Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sanitised Wliberforce Museum promotes Anti Gay campaign.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of Slave Trading in 1807 - and I have had the pleasure of listening to the Wilberforce Lecture given The Prime Minister of Barbados, the Right Hon. Owen Arthur. I am hoping that the speech will be made available in text form because unfortunately, I only managed to understand about half of it due to his strong Caribbean accent.

However there was some good stuff there, including a few references to the role of multinational corporations in perpetuating slavery by supporting slave labour in the production of goods they sell at extortionate mark ups in the west some of the worst culprits being Wal-Mart and Nike.

One of the important messages coming out of the current anti slavery campaigns is that slave trading is not just a white crime as was stressed by John Prescott MP who opened the speaking today. Black chieftens were often guilty of supporting slave trading just as today they are prepared to accept billions from the USA and other western governments and corporations in exchange for resources or even unimpeded access to slave labour.

Following the Wilberforce lecture I walked round to the newly opened Wilberforce Museum to see how it had been refurbished. I had been involved in a couple of consultation exercises during last year which had not gone well - and I had real doubts about what they were planning. Those doubts were, I regret to say well founded. The museum has totally sanitised slavery.

In the previous exhibit there was a wonderful construction of what it was like in the Middle passage. It was as if for a brief moment you were taken below deck to where the slaves were packed into racks barely large enough to take a human body, where the smell from the lack of any sanitation was so great it could be smelt 10 miles away. This exhibit was so realistic that I am told many children left very upset and as a result suffered some sleepless nights. So now the middle passage is a combination of wall panels and audio visual presentations. All the images are etchings and drawings from the 18th century - but none convey the horror of what this much have been like.

I noticed parents having to explain everything to children because the entire museum, is made up of wall panels and display cabinets with occasional audio visual presentations. In a city where 20% of children leave school unable to read I can see that this will struggle to get the message across.

But worse was to come for me as I entered the section on Slavery today - OK the message about use of slave labour was there- but I did not see any name of villains. It was close to closing time so I will return and have a second look when it is not so busy. But the panel that angered me was one displaying a huge banner saying Homosexuality is a SIN.

This was picture of a religious demonstration in Northern Ireland against civil partnerships beside it was a picture of a gay couple in York following their civil partnership. There was an interactive exercise for kids regarding rights. One of the messages was encouraging people to respect the beliefs of religious groups. Coupling those two messages and the lack of any comment endorsing gay rights - it is clear that this exhibit is promoting a negative attitude towards homosexuality.

I have no idea what this exhibit has to do with slavery, but I do know that it is one of the strongest messages in the entire museum - no baggers on display opposing slave trading - no images of white slave trafficking for prostitution in the UK - in all a very sanitised display - with a huge anti gay banner in the middle of it.

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