I wasn't quite sure how to feel earlier this afternoon. I was watching the service at Westminster Abbey to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, and being thoroughly moved by the whole thing (well, most of it anyway, sans a particularly strange piece of music that I described elsewhere as sounding a little like something from Porgy and Bess but without the style).
At the confession, one of the invited guests began to protest about the whole affair, about the presence of black descendants of Africn slaves at the service being "a disgrace to our ancestors", and so forth, and making a general nuisance of himself, while at the same time ruining what was for many people a time of great healing and progression.
Now I never quite know how to feel about these things. I am of mixed race, with both white European and black West Indian ancestry. While I was singing one day the fabulous Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, a friend heard me and said to me that he felt ashamed of what his ancestors had done to my ancestors. I pointed out that I was ashamed of what my ancestors had done to my ancestors, and that I was in no position to feel bitterness about this.
I lived in the Caribbean from the age of 8 years until I was 15. We were taught in great detail about the slave trade in our history lessons at school. Every day on our way to school, we saw the plantations where the slaves would have worked. We played on the remains of the buildings that they would have been whipped into building. We heard the tales of elderly people who remembered in their young days hearing the tales of elderly people who had experienced the atrocities of slavery themselves, and who were left to fend for themselves when the slave trade came to an end and they no longer had a master who felt any obligation to provide for them. Some of the more benevolent masters didn't see their former slaves go hungry, but in time they all went home to England. What purpose was there to stay now that their businesses had ceased to exist?
While I was living there, I was "white", and had abuse hurled at me because of that. When I moved back to the UK, suddenly I was "black", and the only racist abuse I have had was on one occasion where a lady at my bus stop told me to go back to Iraq, which managed to successfully elicit laughter more than any sense of intimidation.
My only real experience of racism, therefore, has been from black people towards people of lighter complexion (whether white or not), and so perhaps I'm being a little judgmental about our friend who felt the need to express himself the way he did at the Abbey today. I don't know. I do feel that the time has now come, though, where we need to let go of this bitterness and focus on our unity and our salvation. We are only hurting ourselves by harbouring these ill feelings which are contrary to the Christian Way and stunt our theosis.
Slavery is still happening. Would working towards putting an end to this not be a better focus of our efforts than protesting in church services?
I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for the virgers and others at the cathedral. In deliberately and persistently disrupting a church service this man was committing a criminal act and should properly have been escorted out of the Abbey with force if necessary, especially because of the Presence of Her Majesty. However, that would have perhaps caused more damage than anything else given the sensitivity of the occasion and the nature of his protest. "White virger throws black man out of Abbey at Abolition service" is perhaps not the sort of headline that the Abbey was looking for. They were seen to be trying to calm him down and reason with him, and he was seen to be rejecting their efforts and heard to be threatening violence. Only then was he escorted outside. I think that they handled it extremely well, given the circumstances, and the service went on.
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