Author Bernardine Evaristo says some British people ‘still don’t think slavery was really a bad thing’

‘History is something that needs to be challenged and re-interrogated and revised constantly’

Isobel Lewis
Wednesday 17 June 2020 13:31 BST
Author Bernadine Evaristo: Some British people 'still don't think slavery was a bad thing'

Author Bernardine Evaristo has warned that British people struggle to understand the impact slavery still has on black people.

The Girl, Woman, Other writer appeared on Question Time on Thursday (11 June) where she said that she “absolutely relished” seeing the statue of slave trader Edward Colston be toppled in Bristol this week.

“There’s an argument that’s come up with these statues that we can’t change history and it is the history of this country, but actually history is a construction,” Evaristo explained. “Events happened, we have a past, and then historians contextualise that past and interrogate it.

“What’s happened in this country is that historically that has been done by elite white men, who have been the historians, who have set the framework for the events of the past. So history is something that needs to be challenged and re-interrogated and revised constantly”.

She continued: “History has always excluded – primarily – women and people of colour and working class people and LGBTQ+ people in the ways in which it’s been told.”

Explaining that a lot of people in Britain “don’t understand” the country’s colonial history, the author added: “Or they understand it through a certain prism where they feel that Britain went and travelled all over the world in order to help people. There is still a section of society who don’t think slavery was a really bad thing.”

In removing the statue after years of trying to do so democratically, the country, according to Evaristo, had given “power to the people who really do object to a symbol of their historical slavery”.

With Black Lives Matter protests taking place in the US, UK and across the globe following the death of George Floyd, Evaristo’s 2019 novel Girl, Woman, Other, which won last year’s Booker Prize, soared back up the charts this week, making her the first black woman to top the paperback fiction chart.

Meanwhile, Reni Eddo Lodge’s 2017 book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race also made history this week, as Eddo-Lodge became the first black British author to top the paperback non-fiction chart.

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