Tag Archives: slave trade

The National Trust Is A Treasure

I was reading articles last week about The National Trust recently posting information highlighting the strongĀ  links that roughly one third of their properties have to the slave trade. Not just properties, many many artifacts. The thrust of the message was that everytime we visit these beautiful houses and admire the exquisite antique ornaments and furniture we are looking at the unjust gains of acts of oppression and cruelty. I can only applaud The National Trust for that reminder.

Horrified was I to read that some people had taken issue at the decision from The National Trust to draw attention to this subject. It seems they resent the reminders about the scandalous slave trade. This is not something new. I have been visiting National Trust properties for years and as for a long time we used to receive a journal from them featuring their properties. I definitely recall them publishing articles at least ten years ago pointing out which of their properties were owned by families who made their fortunes as a direct result of the suffering of others.

Yet some people in recent weeks have claimed to be so incensed by being “lectured” by The National Trust or having a biased presentation of British history thrust upon them that they were ready to cancel their National Trust membership. That’s right, they don’t like being reminded that much of the wealth Britain has amassed was gained through oppression and abuse. Silly, isn’t it! Or callous!

Call it what you will. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to visit these fascinating houses. They are beautiful. I don’t see anything wrong with admiring the workmanship of the masonry, the carpentry, the artistry and all the extraordinary skill that is on display in these properties.

I am grateful for institutions like The National Trust and English Heritage that protect these properties which help to educate us about the history of this country, which includes deeply shameful pages. They do preserve a different era and it is very interesting to be able to see all of that history. But of course anyone of good conscience should recognise that there is something seriously wrong with a system that allows people to oppress others and gain riches as a result.

Even more concerning is how those riches were then used. While so many people lived in deplorable conditions in the crumbling properties on the land of those rich folk, they were sometimes using their wealth to show off. These beautiful homes and furnishings were a statement of wealth, Worse, some of them squandered their wealth on drinking and gambling. I remember when Goldfinch and I visited Stowe School…we were shocked to learn of how the fortune of the family was thrown away within a short time by two wreckless men.

of great interest

It’s not just here that history highlights crimes that have been repeated for thousands of years. The “greatest” boasters in history often were those who committed some of the most cruel acts on a gigantic scale. In many cases, wealth and fame have been gained by wicked acts.

We traipse around the stunning relics of those criminals who were revered in their day, but are now judged under the light of the generally common feeling that wealth gained by wickedness is not ok. I will continue to visit these buildings and peer at the artifacts within them, but I am very glad to be reminded that what I am looking at is not just to be admired. It is also evidence that for a very long time some people were content to amass more and more for themselves and their family, and to show off to their friends, compete for respect and admiration, whilst many many others lived in very difficult conditions.

There were some who did use their wealth to try to improve their local communities – hospitals, schools, better accommodations for their poor tenants. That can be perceived as some “righteous” us of “unrighteous” riches perhaps. I would hope that the expenditure to benefit others was not an attempt to win acclaim or be held up as a “noble”. Yeah…it would make you feel much better knowing you were being treated in a hospital paid for by a mafia godfather or a drugs baron. Nope!

Riches acquired through criminal acts then used to benefit others is still not right. No wonder the statues, streets, theatres and other public buildings named after those who profited from abysmal abuse get up people’s noses! But I do worry about the conscience of some of the wealthy. I suspect that they had a false notion that they were “divinely favoured”, perhaps fed to them by a corrupt clergy. You know the same clergy that taught that people could pay money for prayers to be said to liberate their beloved relatives from “limbo”.

I often think that much of what people have done that was obviously wrong was sometimes perpetuated by a snivelling sermon giver, who at the same time as enjoying the favour of a wealthy parishioner, made them think they could take their success as a divine blessing rather than criminal gains.

Anyway…I could write so much on this subject. The trust of my post is that I think The National Trust are doing the right thing in reminding us that so many of these beautiful houses and artifacts have a notorious history behind them. We all know that is still happens today. Modern day slavery is an enormous and global problem. As long as it still happens we need to be reminded that is is wrong to profit from dominating others with cruel oppression.

Education Plays A Key Role

Children, Drawing, EducationI think I mentioned a while ago this annoying radio show one of my colleague likes to listen to at work. I heard a discussion on there the other day that left me baffled. The radio presenter and the person calling in were saying that the history of how Britain made it’s wealth is not taught in schools.

That seemed strange to me because it was taught to us as children at primary school and at high school. (My parents taught us too of course.) Our teachers made sure we understood that wealth is not a divine reward or blessing. Being wealthy is not at all good karma or whatever you call it. Wealth has often been the result of stripping the planet of its resources and stripping other people of dignity and basic human rights.

I wrote a post about my most recent visit to the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the whole floor devoted to the history of the slave trade and the mistreatment of others that brought wealth:

Slavery On A Sinister And Sadistic Scale

Liverpool Maritime Museum

Until people everywhere stop thinking of their own glory, their own desire for wealth, their own desire for fame and prominence, power and influence – there is going to be a lot of ugly cruel behaviour.

Our teachers taught us that change comes from within. Loving other people, heartfelt respect, honouring them. Viewing and treating others as greater than ourselves. Seeking to benefit others brings us inner joy. Wealth and riches are not the goal. A happy healthy human family and a clean earth upon which all creatures thrive is the grand prize that we all need to work towards.

Birkenau, Auschwitz, Concentration, CampI recall meeting a volunteer in her nineties who was in a concentration camp during the Second World War. She said something special to me. She told me that she met a woman who was of a different religion and a different language group to her, who was also a prisoner in the camp. The other prisoner gave her some of her own bread because she saw how frail and ill she had fallen. She told me that what kept her alive was not just the bread, but the love, the human kindness when she felt herself wanting to give up on life.

She was one phenomenal lady. She said that after the war, many people immersed themselves in making money, building their own businesses, finding a lovely home etc. She became a volunteer and worked for decades, living on a tiny budget and sleeping in very basic accommodation. She learnt the secret of real joy in life. It had nothing to do with possessions. It had to do with loving and giving.

Money, Dollars, Success, BusinessSo long as people seek their own glory and their own wealth – they will miss out on real joy – the real life! But what goals do educators put before children? I remember later in my schooling, teachers pressured me to look ahead at the best colleges and universities so I could make money, have an exciting career and they suggested that would be “success”.

I rejected that. I rejected the idea of using my exam grades to win advantages for myself. I became a volunteer. I feel far more successful because I have avoided the pursuit of things and money. I have seen people of all cultures working together on projects that change communities. I have seen real love in action.

Recently, I have heard a lot of people saying that all people should have equal access to opportunities, not just a select few within a particular ethnic group or culture. I understand that. It’s the “opportunities” I have a skeptical view of. The education system in this world, the money making careers, the fame and glory this world offers – they are all incredibly fickle. (I have family who are in well paid careers – doctors, finance directors, a member of parliament. My family is a mix of cultures and ethnic backgrounds…which I love. Some of my close relatives who are in lucrative careers have been the targets of racial slurs from childhood to adulthood. But that is a different subject.)

Woman, Black, Businesswoman, YoungA friend of mine said she had to fight for everything she has. She said it in the context that she has suffered racism and discrimination because of the shade of her skin. From some views she has done very well for herself. She went to a top university and she did end up in a high paying career. She is proud of those achievements. She lives in a beautiful house and drives a beautiful car. She loves her designer clothes and her luxury holidays.

She has a lot to say on the subject of equal opportunities, and I understand why. But when we discussed this issue, she kept on talking about equal opportunities for education at top schools and universities, and for lucrative careers or roles within the media.

I made two comments to her that I genuinely wondered about. The first was in the context that it is predicted that there will be a huge economic crisis ahead in the wake of the …you know and the effect that social restrictions have had on the economy. I made the comment that I was concerned there would be less opportunities on the table for any jobs, nevermind top jobs.

ruiegdfhlahThe other comment O made was that there should be dignity in every role. I feel as much pride in the work I have done as a cleaner, as when I worked in finance, in a legal firm or in healthcare.

I take even more pride and reward in the unpaid work I do working as a volunteer for charities. I have no interest in lucrative careers or the acclaim of a corrupt system. I do not want it’s offer of a high salary. Nope…I am much happier working with a team of volunteers of all ages from different backgrounds as we work together to make an area beautiful.

I do not agree at all with the glorification of humans. At all. These statues being pulled down, they should never have gone up to begin with. I don’t agree with glorifying people. But my friend thinks there should be statues, but they should reflect all cultures. She said she would like to see a statue of herself one day.

I love my friend very much and I understand why gaining those things was important to her. I am proud of her determined spirit. But in some ways it saddens me. How does gaining those things help the planet, help the human race, help one to find real joy and satisfaction in life?

dahfaehgfPersonally, I think we should all be given an assignment. We should all be assigned to an area of land and work with our neighbours to make that area a paradise.

I think at some point we may all find ourselves not worrying about the things we used to worry about. I only see a future where the human family as one huge team are working together to make this whole globe beautiful and clean. When will educators start to prioritise on teaching us that getting high grades in your exams is not as important as working together and being able to look after our home, our health and each other?

Anyway…we were just talking, my friend and I…and although we agree on many things…we don’t seem to see eye to eye about the solution. We both said education is key to affecting out future. But we obviously don’t agree on the nature of that education. We didn’t argue, we are too fond of each other to have arguments when we do not share an opinion. But we did acknowledge that we have different goals for this world.