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The Independent

The Independent's coverage of the 1807 commemoration provides some critical discussion of Britain and the slave trade, though the placing of these dissenting pieces within less prominent parts of the newspaper undermines their potency.

The reporting of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the newspaper is however largely pedestrian, lacking any engagement with the wider social issues which arise from the commemoration. The largest article, and the one which is featured closest to the front page, is a piece describing the six commemorative stamps that are being released to mark the event (anon 23/3/07: 24-25). Equiano, Wilberforce, Sharp, Sancho, More and Clarkson are depicted on the stamps and a brief biography of each is given. This uncritical reporting is again featured in Sengupta's (25/03/07) article, 'Mandela boycotts Bristol's slavery commemoration.' This piece which reports on the plea, made by black community groups in Bristol, to Nelson Mandela to avoid the celebrations in the city, so as not to implicitly condone the overwhelmingly white city council, which is accused of riding roughshod over the wishes of the city's black population. No connection between these circumstances and the legacy of slavery is made and the only article which reports on issues of equality is in the reporting of Freema Agyeman's new role as Dr. Who's 'first black assistant' (Jury 23/03/07: 31). This absence of contextualisation also appears in the 4-page special the Independent devoted to the genocide in Darfur (24/03/2007: 1-4). Leading with a letter from 'Europe's leading writers', the statement is made that, 'we must not once again betray our European civilization by watching and waiting while another civilization in Africa is destroyed.' Whilst the connections to the slave trade, colonisation and continued exploitation of Africa which fosters political turmoil in some regions would seem pertinent, the connection made is to the Holocaust. This is certainly a powerful comparison, but one which nevertheless leads one to the assumption that this was a definitely a tragedy, but specifically it was a crime committed by another.

When used to make a contemporary political point the history of abolition and enslavement is not considered in the case of racism or multiculturalism, it is used to highlight a separate issue. Rentoul (25/03/07: 48-49) draws a comparison with the eighteenth century movement to settle the black poor of London in Sierra Leone with recent debates about the processing of asylum claims. 'We have come a long way in 200 years. But as recently as the run-up to the last election, the conservatives devised a plan to process all asylum applications on an island, far, far away' (Rentoul 25/03/07: 49). Rentoul's (25/03/07: 48) analysis of black people in Britain in the 1800s succeeds in portraying individuals who played their part and slotted into British cultural life. This attitude is challenged somewhat and the commemoration of 1807 brought under greater focus by Nurden's (25/03/07: 10-11) article, 'On the Road to Freedom.' However, this piece is located in the supplementary section in the Independent on Sunday, The Compact Traveller. Nurden (25/03/07: 10-11) travels around the important sites of the abolition movement and maintains a critical perspective: 'this trip around the Britain of the anti-slavery movement cannot be just a geographical one: it has to be a tour of understanding. If pleasure is your overriding motive for travelling, look away now.' Much of the commemorations are described as a 'Wilberfest', which bypasses the part played by 'African and British' women and men. The manner in which the bicentenary is marked in Britain is assessed as bad-taste; 'given what actually happened, the current mood of celebration looks distinctly misplaced' (Nurden 25/03/07: 11). This is also considered in one of the most critical articles of any newspaper during the weekend. Alibhai Brown (26/03/2007: 31) attacked the representation of abolition and slavery in the 'Editorial and Opinion' section, stating that, 'The history of slavery lives on in the devaluation of black and other non-white lives here and abroad.' The non-appearance of the enslaved themselves in discussions is considered as evident that to, 'give them proper credit proves a step too far for Britain.' Alibhai Brown draws attention to the limited and specific nature of the commemoration of the abolition but the article is relegated to a lesser section in the newspaper and is itself reduced and obscured.

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