resultant situation of racial inequality in our society today. Fundamentally, it will be a willingness both to admit this and to learn accordingly which enables social progression.

Pushing against racism is a task that applies to everybody. By focusing upon a self-image we believe is not racist, we as allies risk prioritising self-soothing over the change we are outwardly pursuing. This practice sees individuals and institutions indulging in self-congratulation regarding behaviour we believe to be anti-racist, celebrating actions taken towards racial equality without acknowledging ongoing fault and trauma, denouncing racism without addressing our past culpability and ongoing mistakes, or distancing ourselves from the label of ‘racist’ when our behaviour has knowingly or unknowingly been so. Instead, we ought to seek vocal acceptance of not just past, but ongoing mistakes. Trying to distance ourselves from the label of ‘racist’ isn’t going to create an environment where we can call one another out, accept misgivings and accept correction without taking personal offence. Only through the cultivation of a culture in which this acceptance of culpability is normalised can we move towards genuine societal growth, learning and ultimately, change.

‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Cluster

Dr Lorena Arocha

Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery, Wilberforce Institute

lorena.arocha@hull.ac.uk

This month we are delighted to welcome three new PhD students to the Wilberforce Institute. They are all part of the ‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Cluster, a strategic investment for the Wilberforce Institute and the University of Hull in this field.

The position we have taken with this PhD Cluster is that it is not evil people that create victims but systems. Criminal justice studies have historically been more concerned with the punishment of the offender, but our new students’ research sits with recent moves to re-centre attention critically on the relational shared experiences of victims/survivors and non-victims. Each of these individual projects therefore explores key questions that go beyond the individual person affected by these practices, examining instead the effects of systematic and rooted processes of exploitation, its relation with processes of victimhood and their intersection with questions of social justice and social rights.

The ‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Cluster examines contemporary forms of slavery from three different angles of critical victimology. The first project is led by Jennifer Nghishitende, who will be looking at what happens after people have experienced exploitation, how people make sense of these experiences and how they then move on with their lives, especially in the longer-term, with an emphasis on questions of dignity and rights.

Jennifer Nghishitende 

‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Research Cluster

n.j.nghishitende-2020@hull.ac.uk

The second project is led by Isabel Arce Zelada, whose investigation centres on testimonies, in asylum courts and beyond, and the extent to which these deliver justice.

Isabel Arce Zelada

‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Research Cluster

i.d.arce-zelada-2020@hull.ac.uk

The third project, led by Mavuto Kambochola Banda, focuses on tea plantations in Malawi. Mavuto will examine the unintended consequences of policy measures which are put in place to tackle contemporary forms of slavery.  Such interventions can adversely affect the lives of those they intend to assist.

Mavuto Kambochola Banda

‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Research Cluster

m.k.banda-2020@hull.ac.uk

The ‘Living with the consequences of slavery’ Cluster will therefore look at these problematics from opposite directions: on the one hand, from the perspective of those who have experienced exploitation and its relation with victimisation processes in contemporary forms of slavery; and, on the other, from the perspective of those who have been disadvantaged as a result of humanitarian anti-slavery measures. This, we believe, offers an exceptional opportunity to gain a more comprehensive picture of the complexity of practices and processes that drive exploitation experiences as well as an in-depth understanding of the impact of these experiences in the long term.

The theme of critical victimology, which marks a new direction for the Wilberforce Institute, is composed of two strands. Alongside our investment in the PhD scholarships we are introducing an MA programme in Contemporary Slavery Studies and Critical Victimology, due to start in February 2021.  The MA offers our new PhD students a platform and a community with whom to share their research. We are hoping they will inspire others to engage in this critical area of study.

We have high expectations for our new PhD students, and are looking forward to guiding and supporting them through their studies. They will be based at the Wilberforce Institute when they are not away on research, working with a team of supervisors across various disciplines, in Human Geography, Social Sciences, Criminology and Law.  We are excited by the prospect of seeing their research projects develop as they grow as scholars.

Oriel Chambers, High Street, Hull – the home of the Wilberforce Institute.

Summary of author’s recent publications

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

trevor.burnard@hull.ac.uk

Today Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of two of his recent articles on Jamaican history.

‘Slaves and Slavery in Kingston, 1770-1815,’ International Journal of Social History 65 (2020), 39-65

If you wander down to the magnificent Kingston waterfront, you will see nothing which marks the fact that Kingston was the `Ellis Island’ of African American life in British America. It was the place where nearly 900,000 Africans were landed to begin a usually miserable and often foreshortened life as slaves working on sugar and other plantations and occasionally enjoying a slightly better life as an urban enslaved person in Kingston. Slavery and the slave trade were central to eighteenth-century Kingston and in turn Kingston is vital as a place to study so that we understand Jamaican and Atlantic slavery in the period of the Atlantic slave trade. But our knowledge of Kingston and its slaves is very limited. This article looks at slavery in Kingston from when the slave trade was at its height, between the early 1770s, through to the immediate aftermath of the ending of the slave trade in Jamaica in 1807.

This article summarizes what we know about slavery in Kingston already and provides some empirical data which can be helpful in drawing attention to Kingston’s importance in the history of slavery. The Atlantic slave trade in Kingston was easily the largest business in eighteenth-century British America and had a very distinctive character. Contrary to popular legend, African captives were seldom sold directly from ships in what was described as a `scramble’, when potential buyers pushed and shoved each other in order to acquire valuable property. Slaves cost too much money for any factor selling slaves to allow such chaos to occur. Instead, Africans were purchased in large lots by carefully selected merchants and were moved to merchant houses where they were corralled (`like sheep’, Olaudah Equaino lamented) and then sold usually in small lots to planters. In short, the slave market in Kingston harbor was a wholesale market and was followed by retail sales. Everyone took their cut at all times and the money that flowed was so substantial as to make Kingston and its slave merchants very wealthy.

The manner of slave sales meant that enslaved Africans experienced the transformation of themselves into ‘commodities’ first in Kingston. That was a profound, and profoundly disturbing, human moment. From Kingston, they were dispersed throughout Jamaica, in ways that made enslaved populations very polyglot – Africans from various ships from various places in West Africa were purchased together and sent to very ethnically diverse plantations. Some enslaved people, of course, stayed in Kingston, and I discuss what they did as tradespeople, domestics and sailors in the article.

One would think that the end of a lucrative slave trade would spell disaster for Kingston and its wealthy merchant class. Surprisingly, this did not happen. Why not? What seems to have occurred, although much more work needs to be done on this subject, is that Kingston moved quickly from being a major slave trading entrepot to being the centre of trade with Spanish America. It was a depot from which British manufactured goods were dispersed throughout the Spanish American empire. In an ironic restatement of the famous thesis by Eric Williams that slavery created capitalism, after 1807 capitalism remade slavery as capitalism in the form of British manufactured goods stimulated the slave system and slave economy in places like Cuba.

The slave trade ended in 1807 but slavery remained in Kingston, I finish this article with the perspective of the enslaved, and their participation in festivals, such as Jonkunnu. A spatial inversion occurred during these carnivals, during which black entertainers invaded the spaces of white authority. Slavery was complicated and diverse in Kingston, as in the rest of Jamaica.

James Hakewill (1875), A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica: Kingston and Port Royal 

***

‘Security, Taxation, and the Imperial System in Jamaica, 1721-1782,’ Early American Studies 18, 4 (Fall, 2020)

Aaron Graham of Oxford and myself have written an article, soon forthcoming in Early American Studies, which examines the question of how white Jamaicans ensured their security in a colony where the majority of the inhabitants were enslaved people who hated them and which was periodically subject to severe challenges to white authority coming from black people. The most serious eighteenth-century challenges were the first Maroon War in the 1730s and Tacky’s Revolt in 1760-61. These challenges were existential threats to the Jamaican state and the people – in Britain and among colonial elites – who ran that state. What these threats showed was that Jamaica was a society at war. Societies at war needed to be well funded – something Britain was very good at in the eighteenth century as it developed and perfected a fiscal-military state, designed to fight wars without incurring state bankruptcy.

White Jamaicans welcomed a strong fiscal-military state as the basis for colonial rule because they realized the perilous nature of their rule in their peculiar society. White Jamaicans were willing to pay relatively high rates of taxation to support a powerful and assertive state in schemes of settlement and security. The schemes for settlement did not work, mainly due to dire demographic conditions for white people, but white Jamaicans’ security concerns were generally answered, leading to a settler society that was reasonably content with what the state offered (unlike in the settler societies developed by their American cousins, which opted for rebellion in the 1770s) right up until the end of the American Revolution. White Jamaicans paid relatively high taxes willingly because they were satisfied with what they received from the state and because they were wealthy enough to afford high rates of taxation. Furthermore, in this period white Jamaicans believed that they had a significant stake in the processes by which taxes were collected and spent. Jamaica provides a case study of how the imperial state worked satisfactorily for imperial rulers and those colonists whom they ruled when both the state and colonial settlers shared common beliefs and where negotiations made it clear that the interests of all parties coincided.

Though an extreme example, by virtue of its exposed strategic position, the demographic imbalance between whites and blacks, and its economic importance, Jamaica differed in degree rather than kind from other colonies and territories of the British Atlantic. Eighteenth-century statesmen as different as Charles Townshend, Benjamin Franklin and Edmund Burke understood these imperial realities. Less sophisticated thinkers like Lord North and George Grenville, however, were seduced by plans that forced the empire into one colonial model and thought that the same solutions were applicable to the problems throughout the empire.  The American War of Independence resulted from a failure to understand this fundamental reality about the need to treat colonies within an imperial framework according to their local circumstances, rather than as if they were all Jamaica and equally committed to the expansion of the colonial fiscal-military state.

Map of Jamaica with relief and other marks, 1763.

Summary of author’s recent publications

John Oldfield

Professor of Slavery and Emancipation

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

john.oldfield@hull.ac.uk

Today Professor John Oldfield provides a summary of his new book on transatlantic abolitionism.

The Ties that Bind: Transatlantic Abolitionism in the Age of Reform, c. 1820-1865 (Liverpool University Press, September 2020).

My new book, The Ties that Bind, explores two inter-related themes that are at the heart of my ongoing interest in anti-slavery. The first of these is opinion building; that is, the means whereby activists created a constituency for ‘abolition’. The second is international anti-slavery, or, for these purposes, the Anglo-American origins and complexion of a lot of abolitionist activity. 

             During the 1820s and 1830s, the abolitionist movement entered a new phase, as ‘second-wave’ reformers switched their attention from the slave trade to the institution of slavery itself. While it is tempting to see the drive towards the abolition of slavery (‘emancipation’) as part of specific national histories (1833 in the case of Britain; 1865 in the case of the USA), anti-slavery also rested on dense international networks that transcended national or state boundaries. American activists, to take an obvious example, were greatly encouraged by passage of the UK’s Slavery Emancipation Act of 1833. As I make clear, these ‘Atlantic affinities’ ran deep, evident in the deference that American activists, black and white, paid towards figures such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, as well as the elevation of 1 August 1834, the anniversary of emancipation in the British Caribbean, to a central place in the American abolitionist calendar. In these different ways, American activists drew inspiration from Britain’s example, just as in a lot of their public discourse they created a continuous link between the British past and the American present, a way of looking at anti-slavery that underscored its distinctive origins and history.

              In the same way, American activists adapted many British strategies, particularly when it came to opinion building. On both sides of the Atlantic, anti-slavery rested on organizational structures that stressed the importance of grass-roots activism. The circulation of books and tracts, anti-slavery images and artefacts were all part of ongoing efforts to create unity and purpose, even in the face of determined opposition. So, too, was the employment of itinerant anti-slavery ‘agents’ or lecturers. First pioneered in the UK, the agency system reached its apogee in the USA. These men and women were lightning rods whose job it was to keep the anti-slavery flame alive. As figures such as William Lloyd Garrison, Abby Kelley and Frederick Douglass demonstrated, an eloquent agent could electrify audiences, seemingly bending them to their will. The proliferation of anti-slavery agents, particularly during the 1830s and 1840s, speaks volumes about the organizational skills of American activists, as well as the ongoing relevance of Britain’s influence and example.

              Then there was the question of politics. From its early origins, abolitionism had always been conceived of as a political movement, hence the emphasis on petitions and petitioning. During the nineteenth century, however, activists on both sides of the Atlantic stepped up their pressure on elected representatives through the ‘pledging’ of prospective MPs, or what in the USA was called the ‘interrogatory system’. First developed during the 1820s, these tactics challenged the independence of representatives, at the same time forging a new kind of popular politics that was at once loud and insistent. Above all, this was a transatlantic dialogue. While it is true that there were important differences at play here, not least the importance that some American activists placed on third-party politics, political abolitionists increasingly spoke a common language that set a premium on a style of confrontational politics that proved difficult to silence or ignore.

              However, American anti-slavery was always more than a pale imitation of British anti-slavery. As I reveal, American activists developed their own distinctive (anti-slavery) culture, revealing a willingness to innovate that sometimes set them at odds with their British counterparts. Nineteenth-century debates over the reception of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), for instance, reveal a growing sense that American abolitionism posed a challenge to British norms and values, as well as to the ability of British activists to control a message that they were sometimes inclined to regard as peculiarly their own. Nevertheless, interventions of this kind undoubtedly helped to re-energize British anti-slavery, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s. The same thing was true of anti-slavery songs (another American innovation), sensational slave narratives and lectures tours undertaken by prominent African-American abolitionists, chief among them Frederick Douglass, who delivered no fewer than 300 lectures during his nineteen-month tour of Britain in 1845-6. These black visitors brought immediacy and authenticity to the anti-slavery movement. Yet, at the same time, the spontaneity of their performances, as well as their willingness to take risks, could sometimes blur the distinction between ‘instruction’ and ‘entertainment’, making for experiences that challenged many British expectations.

              Anti-slavery was one of the most successful reform movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Part of that success was down to inspirational leadership and, among rank-and-file members, a passionate dedication to the cause. But, as I argue, organizational skills played a part, too. Turning ideas and sentiments into deliberate action is a complex, multi-faceted process, demanding a ready appreciation of market dynamics, as well as an awareness of social, political and cultural trends, especially when it comes to understanding how people access information. Historians are understandably wary about drawing lessons from the past. Nevertheless, there is something highly instructive about the opinion-building techniques developed by nineteenth-century abolitionists; their engagement with the electoral process; their attention to grass-roots activism; and, above all, the emphasis they placed on international co-operation.