The Windrush Foundation Project director Arthur Torrington has criticised The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Big Lottery Fund for rejecting a national memorial day for slavery whilst providing around half a million pounds annually to Holocaust history and activities.
Arthur Torrington is the Project Director of the Windrush Foundation and co-founder of the Equiano Society. He was awarded a CBE for his services to Black Heritage in 2011.
Mr Torrington organised project ‘LIBERATION 1838’, marking “the 175th anniversary of the August 1838 liberation of nearly a million African people in the Caribbean” and “celebrating those who resisted enslavement, those who fought to end it, and others who worked in Britain and the Caribbean for a better social, economic, and political situation for Caribbean people.” (Read Liberation 1838 project)
Although the project initially received £31,500 funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund a full grant was needed for this year, but so far this has been rejected.
In a press release the Big Lottery Fund said that the, “application is not recommended for funding as the project is not targeting those most in need… Consultation is older than 12 months and was not directly with beneficiaries. Those most in need are not effectively targeted by the project.” (Read Big Lottery refuses to fund a memorial day for slavery)
Mr Torrington pointed out that the government provides approximately half a million pounds annually towards Holocaust activities and memorial events, but apparently the African Holocaust is not given the same respect.
In a letter dated 16 March 2012, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, wrote to Mr Torrington saying:
“You have asked why your particular initiative has not received funding in light of Government support for Holocaust Memorial Day. Whilst the Government recognises the importance of the lnternational Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, it would not be appropriate to make comparisons in this area. The Government took a conscious decision to focus on events around the Holocaust and thereafter, although it did examine requests to consider other atrocities and events that preceded the Holocaust including the Crusades, slavery, colonialism, the victims of Stalin and the Boer War. It is always difficult to draw a line and wherever it is drawn it runs the risk of being misinterpreted.” (Read the full letter NICK CLEGG 1 and NICK CLEGG 2)
Note that Mr Clegg does not directly answer the question to why the government provides funding for the Jewish Holocaust but not the African Holocaust. Instead, he skirts around the issue talking about a line having to be drawn somewhere, raising even more questions than answers. Is Mr Clegg suggesting that only the Jewish Holocaust is important to the government? In the letter he writes he never gives a satisfactory answer.
What Mr Clegg did do in the letter is justify the government and the The Department for Communities and Local Government efforts in combating racial discrimination which does not in any way address the discrepancy in funding when it comes to the African Holocaust.
Mr Torrington wrote a letter to Mr Clegg responding on the 22 March 2012, saying:
“LIBERATION 1838 is not a project about the Slave Trade or its abolition, but about the 1838 liberation of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean. The 200th anniversary of the Abolition Act was in 2007, and the 175th anniversary of African Caribbean liberation is to be celebrated in 2013. Your letter of 16 March 2012 is not a comment on the latter.”
“The project will help Black youth understand what really happened to their ancestors in 1838 (not 1807), and how Africans in the Caribbean survived after the First of August 1838. Over the years, the British education system has failed to deliver this history in schools. Also, the project will discuss why so many of their descendants live in the UK. We strongly believe that a better understanding of this history will help Black youth in their quest for identity, self-appreciation and value. These are some of the topics that LIBERATION 1838 will cover. We hope also to help the British public to understand and appreciate the shared history with African Caribbean people, because we have found that only a few of the former are not in denial about our shared history, or get directly involved.” (Read the full letter here Nick Clegg-3-12)
Liberating ourselves from government aid
There is a saying that if you want something done right it is best to do it yourself and in this situation the saying is justified. Whilst I commend Mr Torrington on his efforts to get this traumatic aspect of African history recognised nationally and in the education curriculum, he has to realise that his efforts will be frustrated as long as he seeks official recognition from the government and government related funding bodies such as as the lottery.
Nick Clegg’s response says it all about the government’s mentality on the African Holocaust, “It is always difficult to draw a line…”, he says. Therefore it could be interpreted that he is implying a line was drawn when it came to the African Holocaust, it is just not that important to the government it can be argued.
Readers will probably be surprised to know that France, a country which is evidently struggling with race relations passed a law in 2001 recognising slavery as a crime against humanity and made May 10 as a national day of remembrance for the victims of slavery.
Labour, under Tony Blair’s leadership on the other hand said that slavery was legal at the time and therefore not a crime against humanity, at the United Nations 2004 anti-slavery World Conference. (Read Campaigners call for Europe to provide reparations for slavery)
Lee Jasper, who was the London Mayor advisor in 2001, resigned from a government committee set-up to implement Tony Blair’s promise of a memorial day for slavery because government officials blocked progress, he said.
The reality is, the British government is just not interested in the African Holocaust, and a national memorial day, along with events and projects which would educate the public about the crimes committed during this era would force people to reflect upon the current state of affairs in the world. Specifically Africa. Is this really what the government would want? Young people of all races questioning government policies on Africa and overseas? Clearly not. However, there is nothing stopping Mr Torrington lobbying the black community in Britain to contribute financially to this project.
The population of the black community in the UK runs into the millions, less than a pound from each of us could provide the funding for the ‘Liberation 1838‘ project and much more.
Mr Torrington asked the following two questions in June 2011 to the black community and members of the wider community in order to demonstrate to the Big Lottery Fund that there was a need for this project:
Do you think there is a need for a community project, which provides information and holds events on August 23 – and throughout the year – featuring stories and activities about transatlantic slavery and its abolition?
Will you support a community project, which provides information and holds events on August 23 – and throughout the year – featuring stories and activities about transatlantic slavery and its abolition?
What I would actually say is that instead of asking for money from the Big Lottery Fund and the government, Mr Torrington should ask for the funding from the community itself.
This would mean that he and other organisers would have greater freedom on how the money is spent and what aspects of African history is taught which has been previously ignored by the education system and white historians.
One of the the problems with asking the government for funding for projects such as this is that the same government continues to exploit African countries and other countries overseas along the same colonial pattern in which the African slave trade was established. The government will not want these revelations to come to light, a community-funded project on the other hand could expose these truths.
It is time for individuals such as Mr Torrington to turn to the community for these projects so that we can honour our history properly without compromise.
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