Pastor Alton Bell explores how slavery continues to impact Black people’s lives, and what steps can be taken to counter its negative and detrimental effect.
Have you ever wondered where the anger and rage, exhibited by some of our young men in the UK, emanate from? Have you ever thought why is it, that a large proportion of our Black men think that it is OK to have children with multiple women? Does the fact that so many of our young women are single parents bother you? What about the Strong Black Woman syndrome; do you suffer from it?
Additionally, why does the Black Church continue to ignore the ongoing impact of slavery, particularly on Christians? Such behaviours have not appeared out of a vacuum; I would argue that they are a direct legacy of Black enslavement.
During the extended period of African slavery, Black people were encouraged to believe that “Black” was bad and “White” was good, to such an extent that Black Christians still have paintings of a White Christ at home or in their churches. They think nothing about singing hymns using the metaphor ‘washing us whiter than snow’ or describing sin as ‘black’. Yet, God created Black people in His image! He created us this colour for a reason, and we are to celebrate this, but many still appear to be ashamed of their how they look, and are happy to bleach their skin; have plastic surgery on their faces, or straighten their hair; basically, doing everything to make themselves look dissimilar to the way they were born. We continue to view Black as inferior and White as superior, not trusting in anything that Black people do, unless a White person validates it. Sadly, far too many Black folks still exhibit what Marcus Garvey called the ‘crab in a barrel’ mentality, which manifests itself in self-loathing and a near-hatred for anything Black.
One of the ravages of the enslavement of Africans as chattel was the near destruction of the family unit, and the severing of most of our links with the past1. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 18332, however, prior to this, Black males were used as studs to create offspring to increase the workforce, and to help swell their burgeoning coffers. There was little regard for their humanity or for the ‘links’ they had with their progeny. This was a deliberate ploy to destroy the family unit and create a ‘disconnect’ with their past. This methodology emasculated the male and, by default, created the strong Black woman. Subsequently, today our boys have no concept of a ‘rite of passage’, and there is a real distrust between Black men and women.
The fact that over 100 million Black people live in the West is largely a result of slavery. In 2007, Britain marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, which was a seminal moment in all our collective histories, offering a chance to remember an extended event that changed history forever. It was particularly important for the Church, since Christianity played an important role in both enslavement and freedom. But, while practically every British institution chose to mark this anniversary, the Black Church remained silent on the subject, with only the NTA in London and the NTCOG and COGP in Birmingham marking it.
Unfortunately, most Black Christians know very little about their faith’s role in slavery and abolition, and this has made them susceptible to those who peddle half-truths and downright lies. Subsequently, we are always on the defensive when we speak to those of other faiths, who are keen to denounce Christianity as the “slave master’s” religion.
As Black Christians, we still struggle to engage with a history that told us our lives were cheap, and that we were movable property. And if you don’t value your own life, you will not value others. This lack of value is visible on our streets, as our young people are killing each other every day and very little is done about it. I wonder if this happened in the ‘White community’ if there would be real action?
I would argue that there was something fundamentally evil about African enslavement. It took men and women, made in the image of God and, through religion, science and philosophy, sought to reduce them to the level of animals. There remains something quite negative in the psyche of too many of us, which says we are not good enough. I believe only deliverance can reverse what I would describe as the ‘curse’ of slavery 3.
What is Deliverance?
It is a process that sets people free from the mindset that dictates short-termism, working against each other (the ‘crab in the barrel’ mentality), and procreating without taking responsibility. It is the means of getting people to understand their cultural, spiritual and economic heritage. If we believe that the truth sets us free, we need to engage with our history – warts and all – and confront issues that still affect far too many Black people.
How do we start the process? Here are the first three steps:
1. We need to make Jesus Lord of all areas of our lives.
2. Forgive all the countries involved in the slave trade.
3. Find out as much as you can about your ancestry, to deal with generational issues. This freedom is not about hating anyone, but about loving ourselves as people of God, made in his His image.
1. See Fredrick Douglass, His Life and Times, Boston: De Wolfe & Fiske Co., 1892.
2. Parliament ratified the abolition of the slave trade in 1838 after its abolition 1833. During this time, the soon-to-be ex-slaves were required to serve a five-year apprenticeship whilst their masters received £10m in compensation for loss of earnings.
3. See my book, ‘Breaking the Chains of Mental Slavery’ Chalfont St Peter: A&M Publishing, 2013.
Pastor Alton Bell is a church leader, and explores the themes raised in this article in his book, ‘Breaking the Chains of Mental Slavery’. For more details on ‘Breaking the Chains of Mental Slavery’ visit www.hdr-ministries.co.uk