Afua Hirsch: ‘Don’t Sell off History With Slave Links – Use it To Educate

Afua Hirsch

Afua Hirsch

A presenter of a new documentary about slavery has rejected the idea of selling art and artefacts with links to the trade, to compensate descendants.

“I don’t think the sensible way to achieve reparation is to sell off national heritage,” Afua Hirsch said.

“I want people to see it and engage with it. The more accessible it can be, the more it can be used to educate.”

The writer and broadcaster is fronting Enslaved with actor Samuel L Jackson. The series starts on BBC Two on Sunday.

Samuel L Jackson and Afua Hirsch
Samuel L Jackson and Afua Hirsch both discovered their roots on the show

Hirsch, who writes a column for the Guardian and penned the book Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, told The Radio Times: “I’m not about destroying history at all. I want people to see it and engage with it.

“But I do feel quite critical that until now these things have been held in a way that neither educates nor enlightens us about our colonial history.”

She was responding to a question about the National Trust, which has identified 93 properties with connections to colonialism and historic slavery. Hirsch said she applauded the organisation, but that their collections should be used to tell a more complete version of history.

She added on Twitter that the interview “left out the part where I said the amount owed in reparations MONUMENTALLY exceeds the amount that could be raised by selling off National Trust collections”.

Hirsch, who was born in Norway but grew up in the UK, added that the debate about the legacy of slavery was “not about beating ourselves up, it’s about understanding how we got here”.

Enslaved used new diving technology to locate and examine sunken slave ships in the UK, the Caribbean and Florida, retrieving artefacts such as a large ivory tusk 45 miles off the coast of Devon. The four-part CBC/Epix series has already been broadcast in the US.

The transatlantic slave trade saw European countries including the UK traffic around 12 million people from West Africa to the Americas between the 16th and 19th Centuries.

Hirsch also filmed with Jackson in Elmina, Ghana, one of the major slave trading posts in what was then known as the African Gold Coast.

She added that history taught in British schools should acknowledge the country’s role in the slave trade rather than just celebrate its abolition.

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