“Resistance to and the Impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade”
31 August 2016 – Although slavery was officially abolished long ago in the Americas, its residue can still be felt today. In order to combat the sometimes harmful legacies, it is important to learn the true nature of what happened, correct misconceptions and hold frank discussions on how to move forward. Those were some of the issues discussed today at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Participants were gathered for a lecture event entitled “Resistance to and the Impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade”, which was hosted by the Department of Public Information’s Remember Slavery Programme and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
Opening remarks were delivered by Ramu Damodaran, Officer-in-Charge of the Department’s Outreach Division, who said, “As we reflect on the impact that the institution of slavery has had on society, we can see that much work has to be done to heal the scars”. He also highlighted ongoing racism and inequalities experienced by people of colour, as well as their struggle for recognition and justice.
Also speaking was Marie Paule Roudil, Director of the Liaison Office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in New York. She noted that the fight against racism and discrimination needed to start with the teaching of respect and tolerance. She added that it was necessary to share the common history of all humanity – including its most tragic chapters. In that regard, she highlighted the unique potential of cinema to foster such understanding.
During her keynote presentation, Natasha Lightfoot, Associate Professor of History at Columbia University, drew attention to numerous examples of resistance to slavery, stressing that such efforts “indicated unyielding desires for freedom” and contributed to anti-slavery debates in the past. In that context, she maintained that “slaves were the authors of the abolition”. She also drew connections between the Haitian revolution, slavery in the United States and the conditions faced by people of colour in the Americas today.
The lecture sparked a number of questions. In response to one on reparations, Professor Lightfoot responded that all aspects of public life had been touched by slavery, so she believed that this wrong should be repaired. "It has gone on far too long without an acknowledgement", she said. When asked what an apology by a country that had been involved in slavery would be worth without reparations, she indicated that, while it would certainly be welcome, it would not be nearly enough.
Replying to another question about how youth could be inspired to seek awareness of the true nature and legacy of slavery, Ms. Lightfoot stressed that it was critical to talk about such issues and share real stories. She also underscored the importance of using the term “enslaved peoples” as opposed to just “slaves” in order to remember the victims’ humanity and not fall into the trap of thinking of them as goods that were bought and sold.
This event was part of a lecture series being held across the United States from 21 August to 30 October 2016. The knowledge- and community-building initiative – which brought together the United Nations, the American Library Association, Fox Searchlight Pictures and BazanED – aimed to examine the lasting effects of the injustices of the transatlantic slave trade. It was inspired by Nate Parker’s film The Birth of a Nation, and commemorated the duration of the history-changing slave rebellion launched by the film’s subject, Nat Turner, on 21 August 1831. In addition to marking the 185th anniversary of Turner’s rebellion, it was also tied to the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, observed annually by UNESCO on 23 August.
UNESCO’s Slave Route project was launched in 1994 and aims to contribute to a better understanding of the causes, forms of operation, stakes and consequences of slavery in the world; highlight the global transformations and cultural interactions that have resulted from this history; and contribute to a culture of peace by promoting reflection on cultural pluralism, intercultural dialogue and the construction of new identities and citizenships.
Watch the archived webcast of the lecture.
Natasha Lightfoot, Associate Professor of History at Columbia University; Ramu Damodaran, Officer-in-Charge of the UN Department of Public Information's Outreach Division; Marie Paule Roudil, Director of the Liaison Office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in New York
Lecture on "“Resistance to and the Impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade”, UN Headquarters in New York, 31 August 2016