Seminar Report: Slavery and Servitude at the University of Leiden, 25-26 November 2021

Frederick Bricknell and Lance Parker

PhD students

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

f.j.bricknell-2021@hull.ac.uk (Twitter @fjbricknell)

l.parker-2021@hull.ac.uk (Twitter @Lj_daley)

On 25 and 26 November 2021, we attended a two-day virtual seminar on slavery and servitude across a range of chronological and geographic contexts, as part of a collaboration between the Wilberforce Institute, Leiden University Slavery Studies Association, and the Bonn University Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies. The seminar was organised and coordinated by Professor Damian Pargas, who was originally to host the participants at the University of Leiden. Sadly, the Netherlands entered a Covid-19 lockdown the week before the seminar was due to commence and the event was moved online. While we were disappointed not to be able to meet the other participants face-to-face, the seminar was nevertheless a highly successful and engaging experience which showcased the diversity and vitality of slavery studies as a discipline.

Leiden’s historic Pieterskerk, where the Puritan founders of the Plymouth Colony worshipped for more than a decade before departing for the New World in 1620. (Image: https://www.visitleiden.nl/en/locations/2974987658/pieterskerk)

The seminar was divided into five panels, each chaired by leading scholars such as Jeff Fynn-Paul, Oran Kennedy, Karwan Fatah-Black, Remco Breuker and the Wilberforce Institute’s own Trevor Burnard. Contributions from PhD candidates discussed patterns of enslavement and dependency in spatial and temporal contexts as diverse as early modern Moldavia and present-day Qatar, medieval Korea and nineteenth-century north Germany. On the first day of the seminar, as part of a panel on the complex relationship between slavery and freedom during the age of Atlantic revolutions, Lance presented some of his research on the Jamaican Maroons of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His research explores cultural identities within Maroon communities and their relationship with the enslaved and the British within colonial Jamaica. The Maroons at first were runaways, fleeing plantation life, burning plantations and even capturing and freeing some of the enslaved. In response to the growing Maroon populations in Jamaica, the British went to war with them. However, the British were unable to put them down, so instead they made peace with them in 1739, on the condition that the Maroons put down slave rebellions and return runaways. Using both primary records from British officials and oral histories from the Maroons, Lance gets into the voices of the Maroons in order to understand how they saw themselves differently from the enslaved populations in Jamaica.   

This image was created in 1834 and is a depiction of the Anglo-Maroon war that concluded with the peace treaty of 1739. (Image: Illustration by Universal History Achieve, Getty Images, National Geographic.)

On the second morning of the seminar, Fred presented some of his research on the cultural and material roles of water in nineteenth-century Guyanese plantation slavery. Part of a joint project between the Wilberforce Institute and the new Centre for Water Cultures at the University of Hull’s Energy and Environment Institute, Fred’s PhD explores how the natural and man-made hydrology of South America’s Guiana coast influenced the development of slavery in the area and was in turn influenced by the planters’ desire to bend the environment to their own extractive ends. Using a cache of judicial records from the first few decades of the nineteenth century Fred sought to show how enslaved people negotiated their existence in this watery world, adapting to life in constant proximity to rivers, canals, and the Caribbean Sea in surprising and under-studied ways. Case studies included the desire of enslaved watermen on Guyana’s rivers to assert their position of relative privilege wherever they could; a free sailor’s struggle to regain his freedom after being deceived and enslaved; and the secret, dangerous rituals performed to secure the intercession of a powerful water-spirit.

A nineteenth-century map revealing the extent of hydrological infrastructure in the British colony of Demerara on the northern coast of South America. A contemporary observer described each plantation as ‘a complete island within itself, and dammed on all sides’ (Image: Detail from Alexander Gordon, ‘Plan of the Government Lands in the Colony of Demerara’, 1823, The National Archives, MR 1/941)

In spite of the broad range of topics discussed at the conference, spanning the entire globe and over six hundred years of history, several major themes emerged. These included a more complicated relationship between the concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘slavery’ than the simple binary to which they are often reduced, with an array of subtle distinctions, hierarchies, and sub-categories instead suggesting a continuum of constant negotiation between the two. In addition, consistent areas of focus between the papers included the ‘veil’ cast over the legacy of slavery in superficially non-slaveholding polities like eighteenth-century Hamburg and Bremen, and the role of water in both micro- and macrohistorical perspective as both a conduit for symbolic/religious meanings and the basis of vast continental empires.

We are both extremely grateful for the opportunity to present and receive feedback on our work in such a collegiate environment, and would like to extend our thanks to Damian Pargas for organising the seminar as well as to all of the other participants and panel chairs for enabling such productive discussions.


Conference Report: Climate change is driving modern slavery

Saphia Fleury

PhD student, Falling Through the Net Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

S.Fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

The University of Hull is in a unique position to consider the effects of climate change as a driver of modern slavery, having two institutes dedicated to the study of these distinct but interconnected topics. On 11 October 2021 the Wilberforce Institute hosted a virtual conference to formulate an holistic approach to understanding this nexus. The event was supported by Anti-Slavery International and co-organised by Chris O’Connell of Dublin City University. Professor Trevor Burnard, the Wilberforce Institute’s director, welcomed the conference as ‘the start of several conversations about climate change and modern slavery’. Hull’s Energy and Environment Institute, a world-leader in researching sustainable solutions to climate change, was also represented at the event by its director, Dan Parsons. Professor Parsons noted how the UK in particular has a ‘moral responsibility to act’, given that as a country it has the fourth largest total historical cumulative CO2 emissions, and that much of the nation’s wealth has been built on a combination of slavery and high-emitting industrial practices.

Throughout the day, academics, practitioners and people with lived experiences of environmental change and slavery came together to share their research, practical solutions, and hopes for the future. Key-note speaker, the Bolivian Indigenous rights leader Wilma Mendoza Miro, described how various exploitative and ecologically damaging practices are encroaching on Indigenous lands. She concluded that a new approach to policy-making is urgently needed – one which puts human life, not wealth-creation, at the centre of decision-making.

Jasmine O’Connor OBE, the CEO of Anti-Slavery International, described how her organisation recognises the potential of climate change ‘to drive slavery on an unimaginable scale’. Anti-Slavery International is pushing for a just and fair transition to a carbon neutral world, which puts decent jobs at the heart of the transition.

Other participants described various exploitative labour contexts around the world, from highly polluting brick kilns in South Asia, to fishing off the coast of Ghana, to deforestation in Brazil. The theme of climate-induced migration and its risks came up numerous times. While slavery is often considered a problem of the past, and climate change a threat in the future, both issues are converging in the present day to create an ecological and human disaster.

The conference concluded with participants signing up to a letter directed at the President Delegate of the COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow, highlighting the relationship between contemporary slavery, environmental destruction and climate change, and calling for a just transition.

The full report of the conference, including summaries of all the presentations and further discussion of the issues at stake, is now available as a free PDF here

Caption: Melbourne Global climate strike on Sep 20, 2019.


Love as Justice: Confronting the Patriarchal Dynamics of Child Abuse

Jasmine Holding Brown,

PhD student, Falling Through the Net Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

J.Holding-Brown-2019@hull.ac.uk

We have all been socialised to embrace patriarchal thinking, to embrace an ethics of domination which says the powerful have a right to rule over the powerless and can use any means to subordinate them. In the hierarchies of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, male domination of females is condoned, but so too is adult domination of children.

(Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks, 2000:74)

Long before Me Too became a viral hashtag in 2017, Tarana Burke, a prolific antiracist activist and community organiser, was working at a youth camp when a 13-year-old sought her out and began disclosing her experiences of sexual violence. Feeling ill-equipped to deal with the information she passed it on to someone else. The girl never came back. Burke felt guilty for rejecting the teenager instead of saying ‘me too’. Burke herself had been turned away from a rape crisis centre without the requisite police referral, and so developed workshops in Alabama’s secondary schools where she asked female students to write ‘me too’ if they needed help. Expecting only a few responses she instead received twenty ‘me toos’ from among the thirty students. A decade later, Burke’s attentiveness to the transformative power of empathy instigated a global reckoning with the pervasive relationship between male dominance and sexual violence. It led, famously, to the dethroning of some high-profile predators.

Bringing abusers to justice is imperative. But justice for survivors requires resources other than outrage and additional reckonings, perhaps less likely to feed popular predilections for scandal, or the entirely counterproductive vilification of front-line workers that accompanies the most egregious child abuse cases. The feminist movement, bell hooks suggests, was the ‘first to call attention to the fact that ours is a culture that does not love children‘, and that child abuse is rooted in the patriarchal systems of dominance that structure society. As a result, children are seen as parental property and denied meaningful civil and political rights. Though caring is, traditionally, the preserve of the feminine, in reality, ‘women are often the primary culprits in everyday violence against children simply because they are the primary parental caregivers’ (hooks, 2000:73). Recognising adult-child relations as patriarchal implicates adults of all genders.

Confronting the patriarchal dynamics of child abuse also requires us to consider the sociological aspects of shame, and how shame conditions attitudes, relationships and practices targeting children. Shaming, hooks argues, provides the foundations for other abuses. It can, for example, be imprinted upon children who fail to perform expected gender roles. Historically, it was affixed to ‘illegitimate’ children. It contributes to the conditioning that makes men far less likely to disclose abuse. It is also felt by those who grow up outside of the idealised family unit. There is a reason, as Lemn Sissay notes in My Name is Why, that parents use the care system as a threat to discipline their children. It reflects the deeply ingrained prejudices regarding the looked after and unparented – ‘a child in care is living proof of the dysfunction at the heart of every functioning family […] It’s a very serious point. It’s almost as though a child in care is toxic, but it’s when we look at children like this that the abuse can happen’.

Far too many young people struggle to elicit care or protection from the adult guardians of state resources within, and outside of, the care system. The ‘adultification’ of children racialised as black denies them ‘the benefits of being viewed as innocent’, while children from communities historically mistreated by statutory services are rightly suspicious that the state will act in their best interests. This is the reason why Gitanmaax members blocked the removal of an Indigenous child in British Columbia in October 2021. In the UK, the struggle for young people to elicit help is compounded by a decade of austerity politics and short-sighted policy making. In 2012, the problem of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale was addressed, in large part, through the tireless work of Sara Rowbotham, a sexual health worker whose evidence was used to convict nine men. Several of their victims were in state care. Two years later Rowbotham was made redundant. In a 2017 radio interview and on the verge of tears she said, ‘it’s really frustrating […] I spent a lot of time thinking it didn’t really make much sense. I really thought that there was one point where I was really on top of my game, I knew what I was doing […] My staff did incredible work with really hard to help young people.’ According to research by the NSPCC it takes, on average, seven years for a young person to disclose sexual abuse. It is entirely unrealistic to expect front-line services, now tasked predominantly with crisis interventions, to meet these child protection needs.

Stuart Hall often referred to the current conjuncture, the conditions of cultural flux that open spaces for social change and, he cautioned, posed a danger to the already marginalised. It is worth remembering that in 2014, the coalition government attempted to privatise child protection services and do away with protections inscribed in the 1989 Children Act. Public and professional outrage defeated the proposals. As England’s local authorities, who are responsible for children’s social care, face a two-billion-pound shortfall in 2022, for-profit solutions to this ongoing crisis will likely resurface.

Until recently, I had not really considered the conjuncture my research emerged from in 2019, when I started a project on the mass migration of 130,000 children from Britain to Canada and Australia. Two years prior, in 2017, historic child migration had made headlines when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) launched its investigation into the programmes. Gordon Brown (whose government apologised for the schemes in 2010) suggested its findings amounted to the worst child abuse scandal in UK history: ‘bigger than what people have alleged about Savile. Bigger than what people have alleged about individual children’s homes.’ This acknowledgement is unlikely to have made its way into the public domain were it not for the snowball effects of the Jimmy Savile and ‘grooming gangs’ exposés of 2012. (The ‘Savile Effect’ saw an 80% increase in reporting of sexual offences to the NSPCC). This is the critical conjuncture in which the unprecedented scale and scope of the IICSA first launched in 2014, which has, to date, included 15 separate investigations, and has seen 5,440 people testify to its Truth Project. Within the cultural maelstrom of child abuse scandals that have followed, their findings now less scandalising and more anticipated, no sector and few institutions have been left unindicted in their failures to adequately protect children.

The unavoidable reality that child abuse is endemic to our societies cannot be addressed, solely, through repeated inquiry. Nor can the abusive cultures of institutions shoulder all responsibility. The emancipation of the child requires a fundamental reworking of adult-child power relations. Justice, bell hooks writes, ‘is an indispensable part of love’, abuse and neglect negate love, but affirmation and care are its foundations. What might ‘love as justice’ in our relationships with children, and not just our ‘own’ look like? The 13-year-old who never came back to the youth camp was known as trouble, ‘and she was trouble, because she was a survivor’. Tarana Burke did not, at the time, feel qualified to care for the girl who ‘clung’ to her for help. This is not a criticism. Care work can be incredibly difficult and is highly skilled, but it is vital, and must be properly resourced if we are unwilling to accept that justice for children can only be sought retrospectively. When there are no more Tarana Burkes or Sara Rowbothams left, towards whom do we imagine these children will turn?

Caption: Stuart Hall at the first Women’s Liberation Conference Creche, Oxford 1970.

Courtesy of Women Strike UK.


The War That is Asylum: The Duty to Disobey

Isabel Arce Zelada

PhD student, Living with the Consequences of Slavery Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

I.D.Arce-Zelada-2020@hull.ac.uk

Asylum as an institution has existed since antiquity, deeply interwoven with laws around war, citizenship and political hierarchies. There have been attempts to push its history back to the origins of humanity by rebranding it as solely a humanitarian act of offering shelter. However, this can hardly be called asylum as it is missing the main components of rejection and submission. As part of the practices of the western world, asylum has taken on at least two crucial functions – to reject the border-crosser and to criminalize their migration. Not only does this process portray ‘repatriation’ as an acceptable course of action but it also has the ability to push the boundaries of ethics when we are dealing with other human beings.

The thousands of deaths at the borders of our nation-states are not treated as national emergencies. Instead they are used as excuses to make the crossing of borders for some even more hostile as a deterrent. Those who do risk their lives to save people crossing borders are now also targeted as criminals, as the boundaries of legal-ethical lines are pushed, creating geographical spaces where individuals can be killed with impunity. During warfare the killing of another person is sanctioned by our respective nation-states: no one is going to be shocked to hear that a soldier has killed an ‘enemy’ while his or her country is at war. Granted, war takes on many disguises, many events are kept hidden from the general public and war crimes, killing civilians for example, are still seen as illegal.  But asylum is not a war, we are told, it is humanitarianism.

In this sense asylum is not just the guardian of a geographical border but also the creator of ethical guidelines for citizens. If an asylum case is refused it becomes acceptable to discard the person who was applying for it. But if an asylum claim is accepted the person is entitled to support and advocacy from citizens to show what a humanitarian society we have cultivated. The difference between the two people is one judgement from a court room that might not know or comprehend all of the person’s lived experience. Then there are people seeking asylum in the UK who get stuck in the system for years, awaiting a decision or appealing while being required to exist on a lower income than Britain’s 10% poorest households.

Carving out the citizen was and is a colonial project, designed to cement an allegiance between the individual and the nation-state. It creates duties for both parties, criminalizing the individual that betrays the nation-state and invoking protests from the nation over civil rights when the nation-state fails to uphold them. In this relationship, however, we invisibilize the non-citizen: the stateless; the asylum seeker; and the Indigenous. These  are all excluded from the nation-state project and outside the contractual relationship that the citizen should have. When we speak of radical movements, particularly liberation movements, we need to then ask what kind of radical liberation we are striving for?  Are we looking for the full gain of promised civil rights, or for the dismantling of the citizen relationship all together; in other words should we break the monopoly on humanity that the citizen has?

As of today large parts of humanity are citizens, and so the question should also be what are the duties of the citizen in relation to this bordered violence? By law, in Britain, we can still all commit treason, and those with precarious British citizenship (who have been naturalized or whose parents have been naturalized) can have that citizenship stripped if this is the case. But citizenship duties go well beyond the duties to the nation-state. In fact, the exploration of citizenship duties by Thoureau and Walzer focuses on the duty that the citizen has to disobey. While we are being fed a notion of morality by asylum courts today, one that claims to distinguish between criminal and victim, it is the citizen’s duty to refuse the legal system’s monopoly on this judgement. On the 9th of November 2021, citizens locked themselves to the road that was meant to transport people in detention to another Jamaican charter flight. Whether they are to be tried by the British legal system remains to be seen, but in acts like these the citizen exercises the right to reclaim morality and humanity.

This example is not meant to obscure the constant activism of non-citizens. Indigenous peoples have a fundamental practice of consistent resistance against the assimilation of the land and their people into the nation-state. Targeted migrants have consistently carved out paths for ourselves geographically, practically and legally to survive. When it comes to asylum, the representative of the Secretary of State will stand (or sit) in court citing the safety and wellbeing of the “public” in Britain as a cause for the person seeking asylum not to be granted refugee status. The duty to disobey these border regimes is also rooted in refusing to be complicit in their violence; disobeying is the only way to acknowledge the humanity of the non-citizen.


Caption: ‘Silence is compliance – A protester with a message standing on a window ledge in Whitehall.’ Photo courtesy of Alisdare Hickson at https://www.flickr.com/photos/alisdare/31903348794/

Fieldwork: a time to learn from the ‘lived experiences of children and families’ in tea and tobacco communities

Mavuto K. Banda

PhD student, Living with the Consequences of Slavery Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

M.K.Banda-2020@hull.ac.uk

Malawi is an agriculture-based economy where tea and tobacco contribute about 70% of total annual export earnings, 60% of which comes from tobacco alone. As one of the countries that ratified the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 138 on Minimum Age of Employment, and Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour, the Malawi Government has put in place policies and legal instruments to operationalise its international obligations and committed itself to combat child labour. According to the Employment Act (2000), the minimum age for entry into employment in Malawi is 14; however, work in tea and tobacco production is considered hazardous to children, and so the minimum age of employment is pegged at 18.

Agriculture is the single largest employer, sustaining livelihoods mainly through subsistence farming and part-time work locally known as ganyu in addition to jobs provided by commercial estates such as tea and tobacco. Over 84% of Malawians live in rural areas and agriculture employs 85% of working males and 94% of females.

Led by multinationals and supported by the government and its local and international stakeholders (NGOs and UN agencies), Malawi has implemented interventions to keep children from tea and tobacco work since the early 2000s. Children are banned from working in commercial tea and tobacco estates, as work in these sectors is considered hazardous and detrimental to children’s growth and development by ILO standards. These bans were and are still predominantly upheld by players in tea and tobacco as a direct response to accountability pressures from consumers in Europe and North America, where most of the tea and tobacco exports from Malawi are destined. Further pressure comes from international organisations and UN agencies such as the ILO and UNICEF.

However, in recent years, reports of children’s continued participation, especially in tobacco production, shocked the international community and threatened the country’s export earnings and by extension, its economy. In 2019, the US government banned the importation of tobacco from Malawi, which was thought to have been produced using exploitative children’s work.

For commercial tea and tobacco estates, and indeed for the country, banning children’s work from tea and tobacco – probably the most outbound globally connected value chains in the Malawian economy – lowers reputational risks, which appear to be responding to consumer demands for accountability. However, little is known about the impact these bans are having on the lived experiences of children who no longer have the opportunity to work in commercial tea and tobacco estates.

This is what my study, therefore, aims to examine – the impact on under-18-year-olds of the ban from working in tea and tobacco plantations. I will be asking the following set of guiding questions:

1) To what extent have the universal minimum age policy interventions contributed to the elimination of child labour in tea and tobacco-growing communities?

2) How have the universalised minimum age policies and related interventions influenced the lives of children, their families and their communities?

3) How could interventions relating to child labour elimination in tea and tobacco-growing communities protect and empower children, families and communities?

I have decided to use the following investgative techniques to collect data: I will conduct key informant interviews targeting service providers and community leaders; set up  focus group discussions; and create survey questionnaires targeting household members. The study will be conducted in the Southern Region districts of Thyolo and Mulanje (for tea production) and Zomba (for tobacco production).

I am grateful to the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST)’s Center for Innovation and Industrial Research (CIIR) in Thyolo District for offering to host me during the period of fieldwork. Their various capacity-building initiatives will enrich my research experience and further my career development. In addition, the stay at MUST will ensure that I have an office and access to the internet when I am not in the field for reporting and reading. In turn, I will dedicate four hours per week to any work assigned to me by the CIIR.

I now have the ethics approval from the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FoSE) at the University of Hull and am in the process of applying for ethics approval  with MUST’s research committee. Once I get the MUST research ethics approval, I can begin my fieldwork with stakeholder mapping and consultations before field data collection proper begins. With over 60% of research costs secured, I am in the process of applying for the shortfall from the National Commission of Science and Technology (NCST)’s Small Grant Scheme, designed to support postgraduate students in research.

All in all, I am very excited to enter the field data collection phase of my PhD studies. With the support I am getting both at the University of Hull and MUST, I hope this will be successful fieldwork.


Caption: Mavuto K. Banda in Mulanje tea fields, Southern Malawi (Source: Mavuto K. Banda, 2016)

‘This is the first blues I no doubt heard in my life’: The role of African-American GIs in introducing Britain to Blues Music

James Baker

PhD student, Falling Through the Net Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

J.Baker-2019@hull.ac.uk

On 31st March 2013, the BBC broadcasted a documentary entitled ‘Blues Britannia: Can Blue Men Play the Whites?’, outlining the rise of blues music in late 1950s and early 1960s Britain. Featuring interviews with the likes of the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Jack Bruce from Cream and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, the programme provided several reasons as to why the genre became so popular. Britain already had a well-established jazz culture prior to this era and so when the blues was beginning to reach the peak of its popularity, the BBC began to give the genre more airtime. London music shops helped too by stocking blues records in far higher quantities. However, an important factor that this documentary and many other histories of British blues music often overlook is the role of African-American GIs in introducing many Britons to the genre during and after the Second World War.

The history of blues music is defined by the histories of slavery and African-American oppression. Work songs and religious spirituals sung by enslaved African-Americans were heavily influenced by traditional African harmonies and rhythms. They would use these songs not only to pass the time but also to communicate with one another, as typified by the call and response element of this music. Even after emancipation, many African-Americans in the South were forced to work for little or no pay, and the blues music of this era came to symbolise the plight of those whose lives remained blighted by prejudice, hard labour and incarceration. The Delta blues, originating from the Mississippi Delta, were first recorded in the 1920s and told of the ongoing poverty, discrimination and poor working conditions that continued to affect African Americans at the turn of the century. Although African-American GIs played a vital role in the Second World War, with around 100,000 stationed in the UK alone, institutional and societal racism remained highly prevalent.

Despite being stationed in the United Kingdom, the African-American GIs who served here remained subject to US law, meaning that they continued to experience segregation and racial oppression. African-American GIs were largely consigned to service and supply duties, including having to endure poor living and working conditions while building airfields. When they attempted to raise issues regarding their ongoing racial segregation, they were met with brutality at the hands of their own military police, as was the case at Bamber Bridge in Lancashire during June 1943 and Park Street in Bristol on 15 July 1944[NJE1] . In both instances, one African-American soldier was killed and several more were injured. Legalised prejudice towards African-American GIs continued throughout their time in the United Kingdom and the British government did little to remedy the situation despite being aware of their ongoing mistreatment. The GIs also experienced discrimination during their recreation time with many pubs, such as the Colston Arms in Bristol, enforcing racial segregation between soldiers.

The reception of the wider British population towards African-American GIs was on the whole rather more welcoming and facilitated a number of important cultural exchanges. This included many Britons being introduced to blues music for the first time during the 1940s and 1950s, a phenomenon that would help change the course of British music for the coming decades. As a means of endearing themselves to their hosts, the GIs gave away large numbers of records to local children and would perform the blues to British military personnel while stationed at their bases. Many Britons during the war could listen to blues records and blues-themed programmes via the American Forces Network. This station proved to be an important forum for the genre even after the Second World War had ended, allowing many who were not situated in the vicinity of army bases to become familiarised with this style of music.

There were also several chance encounters between these GIs and the families of future British blues stars. A young Mick Jagger was first introduced to the music of Muddy Waters after meeting an African-American cook who worked at the same US airbase as his father, a PE teacher. Furthermore, merchant seamen stationed in port cities including Belfast and Newcastle exchanged records with their British colleagues, including the fathers of Van Morrison and the Animals’ Eric Burdon. In addition, many of the blues LPs that were sold in UK record shops in the decades after the end of the war previously belonged to African-American GIs. Many other prominent blues musicians including Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones would buy these albums and take inspiration from them while creating their own music in later years. 

Although there is a rich scholarship concerning the impact of the blues on British rock and pop music, the influence of African Americans and in particular GIs is all too often missing from these narratives. The 1950s and 1960s would undoubtedly see Blues music become drastically more popular in Britain, but the earlier cultural exchanges that occurred in Britain during the Second World War sowed the seeds for this later musical trend. At a time when African Americans faced extreme discrimination both at home and abroad, African-American GIs based in Britain can be credited with performing and distributing the music describing their ongoing oppression, as well as influencing countless bands and musicians who remain household names to this very day.


Caption: Steel Guitar, courtesy of Steve Garry at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JHS_Vintage%C2%AE_AMG1_Acoustic_Resonator_Guitar_-_f-holes.jpg

Mothers with lived experience of modern slavery

Ndiweteko Jennifer Nghishitende

PhD student, Living with the Consequences of Slavery Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

N.J.NGHISHITENDE-2020@hull.ac.uk

When we consider life after modern slavery, we should not only consider survival, but also the prospect of survivors having opportunities to become thriving members of society. My research focuses on women and young persons who have left situations of modern slavery in the UK, and I have recently commenced fieldwork, speaking to women as well as practitioners who support them. I am increasingly becoming aware of the large gap in the manner in which mothers with children are supported, which may severely impact their potential to thrive after exploitation. Many women enter exploitation as mothers, while others emerge out of exploitation pregnant, or with young children, some having their children as a result of the exploitation.

Motherhood

Motherhood requires ‘maternal work’, which comprises daily repetitive tasks towards the raising of children. This ‘maternal work’ is three-pronged in that it encompasses the physical care of children, the emotional and spiritual care of children, and the training of children to be social. This makes motherhood a multidimensional role, in addition to taking care of oneself as an individual. The ‘cultural story’ of motherhood, however, makes mothers out to be strong, independent, and nonthreatening- thus expected to be able to bear almost anything.

Mothers with lived experience of modern slavery seem to be expected to conform to this ‘cultural story’ having to rely mostly on strength to survive. Strength is needed to perform their ‘maternal work’ – physically, spiritually, and emotionally taking care of their children, doing school runs – and during the COVID-19 lockdown, this included home-schooling. This is done in conjunction with moving forward; battling insecure immigration statuses; dealing with insecure, sometimes temporary accommodation; dealing with criminalisation; integrating; working (if allowed and able); dating, or sustaining a marriage; fostering friendships; and so forth.

A suspended future

Women generally consider their children to be their lives, and some mothers find solace in vicariously living through their children by throwing themselves into their upbringing. After all, a mother’s love is ‘supposed’ to know no bounds, and part of her ‘maternal work’ is to protect her child. Because the support available for those who can access it is limited, mothers with lived experience of modern slavery may have to pause or suspend their own lives in favour of those of their children. Some would, for instance, skip their therapy sessions  and other important appointments, but would ensure to take their children to the doctor when needed.

However, children grow up and move out. What happens then? A mother I recently interviewed could not answer me when I asked her about what she wanted the next few years of her life to look like. Her children are her life and soon they will grow up and leave the nest, after which she will be left to deal with her past trauma that was deferred to raise her children.

Work

The benefits of being able to work have been well documented. The inability to work, on the other hand,  has been found to affect individuals negatively, as it can impede social integration and increase destitution, impair confidence, cause loss of skills, accentuate isolation and increase vulnerabilities. Working is important in restoring mental wellbeing and a sense of dignity and self-worth and the provision of a meagre weekly allowance does not address the mental health implications associated with living without work.

Mothers with lived experience of modern slavery express a strong desire to work, but there are various compelling challenges that prevent them from doing so. The issue of work affects mothers differently and it is not simply a matter of having the right to work or the capability. Usually, these mothers are lone parents, and encounter problems surrounding childcare. Some women are British survivors for instance who are unable to work due to insecure childcare. Others may be international survivors with the right to work but face other layers of difficulty in addition to childcare – women may have language barrier problems or long gaps in their resumes that are hard to explain to potential employers because of time spent in exploitation.

In addition to childcare, some mothers are also faced with skills deficits.  Some may have spent many years in terrible working conditions performing unfulfilling tasks that may have stunted their productive abilities. Others may have entered exploitation while they were still children and as such were deprived of the opportunity to gain certain skills. One of the women I interviewed relayed to me that in the quest to obtain skills and thus gainful employment, she would take her babies to class with her, sometimes having to breastfeed during lectures and subsequently having to repeat modules multiple times.

Effects on children

With World Children’s Day commemorated on Saturday, 20 November 2021 (and on 20 November of every year since 1954) to ‘promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare’ it is apt to recognise the impact on the children discussed within this context. Children emerging out of exploitation with their mothers are being let down by the system, even though the need to extend particular care to the child has been emphasised in various international and national human rights instruments. Insufficient support for a mother invariably means insufficient support for the child.

Further, some children are affected by their mothers’ experiences. Those with their mothers and are exposed to their mothers’ hardships may face the possibility of stunted growth and development and/or mental health problems. Children are at times forced to grow up too quickly – taking on responsibilities such as taking care of younger siblings and sometimes even suppressing their feelings to protect their mother’s emotions.

Others are affected by being left behind – a significant number of migrant women have children and are usually unable to migrate with them, because of a lack of safe and legal pathways to migrate and other factors. Some then decide to leave their children behind, in the care of relatives, friends, or nannies, although most feel guilt and remorse  for doing so.

While existing studies suggest that the circumstances surrounding each cohort of children left behind are highly variable, some children struggle without their mothers and some may become withdrawn or perform poorly in school.

The way forward

Although I am in the early stages of my data collection, I have found that the journeys of these mothers and those of their children have barely been researched. Data needs to be collected to inform solutions. More needs to be done, to ensure that women and children in this category are given equitable treatment to not only survive but also thrive, given that their background conditions are complicated. As a mother myself, I know that thriving mothers have a better chance of raising thriving children.

Caption: Mother and child photo from Pexels, copyright free.

Publication: Decolonizing Colonial Heritage

Professor John Oldfield

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

John.Oldfield@hull.ac.uk

This month marks the publication of Decolonizing Colonial Heritage: New Agendas, Actions and Practices in and beyond Europe (Routledge), a major output of the Horizon 2020 project ECHOES. Running from 2018-2021, this project – ‘European Colonial Heritage Modalities in Entangled Cities’ – was led by Professor John Oldfield of the Wilberforce Institute.

Decolonizing Colonial Heritage explores how different agents practice the decolonization of European heritage in a number of different urban settings. Including contributions from academics, artists and heritage practitioners, the volume explores decolonial heritage practices in politics, contemporary history, diplomacy, museum practice, the visual arts and self-generated memorial expressions in public spaces. The comparative focus of the chapters includes examples of internal colonization in Europe and extends to former European colonies, among them Shanghai, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro. Examining practices in a range of different contexts, the book pays particular attention to sub-national actors (curators, artists, citizens groups), whose work is opening up new futures through their engagement with decolonial heritage practices in the present.

Decolonizing Colonial Heritage in divided into three parts. Part I, ‘Haunted Worlds: Ghosts of the Colonial Past’, includes chapters on the multiple imperial entanglements of countries in Europe’s North and East, as well as its West and South; Sam Mendes’ highly-acclaimed film 1917 and the question of imperial nostalgia; an in-depth analysis of Cecil Rhodes’ spectral presence across the landscape and built environment of the campus of the University of Cape Town; African- and Afro-descendent life stories in contemporary Lisbon; and an assessment of another spectral presence, that of the Nigerian-born jazz musician, August Agboola Browne, also known as ‘Ali’, who was apparently the only black participant in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

Part II, ‘Contemporary Heritage Practices’, hones in on museums and curatorship, both inside and outside Europe, with case studies from Amsterdam, Shanghai and Warsaw. It then moves on to consider colonial culture’s echoes within visual culture and site-specific art, starting with the Valongo Wharf region of Rio de Janeiro, now a World Heritage Site. Other contributions deal with European settings and events, including the annual Todos festival in Lisbon and the life experiences and working practices of a number of artists currently working in Marseille. The section concludes with a meditation by Meghna Singh on her multimedia, virtual reality installation, Container, which links South Africa’s history of slavery to forms of modern exploitation, prejudice and discrimination.

Part III, ‘Imagining Decolonial Futures’, investigates new decolonial ways of thinking about Europe today and its inseparability from historical entanglements with other countries. Britta Timm Knudsen’s contribution, ‘Decolonial Countervisuality’, offers an experimental approach to decolonial methodology in which she invites heritage practitioners to reflect on the Belgian-Congolese documentary, Faire-part (2019). The second chapter turns to ‘New Diplomacy and Decolonial Heritage Practices’, offering a vision of what International Cultural Relations might look like in a decolonial world. The final chapter links Europe’s historical record of dealing with ‘others’, including European Jews, to recent histories of excluding ethnic minorities located within and beyond the content, not least Muslims. Framed by the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing fallout from the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, it also suggests new ways of imagining an intercultural, transnational and entangled Europe of the future.

Decolonizing Colonial Heritage is edited by Britta Timm Knudsen, John Oldfield, Elizabeth Buettner and Elvan Zabunyan, and includes contributions from Dr Cristina Clopot and Dr Meghna Singh, research fellows at the Wilberforce Institute. Generously supported by the European Commission, the book is available as a free resource online here, as well as in hardback. For further details, see https://www.routledge.com/Decolonizing-Colonial-Heritage-New-Agendas-Actors-and-Practices-in/Knudsen-Oldfield-Buettner-Zabunyan/p/book/9780367569600

Decolonizing Colonial Heritage is one of two books produced by the ECHOES project, the other being Practicing Decoloniality in Museums: A Guide with Global Examples, edited by Csilla Ariese and Magdalena Wroblewska and published by the University of Amsterdam Press (November 2021) https://www.aup.nl/en/book/9789463726962/practicing-decoloniality-in-museums

Black History Month 2021: Our African door

As part of Black History Month 2021 we are appealing to you to help us understand an object given to us a number of years ago by a former Lord Mayor of the City of Kingston upon Hull, Honorary Alderman David Gemmell – a carved door. David’s sister was an avid visitor to Africa during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. On one of her visits she acquired a door that he later presented to the Institute for us to look after. 

The 45 x 75cm door, pictured above, appears to be made out of planks of a hard wood, nailed together using handmade nails. It has some impressive carvings on the front with a clear handle near the centre. The reverse is plain. But what do the symbols represent? Where was the door originally used? And where in Africa does it originate? We would love to know more so that we can share the story with visitors to the Institute.

A quick search on Google images returns numerous types of African doors variously described as ‘traditional’ doors, ‘Dogon granary’ doors, ‘palace’ and ‘shrine’ doors, for example. The doors themselves come in various shapes and sizes, and the patterns appear to reflect the traditions of a range of wood carvers right across Africa.

Wooden doors with elaborately carved reliefs may at one time have been reserved for the wealthiest and most important of African chiefs and created by professional carvers.  In any case it seems likely that the size of the doors and the quality of the carving would have reflected the status of those who commissioned them. The carvings themselves, symbolic representations of gods or celestial bodies, animals or plants, or scenes from everyday life, can sometimes give a clue to the purpose of the doors.

Where did our door originate, and who might have produced it? Could it perhaps be a Dogon door? It certainly has a number of similarities with Dogon doors for sale on the Internet. The Dogon, who live in present day Mali, produced carved wooden doors for their granaries, and the elaborate designs they used were intended to provide ritual forms of protection for their food supplies. These appear to be very popular with collectors and were sometimes sold in craft markets. Many are likely to be copies, produced expressly for the consumer market.

We have had our door for a number of years now, and would like to know more about it.  So if you are able to add to our knowledge in any way, please get in touch with Nick Evans at N.J.Evans@hull.ac.uk or Judith Spicksley at Judith.Spicksley@hull.ac.uk

Images of African doors taken from Google Images

Taking a Knee: a gesture redefined for protest

Chloe Baker, Research Intern

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

chloe.ambaker@gmail.com

Getting down on one knee has been anything but a threatening gesture. For some examples, it’s used to pay one’s respect, to devote oneself to the Lord in prayer, and to love another human being by asking for their hand in marriage. However, Colin Kaepernick’s and Eric Reid’s decision to Take the Knee on September 1st, 2016, during the American national anthem, was seen as an act of defiance and disrespect, at least that’s how it looked to some of the white population of the United States. For Kaepernick and Reid, this was their way of demonstrating that enough was enough. Why should they stand and salute the flag when it represented a country that continually treated black communities and other minorities as unequal? Since then, a growing variety of sports have become the stage for Black Lives Matter protests involving Taking a Knee, as both have a long history with the struggle for equality and the fight against oppression.

Is Taking a Knee a new way to protest?

The short answer to the above question is no. The Wilberforce Institute has been researching the idea behind Taking a Knee, and what it has uncovered is that while Taking a Knee has been firmly established by 2021 as a way to challenge racism and oppression through George Floyd protests, black individuals have been making the gesture for centuries. Its earliest depiction was in 1787 on a Wedgewood medallion for the abolition cause with the famous words ‘Am I Not A Man and A Brother’. However, this popular abolitionist image is controversial because it was created for a white audience. It shows a supplicant slave in chains with minimal clothing and sanitised of the brutality of slavery, asking white society for the right to be human (Marcus Wood, The Horrible Gift of Freedom, 2010). It was the civil rights era that saw a reclamation of the gesture by black communities as black men and women took a knee in prayer protests and civil disobedience for equality. In the twenty-first century, it is through sports that people of all backgrounds associate Taking a Knee with protesting racism.

Sport as a platform

Since 2016 the question ‘why sports?’ has made its appearance now and then regarding protests taking place in sports settings. The answer to that question can be broken down into several factors. The most obvious one is that sports games congregate the population of the surrounding areas into one spot which means the protest will be seen by a substantial amount of people. Bigger arenas such as the 2020 Olympics are filmed too, and will therefore have the bonus of reaching an even greater audience over a larger radius. Secondly, like any other profession, playing sport is a job and its players are people who wish to create a better working environment with equal opportunities. Scholars Adam Love, Alexander Deeb, and Steven Waller use the National Basketball Association for an example, stating that within the profession people of colour make up 80% of players, but only hold 30% of head coaching positions, 10% of general manager positions, and 6.9% of CEO/President roles.

As outsiders, fans only see that high player percentage, and so they tend to think of sport as removed from ‘everyday concerns of inequality, power, and discrimination’, and the success of athletes of colour as proof that racism is not rampant in the sporting world. Taking a Knee disrupts that view. Thirdly, the reaction the protest receives reflects the attitudes of the area and can therefore prove its point. For example, a football match between Millwall and Derby saw fans boo football players who decided to Take a Knee to protest racism. Lastly, and most significantly, black athletes have been using sports to fight for change for the better part of a century.

Jackie Robinson joined the Montreal Royals, a baseball team, in 1946 and successfully broke the ‘colour line’ of Major League Baseball when appearing on the field for the National League Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 until 1956. Eroseanna Robinson stayed seated for the American national anthem at the Pan American Games of 1959. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked out of the Olympics in 1968 for their raised fist gesture at the podium, and Wyomia Tyus wore black shorts at the same event to subtly protest, all in the name of highlighting racial injustice. The list continues. Why sport? Because it’s where people give their undivided attention.

Taking a Knee in sport is the next step in a sequence that goes back to slavery. Black men and women Taking a Knee for a cause is not a twenty-first-century idea but has appeared in history at crucially important moments. The idea of the gesture within sports means that it is kept in the front of people’s minds via popular events, expressing that racism does not cease to exist because one cannot see it.

‘Am I Not A Man And A Brother’ Chair, Wilberforce Institute. Photo taken by Chloé Baker.