If you’ve spent enough time scrolling through the comment sections of Black Lives Matter-related news on social media, you may be familiar with ignorant comments like “slavery happened centuries ago. Get over it!” or “institutional racism doesn’t exist!”. Every time I see these comments, I’m reminded of my own connection to the historic tragedies that still effect British society and institutions today.
When I was just a kid, I discovered something controversial about my own ancestry from my mum’s side of the family. This discovery has helped me understand why learning about black history is particularly important in Britain, and how this learning can also help me make sense of my own British identity.
My ancestry can be traced back to 17th century England/Ireland where my then white ancestor, Thomas Corker, entered the ‘Royal African Company’ as an apprentice. Here he served traders on the rivers of the beautiful Guinea Coast. Thomas would eventually become a chief agent in York Island, Sherbro, which was a slave trading centre located on the Sherbro River. It was here where he married Sherbro princess Senoria Doll.
Now comes the controversial bit. This family became a dynasty that was particularly feared for their involvement in the slave trade. Having a strong hand in the thousands of African lives that were exploited and exported from Sherbro alone during the height of the transatlantic slave trade.
Britain has always shied away from being held accountable for its colonial past and I can understand that. Discovering that my ancestors were slave traders, was and still is a hard pill to swallow – especially as I’m a black man myself – but this knowledge accompanied with my now deeper understanding of African culture/history, has helped strengthen my understanding of what it means to be Black-British and the reasons why this country’s diversity needs to be learnt, celebrated and respected by all.
So, for Black History Month and the months thereafter, I hope more Brits will seek out the richness that is Black history and the influences that Black culture has had on our society. It goes so much deeper than slavery. This knowledge will only help us strive to be more anti-racist and of course recognise why Black Lives Matter protestors would want to see a slave merchant’s statue removed and call for better representation in British media.