William Wilberforce: Abolitionist or Opportunist?

[Cross-linked from Reclaiming the Narrative]

Interestingly imperialism’s ‘great saviour and hero’ Wilberforce was not amongst the original grouping (Hart, 2006, p. 1). Nor did he end up joining the society of his own volition or as a matter of conscience. Instead he was ‘recruited’ and sent into the abolition movement by the then Prime Minister William Pitt (Ferguson, 1998, p. 132; Williams, 1944, p. 123). The fake cover story about his moral and religious conviction compelling him to work for the abolition of slavery was made up later.

Excerpted from “Will The Real William Wilberforce Please Stand Up?”

The film „Amazing Grace“ gives the impression that Wilberforce recruited William Pitt, not the other way around.  It places him as a moral compass when he really was a political opportunist.

Background

The first enslaved Africans were brought to Britain in 1555.  They were likely kidnapped or deceived by slave traders and unscrupulous chiefs and elders.  An 11 million Africans were trafficked in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, about 1.4 million died during the voyage.  That’s a mortality rate of about 8%.  [Hochschild, Adam, Bury the Chains, The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery, London: Macmillan, 2005]

It is also interesting to note that all the time William Pitt, the man who appointed him, was Prime Minister all bills to abolish the kidnapping and deportation of Afrikan people failed to make their way through Parliament. It was only after the death of Pitt in 1806 that the abolition of the slave trade bill finally made it onto the statute book.


(Formerly) Enslaved Africans Freed Themselves

Too many ppl mistake abolition & nominal/legal emancipation for freedom. The fact remains that enslaved Africans claimed their freedom before emancipation. Without the active lobbying of Africans like Mary Prince, Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cuguano, Jonathan Strong, James Somerset, Joseph Knight, Ayuba Diallo, George Bridgewater, Ignatus Sancho, William Davison, Robert Wedderburn, Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, John Ystumllyn, William Cuffay and Julius Soubise there would have been no bill abolishing the slave trade in Britain’s territories.  There were 20,000 Africans living in Britain at the end of the 19th century, a significant number were free.  There are published autobiographies detailing the horrors of slavery.

The abolition of the slave trade in Britain occured at the confluence of several socio-political events

The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) stirred fears of slave uprisings in British colonial holdings.  In some parts of the colonies, the population of enslaved Africans was nearly equal to the population of European settlers. In fact, the abolition bill was postponed when the Haitian Revolution erupted and the British sent troops to suppress the revolution.  It soon became clear that the continued importation of enslaved Africans would only fortify a slave  rebellion.  In March 1807, Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act. (Denmark abolished slavery in 1802.  The US abolished slavery in 1808)

However, making the law doesn’t make the crime go away. Don’t confuse legal/nominal emancipation for freedom. Don’t confuse abolition for freedom.  The state was required to compensate merchants for the cessation of the trade.  The British gov‘t depended on the tax revenue from slave-owners.  The law only abolished the slave trade- not slavery.  It did not make provisions for the emancipation of enslaved Africans, nor did it address the deportation of free Africans in Britain.  Slavery was not abolished in Britain’s territories until the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.  Wilberforce, in an effort to prove that he was not a reactionary, opposed the emancipation of enslaved Africans, instead calling for the gradual emancipation.  He deemed enslaved Africans unfit for emancipation.  (There is anecdotal, nay, documented evidence that Wilberforce was a virulent racist.  He refused to allow the few African and Asian guests he had to eat at his table, instead forcing them to eat behind screens where they were out of sight).

Another factor in the abolition of the slave trade was the French colonies’ dependence on British slavers.  The French bought up to 50% of the slaves that Britain imported for its sugarcane plantations, which were much more productive than Britain‘s.  Abolishing the slave trade would undercut their comparative advantage (a specious term, yes) insofar as the slave population wasn‘t self-sustaining (generational slavery).  Basically, the cessation of the slave trade was advantageous to the British, because it meant that the French had to rely on Portuguese or Spanish slave traders (who were a smaller part of the slave trade).  It also meant that the French colonies would likely have to depend more heavily on multi-generational slavery, whereby enslaved Africans were “bred” for labor.

Another factor was the French Revolution.

Wilberforce’s Economic Interest in the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Wilberforce‘s family was heavily invested in the wool industry & the boom of cotton in the colonies was a threat to his family‘s holdings.  In essence, the abolition of the slave trade was a strategic move on Wilverforce’s part, to influence the global prices of cotton and wool- presumably to his advantage.

Wilberforce was not a men whose religious convictions compelled him to crusade against the continuance of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  He was compelled by his friend, William Pitt, to carry out an act of political and economic expedience.  It is nothing short of revisionist history to asset that William Wilberforce was an abolitionist of any sort.  He was simply a man acting in his own self-interest.

Race and Gender in Immigration, Political Asylum and Human Trafficking

Greek tea workers, 1905-1915 (forced migration, agricultural labor)

Abstract:

The intersection of gender, race and ethnicity is apparent in the plight of female immigrants and asylum seekers in the United States.  Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, not counting those trafficked domestically. It is estimated that 79% of human trafficking victims are women and children.  Women and girls do occupy a subordinate position in patriarchal societies, facing  a particular proneness to hunger, poverty, exploitation and violence.  These vulnerabilities are exacerbated by illiteracy, low education levels, localized and internecine conflicts, and limited job opportunities. The search for better employment opportunities is a major motivating factor in immigration. The fact is that most individuals exploited in informal economies, the sex trade and and other forms of human trafficking are immigrant women.  The feminine face of poverty is one explanation for the overwhelming  femininity of the exploited underclass.  These findings are considered in this report that focuses attention on this issue to encourage the development and implementation of solutions that address these risks. Continue reading

ABSTRACT FOR MY LATEST ESSAY ON THE INTERSECTION OF RACE/ETHNICITY + GENDER + IMMIGRATION + HUMAN TRAFFICKING

The intersection of gender, race and ethnicity is apparent in the plight of female immigrants and asylum seekers in the United States.  According to the U.S. Department of State‘s 2004 Trafficking in Persons Report, 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, but this number doesn‘t include those trafficked domestically. In the same Report, it is estimated that 79% of human trafficking victims are women and children.  Women and girls do occupy a subordinate position in patriarchal societies, facing particular vulnerabilities to hunger, poverty, exploitation and violence.  These vulnerabilities are exacerbated by illiteracy, low education levels, localized and internecine conflicts, and limited job opportunities. The latter is a major motivating factor in immigration. The fact is that most individuals exploited in informal economies, the sex trade and and other forms of human trafficking are immigrant women.  The feminine face of poverty is one explanation for the overwhelming femininity of the exploited underclass.

(152 words)

In a Perfect World: A List of 20 Conditions RE: Human Rights & Social Justice


  1. It would be impossible, unthinkable and immoral, to place an economic/monetary value on a human being.
  2. Every man, woman and child would live within their means, respecting the sacred spaces of indigenous peoples, without exploiting those deemed “different” from them.
  3. Consumer goods would be priced to ensure the fair compensation of workers at all levels of production.
  4. Consumer goods would not be produced by workers coerced by debt, obligation, threat of bodily harm, or even threats against their families.
  5. Every human being would be recognized wholly as God’s creation, children of the Most High.
  6. The distribution of resources [e.g. land, food, potable water] would not be dependant upon power structures, but upon the cooperative self-determination of all indigenous peoples.
  7. Colonialism and neo-colonialism would never have been a reality or a recurring condition of darker-skinned human beings.
  8. War, genocide and displacement would never have shaped the diasporic histories of the world.
  9. Nomadic peoples would still migrate seasonally, while living on the land unmolested, without worrying about safe and accessible water, food or land.
  10. Homelessness, hunger and poverty would be counteracted with the altruism and charity (latin: caritas, english: love) of their communities.
  11. Mental illness would not be demonized, only managed or treated through therapy (with medicine as a last resort)
  12. Disabilities would not be treated as some unwanted state that diminishes one’s personhood, but as the state of one’s body to be respected and accomodated out of courtesy and respect.
  13. (sexual, physical, mental, etc) Violence against women and children would be morally inconscionable, and punishable by death [but capital punishment + the prison industrial complex would not be necessary or present]
  14. Marriage would be a covenant between two people before God and their communities to love, cherish, honor one another for the rest of their lives, and not just a tax break or an institute.
  15. Masculinity would not be defined by distance from the prescribed notions of femininity.
  16. Conversely, femininity would not be defined by distance from prescribed notions of masculinity.
  17. Individuals would not be forced or expected to fit into boxes or stratifying variables such as class, race, gender, sexuality, or ability.
  18. Every human being would have the opportunity to be themselves, unfettered and unpressured (some socialization would occur, but not so much that individual expression and being is inhibited.)
  19. Race would not exist, only familial, community and tribal (used correctly w/o colonialist implications) affiliations, given the full recognition of the humanity of every single person on the planet.
  20. Beauty would be utterly objective and un-commodified.  The beauty of every human being would be acknowledge, affirmed and accepted.

WHY ABOLITIONISM IS NOT JUST A 19TH CENTURY ISSUE:

These hands belong to a fellow human being who has been rendered invisible.

These hands belong to a fellow human being who has been rendered invisible.

Every year in America, approximately 800,000 children are reported missing; 33% of whom are Black. Note that African-Americans make up 13% of the United States’ population.

More disturbingly, young girls are more likely to be kidnapped than young boys. According tohumantrafficking.change.org, in New York City, 50% of missing children were Black and 60% were female. And most of these children were between the ages of 13 and 15, when they are deemed to have a higher risk of running away. According to Amanda Kloer, urban areas with mostly Black populations have similar figures- Atlanta, Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“Runaways” mask the real issue. These children- these girls- are disappearing (being kidnapped) from schools, parks and other public places. And they’ve been rendered invisible by members of their community and the media- this compounds the fact that they are bodies of color that experience daily devaluation. The fact of the matter is, these girls have likely been made part of the hidden stream of human bodies who are commodified and sold- like slaves, modern day slaves. Continue reading

IS ‘HUMAN TRAFFICKING’ REALLY A(N) EUPHEMISM?

One of the people I follow on Twitter brought up his question.  Her stance was that “human trafficking” softens the reality that is slavery.

This gave me pause.  As a descendant of African-American slaves, I never want to “soften” the reality of enslavement.  That is why I devoted time and energy to blasting to smithereens the idyllic images of “the antebellum American South” with the happy slaves and benevolent masters.  My great-grandmother was a slave.  I am only 3 generations removed from the “peculiar institution.”

With that said, I have no vested interest in mitigating the true evils of slavery.In the starkest terms, slavery is the commodification and exploitation of human beings. Continue reading