While researching an essay on the Holocaust, I came across some comments on an online news article that were quite disturbing. There was a general discussion on the idea that “only twentieth century history has major implications for today”. Really? Can anyone seriously be that short-sighted? Harsh perhaps but the evidence is overwhelmingly against this. Let’s take America, because it’s the history I know best. According to this theory, nearly three hundred years of enslaving African Americans has no bearing on today’s society – so how do we explain the persistent racism towards black people, a large percentage of whom live in disadvantaged communities? And don’t forget the activists lobbying for reparations. Similarly, the poverty of many Native America groups is directly linked to their appalling treatment by the American government for four hundred years. And can anyone say the Civil War? This conflict ruptured American society, a division that still exists in parts of the south today –the debates over the use of the confederate symbol on state flags and a roaring trade of confederate memorabilia are a few remnants of that legacy.
Many institutions in America and the UK are connected with slavery – Brown University issued a report chronicling the relationship between Rhode Island and the Atlantic Slave Trade, and many buildings in Liverpool, Bristol, London and Glasgow were built with the profits of slavery.
And what about the Middle East?
I could go on. The nature of our society is inevitably shaped by the past, one that reaches beyond the twentieth century. Just because these “implications” are not always concrete or physically visible, does not mean they are not there.