Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson
History series with a difference — a) Samuel L Jackson; b) marine archaeology c) archaeology! Intelligent presentation utilising documentation and artefacts — the facts speak for themselves when you see heaps of oyster shells on a beach representing people who have been enslaved taking a meal before being shipped away; the people involved from all angles; the horror of everyday shipwrecks including disposed of or abandoned human cargos — who they then had the cheek and heartlessness to claim insurance costs for.
In all of this I struggle to see how people could so dehumanise others, especially people of apparent faith where people are all created by God in His image, that they can be bought for tat (mass produced metal or blue beads), or disposed of as an inconvenience and claimed for, or worked to death, or tortured to death for refusing to satisfy a sea captain’s lust and stereotypes. But it has to be faced — and to face where our blind spots are today — in those who do our nails or wipe our windscreens or harvest our crops or more being trafficked and unwilling; in the neglect of poorly paid but essential frontline workers; in Marcus Rashford’s much needed and heartfelt campaign to highlight hunger issues which our politicians don’t want to admit exist; the ongoing terrible treatment of the Windrush elders; the government’s abandoning of our elders in care homes; in the poorly paid and unpaid production of our seasonally changing and oh so disposable cheap clothing, and perhaps exploited captive workers producing our cheap electronics. We so need to hear and need to look. Albeit that it is hard and grim watching, the unique focus on marine archaeology and archaeology gives a freshness and shows the global impact of this horrendous trade.
There are also new heroes and heroines to be found — not everyone embraced the blind spot. Robert Smalls’ heroic bravery in captaining a stolen steam ship to escape with his family and friends to new life, education, and kindness — allowing his former owner’s wife to live in her old home (now his self bought home) as she was sick and suffering from dementia and didn’t understand the changes; his self-education promoting the importance of public education for others. The mutinies and riots, and hideous mass suicides rather than be enslaved.
Be that as it may that it’s become fashionable to bash Wilberforce and other abolitionists for their lack of quick action and lack of wider vision, I’m glad they were there and existed to promote voice to those ignored and denied a voice; that we truly were in it together. It also shows the personal and economic/social complications through the life of Dido Belle and the influential people she lived with — that tho people weren’t as radical as we’d wish them to be; sometimes they did what they could within the social constraints of the time.
There is also beauty — moving concrete head sculptures to commemorate the lost, and the loveliness of Africa Town in the USA. It’s left me with many questions. Where are our blind spots today? Where are obvious injustices within culture and society that we’re ignoring and overlooking, and have perhaps, like shiploads of people drowning on a regular basis, normalised? How do black and brown Christians juggle honouring ancestors and remembering without going into Spiritism? Why is my cultural remembering as a white English woman so selective — Winston Churchill and Henry VIII? I’m also reminded of the Handmaid’s Tale — just made the connection — just as Offred was trying to escape to the Canadian border, so too were many enslaved people. There is also a brother’s tender, repeated worry for his sister as they climb several rickety ladders to scale a multi-levelled church tower where people were hidden on the journey to Freedom. And all those oyster shells and hideous rusting remains of mechanised sugar cane processing plants surrounded by lethal cacti to prevent escape…and all the fashionable tea, coffee and chocolate that needed sweetening.
We might deny the politics but we can’t deny the evidence….But as Andrea Levy shows in The Long Song and Small Island, the truth like people, may be more mixed and entangled than we want it to be.
Check out more about about the bold and valiant Robert Smalls here — surely movie worthy — https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/thrilling-tale-how-robert-smalls-heroically-sailed-stolen-confederate-ship-freedom-180963689/