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Tony Grist

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Roots of the Blues [Apr. 16th, 2004|09:16 am]
Tony Grist
I was watching a documentary about the roots of the blues. I missed the first half hour- for which I could kick myself- so I only had a hazy idea of what was going on. It was directed and narrated by Martin Scorsese and in the segment I caught we were following this personable young chap in dreds as he went first to Mississippi- where he met this old guy playing a cane flute- and then across the sea to Mali. There was wonderful music every step of the way.

It was a reminder of what a recent thing slavery is. The guy in Mississippi was almost the last exponent of a style called drum and flute- there never were very many of them because the drum was banned (on pain of death) from the old plantations. I say "almost" because his daughter or granddaughter, still only a kid when the film was made, is carrying on the family tradition. Listening to him- and her- you were whisked right back into the 18th century- a matter of (what?) two, three, four generations ago.

The crime of slavery is almost too huge to comprehend. But those who perpetrated it had almost no idea- no idea at all- that they were in the wrong.

How stupid human beings are. How Willfully stupid. The slave-owners had no idea because they wouldn't allow the idea to form. But they weren't all-round stupid. Jefferson was a slave-owner- and one of the most fiercely intelligent (and in certain spheres) noble men who have ever lived.

It wasn't that the idea (that slavery is wrong) was unavailable to them. Other people were perfectly well able to formulate it. Dr Johnson, for example. Johnson the monarchist was against slavery and Jefferson the apostle of liberty was in favour.

The tribal chief in Mali said, "there are no black Americans. There are only black people who happen to live in America." For him the exodus of the slaves to north America is something fresh and new- recent history- a living affront. He and our American guy in dreds sat under a tree and jammed together. They sang alternate verses. They were singing in their two different languages to the same tune.
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Comments:
From: archyena
2004-04-16 05:11 am (UTC)
Part of the problem you face with societies involved with slavery is that they know how fiercely wrong it is and fear the retribution that might occur after emancipation. So the idea itself become dangerous because doing the right thing could lead to immense violence. Hence the society in a lot of ways forms around the institution that was supposed to be the tool of that society and is made subservient in many ways to it. In order to maintain that structure a culture of fear and suspicion forms that was in clear evidence during the desegragation controversies of the 1960s in the South where notable, educated politicians could be seen on television delivering speeches saying that the reason African Americans wanted an end to segragation was to get "your daughters and wives." Kind of an interesting blend of racism and Protestant sexual demagoguery. Oooh. I ramble.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-04-16 05:21 am (UTC)
That's interesting. It's like they're trapped. They can't acknowledge the wrong because of the weight of karma that's likely to fall on them.

I say "they" but we Brits were deeply implicated in the slave trade. The 18th century economy flourished because of it. Cities like Bristol were built on it. Is there a monument to the victims of the slave-trade anywhere in Britain? I don't believe there is.
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From: archyena
2004-04-16 09:40 am (UTC)
The existence of monuments may be irrelevant, however. Since slavery was only widely acknowledged as an atrocity deserving of social shame since the end of World War II (largely due to Hitler and the "never again" mantra that his atrocities inspired), monuments are unlikely as we have entered an age where they are seen largely as propaganda (pity that). In the states at least, monuments take the form of museums and other permanent exhibitions that "tell the story" of slavery. But I don't know about Britain, really.

I've noted that a lot of European countries adopt a "yes yes, it's true, but we don't talk about that in polite company" attitude about a lot of things.
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