The legacy of slavery
Alan Yates reflects on the long shadow of the slave trade and why we all need black role models
Recently, I heard an erudite black bishop lament about his schooling in England. ‘Whenever I saw a black person in a history book they either had an iron ring or a noose around their neck,’ he said, with conviction and sadness. He urged the need for positive black role models; and I think he was referring to role models for black people, but he got me thinking about my own black role models.
When I grew up in the north east in the 1950s and 1960s, the only contact we had with ‘strangers from afar’ was with southerners from Leeds or Manchester! There were no black people in my school or my church, nor did I have exotic holidays. In my final year at London University though, the top three students were black, and I was particularly friendly with one of them. He was smart, hardworking and courteous. All three were awarded firsts. So, my first black role models were gentlemen who were incredibly clever and well mannered. Shortly after I left college, I started going out with a charming black woman, which some of my black colleagues thought was unusual. Our relationship dwindled when she went back to Birmingham to finish the final year of her dental degree, but she was another black role model.
The bishop who made me think about this was speaking at a hearing on the legacy of transatlantic slavery in London. This was part of a listening project focussing on the people and places affected by slavery, organised by the Council for World Mission. I was one of the United Reformed Church representatives at the first of four hearings; others were held in Ghana and Jamaica and the last will be in the US. A core group will attend all four hearings, with, at each location, a group of local participants and specially invited witnesses. …
Alan Yates is Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly
This is an extract from an article that was published in the April 2018 edition of Reform