March 25th is the 200th anniversary of the passing of the Slave Trade Act which abolished the slave trade — though not slavery itself — in the British Empire. And like everyone else, I think, I’m unsure how we, the British, should mark it.
Celebration doesn’t seem quite the right tone to strike: it’s a bit too much like throwing a party to celebrate ten years since you stopped beating your wife.
I’m not fundamentally averse to celebrating Wilberforce and the other abolitionists; they did a good thing that needed to be done. But making the Atlantic slave trade into a story about white middle class Englishmen also seems to be missing the point.
The government could always make some kind of formal apology, and it certainly wouldn’t do any harm, but I’m not convinced how meaningful it really is for anyone to apologise for something that happened well over a hundred years before they were born.
Some people are keen to use the opportunity to campaign about contemporary slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. And that’s an important cause which deserves attention; but it also seems like a distraction from the particular historical case of the Atlantic slave trade.
We could probably do worse than mark it in the way we mark our past wars: a national two minute silence as an act of remembrance.