Sins of the Past – Winnipeg Free Press


Michel-Rolph Trouillot, the Haitian historian who published Silence the Past in 1995, argued that “silences are inherent in history because any single event enters history with some of its constituent parts missing. Something is always left out while something else is being recorded. ”

His account of the silence of the Haitian revolution by colonial and imperial forces – both for now (source) and now (as a narrative) – is ubiquitous in states founded and affected by violence, oppression, genocide and slavery.

Author Alex Renton


Caroline Irby photo

Author Alex Renton

Likewise, Toronto-born Scottish writer Alex Renton, who recently worked with News week and the Times, attempts to trace the history of the role of Scotland, and in particular of her family, in the transatlantic trade of enslaved peoples. In Blood Legacy: Counting the story of family slavery, Renton attempts to atone for the atrocities committed by his predecessors, simultaneously trying to respond to how Scotland and other European and Western powers can make significant and meaningful reparations for the heinous crimes associated with the Great’s involvement. -Brittany and the perpetuation of the trade of the enslaved peoples.

For Renton, there is an urgent need for Britain to come to terms with the historical myth generated following the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and total abolition in 1838.

The myth suggests that Britain suffered a moral triumph and effectively separated itself from the rest of Europe. For Renton, this mythical position is tripped, and has created a system in the Caribbean and in Britain where those who have been enslaved are still oppressed by an economic and political system that favors unbridled capital: “We who have taken possession of history continue to perpetuate a slavery of the spirit which is as powerful and damaging to the victims of today as it ever has been. ”

<p>This painting, made in Rome around 1760 by Pompeo Battoni, represents Renton’s ancestor, Sir Adam Fergusson, who was co-owner of Rozelle House in Jamaica from 1773. In addition to rum and sugar, Maison Rozelle traded enslaved peoples.</p>
<p>This painting, made in Rome around 1760 by Pompeo Battoni, represents Renton’s ancestor, Sir Adam Fergusson, who was co-owner of the Rozelle house in Jamaica from 1773. In addition to rum and sugar, the Rozelle house made the trade of enslaved peoples.</p>
<p>Chronicle of the acquisition and development of his family’s plantations in Tobago and Jamaica in the 18th and 19th centuries, Renton unearths his family records, which include massive personal and business correspondence between his ancestors in Scotland and various family members, like a young Jamie Fergusson, his uncle Sir Adam Fergusson and other plantation managers located on the Caribbean islands.  Renton is on the lookout for clear language that implicates his family in the blatant evil of the enslaved peoples’ trade, but only finds the sale of humans in factual accounting reports.			</p>
<p>Coupled with the dense archive analysis – most of which, but not all, pertains to the task at hand – Renton also stops to recount his visits to Tobago and Jamaica.  These appear to be both fact-finding missions (silencing the truth) as well as stays in unknown questions that he asks himself about the impact of his family on contemporary lives.			</p>
<p>During a meeting, Renton is straightened out by Tobagonian author Rhoda Bharath.  “I don’t have time for white liberal guilt,” Bharath told him.  “White consciousness – now I prefer to deal with it.  ”			</p>
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Renton’s conversation with Bharath engages us all in the need for truth, for recognition. Expiation of our complicity, historically and presently, in the oppression of peoples in the name of capitalism, progress and Christianity.

Truth means facing this harsh reality. As Bharath further states, “It was not just about transferring wealth. Colonialism was not just about money. It was about reshaping our culture, about ordering the way we are. thought to ourselves, how we governed ourselves. ”

Yet Renton continues to struggle with his family’s role in the practice of human trafficking, torture, rape and genocide. As he dives exhaustively into his family’s archives, he continues to struggle to make sense of those he sees as both a “man of the Enlightenment and a monster.”

There is a strange tension throughout the book to tip dangerously into everyone’s world of historical thought at the time. But this also meets with his cross-references to the media of the day, where he fully exposes the pro-slavery lobby that he equates to the fossil fuel industry today – a pro-slavery lobbying movement that has shouted and whimpered for reparations and profited greatly from the abolition of slavery.

As Renton reveals, “the capital forged by exploitation transformed into beautiful architecture and artefacts” is now invading the Scottish countryside and even helped found CIBC.

If the truth here is about white conscience, then Renton shows what reconciliation could look like for his family and for the West. His visit to Jamaica places him at a reparations conference, where he learns that silencing history means more than truth, more than just apologies in majestic golden chambers: “Restorative justice is not just about to reward the heirs of enslaved people, but a decisive step towards ending racism. ”

Matt Henderson is Deputy Superintendent of the Seven Oaks School Division.

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