My name is Elliott Reid. I am an Osteopath, a business owner and have a special interest in Black History. Or African history to be precise. Why? Because I think it is extremely important for a people to be proud of where they come from. But to be proud of where you come from, you must know where you come from.
I want to share with you where I come from. I want to tell you the story of my family and my people.
Now, as I speak to you, you will experience conflict. I want you to listen to it
Conflict is your subconscious mind telling you that something doesn’t sit right. I want you to listen to this because if we explore as to why something doesn’t feel right, we will have some truly reflective, interesting conversations. There is no judgement here. The conflict you may experience may give rise to thoughts such as
- “Why can’t I say the N word?”
- “Why do black people always have such a chip on their shoulders?”
- “Why do they get a month of history just for themselves?”
- “If they don’t like it here why don’t they just leave?”
- “Why do they care so much about the police when they kill each other at a higher rate?”
All worthwhile topics for discussion that I will be happy to discuss at the end. Please listen to your conflict, make note of it and we can discuss at the end of the talk
This is me being open to your perspective. I want to learn from you because if I learn from you, I can begin to understand you.
Perspective – Platos Cave
However learning can sometimes mean getting out of our own ways. I want to run a philosophical metaphor past you.
Plato, a 4th century BC philosopher came up with the Allegory of the Cave as a metaphor to understand perspective. I’ll explain
6 boys and girls are born into a dark cave and chained there. They know nothing but the cave and a small fire in the middle of the cave. The cave fire causes shadows to dance off of the surfaces of the cave. The 6 boys and girls grow into 6 men and women and after a lifetime they begin to recognise the shadows on the cave wall as reality.
One of the 6 breaks free. He wanders the cave and sees light in the distance. He goes towards the light and exits the cave to see all the wonders of the world. The greens, blues and yellows. The plants and animals.
He rushes back to the cave to tell the others what he has seen. “You must break free and see this reality…” he says. But the others stay. They don’t believe him and they are too preoccupied with the shadows on the wall. They are destined to their naivety.
The truth is, we all from time to time see the shadows as reality without giving a care to what true reality may be. The fire in the cave have become our news channels, our mobile phones etc.
So what are the shadows which you may have seen and accepted as your reality? Let’s explore
So I ask you. How do you step outside the cave?
How many of you have spent time with black people? Muslims? Those of the LGBTQ community? And how many of you, if so, have asked questions? Become curious of their culture, their views etc?
The issue is that by not stepping outside of the cave, we can only rely on assumptions. Statistically these assumptions lead to poor outcomes. The one who assumes remains ignorant. And for those of whom the assumption is made… I have the following statistics:
- Black people are 7x more likely to be stopped and searched (ref)
- Black women are 5 times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth and post-birth (ref)
- African Americans are half as likely to be prescribed pain medication (ref)
- Black children are 2.6x more likely to be excluded for the same or even when displaying better behavior than their white counterparts (ref)
- Black children are under-assessed i.e. “in-school bias” results in their intelligence being underestimated when compared to other children who produce the same quality of work (ref)
- Black and Muslim individuals need to send up to twice as many job applications to receive an interview for identical CVs (ref)
- Black people are paid 17% less for the same level of education than their white counterparts (ref)
The assumptions are that we are dangerous, dispensable, tougher, stupider etc. Or even further, that we have only ever been slaves so no wonder we’re dangerous, dispensable, tougher and stupider.
The issue is that this notion is either never questioned OR that the evidence to suggest otherwise is never raised.
The truth couldn’t be more different. But because of how British history is portrayed, no alternate dialogue is offered.
I want to tell you the story of my family and my people, my lineage and I hope this may serve to lead people out of their cave, to prevent them having to rely on the shadows bouncing off of the cave wall. The true story is the collision of international powers with great mite.
The story starts shortly after the last prophet of Islam, Muhammad. Europe was deep in the dark ages after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Robert Briffault, a keen student of development of culture, wrote the following commentary on this part of world history;
“..Europe lay sunk in a night of barbarism… more awful and horrible than that of the primitive savage. For it was the decomposing body of what had been a great civilisation… Cities had practically disappeared…. The remains of the population dwell in huts…. Built among the ruins of the ampitheatre…. Famines and plagues were chronic… cases of cannibalism were not uncommon; there were manhunts not with a view to plunder, but for food. It is on record that at Tournus on the Saone, human flesh was publicly put up for sale…:
In the Middle East, however, in the 6th century AD, Muhammad founded the religion of Islam and instructed his followers to seek knowledge. Islam quickly spread across North Africa by trade and conquest. As these Muslims travelled and conquered they became to be known as the Moors. The Moor’s thirst for knowledge led them to the Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt where they acquired the Greek and Roman Classics and the Bible. The Moors later invaded southern Spain and spread their thirst for knowledge, high literacy rates and scientific inquisition into Europe. This arguably sparked the Renaissance in Toledo, Spain which led to a new era of European enlightenment and thirst for exploration.
Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who later travelled to America to claim it for European forces, was a direct product of this period of history.
Shortly before this period, West Africa, where my father’s family descended from, was the richest place on the planet. Mansa Musa, the king of Mali, is still the richest man who has ever lived. He was so rich, he crashed the Gold economy of Egypt in a single trip, after spending so much of his wealth.
Mali was also a centre for international education, with more people being educated in their universities than the entire population of London. West Africa was a source of knowledge of astronomy, advanced mathematics and science. However, its collapse was near.
Queen Elizabeth i
In 1600, daughter of Henry the 8th, Queen Elizabeth the first of England allied with Moroccan forces and waged war on West African civilisations of Songhai. They extracted huge quantities of gold and sacked their great cities due to one major advantage…. Guns
The Americas – the land grab
Shortly after, Britain, Spain and France went on a land grab. Huge populations of people emigrated to the Americas, taking the land by force. They genocided approximately 55million Native Americans by force and by the spread of foreign diseases. They enslaved many of the remaining Native Americans but needed more labour to work their plantations which produced addictive substances such as tobacco, coffee, rum and sugar. To do so, they turned once again to West Africa
Sacked from previous European invasion, West Africa was vulnerable. The British and other European forces incited violence on the continent by exchanging guns for slaves. They targeted enemy tribes, and traded guns with either side for the exchange of prisoners of war from the aftermath of inter tribal warfare. It was either this, or raid coastal towns themselves and kidnap Africans to take as slaves to the Americas
The average age of the Africans taken was 15 years old.
400 Years of Slavery
The conditions of slavery were so barbaric, that one third of all Africans died on the crossing over. Up to 20 million Africans landed in the Americans, meaning up to 10 million died on the crossing. Their name was taken and replaced with a Christian name. These names are still in use today. Their religion was taken and replaced with Christianity.
My family was taken to Jamaica from West Africa. They worked over 12 hours a day cutting sugar cane, harvesting tobacco etc. The average life expectancy was 7-9 years after arrival to the island. They were whipped and force fed. They were raped and tortured. But for 400 years they did not stop fighting. Hope came in the 19th century.
The Haitian Revolution
In France, the screams of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity during the French Revolution travelled across the Atlantic to Haiti. The French had overthrown their oppressive monarchy to claim rights for all people; the poor and the rich.
Before the revolution had ended, Toussaint Louverture, a freed slave on the island of Haiti, heard of the news and planned to exact the same revenge on the slave owners of Haiti.
Toussaint L’ouverture led the enslaved Africans on the island of Haiti to victory as he overthrew the French slave owners after defeating the French, Spanish, British army and Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and instated a black run democracy on the island of Haiti
The Baptist War – Sam Sharpe Jamaica
Within 30 years, the other slave states of the Caribbean Islands were falling like dominoes. My family fought under Sam Sharpe as he led 60,000 enslaved Africans against the British on the Island of Jamaica. They burnt plantations and killed slave owners. A year later slavery was abolished. The enslaved Africans were free for the first time in 400 years.
20th to 21st Century
Just over 100 years later and my family emigrated to the UK. 3.2 million commonwealth soldiers from Africa, India and the Caribbean had volunteered to help Britain fight the Nazis. The UK needed help to rebuild its workforce.
Before my family had even docked at Tilbury, there was a nation wide petition to send them back. There were conservative campaigns in the north with the slogan “if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote labour”.
13 black children were burnt to death by an arsonist in south east London in 1981. In 1993 Stephen Lawrence was killed by 4 men when they stabbed him with a 5 inch blade as they called him a nigger over and over again. There are countless more examples of racialised violence.
And yes, things have improved. But still the statistics show that we are considered stupider, tougher and more primitive despite this being completely untruthful. But why?
I would argue it is because the shadows that are dancing off the cave of people’s perceptions are the same shadows, the same misconceptions, the same propaganda that justified so many British people to do nothing whilst we were enslaved for 400 years.
It’s the same ignorance that caused a group of boys to drag me out of a party when I was 15 to give me a kicking. The same shadows of misunderstanding caused a man to demand his wife not sit next to me and my Nigerian friend on a plane. The same images which caused my classmates to send images of monkeys to my phone when they found out what my mobile number was.
Because no-one has taken the effort to step outside Platos Cave.
So now I ask you, what do you think the solution is?
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