London Indymedia

26/01/2008: Beyond Slavery Conference - Time To Move On?

Oscar Beard and Jason N. Parkinson | 06.03.2008 10:25 | Education | History | Repression | London

On Saturday 26 January, 2008, The Synergy Centre in Southwark, London, hosted the Beyond Slavery conference. With noted black community members, historians and cultural commentators, the debate explored the contemporary relevance and legacy of slavery and colonisation, and their direct impact on modern-day social problems in South London. Video Journalist Jason N. Parkinson was there to document the debate. Ten videos covering the speakers, open forum and post conference interviews are available on You Tube to view. (Article below video links).

Trident Armed Response Arrive On Neasden Lane July 2007...
Trident Armed Response Arrive On Neasden Lane July 2007...

... Following Two Undercover Police Officers Being Shot At
... Following Two Undercover Police Officers Being Shot At

Dr William (Lez) Henry
Dr William (Lez) Henry

Decima Francis MBE
Decima Francis MBE

Henry Bonsu
Henry Bonsu

Hip Hip Artist and Producer, Ty
Hip Hip Artist and Producer, Ty

So Solid Crew, Megaman
So Solid Crew, Megaman

Sybil Phoenix MBE
Sybil Phoenix MBE


You Tube video links
Introduction: Henry Bonsu
Dr William (Lez) Henry
Q&A: Dr William (Lez) Henry
Decima Francis MBE
Ty, Hip Hop MC and Producer
Sybil Phoenix MBE
Open Forum Part One
Open Forum Part Two

The recent spate of shootings and stabbings, and the growth in gang culture in South London and elsewhere has often been characterised as a product of the disruption of social structures and cultural identities caused by slavery and colonisation.
Others maintain that such explanations insulate communities from taking responsibility for tackling these problems.
At Beyond Slavery, a panel of black cultural commentators, historians and community leaders shared their perspectives with an invited audience to address the issues and develop networks of understanding to lay the foundation for collective action to promote greater community cohesion and harmony.
Colourful Radio Presenter and Broadcaster Henry Bonsu introduced the conference with a speech about how in 2007, the bicentenary of the slavery abolition act, a wide range of academics and institutions stated it was time to “move on from slavery”.
With this in mind Mr Bonsu recounted his experiences at the London Evening Standard’s Influential Debate the previous week.
Among those attending the Evening Standard night was London Conservative Mayoral candidate Boris Johnson, who, in an article published by the Telegraph, had referred to the Congolese as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
Bonsu went on to point out that no one challenged Johnson on these comments, until he and another attendee brought up the issue, only to be heckled by a predominantly rich white Chelsea crowd and told to “go back to where you came from”, thus transforming a debate on congestion charge expansion into a race row.
Bonsu’s point was simple, if these comments are still coming out, often from prominent members of parliament and authority - is it really time to move on and to go Beyond Slavery?
Dr William (Lez) Henry, Academic, Youth worker and Dancehall DJ presented a slide show and talk on the history of slavery and racist perceptions, both social and in the media, pointing out that black history is taught every day, but it has been “whitened”, citing examples from the Hollywood movie industry to The Sun newspaper among others.
His ride through African enslavement history showed the initial reasons behind it were economic factors and not race, with white supremacy taking control in only the last 400 years.
MySpace even came into question, with one Louisiana student’s posting of photographs to the site re-enacting the Jena Six case.
Dr Henry’s talk quoted many black academic statements, from Carter G. Woodson’s “when you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions”; to Steve Biko’s “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.
Henry pulled up on several major issues, stating if black children see no positive aspects of themselves and their ancestors in education then it should come as no surprise that they would “cling to foolishness” like postcode shootings and gang-related crimes.
Then ex-Prime Minister Blair came under fire for backing a slavery memorial day but refusing to accept reparations, despite slave masters and plantation owners receiving millions in compensation for loss of property and still managed to keep their stolen land.
“You control the land you control the power,” said Dr Henry, “you control the resources”.
Dr Henry’s point was simple: do we really need another statue or memorial that costs hundreds of thousands? Or, if funding was invested, should it not go to projects in deprived areas, into community and youth programs, where funding would go to good use.
This statement comes as the UK government cuts back on youth project funding nationwide, but especially in London, as community funding disappears, like the youth project funding at the synergy Centre, to pay for the Olympics.
Following the slideshow Dr Henry took some questions from the audience. His response to whether he thought black youth were tired of hearing they descended from slaves, he responded by arguing if you ban the recent history, the civil rights movement for example, then they would not be able to mention anything about black history, simply because it is not being taught. He highlighted the Jewish holocaust is still remembered every year, yet the remembrance of African slavery was being told to “move on”.
Dr Henry then went on to discuss the idea of “Goal Models”, not “Role Models”, giving the young more realistic icons, citing that not one role model has not been shot down by the media, destroying all the good they have done because one bad issue is exposed.
Decima Francis MBE started her talk claiming that there must have been a “master plan” behind slavery because others preferred to die than to be enslaved, whereas Africans accepted enslavement.
Ms Francis questioned poverty, asking “what is poor?” She recounted her early life of having nothing, yet being happy, whereas now, in 2008, the young are killing each other over mobile phones and other consumer items.
She questioned Melanin, exclaiming no one knows what it is. And if people understood it they would not smoke cannabis, as it mixes with Melanin in a way that can cause psychotic episodes 20 years later.
Ms Francis summarised it is not time to move on from slavery, until we go beyond it and remember the real history.
Hip Hop MC and producer Ty discussed the music industry, the differences between Rap and Hip Hop and whether the music is relevant. In the phrase “move on from slavery” he asked “Who is moving on?” and “what are the effects of slavery?”
Ty added his own thoughts at the end, stating the world is not ready to move on from slavery and that he saw the issue of moving on as covering up the atrocities.
Sybil Phoenix MBE is a Methodist Minister, community leader, ex-mayor of Lewisham and a foster mother to hundreds of children.
Her talk described her varied and colourful life, from battering violent police officers to refusing an MBE and being reported by the right-wing press she intended to sell her award. After one year of harassment from the media and local council Mrs Phoenix accepted the MBE and went down in history as the firstly, the first black woman in the UK to receive an MBE, and secondly as the first person in Lewisham to receive the award.
Mrs Phoenix delivered a beautiful speech about forgiveness and love, and the only damage done devoid of forgiveness is to the self.
Decima Francis opened the floor to discussion, explaining her investigation into the Pathways Initiative, a scheme she described as ridding the streets of youth prior to the London 2012 Olympic Games. Pathways is a direct descendent of identical programs used in Atlanta and Los Angeles in America.
She explained the way it would work. Known gang members, the friends and associates and anyone linked to them, usually by CCTBV evidence, will be watched constantly. When they screw up, even if it is a minor traffic violation or other misdemeanour, the gang member, all associates and anyone that can be linked to them will be incarcerated, for possible indefinite sentences, or at least until the Olympics are out of the way.
Dr Henry responded with great concern to this, citing examples in Jamaica, where he grew up, witnessing his mother’s door being kicked in by police for people not associated to her at all. As he stated, when they come for these kids, the kids belong to someone and live somewhere, the police will come to take them and it can be easily envisaged in what way they could do this.
So Solid Crew founder Megaman drew his concerns with the Metropolitan Police Force Trident Gun Crime Project, stating it allows the police to do to black people what they have always done, only now with large units of militarised and heavily armed police. This was argued by Decima Francis that Trident was set up by a black woman sick of seeing young black kids being killed, but Megaman insisted that Trident was now manipulated by the police for its own gains.
The audience was then introduced to Spartacus a veteran teacher and, as Decima Francis referred to him, a warrior. Spartacus’ entry into the open forum visibly shook many people in the meeting, his words even scaring some. Spartacus ran his belief home hard, that African people were enslaved through war and that that war is still continuing today, in one way or another. He emphasised that not all white people are the enemy and not all black people are foes. He stated this war was the continuing war of profit, but failed to mention that war now affects all races and colours, in this current 21st Century climate of fear, terror and unrelenting globalisation.
The outcome of the conference was a large scale networking of various community groups and individual resources, from meeting places to media contacts.
The issue of what to do on the issue of local children shooting and stabbing each other over varying postcodes, and gang names and territories was only touched on briefly during the near four-hour seminar.
As Megaman boldly stated, kids killing kids, the underlying issues that lead to this outcome, and what can be done to halt this were not going to be solved in one day, one month, or even one year. But what was apparent from this seminar was that there were a large group of strong and dedicated people who were willing to build alliances to halt the further pointless destruction of young lives.

Introduction: Henry Bonsu
Dr William (Lez) Henry
Q&A: Dr William (Lez) Henry
Decima Francis MBE
Ty, Hip Hop MC and Producer
Sybil Phoenix MBE
Open Forum Part One
Open Forum Part Two
Open Forum Part Three
Post Conference Interviews

Related Links
The Boris Johnson “piccaninnies” Telegraph Article
Boris Johnson Apologises For Piccaninnies Comment

Indymedia article: Gun Crime of Shootings, by London Afer
Indymedia article: Government Widens Stop-And-Search Powers, by Paul Mitchell

2006 Custody Death Protest Reports
Marc Vallée Reports
2007 United Friends and Family March
Guido Reports

Oscar Beard and Jason N. Parkinson
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