Where David Olusoga Goes Wrong Over Slavery And The Violence Of Empire


If you want someone to call you a traitor or accuse you of hating Britain, try suggesting that Britain is a normal nation or that our history is remarkable but not exceptional. If you’re feeling really thick-skinned, you could also mention slavery or the violence of empire. You could point out that other nations, the Dutch for example, have managed to come to terms with the fact that their golden age kind of petered out.

On that slavery thing. We were the first dominant society on the planet not to have slavery. Sure, the Danes pipped us to the squeak in abolishing the trade but before the steam engine slavery was a commonplace of every society, the strong enslaving the weak. The conjunction between the words slave and Slav tell us a certain amount, no? That Dublin did it’s time as Northern Europe’s largest slave market, the origins of the Mamluks – ringing any bells for an historian there David?

The violence of Empire? Every society that has had the technological capability has conquered its neighbours and then some. Alexander wasn’t doing a cultural tour of the Middle East now, was he? The Dutch East Indies Company was rather more vicious that the British version over nutmeg and mace.

And overseas empires petering out. St Maarten is a non-disappearing remnant just as Anguilla is, no?

That is, we can say that our history is remarkable but not exceptional – OK then, let’s stop beating ourselves around the head over it. Or, we can say that we were indeed uniquely evil, oppressive and all that – which means that the history was exceptional.

What the British history cannot be is both pretty normal and also something that we must uniquely be so ashamed of.