Letter: Slaves to political correctness?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: I am sorry that your leading article 'Much history in one person' (11 August) repeats the old myth that Liverpool had, 'thanks to the slave trade, one of the longest-established black communities in Europe', and that 'many slaves jumped ship or came ashore as servants'. They would have had a long swim.

The slave trade was triangular. Cotton goods and other artefacts were shipped to Africa and bartered for slaves. These were then taken to the Americas to be sold, their place taken by raw cotton and sugar for the voyage home. It made no sense to bring slaves back to England and lose the profit on one leg of the trade. Hardly any negro slaves ever set foot in Liverpool, and stories of 'auctions at the Pier Head' and 'iron shackles on the Goree Piazza' are romantic fantasies, spun to keep the drama alive for schoolchildren. Forty years ago there was barely a black presence, let alone a 'community'.

The few blacks seen might indeed have jumped ship, but they were lascars, not slaves; some married local girls and adapted well (many producing startlingly handsome offspring, often mixed with a bit of Chinese). Their small numbers caused them to be accepted by scousers, who good- humouredly called them 'smoked Irishmen' - that is, like Irish immigrants, only darker.

It is now politically incorrect to mention also that slave captains sent no raiding parties ashore to round up Africans. They did not need to. The blacks were ready and waiting, herded into stockades by the chiefs who sold them, usually captives from opposing tribes.

My reference to this fact, and its inclusion in my Liverpool Slavers and Privateers with a contemporary drawing of one of the stockades, were described as 'racist' by a black newspaper. I wonder whether the permanent Slave Trade Exhibition, to be opened in Liverpool in October (with a pounds 500,000 grant from the Peter Moores Foundation), will strive to be historically or politically correct. In the present mood of self-laceration and positive recrimination (when convictions for prostitution are dismissed as 'spent' after 20 years but Liverpudlians are demonised after 200 for having had some cruel ancestors), I have my doubts.

I doubt also whether this inhuman trade in human beings produced as much misery in two centuries as the tribal warfare and black-on-black cruelty in Angola, Somalia and Rwanda has done in the past two years.

Yours faithfully,