Why 12 Years a Slave is Not Where it Ends.

Sitting with my wife watching Twelve Years a Slave, a moving account of a man kidnapped and forced into slavery in the early years of the 19th century (this tale being so compelling it brought my wife to tears), a true tale of mans capacity to inflict near on unspeakable pain and anguish upon his fellow being all I could think was, “Thank goodness these times of limited intellectual and moral capacity are behind us. Slavery is long gone, and we are now living a far more just and fulfilling life as a result.” How I wish at times that this was where my thoughts ended.

12 years a slave

As the actor Michael Fassbender, whom plays the character of Edwin Epps, a slaveowner who feels he’s well within his right, and within the law, takes his whip to the young, beautiful Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Patsy in the film, I couldn’t help but feel that so too do a thousand elite humans take thousands more less literal whips to millions living in poverty. Their poverty perpetuated by our wealth and relative comfort. Just as the slave traders and owners of their time relied heavily upon these slaves and their hard, life shattering work, their ingenuity, their strength, as well as theirs and others silence to forge their nations great wealth, so too we now rely upon the silence and soul destroying toil of not just 2 or 3 million, but entire nations being sold into debt, forced to sell their raw materials, ingenuity and life blood at pen point.

We may well look back upon such an era in the same way we now view the abomination that was the slave trade. We validated such things at the time with long and preposterous theorems thought up by pseudo intellectuals celebrated in some of the highest seats of Europe. Just as ideas such as the warped comprehension of evolutionary processes known as Eugenics permeated the vernacular of the day, so too do we allow such ill thought through theorems into our living rooms today. The apocalypse inducing notions of Austerity, Growth, the Free-market, privatisation and many more seep into our daily discourse often without any more than a ho hum, simply and sadly, as the phrase is oft repeat, ‘because, they just are’. And all too often, as with the slave trade, the prevailing impetus is profit.

Pictures such as these were handed about England, and the rest of the free world in a bid to help everyday people empathise with the slaves.

Pictures such as these were handed about England, and the rest of the free world in a bid to help everyday people empathise with the slaves.

Just as with the slave trade, through a great number of people working long and hard to educate the peoples about them of the grave misfortune thrust upon the slaves, from the way in which they were transported, to the way in which they were sold and worked, right through to the miserable deaths many of them met at the hands of their ‘Masters’, we must work. And just as now, the people attempting to open other peoples eyes were often met with turned heads, tutt tuts, scoldings and a branding of nonsensicality, yet persisted because they knew it was right. They insisted on bringing the discussion to the table, allowing people to see for themselves the harsh conditions in which the slaves were carried, among other things. And in their persistence they gained a few friends, and a few more, and a few more, until the likes of William Wilberforce stood in parliament and flicked the first domino.

Will we look back on these days as we do now these abominations? We have seen the first dominoes fall, we have been warned and told of our hypocrisy. Heed these words. Let us not look back and tell our children we stood by and believed in the eugenics of our times. We are better than that. We must protest, we must not be silent, we must prevail. For if we do not, we have far more at stake than the continued persecution of a single race, we face the continued persecution and possible loss of our race.


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