45. Fifteen Minutes of Feminism: Slavery’s Global Legacy and the African Diaspora (with Dr. Amara Enyia)

With Guests:

  • Dr. Amara Enyia, a public policy expert and strategist. She is also the managing director of Diaspora Rising, a transnational advocacy organization working on issues of concern to the Global Black Diaspora around the world.

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In this Episode:

In August, the United Nations General Assembly moved to create a Permanent Forum on People of African Descent. There was pushback. Yet, on an international level, the demand for a reckoning with anti-Blackness reverberates around the world. Advocates know learning about the African Diaspora, histories of anti-Blackness and the need for reparations is more important than ever.
 
Consider this: The British government paid the equivalent of 17 billion pounds (in today’s currency) to compensate slave owners for the lost capital associated with abolition. These reparations debts by the British government to slaveowners and their descendants were paid off in 2015. 
 
How does this hidden history fit into contemporary discourse about global slavery, Black Lives Matter, civil rights and more?

Have a topic you’d like us to delve into, a guest recommendationor just want to say hi? Drop us a line at ontheissues@msmagazine.com.

Background Reading:

Transcript:

00:00:10 Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, part of our “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine platform. This is a show where we report, rebel and you know we tell it like it is. Consider this: the British government paid 20 million pounds, the equivalent of about 17 billion pounds today to compensate slave owners for the capital that they lost associated with the abolishing of slavery. 

Now, this incredibly huge payout was about 40 percent of the government’s budget, and they continued to pay it until 2015 when, finally, they had paid off all of their debts — not to people who had been enslaved or their legacies, but to people who had done the enslavement. So, on today’s show, we are talking about the African Diaspora. 

In August, the United Nations General Assembly moved to create a permanent forum on people of African descent. There was pushback. Yet, on an international level advocates know this is more important than ever. All over the world, there is a demand for a reckoning with anti-Blackness, and part of that conversation happens to be reparations. 

So, joining me today to talk about these issues is Dr. Amara Enyia. Dr. Enyia is a public policy expert and strategist. She is also the managing director of Diaspora Rising, a transnational advocacy organization working on issues of concern to the Global Black Diaspora around the world.

Dr. Enyia, slavery’s colonial legacy has impacted every aspect of Black life. Can you give people some reminder of what that looks like?

00:02:16 Dr. Amara Enyia: 

Well, it looks like…I mean, when we look at, around the world, the conditions of Black people in any country that they’re in, are really struggling. When we look at metrics such as employment, access to healthcare, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, Black people around the world are bearing the brunt of that, but it’s really the result of structural and systemic racism. It’s the result of capitalism that is really impacting the quality of life for Black folks wherever we find ourselves.

A Global Commitment to Combatting Anti-Blackness: Why The World Needs a Permanent Forum on People of African Descent
Data shows that Black people— whether in Los Angeles or Lusaka—are bearing the brunt of COVID’s fatalities. Pictured: A Black Lives Matter march through downtown Baltimore in 2016. (John Lucia / Flickr)

00:02:48 Michele Goodwin:

So, break that down a little bit more, because there’s such resistance, as we’ve seen, in the United States, in Europe, to understanding the legacy and lingering vestiges of slavery. Many don’t understand that powerful impact. 

00:03:03 Dr. Amara Enyia:

Sure. I mean, I would say there’s probably some willful refusal to acknowledge the present-day impact of the transatlantic slave trade, of slavery, and the need to recognize how institutions have actually been built to make sure that Black people, in particular, were at the lowest rungs of society, so we can…

00:03:26 Michele Goodwin:

Oh, wait, wait, wait. You said institutions built to actually ensure this about African Americans and Afro-Europeans and Afro-Caribbeans. Didn’t mean to interrupt you, but that’s some powerful, you know, sort of gems that you just dropped into the conversation.

00:03:40 Dr. Amara Enyia:

It’s important that we acknowledge and speak about the intentionality of these systems and these policies and these institutions because we have to know that the same intentionality that was used to create them, it is also necessary to dismantle them and to replace them with systems that are actually just, with institutions that actually reflect justice, and that’s the work that we have before us, but the first step is getting the acknowledgment and moving away from the willful sort of ignorance and the willful refusal to actually acknowledge that path and how it affects the present. 

00:04:15 Michele Goodwin:

So, Dr. Enyia, you are just breaking it down, and there’s a piece that’s really important in this story. Many people presume that the story of slavery itself is one in which Black people were kidnapped from the shores of Africa and brought to the United States, or that Europeans took Black people to the Caribbean, but there’s a deeper story. How do Black people get to South America, to Brazil? What’s the story in the other places that people don’t look?

00:04:43 Dr. Amara Enyia:

Well, I think the story is of, you know, first recognizing how Black folks arrived in Brazil, in Central and South America, in the Caribbean through the Atlantic slave trade, and then it’s also looking at how, after that, Black people moving out of their countries voluntarily, but voluntarily in the sense that because of the underdevelopment, because of the challenges at home, they end up finding themselves going to Europe, going to Asia, southeast Asia, going to Central America, South America, the United States in search of a better life, and so, there is the forced migration through the slavery, essentially, that took people from their home, but then there’s also the outmigration because the conditions at home were such that it was very difficult to be able to live a high quality of life.

But that’s also tied to the underdevelopment on the Continent, because if we had the kind of institutions that supported dignity and self-determination where people could thrive, then you wouldn’t see as much of the loss of human resource, loss of people in search of a better life elsewhere. 

00:05:58 Michele Goodwin:

So, talk a little bit about the capitalism that you mentioned because, again, as individuals see the socio-economic legacies of slavery, interestingly enough, many people say, well, if we just resolved issues for poor white people in Europe, in North America, then Black people will be just fine, and that that’s the real legacy of slavery. What’s your response to that?

00:06:22 Dr. Amara Enyia:

The response is that we have to look at the role of these global systems and how they have created conditions that people are experiencing around the world. And so, when you have racial capitalism, we cannot talk about it without the role of the transatlantic slave trade in requiring slavery, requiring an underclass, requiring poverty, essentially, for the enrichment of those countries, European nations, the United States included, that used it to build their wealth, and so, there was a direct relationship between the underdevelopment and exploitation of Africa and her resources, both human resources as well as minerals and the like, and the development of the West, and so, as the West has moved forward, industrialized, and built up this system that requires exploitation, it has been to the harm of Africa and wherever her people find themselves, and so, we’ve got to link it, also, to issues of climate. 

Everyone’s now talking about the climate crisis, but this year alone, we had…or last year alone, 227 environmental defenders were murdered. These are people, mainly indigenous people, Black folks, people in Central and South America, I think the highest number in Colombia, who are fighting against multi-national corporations that have been exploiting land and destroying lives and livelihoods, and yet, we’re having these climate crisis conversations and conversations about the environment without acknowledging how those things are tied in. 

Survivors of Hurricane Katrina sheltered in Houston, Texas, 2005. (Wikimedia Commons)

00:07:54 Michele Goodwin:

Well, in fact, there are people who say that really climate…the crisis of climate change can date back to 1492, and given the fact that there’s such resistance to understanding this history, in fact, legislation that’s been proposed, and even enacted in some states in the United States to make sure that children aren’t taught about these things, can you explain what some advocates mean by the climate crisis is a 1492 problem?

00:08:22 Dr. Amara Enyia:

Well, I think what is meant by that is really tying the climate crisis to a global economic system that only perpetuates the climate crisis, so when you have a system in which corporations are driven to higher and higher profits, where they exploit the land, where they exploit natural resources, and where they exploit human capital, human people, for the purposes of profit, it is not sustainable, and so, what that has created is situations where we have the expanding Sahara, expanding further south. We’re seeing these hurricanes, category 5 hurricanes, becoming more common. We just had Hurricane Ida in Louisiana last week, and we had hurricanes in the Caribbean the week before, and these things, these disasters are becoming much more common, and it is because of the environmental degradation that has occurred, largely because of the economic, global economic system that’s in place that is not sustainable. 

00:09:23 Michele Goodwin:

And this global economic system, this 1492, marks Columbus’ passage where, in fact, the exploitation of resources, human resources, enslaved people from the coast of Africa, indigenous people in the Caribbean, and other parts of the world were part of that transnational campaign in many ways. That’s capital and environment, isn’t it?

00:09:51 Dr. Amara Enyia:

Yes. The two are inextricably linked, and so, what I find ironic is as the climate crisis is…there’s so much awareness. We have the COP26 Summit taking place in Glasgow in just a few weeks, and yet, there aren’t enough conversations about what is the role of capitalism in perpetuating the climate crisis, and if we’re really interested in addressing the climate crisis, we cannot put forth policies that are devoid of actually attacking the root causes, the things that are degrading the environment, the things that are destroying lives and livelihoods, and so, that needs to be really pushed front and center.

And also, the issue of climate reparations. Africans are the least contributors to the climate crisis, yet they are bearing the brunt, whether on the Continent, in the Caribbean, or elsewhere around the world.

climate change
A Climate Strike in Vancouver in September 2019. (Chris Yakimov / Flickr)

00:10:40 Michele Goodwin:

Well, you know, what you’re saying is actually sending chills, and there are two thoughts that I have, and boy, I could just spend hours and hours with you. This is a conversation that has to go on repeat. 

So, I’m thinking about a couple of things that, one, there is really a kind of understatedness to the coverage that we see in traditional news media about slavery and capitalism because many would kind of suggest that it’s really industrialism, the Industrial Revolution, that leads the United States, let’s say, to a global economic power, and perhaps the same in Europe. 

How do you disabuse people of that notion and that slavery and also, European colonialism actually were the backbones of building the capital for those countries, those continents?

00:11:34 Dr. Amara Enyia:

Sure. Well, we have to be honest. It was definitely slavery. It was colonialism where these European countries, essentially, created what I call company states out of Africa, and that means these countries were formed for the purposes of enriching the colonial entity, whether it was the UK, France, Belgium. I mean, that’s documented history, and also, we have to talk about imperialism and the use of force, the use of military and the police to perpetuate the exploitation in these countries. We have to talk about how so many individuals and leaders on the Continent were assassinated precisely because they refused to go along with the program that would continue to exploit their people.

So, it comes with… there’s a force component to it, imperialism, and the use of violence, to perpetuate the exploitation of resources in these countries that resulted in being able to gain access to the minerals, natural resources, human capital that built up the West simultaneously harming and inhibiting the progress of the global South.

00:12:41 Michele Goodwin:

So, very recently, you’ve lobbied at the United Nations in favor of the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, and you also penned an article for Ms. Magazine explaining why it’s important. So, why is it, and was there pushback? I mean, in this day and age, one would think that Europe, the United States, Caribbean, South America, Central America, they would be just full onboard. We recognize this history. Let’s jump on this, and let’s do some repairing. Was that the case?

00:13:11 Dr. Amara Enyia:

Well, it wasn’t the case, which was not 100 percent surprising, but it was still interesting to see it playing out in real-time. So, the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent is absolutely necessary now because we, the diaspora, the African Diaspora, is connecting in unprecedented ways now. We’re recognizing the connectedness of the struggles that we’re facing, and also, our power, so we’re linking issues of state violence, whether in Colombia or Chicago. We’re seeing similarities in the climate crisis, whether in Niger or in Haiti. 

And so, it is a space for us to now collectively strategize, dialogue, share our ideas, share our strategies for addressing these challenges that we face, and it allows us to do that in a way where we’re all coming together under one banner, so it was absolutely important that we do this.

And we did experience pushback. I mean, again, the European Union, for example, was not…we found some resistance changing the language in the draft document in ways that would weaken it. We also saw significant resistance from the UK, which definitely wasn’t surprising given the release of their Sewell report, I believe, a year ago that basically said there was no racism in the UK, so that wasn’t very surprising.

But what we know is that as we come together, collectively, the diaspora, yes, it’s going to cause some apprehension, perhaps, on those who have benefitted from our being disjointed and being separated, but we have to keep pressing forward. 

00:14:42 Michele Goodwin:

That’s such an important point, and it makes me think about the fact that we’re in a global pandemic, and as well last year as part of that global pandemic, we saw stateside, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. In many ways, this was not new because every year we see such dramatic violence, both private violence, Ahmaud Arbery, and also public violence by the police in the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, but what was interesting was its resonance around the world. 

A July 7, 2016, protest in St. Paul, Minnesota, following the death of Philando Castile. (Tony Webster / Flickr)

Can you tell us just a little bit about that, that interconnectedness, and why people felt a part of the movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, taking place in the United States and launched such movements in countries around the world?

00:15:27 Dr. Amara Enyia:

It was really just a watershed moment and that spark on a powder keg with the murder of George Floyd that no one could have predicted, but I just recall seeing, as we were in uprisings, I was in Chicago at the time, and we had massive uprisings here, and I recall seeing videos of people in Ghana holding signs protesting also about George Floyd. I saw the same with folks in Nigeria, folks in Kenya. Granted, they have their own issues with police and state violence there, but to see that solidarity was…it was absolutely amazing, and I think, unprecedented, and what it did is it set off a wave of people standing up in their own respective countries to say, we need to lift our voices. This is our moment to really push for the kinds of changes that we now need to happen. 

And we saw it everywhere. In the UK, we saw statues of former slaveowners coming down, also, in the US. We saw EndSARS in Nigeria that was sparked in October of 2020, which I think is a direct result of seeing these uprisings happening everywhere else as a result of George Floyd.

An #EndSARS protest in Lagos, Nigeria, October 2020. (Wikimedia Commons)

And so, it’s a watershed moment that I think has changed the dynamics of our organizing and has also given us the ability to now start to connect in even deeper ways to continue to build on that momentum from last year. 

00:16:54 Michele Goodwin:

And so, I want to connect the past with the present, and also thinking about how these moments shape the future and reality for women of the African Diaspora to fill in a bit of the blanks there because so often, as history records the tragedies, or even the triumphs of slavery and overcoming it, much of race is rooted in thinking about how it affects men. When one thinks about how systems of misogyny and sex discrimination affect people, it’s thought about within the context of White women, at least in the United States, and that tends to happen in Europe as well, so how do Black women fit in and their struggles and successes?

00:17:42 Dr. Amara Enyia:

Well, Black women have been really just so much of a backbone in this work. I mean, whether it is at the front lines of many of these major fights. Also, when we talk about who has been affected, it’s been largely Black women. I mean, even after we’re talking about Ahmaud Arbery, it was also Breonna Taylor. Before both of them, it was Sandra Bland. It was Korryn Gaines. I mean, we can go down the list of Black women who have really been bearing the brunt and lifting our community up. 

That’s also the case on the Continent. I mean, I work now with my organization with women in 20 different countries in Africa who are leading fights, whether on climate, against state violence, around issues of governance, and just really speaking up and using our power to advance our communities, and I think it’s important that we recognize that, and it’s important that we actually acknowledge the role that we’ve played in building upon the successes that we’ve had as well because the perspective that women bring to the table is absolutely critical, and I think it’s what has created sustainability for so many of our fights. 

A Black Lives Matter march in D.C. in September 2017. (Miki Jourdan / Flickr)

00:18:52 Michele Goodwin:

So, this is our Fifteen Minutes of Feminism platform and quite honestly, I could go 15 hours of feminism with you, really, truly, so I’m looking forward to our next time. 

So, one of the things that we do on every show is that we like to think about what comes next, and what’s the silver lining ahead, so can you help us out? What do you see, given all of the struggles over time, capitalism, slavery, the brunt of slavery being borne on Black woman’s bodies, and also, the victories in overcoming it, too, being part of the platforms that Black women have built? What comes next? Is there something hopeful within the context of thinking about the African Diaspora?

00:19:34 Dr. Amara Enyia:

It’s certainly hopeful. I mean, I feel so optimistic about where we are, mainly because I’ve seen us coming together in ways that I’ve never seen before, and we have tools in this day and age that we didn’t have in the past that can really connect the diaspora across geography, across language, and even across culture, and that’s a powerful thing. 

I think moving forward we’re going to continue to connect with each other. We’re going to see more building, more strategizing, and more just identifying those commonalities that we share, and what’s going to come out of that is more effective organizing and more effective implementation of our vision for the kinds of societies that we know will allow us to live with dignity and to be self-determining, so I think that we’re actually moving into a space where we’re going to start to see even more of the fruits of our labor, but it’s because we’ll have a more connected, more aware diaspora that’s really standing in solidarity with each other.

00:20:38 Michele Goodwin:

Dr. Enyia, thank you for joining me for our Fifteen Minutes of Feminism platform at Ms. Magazine. 

00:20:45 Dr. Amara Enyia:

Thank you so much for having me. 

00:20:46 Michele Goodwin: 

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, part of our “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” platform at Ms. Magazine. I want to thank my guest, Dr. Amara Enyia, for joining us in being part of this critical and insightful conversation. And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you join us again for our next episode, where we will be reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is, as usual. It will be an episode you will not want to miss. For more information about what we discussed today, head to msmagazine.com and be sure to subscribe. 

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This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal and Oliver Haug. Our social media intern is Lillian LaSalle. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Allen, music by Chris J. Lee and social media assistance from Lillian LaSalle. Stephanie Wilner provides our executive assistance.