The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
Heart of Darkness
More than a century has passed since Conrad’s novella examined the role of the European in Africa and the suffering and injustice that such colonialism caused. Yet It seems little has changed over time other than the protests have grown louder and the subsequent backlash more pronounced. To see where we’re up to it might be worth looking more closely at the current trend of removing statues from public places. One such event was the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston and as the news item unfolded a couple of questions occurred to me which perhaps deserve closer inspection. The first - Why in the media shots of the petrified slave trader being rolled into Bristol dock, were the vast majority of the faces white? The second - Why, when Colston and his ilk turned up on the west coast of Africa, didn’t the locals simply run away and hide, thus cutting off this evil practice at source?
In answering the first it must not only be remembered but also accepted that the citizens of the Britain of today have collectively benefited from their colonial past. We all know in our heart of hearts that such inestimable advantages of being able to summon medical help at any time of the day or night, guarantee light and heat at the flick of a switch or have food delivered to our doorstep has its source in the disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth our forebears obtained through the exploitation of others. The question that needs to be asked is whether toppling a statue is really an act in support of those less fortunate than ourselves or a rather convenient way of expiating our guilt? Does the scapegoating of the likes of Colston and Rhodes allow the racial abuses of today to be swept under the carpet? The second question adds a further dimension to this proposition. Even if at the beginnings the locals had been caught by surprise, it would not have taken long for the word to get about that the sea cruise on offer was not for the benefit of their health. Surely then they could have taken evasive action and allowed their attackers to be repelled by disease and the impenetrability of the terrain? The most obvious explanation is that some deal had already been done, that the slave trade was not simply an act performed by Europeans, but powerful local forces were prepared to exploit the weaker members of their society for some personal advantage. Have the Africans similarly enriched by such transactions also been held to account?
So perhaps the motives that lie behind the various protests we are witnessing are not as black and white as they first appear. Hidden agendas abound and worthwhile actions undertaken in good faith can be hijacked by the unscrupulous and turned to their own ends. It does no harm, for example, to a dictator’s cause if he can first excite protest and thus have an excuse to brutally eliminate it.